Wednesday, 16 February 2022

Raeesah-Gate: Parliament votes to refer Workers' Party leaders Pritam Singh, Faisal Manap to Public Prosecutor as recommended by the Committee of Privileges

Singapore's system will fail if trust is eroded and lost: PM Lee Hsien Loong at COP report debate

Honesty of opposition no longer inconsequential in a more contested landscape: PM Lee

Pritam Singh rejects Committee of Privileges' findings, says Raeesah Khan was disenchanted with Workers' Party

Workers' Party leaders did not address key findings from COP during debate: Indranee Rajah

House also agrees with committee's finding that Ms Raeesah Khan be fined $35,000 for lying in Parliament
By Tham Yuen-C, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 15 Feb 2022

Parliament on Tuesday (Feb 15) voted to refer Leader of the Opposition and Workers' Party chief Pritam Singh for further probe by the Public Prosecutor over a lying scandal, after a four-hour debate in which Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong urged MPs from both sides of the aisle to vote with their conscience.

PM Lee warned that trust in Parliament and Singapore's political system will be eroded if flagrant, egregious transgressions by MPs were allowed to pass.

The vote came after a total of 10 MPs, including three from the WP and two Nominated MPs, spoke on the report of Parliament's privileges committee that had called for Mr Singh to be referred to the Public Prosecutor for possible criminal charges over lies he told under oath.

Speaking before the vote, Mr Singh said he had no objection to being referred to the Public Prosecutor and would do his utmost to clear his name.


The committee was set up to look into lies told by former MP Raeesah Khan in Parliament on Aug 3 and Oct 4, but had found serious misconduct by Mr Singh, as well as WP chair Sylvia Lim and vice-chair Faisal Manap, in the process of its investigations.

PM Lee said integrity was the linchpin of democracy, adding that giving Mr Singh and his fellow WP leaders a free pass would be detrimental to democracy.



The three WP leaders, speaking during the debate, maintained that they had never asked Ms Khan to take her lie to the grave, as she had claimed.

The House voted on two motions, the first of which called on it to agree with the committee's finding that Ms Khan was guilty of abusing parliamentary privilege by lying in Parliament last year, and its recommendation that she be fined $35,000 - $25,000 for the lies she told in August and $10,000 for lying again in October.

Leader of the House Indranee Rajah had proposed to allow MPs to vote on the different parts of this motion separately, after Mr Singh said the WP would not support the part about Ms Khan's reduced $10,000 fine that was premised on her receiving guidance by WP leaders to lie.


The second motion, which was also split, called on Parliament to agree to refer Mr Singh as well as Mr Faisal to the Public Prosecutor. It also seeks to defer any parliamentary sanctions on the duo and Ms Lim with regard to Ms Khan's lie, until the conclusion of any investigations and possible criminal proceedings against Mr Singh.

Both motions were passed, with Mr Singh and the WP MPs supporting part of the first motion, and voting against the second.

Progress Singapore Non-Constituency MPs Leong Mun Wai and Hazel Poa voted in support of all parts of both motions, except for the $10,000 fine for Ms Khan that the WP also voted against.


Ms Khan had on Aug 3 claimed to have accompanied a sexual assault victim to a police station, where officers allegedly handled the matter insensitively and drove the victim to tears. She repeated the untruth on Oct 4. She has since resigned from her MP seat and from the party.

The matter was referred to the Committee of Privileges, which after hearing evidence from Ms Khan and other witnesses, including the WP leaders, concluded that Ms Khan should be fined $35,000 in all.

The panel also said Mr Singh and Mr Faisal should be referred to the Public Prosecutor for investigations to consider if criminal proceedings ought to be instituted.

The panel had determined that Mr Singh had lied while giving evidence under oath and that this could amount to perjury, and that Mr Faisal's refusal to answer questions could amount to contempt of Parliament.

At the start of the debate, Ms Indranee noted that the ability to speak freely in Parliament is one of the most powerful privileges in a parliamentary democracy such as Singapore, but this must be done responsibly and not abused.

Speaking next, Mr Singh rejected the committee's conclusions that he had guided Ms Khan to lie to Parliament last year, and that he had committed any offences as part of his role in the entire affair.

He acknowledged that he had given her too much time to clarify the lie, and said he had done so because he was sympathetic to how she had been a sexual assault victim.


PM Lee, in his speech, underlined the gravity of the matter before the House, noting that for Singapore's system to work, people must be able to respect the institution of Parliament and trust its members, processes and proceedings.

That is why the right norms of behaviour among MPs have to be guarded carefully, foremost being to tell the truth always and to do right by Singapore, even when - and especially if - it is hard or awkward, he said.

"If something goes wrong, or something wrong has been done, own up and take responsibility - do not hide, dodge, or spin further lies, to obfuscate and cover up the original fib," PM Lee said as he called on all MPs to vote with their conscience on the two motions.

"The COP report is long and detailed, but the core issues are few and stark... Online, people call this Raeesah-Gate, after Watergate. And just like in the original Watergate affair, while investigating Ms Khan's transgressions, the COP unexpectedly stumbled upon a cover-up by WP leaders, even more serious than the original offence," he added.

"Now with the findings before us, it is our responsibility, Parliament's responsibility, for the MPs to take the necessary and appropriate course of action."

Said PM Lee: "If Parliament condones lying among its own members, how can Singaporeans trust the institution of Parliament? If we let flagrant, egregious transgressions pass, it will erode trust in our leaders, respect for Parliament, and support for our whole political system, and Singapore will be heading for trouble."














Singapore's system will fail if trust is eroded and lost: PM Lee Hsien Loong at COP report debate
By Lim Yan Liang, Assistant Political Editor, The Straits Times, 15 Feb 2022

For Singapore's system to work, people must be able to respect the institution of Parliament and trust its members, processes and proceedings, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Tuesday (Feb 15).

Without this critical trust in the apex institution of Singapore's democracy, the system cannot work, he said in his speech during the debate on two motions related to the report by Parliament's Committee of Privileges on untruths spoken in the House by former Workers' Party (WP) MP Raeesah Khan.

That is why the right norms of behaviour among MPs have to be guarded carefully, foremost being to tell the truth always and to do right by Singapore, even when - and especially if - it is hard or awkward, he said.


The first motion calls on the House to agree with the committee's finding that Ms Khan was guilty of abusing parliamentary privilege by lying in August and October last year, and for her to be fined $35,000.

The second motion calls on Parliament to agree to refer Workers' Party (WP) chief and Leader of the Opposition Pritam Singh as well as WP vice-chair Faisal Manap to the Public Prosecutor.

Calling integrity the linchpin of democracy, PM Lee said that with Singapore heading towards a more contested political landscape, the competence and honesty of the Opposition is no longer an inconsequential matter. Every election henceforth will be about who can win the mandate to run the country, he added.

"The question of 'What are the right values and how should we uphold them?' becomes of fundamental importance for both the Opposition and the governing party," he said.


