SINGAPORE: Minister for Law and Home Affairs K Shanmugam on Sunday (Oct 8) rejected claims by Dr Tan Cheng Bock that remarks he made in Parliament last week were inconsistent with previous statements he had made concerning the publication of the Attorney-General’s Chambers’ (AGC) advice on the reserved Presidential Election.
Referring to a Facebook post made by Dr Tan on Saturday, Mr Shanmugam said that Dr Tan was “engaging in elaborate charades”, and had “spliced my remarks, rearranged them, and put them together in a way to suggest something which I did not say”.
Speaking in Parliament last week, Mr Shanmugam had said that the call to start counting from Dr Wee Kim Wee's second term as President for the purpose of holding a reserved Presidential Election was a policy decision, and also said that the Government generally does not publish legal opinions that it gets.
He made these remarks in response to an adjournment motion by Workers’ Party chair Sylvia Lim, and noted that a point made by Ms Lim - that the Government is starting the count from Dr Wee because of the AGC’s advice - was never suggested.
In his Facebook post, Dr Tan said that there was an "apparent contradiction" between Mr Shanmugam’s words in Parliament and comments made at a dialogue last year, in which he said that there were legal questions about the Elected Presidency and that the Government has asked the AGC for advice.
He had been responding to a question on when a "circuit-breaker" (to hold a reserved election after a racial group has not been represented after five continuous terms) would come into effect.
"The most direct answer is actually, the Government can decide. When we put in the Bill, we can say we want it to start from this period," said Mr Shanmugam at the dialogue. "It’s … a policy decision but there are also some legal questions about the Elected Presidency and the definition and so on, so we have asked the Attorney-General for advice.
“Once we get the advice, we will send it out. Certainly by the time the Bill gets to Parliament, which is in October, I think we will have a position and we will make it public."
Dr Tan wrote: “In the report, he said ‘…once we get the advice, we will send it out. Certainly by the time the bill gets to Parliament, which is in October … and will make it public.’ But in Parliament, he said ‘this government, as a rule, generally, does not publish legal opinions that it gets’.
“Would the Minister explain to Singaporeans his apparent contradiction?”
Also read: Will MPs heed his call for better debate?
Responding to this on Sunday, Mr Shanmugam said that “clearly, I was referring to making the Government’s position (and not the AGC’s advice) public” in the interview.
"The question was when the circuit breaker will come into effect. My answer was that we would make our position clear after we had sorted out some points; and at the latest, we will make our position clear by the time the Bill gets to Parliament."
In his post, Dr Tan had also questioned why it had been Mr Shanmugam who had responded to Ms Lim, and not Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean or Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Chan Chun Sing.
“This debate started with PM’s statement on taking AG’s legal advice,” he said. “Why he remained silent during this parliamentary debate continues to baffle many Singaporeans.”
In response, Mr Shanmugam said that he was “surprised” at this question.
“Surely as a former parliamentarian he knows that adjournment motions have strict time limits,” he said.
“The MP moving the adjournment motion has up to 20 minutes; and someone else has all of 10 minutes to respond. That’s it. As Law Minister, I responded on behalf of the Government.”