“See you in court” are four favourite words of the government.
They are also the four dreaded words of the people.
Many citizens have been sued – and bankrupted – by the government over the years, including by all three prime ministers.
Now, facing criticism that the proposed fake news legislation gives ministers unprecedented sweeping powers to determine what is online falsehood and issue takedown orders, the government’s retort is to take them to court.
Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam has emphasised that ministers’ decisions can be challenged in court and overturned. “The courts decide ultimately what is true and what is false and they will be the final arbiters,” he said.
Senior Minister of State for Law Edwin Tong has echoed the same thing.
Are Singaporeans supposed to draw comfort from that?
Are the courts now the first – and not the last – resort?
How many people can afford to mount a court challenge against the government?
Let’s take the case of Dr Tan Cheng Bock.
To the surprise of everyone, the government declared that Wee Kim Wee, and not Ong Teng Cheong, was the first elected president.
Dr Tan did take his case to the courts, arguing that Ong Teng Cheong should have been the first elected president, and therefore the 2017 presidential polls should have been an open election and not reserved for the Malay community.
For mounting an unsuccessful court challenge, Dr Tan incurred legal cost of $30,000 to the government, which was waived due to public interest in the case.
So the cost involved can be significant, not to mention that for ordinary citizens, challenging a government in court is not a viable recourse.
Something seems awry when the government repeatedly tells its own citizens “see you in court.”
Now, that same government says that if we don’t agree with their decision, we can always take them to court.
After years of unfettered power, is this what has become of our society?