MPs must decide what Parliament will do about the untruths repeated in the House, as well as about the senior leaders of the WP being found by the committee to have lied under oath in their testimonies.

"Can we pretend nothing happened? Or if that is too much to stomach, given the strong evidence laid out by the (committee), perhaps we lower our standards just a little, note that untruths were told, but argue that it was after all not so serious a lie, and no harm was done?" PM Lee asked.

"If we do either of these things, we too would become complicit in dishonouring and demeaning Parliament."

PM Lee said he was glad that the committee had come to the conclusion that Mr Singh and Mr Faisal should be referred to the Public Prosecutor for having appeared to have committed a criminal offence.

"It could have recommended that Parliament administer a token slap on the wrist, but that would show that we were taking a very serious matter rather lightly," he said.



While Singapore is a high-trust society today, nothing guarantees that it will always remain one, stressed PM Lee.

This is why the country has to steadfastly maintain high standards and ensure its leaders embody the right values, he added.

"Call out wrongs when wrongs arise, mete out punishment where punishment is due, preserve the sanctity of our institutions," he told MPs.

"Never take public trust for granted and never allow lies, half-truths and falsehoods to become the accepted norm in politics."

So long as the People's Action Party is the Government, Mr Lee said, it will not shy away from doing what is necessary to uphold the right norms in Parliament and to imbue Singaporeans and their leaders with the values critical to sustain trust in the system that is critical to Singapore's success.

"With our lives and future at stake, everyone participating in the system must be held to the same standards. There can be no excuses, no double standards, and no pardoning of inexcusable behaviour, just because the offending party portrays itself as the underdog," he said.

PM Lee noted that the probe into Ms Khan’s lies had uncovered a much larger problem.

“Online, people call this Raeesah-Gate, after Watergate,” he said, referencing the political scandal involving former United States president Richard Nixon.

“And just like in the original Watergate affair, while investigating Ms Khan’s transgressions, the COP unexpectedly stumbled upon a cover-up by WP leaders, even more serious than the original offence.” 

While the committee did not expect this, it is now Parliament’s responsibility to take the necessary and appropriate course of action, he added.

That each MP must be honest is non-negotiable, said PM Lee, as being truthful is fundamental for there to be trust and for democracy to work well. Singaporeans’ trust in their leaders and respect for Parliament will be eroded if it condones lying among its own members, he said.


As the longest serving member in the House who has seen first-hand how the founding generation built it up, PM Lee said he felt a greater responsibility than most to safeguard this “sacred trust”.

“It should be a sacred trust too, for every MP,” he said. “We must all never fail to serve Singaporeans to the best of our ability, responsibly and honestly, and uphold this institution of Parliament, as the foundation of a robust and healthy democracy.”






















Pritam Singh rejects Committee of Privileges' findings, says Raeesah Khan was disenchanted with Workers' Party
By Justin Ong, Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 15 Feb 2022

Leader of the Opposition Pritam Singh on Tuesday (Feb 15) rejected a parliamentary committee's conclusions that he had guided his former Workers' Party (WP) MP Raeesah Khan to lie to Parliament last year, and that he had committed any offences as part of his role in the entire affair.

He acknowledged that he had given her too much time to clarify the lie, and said he had done so because she was the victim of a sexual assault and had confided in him. 

But Mr Singh rejected Ms Khan's assertion that he had told her to take her lie "to the grave", and said a natural explanation for her behaviour was how it was human nature to feel "disenchantment" with the party and its leadership once she saw the curtain coming down on her political career after she resigned.


He also rejected the committee's finding that he had guided Ms Khan to lie for a third time in October.

"Not everybody reacts with loyalty to their party or their leaders when they realise that the curtain is coming down on them or their political careers," he said.

"When your departure is precipitated by an overwhelming loss of support from your party members and colleagues except for your closest allies, from a human behaviour standpoint, I can understand why a person would turn against one's party leaders."

The WP chief was speaking during a parliamentary debate on two motions relating to the Committee of Privilege's recommendations to fine Ms Khan $35,000, and for him and WP vice-chair Faisal Manap to be referred to the Public Prosecutor for possible criminal charges.

Mr Singh also said the evidence he submitted to the committee had either not been noted or included in the committee's report, and that the panel had also ignored some contemporaneous evidence given by party members even though it gave weight to such evidence from Ms Khan.

Leader of the House Indranee Rajah had filed motions calling on the House to agree with the findings and recommendations of a Committee of Privileges' (COP) report released last Thursday (Feb 10).

The panel, which comprised seven People's Action Party (PAP) MPs and one WP MP, had called for a $35,000 fine for Ms Khan for lying in August and October last year; and for Mr Singh and Mr Faisal to be referred to the Public Prosecutor for further investigations with a view to considering criminal proceedings.

On top of concluding that Ms Khan was acting under the guidance of party leaders when she repeated her lie, the panel determined that Mr Singh had lied while giving evidence under oath and that this could amount to perjury, and that Mr Faisal's refusal to answer questions could amount to contempt of Parliament.

Joining the debate, Mr Singh opened his 15-minute speech by saying that when seen as a whole, the COP’s processes and the report before Parliament “leave many questions, gaps and omissions, and by extension, suggest political partisanship”.

He noted that Ms Khan’s testimony that she was instructed to take her lie to the grave by the WP leadership was “uncorroborated” and a “fabrication which never came out from any witness” aside from Ms Khan herself.

“I reject this finding completely. At no time did I instruct Ms Khan to hide the truth,” he reiterated. “At the meeting on Aug 8, none of the three WP leaders told Ms Khan to take a lie to the grave.”

Aug 8 was when Ms Khan first came clean internally to WP leaders, explaining that she lied because of her own personal trauma of being sexually assaulted.

Mr Singh then sought to explain Ms Khan’s reasons for making such a claim, saying: “Her post-resignation behaviour was natural in the arena of political participation.”

He cited former PAP MP for Whampoa Augustine Tan’s observation that there was a lot of “strain, tension and resentment” when older lawmakers were told to step aside amid Singapore’s transition from its first-generation (1G) to 2G leadership.

“One outgoing minister even spoke against the candidature of (Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong) at the 1984 elections, such was the level of disenchantment,” said Mr Singh.

He raised another example in former deputy prime minister Toh Chin Chye, whom he recalled becoming a vocal critic of the PAP after stepping down from the Cabinet in 1981 and being “pushed” to the backbench.

“The comparison with Ms Khan’s behaviour and testimony at the COP is apt,” said Mr Singh.

On the report itself, he said his main grouse was what he felt to be a “disregard” of evidence he had submitted, which would cast doubt on the report’s eventual findings including the “unparliamentary language used at various places which is not supported by evidence”.

Mr Singh said: “The most egregious in my mind, is the conclusion that in seeking a psychiatric evaluation for Ms Khan, I had somehow weaponised her condition.”

He said he had mentioned the evaluation because Ms Khan had revealed herself – of her own accord to a WP disciplinary panel looking into her conduct – to be seeing a psychotherapist who had referred her to a psychiatrist.

