WP leadership knew about Raeesah Khan's 'untruth' a week after her original speech in August: Pritam Singh
SINGAPORE: The Workers’ Party's (WP) leadership was made aware of the fact that Ms Raeesah Khan had lied about a sexual assault case a week after her original speech in August, said party chief Pritam Singh on Thursday (Dec 2).
Ms Khan also repeated the untruth in Parliament in October, despite being asked to clarify the matter, said Mr Singh.
Ms Khan resigned from the party and as an MP on Tuesday night, following her parliamentary admission on Nov 1 about lying in Parliament about accompanying a sexual assault victim to the police station.
The claim arose during her speech on a WP motion on empowering women on Aug 3, in which she alleged that the case had been mishandled by the police.
TRUTH REVEALED A WEEK AFTER SPEECH
In a press conference on Thursday, Mr Singh explained that after she first made her speech in August, he asked her to “make her best efforts to contact the victim or to contact the individuals” involved as authorities sought more details.
“Initially, Raeesah stuck to her untruth in her communication with me,” said Mr Singh.
“After being repeatedly pressed, a number of new facts and disturbing personal revelations were disclosed. These concerned Raeesah’s sexual assault and events which were unknown to the party leadership at that time, and other related matters of a deeply personal nature.”
She admitted this to party leadership about a week after she had delivered her speech, said Mr Singh, adding that she said these personal traumas explained why she had not been truthful about her account.
Specifically, himself, chair Sylvia Lim and vice-chair Faisal Manap had been informed about the lie.
Of “immediate concern” to Mr Singh was that Ms Khan had not previously informed her family members of her sexual assault, he said.
“In my judgment, it was important that she did so before she could fully address the reasons behind her untruthful conduct in Parliament, and to correct the record.
"In view of a sexual assault and my assessment of her state of mind, I was prepared to give her the space necessary to address the matter with her loved ones.”
After that, Ms Khan came down with shingles in September and did not attend Parliament.
“It was nonetheless made known to her before the parliamentary sitting in October, that any parliamentary clarification on this matter was hers to make in her capacity as an elected Member of Parliament.”
MS KHAN REPEATED UNTRUTH
Yet, when questioned by the Minister for Home Affairs in Parliament on Oct 4, Ms Khan “repeated an untruth on the parliamentary record, which was wholly inconsistent with the revelations she had shared with the party leadership after Aug 3”, said Mr Singh.
“Almost immediately after Parliament adjourned in October, Raeesah agreed with the party leadership that she had to set the record right forthwith. I shared with her that it was the correct thing to do.
"The next earliest opportunity to do so in Parliament was on Nov 1, when the member made the personal explanation under the Standing Order 25."
He added that Ms Khan then sent her resignation letter to him on Nov 30.
Mr Singh also said that before the WP’s central executive committee received Ms Khan’s resignation on Tuesday, members had “voted overwhelmingly” that she would be expected to resign on her own accord - failing which she should be expelled from the party.
When asked why the claim was allowed to remain uncorrected, Mr Singh said: “Each Workers’ Party MP is a leader in his or her own right. And if you have done something wrong, it is your responsibility to set the record right."
He added there was indeed a risk "the issue would be exacerbated" in not having it corrected sooner.
"But only Raeesah knew the truth of what she had said and what she had experienced, and it was for her to clarify that on the record. And I think that would have been only adequately communicated through her personally.”
He also added that he did not give her a “direct timeline” to correct herself.
“I suppose one could make an argument that it could have been faster but in my judgment, given where she was emotionally, I took the decision that she had to close that loop with her parents.”
In response to a question on the checking of speeches, Mr Singh said Ms Khan had been told to be ready to substantiate her claims: "There was a process that was undertaken. She had put that anecdote down. It was made known to her that you better be ready to substantiate this, because it is an allegation ... you can make that allegation and I don't think any of us will stop an MP from doing that. But she was put on notice to substantiate it. So the process did not fail in that regard. Why she didn't take heed of that instruction, why did she ignore it? That's not a question I can answer."
But he added that as she was an MP of WP, the party had to take responsibility, and account to the public about what happened.
SELECTING PARTY CANDIDATES
When asked if there is a need to review the selection process for party candidates, Mr Singh said no process was "fail-proof".
The party makes its best efforts to select people who are committed to caring for residents, and who represent a wide spectrum of society, he said.
And in view of the "increasing diversity of the electorate, particularly the younger generation", the party must continue to consider people from all walks of life, said Mr Singh.
While the process has generally shown success, there will be some whose conduct is "inexplicable".
"The WP will undertake our best efforts to lower this prospect as best we can, while at the same time working to ensure that there's a diversity of candidates."
TRUST IS FUNDAMENTAL TO PARTY ETHOS
Nevertheless, he thanked Ms Khan for her contributions to the party, adding that correcting her error was "an honourable thing to do".
Mr Singh also apologised to the residents of Sengkang for the turn of events. "I also apologise to all victims of sexual assault, who’ve been hurt by this matter.”
He added that public trust and confidence in the WP is “fundamental” to the ethos of the party as “a rational, responsible and respectable institution in Singapore politics”.
“Singaporeans have the right to expect the best efforts from Workers' Party MPs, and we should never take their faith, trust and confidence in us for granted.”
Editor's note: This article was corrected on Dec 4 to accurately reflect the question which Mr Singh was responding to when he spoke about why Ms Khan didn't take heed of instructions. We apologise for the error.