Law Minister K. Shanmugam had an exchange with Workers' Party (WP) MPs in Parliament yesterday over the opposition party's proposal for the president's custodial powers to be vested in a senate. Here are edited excerpts of his exchanges with WP chief Low Thia Khiang (Aljunied GRC) and Non-Constituency MPs Dennis Tan and Leon Perera.
On the details of the election for "senators"
Mr Low: I've said we have looked at the framework, the details we probably will have to fine-tune.
Mr Shanmugam: Can I take it that the details have not been worked out?
Mr Low: We've thought about the details, yes, and (they are) not fully worked out.
Mr Shanmugam: Can you tell us (if) the extent that you've worked out has been explained in this Parliament (sitting) today?
Mr Low: Yes, we've explained.
Mr Shanmugam: So what you've thought about is what you've explained so far?
Mr Low: There will be (WP) MPs speaking on some of the details.
Mr Shanmugam: I've asked a simple question. Fundamental to all of this is the criteria.
So I have you on record, Mr Low, as saying that you have thought of some, and some of that criteria and details will have to be worked out further? Second, I have you on record as saying whatever you've worked out has been set out.
I would like to ask Mr Tan, if there is any other detail on the selection criteria, please let us know. I'd also like a clarification. You said (the) criteria for the senators could be similar to the criteria for the presidents. Can you tell me to what extent will they be different? Mr Tan: The criteria (will be) similar to the Council of Presidential Advisers.
On the criteria senatorial election candidates must satisfy
Mr Shanmugam: I take it that the basic criteria must be similar to the current elected presidency's qualification criteria.
Mr Perera: The basic qualities will be similar.
Mr Shanmugam: I'm not talking about qualities, I'm talking about criteria. Would you require the same criteria for the senators?
Mr Perera: The criteria would be similar.
Mr Shanmugam: I've heard this word "similar" several times. To what extent will they be different?
Mr Perera: It would be different in the sense that we would not have a hard and fast threshold or cut-off to say that regardless of the applicants who apply for this role... (interrupted)
Mr Shanmugam: But that is similar to the deliberative track today that we have because that's also not a hard and fast rule. So, what you are proposing for the senate is like what is being proposed for the elected presidency, (a) set of objective criteria which is the same, and some deliberative process, right?
Mr Perera: Essentially, yes. The reason for that is because (the senate) is still playing a custodial role, and it's not playing the role of reviewing legislations. So it's transferring the custodial (role) from an elected president to a senate.