Lawyer Jeannette Chong-Aruldoss has recently raised on her blog if it is ideal for MinLaw and MHA to be led by the same cabinet minister to avoid any conflicts of interest.
That is food for thought.
We looked up the profiles of the past law ministers and see if they also held other cabinet appointments. Singapore had three law ministers before K. Shanmugam:
|Law Minister||Period of appointment as Law Minister||Concurrent portfolios|
|Kenneth Michael Byrne||1959- 1963||1959– 1961: Minister for labour
1961–1963: Minister for health
|Edmund W Barker||1964-1988||1965–75: Minister for National Development
1972: Minister for Home Affairs
1975–79: Minister for the Environment
1977–81: Minister for Science and Technology
1983: Minister for Labour
|S. Jayakumar||In 1981, Jayakumar was appointed as a Minister of State at the Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of Law
1988- 2008: Minister for law
|1984: Minister for Labour with the additional portfolios of Second Minister for Home Affairs and Second Minister for Law.
1985-1994: Minister for home affairs. He remained second minister for law during this time.
1994 – 2004: Minister for foreign affairs
2005 – 2010: Coordinating minister for national security.
Multi-tasking seems to be the norm. It also seems that is common for the same minister to helm MinLaw and MHA. And surely, no one would say that there was any conflict of interests on the part of these ministers.
It would be very scary if there are any conflicts of interest just because MinLaw and MHA are led by the same minister. After all, these are the two ministries that enact laws in Parliament and make sure justice is served.
This is also why we have the public service which is run by civil servants to ensure the Singapore system is not abused and works to serve the public. Is Jeanette suggesting that the hundreds of civil servants working in both ministries are keeping quiet even if they see any conflict of interest?
And actually, what kind of conflict of interest does she mean may occur? If she knows of any instances of conflicts of interest, we hope she can share them ala wiki-leak style for public interest.
Training to the top
In the Singapore system, potential office holders usually rise gradually from Minister of State, Senior Minister of State, Acting Minister and Second Minister to learn the ropes before they become full ministers in charge of their own ministries.
Both PM Lee Hsieng Loong and former PM Goh Chok Tong went through this training process too. Even DPM Tharman Shanmugaratnam, who was chair of IMF’s International Monetary and Financial Committee, was appointed Second Minster of Finance before he became full minister.
This is to ensure the potential leaders running the country has a good grounding and exposure. It is a method that has worked well to train our ministers and produce ministers capable of getting the job done well. Because we do not want them to be parachuted into a position of power, right?
One salary to do all the work
Jeannette also asked if ministers holding multiple portfolios will be given more pay.
But sadly (good for us taxpayers) for the politicians who helm multiple portfolios, no matter how many ministries you helm, or portfolios you are given, you get only ONE salary.
Even when the Government announced the White Paper (yes, that horrifying paper), it gave the recommendation to retain the current practice of paying all political appointment holders one pay package as an appointment holder, even when they hold two or more portfolios.
So ya, I guess we can consider it a 50 percent sale on the salary paid out if one minister helms two ministries?
One-party dominant system is not a one-party system
Jeannette’s article also referred to Singapore as a one-party system. Yes, the PAP has a dominant share of Parliamentary seats but really, Singapore is not a one-party system. We have a credible opposition in Parliament to speak up for us. Their numbers may be small but they have been effective in raising our concerns in Parliament.
We don’t want to sound like we are being picky, but Jeanette, who contested in the past General Elections with the National Solidarity Party (NSP) and the Singapore People’s Party (SPP), should be using a more accurate term- one-party dominant system– to describe our system.
In any case, if she knows of any systems that does better than our current system, please give us a shout out to let us know so that Singapore can learn from it.