Few days back one evening, I was passing by the coffee shop at Elias Mall. I saw Taxi Ong sitting alone drinking his beer. When he saw me, he was so agitated and insisted that I sit down with him. He straight away ordered two bottles of Tiger beer for him. He knows I only drink Tiger whilst he drinks Heineken.
Taxi Ong was already quite tipsy having drunk few bottles by himself. It was his off day. Those people from the neighborhood would gather there to chit chat and while away their time either drinking coffee or beer in the evening. Sometimes, they read newspapers there. They call me ‘MRT’ whenever they see me around.
Their congregation at the coffee shop to chit chat sometimes leads to arguments and even turn hostile at times. When it touches on MRT issues, they would look to me as an authority and I turn out to be the arbitrator of sort.
I’d just give my views and say things are not that simple actually. There are many factors or inner issues which I also don’t know etc to pacify them. If they don’t see me around due to working the afternoon shift, they would say just wait till I appear for clarification.
When I saw Taxi Ong, I thought it’s a MRT related issue he need to enquire about. After I sat down, the agitated Taxi Ong asked me. “MRT, you just tell me is ‘shall’ the same meaning as ‘must’ or ‘will’?”. “What do you mean by that?” I asked. “It’s about the Hougang By Election issue where the law says the PM ‘SHALL’ call for a By Election. ‘Shall’ in this case means ‘must’ or ‘will’? Am I right or wrong?”
I just told Taxi Ong that in legal terms or if you just look at the law book, they don’t use ‘must’ or ‘will’. It is always ‘shall’. For example you shall be fine and jail. You shall be charged for this offence or you shall comply with the law etc. So in a way, in legal terms, the word ‘shall’ means ‘must’ or ‘will’ in our layman’s terms.
Wow! That really hit his ‘G-spot’ and he gone ecstatic! Taxi Ong was so delighted by my statement! He felt so vindicated! He was full of smiles compared to his earlier moody expressions.
He thought of asking the newly assigned to this coffee shop, young and sexy nubile PRC Tiger promoter for another two bottles of beer. He forgot that he had just ordered two bottles for me. Was he distracted by the persistent swaying bottoms of that seductive PRC or was he too excited that I agreed with him? I stopped him telling him that I can’t finish them.
Taxi Ong then let the cat out of the bag. Whilst he ‘puji’ me incessantly, he related how he was ‘cornered’ and ‘attacked’ by three or four others at the same coffee shop few days back. They ‘gang’ up and ‘belittled’ his English. They accused him of not understanding simple English when they had a heated debate over whether the PM had to call for a By Election in Hougang. They said it’s Primary Six English refering to PM’s calling for By Election is not ‘compulsory’ or a ‘must’. ‘Shall’ to them is not a ‘must’, ‘will’ or ‘compulsory’ as simple as that. Even those Primary Six children know about the word ‘shall’ and you don’t understand? They were all laughing at him. He felt so ‘malu’ and ‘dulan!’
When Taxi Ong wanted to use his handphone to call his ‘graduate daughter’ to clarify they stopped him. Taxi Ong told me that they were too much. They even refused to allow him to call his lawyer friend to clarify the matter. They told him not to waste time doing that.
My gut feeling told me that Taxi Ong was having sleepless nights after that incident where they belittled his English and sneered at his understanding of the English word ‘shall’ in the legal context. When he saw me, he was looking desperate to consult me. My reply seems like an antidote to his agitated demeanor.
I told him actually he could just use his smartphone to search for the meaning of the word ‘shall’ in the net. The definition is there. In fact, I did show him the various definitions of the word ‘shall’ on my iPhone. It’s clearly stated there. If only you had shown them, then there wouldn’t be any argument.
Why are you sitting alone and not joining them over there. He declared that he would not be sitting with them anymore cuz they are ignorant and ‘no standard’. “MRT, I know you are very knowledgeable. You are the correct person to discuss national issues in a meaningful and intelligent manner.”
We then proceeded to discuss further about this Hougang issue. He wiped out his wallet. I thought he wanted to order some more beer but before I could say anything, he deftly produced two pieces of ST newspaper cuttings with some highlighted portions of Dr Thio Li-ann’s comments. Ong knows that Dr Thio Li-ann was an NMP and currently law professor at NUS. He started telling me that PM ‘shall’ meaning ‘must’ hold the By Election. (That was before the annoucement of By Election date.)
Calmly I explained to Taxi Ong that he was correct but the law did not actually specify the time frame. It could even be until the next GE! The law only says ‘shall’ which means must hold a By Election but doesn’t say when.
The PM has the full discretion of WHEN to hold it. PM didn’t say he won’t hold it. In fact, he already said he would hold it. But we don’t know when it will be held only. That is why that Indian resident from Hougang, Mdm Vellama Marie Muthu is asking the High Court to decide if the PM ‘must’ do so within 3 months or 6 months or whatever. The case is before the High Court to interpret and decide on the By Election law.
Not satisfied, Taxi Ong insisted by quoting those law experts with his newspaper cuttings that the PM must do it as soon as possible at convenient speed. I again explained to Taxi Ong that only the High Court could decide and order the PM to comply with the law according to its interpretation.
It’s similar to an accused person committed an offence but we still need the court to convict him and pass sentence. The police or anybody else except the court has no power to convict and sentence that offender.
Taxi Ong was quite satisfied with my explanation. He told me he’s looking forward to the Hougang By Election which will definitely be held soon. Suddenly he asked me if I would like to join him and his friends to Batam over the weekend? No. Thank you I have to work. “Alamak! I always see you working. You must know how to enjoy life and relax lah!” he says.
I was too lethargic or don’t bother at all to tell him that I had to work extra long hours earning extra money on most of my off days or working days just to supplement my miserable pay to cope with runaway inflation. Who cares or bothers anyway?
The next day, PM announced nomination day on 16 May 2012 for Hougang By Election. 26 May 2012 is the polling day.
Mdm Vellama Marie Muthu has withdrawn her High Court petition through her lawyer. It’s now no longer sub judice to discuss it.
Most of us including that Taxi Ong will still continue to discuss and debate whether PM ‘must’ within 3 months or 6 months or whatever time frame at ‘convenient speed’ hold a By Election in the event that seat is vacant.
This issue is still not resolved. It will continue to haunt us in future if another ‘Hougang’ surfaces. There is no way to settle this controversy unless the law is very clear on this. Parliament will need to ‘amend’ this ambiguous By Election law or the High Court will have to decide and resolve this ambiguity once and for all.
Meanwhile, let us look forward to the outcome of Hougang By Election – one year after that watershed GE 2011.