Letters on Tang: No 'breach
of confidentiality' - PM Goh
Straits Times. Nov 20, 1997
THE prime minister said yesterday that there was no breach of confidentiality when he made public letters that MPs had written to the Speaker of Parliament about Mr Tang Liang Hong's Chinese chauvinist stance.
Mr Goh Chok Tong was replying to Mr J.B. Jeyaretnam, who said that the release of the letters had infringed parliamentary rules.
The PAP MPs had written the letters to oppose Mr Tang's application to be a Nominated MP in 1992.
The Workers' Party leader had cited Section 8 of the Parliamentary Privileges and Immunities Act to make his case that no publication of Parliament documents may be allowed except by the Speaker's consent.
But Mr Goh said that he had sought the consent of those who wrote the letters and hence there was no breach of privacy.
Indeed, he added, the MPs even "publicly repeated, confirmed and elaborated" on the contents of the letters in the run-up to last January's general election, which Mr Tang had contested under the WP banner in Cheng San GRC.
The letters, written by the late Dr Tay Eng Soon, who was then Senior Minister of State (Education), two MPs and two former MPs, had been given to Mr Goh by Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. Brigadier-General (NS) Lee was then a member of the Select Committee whose task was to decide on the 1992 slate of NMPs.
It was Mr Goh himself who decided to release the letters to the media.
He said: "Singaporeans had the right to know before the election that long before Tang contemplated entering opposition politics, four Chinese-educated MPs plus Dr Tay Eng Soon, all of whom had known Tang for many years, had concluded that he was a dangerous extremist."
The letters had been penned independently in response to a request from Speaker Tan Soo Khoon for their comments on the NMP candidates in 1992.
The MPs said in their letters that the defeated WP candidate held extreme views, and would damage racial harmony if he entered parliament. Former Senior Minister of State (Community Development) Ch'ng Jit Koon had known Mr Tang since the 1980s, through Chinese clan and trade groups, while former MP Chin Harn Tong was in Nanyang University with him in the 1960s.
Dr Ker Sin Tze (Aljunied GRC) had served with him on the Chinese High School's management committee in the 1980s, and Dr Ow Chin Hock, Minister of State (Foreign Affairs), had known him since 1979.
Mr Goh said he could understand why Mr Tang was embarrassed by the letters, as they were written four years before his candidacy in the general election, and hence carried much more weight with the people and courts.
But the prime minister said he was surprised that the WP was making an issue of the release of the letters, because it had pressed the government previously to provide Singaporeans with more information to allow them to make up their own minds.
He added: "When a person stands for election, he must be prepared for whatever character flaws that he has to be exposed by the People's Action Party.
"If there is anything we should know about a particular candidate which is of public interest, we are going to reveal it, and I breached no rules whatsoever."