Law Minister Shanmugam misses the point totally
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Written by Ng E-Jay
04 September 2013
The Law Minister K Shanmugam missed the point totally when he made the following remark: “… if you say I am a stupid fool who doesn’t know what I’m talking about, and the Government comprises ministers who don’t know what they’re talking about and you criticise every policy of the Government, no one can sue you.”
The Law Minister made this remark in the context of discussing what speech is considered defamatory or not defamatory. He said that Singaporeans should feel free to discuss politics and even criticise ministers and policies, provided they do not make spurious allegations they cannot substantiate.
Mr Shanmugam’s comments come at an unfortunate time. The reason I say so is because people feel that the government has not listened to them sufficiently, despite putting forth what they feel is legitimate criticism.
People feel that the government has not done enough to address the problem of over-crowding, of Singaporeans being displaced from their jobs, of structural underemployment of PMETs, of the plight faced by single parents.
People feel that the government has not sufficiently tackled the problem of frequent train breakdowns, of wage suppression due to the import of a large amount of cheap labour from abroad, of the rising cost of living and escalating property prices, and of discrimination against NS Men in the workplace.
Sensible people do not need to be told what is defamatory and what is not defamatory. By repeatedly telling people to refrain from making defamatory comments, the government has in fact marginalized responsible and sensible commentators, by lumping them together with irresponsible ones. It is like telling an ethical student repeatedly that he must not cheat in the exam. In so doing, the ethical student is lumped together with the unethical one and tarred with the same brush.
Singaporeans need to have our voices heard, and to see real, concrete solutions being put into action. The majority of Singaporeans have no interest in insulting ministers for its own sake, simply because the Law Minister has said that certain types of insults are not defamatory. What Singaporeans care about is whether the government is able and willing to improve our lives, or whether the PAP is so caught up in its system of party political cadre-ship that it is unable to change even if it wanted to.
By claiming that the government or the ministers will not sue if they are insulted in certain ways, the Law Minister has in fact insulted the intelligence of Singaporeans. We don’t need him to spell out what he considers defamatory. Instead, we need his government and him and to listen to legitimate criticism on the ground and address peoples’ unhappiness
Mr Shanmugam’s attempt to obscure issues by hiding behind a façade of gentlemanliness toward insults portrays a simplistic view of the political discourse currently taking place in Singapore, and makes it excusable for ministers to close their eyes and ears to the problems of the people whilst pretending to be magnanimous toward criticism.
Shame on you, Mr Shanmugam. And no, I would not humour you by calling you a fool just because you said it is non-defamatory. Stating the obvious is generally a pointless exercise — as are your remarks.