Edwin Tong’s denial of conflict in acting for Kong Hee is flawed

PAP MP Edwin Tong (Left) and his client, Kong Hee (Right)

I note that Minister of State, Edwin Tong has denied that there was a conflict interest between his political interests and acting as defense counsel for disgraced pastor of City Harvest, Kong Hee. While he was not a minister at the time of Kong Hee’s hearing, he was still a member of Parliament with direct influence on our legislation given that he was the deputy chair of the Government Parliamentary Committee (GPC) for Home Affairs and Law.

Holding an official position of influence is a high calling and if there is any hint of a potential conflict, however remote, it is always best to err on the side of caution and not take it on. After all, as the saying goes, you can’t have your cake and eat it too. Justice must not only be done but it has to be seen to be done.

Unsurprisingly, Tong has vehemently denied any conflict and vigorously defended his actions. However, I do not think that his reasons for why there is no conflict are convincing.

He has said as part of his reasoning that he was “fortunate in being able to separate moral dilemma from professional responsibility quite well. The fact that I seldom taken on criminal cases probably makes that easier.”

How do we know that he really is as objective as he claims? What is the standard of objectivity applied here and who is monitoring if that standard is met? Are we supposed to accept that he is able to compartmentalise as well as claims he can just because he has said so? Does it not sound like the case of “ownself check ownself”?

A refrain that sounds eerily similar to how the PAP justifies its own checks and balances. Perhaps Tong has become so immersed in this line of logic that he fails to see how this reasoning is entirely flawed.

Next he says,

“As a lawyer, I present the facts as they are instructed to me. I make the best of those facts using legal authority and arguments, and it is for the court to assess if there has been wrongdoing. I don’t start off knowing or presuming there is wrongdoing, but if I am being asked by the client to take a false position or suppress material, then I will not carry on……”Are you suggesting a PAP MP who is also a doctor should not be treating a criminal?”

How can he liken this situation to that of a doctor treating a patient? Doctors are treating something physical and in general we all have similar body parts and organs.

In a court case, a lawyer is representing a client by trying to persuade a judge to his line of logic – much more subjective than that of a doctor treating a patient. The doctor is not representing a patient with “inside knowledge” that he possesses.

In Tong’s case, he arguably has “inside knowledge” of legislation and its potential changes which can be construed as giving him an added advantage in private practice. While I am not suggesting that Tong was affected by the conflict since I cannot make windows into his soul, I do think that it is reasonable for the average man on the street to perceive conflict.

For good order, someone in Tong’s position should never have taken up the case and to continue stubbornly denying that there could be a conflict of interest, is high handed and arrogant. It displays a complete lack of regard for how this would affect how the public views our judicial systems.

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