Photo of Law Minister K Shanmugam from Today Online

Speaking to state media reporters over intense criticisms against him, Law Minister K Shanmugam called ex-Presidential candidate Dr Tan Cheng Bock a hypocrite and accused the latter of making “elaborate charades”:

“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.”

Dr Tan Cheng Bock has earlier posted on Facebook criticising the Law Minister for contradicting himself and also noted that Lee Hsien Loong “sat quietly” hiding behind the Law Minister. The Law Minister went to Facebook to “clear his name“:

Dr Tan Cheng Bock now claims that I had said that the Government would publish AGC’s advice, and that this is inconsistent with what I said in Parliament last week. This is untrue.

Dr Tan has spliced my remarks, rearranged them, and put them together in a way to suggest something which I did not say.

Here is what I said in full, as reported in CNA (link below).

“Q: When would the circuit-breaker (to hold a reserved election after a racial group has not been represented in Presidential office after five continuous terms) come into effect?

Mr Shanmugam: 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. 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. At present, there are a number of legal questions… including whether such provisions are consistent with the Convention to eliminate racial discrimination, how you draft it, whether you count all presidencies, elected presidencies, which is the first elected president – there are a number of questions we have to sort out.”

As the context makes clear, I was asked when the circuit breaker for holding reserved election will come into effect. I answered by making the following points:

1. It is a policy decision, for the government to make;
2. The Bill can state when the term count begins, and that will determine when the circuit breaker comes into effect;
3. But there were a number of legal questions to sort out before the Bill could be finalised, and we were getting AGC’s advice on those questions;
4. The Government will decide on the term count after we received AGC’s advice, and will then set out its position [I said ‘ we will send it out’];
5. At the latest, the Government will have a position on the term count by the time the Bill gets to Parliament. And at that point, it will make its position public.

Clearly, I was referring to making the Government’s position (and not the AGC’s advice) public. 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.

As it so happened, the Prime Minister himself made clear the Government’s position on the term count when Parliament debated the Constitutional amendments. He said we would start counting from President Wee Kim Wee’s second term. As the Court of Appeal has said explicitly, the Prime Minister was clear.

Dr Tan may be bitter. But that is no excuse for engaging in these elaborate charades.

Dr Tan also asks why I – and not the PM, DPM Teo or Minister Chan Chun Sing – replied to Ms Sylvia Lim. I’m surprised Dr Tan should ask me this question. Surely as a former parliamentarian he knows that adjournment motions have strict time limits. 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.”

The former Presidential Election candidate then posted a response to Minister K Shanmugam:

I asked if the Minister had contradicted himself when he at first told CNA “… 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 later said in Parliament “this government, as a rule, generally, does not publish legal opinions that it gets.”

His answer on FB was that there was no contradiction. He says the “it” in “send it out” was referring to the government’s position on the term count, and not AG’s advice.

I also asked why the PM remained silent during the debate. His answer was “ I’m surprised Dr Tan should ask me this question. Surely as a former parliamentarian he knows that adjournment motions have strict time limits. 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.” But I never asked about parliamentary procedure. I simply asked why the PM stayed silent. PM could have spoken during those 10 minutes since his statement was being challenged.

He also said that I “spliced .. and rearranged” his remarks, that I “may be bitter” and am engaging in “elaborate charades” in posing my questions. I will let readers decide whether the Minister has answered adequately, and whether I had unfairly misquoted him.

On my part, I can assure the Minister that I am still cheerful. But I think the Minister, who said “I’m happy to be confronted with anything else I might have said” didn’t sound so happy when he saw my questions.