The Singapore government had sought legal advice from the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) on whether Workers’ Party chairman (MP) Sylvia Lim’s statements in Parliament earlier this month had been in breach of parliamentary privilege.
According to a Straits Times report on Sunday (11 March), the advice had been sought prior to Leader of the House Grace Fu’s request last Tuesday for Lim to apologise for and retract what she had said about the Goods and Services Tax (GST) hike.
Fu’s spokesman said that she did not know what advice the AGC gave, but added that Lim was “in breach because she should have known that her allegations were untrue, and because of her refusal to withdraw the allegations even after the facts were clarified”.
“The Government seeks the advice of AGC as and when it requires the advice. This is not the first time it has sought advice of AGC on such matters,” the spokesman added.
On 1 March, following Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat’s wrap-up speech on Budget 2018, Lim had voiced her suspicions that the government had floated some “test balloons” on a possible GST hike but backed down after the public latched onto statements made by several leaders that the government “has enough money for the decade”.
While Fu had given Lim till last Thursday to accede to her request, the latter refused to do so and only admitted that her suspicion may have been wrong. In response, Fu placed Lim and the rest of the House “on notice”, cautioning that she would refer Lim to the Committee of Privileges should the latter repeat such conduct.
Singapore Management University law don Eugene Tan said that the government’s actions in consulting the AGC suggested that it wanted the force of the law on its side in the matter.
He noted, however, that the issue was ultimately something for Parliament to decide as breach of parliamentary privilege has a political dimension and may not be a purely legal matter.