Former presidential candidate Tan Cheng Bock 'spliced, rearranged' remarks, says Law Minister Shanmugam

Law Minister K, Shanmugam had said the Government as a rule, generally does not publish the legal opinions it gets.
Law Minister K, Shanmugam had said the Government as a rule, generally does not publish the legal opinions it gets.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Law Minister K Shanmugam said on Sunday (Oct 8) that former presidential candidate Tan Cheng Bock had "spliced" his remarks and "rearranged" them in a way to suggest something he did not say.

At issue is whether Mr Shanmugam had said the Government would make public the Attorney-General's Chamber's (AGC) advice on legal issues related to the recent reserved election.

Dr Tan said in a Facebook post on Saturday night that the minister had contradicted himself during last Tuesday's Parliament sitting when responding to an adjournment motion by Workers' Party MP Sylvia Lim.

Mr Shanmugam had said the Government as a rule, generally does not publish the legal opinions it gets.

But Dr Tan said Mr Shanmugam had said the Government would make public the AGC's advice in earlier remarks during a public dialogue about the elected presidency in 2016.

In a Facebook post on Sunday, Mr Shanmugam said Dr Tan had "spliced my remarks, rearranged them, and put them together in a way to suggest something which I did not say".

He added that Dr Tan's claims that he had been inconsistent in Parliament were untrue.

Providing a link to a Channel News Asia report which carried his 2016 remarks in full, Mr Shanmugam said he was asked during the dialogue about when a reserved election will be triggered.

In his answer, he had said that it is a policy decision for the Government to make, and that this would be stated in a Bill to amend the laws related to the elected presidency.

He had also said there were legal questions the Government would have to ask the AGC about, and that the Government would decide on the count of the five terms needed to trigger a reserved election after receiving the AGC's advice.

He added that at the latest, the Government will have a position on the counting of the terms when the Bill gets to Parliament.

In responding, Mr Shanmugam had said: "Once we get the advice, we will send it out. Certainly by the time the Bill gets to Parliament, which is in October, I think we will have a position and we will make it public."

Dr Tan, citing this in his Facebook post, said Mr Shanmugam had said the Government would make public the AGC's advice.

But Mr Shanmugam said on Sunday: "Clearly, I was referring to making the Government's position (and not the AGC's advice) public. The question was when the circuit breaker will come into effect. My answer was that we would make our position clear after we had sorted out some points; and at the latest, we will make our position clear by the time the Bill gets to Parliament."

The minister added that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had made clear the Government's position on the counting of the terms when Parliament debated the Constitutional amendments.

"He said we would start counting from President Wee Kim Wee's second term," said Mr Shanmugam.

The minister also said that a judgement from the Court of Appeal, on Dr Tan's legal challenge to the timing of the reserved election, had "said explicitly" that PM Lee was clear in stating the Government's position.

This timing of the reserved election was discussed in Parliament on Tuesday in an adjournment motion filed by Ms Lim, an MP from Aljunied GRC.

She argued that political leaders had misled Singaporeans by giving the impression that the AGC had advised the Government to reserve the recent presidential election for Malay candidates.

Mr Shanmugam, responding, said the Government has "always been clear" that the the timing for the reserved election was a policy matter for Parliament to decide.

In his Facebook post, Dr Tan also been critical of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean and Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Chan Chun Sing.

He said they should have been the ones responding to Ms Lim, and not Mr Shanmugam.

"I noticed that PM Lee, DPM Teo and Minister Chan sat quietly behind Minister Shanmugam during this debate. One would have expected the PM, DPM or Minister Chan to speak for themselves and clarify their own words. After all, they are the government's top leaders," he said, adding that Ms Lim had referred to statements they had made in her motion.

To this, Mr Shanmugam said he had responded to Ms Lim on behalf of the Government.

He added: "Dr Tan may be bitter. But that is no excuse for engaging in these elaborate charades."

Responding in a post on Sunday night, Dr Tan said: "I will let readers decide whether the minister has answered adequately, and whether I had unfairly misquoted him. On my part, I can assure the minister that I am still cheerful. But I think the minister, who said 'I'm happy to be confronted with anything else I might have said' didn't sound so happy when he saw my questions."