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1999-11-24 Parliamentary Debate on Rule of Law

1999-11-24 Parliamentary Debate on Rule of Law

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Published by: Jeannette Chong-Aruldoss on May 10, 2012
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10/05/2012RULE OF LAW1/41
This report was printed from Singapore Parliamentwebsite. 
Parliament No:9Session No:2Volume No:71Sitting No:6Sitting Date:1999-11-24Section Name:MOTIONSTitle:RULE OF LAWMPs Speaking:Assoc. Prof.Ho Peng Kee(Minister of State for Law); Mr Wong Kan Seng (Leader of the House); Mr  Wong Kan Seng (Minister for Home Affairs); Assoc. Prof. Chin Tet Yung; Assoc. Prof. Toh See Kiat;Mr Chiam See Tong; Mr J. B. Jeyaretnam; Mr Low Thia Khiang; Mr Simon S. C. Tay; Mr Eugene YapGiau Cheng (Mr Deputy Speaker); Mr Tan Soo Khoon (Mr Speaker);
Column: 569
Sitting resumed at 3.30 pm
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]RULE OF LAW
Mr Speaker:
This motion is subject to signification of support by at least one Member. Does the motionhave the support of any other hon. Member?
Mr Low Thia Khiang (Hougang):
I support.
Mr Jeyaretnam:
Mr Speaker, Sir, I beg to move,That this House recognises the importance of the Rule of Law and urges the government to ensure thecomplete and full compliance of the Rule of Law by all Ministers, officials and public servants.Mr Speaker, Sir, may I assure those Members of the House who perhaps are asking why is the Member always raising issues that are ---
Assoc. Prof. Toh See Kiat (Aljunied):
Point of order, Sir.
Mr Speaker:
Yes. What is your point of order?
Assoc. Prof. Toh See Kiat:
I believe the NCMP has changed the words of the motion and has not givennotice of it.
Mr Speaker:
Mr Jeyaretnam, in the motion that you have submitted, I think the Member is referring tothe word "observance". You have used the word "compliance".
10/05/2012RULE OF LAW2/41
Mr Jeyaretnam:
I see. I am sorry.
Mr Speaker:
Can I ask you to stick to the original words?
Mr Jeyaretnam:
Thank you, I will. Thank you for pointing that out.
Column: 570
Mr Speaker:
Please proceed.
Mr Jeyaretnam:
Sir, I beg to move,That this House recognises the importance of the Rule of Law and urges the government to ensure thecomplete and full observance of the Rule of Law by all Ministers, officials and public servants.I was saying, Sir, that I assure those Members of the House who perhaps are asking themselves why is theMember introducing the subject on which we have heard enough, and do we have to listen again to the samething. May I remind the Members that the subject is not about any abstract value. It may be intangible, but ismore valuable than any tangibles.The rule of law is what sets a civilised society apart from other societies that do not observe the rule of law. So it is not an abstract airy-fairy rule that is propounded or shouted out by left wing liberals, but it issomething that is so fundamental in any society that believes itself to be a civilised society.I do not think I have to make a strong case on the first statement that the House recognises the importanceof the rule of law, because we have had, many a time, Ministers declaring how Singapore scrupulously obeysthe rule of law. So there is an admission that Singapore scrupulously recognises the rule of law.The Government often talks about having the fundamentals correct, and they pride themselves that inSingapore the fundamentals are correct and laid down. May I say that the rule of law is the first basicfundamental for any society. It is the only guarantee of the subject's freedom. Without the rule of law, thesubject lives in a state of uncertainty and in a state of bewilderment and consequently of fear. But where therule of law obtains in all its fullest extent, the citizen can live happily, breathe freely, knowing that he is ruledonly by the law and not by anything else.Under this rule, citizens are ruled by the law and the law alone. We have had, only this afternoon, theMinister of State saying that it was important to send a strong message to those who blatantly and flagrantlydisregard the law. My party says
Column: 571
amen to that. The question is: is the Government exempt from this scrupulous observance of the Rule of Law?And that is what the House has to decide this afternoon. I have no doubt what the outcome of this motion will be. But what this House has to ponder is whether the Government in Singapore disregards the law, or is itonly its citizens who refuse to attend and answer court summonses? We have to ask the question whether inSingapore it is a society that lives under the rule of law or whether it is a society that lives under a governmentthat acts by decree rather than under law. It is a question that we have got to face and answer. Is the society
10/05/2012RULE OF LAW3/41
in Singapore a civilised society living under the rule of law? Or is it a society more akin to a society ruled by aMafia?I know these are strong words but the question has to be asked and answered. If the rule of law does notobtain and citizens cannot live in the certainty that all their actions will be judged only by the law and bynothing else, and they will only be punished by the law and not by any arbitrary power on the part of theMinister, it is no better than a dictatorship, where a dictator rules by decree. May I quote to this House whatone of the finest writers from Africa and a Nobel Laureate, Mr Wole Soyinka, from Nigeria, wrote in his book The Open Sore of a Continent. And these are his words, "Under a dictatorship, a nation ceases toexist. All that remains is a fiefdom, a planet of slaves." How true those words are. If it is a dictatorship, ruled by decree, then it is no longer a nation but a fiefdom.May I also inform the Members that the proposition of the rule of law that it is an absolute fundamental andnecessary before citizens can live in peace and freedom is not something new. It is not a novel concept. Itsorigins can perhaps be traced back to the 13th century when the English Barons met at Runnymede to curtailand to restrict the powers of the Monarch. Before that, the Monarch was ruling at will, doing what he wishedand restricting the liberties of his subjects. And so the Barons gathered to put an end to this rule by theMonarch without any law
Column: 572
and they passed a number of declarations. These declarations were later accepted by the Monarch, HenryIII, I think, and came to be known as the Magna Carta, the great Charter. And clause 39 is revealing. Onecan see the origins of all our recent declarations in this clause, and if I may read clause 39:"No free man shall be taken or imprisoned or disused or outlawed or exiled or in any way destroyed nor will we send upon him except by the lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land." They are layingdown, telling the Monarch that no free man shall be taken, exiled, his liberty destroyed in any way except bythe lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land.Clause 40 says, "To no one will we sell, deny or delay right or justice." As I have said, they wereembodied in the Great Charter issued back in the time of Henry III at the request of the Barons and becamea foundation for the society in England. One of the reasons why despite the Government's assertion, oftenrepeated, that in Singapore the Government observes the rule of law scrupulously and it is seen in its fullestextent, and the critics saying something quite the opposite, that there is no rule of law in Singapore today, may be due to a misconception as to what is meant and understood by the Rule of Law. Therefore, it is importantthat we try and understand what we mean when we say of the Rule of Law.I see the mentor of the leaders of this Government, Confucius himself, recognised the importance of givingthings their correct names. He was asked by a disciple, "What will be your first task if you are given thecharge of a country?" His answer was, "Rectify the names." When he was asked to explain, he was reportedto have said, "If the names are not correct, if they do not match realities, language has no object. If languageis without an object, action becomes impossible. Therefore, all human affairs disintegrate, and their management becomes impossible. Hence, the very first task of a true statesman is to rectify the names."So the need to try and name things properly is recognised by Confucius
Column: 573

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