Law 'empowers' Minister to appoint AGC to lead evidence at hearing into riot: Selvam

Former president of the Singapore National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) John De Payva (left), former Supreme Court judge G. Pannir Selvam (centre) and chairman of the West Coast Citizens Consultative Committee Andrew Chua (right) leaving the State Co
Former president of the Singapore National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) John De Payva (left), former Supreme Court judge G. Pannir Selvam (centre) and chairman of the West Coast Citizens Consultative Committee Andrew Chua (right) leaving the State Court on 27 February 2014. The issue of whether the Attorney General's Chambers (AGC) should be leading evidence at the Committee of Inquiry (COI) into the Dec 8 riot in Little India, was raised again in court on Thursday, by committee chairman G. Pannir Selvam. This, after Mr Selvam asked activist Vincent Wijeysingha if he still held the view that the State Counsels should not be leading evidence at the public hearing. -- ST FILE PHOTO: WONG KWAI CHOW

The issue of whether the Attorney General's Chambers (AGC) should be leading evidence at the Committee of Inquiry (COI) into the Dec 8 riot in Little India, was raised again in court on Thursday, by committee chairman G. Pannir Selvam. This, after Mr Selvam asked activist Vincent Wijeysingha if he still held the view that the State Counsels should not be leading evidence at the public hearing.

Dr Wijeysingha, who was testifying at the inquiry, had written to the committee earlier to argue that there was a conflict of interest with the AGC leading the evidence during the proceedings in court as it represents the Government. That same letter was also published by freesheet Today on Feb 17, two days before the inquiry convened.

"The point I was making then - I hold it even now - is that there must be at least a semblance of fairness and justice," Dr Wijeysingha told the inquiry, pointing to the fact that the AGC was the authority that decided to charge the suspects allegedly involved in the riot and behind the decision not to take action against the bus driver behind the fatal accident that sparked the violence that night.

"The AGC can't do both things at once; represent the government and charge the people and represent the people (of Singapore)," he said, before facing the team from AGC in court and saying he had "no doubt" the State Counsels present could do their jobs "independently".

Mr Selvam, however, replied that members of the committee were "masters of our own procedures", before explaining that under the Inquiries Act, the Minister is empowered to appoint the AGC to lead the evidence. "I cannot override him against that section," he added.

Dr Wijeysingha replied saying that it was not a "question of practicality but of transparency and independence". "Gone are the days when the Government can say "'Don't worry, you can trust us to do the right thing,'" he added.

But when asked by Mr Selvam if he was satisfied with the manner in which the inquiry was being handled thus far, Dr Wijeysingha said: "Sir, you have put me on the spot here. Can I not answer that?"