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     Previous FrontPage Edition 18 May 2005

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Parliamentary Elections (Amendment) Bill 2005

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Two amendments are made to enlarge the scope for corrections to be made. Clause 8 introduces a new section 29A to allow a candidate or nominee to correct his nomination papers before 12 noon on the day of nomination.  This facility does not, however, allow the candidate or nominee to substitute another person as candidate or nominee or as proposer, seconder or assentor.  In addition to the facility to correct errors, the list of non-fatal errors in section 103 is expanded by clause 15 to provide that a nomination paper may still be accepted, and an objection may be disallowed, notwithstanding any error in numbers or any omission in the nomination paper in relation to the description or any particulars of the candidate or his proposer, seconder or any of his assentors, provided that the place or person can still be identified from the information contained in the nomination paper.

 

Sir, these changes to allow candidates and nominees to correct their nomination papers prior to final determination if defects are discovered will help the aspiring candidate.  However, the responsibility for filling in and verifying the accuracy of their papers remains with the nominees and their supporters. They have to ensure that their papers are in order. The Returning Officer still cannot overlook serious mistakes in nomination papers.

 

Next, clause 13 amends section 33 to make the nomination process more efficient. Presently, nomination proceedings last from 11 a.m. to 12.30 p.m.  Papers must be delivered to the Returning Officer no later than 12 noon.  Withdrawals must also be filed before 12 noon.  Objections may be lodged at any time from 11 a.m. to 12.30 p.m.  If the recommendation that objections to any nomination for a constituency can only be lodged by persons authorised to be present at a Nomination Centre and seeking nomination for that same constituency, there will be no basis to prolong proceedings for the additional 30 minutes in instances where only one candidate or group of candidates is nominated for a constituency.  Thus, if at the close of nominations at 12 noon, only one candidate or group stands nominated for that constituency, the Returning Officer or his delegate may, under the amended section 33, proceed to declare that sole candidate or group duly elected as MPs.

 

In 2001, the law was amended to invalidate multiple nominations.  However, it does not deal with the situation of multiple nominations of the same person in the same constituency.  This can happen in the present environment where alliances have been formed between political parties.  For example, we now have the Singapore Democratic Alliance (SDA) making up of SPP, NSP and PKMS, etc.  An individual belonging to a political party, say SPP, may contest in a GRC concurrently as a member of the group from SPP and as a member of the group representing SDA.  Who knows, there may be other alliances in future.  Multiple nominations of this sort are therefore not hypothetical. To make it clear that this is not allowed, Clause 12 amends section 32A to invalidate multiple nominations involving the same person in the same constituency.  If, at the close of nomination for an election, a person is nominated to be a candidate in more than one constituency, or a person is nominated to be a candidate in the same constituency more than once, all his nominations will be void. 

 

Finally, Sir, I now come to the amendments which seek to clarify certain provisions in the interests of certainty during nomination proceedings.  First, owing to shortage of suitable premises, we have always had a single school serve as the Nomination Centre for more than one constituency during a general election.  Invariably, candidates of one constituency find objections being filed by candidates of a different constituency as they are all within the same Nomination Centre.  Under section 29(4) of the Act, it is clear that only the candidate for a constituency and his/her proposer, seconder, assentors and one other person, if any, appointed, are entitled to examine the nomination papers of the opponent candidate for that same constituency.  They have no entitlement to inspect the nomination papers of candidates of other constituencies even if the Nomination Centre is the same.  Logically then, only those persons allowed to examine a nomination paper are entitled to lodge an objection to that nomination paper.  To avoid further confusion in proceedings on nomination day, clause 9 amends section 30 of the Act to make it clear that only candidates or groups of candidates contesting in a constituency, and their proposers, seconders, assentors and the one other person appointed by each candidate, and that only persons authorised to be present at the Nomination Centre can lodge objections.

 

Clause 10 repeals and re-enacts section 31 regarding persons entitled to be present at nomination proceedings. The provision now sets out a list of such persons. 

 

Finally, I turn to withdrawal of candidature.  Today, a candidate who wishes to withdraw his candidature must do so before 12 noon by a written notice signed by him or her.  The law does not require the withdrawal to be done in person, although that has been insisted upon in practice.  However, this is good practice.  It is vital that the Returning Officer be satisfied that a withdrawal is genuine before he acts on it. For this reason, clause 11 amends section 32(1) to make it clear that withdrawal of candidature must be done in person.  While technology allows for facsimile transmissions of notices of withdrawal, we consider this unacceptable, even if there is a dedicated line to receive such signed withdrawals.  We do not wish to encourage deliberate multiple nominations and last-minute withdrawals by candidates and parties, as this can only confuse matters.  The electorate deserves the assurance that persons who present themselves for election to Parliament do so in a serious and responsible manner.

