- Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam said no particular religious group was favored by policymakers
- He added that the principles of “secularism, neutrality between religions” have been one of the “golden threads” of Singapore’s public policy making.
- He was responding to a question from opposition leader Pritam Singh
- Mr Singh asked if laws and policies risk being geared towards the dominant religious beliefs of senior officials
SINGAPORE – No particular religious group is favored when formulating public policies, said Minister of Law and Home Affairs K Shanmugam on Monday (March 1). Neutrality and fairness are essential traits at all levels of the civil service, from ministers at the highest level to civil servants, to maintain the trust of citizens, he added.
Speaking in parliament during the Home Ministry budget debate, Shanmugam nonetheless agreed that officials should be wary of any tendency to view an issue through a religious lens or from their personal perspective.
“You will be informed by your religious views, but you have to look at the vast majority and see what is in their best interest,” he said.
“We must jealously guard against such a tendency to look through a particular lens, whether it be ministers or anyone else, and we must set the tone from above. Insist on a secular approach and be strict about it. “
Mr Shanmugam added that the quality of Singapore’s civil service ultimately depends on the stamp of its ministers.
“If ministers are biased, they lack integrity, then it will spread. Maybe slowly, but surely. The institutions we have put in place can delay the spread. It may depend on how long the summit stays bad, but it won’t be a happy situation, ”Shanmugam said.
He was responding to opposition leader Pritam Singh who asked if there was a danger, either now or in the future, that Singapore’s laws and policies could be tilted towards the dominant religious beliefs of senior officials. or people of influence.
“There is no danger that government policy will be anything other than firmly against extremism. But is there a risk of subtle influence of politics by religious who are not necessarily radical?
“I would like to ask the government if it has considered these issues and, if so, if it intends to deploy strategies to counter such a possible risk to the secular principles of Singapore,” Singh said. , who is also a Member of Parliament for the representation of the Aljunied group. Constituency.
Mr Singh also called on the government to reaffirm its position or update the working rules set out in a 1989 white paper on maintaining religious harmony in order to ensure the strict preservation of secularism.
In his speech, Mr Shanmugam said he had spoken about Singapore’s approach to secularism at least nine times in the past five years.
He reiterated, “When government reviews policy, we do it in a secular way. We guarantee the freedom of all religions. We do not favor any particular religion.
As for updating the White Paper, Shanmugam said the government revised it, which led to changes to the law on maintaining religious harmony.
One of the changes has been the introduction of higher standards of behavior for religious leaders because of the influence they can wield.
For example, if a non-religious leader and a religious leader made the same statement in a private context, it cannot be considered an offense for the non-religious leader.
But a religious leader will have to prove that he communicated this statement only with his relatives or with members living in the same household, he said.
Mr Shanmugam said many members of the public would interpret Mr Singh’s questions about the possible bias of officials to mean that he was saying, in essence, that senior officials could be biased and act in favor of their religious communities.
Leaving the public with that impression would be “seriously wrong,” he said.
“If there is any evidence of such a lack of integrity among current senior officials, then I agree. It should be raised, declared and we have to face it, ”he said.
“If the statement was only meant to cover up a future possibility, without any hint or suggestion of a lack of integrity among current senior officials, it should have been crystal clear,” Mr. Shanmugam.
Singh said he was not suggesting that some officials are biased or are trying to undermine the work and morale of officials. His motivation was to ask the government for a reaffirmation of its position vis-à-vis secularism and he thanked Mr. Shanmugam for having done so.
In his initial question, Mr Singh also referred to the incident of a man throwing the pride flag displayed on a storefront at his staff as an example of how far-right extremism reject others who are not like them.
The pride flag is generally used to represent the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) community around the world.
Shanmugam said changes to the law on maintaining religious harmony made it an offense to urge violence against anyone on the basis of religious beliefs.
This applies to a religious group attacking an LGBTQ person or vice versa.
“The law is impartial in this context … No matter the community, what your social, religious or sexual beliefs are, everyone will be protected here. And I said it categorically.
“LGBTQ people, non-LGBTQ people, we are all equal. We are not less because of our sexual preferences. And if someone stirs up hate speech for or against a sexual or religious community, we will take action, ”Shanmugam said.
In response, Mr. Singh said he fully agreed with what Mr. Shanmugam said about protecting everyone, including the LGBTQ community.
“This is a very powerful statement, a fair and egalitarian approach to dealing with the issue. And I hope that all Singaporeans, regardless of their race or religion, will come together around this and have reasoned and respectful conversations on LGBTQ issues. And I think we will be stronger as a nation for that, ”he added.