Pritam Singh and Faisal Manap to face further probe, Raeesah Khan fined S$35,000 after Parliament agrees with COP recommendations
SINGAPORE: Former Workers’ Party (WP) Member of Parliament Raeesah Khan will be fined for lying in Parliament, while party leaders Pritam Singh and Faisal Manap will be referred to the public prosecutor after the House voted on Tuesday (Feb 15) to proceed with recommendations made by the Committee of Privileges (COP).
This came after a debate on two motions filed by Leader of the House Indranee Rajah, which lasted more than four hours.
The first motion was split into two parts after Ms Indranee clarified with the Workers' Party that it would support some parts of it.
The first part comprised taking note of the COP's reports and agreeing with its findings that Ms Khan was guilty of abusing parliamentary privilege by lying twice in Parliament on Aug 3. It also said she should be fined S$25,000 for this. All MPs agreed with the motion.
The second part was on Ms Khan being fined S$10,000 for repeating the lie on Oct 4. A majority of MPs agreed with the motion, although WP members stood to register their dissent to this, as did the Progress Singapore Party's Non-Constituency MPs.
SECOND MOTION ALSO PASSED
The second motion on the COP's recommendation that Mr Singh and Mr Faisal be referred to the public prosecutor was also voted in two parts.
The first part was that offences under the Parliament (Privileges, Immunities and Powers) Act may have been committed before the COP.
The COP said in its final report on Feb 10 that it was “satisfied” that Mr Singh, who is WP chief and Leader of the Opposition, had lied while giving evidence under oath, which could amount to perjury.
Mr Faisal should also be investigated for his “refusal to answer relevant questions put by the Committee”, which could constitute contempt of Parliament, it said.
The second part of the motion involved agreeing with the COP’s recommendations to defer any sanctions on the two and party chairman Sylvia Lim for their roles in Ms Khan’s lies, until any investigations and criminal proceedings against Mr Singh have been concluded.
All MPs agreed with both parts of the second motion, except for WP members who stood to register their dissent.
RECOUNTING HOW CONCLUSIONS WERE MADE
In her opening speech, Ms Indranee said the motions were fundamentally about “safeguarding the essence of democracy” and ensuring integrity of Singapore’s institutions.
Retracing how the COP arrived at its conclusions, she said the case against Ms Khan was “clear and straightforward” as she had confessed to lying.
Ms Indranee said Ms Khan should bear the sole responsibility for lying twice on Aug 3 as only she knew the truth.
But the lie was repeated on Oct 4 – which is the issue that “occupied the bulk of the committee's inquiry” because by then, she had told the three WP leaders about the lie.
“When Ms Khan repeated the lie in Parliament on Oct 4, was she acting of her own accord? Or was she acting on the guidance of her senior party leaders?”
The accounts of Ms Khan and the WP leaders here are “diametrically opposed”, said Ms Indranee.
“It's a situation where either Ms Khan lied to the committee, or else Mr Singh, Ms Lim and Mr Faisal lied to the committee. There's no in between.”
Recounting numerous instances of contradicting testimonies, Ms Indranee said the only way to find out who was telling the truth was to test these against objective evidence.
She said the COP assessed the claims against the “contemporaneous evidence”, written documents, conduct of the parties and whether the evidence given to the committee “made sense” she said.
“Taking all these into account, the Committee found that Ms Khan was telling the truth, and that Mr Singh, and to a lesser extent, Ms Lim and Mr Faisal, had lied to the committee,” she said.
WHY REFER SINGH TO PUBLIC PROSECUTION?
Explaining why Mr Singh and Mr Faisal should be referred to the public prosecutor instead of being fined, or why the courts should be involved at all, Ms Indranee pointed to the Parliament (Privileges, Immunities and Powers) Act (PPIPA).
It details a category of offences, whose common thread is that they “essentially, pervert, obstruct or prevent the processes of Parliament”, she said. For these, Parliament has the power to refer cases to the public prosecutor.
She added that they did so for Mr Singh because of the “seriousness” of his conduct: According to the COP, he had lied under oath in proceedings before a parliamentary committee conducting a formal inquiry, she said.
Ms Indranee added that: “The lies would have determined the fate of another MP, who was being looked at before the Committee of Privileges and that is a different order of seriousness altogether.”
COP RECOMMENDATIONS “BEST WAY FORWARD”: PM LEE
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that the COP’s recommendation to “take the transgression seriously, and act on it” is the “best way forward”.
He said this after outlining the alternative choices the COP had. It could have recommended to Parliament to administer a “token slap” on the wrist, he said.
“But that would show that we were taking a very serious matter rather lightly. Worse, by lowering our norms, we would be telling Singaporeans that it is really not so bad for elected leaders to lie,” he said.
He added that the COP could have recommended that Parliament itself metes out an appropriately heavy penalty.
But if the COP had recommended it and Parliament decided on the penalty itself, the opposition “would surely have cried foul, and accused the PAP of using its majority to persecute the opposition”, he said.
“In fact, they are already insinuating this, as a smokescreen to obscure the real issue, that the WP had lied while under solemn oath,” he said.
He added that since a criminal offence appears to have been committed, Parliament should refer the matter to the public prosecutor, adding that if charges are filed after evidence is considered afresh, the two WP leaders can defend themselves in court.
“The court will have to be satisfied that their guilt has been established beyond reasonable doubt, and if they are innocent, they have nothing to fear,” he said.