Second, Ms Khan had voluntarily shared with the panel, which included Mr Singh, that she suffered from dissociation – evidence that had also been forwarded to the committee, the WP chief said.

He added that when asked an open question by the committee as to why Ms Khan would make certain statements, he attempted to give a fair answer in line with what Ms Khan had herself revealed.

“If the COP was indeed a fact-finding body, should I not have raised the matter of Ms Khan possibly labouring under a condition to the COP?” Mr Singh asked. “I believed… the COP ought to see it as a mitigatory point in her favour.”


He rejected what he saw as the committee’s assertion that “in raising the matter of Ms Khan’s mental health to a fact-finding body with a view to considering an appropriate punishment on her, I had somehow smeared her, or worse, somehow cast aspersions on those with mental health conditions”.

Mr Singh also said he strongly disagreed with how the committee had characterised his evidence in “antagonistic” terms when it came to WP cadre members Loh Pei Ying and Yudhishthra Nathan. Ms Loh was Ms Khan’s secretarial assistant and Mr Nathan was also aiding her.

He cited how he had given evidence to show that he had good reasons for concluding that their loyalty to Ms Khan was a consideration in their minds.

For instance, said Mr Singh, Ms Loh had made clear to the WP disciplinary panel that resignation “should not be on the cards” because in Ms Loh’s view, what Ms Khan did “was not serious as it was not as if Ms Khan had… laundered money”.

“Such evidence does not appear to have been considered by the COP,” said Mr Singh.


He added that the committee’s final report had also omitted character references he made in evidence about Ms Loh and Mr Nathan, calling them “decent, good people (who) have done a lot for the party”. 

“I still hold that view,” said Mr Singh.

On why he felt such evidence had not been considered by the COP, Mr Singh said: “I can only speculate… 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?”

Concluding his speech, he said that while he objected to the motion calling on the House to refer him to the Public Prosecutor, should Parliament choose to adopt it, “I intend to clear my name and will cooperate fully with the Public Prosecutor”. 

"For this reason, I have kept my comments on the COP report for today's purposes very narrow and limited," he added.
















Singapore not immune to decline if it lets political standards slide: PM Lee
By Lim Yan Liang, Assistant Political Editor, The Straits Times, 15 Feb 2022

While most countries are founded on the basis of high ideals and noble values, the tone of the society changes as later generations take over and things gradually go downhill, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Tuesday (Feb 15).

Marshalling four contemporary examples, he warned that Singapore is not immune from going down a similar road.

Leaders who fought for and won independence are often exceptional individuals who came through the crucible of fire as leaders of men and nations, said PM Lee, such as David Ben-Gurion of Israel and Jawaharlal Nehru of India.

"Imbued with enormous personal prestige, they strive to meet the high expectations of their peoples to build a brave new world, and shape a new future for their peoples and for their countries," he said, noting that their countries began as healthy democracies with idealism and zeal.

Succeeding generations, however, found it hard to sustain this momentum past the initial fervour.


After a while, the electorate comes to regard this as the norm, and that one cannot expect better, and so standards get debased, trust is eroded, and the country declines further, he added.

The result is that many political systems today would be quite unrecognisable to their founding leaders, he said.

Israel, for instance, has morphed into a country that can barely form a government despite four general elections in two years, while a stream of its senior politicians and officials face "a litany of criminal charges", said Mr Lee.

In India, almost half the MPs in the Lok Sabha (Lower House) have criminal charges pending against them, including for rape and murder according to media reports, he noted, though it is said that many of the allegations are politically motivated.

In the United States, trust in the political system has all but broken down, with three-quarters of Republicans believing that the last presidential election was stolen and that Mr Joe Biden is not a legitimate president, Mr Lee added.

Britain, also called "the mother of Parliaments" for its Westminster system, is dealing with a severe breakdown of trust and lost credibility due to the "Partygate" scandal where it ignored its own Covid-19 rules, Mr Lee said.


Quoting former British prime minister John Major, who recently spoke about the lamentable state of British politics today, Mr Lee said that while there has been cynicism about politics since the dawn of time, politicians are not all the same and lies are not acceptable.

To imply otherwise is to cheapen public life and slander the vast majority of elected politicians who do not knowingly mislead people, he added.

But those who do tarnish both politics and the reputation of Parliament, and this is a dangerous trend, he said.

"If lies become commonplace, truth ceases to exist. What and who, then, can we believe? The risk is... nothing and no one. And where are we then?" he quoted Sir Major as asking.

Mr Lee noted that while this is a Western view, Eastern philosophy in fact prizes norms and values even more highly, as it says that the right to govern flows from one's virtues and moral standing.

He cited the four social guidelines that hold a state together under Confucian thought: rituals, righteousness, probity and shame as a reaction to wrongdoing.

"What I personally find most disappointing in the WP narrative and in their response, including in this House today, is the complete absence of any admission that the three MPs have done anything wrong. There is no contrition," he said.

"Whether you take a Western or Eastern view, if lack of shame becomes the public norm, our political system will break down, progressively and irreversibly."

The result is public mistrust not only in individual leaders or political parties, but also in the whole political system, as has happened too often elsewhere, said Mr Lee.

Mr Lee cautioned that modern Singapore does not come born with a fail-safe mechanism, even as the founding fathers did their best to build strong institutions.

When the Barisan Sosialis vacated its seats in Parliament in 1966, which left the People's Action Party completely dominant as a result, founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew deliberately chose not to change the Constitution and turn Singapore into a one-party state, he noted.

"He knew that without the need to contest and win elections, the governing party would over time become complacent and flabby, and that would be disastrous for Singapore," said Mr Lee.

Instead, the founding leaders chose the more robust path of keeping politics contestable and building up institutions such as Parliament, the judiciary and the civil service so that Singapore would be more resilient, "not dependent on a few key people pulling all the levers, pushing all the buttons, making everything work".

It is therefore incumbent on each succeeding generation to protect and build upon this system, to uphold integrity and ensure the same rules apply equally to everyone, said Mr Lee.

"If we can do that - consistently, persistently, unflinchingly - then we have a shot at making things work. People can trust our leaders, our systems, and our institutions. Our democracy can mature, deepen and grow more resilient, as both the governed and the governing embrace and express the right norms and values," he said.

"But if we allow ourselves to slacken - loosen standards here, just a bit; overlook a lie there, just this time - the virtuous cycle will stutter and start to fail."





Honesty of opposition no longer inconsequential in a more contested landscape: PM Lee
By Hariz Baharudin, Assistant News Editor, The Straits Times, 15 Feb 2022

With Singapore heading towards a more politically contested landscape, the competence and honesty of the opposition matter, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Tuesday (Feb 15) as he joined in the debate on the Committee of Privileges' report on the Raeesah Khan episode.

He stressed that with Singaporeans' lives and future at stake, everyone participating in the system must be held to the same standards.



