38, OXLEY ROAD DEBATE

Oxley Road: Parliament the right platform to debate the matter, says Janil

SENIOR MINISTER OF STATE FOR EDUCATION AND COMMUNICATIONS AND INFORMATION JANIL PUTHUCHEARY
SENIOR MINISTER OF STATE FOR EDUCATION AND COMMUNICATIONS AND INFORMATION JANIL PUTHUCHEARY

Discussions are transparent; taking case to court will drag issue further, he says

Parliament is the right place to address the ongoing dispute over the fate of 38, Oxley Road, not only because the discussions are transparent but also because it does not preclude other routes, said Senior Minister of State Janil Puthucheary .

He was responding to calls from MPs such as Workers' Party chief Low Thia Khiang (Aljunied GRC), for the case to be settled in court as a way to end the saga swiftly.

But if the case had gone to court, the issue would have dragged on further, he said, noting that a court hearing would not have been able to resolve the matter in the two weeks that have passed since the first allegations were made.

Some MPs have also said it is difficult to establish whether there is truth and substance to the allegations levelled at Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong by his two younger siblings.

There are contradictions in these statements, Dr Janil noted.

"Parliament cannot make a private citizen sue his own brother. That is a choice for a private citizen to make. And yet you are asking for us in this House to make a decision about a private act,'' he said.

Also, going to Parliament does not prevent anything else from happening outside the House, he said.

A TOOL EMPOWERED BY PARLIAMENT

It provides a report to Parliament and the actions taken on its recommendations are done by Parliament. So if they are going to choose these routes, the one thing we cannot do is say that Parliament is not an appropriate place to deal with these matters.

SENIOR MINISTER OF STATE FOR EDUCATION AND COMMUNICATIONS AND INFORMATION JANIL PUTHUCHEARY, on the notion of a select committee.

While he shared Mr Low's sentiments for an end to the saga now, he did not think a legal suit or a parliamentary select committee would achieve it. The way to end it, he added, is by saying in Parliament "that you are satisfied with the explanation that has been given".

Mr Pritam Singh (Aljunied GRC) had suggested setting up a select committee, comprising members from all parties, to investigate the allegations of abuse of power.

While a select committee may have the time, space and opportunity to gather more evidence, he noted it is essentially a tool empowered by Parliament.

"It provides a report to Parliament and the actions taken on its recommendations are done by Parliament. So if they are going to choose these routes, the one thing we cannot do is say that Parliament is not an appropriate place to deal with these matters."

He also said the ability to talk about such issues in Parliament was a marker of transparency.

And by recusing himself from government decisions on his late father's house and exposing himself to questions, PM Lee has held himself up as an example of how the Government values the idea of accountability, he added.

Dr Janil agreed with Mr Low's call for the line between what is public and private to be a "bright red line".

But the debate can be ended conclusively only when MPs have been satisfied with the explanations given, and with the process of governance and parliamentary democracy. "Then there will be a strong bright line," he added.

The parliamentary process is one that must involve MPs rigorously applying themselves to the contest of issues to get the best outcome for Singapore, he said.

He added that MPs are not elected by the people to throw the problem back to the people. "We have to solve (it) and make decisions and analyse the facts on their behalf and hold ourselves accountable to them."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 04, 2017, with the headline 'Parliament the right platform to debate the matter: Janil'. Print Edition | Subscribe