Speaking in Parliament a privilege that 'must be exercised responsibly', Indranee Rajah tells Leong Mun Wai
The NCMP raised questions on Monday about claims that teachers were practising vaccination-differentiated measures, queries which he later said were based on a Telegram screenshot.
SINGAPORE: Speaking in Parliament is a privilege that “must be exercised responsibly”, said Leader of the House Indranee Rajah on Tuesday (Jan 11).
She was responding to the revelation that questions raised the day before by NCMP Leong Mun Wai of Progress Singapore Party (PSP) - over claims that teachers were practising vaccination-differentiated measures - were based on a screenshot of a Telegram chat group sent by a Facebook friend.
“As Leader of the House, I would like to issue some salutary advice to the learned member. I have in this House before spoken about the importance of being able to substantiate allegations that are made in this House. And we have seen what happens when members make allegations which cannot be substantiated or are irresponsible,” said Ms Indranee.
“I wish to remind the member exactly what transpired yesterday. The member stood up and made an allegation that teachers in MOE (Ministry of Education) were practising vaccine-differentiated measures. It is an allegation, which is cast out there and besmirches teachers as a whole.”
On Monday, Mr Leong (PSP-NCMP) said in a supplementary question to Minister for Education Chan Chun Sing that he had received feedback from residents that “some teachers have already practised” vaccination-differentiated safe management measures in schools.
“Can the Minister confirm that if the teachers are practising, or any officers in the schools are practising that, that is against government policy at the moment?” he had asked.
In his response, the Education Minister asked Mr Leong for further information on the purported schools, teachers and the measures the NCMP had referred to.
On Tuesday, Ms Indranee spoke about the need to substantiate allegations.
"And the reason why you provide details if you are a responsible Member of Parliament is because when you come to this chamber and you're given a seat in this chamber, you're expected to discharge your duties responsibly," she said.
"When you make allegations against teachers and just cast it out there, you must be able to substantiate it."
Mr Chan had asked for details of the incidents so that MOE could follow up accordingly, she stressed.
On Tuesday, when Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin called on Mr Leong to make a “personal explanation”, Mr Leong said: “Yesterday I attempted to get assurance from your good self that children in schools will not be vaccination differentiated.
“You may wish to know that, from ground feedback, that many distressed parents are still trying to get reassurance from you and your ministry and to be very clear on your position. I see it as my duty as a parliamentarian to bring their valid concerns to this house.”
Mr Tan reminded Mr Leong that he was being given time in Parliament to clarify the source of the allegations, as opposed to “make another speech”.
“The point I raised that some schools might have started practising VDS (vaccination-differentiated safe management measures) is based on a screenshot from a Telegram chat group SG Concerned Parents sent by a Facebook friend,” said Mr Leong after another reminder from Mr Tan on the purpose of his speech.
As he began to read out the “relevant messages”, Mr Tan asked again for the details of the schools, teachers and measures involved.
“You’re going through the thing, the question which you said you would clarify, and the question was about which school so that the minister could follow up on the allegations that have been made. Or is it just a screenshot from some Telegram page?” said Mr Tan.
Mr Leong continued to read from his script, while Mr Tan pressed him multiple times for the details Mr Chan had asked for.
“There is no clarification from you, therefore, as to which school and what specific measures?” Mr Tan asked.
“I have clarified where the information comes from,” Mr Leong responded.
“Which is from the Telegram page. You have no idea what the school was, you’ve not verified whether that was true or not, et cetera?” Mr Tan continued.
“Yes. I want to clarify that there is where I got my information,” said Mr Leong. He also confirmed that he did not have the other information Mr Chan had requested.
Speaking after the exchange, Ms Indranee said: “What we have seen today is Mr Leong Mun Wai coming here, firstly, to grandstand and make broad allegations or broad speeches that have no bearing whatsoever on the details that were requested of him.
“We have seen that when you, Mr Speaker, requested him to provide those details, he prevaricated and evaded,” she added.
“And now finally we discover the details cannot be forthcoming because he's referring to a Telegram chat where there are no details at all.”