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Singaporeans Should Take Note of Today’s UK Supreme Court Decision

The UK Supreme Court has ruled unanimously today that the UK PM Boris Johnson’s prorogation of Parliament in an effort to prevent it from delaying or revoking Brexit was unlawful and therefore has no effect. Parliament was not prorogued. The Speaker of Parliament, John Bercow has already announced that Parliament will sit again without delay.

Commentators in the UK are already calling this a huge victory for rule of law and for holding the Executive accountable to Parliament. Boris Johnson has been called a “tinpot dictator” and his position appears untenable. The odds are already on Boris being the shortest serving Prime Minister in UK history.

What a contrast with Singapore where our PM exercises “unfettered discretion” and absolute power! More specifically what a contrast with our subservient judiciary who see their role as “greenlighting” the executive (a phrase they used when finding that I had no locus standi to seek an order stopping the Government from making a US$4 billion loan commitment to the IMF without Parliamentary and Presidential approval). Please see this link to Andy Xian Wong’s excellent article.

It is worth quoting from what Lady Hale said in the Supreme Court judgement today:

The first question is whether the lawfulness of the Prime Minister’s advice to Her Majesty is justiciable. This Court holds that it is. The courts have exercised a supervisory jurisdiction over the lawfulness of acts of the Government for centuries. As long ago as 1611, the court held that “the King [who was then the government] hath no prerogative but that which the law of the land allows him”.

The second question, therefore, is what are the limits to that power? Two fundamental principles of our Constitution are relevant to deciding that question. The first is Parliamentary sovereignty – that Parliament can make laws which everyone must obey: this would be undermined if the executive could, through the use of the prerogative, prevent Parliament from exercising its power to make laws for as long as it pleased. The second fundamental principle is Parliamentary accountability: in the words of Lord Bingham, senior Law Lord, “the conduct of government by a Prime Minister and Cabinet collectively responsible and accountable to Parliament lies at the heart of Westminster democracy”.

In Singapore Parliament functions only as the Lee family’s poodle to rubber-stamp the Executive’s decisions. It utterly fails in what should be its primary purpose: to hold the Executive to account. It only sits on a few days a year, mainly around Budget time, and any new bills introduced are rapidly passed without effective scrutiny. Ever since my father proved devastatingly effective as a one-man Opposition, Question Time has been curtailed so that there is no opportunity to ask follow-on questions (known as supplementary questions) as in the UK. Nor is there a day a week set aside for Prime Minister’s Questions, which is an opportunity for the Leader of the Opposition to subject the PM to detailed scrutiny. What little opportunity to hold the executive accountable is further reduced because of the habit of packing the Order Paper with tame questions from PAP MPs designed to make the Government look good.

The farce when Lawrence Wong contemptuously batted aside a WP MP’s question about the remuneration of the top executives at GIC and Temasek demonstrated how completely ineffectual Parliament is. There was no opportunity to put Lawrence Wong on the spot by asking further questions even had WP put any bite into their question Of course WP had only plucked up courage after I had called for Ho Ching’s remuneration to be made public since 2009 and in particular only after I had prodded Sylvia Lim and Pritam Singh at our meeting in Armenia last year. Indeed Dennis Tan told me forcefully that he did not think the remuneration by the taxpayer of the PM’s spouse was a fit subject to ask questions about!

LKY showed his contempt for Parliamentary scrutiny by using his judges to remove my father from Parliament by convicting him of a non-existent offence. When the UK Privy Council ruled that my dad had suffered a grievous injustice he simply refused to abide by the court’s decision and pardon him. Instead he ended Singaporeans’ right of appeal to the Privy Council. Our courts have carried it further by removing our right to sue the Government thus ruling that the PM is above the law. In the UK the PM cannot just disregard the UK courts like LKY and his ministers have done in the past and if he did he would be ignored by Parliament.

Note the words used by Lady Hale, quoting Lord Bingham, “the conduct of government by a Prime Minister and Cabinet collectively responsible and accountable to Parliament lies at the heart of Westminster democracy”. And contrast this with LHL’s attempts to gaslight Singaporeans by saying in his condolence letter that my father’s attempts to force the PAP Government to be accountable, which is what “lies at the heart of Westminster democracy” according to Lord Bingham, were seeking “by all means to demolish the PAP and our system of government

It is no accident that the Constitution of the Reform Party states as its objective (article 4(i)):

For the Party’s philosophy to be put into practice, the Party shall devote all its efforts to establish and maintain a government whose executive arm (the Cabinet) acts strictly under law and is held in check by:

a)         A fully elected and sovereign Parliament as the voice of the people with the executive made answerable to Parliament for every decision and policy of the executive.

b)         An independently appointed Judiciary to uphold the Constitution and protect the citizens’ rights from any interference by the Executive to deny the citizens fullest expression of their rights guaranteed to them by the Constitution.

We are a very long way from attaining this objective, which is the very essence of the Westminster model, as Bingham points out.

I have long been sickened by the continual praise from Western leaders for the Lee family’s tinpot dictatorship as a shining example of rule of law. Today’s ruling by the UK Supreme Court holds up a mirror to our own system and shows how far we diverge from it. What is especially sickening is that many well-educated and well-off Singaporeans take a keen and critical interest in perceived failings in real democracies like the US or the UK but fall strangely silent when the evidence of the utter failure and perversion of our institutions of Government stares them in the face. Nor will we have any change while we have a Parliamentary Opposition that does not believe in opposing while being applauded by PAP apologists for being a responsible Opposition.

But the blame ultimately lies with Singaporeans who elected them in the first place and who have allowed themselves to be deluded into believing that lack of accountability and transparency is at the root of Singapore’s success. They cannot see that effective Parliamentary scrutiny of the executive is essential if we are to get answers to the questions of why despite years of austerity the Government is still unable to pay for basic welfare provision and services that citizens of much poorer countries take for granted. The size of the reserves, LHL’s wife’s remuneration and the extent of his family’s assets should be questions of great self-interest to all Singaporeans yet most of us appear content for these to remain mysteries forever.


  1. Ken

    Gotta disagree here. The court basically pulled a coup against the voters who favored Brexit. Whether you agree or not is unimportant:the fact remains a sufficiently majority of Brits want out.
    Parliament has now become an anti democratic institution thwarting the voter’s clear decision.
    There are better exams to apybro Singapore
    Not this one.


  2. You’re right. There is a malaise in this country. Even the civil servants have to keep their mouths shut for fear of being misappraised.


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