In August 2010, High Court judge, Steven Chong, made the following pronouncement:
“I therefore hold that the President has no discretion under the Constitution, and specifically under Article 22P, to grant pardons. The power to do so rests solely with the Cabinet.”
He was passing his ruling on Yong Vui Kong’s challenge on the authority of granting clemencies in capital cases.
As the presidential elections draw nearer, the focus seems to be on the financial “watchdog” role of the elected President. That seems to be the overarching duty which everyone is focused on. So, the urging from the government is to vote for the person who can best fulfill that role.
In short, it’s all about the money.
But here’s a question: Why is so much emphasis placed on the financial “watchdog” role of the president, while at the same time he is not given any power at all over the fate of human life? It would seem that – to the government – money is more important than human life. Right?
Here’s another question: What if someday we have a President who comes across a capital case, or someone on death row, whom he feels should be pardoned but the Cabinet disagrees that he should? And what if the President refuses to sign the death warrant, which he must before anyone can be executed?
What if the President simply refuses to sign the document?
Can the President be removed?
Judge Chong has made it abundantly clear that the President has no power whatsover and that, in fact, he is obliged to heed the advice of the Cabinet. In other words, and in simple terms, the President must obey what the Cabinet says.
Kind of strange, given that the Presidency is the highest office in the land. But that is another matter for another day.
So, can the President be removed if he refuses to heed the Cabinet’s “advice” and refuses to sign the death warrant? [I am not particularly sure about how the death warrant works but I’ve been told the President needs to sign it before anyone is executed.]
If he can’t be removed, what avenues does the government have?
And why is the President given more responsibilities over money issues than human life issues? Why not give the President independent authority to grant pardons in the same way he makes decisions about financial matters – with the advice of the so-called “wise men” to whom he is obliged to seek advice before acting?
Why not give the President independent power of authority to grant clemencies in the same way – that he be obliged to seek the advice of these “wise men” when making his decision? Why require him to go through the rigmarole of an election and then circumscribe his powers so severely over something as important as pardoning a human life?
These are questions which we should ask of the government and indeed of those who would be President.
I would want a president – and a government – who places more importance on human life than on dollars and cents.
PS: I want to make it clear that I am unclear about the death warrant – who is suppose to sign it, or whether there is such a practice at all in Singapore. This has never been made clear or made public, to my knowledge.