Government and people both agree, yet a wrong cannot be righted

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By Augustine Low

Defending the practice of having trials in open court, Law Minister K Shanmugam rightfully said in March last year that justice must not only be done but be seen to be done.

In the case of the City Harvest Church sentencing, all the public  murmurings have been due to the fact that justice was not seen to be done. The disquiet and discontent has been vindicated because the Minister said in Parliament that the government believes the sentences are too low.

The Minister made a cogent point: that those higher up in rank and seniority should be more culpable and liable for more severe punishments, compared with ordinary employees. “That’s really common sense, and there can be no question about that,” he pointedly remarked.

The two words jumped out: common sense. This is precisely what ordinary Singaporeans applied in coming up with the notion that the church leaders got off too lightly. Examples abound, like the case of someone who stole $1,900 from a place of worship and was sentenced to 4.5 years’ jail. In comparison, we are talking about misappropriation of $50 million here and the sentences are lighter.

It just didn’t make sense to the ordinary men and women. Common sense says something is wrong.

But common sense can sometimes be misguided, like when people claim the sentences are light because PAP MP Edwin Tong acted as counsel for Pastor Kong Hee. This may be construed as common sense to some, but it is  flawed and has no basis for justification.

In any case, Minister Shanmugam has said that the government will move to plug a gap in the law to ensure legislation allows for higher penalties for directors and senior officers who commit criminal breach of trust.

Again, we have to go back to common sense. All the learned minds in the law and legal fraternity, for all those years, and common sense did not prevail to spot and plug a glaring gap in the law. Well, better late than never and hard luck to the future offenders.

Incidentally, I don’t know if a moviemaker out there is thinking what I’m thinking.

Over four years of legal battles. Most expensive criminal trial. Big money. Evangelical faith. Dynamic concert-like services. Whistle blowing. Cover-ups. A charismatic pastor and his pop star wife. All the ingredients for a movie. If this is Hollywood, the script would already have been written.