SINGAPORE: Public policy educator and former Straits Times (ST) political columnist Gan Swee Leong has opined that the speeches Ministers K Shanmugam and Vivian Balakrishnan delivered on the Ridout Road saga Parliament yesterday (3 July) should not have been deemed “ministerial statements,” given the fact that they are involved in the controversy.
The Order Paper of the Parliamentary sitting that convened yesterday shows that the authorities consider Mr Shanmugam and Dr Balakrishnan’s speeches to be two out of the four ministerial statements delivered yesterday. The media has also reported their speeches as ministerial statements.
Mr Gan, however, disagrees with this label. He said on Facebook yesterday morning: “If Ministers Shanmugam and Balakrishnan, like the other two political appointees, are addressing Parliament as Ministers of their respective Law and Home Affairs portfolio, they should stay away from commenting on the Rideout Road bungalows as they have vested interests.”
Sharing his view that the ministers should have recused themselves from making ministerial statements on the matter and expressed their views as ordinary MPs defending their name, he said:
“In other words, Messrs Shan and Vivian should only express their views as ordinary MPs who are accountable for their individual behaviors over an incident deemed inappropriate by many Singaporeans and are using the parliamentary session to defend their good name. That’s fair enough.
“This is no different from opposition MPs across the aisle who have to account for their own indiscretion such as speaking out of line (eg MP Leong Mun Wai) or lying (eg MP Raeesah Khan). They spoke as ordinary folks expressing regret, not as party representatives and certainly not as political appointees.”
Mr Gan added that he is “not trying to be pedantic over the term ‘ministerial statement,’” but is concerned about the “deeper and broader unsavory political culture that has crept into our government and governance.”
He said: “Ministers do not make ‘ministerial statements’ just because they have something to say. When their personal deeds – and not official work – are called to question, they are making, well, ‘non-ministerial statements’. To assert otherwise is to privilege oneself simply because of one’s political office.
“Ministers don’t rent bungalows as ministers. Tenants do. Otherwise, it’s akin to Donald Trump rejecting allegations against himself by way of a ‘Presidential Statement’. The Person is separate from the Office. Same same but different.”
Mr Gan’s post was published before the parliamentary sitting.
Pointing to the Chinese saying: 王子犯法，庶民同罪, which means if a prince commits an offence, he should be dealt with in the same way as an ordinary citizen, the public policy expert called on the two Ministers to “do the decent, noble and honourable thing and that is to express ‘regret’ for causing public resentment, alarm, distress or misunderstanding.”
He added, “Such a gesture is not an admission of guilt but being human. Ministers must remember that’s how all of us begin our lives as.”