Jamus Lim’s flawed argument on the second key: he might not have read the Constitution

jamus lim flawed argument on the second key he might not have read the constitution

At the recent Parliament sitting, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong explained to WP Jamus Lim that CPIB’s reporting line has two keys, first to the PM and then the President

In a subsequent Facebook post, A/P Jamus Lim of the Workers’ Party (WP) agreed with the need for two keys, but disagreed that they should be the PM and President because:

The PM and the President are both part of the Executive;
They are just 2 people and there is a risk that this “single channel” will fail;
The reporting line should be expanded to include the Legislature and the Judiciary.

There are fundamental flaws in Jamus’ post which demonstrates ignorance of the Constitution as well as a lack of basic understanding of the long-standing principles which underpin our Constitution. 

PAP MP Shawn Huang has written a Facebook response to Jamus’ post, in which he elaborated on the fundamental laws in Jamus’ argument. 

He also cautioned that Singaporeans should be concerned as to the ramifications and consequences of what WP-style governance would mean for Singapore.

Shawn pointed out that in Jamus’ objection to the President being the second key, he has assumed (wrongly) that the President is not part of the Legislature. 

“But he is mistaken. He may not have read our Constitution. It clearly states that the President has executive authority and is also part of the Legislature,” Shawn wrote. (emphasis added)

Shawn noted that Jamus’ objections are rooted in the assumption that the PM and the President are part of the same branch of the Executive, what he described as the ‘the same sort of key entry method’.

Here again, Shawn said that Jamus was mistaken. 

While the President is part of both the Executive and the Legislature, the President acts independently when exercising his custodial powers under the Constitution. 

This independence is reinforced by the fact that we have an elected Presidency where the President draws his mandate directly from the people,” Shawn said.

On Jamus’ claim that having the Legislature as a second key would be better, Shawn said that the Legislature is made up of Members of Parliament

In our Westminster system of government, the majority of the MPs in Parliament will be from the same party that forms the Government of the day.

How does having the Legislature as the second key be better then?

To add on to Shawn’s response, wouldn’t having the Legislature as the second key give rise to the ‘single channel’ that Jamus wants to avoid, where the Prime Minister and his MPs form the first and second key respectively? 

“This is why we have the elected Presidency with specific powers to safeguard Singaporeans’ interests against a rogue government.

The elected President cannot be a member of any political party, and is directly elected by the people.

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Jamus also mentions the Judiciary as another layer of check.

But the Judiciary is the one that will rule on any corruption charge brought by AGC (based on CPIB’s investigations) to Court.

How can the Judiciary be a neutral arbiter of any criminal charge brought against an accused if the judges have to be consulted on whether a CPIB investigation should proceed?

Shawn said:

Our Constitution reflects the arrangements common to many Westminster-style democracies where there is a clear separation of powers between the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary. Parliament makes laws. The Executive implements them. The Judiciary adjudicates them. This separation exists to ensure proper balance of responsibilities and prevent conflicts of interest.

A/P Lim’s proposals ignore these fundamental principles and conflate the different functions. I worry about this lack of basic understanding of the long-standing principles which underpin our Constitution. Singaporeans too should be concerned as to the ramifications and consequences of what WP-style governance would mean for Singapore.

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Interestingly, Jamus wrote that he did not buy PM Lee’s argument that ‘it comes down to finding good people’. The reason Jamus gave was that ‘even very good people can stumble’ as recent events have shown. Hence, he would ‘choose institutions every time’.  

This is a fallacy in argument. It’s as good as saying that because there are a few rotten apples in the basket, it does not matter if the rest of the apples are good or not. You just need a good basket (i.e. institution).

Having strong institutions is, of course, very important. This is why the PAP Government has taken much effort and pains to build up very strong institutions. 

But as Shawn pointed out, institutions consist of people

An institution is only as good as the people who helm it. Even in the best of system, if the people who run the system are bad, then the results will be bad. This is why PM Lee said that if you have a Prime Minister who is corrupt, then you are sunk. It matters that good people are in charge

The Brazilian Lava Jato (“Car Wash”) corruption case (which Jamus cited) is a clear illustration of how institutions in themselves, cannot guarantee clean government.

What we need is both strong institutions and good people in charge

Shawn wrote:

The ultimate responsibility of “We the citizens” is to ensure we have good people in all three branches of government.

In the end, Singaporeans themselves will choose the political party and the PM to keep our system clean and incorruptible. Since independence, Singaporeans have placed their trust in the PAP. All three PMs have upheld this trust, by ensuring high standards of honesty, integrity and propriety, and insisting on strong institutional safeguards through the elected President

Here’s Shawn Huang’s Facebook post:


On Key

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