Parliament: Having an independent council could lead to 'unnecessary bureaucratic bloat', says Shanmugam

Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam said a proposal by three Nominated MPs to have an independent council review the Government's actions in tackling online falsehoods could lead to unnecessary bureaucratic bloat.
Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam said a proposal by three Nominated MPs to have an independent council review the Government's actions in tackling online falsehoods could lead to unnecessary bureaucratic bloat.PHOTO: GOV.SG

SINGAPORE - A proposal by three Nominated MPs (NMPs) to have an independent council review the Government's actions in tackling online falsehoods could lead to unnecessary bureaucratic bloat, said Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam in Parliament on Tuesday (May 7).

All of the functions of such a council can be achieved in the current structure of the executive and Parliament, and it is preferable for Parliament to hold the executive directly accountable, he said.

"Parliament is a representative body, it's meant to work in a democracy this way, where MPs hold the ministers accountable, and check and ask questions. You don't keep creating bodies. And then who checks on (these bodies)?" he said.

The minister made the point during the second reading of the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Bill, aimed at protecting society from the harm caused by the spread of fake news.

Last week, three Nominated MPs - Ms Anthea Ong, Ms Irene Quay and Dr Walter Theseira, had filed a notice to Parliament to propose four amendments to the Bill.

While they agree with the Bill's legislative intent, they were concerned that it grants the executive "far-reaching" powers to control what is said online, and such tools could be used to "suppress or chill debate and expression for political purposes", they said in a joint statement.

Other than the council, they proposed that the Government explain publicly its decisions when exercising its powers under the new law.

 
 
 
 

Responding, Mr Shanmugam said this will be set out in subsidiary legislation, which are rules and regulations made by authorities to put Acts into practice. But the level of detail to be provided has to be decided on a case by case basis.

"That's the best way of dealing with these things. You cannot go upfront and try to legislate every detail," he added.

On the amendment to have the minister "do everything reasonable to ensure that appeals to the minister are adjudicated delay", the minister again said timelines will be set out in the subsidiary legislation.

He also said the draft legislation will go further than what the NMPs had proposed and disclosed that ministers have to decide in two days on applications of appeals against their decisions.

The NMPs also proposed inserting key principles that guide the exercise of powers under the Act, including the aim not to target "opinions, comments, critiques, satire, parody, generalisations, or statements of experiences".

Mr Shanmugam said he appreciated the intent underpinning the proposal, but some of the principles are unsuitable for primary legislation.

He added that it is preferable to rely on case law in some instances.