Several citizens have weighed in at The Straits Times Forum with regards to recent reports of an MP writing on behalf of one of his constituents involved in a motor vehicle accident. Included among these are Low Wee Ping, a retired district judge who contributed the views of Lee Kuan Yew on the matter, based on his experience with the founding Prime Minister. Additionally, Dr. Ang Eng Tat has emphasized that Members of Parliament must not cross the line from doing their legislative duties into interfering with other branches of government.
In addition to Mr. Low being a judge, in the 1980s he had also been the Registrar of the Subordinate Courts and Supreme Court. He wrote in relation to an internal procedure within the People’s Action Party wherein MPs only wrote letters of appeal on behalf of their residents for matters of urgency.
As the Registrar of the Subordinate Courts, Mr. Low was told by Chief Justice Wee Chong Jin to disregard letters written by MPs and not forward these to judges, but instead give them back to the PAP Whip. This is because the founding prime minster himself, Lee Kuan Yew, had written to all Members of Parliament, telling them not to write these kinds of letters to the courts.
These letters of appeal were kept in a file in the court registry.
Late MM Lee believed that when an MP wrote letters of appeal to the courts, this action made indistinct the separation of powers of the three branches of government, a perspective recently echoed by both Agnes Sng Hwee Lee and Cheng Choon Fei.
Mr. Low said that MM Lee believed if the resident who had asked an MP to write a letter on his or her behalf received a sentence thought to be lenient, they might think this leniency was due to the MP’s letter alone, and later on feel an obligation to keep voting for that MP, creating a false sense of a debt of gratitude.
Another letter writer, Dr. Ang Eng Tat, reminded everyone what Meet-the-People sessions are for. “The primary role of the Meet-the-People Session (MPS) is to allow the MPs to have a feel of societal problems and to discover if there are pressing issues that need to be addressed in Parliament.”
These sessions are not meant to give constituents a venue for trying to “explain their way out of tricky situations when they were clearly in the wrong, whatever the circumstances.”
As a volunteer for MPS sessions, Dr. Tat has seen instances when residents have ended up misusing these sessions when they appeal to their MPs in order to escape the consequences for committing such offenses as illegal parking or running a red light, even if MPs explain that wrongs have been committed.
MPs trying to help their residents or even keep them as loyal voters, can lead to abuse, Dr. Tat opined. While there are real issues to be brought for, he says, “I strongly suggest that the people examine their intent before meeting their MPs in future.”
Dr. Tat stressed the need for MPs to be firm in not crossing over from their legislative function to interfere with the judicial or executive functions of the government.