Parliamentary speech, 5 Nov 2019
Mr. Speaker, thank you for the opportunity to speak on this Motion. First, I acknowledge the judgement delivered by the High Court on 11 Oct 2019.
This Motion is in four parts. Part (i) of the Motion which affirms the vital importance of Members of Parliament maintaining high standards of integrity and accountability is indisputable. I clearly support this first part of the Motion.
I wish to speak at this motion because I am unsure of the need for this Motion which has no legal force when passed, given the powers already vested in the Minister through the Town Councils Act to order AHTC to take necessary and swift actions. At the same time, I am also concerned that the Motion relates to matters which have not fully concluded in court.
Mr. Speaker, I understand that this substantive motion when passed by the House becomes a resolution of Parliament. A resolution of the House is not legislation nor does it have any legal force.
Given this, should the call for AHTC to discharge their responsibilities as proposed in Part (iv) of the Motion asking for this House to call for and influence AHTC to recuse the said Members of Parliament from all matters relating to, and oversight of, financial matters, be made by the Minister through the powers granted by the Town Councils Act, instead of this House?
Under Section 43D of the Act, it is expressly provided that if the Minister is of the opinion that there are deficiencies identified in the conduct of the affairs of the Town Council and/or an irregularity has occurred or is occurring in the financial affairs of the Town Council, the Minister may by order in writing require the Town Council to (I quote) “take specified remedial action to address the deficiencies” and “take specified action to correct the irregularity or to guard against the recurrence of irregularities (or both)” (unquote). This entire section was an amendment added to the Act and passed by this House only two years back, in 2017.
In Section 9(b) of the Act, it is also provided that the appointment of the Chairman may be revoked by the Minister if he is satisfied that it is desirable in the public interest to do so.
In addition, Mr Speaker, I am also uncomfortable with the judgment being discussed in this House. A court proceeding, as I understand according to Administration of Justice (Protection) Act, only concludes when all issues relating to assessment of damages and costs of the proceedings are heard and finally decided. Therefore, it is clear that the legal proceeding of this case is still afoot. The defendants are also entitled to launch an appeal, and we just heard from Ms Sylvia Lim that they will be doing so. Given this, Mr Speaker, I am concerned that any comments that we make now, while possibly protected under certain parliamentary privileges, could still potentially fall under contempt of court. Also, our debates are published in Hansard and the media. I worry that commenting on and acting from the judgment when the case has not concluded with finality, especially if this matter is brought to the Courts of Appeal, may be perceived to be interfering with the due judicial process in the administration of justice.
Sir, I have outlined my concerns and clarifications for Parts (ii), (iii) and (iv) of the Motion and am of the view that the matters raised in these three parts may compromise on the integrity and enforceability of the Town Councils Act as well as judiciary process relating to the ongoing court proceeding.
Given that this Motion shall be voted in its entirety and not in parts, I wish to state for the record that I clearly support the ideals of integrity and accountability expected of members of this House in Part (i).
Mr. Speaker, I continue to be thankful everyday for the privilege to be here in this House as a nominated member of parliament. This privilege to serve comes with the commensurate responsibility that I take dutifully and seriously to add value to the discourse in this House as a non-partisan voice, hopefully in a considered manner (hopefully most of the time) to the best of my ability.
It is with this same consideration that my abstention to this Motion today, when called for a vote, is premised on:
First, my inability to understand the call for action through this Motion with no legal force when there exists an enforceable pathway in accordance with the rule of law under the Town Councils’ Act, which I believe, already grants the Minister powers to do the same as proposed in Part (iv) of the Motion.
Second, my inability to erase the concern that the debate in this House from the judgement of a court proceeding that has yet to be fully concluded as indicated in Parts (ii) and (ii) of the Motion may be perceived as interference of due process in the administration of justice
This abstention does not, in anyway, signal any disagreement on my part with the principles of integrity and accountability that we must uphold as Members of Parliament, elected or not.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Anthea Ong is a Nominated Member of Parliament. (A Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP) is a Member of the Parliament of Singapore who is appointed by the President. They are not affiliated to any political party and do not represent any constituency. There are currently nine NMPs in Parliament.)
The multi-sector perspective that comes from her ground immersion of 12 years in different capacities helps her translate single-sector issues and ideas across boundaries without alienating any particular community/group. As an entrepreneur and with many years in business leadership, it is innate in her to discuss social issues with the intent of finding solutions, or at least of exploring possibilities. She champions mental health, diversity and inclusion — and climate change in Parliament.
She is also an impact entrepreneur/investor and a passionate mental health advocate, especially in workplace wellbeing. She started WorkWell Leaders Workgroup in May 2018 to bring together top leaders (CXOs, Heads of HR/CSR/D&I) of top employers in Singapore (both public and private) to share, discuss and co-create inclusive practices to promote workplace wellbeing. Anthea is also the founder of Hush TeaBar, Singapore’s 1st silent teabar and a social movement that aims to bring silence, self care and social inclusion into every workplace, every community — with a cup of tea. The Hush Experience is completely led by lovingly-trained Deaf facilitators, supported by a team of Persons with Mental Health Issues (PMHIs).
Follow Anthea Ong on her public page at www.facebook.com/antheaonglaytheng