There is no basis for concern about conflicts of interest involving Attorney-General Lucien Wong, Senior Minister of State for Law Indranee Rajah said yesterday.
She made the point after three Workers’ Party MPs called into question Mr Wong’s appointment, and his involvement on matters relating to the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s house at 38, Oxley Road.
Ms Indranee made it clear that although Mr Wong had once been the Prime Minister’s personal lawyer, he was not advising the Government on any issue he had been involved with before he took on his post as A-G.
Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Dr Lee Wei Ling – who are embroiled in a spat over the house with their brother, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong – had singled out Mr Wong in their social media posts. They highlighted that he was previously PM Lee’s personal lawyer, and had been sworn in as A-G in January.
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WP chief Low Thia Khiang wanted to know what role Mr Wong was playing when it came to the Oxley Road house, while his party colleague, Mr Png Eng Huat, pointed out that Singaporeans discovered that Mr Wong had been the Prime Minister’s personal lawyer only when the younger Lees made the disclosure on June 14.
“How long has Mr Wong been the personal lawyer for the PM?” he asked. “While such relationships may not allude to anything, a personal and commercial relationship between the PM and appointed A-G should be publicly disclosed in the name of transparency.”
WP chairman Sylvia Lim noted that before Mr Wong was sworn in as A-G in January this year, he had advised PM Lee specifically on matters relating to the Lee estate.
There is no legal prohibition on appointing the Government’s close friends and former party comrades as the A-G or Deputy A-G, but from a system point of view, do these appointments instil public confidence that the AGC will act independently in matters where the Government or, worse, the PM has an interest in the outcomes?
WORKERS’ PARTY CHAIRMAN SYLVIA LIM
She also touched upon former People’s Action Party MP Hri Kumar Nair’s appointment as Deputy A-G in March, saying she understood that he had only recently resigned from the party.
“Now, there is no legal prohibition on appointing the Government’s close friends and former party comrades as the A-G or Deputy A-G, but from a system point of view, do these appointments instil public confidence that the AGC (Attorney-General’s Chambers) will act independently in matters where the Government or, worse, the PM has an interest in the outcomes?” asked Ms Lim.
She turned then to the matter of the house at 38, Oxley Road, expressing her concern about conflicts of interest: “How will the AGC act in advising the Government on any decisions it wishes to take on 38, Oxley Road?”
Ms Lim asked if Mr Wong and Mr Nair would recuse themselves from matters concerning the house.
Specifically addressing Mr Nair’s role, she said: “Will he recuse himself from the matter too, since his former party leader, the secretary-general, is personally involved?”
Yesterday, Ms Indranee said these concerns about conflicts of interest were unfounded.
Due process was observed in their appointments, she said, noting that Mr Wong is “widely acknowledged as a top legal mind”, while Mr Nair is among the “top six to seven litigators” in the country. There was no reason to pass them over on the basis of these previous ties.
When Ms Lim pressed her on whether Mr Wong was advising the ministerial committee on the late Mr Lee’s house, she said: “The answer is no, for the very simple reason that in AGC, there are other officers. So, this is not a difficult thing.”
All lawyers know to recuse themselves when there is a conflict, said Ms Indranee.
“There is no basis for any concern that the A-G has not acted in a manner that is entirely proper,” she said.