Stressing that "integrity is the linchpin of democracy", PM Lee said the stakes of the debate on the committee's report might have been lower if the opposition were a negligible presence, as they were from 1966 until the 1980s.

Then, the People's Action Party (PAP) was overwhelmingly dominant, the public generally had low expectations of opposition parties and politicians, the tone of the country and its governance were set by the PAP, and the high standards that the PAP imposed on itself, he said.

"But with Singapore heading towards a more contested landscape, the competence and honesty of the opposition is no longer an inconsequential matter. The question of 'what are the right values and how should we uphold them?' becomes of fundamental importance for both the opposition and the governing party," PM Lee said.

"Every election henceforth would be about who wins the mandate to run this country. If the system is working properly, the governing party will be re-elected so long as it remains honest, competent and trusted," he said.

"If the governing party falls short, and Singaporeans come to deem an opposition party more honest and incorruptible, more competent, and more trustworthy, then the governing party should be voted out, and that opposition party should be voted in, to form the next government."

PM Lee said it cannot be assumed that the PAP will always continue in government. Nor can it be assumed that the WP, or some other opposition party, or any other opposition party, will always stay in the opposition.

"I do not know when, or how, there will be a change of governing party in Singapore one day. My job as party leader is to make sure the PAP governs well to the best of its ability, so that it retains the mandate of the people for as many elections as possible," he said.

"But my duty as the leader of the country is also to maximise the chances that whichever party wins future elections, it will uphold and be held to the same high standards of proper conduct and honesty as the PAP, so that our democratic system can continue to operate properly, whichever party is in charge, and would not go down the drain because a small island city-state like Singapore - the only one in the world like this - needs a strong, effective and good government, whoever leads it."


In his 40-minute speech, he described the Raeesah Khan episode as a betrayal of what the WP claimed it stood for.

He noted how Mr Pritam Singh had succeeded Mr Low Thia Khiang as secretary-general of the party.

"Mr Low served for a very long time - 30 years as an MP, 17 years as party leader. He sat opposite me, where Mr Singh now sits. Mr Low was a formidable political opponent, but he was a patriotic Singaporean. He set a different tone for the WP. He said he hoped the WP could help to build a First World Parliament for Singapore. He must be saddened that, instead, this is what his successor has done," PM Lee said.

"Because what has happened is a betrayal of what WP claimed it stood for."

But he also noted that Mr Low's public comments since the committee's report was released indicated Mr Low is confident the party can ride this out.


Said PM Lee: "And it need not be a setback for our democracy either, provided we hold Mr Singh and his colleagues accountable for dishonouring the standards of this House, and also for possibly breaking the law."

In his speech, he stressed how parliamentarians must stand for honesty, and that leaders must steadfastly maintain high standards and the right values.

They must "call out wrongs when wrongs are done, mete out punishment when punishment is due, preserve the sanctity of our institutions, never take the public trust for granted, and never allow lies, half-truths and falsehoods to become the accepted norm in politics".

PM Lee noted that Singaporeans wish to see more political contestation, and said he accepts this, as it is how every parliamentary democracy evolves.

It was this recognition that led him to make Mr Singh the Leader of the Opposition on election night after the 2020 General Election. "That is the way a responsible government can help a credible, responsible opposition to emerge, and contribute to the maturing of our political system," said PM Lee.

But such a leader does not have a blank cheque. PM Lee stressed that the role carries certain responsibilities such as setting the tone for opposition MPs, enforcing standards of conduct in his own party and, above all, maintaining his own integrity and keeping himself beyond reproach.













Significant issues arose during COP's proceedings and its recommendations are best way forward: PM Lee
By Hariz Baharudin, Assistant News Editor, The Straits Times, 15 Feb 2022

Significant issues arose during a parliamentary committee's proceedings that looked into untruths said in the House, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, as he made the case for why its recommendations for fines and for referrals to the Public Prosecutor were the best way forward.

Speaking during the debate on the Committee of Privileges' report on the Raeesah Khan episode on Tuesday (Feb 15), he outlined two issues that emerged as the committee investigated her lies to Parliament in August and October last year.


First was whether Workers' Party (WP) chief and Leader of the Opposition Pritam Singh, party vice-chairman Faisal Manap and chairman Sylvia Lim had instructed Ms Khan to continue with her lie in Parliament. "If they did, this is surely as serious or more serious a misconduct as Ms Khan speaking an untruth in Parliament," PM Lee said.

Parliament will need to deal with this, but only after a second, "even graver" matter has been cleared. This concerned whether, after having taken solemn oaths to tell the truth, the three WP leaders told untruths to the committee in order to cover up their instructions to Ms Khan to continue lying.

"Being untruthful under oath is no small matter. It means lying, despite solemnly affirming you will tell the truth. In this case, not once, not twice, but repeatedly, over many hours of extensive questioning, and on several days," he said.

He noted that the committee's assessment is that these untruths were not accidental or incidental errors, but deliberate, premeditated acts, done with a definite intent to mislead and to deceive. They are not just breaches of parliamentary privilege, but if proven in court, amount to perjury - lying under oath - which is a serious criminal offence.

"So, there are two distinct problems. One, whether the three MPs instructed Ms Khan to lie; and two, whether the three MPs themselves lied under oath. Both, if established, reflect very badly on the WP leaders, and in particular, on the Leader of the Opposition. Both issues, if not dealt with properly, will dishonour Parliament, and bring this august institution into disrepute."

In its report last Thursday, the committee had called for a fine of $35,000 for Ms Khan, who quit as an MP for Sengkang GRC after admitting to lying in Parliament. The committee also recommended that Mr Singh and Mr Faisal be referred to the Public Prosecutor for further investigations.

The committee said it was satisfied that Mr Singh was untruthful in giving evidence under oath, and that this may amount to perjury. It said Mr Faisal had refused to answer relevant questions put forth during its hearings, and to consider if criminal proceedings ought to be instituted.

The Prime Minister noted that the committee could have recommended to Parliament to administer a "token slap on the wrist".


Alternatively, the panel could have recommended that Parliament itself metes out an appropriately heavy penalty. While Parliament has the power to do this, and had the committee 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."

What the committee recommends is the best way forward, he said. Since a criminal offence appears to have been committed, Parliament should refer the matter to the Public Prosecutor, who will consider the evidence afresh and "let the system work".

"If charges are filed, Mr Pritam Singh and also Mr Faisal Manap 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 added: "If I were Mr Singh, I would vote in favour of both motions. Fine Ms Khan, because she is guilty beyond doubt.... And if Mr Singh maintains that he and his fellow WP leaders have done nothing wrong, he should also vote in favour of referring his own case, and that of Mr Faisal Manap, to the Public Prosecutor. Indeed, he should demand a court trial, in order to have the full opportunity to defend himself, vindicate his reputation, and clear his name."

Pro-WP voices on social media have taken quite a different tack, he added.

