A few readers asked about Parliamentary Privilege and what Minister Balakrishnan’s forfeiture of his own Privilege constituted. This post serves to clarify what the term means and provides an analysis of the latest developments.
Simply put, Parliamentary Privilege means that MPs cannot be sued in Court for what they said in Parliament. The intention of such privilege is to facilitate frank and honest comments in the spirit of good debate. Of course, abusing such immunity would lead to punishments by the Committee of Privileges. More information can be found here: http://www.parliament.gov.sg/publications/p (See “Parliamentary Privilege).
Now, what is the relevance of Parliamentary Privilege to the latest episode between Dr. Balakrishnan and the Workers’ Party (WP)?
It is this: After his statements in Parliament, Minister Balakrishnan informed the media that he would be forfeiting his Parliamentary Privilege. It means that he is willing to face any form of action that will be taken against him, including a lawsuit for defamation by the WP if it comes to that (information from ST and Zaobao, 10 July 2013)
Honestly, it’s a bloody gutsy move.
I now turn to what Mr Low Thia Khiang said earlier this evening (10 July). Mr Low said that no additional inquiry into the matter would be conducted even though the Minister had appealed to him yesterday. The Minister said:
“ I appeal to you, because I know you to be an honourable man, I appeal to you, go back, do a thorough investigation of what’s gone on and what’s gone wrong in your town council and put it right, set it right. I have confidence you will do so, Mr Low.” (author’s emphasis; source: http://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/integrity-is-key-issue-in/739166.html)
To begin with, it appears that the Minister’s confidence in Mr. Low was misplaced when the latter clearly dismissed the need to conduct any investigation of sorts (see: http://www.singapolitics.sg/news/wps-low-stands-mps-says-vivian%E2%80%99s-attack-not-good-politics)
But wait a minute. What does Mr Low’s decision mean?
It simply means that the WP has a very strong urge to put this episode to a close.
If one recalls the WP’s determinedly persistent attitude in pursuing the AIM issue a few months ago, one would clearly be puzzled by the reprehensibly feeble and pathetic performance in this hawker centre episode.
Hence, the question is: why is the silence so deafeningly loud?
As they say, silence means consent. And if this were true in this instance, then one would ask: does the WP admit to the charges that the Minister put forward?
Oddly enough, Mr Low sought refuge from further questioning by hiding behind the Prime Minister’s call for Singapore to get its politics right. In my view, Mr Low seems to think that Dr. Balakrishnan’s allegations and the implicit invitation to press charges amounted to taunting and, consequently, bad politics.
No. Bad politics is precisely what the WP did: twisting words spoken by other heavyweight ministers, trying to push the blame back to Dr. Balakrishnan and wanting to escape from the hot seat.
Accountability lies at the very heart of this episode. Through Mr Low’s comments, observers are left to think that the WP was unwilling to rise up to the occasion and prove its innocence. Thus, I am led to conclude that the WP’s behaviour constitutes an abhorrent and intolerable shirking of its responsibility to hold itself accountable to the public.