Minister for Law and Home Affairs K. Shanmugam said today that Dr Tan Cheng Bock “spliced my remarks, rearranged them, and put them together in a way to suggest something which I did not say.” He was referring to the remarks he had made in Parliament this week, with regards to the term count that triggered the reserved Presidential Election that disbarred Dr Tan from contesting the election.
Dr Tan alleged that the Minister’s arguments about the term count were contradictory, in a Facebook post yesterday:
MY OBSERVATIONS ON THE MOTION BY MS SYLVIA LIM ON TUESDAY 3 OCT 2017 I have 2 observations on Ms Lim’s excellent…
Responding on his own Facebook page, the Minister clarified the comments he had made in Parliament before saying, “Dr Tan may be bitter. But that is no excuse for engaging in these elaborate charades”:
“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.”