Second Reading Speech By The Deputy Prime Minister And Minister For Finance Lee Hsien Loong On The Constitution Of The Republic Of Singapore (Amendment) Bill 2002 at The Parliament, 27 Aug 200228 Aug 2002
1. Mr Speaker, Sir, I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a second time".
2. Sir, during the last Parliament Sitting, the Second Minister for Finance, Mr Lim Hng Kiang, moved the Second Reading for the Currency (Amendment) Bill. The Currency (Amendment) Bill essentially made legislative amendments to the Currency Act to effect the merger of the Monetary Authority of Singapore ("MAS") and the Board of Commissioners of Currency, Singapore ("BCCS").
3. As Mr Lim mentioned in his speech, the merger of BCCS with MAS would also require amendments to the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore. This bill effects the necessary Constitutional amendments, to enable past reserves of BCCS to be transferred to MAS as past reserves, and to delete BCCS from the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution. The bill also includes two other amendments, one concerning the disqualification of Members of Parliament and the other to extend the term of Nominated Members of Parliament from 2 to 2 1/2 years.
4. Sir, I shall now explain the main amendments in the Bill.
Transfer of Reserves
5. Clause 2 amends Article 22B of the Constitution to enable a Fifth Schedule statutory board, whose past reserves are subject to the Constitutional safeguards, to transfer any of its past reserves either to the Government's past reserves, or to another Fifth Schedule statutory board's past reserves, without the transaction being regarded as a draw on past reserves. As BCCS and MAS are both Fifth Schedule statutory boards, this will enable BCCS to transfer all its past reserves to MAS. The transfer will not affect the total amount of past reserves that are subject to the Constitutional safeguards.
6. Next, as BCCS would no longer exist as a separate entity after the merger with MAS, Clause 5 proposes the deletion of BCCS from the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution.
7. The President has been consulted on Clause 2 and Clause 5 of the bill, as these two amendments affect the custodial powers of the President. The President has agreed that I should inform the House that these two clauses have his concurrence.
8. Let me now describe the amendments pertaining to the Members of Parliament ("MP") and Nominated Members of Parliament ("NMP").
Disqualification of Members of Parliament
9. Currently, a Member of Parliament is subject to disqualification under certain circumstances. These include becoming bankrupt, declared to be of unsound mind, being convicted of an offence that leads to a jail term of more than one year or a fine of more than $2,000, or being convicted of an offence in connection with elections to Parliament. When this happens, Article 48 of the Constitution gives Parliament a choice of either immediately vacating the MP's seat, or delaying the vacation of the seat to allow the MP to appeal against the court ruling. If Parliament chooses the former, it will not be fair to the MP, who ought to be given a reasonable opportunity to appeal against the court's decision to retain his seat in Parliament. So far, Parliament's practice has always been to give the MP the chance to appeal. But this has given rise to the anomalous situation of the disqualified MP being able to continue sitting and voting in Parliament while his appeal is pending. There is no disincentive for the MP not to drag his feet with the appeal process.
10. Clause 3 rectifies this by giving the MP two incentives to expedi-tiously pursue his avenues of appeal. The first is to disallow him from participating in Parliamentary proceedings while his appeal is pending. The second is to give him a reasonable time to exhaust his avenues of appeal.
11. Clause 3 amends Article 46 of the Constitution to provide that an MP who becomes disqualified by reason of bankruptcy, unsound mind or criminal conviction, shall immediately cease to be entitled to sit or vote in Parliament until the outcome of any appeal against the court's decision. The MP's seat will, at the very latest, be vacated after 180 days even if the appeal is still pending. An MP who succeeds in his appeal before the expiry of the 180 days will be entitled to resume sitting or voting in Parliament.
12. We have set the period at 180 days because in vast majority of cases the appeal process takes less than 6 months. This is also in line with the UK practice. In the UK, a bankrupt MP is immediately disqualified from participating in the proceedings of Parliament but he is allowed to retain his seat for 6 months. If at the end of 6 months, his appeals to the court do not result in his bankruptcy being annulled or rescinded, he must vacate his seat in Parliament. Extension of the term of Nominated MPs
13. Clause 4 of the Bill amends the Fourth Schedule of the Constitution to extend the term of NMPs from 2 years to 2 1/2 years from the date of appointment. In April, the House debated the motion by the Leader of the House to have NMPs during the term of this Parliament. During this debate, the Leader informed members that the present 2 year term of NMPs was not ideal. If Parliament lasts the full 5 years, then we have to go through the process of selecting NMPs three times. Furthermore, the third time, after Parliament has gone through the whole process of public advertisement, inviting members of the public to send in nominations, interviewing them, and so on, the NMPs would only serve for at most 1 year before general elections have to be called. In the last term of Parliament, these NMPs in fact served only 17 days, and attended three sittings of Parliament. The Leader stated that at an appropriate time, the Govern-ment intended to propose a change to this 2-year term, to stretch it out to 2 1/2 years or 3 years, so that, within one Parliamentary term of 5 years, we only need to select NMPs twice. Hence this amendment to extend the NMPs' term from 2 to 2 1/2 years.
14. Mr. Speaker, Sir, I beg to move.