SINGAPORE: The accounts of Ms Raeesah Khan and Workers’ Party leadership about whether she was acting under guidance or acting on her own in lying in Parliament a second time are “diametrically opposed”, said Leader of the House Indranee Rajah on Tuesday (Feb 15).
Ms Indranee was speaking in a debate on two motions addressing the final report by the Committee of Privileges (COP) released on Feb 10.
The two motions were respectively related to the Committee’s recommendations relating to the fine for Ms Khan’s lie in Parliament, and its suggestion to refer Mr Pritam Singh and Mr Faisal Manap to the Public Prosecutor for possible offences under the Parliament (Privileges, Immunities and Powers) Act.
Both motions were split into separate parts, and put to a vote after a four-hour debate. The House agreed with the committee’s recommendation and voted to fine Ms Khan S$35,000 for lying in Parliament, and Mr Singh and Mr Faisal will be referred to the public prosecutor for possible criminal proceedings
In her opening speech, Ms Indranee said the motions were fundamentally about “safeguarding the essence of democracy” and ensuring integrity of Singapore’s institutions.
Recounting how the committee arrived at its conclusions, she said the case against Ms Khan was “clear and straightforward” as she had confessed to lying.
Ms Khan should bear the sole responsibility for lying twice on Aug 3 as only she knew the truth, Ms Indranee noted.
But the lie was repeated on Oct 4, which was 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?”
She said that if Ms Khan was acting on her own, the penalty should be higher because she alone was responsible for deliberately repeating the lie despite being told otherwise, as Mr Singh said in his testimony.
“But if as a young and inexperienced MP, she was acting on the instructions or guidance of her party leaders to whom she deferred and to whose views she gave weight, then that would be a mitigating factor because then she’s not the only one responsible,” added Ms Indranee, adding that the penalty should be lowered if this were the case.
The accounts of Ms Khan and the WP leaders here are “diametrically opposed”, said Ms Indranee.
“So much so that in fact there can be no possibility of this being a case of differing interpretations or of any misunderstanding.
“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.
The committee also recommended a lower fine of S$10,000 for repeating her lie in Parliament, taking into account that Ms Khan’s mental health had been “unfairly and publicly attacked”, in particular by Mr Singh, said Ms Indranee.
RATIONALE FOR REFERRING PRITAM SINGH TO PUBLIC PROSECUTOR
In her opening speech, Ms Indranee also explained 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,
The Parliament (Privileges, Immunities and Powers) Act (PPIPA) has a category of offences that “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 noted.
The committee recommended this approach because of the “seriousness” of Mr Singh’s conduct.
According to the committee’s findings, he had lied under oath in proceedings before a Parliamentary committee conducting a formal inquiry, she said.
“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,” she added.
The two motions debated in Parliament on Tuesday are of a “far deeper and greater significance” than making decisions about the conduct of MPs, said Ms Indranee.
“Fundamentally, the motions are about safeguarding the essence of democracy, our democracy, and preserving its most vital and essential characteristic, which is trust,” she added.
“They’re about the need to ensure the integrity of our institutions and Parliament in particular, and about the confidence Singaporeans can have in their elected representatives.”
In her closing speech, Ms Indranee responded to Mr Singh’s point that a COP was last convened about 25 years ago.
“Yes indeed, and it is a very shameful thing that we have to have a Committee of Privileges for something like this. For so many years, we were able to do without it, but now, after we have the office of the Leader of the Opposition, we have Workers’ Party coming in, and then we have to deal with this,” she added.
She also addressed Mr Singh’s claim that the committee “did not appear” to want to get to the bottom of why Ms Khan lied in Parliament.
Adding that there are “hundreds” of pages of the committee’s report dedicated to why Ms Khan lied in Parliament on Oct 4, Ms Indranee said: “I don’t think one can say that the Committee of Privileges did not want to get to the bottom of why she lied.”
Mr Singh had also said that Ms Khan’s testimony that she was instructed to lie was “uncorroborated”, in essence alleging that the committee “cherry picked” the evidence, said Ms Indranee.
“Mr Singh’s a lawyer, I’m a lawyer. He knows that evidence that is given is considered by a tribunal, relevant evidence is referred to. Not all evidence that is put in is relevant, and when you write your final report, you refer to relevant evidence,” she added.
The evidence included many documents submitted by the WP leaders, and if they felt that something was relevant or not taken into account, Mr Singh will have the opportunity to refer to it if the matter goes to court, said Ms Indranee.
The speeches made by WP members in Tuesday’s debate also did not address why it took so long for the truth about Ms Khan’s lie to be told in Parliament, said the Leader of the House.
“You would think that from the time that it is disclosed to them, the first reaction should be ‘Oh no, this is terrible, we better go back and clarify’,” she added.
“But no, this matter dragged on for one month, two months, three months, and it only came about after the police had already put in their request for an interview and it became clear that this issue was not going to go away.”
The WP members also did not address why there was no direct instruction to tell the truth, which was “very puzzling”, said Ms Indranee.
“After all this evidence, and this is not disputed, there is no clear instruction from Mr Singh or anybody else to say ‘Raeesah, please go back to Parliament and tell them the truth’. Instead, there’s this passing of words, ‘take ownership, take responsibility, I will not judge you’,” she continued.
“How difficult is it to just say ‘Raeesah, tell the truth’? How difficult is it to do that? Not very, anybody should know how you can do that.”
In closing, Ms Indranee addressed Mr Singh’s questions about the committee, which she said were “somewhat misleading”.
Mr Singh had asked in his speech earlier on Tuesday: “A key question is this: Who did this House commit to the COP? Raeesah Khan or the Workers’ Party leadership?”
The committee was inquiring into the complaint about Ms Khan, but in the process of doing so, it became clear to the committee that there was a problem because they thought the three senior WP leaders lied and had guided her not to tell the truth in Parliament until there was no other choice, said Ms Indranee.
“What was the Committee of Privileges supposed to do? Pretend it didn’t happen? Ignore it? It can’t do that.”
Although it is “correct” that the committee was not set up to look into the three WP leaders, the committee has a duty to tell Parliament if it comes to their attention that the leaders have done something wrong, she added.
The report has highlighted things that Parliament “cannot ignore”, and the House has to make a decision about what to do, said Ms Indranee.
Referring Mr Singh and Mr Faisal to the public prosecutor is “the fairest thing to do”, because if they maintain their innocence, they will have a chance to vindicate themselves, she added.
“They will be entitled to legal counsel, legal representation, and it will go before the courts, who are independent, and they need not fear that there is any political interference.”