Singapore will have a new Attorney-General (AG) tomorrow and he will be Mr Lucien Wong Yuen Kuai.
Mr Wong was once the chairman and senior legal partner of Allen & Gledhill, a law firm that many in Singapore can associate with proferring the finest in legal advice and traditions. Mr Wong takes over from retiring judge, V.K. Rajah who turns 60 tomorrow.
But the appointment of the new AG did not come without the usual ‘fireworks’ in parliament. The opposition Workers’ Party (WP) did a reprise of what happened in 1986. Its then secretary-general, J.B. Jeyaretnam questioned the constitutional validity of the appointment of then Attorney-General Tan Boon Teik, saying that he was past his retirement age. That led to a fiery exchange between Jeyaretnam and then Law Minister S. Jaya Kumar.
And now in a reprise of that moment in 2017, though the exchanges were far muted between Law Minister Shanmugam and the new Workers Party, chairman, Sylvia Lim, it did point that if there is a lesson that the WP ought to have learned. And that lesson is it has not learned it enough or plainly ignored that the experiences of the past are templates for the future.
The Singapore constitution amplifies the validity of the Attorney-General quite forthrightly. It says The Attorney-General may be appointed for a specific period and, if he was so appointed, shall, subject to clause (6), vacate his office (without prejudice to his eligibility for reappointment) at the expiration of that period, but, subject as aforesaid, shall otherwise hold office until he attains the age of 60 years.
And in a sub-clause it adds, that the the President, if he, acting in his discretion, concurs with the advice of the Prime Minister, may permit an Attorney-General who has attained the age of 60 years to remain in office for such fixed period as may have been agreed between the Attorney-General and the Government.
And clause 6 says the Attorney-General may be removed from office by the President, if he, acting in his discretion, concurs with the advice of the Prime Minister, but the Prime Minister shall not tender such advice except for inability of the Attorney-General to discharge the functions of his office (whether arising from infirmity of body or mind or any other cause) or for misbehaviour and except with the concurrence of a tribunal consisting of the Chief Justice and 2 other Judges of the Supreme Court nominated for that purpose by the Chief Justice.
If the Workers Party had done its homework, it could have known that the appointment was by no means unconstitutional.
It could have argued for the ‘democratic’ selection of the AG than by appointment.