AG and PM Lee’s statements on 377a; Should we trust Ministers’ word in Parliament?

Left: Lucien Wong, Right: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in 2007 where he defended the retention of 377a

I refer to the article “Government has not curbed public prosecutor’s discretion for Section 377A: A-G Lucien Wong” (Straits Times, Oct 3).

It states that “The Government has not removed or restricted prosecutorial discretion for Section 377A, Attorney-General Lucien Wong said in a statement released on Tuesday (Oct 2).

He noted that former A-Gs, Professor Walter Woon and Mr V. K. Rajah, “have recently suggested that it is not desirable for the Government and Parliament to direct the public prosecutor (PP) not to prosecute offences under Section 377A of the Penal Code, or to create the perception that they are doing so”.

“Such comments may give rise to the inaccurate impression that the exercise of the PP’s discretion has been removed or restricted in respect of Section 377A.”

In this connection, according to Mothership (Sep 9) –

“Janadas Devan, Chief of Government Communications and Director of Institute of Policy Studies on 8 Sep:“Till the majority changes, the “uneasy compromise” on 377A, as PM Lee described it, that we decided upon more than a decade ago, remains the only viable position: Given the majority view, the law remains on the books. But the Government does not and will not enforce 377A.”

But this does not mean that we have reached a broad social consensus, that this is a happy state of affairs, because there are still very different views amongst Singaporeans on whether homosexuality is acceptable or morally right.”

What Janadas is referring to is Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s speech in 2007 where he said,

“There are gay bars and clubs. They exist. We know where they are. Everybody knows where they are. They do not have to go underground. We do not harass gays. The Government does not act as moral policemen. And we do not proactively enforce section 377A on them.”

PM Lee’s speech back in 2007, gave the impression that the Government will not use the 377a upon gay individuals despite open knowledge of their activities but what the AG is saying here is that he retains the discretion and power to prosecute those who are found to have committed the offence.

So can assurances given by Ministers in Parliamentary debates on our laws, be relied upon?

What are some other examples of this issue?

Well, for example –

The HDB “asset enhancement’ policy when banks were allowed to do HDB loans from 1 January 2003 –

“From 1st January 2003, HDB lessees who buy resale flats without any CPF Housing Grant and with bank loans will only need to occupy their flats for one year, instead of the current 21/2 years, before they can sell it in the open market.

Existing resale flats bought without any CPF Housing Grant will also qualify if the lessee re-finances his outstanding HDB market rate loan with banks or fully redeems his HDB market rate loan. The reduction in MOP will also apply to existing resale flats that are bought without CPF Housing Grant and without any loan from HDB” – extract from Parliamentary debate in October, 2002

Many Singaporeans who opted for HDB bank loans based on the above, were subsequently disappointed when the policies changed.

Given how the media licensing and expected online falsehoods’ laws, may be used to stifle freedom of expression, how much weight should we give to the speeches made by the PAP MPs and Ministers to justify the need for “fake news” laws which our neighboring country has sought to abolish?

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