Shanmugam: Allegations against govt must be backed up with facts

People can criticise the government in Singapore but if any allegations are made, they must be backed up with facts.

Law and Foreign Affairs Minister K Shanmugam made that point on Friday, adding that there is no rule preventing people from critiquing national policies.

He suggested, however, that a sound approach would be to keep debates honest.

Mr Shanmugam was speaking at a law conference attended by local and overseas members of the legal fraternity.

The tension between civil liberties and societal responsibility was discussed at the symposium, which focused on the law’s role in promoting development.

Commenting on the issue, Mr Shanmugam said it was possible to strike a balance between personal freedoms and the rule of law.

He added that under Singapore law, there is room for criticism of the government — whether it is fair, reasonable and true, or the opposite.

“What you can’t do, under our framework of law, is make a personal allegation of fact against anyone, including a politician.

“So if you say, the Prime Minister steals from pension funds, then you better be prepared to prove it,” he said.

Mr Shanmugam said that requiring people to back up allegations with facts means that integrity in politics is maintained.

He also said that various stakeholders have a key role to play.

Mr Shanmugam said in complex economies and societies, civil society groups’ participation is essential — and coupled with the involvement of the wider community, it is how a country can move forward.

He noted that more developed countries will typically see a deeper desire for greater participation among people, and that kind of change has to be accepted.

“None of that is to say that political stability is unimportant. Political instability, I think — at least for most countries and certainly for us — would lead to, I think, economic paralysis, simply because decision-making in government would become difficult,” he said.

Mr Shanmugam emphasised that the key focus of the law is to provide a framework within which people can exist in a free environment.

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