"Before the matter can be conclusively determined, if necessary in court, they are doing their best to confuse the issues and rouse sympathy. They are asking the public to clear the names of the three MPs, suggesting that referring their case to the Public Prosecutor is political persecution.

"What they are really saying is this: Don't look too carefully at what Mr Singh did, just remember who he is: He is the Opposition that you voted for; he is the Leader of the Opposition. By virtue of his position, he should not be referred to the Public Prosecutor; and any action against him must, by definition, be politically motivated; because who he is is more important than what he has done - even if he may have committed a crime."

He said some people may be taken in and sympathise with this story. These individuals could wonder why not let the matter just rest, and could feel that it would be easier for the Government to not pursue this matter against the three WP leaders further, given how Singapore has a full enough agenda.

But such is not the way of the People's Action Party (PAP) Government, PM Lee said. "As long as the PAP is the Government, we will not shy away from doing whatever is necessary to uphold the right norms in this House, and to imbue Singaporeans and their leaders with the values critical to sustain trust in the system, and critical to our success."

Parliament later voted on two motions, the first of which called on the House to agree with the committee's finding that Ms Khan was guilty of abusing parliamentary privilege by lying and its recommendation that she be fined $35,000.

The second motion called on Parliament to agree to refer Mr Singh as well as Mr Faisal to the Public Prosecutor. It also sought to defer any parliamentary sanctions on the duo and Ms Lim with regard to Ms Khan's lie, until the conclusion of any investigations and possible criminal proceedings against Mr Singh.

The two motions were passed, with Mr Singh and the WP MPs supporting part of the first motion, and voting against the second.










Sylvia Lim disputes COP findings, says her handwritten notes not damaging to Pritam
By Rei Kurohi, Tech Correspondent, The Straits Times, 15 Feb 2022

Workers' Party (WP) chairman Sylvia Lim has disputed a parliamentary committee's interpretation of evidence she had submitted to it as "damaging" to her party leader.

In its report released on Feb 10, Parliament's Committee of Privileges (COP) said a set of handwritten notes provided by Ms Lim supported its finding that Leader of the Opposition and WP chief Pritam Singh had guided former Sengkang GRC MP Raeesah Khan to continue to maintain an untrue narrative she had shared in Parliament on Aug 3 last year.


"I take a different view," Ms Lim told Parliament on Tuesday (Feb 15).

"If read in the proper context, my evidence is not inconsistent and not damaging to Mr Singh. In fact, it is consistent with his evidence that he was telling her she had to tell the truth."

The notes, taken by Ms Lim during a meeting between herself, WP vice-chairman Faisal Manap, Mr Singh and Ms Khan, reflect that Mr Singh had said to Ms Khan: "Before Oct session, I met you + I told you it was your call. Did need to tell the truth in Parl occur to you?"

Ms Khan replies: "Yes but consumed with guilt + own experience. Thought it wouldn't come up."

Mr Singh then asks: "Can't lie right?", to which Ms Khan responds: "Yes."

Ms Lim said this exchange shows that Ms Khan had accepted that she could not lie and understood that she had to tell the truth.


She added that she was "baffled" by the committee's conclusion that she had recognised Mr Singh acted contrary to an MP's duty to tell the truth. She said her evidence did not support this finding, and that the committee did not quote her testimony accurately.

"I'd also stated, at the same time, that I could not imagine Mr Singh giving Ms Khan a choice, and I do not believe it. That puts a totally different complexion to the paragraph cited by the COP," said Ms Lim.

In her speech, Ms Lim also said she found the composition of the committee "unsatisfactory" as it was "overwhelmingly dominated by ruling party members" and included just one opposition WP MP - Mr Dennis Tan (Hougang) - out of eight members.

She suggested that the committee should include at least three members from opposition parties.

Ms Lim also asked why lawyers are not allowed to represent those who are summoned before the committee.

She also complained of the lengthy and "oppressive" process of questioning witnesses for long hours, noting that the process took nine hours in a single day for Mr Singh and six hours for Mr Faisal, while her own questioning took nearly three hours.


Leader of the House Indranee Rajah later responded to several of Ms Lim's points.

She said the committee had taken Ms Lim's interpretation of the notes into account and noted her position in its report.

Ms Indranee also said Ms Lim's questioning of the committee's composition was a "strategy to cast aspersions" on the committee.

"When we had to determine who would be the opposition representative on the Committee of Privileges, Mr Dennis Tan was nominated by Mr Singh, and he certainly did not complain at that time, or say that he should have more opposition members," she said.

"So it just really rather does sound as though, if you don't like the outcome of the Committee of Privileges, then you complain about how it is composed when it was never an issue before."

On the length of the questioning process, Ms Indranee said the time it takes to question a witness depends on whether they answer questions straightforwardly.

She also noted that lawyers are not allowed before the committee by default, but exceptions can be made by special application when there are good reasons to do so.

Added Ms Indranee: "Mr Singh is a lawyer, and so is Ms Lim. I don't think they really needed external counsel to be able to answer the questions that were put to them, which were not particularly difficult, well within their ability to understand and respond to."

Mr Faisal also spoke briefly in Parliament on Tuesday, stating that he will cooperate with investigations if he and Mr Singh are referred to the Public Prosecutor.

He also assured Aljunied GRC residents that services such as house visits and Meet-the-People Sessions will not be affected, and that he will continue to support the remaining Sengkang GRC MPs with issues related to the Malay-Muslim community.













WP candidate selection processes 'can be better', party will work to uphold standards expected of MPs: Pritam
By Justin Ong, Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 15 Feb 2022

The Workers' Party's (WP) candidate selection processes "can always be better" and it will strive to ensure it fields individuals who meet the standards expected of MPs, said Leader of the Opposition and party chief Pritam Singh.

He was speaking in Parliament on Tuesday (Feb 15) during a debate on two motions relating to a parliamentary committee's recommended sanctions on his former MP Raeesah Khan as well as himself and party vice-chairman Faisal Manap for their roles in repeated lies told by Ms Khan in the House last year.

The panel had called for Ms Khan to be fined $35,000, and for Mr Singh and Mr Faisal to be referred to the Public Prosecutor for possible criminal charges.

While Mr Singh rejected any conclusions that he had committed any offences, he said there were "absolutely" legitimate questions raised by Singaporeans about his party's candidate selection processes.

"As this House knows, and as the Government has also previously shared… no selection process is foolproof, and people can change," he noted.

"Even PAP (People's Action Party) 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 11th hour.

"The point is that even people who exhibit politically attractive character traits can turn out to be unsuitable," Mr Singh added.

"The Workers' Party also has had its fair share of the same experience."

He said it could be very difficult, if not impossible, to test a person's judgment in all circumstances prior to fielding them as political candidates.

"This is so even for the PAP, with its massive resources and far greater ease in finding willing candidates compared to opposition parties," Mr Singh said. "However, the Workers' Party does not use these realities as excuses.

"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."

He said he would work with party members to fine-tune these processes as best they can, "taking into account the structural challenges" faced by the opposition.

