Chen Show Mao Asks PM Lee A Question 3 Times Before Answer Arrives
In a parliamentary sitting on Tuesday (Aug 1), Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said he would expect a minister to take court action for defamation if he was accused of improper conduct, “unless there are other special considerations”, reported Channel NewsAsia.
The Prime Minister’s words were widely reported, but what was less widely reported was that he was responding to a question from Member of Parliament Chen Show Mao from the Workers’ Party, who asked when a minister or political appointee should defend his reputation in courts, and when he should just refrain from court action and make a statement in Parliament.
PM Lee said he would not sue his siblings in court, saying that to do so would “further besmirch his parents’ name” — in stark contrast to other times people said things that besmirched politicians’ names and they were “sued until pants drop”.
While PM Lee replied to Mr Chen’s question in Parliament, what many may not know, since our parliamentary sessions aren’t streamed “live”, is that Mr Chen was nearly prevented from asking the question in the first place.
Before a parliamentary sitting, members give notice of their questions, according to the Standing Orders of Parliament.
However, the Speaker of Parliament reserves the right to reject the question if he/she deems the content to be inappropriate.
Show Mao Shows Mettle
In a post on his Facebook profile, Mr Chen related how he had to submit his question 3 times before it could be answered.
Here’s an account of the exchange between Mr Chen (Q) and Mdm Halimah (A), where he had to rephrase his question twice.
What Was Wrong?
Let’s take a look at rules that parliamentary questions must conform to, according to the Standing Orders.
According to Mdm Halimah, we gather that Mr Chen flouted rule (k) the first time and rule (d) the second time.
It was only when Mr Chen framed his question in a way that cited late founding father Lee Kuan Yew and then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong’s stance on suing for defamation that his question became admissible in Parliament.
Spot The Difference?
Let’s take a look at the initial question posed by Mr Chen.
“When should a Minister or political appointee go to court to defend his or her reputation and when should he or she refrain from private litigation and seek instead to address such allegations publicly, such as in Parliament.”
Here is the question after the first edit:
“Defending one’s reputation as a Minister or political appointee in his or her official capacity as Minister or political appointee, as the case may be. Has there been, for example, as alleged an abuse of one’s official position as a government Minister?”
And this is the final form:
“What are the rules, directives, practices, understandings, standards and norms governing the circumstances under which a Minister or political appointee should defend his reputation in his official capacity in the courts or refrain from such court actions and address allegations publicly, such as in Parliament.”
If we compare the first version of the question to his final one, Mr Chen was made to give a more definite perimeter for “when”, and also stated that the defending of reputation in the courts that he referred to was in his “official capacity”.
To the average Singaporean, though, there’s probably not much difference between the first and final form of the question — hence it may sound like there’s a curious hesitancy on Mdm Halimah’s part to allow such an important question to be asked.
Protecting Her Boss?
Some Singaporeans felt that the Speaker was trying to protect her boss given that they are from the same political party:
While many threw their support behind Mr Chen on his Facebook page, he was also quick to admit that there was “give and take” between him and Mdm Halimah.
With Mdm Halimah touted to run in the upcoming Presidential Election, Singaporeans will be watching closely to see if she can stay neutral if she does run.