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MHA COS 2021: Integrity, Secularism and Protections Under the Law

How our core principles of policymaking and governance help to keep Singapore safe and secure.
GRAPHIC: Home Team News

At the Committee of Supply (COS) Debate in Parliament on 1 March 2021, Minister for Home Affairs Mr K Shanmugam spoke about the core principles of policymaking and governance in Singapore and explained how they contribute to keeping Singapore safe. Here are four highlights from his speech. 

1. The Integrity of the Public Service
Minister Shanmugam began his speech by addressing a question from Leader of the Opposition Mr Pritam Singh: “Is there a danger that laws and policies could be tilted towards particular religious beliefs by top civil servants, if not now, maybe sometime in the future?”

In his reply, Minister Shanmugam affirmed the integrity of the Public Service and noted that, “the basic principle we follow and apply is that which Mr Lee Kuan Yew had set out in August 1965: ‘We are going to have a multi-racial nation in Singapore. We will set the example. This is not a Malay nation; this is not a Chinese nation; this is not an Indian nation. Everyone will have his place: equal; language, culture, religion’.”

2. Neutrality and Fairness are Key
Minister Shanmugam stated that when it came to policymaking, we don’t make decisions that favour any religious group. “Neutrality and fairness are essential,” he explained. “Otherwise, in this small place, we will lose the trust of the people quickly. That goes for Cabinet Ministers, senior civil servants, and the Public Service as a whole.” 

Sharing his work experiences with Permanent Secretaries at the Ministry of Home Affairs over the years, Minister Shanmugam noted the vital importance of integrity within the Home Team. 

“I have highlighted officers from my Ministry in particular, because we are at the forefront of dealing with religious issues,” he explained. “We meet different religious leaders, we work hard to preserve religious harmony amongst the different faiths. Our integrity, honesty, reliability and neutrality are key to us, and those are the currency we deal in.”

3. Equal Protection for All, Under Laws Such as the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act (MRHA)
Minister Shanmugam also noted that the MRHA makes it an offence to urge violence on the grounds of religion against any person or group. “Regardless of which community, what your social, religious or sexual beliefs are, everyone will be protected here,” he said. “LGBTQ persons, non-LGBTQ persons, we are all equal. We are not any lesser by reason of our sexual preferences.” 

4. The Government’s Position on Secularism 
Minister Shanmugam stated that Singapore guarantees freedom of all religions. “Our secular stand has been made clear when the Government looks at policies,” he explained. “We do so in a secular way. We guarantee freedom of all religions. We don’t favour any particular religion.” 

Explaining the Government’s commitment to safeguarding religious harmony, Minister Shanmugam noted that he had previously articulated this position in his Ministerial Statement on Restricting Hate Speech to Maintain Racial and Religious Harmony in Singapore in April 2019, via the Commitment to Safeguard Religious Harmony of June 2019 and through amendments to the MRHA that were made in October 2019 to strengthen our ability to safeguard Singapore against threats to our religious harmony.

MHA COS 2021
Read the COS 2021 speech delivered by Minister K Shanmugam. For more on MHA COS 2021, visit the MHA COS 2021 webpage

Watch the video of Minister Shanmugam speaking on the subject of integrity, secularism and protections under the law.

Written by

Desmond Ang


2 March 2021

Law and order
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