WP MPs RAISE OBJECTIONS TO MOTIONS
With regards to the motion on Ms Khan’s fine, Mr Singh said the WP disagreed with the reasons behind the lower quantum of one part of the fine for Ms Khan, as it is “predicated on alleged guidance given to her by myself, Ms Lim, and Mr Faisal, a case which the three of us reject”.
Later on, the motion was split into two parts to note the party’s partial objection to it.
Ms Indranee, in her opening speech, said that the committee had recommended a lower fine of S$10,000 for repeating the untruth, after taking into account that Ms Khan's mental health had been “unfairly and publicly attacked”, in particular by Mr Singh, and that she had resigned as an MP.
Mr Singh also said that he was “unable” to accept the COP’s findings that offences have been committed under the Parliament Act by him or any other WP MPs.
“Therefore I will object to the second motion as the basis for the recommendations are that offences may have been committed by us,” he said.
Nevertheless, Mr Singh said that should the matter be referred to the public prosecutor as recommended by the committee, he intends to clear his name and will cooperate fully.
WP chairman Sylvia Lim also said that it was necessary for her to correct “misconceptions” that arose from the COP findings.
The committee found that Mr Singh had guided Ms Khan towards continuing with her lie on Oct 3, based on Ms Lim’s notes from WP’s disciplinary panel interviews with Ms Khan on Nov 29, the report said.
“She referred the Committee specifically to the part of the DP (disciplinary panel) notes, which showed Mr Singh saying, on Nov 29 to Ms Khan, that on Oct 3 he gave her a choice whether to tell the truth,” the COP said.
Ms Lim produced the notes – which the Committee had not previously been aware of – voluntarily, the report read.
As a lawyer and chair of the WP, she “would have appreciated the effect of such evidence”, the COP said.
“It would be, and was, extremely damaging to the testimony given by Mr Singh – it directly contradicted Mr Singh’s evidence that he did not give Ms Khan a choice,” said the committee.
However on Tuesday, Ms Lim said that she took a “different view”.
“In fact it is consistent with his evidence that he was telling her she had to tell the truth,” she said.
She referred to an extract that read:
PS: Can’t lie right?
“Does this not mean that she understood what he meant all along that she had to tell the truth?” she asked.
“How they approach this matter has serious ramifications,” she said, adding that a court conviction may “prematurely” terminate the service of a MP who has been duly elected by the people.
In his speech, Mr Faisal reassured the constituents of his ward that his meet-the-people sessions and other efforts will continue as per normal.
Many have raised concerns on whether the ongoing saga will affect their work, he said.
“In facing this current situation, I am confident that we will continue with great courage to continue our mission to give our services to the community,” he said.
“CLEAR AND UNAMBIGUOUS RESOLUTION” NEEDED: JANIL
PAP Party Whip Janil Puthucheary said the motion should be supported because lying by politicians cannot be normalised or rewarded.
“The sorry saga has already eroded trust in our institution and only a clear and unambiguous resolution will restore trust in the political process.”
Dr Janil added that what is done now will set standards for the future, and the House must maintain a “moral imperative to do the right thing”.
Conversely, to oppose the motions “is to say that one values who a person is more than what they do – the very opposite of our ideals of meritocracy”, said the MP for Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC.
Dr Janil also refuted claims by Mr Singh that the COP’s recommendations only rested on one “pillar”: Ms Khan’s evidence that she had been told to take her lie to the grave.
Instead, he said the reality was that in examining the evidence provided by Mr Singh, his WP colleagues, cadre members and the “back and forth”, the Committee came to conclusions “on the basis of questions that they had, gaps in the logic, omissions in the submissions and the documents”.
In response to Mr Singh’s question on why the COP was “not interested” in getting to the bottom of why Ms Khan lied, Dr Janil said that they did.
“She herself gave a clear explanation. He and his colleagues doubt that explanation and he has tried to justify why,” he said.
He added that while Mr Singh asserted his innocence, he has not filled in the gaps and omissions and answered the questions.
“These questions on the facts do go to the very heart of the matter as to whether or not Mr Singh has been honest in his dealings, including with Ms Khan,” he said.
“FAIR” FOR LEADERS TO BE REFERRED TO PUBLIC PROSECUTOR
Other MPs who spoke on the matter include National Development Minister Desmond Lee (PAP-West Coast) and Nominated MPs Janet Ang and Raj Joshua Thomas.
MP Zhulkarnain Abdul Rahim (PAP-Chua Chu Kang), who also rose to speak, said the COP’s recommendation to refer Mr Singh and Mr Faisal for further investigation by the public prosecutor is the “fairest outcome”.
“I’m personally uncomfortable in judging my own peers and parliamentary colleagues. Let an independent body like the public prosecutor investigate as this would allow both Members to present their fullest case and provide their own explanations,” he said.
Mr Thomas echoed that going to court would afford the WP leaders “a second or even third bite of the cherry” as all facts would be considered anew, and points Mr Singh and Ms Lim made could be raised as well.
“This should be a position sir that sits well with all parties in this house,” he said, adding that both sides recognise that courts are impartial arbiters of truth in matters that may have a “political hue”.
Ms Ang echoed Mr Thomas's view, describing the recommendation to refer the WP leaders to the Attorney-General as the “right and best option” because it would allow them a chance to defend themselves and clear their names.
"We strive to be cleaner than clean. It's not easy to hold up to high standards, but we must," she said.