Pritam Singh rejects COP findings, says 'gaps and omissions' suggest political partisanship
SINGAPORE: Workers' Party (WP) chief and Leader of the Opposition Pritam Singh on Tuesday (Feb 15) rejected the findings of the Committee of Privileges (COP), stating in Parliament that the “gaps and omissions” in the report suggested political partisanship.
Should the matter be referred to the public prosecutor as recommended by the committee, Mr Singh said he intends to clear his name and will cooperate fully.
Mr Singh was speaking during the debate on two motions on the COP's final report.
The first motion relates to the recommendations concerning former WP MP Raeesah Khan for lying in Parliament about a sexual assault case. The COP proposed that she be fined S$25,000 for lying on Aug 3 and S$10,000 for repeating it.
The second motion is to refer Mr Singh and WP vice-chair Faisal Manap to the public prosecutor over their conduct during the COP hearings. The committee said it was “satisfied” that they were untruthful while testifying under oath.
Commenting on the report, Mr Singh said on Tuesday: “When seen as a whole, the COP’s processes and the report before Parliament leave many questions, gaps and omissions and by extension suggests political partisanship."
“A key question is this: Who did this House commit to the COP? Raeesah Khan or the Workers' Party leadership? The COP did not appear to want to get to the bottom of why Ms Khan lied in Parliament nor why she had a propensity to lie with respect to her anecdote both in and out of this House. The fact that she had concocted a lie to bolster her anecdote in Parliament was not balanced against her evidence to the COP.”
Mr Singh added that what took centre stage was instead Ms Khan’s “uncorroborated testimony” that she was instructed to take a lie to the grave by the WP leadership.
This he said, was a "fabrication" that never emerged from any witness at the COP hearings except Ms Khan herself.
“I reject this finding completely. At no time did I instruct Ms Khan to hide the truth. At the meeting on Aug 8, none of the three Workers' Party leaders told Ms Khan to take her lie to the grave,” Mr Singh told the House.
DISREGARD OF EVIDENCE
In his speech, Mr Singh said that the "principal point" which he wanted to make was that there was a disregard of evidence he had submitted to the committee.
"At minimum, I would have expected a listing of all the documents my fellow Workers' Party colleagues and I submitted to the committee to be included in the COP report to indicate that they were actively considered in deliberations," he said.
"I can only assume they were not considered despite my colleagues and I being served with a summons to produce. There are objective documents that I submitted to the committee which raise serious doubts about the eventual findings reached in the report, including the unparliamentary language used at various places which is not supported by evidence," he added.
"The most egregious in my mind is the conclusion that in seeking a psychiatric evaluation for Ms Khan, I had somehow weaponised her condition."
Mr Singh pointed out that the notes of the WP disciplinary panel which was submitted to the COP show that Ms Khan tendered on her own accord the documents which revealed that she was the patient of a psychotherapist who had referred her to a psychiatrist.
Ms Khan also voluntarily told the WP panel that she suffered from dissociation, and the relevant notes from the panel were forwarded to the COP, noted Mr Singh.
"I was asked an open question by the COP as to why Ms Khan would make certain statements. I attempted to give a fair answer in line with what Ms Khan herself had revealed. If the COP was indeed a fact-finding body, should I not have raised the matter of Ms Khan possibly labouring under her condition to the COP?" he said.
As such, Mr Singh said he had registered the point to the COP that the matter was raised because it covered issues of "proportionality and culpability".
"I believed that Ms Khan should not be excessively punished for a condition she could be labouring under, and the COP ought to see it as a mitigatory point in her favour. This evidence of mine, supported by the COP’s minutes of evidence on culpability and proportionality, is ignored by the committee," he added.
Mr Singh also said he strongly disagrees with the COP on how it characterised his evidence with regard to Ms Khan's assistants Ms Loh Pei Ying and Mr Yudhishthra Nathan's representations in "antagonistic terms".
