At the May Day Rally on Tue (1 May), the people in NTUC heaped loads of praises on the outgoing Labour Chief Chan Chun Sing, who will now take on his new role as the new Minister for Trade and Industry.
ST reported that Chan has “won over many unionists with his sharp intellect, friendly demeanor and confidence on stage”.
Unionist Mohamad Nazir Sani said he was struck by Chan’s ability to “listen to a crowd, taking in views and questions all at once, then distilling them and responding to issues raised” without using notes. “Really shows what an organised and sharp thinker he is,” the unionist added.
Another unionist Ken Tan was impressed with Chan’s rarely taking food at events. He praised Chan, “When he attends events, he rarely eats. He’s always just talking to everyone in the room.”
Unionist Noor Irdawaty Jammarudin said Chan’s relaxed demeanor allowed even younger unionists like herself to feel comfortable joking around with him. She said that Chan is more like a brother and friend to her.
All the unionists interviewed by ST said that Chan’s legacy will be pushing for workers to retrain and upgrade their skills. Unionist Liaw Chin Chog said of Chan, “He really put in a lot of effort to push this message on how important it is for workers retrain and reskill. That is his legacy.”
Retired judge counters Chan
Despite the praises heaped on Chan by the unionists, at times he does appear to be not too sharp.
For example, an incident happened early this year when Senior Minister of State for Health and Transport as well as MP, Lam Pin Min, wrote an appeal letter on behalf of his resident directly to the State Courts to ask for leniency, resulting in what is perceived as interfering of the judiciary by the public.
At the time, Minister in PMO as well as PAP Whip, Chan Chun Sing, went public to say that MPs writing directly to courts is usually done only for “urgent cases”. In urgent cases, for instance if the hearing is in the next few days, “MPs sometimes use their discretion, to give letters by hand to residents, to be used in court”, he added. He reiterated that PAP has no specific governing rules on the sending of MP letters to the courts or other agencies.
In response to what Chan said, retired district judge Low Wee Ping who was also the Registrar of the Subordinate Courts and Supreme Court in the 1980s, wrote to ST Forum revealing that there was an instruction from Singapore’s first PM Lee Kuan Yew to PAP MPs not to write directly to State Courts.
“When I was the Subordinate Courts’ Registrar, I was instructed by then Chief Justice Wee Chong Jin to ignore such MP letters, to not send them to the judges, and to return them to the PAP Whip,” retired judge Low said.
“The reason, I was told, was that founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew had instructed all MPs (in writing) that they should not be writing such letters to the courts.” He also revealed that there was a file containing such letters currently sitting in the court registry.
“The late Mr Lee’s views were exactly as stated by Mr Cheng Choon Fei (Unusual for MP to intervene in court case; Feb 3) and Ms Agnes Sng Hwee Lee (Make clear the boundaries on MP petition letters): MPs writing to the courts would blur the separation of powers between the legislative, executive and judicial branches of government,” added retired judge Low.
“Mr Lee was also of the view that if the MP’s constituent resident perceived his sentence imposed by the court as lenient, he might attribute it solely to the MP’s letter, and, therefore, feel obligated or grateful to vote for the MP in an election.”
Clearly, Mr Lee Kuan Yew wanted Singapore to be run transparently and openly, despite his party’s dominance in the politics of Singapore. Chan appears not to be able to grasp the concept of separation of powers between the legislative, executive and judiciary.
Chan quickly makes a U-turn
In any case, few days later after retired judge Low came out to rebut Chan, Chan on 9 Feb wrote a memo to all the PAP MPs to stop them from writing to the courts on behalf of their residents so as to “avoid any doubt or public misperception” about the separations of power between the executive, legislature and judiciary.
“When approached by constituents over matters that come before the Courts, PAP MPs may write to MinLaw (on procedural issues) and Attorney General’s Chambers (on prosecutorial issues),” he wrote. Should the MPs need assistance on exceptional cases or further advice on the matter, Chan now said they should approach him and MinLaw.
Chan also said that the separation of powers has never been in question, even when the Courts have received a letter from an MP, directly or indirectly. “Nevertheless, to avoid any doubt or public misperception, may I remind PAP MPs not to write to the Courts on behalf of their constituents,” he added.
It’s not known if Chan wrote the memo himself or if he was instructed to do so. Chan has been identified by the media as one of the possible contenders to be Singapore’s 4th generation PM.