Speech by Minister for Foreign Affairs and Law, Mr K Shanmugam, at the Ministry of Law Appreciation Dinner 2011
19 Oct 2011 Posted in Speeches
A very good evening to all of you. I am happy to see so many familiar faces, old friends of MinLaw as well as our related agencies.
This is an annual event to record our appreciation for your services . It is an active contribution of time and expertise despite all our heavy work schedules in Singapore. Most of you helped in various MinLaw projects, and in essence, helped Singaporeans in need. That helps us at MinLaw do our work better.
The willingness to volunteer and help improve our delivery of services and public policies is really important for the country as a whole. The structure of modern society is such that with globalisation and a widening income gap among Singaporeans, we have to, as a society and as a government, seriously consider the issues facing the less well-off and empathise with those who are not as fortunate as ourselves and give them a sense of hope and encouragement. That is the only way to keep our society cohesive and united.
Government does not have a monopoly on ideas - nor expertise and nor resources in every field. There is a clear recognition that to achieve the best possible policies for Singapore, we have to tap on the private sector and volunteers. This ensures a range of perspectives and diverse and often better ideas, ultimately leading to a more robust solution. It also allows us to do more with less resources, or the resources available that we can put into any particular project.
Tonight, we say a big thank you to all of you, and we recognise our volunteers with various awards. Let me highlight a couple of them - Andrew Chan and Patrick Ang. They are receiving the Outstanding Volunteer Award. Over the years, we have been fortunate to have their expertise and wisdom as insolvency practitioners. Patrick and Andrew have always been very helpful. They have given us much useful feedback on insolvency practice. As some of you may know, we are in the process of putting together major legislation. We have been looking at it for a number of years, and we need the practical input to make sure that the legislation that comes out has the best practices from all over the world. So we thank both of them.
We also this year introduced several other new awards to recognise contributions in a variety of ways. Let me now touch on each of these areas.
- Legal Aid
- For legal aid, we now have a panel of over 500 volunteer lawyers. This panel, including many of you, provides quality and professional legal aid to persons of limited means, including representing them in court. This ensures that everyone gets access to justice.
- The work of the volunteers with LAB - some sit on the Legal Aid Board, which helps to determine the merits of cases before the Bureau takes them on and brings them to court. Our volunteer lawyers also provide pro bono assistance beyond their handling of cases, including the conducting of talks and workshops for the Bureau. And the others help us recruit more volunteers yet. So we hope to see the number 500 grow over the years, and we hope that each of you can help us bring in more lawyers to help in whatever way they can.
- Community Mediation
- The second way in which our volunteers help us is with community mediation. Our mediators help resolve neighborhood, family and other relational conflicts. On average about 70 per cent of CMC’s cases reach settlement before it goes to court. Our mediators should be proud of the role that they play. It makes the resolution of conflicts much easier, particularly those which really should not be seeing the light of day in court.
- Earlier this year, mediation was very much in the news for a case that I’m sure everyone knows. I found myself defending the role of mediation and mediators. It’s because in some ways, public discourse today in Singapore - and in many places in the world - does not pay as much attention to the facts. It pays more attention to the headlines and as long as it taps into any form of latent, underlying sentiment, it is easier to ignore the facts. So in this case, all that people wanted to know - or focused on - was that a PRC family had imposed or demanded that a Singapore Indian family should not cook curry. That was all that was relevant. The fact that this was consented to by both parties, that a solution was reached, that the alternative could have been bad relationships, or a court case - none of that was understood by a vast majority. Even those who understood were not so interested in accepting it.
- In contrast, a few weeks ago, there was a case of a Chinese man who had a Malay neighbour, and both were Singaporeans. They had been arguing with each other over many years on who should pray where, and whether he could put up deities outside his flat, among others. They came for mediation, mediation sorted it out, helped them agree to a solution. After that he went and punched his neighbor. It is now ending up in court and in criminal summons.
- Which is better for society: a solution that they both can live with even if we think it is unreasonable, or something like this? We have a role to play, we have to educate the public on what mediation involves, what every other aspect of what we do involves. I think o ur mediators play a fundamental role in helping achieve a more harmonious society.
- The third area I will touch on is insolvency. The Insolvency Practitioners Association of Singapore and representatives from the legal and accounting professions have been our key partners for many years. They give helpful advice, they guide us, they work with us, they sit on our committees, and they have given a lot of their time helping to review our insolvency regime, and attended many discussions with IPTO as well as the Insolvency Law Review Committee.
- The board of the Singapore Land Authority (SLA), Strata Titles Boards, Land Surveyors Board and the Land Acquisition Appeals Boarda ll play an important, integral role for MinLaw in our management of State land and properties. SLA’s Board provides sound direction and guidance to SLA. Land surveyors helped SLA in its efforts to develop the geospatial profession. The Strata Titles Boards and Land Acquisition Appeals Board also have very important roles, sometimes unenviable because they have to face unhappy property owners affected by en-bloc sales and land acquisitions. Despite this pressure, they have always carried out their responsibilities seriously and diligently.
- Intellectual Property
- We must thank the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (IPOS) Board of Directors. They provide direction and guidance to IPOS, not least in developing and administering our IP laws and other IP infrastructure. Their assistance has enabled us to continuously improve our IP regime and to gain international recognition for these efforts.
- Our IP Academy Board of Governors, IP Competency Framework Steering Committee, Patent Agent Qualifying Examination Board and Committee, and various volunteers whom we regularly consult - they have contributed significantly to growth of the IP services sector and the IP profession in Singapore.
- Our appreciation also goes to Copyright Tribunal, who played an important role in resolving copyright licensing disputes.
- Once again, I would like to thank each and every one of you for your invaluable contributions. We endeavour to build a better society and home for all Singaporeans, and our hope is that you will continue to be part of the efforts of the team to achieve this.
- Last but not least, let me take this opportunity to also congratulate MinLaw and AGC recipients of the National Day Awards. The awards are well deserved, and they have performed well beyond the call of duty.
- Thank you.
Last updated on 25 Nov 2012