While the uproar that was initially caused by the Parti Liyani case appears to be dying down after Minister for Law and Home Affairs, K Shanmugam’s November Parliamentary speech on the issue, an open letter released on Friday (18 December) by 27 civil organisations has jointly urged President Halimah Yacob to convene a commission of inquiry (COI) to review Singapore’s justice system.
Perhaps Shanmugam is of the opinion that nothing further is needed given that the internal and “behind closed doors” investigations on the matter have been concluded. However, how can internal investigations whose objectivity and scope cannot be independently or publicly verified ever be satisfactorily conclusive?
After all, the justice system is one that affects us all. It is a system that is paid for and maintained by the public purse strings and in which we are all affected.
With this in mind, the Parti Liyani case is not one that is restricted simply to her but to all Singaporeans. It iPs not a private matter. It is a public interest issue. Authorities have so far remained tight-lipped as to why there is no need for a Committee of Inquiry (COI). Shanmugam has alluded to the police already being very overstretched. Yet, is this enough of a reason not to convene a COI?
Ultimately, the President has the power to convene a COI. She is supposed to be non-partisan and above politics. Will she?
Given that she is meant to be the head of state and a representative for the people at large, I would hope so. If she chooses not to exercise her powers to call for one, she should have to provide reasons enough to justify why not.
It bears remembering that a COI on the justice system is a fact-finding exercise that can have far-reaching benefits for all Singaporeans. By Shanmugam’s logic, should companies not conduct yearly reviews for staff to determine raises or bonuses if they are busy?
Surely not. A review is something that you make time for however busy because it is an important exercise. This is no different! A catalogue of errors has apparently been made across multiple government agencies. The fiasco has also highlighted some deeply rooted issues of inequality and uneven access to the judicial system. As such, even if you are busy, you make time to be accountable to your boss – the public!
Being overstretched is therefore not a good enough reason. What other reasons could there be? Until there is a satisfactory reason given to justify not needing a COI, there has to be a COI.