On 20 October 2014, the National Solidarity Party (NSP) lodged an Appeal to the President of Singapore against the Minister for Communications and Information (“MCI”) for refusing to process NSP’s newspaper permit application until all members of NSP’s Central Executive Committee (“CEC”) provide their personal financial information.
NSP is taking issue with MCI because MCI only requires CEC members of Political Associations to disclose their personal financial information, but does not impose such requirements on members of the governing body of applicants who are not Political Associations. Prima facie, this is a discrimination against Political Associations.
NSP is of the view that it has a public duty to call out discrepancies and unevenness in the application of ministerial powers and discretions. It is in the interest of citizens for political appointment holders to be always mindful of not exceeding the boundaries of their authority and powers.
On Monday, NSP lodged Additional Submissions [link here: http://bit.ly/1z5UgWn] with the Istana, in which NSP provided evidence that MCI not only discriminates against Political Associations, but further discriminates against opposition political parties.
Transcripts from a Parliamentary Debate held on 22 May 2002 on the criteria for issuing newspaper permits under the Newspaper and Printing Press Act, Cap. 206 show that the Minister required all CEC members of political parties to disclose their personal financial information, but did not impose such requirements on the CEC members of the People’s Action Party (“PAP”).
During that Debate, Non-Constituency Member of Parliament Mr Steve Chia asked then Acting Minister for the Information and the Arts (MITA) Mr David Lim: “Can the Minister kindly explain why all the CEC members in a political party that applies for such a printing permit also be required to declare their personal assets? Is this requirement also enforced upon the PAP publication, Petir? And that all the PAP CEC members also have to declare their personal assets to MITA when they apply for this printing permit?”
Mr David Lim replied: “Mr Chia has also asked if this rule applies to Petir and to the PAP. Yes, it does. But PAP CEC members declare their assets to the Prime Minister and SBA accepts that declaration as fulfilment of this requirement.”
Then Member of Parliament (Potong Pasir) Mr Chiam See Tong asked MITA to clarify:
“When the details of assets are submitted to the Prime Minister, is it submitted to the Prime Minister as Prime Minister, or is it submitted to the Prime Minister as the head of the PAP?”
Mr David Lim clarified: “The PAP is not just a private political party. It is the ruling party. It is the Government. It forms the Government. When office-holders declare their assets to the Prime Minister, they declare to the Prime Minister as the Prime Minister.”
As NSP has found no information of any change in the policy described by MITA in Parliament on 22 May 2002, NSP concludes that such preferential policy is still being followed by MCI to date.
It is troubling why MCI exempts PAP from having to comply with requirements which MCI insists that opposition parties comply with. Such practice discriminates against opposition politicians in direct violation of the equality principle guaranteed by Article 12 of the Constitution. Rule of law behoves MCI to subject all political parties to the same criteria and process of application.
The President has informed NSP that MCI will not be participating in the deliberation of the Cabinet. We agree that the MCI should be excluded. As MCI is the party against whose decision our Appeal is made, he should not be a part of the body which decides the outcome of our Appeal.
In our Additional Submissions, we pointed out that not only MCI but the Second Minister for Communications and Information should also be excluded since the latter serves in the same ministry as the former.
We further contended that in view of the nature and grounds of our Appeal, the whole Cabinet is blighted with actual, imputed and apparent bias. Excluding MCI (and the Second MCI as well) from the Cabinet’s deliberation would not be sufficient to compensate for its impartiality. As such, the Cabinet should recuse itself from arbitrating our Appeal and defer the role of arbiter to a neutral body.
We proposed to the President that the Cabinet appoints an independent tribunal or ombudsman to deliberate the merits and to decide the outcome of our Appeal, so as to ensure not only that Justice is done, but also that Justice is seen to be done.
NSP looks forward to Cabinet’s clarification on the points raised by NSP in its Appeal and Additional Submissions and to an early decision on the outcome of our Appeal.
While the immediate aim of a political party is to contest at and to win parliamentary elections, NSP believes that the role of a political party in a democratic system includes a duty to ensure that Singaporeans have the full benefits of a democratic government which our political leaders are obliged by Constitution to provide our citizens with.
It is certainly much easier to close one eye and to allow limits to be exceeded without opposition. All powers have legal limits and if politicians do not make a stand to remind appointment holders to observe the boundaries of their powers, how would citizens be safeguarded from abuse of power?
Until we see the end of a dominant party Parliament, the prospect of ministerial powers being mis-applied to serve the longevity of the incumbent, remains.
And we all know too well the tendency of human nature to take a mile when you give them an inch.
Finally, we look to the Cabinet to conduct and conclude their deliberation within a reasonable time. For as the saying goes, Justice Delayed is Justice Denied.
Jeannette Chong-Aruldoss, Secretary-General
On behalf of the 15th Central Executive Committee
of the NATIONAL SOLIDARITY PARTY