Speech by Mr. Louis Ng Kok Kwang, MP for Nee Soon GRC, at the Second Reading of the Statute Law Reform Bill (Bill No. 45/2020)
Madam, this Bill will update and refine drafting practices, clarify the system for delegation of ministerial functions, and provide for parliament’s continuity arrangements.
These are necessary and welcomed amendments.
I will focus on the amendments on the delegation of ministerial functions. I have three points to raise.
Inferring intention against delegation of function to a public officer or public body
First, the Bill proposes to allow the delegation of a Minister’s function to a public body or public officer unless express or implied contrary intention appears in the Act.
It would be very useful to the Court to have clear guidance on how contrary intention should be inferred.
The Court of Appeal in Asia Development Pte Ltd v Attorney-General  SGCA 22 cited an English case for the position that the Court should consider the nature, scope and purpose of the function vested in the Minister, and the relevant language of the statute and of the specific provision.
Can the Minister provide more specific guidance on what factors should be considered in inferring implied contrary intention?
Moving forward, will the Ministry consider requiring Ministries to include more express language on the delegation of Ministerial function when drafting Bills to avoid Courts having to go through the process of inferring intention?
Practice of identifying role and capacity of government agencies
Second, the Bill allows delegation of function to a public body or a public officer.
Helpfully, the Bill clarifies that if a ministerial function depends on the Minister’s opinion, belief, or state of mind, the delegate may exercise the function based on the delegate’s opinion, belief, or state of mind.
While this can be done where ministerial function is delegated to a public officer, it is less clear how opinion, belief, or state of mind of a public body should be determined.
Can the Minister clarify how a public body’s opinion, belief, or state of mind should be determined?
Delegation of function to a public body
Third, the Court of Appeal in Asia Development Pte Ltd v Attorney-General  SGCA 22 suggested that it is good practice for government agencies to clearly identify the role and capacity in which they are acting, and to explain this promptly when challenged.
The Court also noted that it would be helpful to adopt a measure of formality in communication of government decisions so that there is little room of confusion over which party one is dealing with and in what capacity they are acting.
Can the Minister share if there are plans for public agencies to adopt the Court’s recommendation in practice?
Sir, notwithstanding my clarifications, I stand in support of this Bill.
Watch this speech here.