Friday, 17 August 2012

Parliamentarians must set aside partisan interests

DR ONG Siew Chey says that during parliamentary discussions, matters should be explained clearly for laymen, and accountability should be upheld ("Confrontational debate not the way"; yesterday).

This is correct. But Dr Ong does not appear to know what happened in the discussions in Parliament on Dr Woffles Wu.

In response to Workers' Party chairman Sylvia Lim's question, Law Minister K. Shanmugam referred to several cases. These showed that Dr Wu's fine was in line with other cases, where fines were also imposed. He then asked Ms Lim to clarify her position.

If Ms Lim had said clearly that she accepts there was no difference between Dr Wu's case and the other cases, the integrity of the system would have been confirmed. But she declined to answer clearly - thrice.

Then, her party chief Low Thia Khiang made the highly unusual move of intervening and, through his intervention, created a tense atmosphere with his accusations.

He and Ms Lim also made interruptions from their seats while Mr Shanmugam was speaking.

It would have helped laymen if Ms Lim had given her views clearly after being shown the facts. That would also have helped clear the air, reaffirmed the integrity of the legal system and upheld accountability.

We should expect vigorous, even robust, debate in our Parliament. But ultimately, we should also expect our parliamentarians to put aside partisan interests and speak for Singapore.

Alex Chiang
ST Forum, 16 Aug 2012







Confrontational debate not the way

WHAT transpires in court or in Parliament presumably is easily understood by lawyers and politicians, but the average citizen is sometimes left nonplussed.

Hence, we have MPs keeping watch on our behalf and to ask questions to obtain answers to enlighten us. The representatives in Parliament work for the greater good of the nation.

When Workers' Party chairman and MP Sylvia Lim raised the question of legal equitability with respect to the $1,000 fine for renowned plastic surgeon Woffles Wu, who got an elderly employee to take the rap for two speeding offences in 2005 and 2006, one would expect Law Minister K. Shanmugam to explain the matter calmly ("Heated or healthy debate?"; yesterday).

The minister's presentation would be for the benefit of all citizens, and not just Ms Lim's. It seems unnecessary that the question should have triggered a heated exchange.

We do not want a confrontational atmosphere in Parliament. We want to see that accountability is upheld.

Despite the shortcomings of the American electoral system, one must admire the way the two opposing presidential candidates debate. They remain gentlemanly to each other and shake hands at the end.

The days when two British parliamentarians debated at one sword's length from each other for safety should be over.

Dr Ong Siew Chey
ST Forum, 15 Aug 2012




Parties must make clear where they stand
Editorial, The Straits Times, 17 Aug 2012

OBVIOUSLY, there was much public interest in the case of Dr Woffles Wu, the prominent plastic surgeon who was charged with getting an employee to take the rap for two speeding incidents. Was undue leniency shown to him because of his stature when he was booked under the Road Traffic Act and not the Penal Code, which could have resulted in a harsher punishment than the $1,000 fine which he received? Could this not be an example of favouritism towards the powerful? Such questions are legitimate expressions of public interest and concern. The Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) responded to the legitimacy of that public disquiet when it explained clearly why it had proceeded to charge Dr Wu under the traffic rules.

It is the prerogative of citizens, as well as their elected representatives, to be dissatisfied with official explanations. That was the case when opposition Member of Parliament Sylvia Lim spoke on the issue in the House on Monday. As a parliamentarian, she was perfectly within her rights to question Law Minister K. Shanmugam on the AGC's reply. But Mr Shanmugam, another elected representative of the people, was also within his rights when he demanded to know whether Ms Lim, chairman of the Workers' Party, was insinuating favouritism in the handling of the case. Her clarification that she was not alleging wrongdoing by the AGC was reassuring. But what was troubling was her apparent refusal to either accept outright or reject out of hand Mr Shanmugam's explanation, on the basis that there was public disquiet over the whole affair and other lawyers she had consulted voiced concerns.

This stance will not satisfy those who wish to be better-informed of public issues after a parliamentary debate. Parliament is a venue where discussions should shed light on the truth, whether that truth supports or undermines the Government's stand. As an MP, Ms Lim should have made clear her own stand on the Wu case. By shielding herself with public opinion and not rebutting Mr Shanmugam with bare facts, to justify her disagreement with his explanation, she left the public no wiser than where it had been before the parliamentary exchange. Instead, the minister was accused of attempting to "intimidate" the opposition MP, an odd charge surely, since she is no novice politician and can no doubt hold her own.

Open, and even robust, exchanges should be a part of the parliamentary process. The "heated exchange" that Singaporeans witnessed in Parliament this week was mild by most standards. Discussions in the House should be civil and principled. But politicians on all sides must make clear where they stand and be prepared to stand by their positions.


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