 

Returns Respecting Elections Expenses

 

Let me now move on to explain the changes to post-election reporting of election expenditure. 

 

Currently, the returns must contain details of election expenses incurred by the candidate and ¡°all moneys, securities and other valuable considerations received by or promised to the election agent from or by any ¡­. person for the purpose of expenses incurred or to be incurred on account or in respect of the management of the election ¡­ whether it is received as contribution, loan deposit or otherwise¡±, regardless of their origins. 

 

Promises are not something that will certainly be fulfilled.  Now that we have a clear definition of ¡°donation¡± in the Political Donations Act (PDA), we should do away with the impractical requirement for promises to be disclosed in the returns respecting election expenses and adopt a consistent language in our election law.   Clause 14 amends section 74(1)(e) to dispense with the requirement to disclose promises made to candidates or their election agents as regards election expenses.  Candidates and their election agents will in future need to disclose all donations as defined by the PDA that have been accepted by the candidate or his election agent.

 

Next, under the Parliamentary Elections Act, the election agents are required to file with the Returning Officer a return on election expenses with their statutory declaration, together with another statutory declaration from their candidates, within 31 days after the election results are published. 

 

Under the PDA, the election agents, together with the candidates, must also file a post-election donation report and declaration with the Registrar of Political Donations (RPD) within 31 days after the election results are published.  The PDA forms only require an ordinary declaration from the candidates and their election agents. 

 

It is administratively inconvenient for candidates and their election agents to make a statutory declaration each to accompany the returns respecting election expenses.  This is because the statutory declaration must be made before a Commissioner for Oaths or Justice of the Peace, and any statutory declaration has to be re-sworn or re-affirmed if the form, which is the subject of the declaration, has to be corrected in any way. 

 

As the PDA forms do not require a statutory declaration and will be filed with the same Government agency, i.e. the Elections Department, there is no strong reason to insist on the returns to be accompanied by a statutory declaration.  In any event, the punishment for making a false statutory declaration is the same as that for making a false ordinary declaration.  Therefore, abolishing the need for a statutory declaration to accompany the returns respecting election expenses will be consistent with the requirement for an ordinary declaration under the PDA forms.  Clause 14 amends section 74(2) of the Parliamentary Elections Act to this effect. 

 

Obsolete Stamp Fees

 

Let me now deal with the last group of miscellaneous amendments. Clauses 3 and 4 of the Bill concern provisions on objections and appeals as to the inclusion of a name in a register of electors.  Following the amendments to the Stamp Duties Act that do away with adhesive stamps, the requirement in the Parliamentary Elections Act for an objection or appeal to bear a stamp of $1 is rendered obsolete.   Clause 3 amends Section 11 of the Act by abolishing the payment of a stamp fee of $1 for filing an objection.  Clause 4 amends Section 12 for the same reason by abolishing the payment of a stamp fee of $5 to the Revising Officer for an appeal against any decision of the Registration Officer.

 

Composition of Offences

 

Let me now turn to the issue on composition of offences. The Returning Officer currently faces a constraint in dealing with technical breaches of the provisions of the Parliamentary Elections Act pertaining to offences such as the illegal display of posters.  Offenders are either let off with a light warning or prosecuted.  In the latter instance, criminal proceedings is taken only after the election and hence fails to deter repeated breaches during the election period.

 

Clause 16 inserts a new section 109 to allow the Returning Officer or an authorized officer of the Elections Department to compound appropriate offences.  Composition of an offence is a procedure by which an agency that administers a written law gives a person who is reasonably suspected of committing an offence under that law (the alleged offender) the chance to avoid prosecution and conviction in court by paying a sum of money to the agency.  On payment of the sum of money by the alleged offender, the agency will not take or will discontinue any criminal proceedings against the alleged offender in respect of the offence and the alleged offender is taken not to have been convicted of the offence.  The offences will be those the Minister prescribes by regulations to be compoundable.  Examples of these which we have in mind are offences such as displaying an election poster/banner without affixing to it an official stamp issued by the Returning Officer, damaging authorized posters/banners displayed by other candidates or using a loudspeaker on polling day. The composition sum will be half the amount of the maximum fine that is prescribed for the offence, or a sum not exceeding $500, whichever is lower.  Composition will definitely not be a means for the Elections Department to generate revenue.  The Elections Department will be drawing up internal mechanisms so that there will be clear and consistent criteria as to when composition can be offered, and in every case that meets these criteria, composition will be offered.

 

In connection with the amendments on nomination proceedings and post-election reporting of election expenditure, clause 17 amends the First Schedule by deleting Form 10 and Form 21.

 

Conclusion

 

The proposals will help candidates standing for elections because they simplify the processes and cut red tape.

 

Sir, I beg to move. Question proposed.

Source: Ministry of Home Affairs Press Release 16 May 2005

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