WP leaders will also take into account demands that the party fields individuals who "do not lower the esteem of Parliament" and who "meet the standards expected" of MPs.

"I will endeavour to the best of my abilities to ensure that our candidates are rational, responsible and respectable," said Mr Singh. "And if any candidate selection decisions are wrong, I as secretary-general of the party take full responsibility."

Earlier, Mr Singh also acknowledged that he had given Ms Khan too much time to "settle herself" before "closing" with her the issue of her lies, which she first told on Aug 3 and repeated on Oct 4.

He said that between Aug 8, when Ms Khan came clean to WP leaders, and Sept 30, he should have been "proactive and checked where she was", in letting her family know that she had been a victim of sexual assault herself.

Ms Khan has explained that she lied because of her own personal trauma.

Mr Singh said: "That omission is mine alone… However, I will continue to be as sympathetic to anyone who shares such deeply personal details with me.

"My instinct, even today, would be to keep the information of the sexual assault to myself, or to a very small group of trusted individuals, given its highly personal and sensitive nature," he added.

"I would allow such a person space to deal with the matter. I still believe that it was right that the clarification was made in Parliament rather than out of it."







Gaps in Workers' Party evidence consistent with Raeesah Khan's version of events: Janil Puthucheary at COP report debate
By Goh Yan Han, Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 15 Feb 2022

The gaps and omissions in the submission of evidence and documents by the Workers' Party (WP), taken with what has been provided to the Committee of Privileges (COP) during its hearings, are more consistent with former WP MP Raeesah Khan's account of events, said Dr Janil Puthucheary.

He was speaking during the debate on the committee's report following its probe into Ms Khan's lies in Parliament last year.


On Tuesday, Leader of the Opposition Pritam Singh stated that he rejected the findings of the committee and that he intends to clear his name if referred to the Public Prosecutor. He added that the recommendations of the committee relied on one pillar - it believes Ms Khan's evidence that she had been told to take her lie to the grave.

Speaking right after Mr Singh, Dr Janil, who is Senior Minister of State for Communications and Information and Health, said it was Mr Singh and his party colleagues who engaged in political partisanship by choosing to obfuscate the matter and to deal with Ms Khan in the way that they did.

He said: "The reality is that in examining the evidence provided by him and his WP colleagues, MPs, 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.

"The questions, gaps and omissions that he began his statement with are still present... 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."

Dr Janil said there was a question of why there were no steps taken to prepare Ms Khan to come clean and tell the truth from August - when she first told the lie in Parliament - till Oct 3, the day before she was pressed in Parliament on the matter by Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam, and when she lied again.

He said this gap, taken with the other statements and evidence, is consistent with Ms Khan's account that the truth could remain buried if the matter did not come up.

He added: "Mr Singh should explain clearly why no steps were taken if indeed it was important, and it remains important, for Workers' Party MPs to come clean, to tell the truth, to clarify an untruth told in Parliament as he claims."

Dr Janil said: "One untruth is a problem. The second time, worse. And why not at that point, ensure that the second lie in Parliament, the one which he, Ms (Sylvia) Lim and Mr Faisal (Manap) were aware of to be a lie, be clarified immediately?"

He asked: "The Workers' Party stands for honesty, integrity, accountability, where was all of that when Mr Singh was privy to a lie being told again, in Parliament?

"Mr Singh should come out clearly and tell Parliament what is his response to the specific findings (by) the Committee of Privileges. What is his explanation for the various inconsistencies that have occurred on the facts based on his own accord?"

Dr Janil also asked why there were no contemporaneous communication between Mr Singh, party chair Sylvia Lim and party vice-chair Faisal Manap on this topic.

He said: "Between me and my colleagues, just to settle what time we should meet, in order to go through our parliamentary questions, we would exchange various pages of e-mails.

"But this, for a most important matter, nothing - deafening silence. If it is, so it is hard to believe."

Dr Janil concluded by saying that he supported the motion that Parliament accepted the committee's recommendations: "To support the motion is to fight for a Singapore that is special, where politicians can be trusted and are expected to be honest, capable and upright.

"To support the motion is to fight for a Singapore where politicians do the right thing, not the politically convenient thing. To support the motion is to believe in our values and our integrity."

Speaking after all three WP leaders, Senior Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and National Development Sim Ann said that when faced with an honest ruling party with a proven track record, every opposition party can choose between two paths.

The first path is to deal only with the truth, point out where the incumbent has genuinely fallen short and propose workable alternatives, while the second path is to opportunistically and cynically distort the truth and inflame emotions, all for the sake of winning more support and votes.

A responsible opposition party should commit only to the first path and reject the second, said Ms Sim in Mandarin.

She said the WP leadership leaned towards the second path.

“They have demonstrated an opportunistic and cavalier attitude towards the truth, when it came to deciding whether Ms Khan should own up, and when and how it should be done,” said Ms Sim.

She said that the WP leaders’ “machinations” have hurt Ms Khan, the WP and its supporters, Parliament, victims of sexual assault and mental health patients as well as Singapore’s political ecosystem.

Condoning lies and being cavalier with the truth undermine the foundation of honesty and trust that our democracy is built on, she said.

She added: “To exploit the public’s sympathy for the underdog and paint the COP as being politically motivated, not only distracts the public from the core issue, but seeks to numb the public to lies and dishonesty.

“It is wrong to lie, and worse for an MP to do so. But if party leaders (including Leader of the Opposition) lie, then it must be looked into seriously. The behaviour of party leaders sets the tone for the values of the entire party, and is critical to the preservation of healthy dynamics within our political ecosystem.”
















WP’s ‘strategy’ to avoid addressing key findings from COP during debate: Indranee Rajah
By Hariz Baharudin, Assistant News Editor, The Straits Times, 15 Feb 2022

Workers' Party leaders have not addressed key findings from Parliament's Committee of Privileges on why lies were told repeatedly in the House, said Leader of the House Indranee Rajah on Tuesday (Feb 15).

Wrapping up the debate on two motions she filed related to the report on an untruth spoken in the House by former WP MP Raeesah Khan, Ms Indranee said speeches by Leader of the Opposition and WP chief Pritam Singh, as well as those by party chairman Sylvia Lim and vice-chairman Faisal Manap, did not address the committee's key findings.


"I can understand tactically and strategically why you do that, because you've got this big report that says these really strong statements," she said.

"So it's probably a strategy - a good idea not to deal with those head-on but to pick small little things here and there and to hope that other people will look at that."

One such finding that the WP leaders did not address was why it took so long to have the truth told to Parliament regarding Ms Khan's lie, Ms Indranee said.

Ms Khan had on Aug 3 claimed to have accompanied a sexual assault victim to a police station, where officers allegedly handled the matter insensitively and drove the victim to tears.

On Aug 8, Ms Khan had confessed to all three senior WP leaders. However, she repeated the untruth on Oct 4, before coming clean in Parliament on Nov 1.

