07 January 2009

Engaging The Authority

Once again, we hear the all too often "respect the authority"... probably more often in the year 2008 when we have a number of cases where the Singapore Court was challenged or questioned in several cases.

During the opening of the legal year 2009 in Singapore's Supreme Court, Chief Justice Chan Sek Keong reiterate that the courts requires its authority to be respected by all (read this).

I do agree with CJ Chan. For the court or any authority to carry out their duty effectively, a certain form of respect must be accorded. Hurling insults, making false and scandalous allegations certainly impedes the authority. However, I must add that respect should not only come from the people, respect must come from the law enforcers, the authority themselves, i.e. all, everyone. Those holding public office should also respect the authority accorded to them and not abuse their powers. The people have to respect the authority and not make false or scandalous allegations.

What if we don't agree with certain laws? What if we don't agree with how the authority applies the law? Can't we voice it out? Sure we can... but how? Protest? Even if it's peaceful?

Attorney General Prof Walter Woon also spoke about the need to protect the integrity of the judicial system.

"He said that while freedom of speech and expression is guaranteed in the Constitution, the line is crossed 'where a person deliberately attempts to undermine the authority of the courts by casting aspersions on the integrity of the judges in order to further a political or ideological agenda'[...]'I can only conclude they were testing our resolve and probing to see how far we could be intimidated by their tactics,'" (Straits Times, 4 Jan 2009)

said Prof Woon with reference to a group of activists at the Attorney-General's Chambers the demanding the return of items seized by police investigating certain offences, with threats of sit-ins and protests.

Why is it so important to protect the integrity of the judicial system?

If the authority is seen to be intimdated, they'll loose all credibility. Common people like this ape will simply think "Ah? Like that also can ah? So next time I buay song (not satisfied) I can also kow peh cow bu la (rant or protest publicly)!"

You see, the point is, not everyone understands the cause(s) taken by activists. Even less people will know the true intent of such "activists". (Note: I use activists broadly to include politicians or anyone who go into the streets and kow peh kow bu as well as those who don't kow peh kow bu). Sadly, what some people will see is that a group of people not happy and they make a lot of noise and the authority give in to their demand, and therefore, conclude that if you want your demands met, make a lot of noise?

So how should we engage the authority if we cannot make our opinion heard through protest? If there's something I felt strongly about, a change in certain policy or law that I feel that is absolutely necessary, what can I do?

Law Minister K.Shanmugam mentioned one... a difficult one where not all can meet.

"The way to change the law was to get elected politically and argue in Parliament why the law should be changed" (Straits Times, 4 Jan 2009).

However, that is not the only way. You can go for Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP). Even if you can't be an NMP, you can talk to your MP during Meet the People Session and request your MP to raise it in Parliament. Or you can approach one of the NMP to raise it, like what some did when they petition to repeal Section 377A through NMP Siew Kum Hong. Sometimes, you may not need to raise your concerns in parliament through a proxy for matters on a smaller scale. You can write to the authority concerned, privately, seek their views and perhaps publish in your blog if you want to for sharing with fellow citizens. Someone like Dharmendra Yadav in Think Happiness. You can also present your feedback through Reach, the official Government's online portal for feedback. Last but not least is to organise yourselves to submit your proposal in response to public consultation papers like what 13 bloggers did in response to the Advisory Council on the Impact of New Media on Society (AIMS).

The above examples are some of the proper channels to engage the authority. They are non-aggressive measures that we can do. Look at it this way, what is our objective? To achieve a certain intentionally good outcome, right? Would you go bang table and demand change, in the process making those in-charge loose face put up defences immediately? Or would you be consultative and engaged the decision makers politely and amicably to seek an ideal resolution?

To close this off, I politely request that you watch Anna and the King (starring Jodie Foster as Anna Leonowens and Chow Yun-Fatt as Siam King Mongkut). In a particular scene, where Tuptim (King's concubine?) was sentenced to death, Anna cried babaric! outrageous! "I will speak to the King!" publicly in the court. What she did was effectively sealing Tuptim's doom. The King, who had the authority to pardon a death-roll convict, was no longer able to do so because his subjects would think that he was led by the nose by a woman... and a foreign one. The King would loose the faith and credibility to lead his country... even though he was a wise monarch and he too, need to respect the law of the country.

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