By Tan Bah Bah
Some netizens may disagree with me, and I hope not to be proven wrong. Roy Ngerng has so far gotten off lightly, in monetary terms (aggravated damages) though not necessarily in public standing. At issue was an allegation that CPF funds were misappropriated.
What Ngerng ended up with, at least up to today (Monday May 26), was a demand by Senior Counsel Davinder Singh acting on behalf of Prime Minister Lee that Ngerng remove four offensive postings and a Youtube video contaning the allegatioon in his blog and make an offer by 5 pm on May 26 of the amount of damages he was prepared to pay to Lee.
M. Ravi, lawyer for Ngerng, then came back before the 5 pm deadline, saying the postings and video would be withdrawn by 5pm. He asked for an extension of the deadline to 5 pm Wednesday May 28 to write in with an offer of damages and costs, which was demanded by Prime Minister Lee.
Notwithstanding the seriousness of the allegation, the reaction by Lee had just about the right touch and tone. While it has been a standing policy not to allow any allegation to undermine one’s public integrity, militarily, it would be a wrong strategy never to allow your adversary any escape route. Some may be seeking martyrdom.
In the old days, we would expect the whole basin and sink to be thrown at the offender, today there would be requests to withdraw your remarks before more serious action was taken. The approach would be much better calibrated.
Commenting on the issue, Law and Foreign Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam said it was possible to strike a balance between personal freedoms and the rule of law.
He added that under Singapore law, there was room for criticism of the government — whether it is fair, reasonable and true, or the opposite.
“What you can’t do, under our framework of law, is make a personal allegation of fact against anyone, including a politician.
“So if you say, the Prime Minister steals from pension funds, then you better be prepared to prove it,” he said. I second that.