Dr Tan Cheng Bock, former People’s Action Party Member of Parliament and candidate in the Presidential Election 2011 wrote a Facebook post on Tuesday evening to update his supporters and public about the constitutional challenge that he launched to seek clarification from the court on the decision to name President Wee as the first President for the purpose of the Reserved Elected Presidency.
My case has finally concluded with no legal costs payable to the Government. At first, the Government wanted the Court to order $30,000 costs against me. But my lawyers vigorously resisted and argued for a “public interest cost order” instead. After reading our submissions, the Government changed their mind and consented to “no order as to costs”.
What is a “public interest costs order”? In exceptional cases, the Court can spare an unsuccessful plaintiff, who has filed a legitimate complaint, from paying costs to a government defendant in a case of general importance and public interest.
When my legal action started in April 2017, many cautioned “Don’t waste money. You will surely lose and pay the Government thousands of dollars in legal fees.” However, the Government’s dismissive attitude towards genuine answer-seekers like myself, and MP Sylvia Lim in Parliament in Nov 2016 and Feb 2017 was simply unsatisfactory. Win or lose, I was determined the Government should answer our questions.
6 months have passed. My legal team presented serious arguments, and ran our case responsibly without mud-slinging. Now Singaporeans know the issues better. Despite not succeeding, my application has secured some answers.
We heard the AG tell the Court: “PM never said that the AG advised PM to start the count from President Wee. What PM said is that the AG advised (that) what the Government was proposing to do was legitimate” and the AG never advised the Government that President Wee was the 1st Elected President. The start of the count was purely a policy decision, which the Court cannot review. AG’s advice to the PM was ultimately irrelevant.
Yet other questions remain unanswered by the Government. For instance, why did the Government tell Parliament they took AG’s advice if AG’s advice was irrelevant? Why invite MP Sylvia Lim to go to Court if it was, all along, a policy decision? Shouldn’t reasons for policy decisions be explained in Parliament?
These questions ought to be answered, even though this case has ended. MP Sylvia Lim intends to take it up in Parliament. Let’s hope she gets the chance to do so. Meanwhile, if you meet your PAP MP, please ask them too. As the electorate, they are accountable to you.
This matter is still of general importance and public interest, and we must always exercise our right to seek answers from the Government.