Photo of the dialogue session where the Law Minister said the AG advice will be made public.

Dr Tan Cheng Bock raises questions on Law Minister’s contradictory statements on AGC’s advice and wonders why PM did not answer Ms Lim’s questions himself

Dr Tan Cheng Bock, former People’s Action Party Member of Parliament and candidate in the Presidential Election 2011 posted a Facebook post to question Mr K Shanmugam, Minister of Law and Home Affairs for contradictions in his statements made during a dialogue session and what he said in the Parliament just this week. He also commented that since the questions filed by Ms Sylvia Lim, Member of Parliament for Aljunied GRC from Workers’ Party, was on the Attorney General’s advice raised by the Prime Minister, he should be the one answering Ms Lim instead of the Minister of Law.

Below is Dr Tan’s Facebook post in full

I have 2 observations on Ms Lim’s excellent motion.

1st, Minister Shanmugam made these statements in reply to Ms Lim:

“… I was asked the following question “When would the circuit breaker to hold the reserved election after a racial group has not been represented in presidential office after five continuous terms, come into effect?” What was my reply? The most direct answer is actually, “The government can decide. When we put in the bill, we can say we want it to start from this period. It is a policy decision.” The CNA reported it, it is still on record….. and I said on record, and I’m happy to be shown any other part …. I am very clear and careful about what I say. And I’m happy to be confronted with anything else I might have said.”

The Minister had quoted from a CNA report dated 15 Sept 2016 (by Linette Lim “On Tan Cheng Bock, mixed-race candidates: Singaporeans ask tough questions on the Elected Presidency review”:

Since the Minister is willing to confront his past words, I’ve reproduced the rest of his answer to CNA, where he said:

“But there are also some legal questions about the elected presidency and the definition and so on, so we have asked the Attorney–General for advice. Once we get the advice, we will send it out. Certainly by the time the Bill gets to Parliament, which is in October, I think we will have a position and will make it public. At present, there are a number of legal questions … including whether such provisions are consistent with the convention to eliminate racial discrimination, how do you draft it, whether you count all the presidencies, elected presidencies, which is the first elected president – there are a number of questions we have to sort out.”

CNA appears to have reported words opposite to what the Minister mentioned. In the report, he said “…once we get the advice, we will send it out. Certainly by the time the bill gets to Parliament, which is in October … and will make it public.” But in Parliament, he said “this government, as a rule, generally, does not publish legal opinions that it gets.”

Would the Minister explain to Singaporeans his apparent contradiction?

2nd, I noticed that PM Lee, DPM Teo and Minister Chan sat quietly behind Minister Shanmugam during this debate. One would have expected the PM, DPM or Minister Chan to speak for themselves and clarify their own words. After all, they are the government’s top leaders. Also, Ms Lim’s motion was asking about their statements to Parliament and whether they misled the House. Her motion did not refer to Minister Shanmugam’s statements. Since the government has said the count is a policy issue and not a legal issue, why ask the Minister of Law to answer ?

In fact PM Lee should be the one answering Ms Lim. This debate started with PM’s statement on taking AG’s legal advice. Why he remained silent during this parliamentary debate continues to baffle many Singaporeans.

Ms Lim had earlier filed an Adjournment Motion, “Counting From President Wee Kim Wee Or President Ong Teng Cheong For Reserved Presidential Election – Policy Decision Or Legal Question?” on 3 October 2017 (Tuesday), seeking an explanation from the government on whether did the PM, DPM Teo Chee Hean and Minister Chan Chun Sing make misleading statements to the Members of Parliament that the question of which President to count from was a legal question

She also asked whether did the government all along make a policy decision itself to count from President Wee Kim Wee and merely use the AGC’s advice as a cover to avoid full Parliamentary debate on why the count was not starting from President Ong Teng Cheong.

Mr Shanmugam had denied that PM Lee has misrepresented the matter to the Parliament and insisted that it has always been clear that the decision to count Mr Wee Kim Wee as the first President for the purpose of the reserved presidential election is a policy decision by the parliament and not a legal matter.