Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin got defensive on social media this week, in response to public indignation over the fact that Workers’ Party (WP) chairman Sylvia Lim’s adjournment motion on the Parti Liyani case was not picked for the next session of Parliament.
On 14 Sept, Ms Lim filed an Adjournment Motion in Parliament entitled “Justice For All: Enhancing Equity In The Criminal Justice System” to examine the issues that arose from the high-profile court case involving Ms Parti who was acquitted on appeal for theft in a case brought by her former employer, then-Changi Airport Group Chairman Liew Mun Leong.
In a statement released on 16 Sept, the WP said that Ms Lim, a lawyer, intends to “discuss aspects of the criminal justice system and the challenges faced by persons of less means in navigating it”. She will also propose specific suggestions to improve the system.
On Tuesday evening (29 Sept), however, Mr Tan revealed that Ms Lim lost the random ballot deciding on the motions raised in Parliament. A motion filed by the ruling party MP Louis Ng, calling for protection against secondhand smoke in homes, won the ballot.
The results of the ballot sparked backlash against the way parliamentary motions are selected. Some Singaporeans even asked Mr Ng to withdraw his motion, to give way to the WP chairman.
Responding to the criticism in an update on his Facebook page, Mr Tan expressed surprise over how “some folks choose to spin a false narrative about this process.” Calling it “disrespectful” to run-down the issues that others are speaking on, the Speaker said:
“Just because a motion is not picked this round does not mean it would not be picked again. But more critically, how on earth is this the be all and end all? For example, not picking the motion on the criminal justice system does not mean that it would not be addresed [sic] at all.”
Pointing out that Law Minister K Shanmugam is set to deliver a ministerial statement on the case and that parliamentary questions have also been filed, Mr Tan added:
“The fact is that the issue of the day would be given a full hearing and more time will be spent on it than via an Adjournment Motion. If members wish to move other motions, they can do so. There is a due process.”
Asserting his hope that the backlash is borne out of “passion and ignorance” rather than a deliberate intention to spread misinformation, the Speaker said rather defensively: “You do not change processes at anyone’s whim and fancy, and just because some of you want only your outcome because you believe it to be right.”
While some understood Mr Tan’s point of view, other observers felt that the Speaker got needlessly personal against critics.