In what is a bizarre turn of events, it now appears that the Acting Minister for Manpower, Tan Chuan Jin, will hold fort on Tuesday night’s Talking Point programme on Internet regulations.
On Saturday, Talking Point had announced that the CEO of the Media Development Authority (MDA), Koh Lin-Net, would be the guest.
On Monday night, however, Ms Koh was replaced by Mr Tan.
Some have explained that it is right for a minister to take the hot seat, as it were, because civil servants should not be put in the front line of policies made by politicians. There is some truth in that, certainly. Elected members must be held accountable.
But this throws up several questions, one of which is: if this were so, why was the gazetting of the new Internet regulations signed off by a civil servant – the chairman of the MDA, Mr Ngiam Chiang Meng?
Secondly, Internet regulations come under the Ministry for Communications and Information (MCI), and not the Manpower Ministry.
The MCI ministry is headed by 3 political appointees – 2 ministers and one parliamentary secretary. They are:
None of the 3 most senior officers of the ministry will be on the show to address the public’s concerns, apparently.
This in itself is disconcerting to know.
For one, under the law, it is the MCI minister who has the power to approve regulations. Thus, Mr Yaacob would be the one who would be most intimately involved in the formulating stage of the new regulations. He should thus be the one who is most appropriate to address the concerns of the public.
It is unknown why none of the ministers from MCI will be on the show. Perhaps Talking Point did not invite any of them – but this too would be bizarre.
Another speculation is that Tan Chuan Jin, in fact, is one of the prime movers and supporters of Internet regulation. It is said that he has been unhappy over the criticisms he received from the online community over several issues which he was involved in – such as the Bukit Brown cemetery matter, the SMRT drivers’ strike last year, and the issue of foreign workers.
His sudden and unexpected appearance – at the last minute – on Talking Point seems to suggest that there is some credence to the view that he is one of the prime movers of the recent regulation.
It is unfortunate that this change in representative from the government for the show has caused much disquiet in just a few hours after it was announced by Talking Point.
The question of accountability has again been raised – why is it that the minister, the senior minister of state and the parliamentary secretary of the MCI are unable to be accountable to the public?
What does that say of responsibility?
After all, isn’t Yaacob Ibrahim the one, under the law, who gave authority to the MDA to enact, impose and enforce the regulations?
Under the Media Development Authority Act of Singapore:
“The Authority may undertake such other functions or duties as the Minister may assign to the Authority…”
Perhaps the Government should answer this question of accountability before it tries to silence the online community with such wide-ranging and irrational laws.
So many things about this sorry saga are bizarre indeed – including an Acting Minister taking over a full minister who is in charge of the very issue at hand. One can only speculate the real reason for such a puzzling move by the government.
Then again, perhaps we will see an announcement today that indeed some senior officer from MCI will be on the programme tonight.
But another turn of events – as with the total silence from PAP MPs the past week about the regulations – would also be bizarre.