The Straits Times (ST) reported today (11 Mar) that the government had proceeded to seek legal advice from the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) to see if Workers’ Party Sylvia Lim did breach parliamentary privilege in the recent “test balloons” debates in Parliament.
After the close of Parliamentary debates on Thursday (8 Mar), Senior Minister of State for Law, Indranee Rajah renewed her attack on Ms Lim using her Facebook page. She posted a write-up titled, ‘GST Hike: An Honourable Course of Conduct or not?’, on Friday (9 Mar) supporting Minister Grace Fu’s accusation that Ms Lim’s conduct in Parliament was not “honourable”.
This was then followed by PAP MP Chee Hong Tat’s blog post on People’s Action Party (PAP)’s own website.
He explained why the PAP government is continuing to pursue the matter against Ms Lim and even threw suspicion on WP, alleging that WP would be using the ‘Test Balloons’ theory to make political gains in the next GE.
PAP going through legal channel
Today, ST reported that the PAP government made an earlier move by consulting with AGC to see if there is a legal case against Ms Lim, as she did not succumb to PAP’s pressure to withdraw her statements and to apologise in Parliament.
Grace Fu told ST, “Ms Lim was in breach (of parliamentary privilege) because she should have known that her allegations were untrue, and because of her refusal to withdraw the allegations even after the facts were clarified.”
However, Singapore Management University Law Prof and former Nominated Member of Parliament Eugene Tan commented that although “having the AGC’s advice gives the Government a stronger footing in the matter”, it is ultimately something for Parliament to decide as parliamentary debates also involve a political dimension and breach of parliamentary privilege may not be purely a legal question.
Grace Fu had said in Parliament that it was an abuse of privilege for MPs to knowingly maintain allegations that have been shown to have no factual basis.
TOC had wanted to include feedback from the public on the government’s action to seek legal redress but found that ST did not share this article on its Facebook page or its Twitter account.
The current AGC is headed by Attorney General, Lucien Wong, Prime Minister Lee’s former lawyer who handled the dispute of Oxley Rd and deputy AG, Hri Kumar, former PAP Member of Parliament.
Opposition leader JBJ found to have abused parliamentary privilege before
Breach of parliamentary privilege by an MP can lead to sanctions such as reprimands, fines, suspension, or even imprisonment.
In 1986, opposition leader JB Jeyaretnam (JBJ) was found guilty of abuse of parliamentary privilege and contempt of the Parliamentary Committee of Privileges and was fined $26,000 by the Committee.
The charge of abuse of parliamentary privilege, for which JBJ was fined $1000, related to allegations of executive interference in the judiciary that he had made in Parliament. In particular, JBJ told Parliament about the transfer of District Judge Michael Khoo, who had acquitted him and his WP colleague in a court case. JBJ was considered to have suggested that the prosecution against him and the subsequent transfer of Michael Khoo were politically-motivated and was intended effectively to punish Mr Khoo by removing his status as a judge.
The charge of contempt against Parliament, for which he was fined $25,000, related to a number of newsletters, which he published to his constituents and claimed to be an accurate report of the Parliamentary Committee’s proceedings. The Committee considered that JBJ’s newsletters contained distortions and misrepresentations that were derogatory towards the Committee and were calculated to lower its dignity and authority by suggesting that it was not impartial.
JBJ denied the charges and the matter went to Singapore’s Court of Appeal, which decided in 1988 to uphold the Parliamentary Committee’s ruling on the ground that Singapore’s Parliament was empowered by the Constitution firstly to decide on what was covered by parliamentary privilege and to punish individual MPs if the Committee held that such MPs had abused their privilege or were in contempt of the Committee or Parliament. Therefore, it was up to the Committee and not the Courts to decide whether JBJ was covered by parliamentary privilege.
Correction: It was earlier written that “PAP government is making a new move by consulting with AGC to see if there is a legal case against Ms Lim.” We have revised the sentence to PAP government made an earlier move by consulting with AGC to see if there is a legal case against Ms Lim as we have been notified that the government had consulted AGC before Ms Grace Fu made an official demand to Ms Lim at Parliament.