"Once again, such evidence does not appear to have been considered by the COP. I can only speculate why. Could it be to strategically drive a wedge and disunite the Workers’ Party – and to show that its leaders recklessly cast aspersions on their own members?" he asked.
"And in making the point, the COP report carefully omits the only character references I made in reference about Ms Loh and Mr Nathan. And what did I say? I quote: 'That they are decent, good people and have done a lot for the Party.' I still hold that view."
Mr Singh noted that the COP’s case relies on one pillar – that it believes Ms Khan’s evidence that she had been told to take her lie to the grave.
"This belief rests on an uncorroborated piece of evidence, a WhatsApp text originating from Ms Khan herself. The COP deems the fact of its contemporaneousness to be critical in coming to its conclusion. The COP does not question Ms Khan’s credibility even though she was the one who lied in this House, by her own admission, and even though she also lied when she first communicated with me about the matter," he said.
"So if contemporaneous evidence is indeed central, one would expect the COP report to exhibit a fidelity to such evidence. But it does not."
The COP was chaired by Speaker Tan Chuan-Jin. Its seven members include Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Edwin Tong, Minister for Sustainability and the Environment Grace Fu and National Development Minister Desmond Lee.
The others are Senior Minister of State for Defence and Manpower Zaqy Mohamad, Parliamentary Secretary for Communications and Information and for Health Rahayu Mahzam, MP Don Wee (PAP-Chua Chu Kang) and MP Dennis Tan (WP-Hougang).
In his speech, Mr Singh also gave his take on what Ms Khan's motivations could have been for claiming that she was told to take her lie to the grave.
He noted that the more natural explanation as to why she would do so is that it was in line with "human behaviour, logic, and common sense". Mr Singh noted that her post-resignation behaviour was "natural in the arena of political participation".
"When our first Prime Minister executed the transfer of power from the 1G to 2G leadership, according to five-time PAP MP for Whampoa Mr Augustine Tan, there was a lot of strain, tension and resentment when older MPs and ministers were told to step aside for the 2G PAP. In response, one outgoing minister even spoke against the candidature of PM Lee at the 1984 elections, such was the level of disenchantment," Mr Singh explained.
"The comparison with Ms Khan’s behaviour and testimony at the COP is apt, because not everybody reacts with loyalty to their party or their party leaders when they realise that the curtain is coming down on them or their political careers."
LEGITIMATE QUESTIONS RAISED BY SINGAPOREANS
Mr Singh acknowledged that there were legitimate questions raised by Singaporeans about candidate selection in the WP.
"As this House knows, and as the Government has also previously shared, for example, when the chief of the Singapore Civil Defence Force was convicted in court, no selection process is fool-proof, and people can change," he said.
"Even PAP MPs have been found guilty of criminal conduct or forced by their party to vacate their seats for other reasons. Potential PAP general election candidates have also been substituted at the eleventh hour. The point is that even people who exhibit politically attractive character traits can turn out to be unsuitable. The Workers’ Party also has had its fair share of the same experience."
It can be "very difficult, if not impossible", to test a person’s judgment in all circumstances before fielding them as political candidates, said Mr Singh.
"However, the Workers’ Party does not use these realities as an excuse. In the main, our candidate selection processes can always be better in spite of the extraordinary circumstances and the political culture of a one-party dominant state. I will confer with my colleagues with a view to fine-tune the processes in the Workers’ Party as best we can, taking into account the structural challenges we in the opposition face."
Mr Singh said he will try to the best of his abilities to ensure that WP candidates are rational, responsible and respectable.
"And if any candidate selection decisions are wrong, I as Secretary-General of the party, take full responsibility," he added.
Workers' Party (WP) chief and Leader of the Opposition Pritam Singh on Tuesday (Feb 15) rejected the findings of the Committee of Privileges (COP), stating in Parliament that the “gaps and omissions” in the report suggested political partisanship. Tan Si Hui with more.