It would be a fair assumption to say that many Singaporeans were not in favour of calling a General Election during a time of global pandemic. Alternative politicians had also raised similar concerns and had pushed for postponement. Such pleas fell on deaf ears of course and the People’s Action Party (PAP) government pushed ahead and unsurprisingly received their mandate.
Given that there was disquiet about the Government’s decision to press ahead with the General Election, it seems unfair to reject Daniel De Costa’s constitutional challenge against the Government’s decision to hold a General Election during pandemic times.
While the Constitution has been amended over 50 times in Singapore, Teo Chee Hean did use the Constitution argument to press ahead with the General Election. This begs the question, if the Constitution is so sacrosanct, surely a citizen’s rights under it are sacred too? And if so, is it not a worthy case for the courts to examine at these times?
That said, it was probably unsurprising to most that the Constitutional challenge was thrown out by the courts.
Yet, what seems almost like adding insult to injury, the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) has rejected De Costa’s proposal to pay costs and disbursements in instalments following the Court of Appeal’s dismissal of his constitutional challenge against holding an election during the COVID-19 pandemic. De Costa had earlier offered to pay S$500 per month on the 15th of each month starting August as he is currently unemployed as a result of the pandemic.
Firstly, it seems unduly harsh to order costs in Constitutional cases in the first place. The Constitution is meant to be a sacrosanct piece of legislation that every citizen has rights under. If a particular citizen feels that his or her rights under the Constitution have been impinged, they should have a right to challenge it without the fear of the AGC’s costs hanging over their heads.
The AGC is after all funded by the public purse and it is arguably in the public interest for Constitutional issues to be examined rigorously without reasonable costs being a concern. Especially in a case such as this where it is arguably obvious that the General Election did put public health at risk and was unnecessary at this time.
Secondly, on what grounds is the AGC refusing De Costa’s offer? He isn’t saying he won’t pay. He is just asking for an instalment plan. As far as the public is aware, the AGC is not short on funds and does not need these costs urgently. So, what is its justification for refusing?
We must remember that the AGC is a state agency funded by tax monies. It is not some commercial private creditor. As citizens who are collectively funding this state agency, do we agree to this refusal on the AGC’s part?
Does it not look bullying on the part of the AGC?
Are the public funding the AGC just for the AGC to seemingly turn around and bully us?