Former presidential candidate Dr Tan Cheng Bock revealed yesterday that his constitutional challenge against the term count triggering the reserved presidential election has concluded with no legal costs payable to the government due to public interest in the case.
In a statement published on his Facebook page, the veteran politician – who lost his appeal against a High Court rejection of his legal action against the timing of the reserved PE2017 – said:
“At first, the Government wanted the Court to order $30,000 costs against me. But my lawyers vigorously resisted and argued for a “public interest cost order” instead. After reading our submissions, the Government changed their mind and consented to “no order as to costs”.
What is a “public interest costs order”? In exceptional cases, the Court can spare an unsuccessful plaintiff, who has filed a legitimate complaint, from paying costs to a government defendant in a case of general importance and public interest.”
Recalling that many cautioned him that not to waste his money mounting a legal challenge against the government as he would lose and have to pay the government “thousands of dollars in legal fees,” Tan explained that “win or lose” this legal battle was one he felt convicted to take on.
Calling the government’s attitude towards those seeking answers “dismissive” and “unstatisfactory,” Dr Tan said that he was determined that the government must answer the people’s question when he launched his lawsuits:
“When my legal action started in April 2017, many cautioned “Don’t waste money. You will surely lose and pay the Government thousands of dollars in legal fees.” However, the Government’s dismissive attitude towards genuine answer-seekers like myself, and MP Sylvia Lim in Parliament in Nov 2016 and Feb 2017 was simply unsatisfactory. Win or lose, I was determined the Government should answer our questions.
“6 months have passed. My legal team presented serious arguments, and ran our case responsibly without mud-slinging. Now Singaporeans know the issues better. Despite not succeeding, my application has secured some answers.
“We heard the AG tell the Court: “PM never said that the AG advised PM to start the count from President Wee. What PM said is that the AG advised (that) what the Government was proposing to do was legitimate” and the AG never advised the Government that President Wee was the 1st Elected President. The start of the count was purely a policy decision, which the Court cannot review. AG’s advice to the PM was ultimately irrelevant.
“Yet other questions remain unanswered by the Government. For instance, why did the Government tell Parliament they took AG’s advice if AG’s advice was irrelevant? Why invite MP Sylvia Lim to go to Court if it was, all along, a policy decision? Shouldn’t reasons for policy decisions be explained in Parliament?”
In concluding his statement, Dr Tan urged the public to ask more questions about the reserved PE2017 to their elected Members of Parliament (MPs). He also added that he hopes Workers’ Party chairman Sylvia Lim will get to ask questions on the term count triggering the reserved election in parliament.
Unfortunately, Lim was blocked from doing so after MPs voted to debate a motion on “preserving green space,” at the next parliamentary session on 2 Oct. The decision was made through a ballot conducted by Speaker of Parliament, Tan Chuan Jin yesterday.
The WP had previously raised the same adjournment motion titled “Counting from President Wee Kim Wee or President Ong Teng Cheong – policy decision or legal question?” for debate on 28 August. That bid was quashed when the PAP-majority house chose to debate a motion on rehabilitative options instead.