Speech by Mr. Louis Ng Kok Kwang, MP for Nee Soon GRC at the Second Reading of the Audit (Amendment) Bill [Bill No. 33/2017]
Sir, I stand in support of this Bill. Enhancing the Auditor-General’s powers to ensure public accountability of public moneys is welcomed. I have just one clarification to seek.
Clarification on exclusion of common law privilege against self-incrimination
The new Section 6A states that an individual cannot rely on the common law privilege against self-incrimination to refuse to provide an explanation, information, document, record or answer a question required under Section 6.
This is subject to a carve-out that any such explanation, information, document, record or answer provided cannot be used as evidence against the individual in civil or criminal proceedings, and can only be used in proceedings for a Section 177 of the Penal Code or an offence relating to the falsity of the answer.
The Audit Act as it currently stands includes a broad obligation in Section 6(3) where an individual called upon for any explanation or information is “legally bound to furnish such explanation and information”.
On a literal plain reading, this suggests that Section 177 of the Penal Code would already apply if this Section 6(3) obligation was contravened by an individual, even without the amendment in this Bill.
On a comparative note, another legislation, which confers such a broad obligation, is the Prevention of Corruption Act. Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau officers have the power to require a person to “give any information on any subject” relating to corruption cases and the person so questioned is “legally bound to give that information”.
In the Prevention of Corruption Act, there is no specific provision excluding the common law privilege against self-incrimination.
In this context, given that such a broad obligation exists to compel an individual to furnish explanation and information, with the relevant penalty provision (Section 177 of Penal Code) already in place, can the Minister clarify the intent of specifically excluding the privilege against self-incrimination in this Bill?
I understand from the Explanatory Notes that this new Section 6A will help ensure the efficiency of the audit process is not diminished by the Auditor-General and his officers having to engage in time-consuming negotiations about the provision of privileged documents.
However, the nature of inquiries by the Auditor-General does have potentially wide and severe implications.
Can the Minister clarify how this new Section 6A will allow the Auditor-General to better carry out its primary work of ensuring public accountability of the Government to the Parliament, in the event that an explanation, information, document, record or answer obtained under this Section 6A does in fact raise concerns which ought to (in public’s interest) lead to civil or criminal prosecution?
Sir, notwithstanding the above clarification, I stand in support of the Bill.