"Why did it take so long to have the truth told to Parliament? You would think that from the time that is disclosed to them, the first reaction should be: 'Oh no, this is terrible, we better go back and clarify'," said Ms Indranee.

"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."

She was referring to the police asking Ms Khan for an interview about the case she cited.


Another "puzzling" issue that WP leaders did not address was why there was no direct instruction for the truth to be told, Ms Indranee said.

She said that despite all the evidence given by the opposition members, there was no clear instruction from them to Ms Khan to come clean.

"Instead, there's this passing of words... I mean 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."

There is also the matter of whether or not Ms Khan's parents had been told about her lie, and about the fact that she was a sexual assault victim.

The WP leaders had told the committee during its hearings that they did not press Ms Khan to set the record straight when they learnt on Aug 8 that she had lied, because they wanted to give her time to speak to her parents.

"If that was so, how come nobody asked her whether she had told her parents? Why was no effort made to find out if she cleared that so that you could come back to Parliament and tell the truth?" said Ms Indranee.

These are pertinent questions that have not been answered, she added in rounding up the debate.







Parliament office responds to Sylvia Lim's remarks on 'oppressive' protocols for COP witnesses
Witnesses need not seek permission for toilet visits
By Nadine Chua, The Straits Times, 16 Feb 2022

Protocols are in place for witnesses appearing before Parliament committees to guard them against perceptions of undue influence, said the Office of the Clerk of Parliament on Wednesday (Feb 16).

It issued a statement responding to points made by Workers' Party (WP) chairman Sylvia Lim a day earlier, during the debate on the Committee of Privileges (COP) report on untruths told in Parliament by former WP MP Raeesah Khan.

Ms Lim had questioned aspects of the COP process, citing the committee's "strenuous questioning" of her fellow WP leaders Faisal Manap and Pritam Singh, which lasted six and nine hours respectively. Ms Lim was questioned for nearly three hours.


She said that before she was questioned, she "waited for two days in a guarded room and was denied the use of any communication devices".

"When I needed to visit the bathroom, I was accompanied by security. When I requested to use the disabled toilet to have more space, permission was sought. Doesn't all this border on oppressive? Our courts of law do not subject witnesses to such treatment," Ms Lim told the House on Tuesday.

In its reply, the Clerk's Office said that to protect witnesses against perceptions of undue influence, all witnesses were advised not to have communication devices and other electronic equipment with them until they have completed their testimonies.

They individually waited in assigned rooms where they could be physically reached when it was their turn, it added.

The witnesses were also provided with reading materials, meals and drinks for their comfort and convenience, and every witness had an attending Parliament officer who could immediately respond to any requests or queries, noted the Clerk's Office.

"At no time was permission needed for witnesses to use the toilet and they could make their own way there whenever they wanted," said the Clerk's Office, adding that on the occasion recounted by Ms Lim, she had specifically asked the Parliament officer with her for the nearest handicapped toilet, with more space and privacy, to freshen up.

"Before showing Ms Lim the way, the officer had verbally informed a supervisor on their movement in case the COP called upon Ms Lim while she was at the toilet.

"It was unfortunate that Ms Lim had misunderstood the officer's routine status update," said the Clerk's Office.


It noted that Ms Lim's speech in Parliament on Tuesday was the first time she had expressed her concerns regarding the matter, adding that any feedback made known to the COP by witnesses would have been immediately addressed.

"Nevertheless, we welcome this opportunity to affirm that all protocols are carried out to balance witnesses' well-being with the due process," said the Clerk's Office.





Up to Singaporeans to hold all parties, politicians to consistent high standards post 'Raeesah-gate': Observers
By Justin Ong and Hariz Baharudin, The Straits Times, 17 Feb 2022

A lying saga that put the Leader of the Opposition Pritam Singh at peril of facing criminal charges has underlined the need for the electorate to hold their political parties and representatives alike to the same high standards and values, observers said on Wednesday (Feb 16).

They noted that the political stakes in Singapore have been shaken up in the wake of the House accepting a parliamentary panel's recommended sanctions on Mr Singh, who is the opposition Workers' Party (WP) chief, along with his vice-chairman Faisal Manap and former MP Raeesah Khan.

The analysts also reiterated the reputational harm done to the WP, but cautioned against prematurely judging any impact at the ballot box.

In Tuesday's four-hour debate around the conclusions and proposals of the Committee of Privileges set up to look into Ms Khan's repeated lies in Parliament last year, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong stressed the importance of integrity and warned that trust in the polity would be eroded if transgressions by MPs were allowed to pass.

"My duty as the leader of the country is also to maximise the chances that whichever party wins future elections, it will uphold and be held to the same high standards of proper conduct and honesty as the PAP (People's Action Party), so that our democratic system can continue to operate properly," he said.


National University of Singapore political scientist Elvin Ong said the gravity of these words was "most striking", and that PM Lee was explaining the need for the committee's recommendations against the WP.

At the same time, Singapore Management University law don Eugene Tan said PM Lee's speech, and others by PAP MPs also exhorting standards of conduct, would have the effect of the ruling party also being held to those high benchmarks.

"Voters will demand that they practise what they preach," said Associate Professor Tan. "(PM Lee) is suggesting that voters must demand no less of political parties of all stripes and politicians. Ultimately, how voters see the entire saga will determine the fate of Singapore politics and governance."

The committee had called for Ms Khan to be fined $35,000 for her untruths in Parliament in August and October last year, and for Mr Singh and Mr Faisal to be referred to the Public Prosecutor with a view to considering criminal proceedings.

The panel had determined that Mr Singh had lied while giving evidence under oath and that this could amount to perjury, and that Mr Faisal's refusal to answer questions could amount to contempt of Parliament. It also concluded that Ms Khan was acting under the guidance of WP leaders when she repeated her lie - an indictment that Mr Singh, Mr Faisal and party chairman Sylvia Lim have rejected.

Mr Singh on Tuesday rejected the notion that he had committed any offences, but said he would not object to being referred to the Public Prosecutor with a view to clearing his name.

During the debate, PM Lee also highlighted that as Singapore heads towards a more politically-contested landscape, the competence and honesty of the opposition matter; and that "right" norms of behaviour among MPs have to be guarded carefully - foremost being to tell the truth always and to do right by Singapore.

"One cannot disagree that any 'high standards' of honesty, trust, and integrity are vital to maintaining the effectiveness of Singapore's political system," said Assistant Professor Ong.

"What Singaporeans must ask themselves is whether they want to, whether they can, and whether they should demand that those high standards are applied consistently across all political parties and candidates. Singaporeans will have to figure out an answer for themselves."


Dr Mustafa Izzuddin, a senior international affairs analyst at Solaris Strategies Singapore, said the Singapore electorate was already doing so.

Tuesday's debate, he said, suggests "that the bar has been set high for political service in Singapore".

Prof Tan said PM Lee was also acknowledging the people's desire for more political diversity and contestation, while emphasising that it cannot be any opposition for opposition's sake. "It cannot be a race to the bottom where standards of public life and probity are concerned," he added. "In that regard, PM Lee was speaking more as the nation's leader rather than as party leader."

