Written by Ng E-Jay
14 March 2009
AG Walter Woon famously remarked at the opening of the legal year in the Supreme Court in January that “the essence of the rule of law is that the law applies to all“.
However, as far as protection from physical or psychological harm is concerned, it appears that there is one set of rules for political elites and another set of rules for common folk.
Straits Times reader Mr Poh Yi Hao wrote to the forum page earlier this week relating an incident in which he was attacked by a fellow passenger on an MRT train whom he refused to give up his seat to. When he reported the matter at the control booth at the MRT station, he was advised to seek treatment and lodge a police report. However, the officer at the Bedok North police station told him that a report would not help catch the assailant as the police and the train officials were unable to identify him. Mr Poh found it absurd that the authorities were unable to investigate an assault in public, and offered little sympathy over the incident.
Another Straits Times reader, Madam Tan Lian Gim, also wrote in complaining that despite her husband receiving verbal threats via his mobile phone in which the caller, who knew the husband by name, threatened to inflict bodily harm on him and his family, the police refused to take any action whatsoever.
Contrast this with the swift action taken against rag-and-bone man Ng Kim Ngweng who is alleged to have committed the act of criminal intimidation against Jalan Besar GRC MP Denise Phua during an hour-long tirade on a Government’s feedback hotline on January 12.
Ms Jessminder Kaur Kangh, the customer service officer who was manning the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports’ (MCYS) REACH hotline, alleged that Ng Kim Ngweng was aggressive and intimidating over the phone and he said that he wanted to “hammer” his MP. The words in Mandarin, allegedly said from Ng Kim Ngweng’s home in Crawford Lane, were: “I cannot take this any more and I don’t know what I’ll do one day, I can’t be sure on that … … How can you not hit her? I get angry when I see her, so how can I not hit her?”
Ms Denise Phua heard the actual audio recording of the alleged threat for the first time in court, but she said she had been told of its content previously through an email from the general manager of Central Community Development Council, media reports and information revealed to her by the police.
Ms Denise Phua claimed she was alarmed at the conversation because she “understood” that Ng Kim Ngweng had a history of family violence, and that he had made reference to her son, who is autistic.
While Ng Kim Ngweng actions, if accurately portrayed by MP Denise Phua and the 3 customer service officers who spoke to him that day, cannot be condoned, one wonders why similar physical threats made over the phone to ST reader Madam Tan Lian Gim were totally ignored by the police. Why did the authorities take such quick action in one case while turning a blind eye to the another, just because the first case involves a political figure from the ruling party?
In 2007, a man was punched in the face and lost four teeth in a vicious but apparently unprovoked attack near his HDB flat in Boon Lay. However, his assailant walked away scot-free. There were no arrests made by the police — not even detention for questioning, because the police claimed it was a non-seizable offence. (See here and here.) This immediately brooks the question: How serious must a person’s injuries be before the police consider an assault seizable?
Contrast this with the prompt arrest of MP Seng Han Thong’s attacker, who was not only swiftly charged with torching his MP, but is currently undergoing indefinite detention at the Institute of Mental Health because of his diagnosis of suffering from delusional disorder of a persecutory type.
When Members of Parliament are punched, their attackers can be jailed for up to 20 years.
Yet when ordinary citizens are attacked till their mouths are bloodied and their teeth fall out, the police sometimes classify it as a civil case and leave the victim to his own devices.
AG Walter Woon’s remark that “the essence of the rule of law is that the law applies to all” rings like a hollow bell in light of these examples.
When the Chief Justice, Law Minister and AG collectively proclaim at the opening of the legal year in the Supreme Court in January that the law “won’t tolerate attacks” on the judiciary, yet the authorities continually allow attacks on the citizenry to go unpunished or even uninvestigated, you know there is one set of rules for the powers-that-be and another for those who are in fact their rightful masters.
(As far as the political dimension of this issue is concerned, the inconsistency and selectivity in application of the law is even more apparent — see here.)