Sunday, 8 October 2017

Sylvia vs Shanmugam: EP Countdown debate.

Sylvia Lim like a pit-bull terrier finally had her twenty minutes in Parliament. But I think it is not going to matter much what she has to say because Parliament has already declared that it is sovereign and it is sovereign to decide what it deems is in the best interest of the nation. 

Whether it is about a family feud concerning a private testamentary Will, some personal stuff taken without permission and handed to NHB, or the counting of the hiatus trigger for the EP, Parliament is still sovereign and Sylvia should just let dead dogs lie. 

But she's feisty and her bite took some hold yesterday when she questioned the Govt about some smoke and mirror concerning the Att-Gen's advice and the Govt's decision to take WKW as the first (s)elected president.

Sylvia said: "the clear impression given was that the Government based its decision on the advice of the AGC. That must have been why PM Lee sequenced his sentence in that order." 

The order, if you are so minded to know, is how PM Lee said it on Nov 8: "We have taken the Attorney-General's advice. We will start counting from the first president who exercised the powers of the elected president, in other words, Dr Wee Kim Wee."

That sequence seems clear enough for the reasonable man on the street. 

But our equally feisty Law minister will have none of that. His bite is equally tenacious. 

He replied: "What Ms Lim is saying is that we are starting to count from here because of the AGC's advice. I think that was never suggested." (Mm...I think it is somehow "legalese" or ambiguous to use "think" and "never" in one sentence?)

Our law minister recalled a time when he said on record that "the Government can decide...It is a policy decision (not legal)."

He then added: "We start counting, we are a careful Government. We make a policy decision but we take advice to see whether there are any impediments."

He then concluded: "Did anyone say we are going to decide this way because this is the way that AGC has told us that we have to decide? That would make no sense because Parliament is sovereign." Indeed she is. 

I guess the Govt also wanted to ensure that the count was also legally sound and defensible. You can't fault punctilious cautiousness, even neurotic ones, right?

All that was how the discussion went in Parliament, and Sylvia eventually had her twenty minute and the expected rebuttals, and that should be a restful wrap for the sovereign Parliament of the day. 

But it didn't quite end there. PAP will have the last word, and Shanmugam had to cheekily slip in one to flog the dead "EP" horse. 

He said: "There is only one person in this House whom the courts have held to be misleading Parliament. And he is not from PAP." 

At first I didn't quite catch that until the papers shed some light on it in the following paragraphs as reported:-

"(Shanmugam) was referring to a 2015 statement (Sylvia) made to Parliament on how the AHPETC had made the necessary transfers to its sinking funds. Justice Quentin Loh subsequently noted that Ms Lim failed to mention or acknowledge that AHPETC had been making late transfers to its sinking fund." 

That was the last word that cracked the nut with a sledgehammer-like low undercut.

Well, in politics, what goes around comes around. You may be holding the whip one day whooping derrière, and on another day, its your derrière that gets the whooping. 

So, the above boomerang metaphor actually cuts both ways for PAP. Because the last word on misleading and misperception was what some may call the whitewashing session on 3 July when the party as a collective whole stood in phenomenal solidarity to vindicate in full their leadership. 

To put it bluntly, it was like a roaring cheerleading session of the finest elitist strata of high society. 

Alas, the accusers were not even summoned to Parliament to defend or advance their case. 

My point or lesson? Well, just one, and it is about taking he high road. And I take my lead from the words of EW Barker, who was the speaker of the House for nearly 14 years (1968 to 1984). 

Barker reminded parliamentarians this:- 

"No Member will stray from the straight and narrow path if he always lets his conscience be his guide." 

His "let your conscience be your guide" advice was the advice most fondly remembered by the old guards. 

In a speech in July 2006 to appreciate ministers like EW Barker, Tan Soo Khoon said:-

"Like the newly elected MPs, we retirees were also at one time greenhorns in the world of politics but we learned from the experience of others who came before us. One of the most valuable pieces of advice imparted to me by my older colleagues when I first came into Parliament came from the late EW Barker, who said: "Be humble and do not be overwhelmed by your newly accorded status." 

Conscience, abiding by the straight and narrow path, and humility are the hallmarks of a wise, gracious and effective leader. 

As such, I do not think it was necessary for our Law minister to slip that remark in as the issue was not even about the AHPETC funds. There is already an on-going investigation/lawsuit on it and we should just let justice take its course on the issue. 

In my view, that remark was a low-blow, and it detracted from the issue on the perception that the reasonable man on the street may have concerning what was expressed or implied in the sequential order of PM Lee's statement - "We have taken the Attorney-General's advice. We will start counting from the first president..." 

Mind you, the words were spoken by PM Lee in Parliament, recorded as such, broadcast to the public at large, and making headlines in print. 
Mm...isn't Uncle Ben's advice to Peter Parker relevant here - that is, with great powers (in Parliament) comes great responsibility (in speech and deed)?

If so, shouldn't our minister in Parliament take the "straight and narrow path" to admit that there may have been (at least) some misunderstanding caused by the statement made in Parliament, and then, allowing one's conscience to lead, to say sorry for the misperception caused which was unclear but unintended?

Now, I know very well, by now at least, that Parliament is absolutely sovereign, but it doesn't hurt a smidge to the shining white armor of her sovereignty to at times demonstrate some humanity, humility and honor by admitting that mistakes or oversight were made in this case, especially with the whirlwind kind of speed the reserved election was implemented, and then proceed to assure the people that they will do better (in terms of proper warning and preparation) next time as the leaders are only human?

Alas, generally speaking, the last thing we need is a fully sovereign Parliament run by one Party with elected ministers who are "overwhelmed by (their) newly accorded status". 

On this, we should always take a leaf off the humane politics of EW Barker as captured in the words of the late Subhas Anandan:- 

"He did it very naturally. He could go to a coffee shop and sit around the people. He could have his beer there. I don't think any other minister could do it. I think E.W. Barker was the only person who could do it." 

In the end, surely, we do not want our ministers to visit a coffeeshop with an entourage, mingle with the people, order a beer or teh-si, and then pour the same into a Starbuck's cup when no one is looking, right? Metaphorically speaking, of course. Cheerz.

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