SINGAPORE: Workers’ Party Members of Parliament (MPs) were given a chance to debate the suggested amendments to a motion they raised on Singapore’s justice system in Parliament earlier this week, Leader of the House Indranee Rajah said on Saturday (Nov 7).
All MPs were invited to speak on the amendments, but none from the opposition did so, said Ms Indranee in a Facebook post.
The motion moved by WP chair Sylvia Lim was passed on Wednesday after amendments were made to its wording and to remove a call for a review of the system.
The original motion read: “This House affirms that fairness, access and independence are cornerstones of Singapore’s justice system, and calls on the Government to recognise and remedy its shortcomings in order to enhance justice for all, regardless of means or social status, including facilitating a review of the justice system.”
After most of the speeches were delivered, Bukit Batok MP Murali Pillai proposed a few amendments "to better reflect the actual course and substance of the debate", said Ms Indranee.
The motion was eventually amended to read: “This House recognises that fairness, access and independence are cornerstones of Singapore's justice system and affirms the Government’s continuous efforts since independence to build a fair and just society, and remedy any shortcoming in order to enhance justice for all, regardless of race, language, religion, economic means or social status.”
DID THE PAP CANCEL OUT THE WP MOTION?
Outlining the sequence of events in Parliament that led to the amendments, Ms Indranee said in her Facebook post on Saturday: "What really happened with the amended motion in Parliament on Wednesday night? Did the PAP really cancel out the WP motion? Or did something else happen?"
The initial motion was sparked by the case of Parti Liyani, a former Indonesian maid employed by ex-Changi Airport Group chairman Liew Mun Leong and his family.
Ms Parti was convicted in March last year by a lower court of stealing from the Liew family, but the conviction was overturned by the High Court on Sep 4. The judge outlined several issues with the conviction findings and how the case was handled.
The debate on the motion followed a ministerial statement by Law and Home Affairs K Shanmugam on the case.
Ms Indranee said on Saturday that WP's call for a review of the justice system in its motion suggested "the entire system needs a review".
“This would be necessary if the system as a whole is defective. However as the debate progressed, it became clear that there was bipartisan consensus that our system is not broken, has served Singapore well, and is improving. But as with any system, it can be further improved.”
Ms Indranee also said there was "a lot of common ground" between the People’s Action Party (PAP) and WP MPs in the debate as both agreed on the fundamental values that underpinned Singapore’s justice system – fairness, access and independence.
Both sides also noted the steps taken by the Government and the progress over the years, she added.
“The debate was really about what we can do to make the system even better, with suggestions from both opposition and PAP MPs,” wrote Ms Indranee.
WATCH: Sylvia Lim on reviewing Singapore’s justice system
AMENDMENTS MORE CONSTRUCTIVE THAN REJECTING MOTION ALTOGETHER
As the debate drew to a close, Ms Indranee said it became clear that many of the suggestions put forward by the WP were already under active review by the Government.
"For example, regarding the call to enhance access to justice, Minister Shanmugam said the Government is reviewing the possibility of a Public Defenders Office. Other suggestions could not be so easily implemented due to high costs and potential downsides.”
For suggestions that the Government disagreed with, Ms Indranee said the PAP ministers took pains to explain why this was so.
"It was a positive and altogether constructive debate, and many on my side of the aisle appreciated the contributions of Ms Lim and her colleagues as much as we did those of PAP backbenchers," she said.
After almost all the speeches were delivered, it was evident that a “wide ranging root and branch review” of the justice system was not necessary, said Ms Indranee.
As such, Mr Murali proposed a few amendments. This was done in the spirit of wanting to establish common ground with the opposition, said Ms Indranee.
“Surely this was a more constructive course of action than simply rejecting the WP’s motion altogether,” said Ms Indranee.
She added that the Speaker of Parliament had invited all MPs to speak on the amendments but none of the opposition MPs did so.
“Even after the motion was amended, as it was not clear if Ms Sylvia Lim had wanted to speak on the amendment, I held back delivering my speech and requested Mr Speaker to first clarify with Ms Lim if she had wanted to speak on the amendment. Ms Lim stated that she only wanted to speak to close the debate,” said Ms Indranee.
Ms Indranee said opposition MPs did not object to the first amendment, which replaced “affirms” with “recognises”.
On the second amendment - which affirms the Government’s continuous efforts since independence to build a fair and just society - opposition MPs voted “no”, notwithstanding their agreement that Singapore has a good system that it is not broken, said Ms Indranee.
The opposition MPs also voted “no” on the third amendment, which affirms the Government’s continuous efforts to remedy any shortcomings
“This was puzzling and sad. This amendment was to reflect the fact that the system is not defective as a whole but can be improved. Mr Murali was certainly not saying that there were no shortcomings, as he stood up to clarify.
“On the contrary, by including the words ‘any shortcomings’ the amendment expressly recognises that there are indeed shortcomings and these must be remedied, as we have remedied other shortcomings over the years,” said Ms Indranee.
She added that the amended motion sought to be fair and acknowledge that the Government has over the years continuously tried to improve the system.
“But the opposition MPs would not acknowledge this,” she added.
Opposition MPs did not object to the fourth amendment, which states “to enhance justice for all regardless of race, language, religion and economic means”, which was in addition to social status proposed in the original motion.
They voted “no” on the fifth amendment, which was made to remove the call for a review of the justice system considering that the debate showed many of the suggestions put forward were already being reviewed and there was no need for a complete overhaul of the system, Ms Indranee added.
“The amendments moved by Mr Murali were to more accurately reflect the actual debate in the House and to establish common ground with the Opposition. He earnestly called for bipartisan support. But that was not to be,” she said.
"The Government will nevertheless continue in our efforts to improve our system and enhance justice for all," she added.