Dr Gillian Koh, deputy director of research at the Institute of Policy Studies, said a question arising out of PM Lee's speech and the entire debate was whether people would feel "cognitive dissonance" that the WP, long positioned as a check and balance on the PAP, "did not seem able to be an effective check on itself".

Reputational damage to WP

The debate in Parliament, and indeed the entire Raeesah Khan saga, has caused the WP reputational damage and hurt its standing, said the experts.

Commenting specifically on how the WP fared on Tuesday, Prof Tan said he expected the party to put up a stout defence but instead, the three party leaders "opted to make bald assertions and nitpick the report", rather than address the committee's core findings during the debate.

"Their silence on the gravamen of the charges was telling. On the whole, the WP's offering yesterday was poor, inchoate, and largely irrelevant," he added.

In her closing speech on Tuesday, Leader of the House Indranee Rajah said the WP had not addressed key findings from the Committee of Privileges on why lies were told repeatedly in the House. These included why it took so long for the truth to be told, and why there was no instruction to Ms Khan to come clean.

Prof Tan zoomed in on one specific moment during Mr Singh's speech, where the WP chief "gratuitously stated" the alleged specific sexual assault against Ms Khan, even though she had shared that detail in confidence.

"Mr Singh showed no compunction to humiliate Ms Khan further, having also made the same disclosure when he appeared before the COP," said Prof Tan.

But it is still too soon to tell if the lies, hearings and parliamentary debates will affect how Singaporeans decide to vote, as some experts noted that the election is still some time away. The last general election was held in July 2020, and Singapore must hold its next polls by November 2025.

Voters frequently have to weigh "a whole basket of issues" when they head to the ballot box to make their decision, said Prof Ong, who noted that these include economic issues, concerns about quality of life, policies proposed by the various parties and the qualities of political candidates.

"While it may be true that the credibility of the Workers' Party is diminished as a result of this saga in the short term, it may be the case that voters are willing to set it aside because they are concerned about some other issues in the long term," he added.

That the six other WP MPs did not speak during Tuesday's debate reflects how they have closed ranks with their leaders, noted Prof Tan, who pointed out that only time will tell how serious the damage to the party is.

Dr Koh anticipates the WP will continue its "retail politics" strategy of working the ground and having deep door-to-door conversations with constituents. The party has adopted this strategy for years, including under former chief Low Thia Khiang, and she expects the party to intensify manpower in its ground engagements.

Dr Mustafa said the standard of political opposition has steadily risen and will continue to do so despite the entire episode. He noted two milestones: the WP clinching its first GRC in Aljunied at GE 2011, and the title of Leader of the Opposition being given to Mr Singh after GE 2020.

"The rising stock of the opposition, albeit hitting a road bump, will continue as there is a clamouring for credible alternative voices in Parliament, especially among the younger generation of voters," he said.

Assistant Professor Walid Jumblatt Abdullah, from Nanyang Technological University's (NTU) School of Social Sciences, said in a Facebook post on Wednesday: "What matters most is how middle-ground voters feel. Whether they believe that WP's credibility has been hit, or whether they feel this is injustice against an opposition which already does not have the same power as the incumbents."

Such voters make up 30 per cent to 35 per cent of the electorate and generally lean towards the PAP, but would be willing to vote against it if they think the circumstances require such a decision, he said.

Former PAP MP Inderjit Singh said the debate in Parliament has created some doubts in people about the WP leadership, but he does not see the core supporters on either side changing their minds about their level of support for either the PAP or WP.

"The middle ground will make their final decision based on the outcome of the prosecution decision," he added.







A defining moment for the future of contested politics
The opposition must raise the bar to meet high standards of integrity. And the PAP must raise the bar to behave better and act fairly as the dominant party in a contested system.
By Chua Mui Hoong, Associate Editor, The Straits Times, 18 Feb 2022

A lie told by a rookie opposition MP in Parliament has morphed over the past six months into a tale involving her party leaders, a parliamentary committee hearing spanning weeks, and, on Tuesday, an intense four-hour debate that saw the Prime Minister step in to deliver a rare, and vitally important, speech.

Ms Raeesah Khan has since apologised for her lie uttered on Aug 3 and for repeating it on Oct 4, when queried. She had made up an anecdote about accompanying a sexual assault victim to the police station, where officers had been insensitive. In fact, she had heard the account at a support group meeting, and had not received permission to share the story.

On Nov 1, she confessed in Parliament that she had lied, and resigned from the Workers' Party (WP) and from her seat in Sengkang GRC on Nov 30.

A complaint about her untruth was made and a Committee of Privileges (COP) was convened to investigate. On Feb 10, the COP released its final report recommending that Ms Khan be fined $35,000 for her lies. It also wanted to refer two WP leaders to the Public Prosecutor to ascertain if their own conduct before the committee warranted criminal prosecution: perjury or lying under oath in WP secretary-general Pritam Singh's case; or contempt of Parliament for refusing to answer relevant questions in the case of WP vice-chair Faisal Manap. Parliament accepted the recommendations this week.

The COP report essentially concluded that while Ms Khan was responsible for her lies, party leaders had also guided her to cover up those lies.

Mr Singh has repeatedly denied asking her to continue lying in Parliament. More than 30 hours of video recordings of the proceedings, and a series of reports totalling 1,181 pages, including transcripts and screenshots of text messages, were released over the weeks to a public at times riveted, at times satiated, by the deluge.

Some Singaporeans think the issue is a political ploy to distract attention from an expected impending rise in the goods and services tax. Others lament the waste of extensive public resources to chase down the details of whether the WP leadership encouraged, or guided, Ms Khan in continuing to lie to Parliament.

Beyond the specific circumstances of this case - she said, he said, they said - the ongoing saga is most interesting as a case study of what to expect as politics gets more contested.

The politics of contestation

Singapore politics is at an inflexion point.

With rising political contestation, the conduct of both the incumbent People's Action Party (PAP) and of the main opposition party WP will shape the future of Singapore democracy.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's 40-minute speech in Parliament on Tuesday was a rallying call to both voters and opposition members to uphold high standards of integrity in politics established since the founding generation.


Singaporean voters are used to giving a mental discount to opposition candidates and parties, viewing them as underdogs operating under a system with rules set by the PAP.

But such double standards are not healthy for a maturing democracy. As PM Lee said on Tuesday, "with Singapore heading towards a more contested landscape, the competence and honesty of the opposition is no longer an inconsequential matter", but is of "fundamental importance".

He said: "With our lives and future at stake, everyone participating in the system must be held to the same standards."

PM Lee clearly set out expectations for MPs: preserve the sanctity of Parliament; uphold values of integrity and honesty; and when mistakes are made, "own up and take responsibility - do not hide, dodge, or spin further lies, to obfuscate and cover up the original fib".

His speech spelt out a vision of politics based on shared common values of integrity and incorruptibility.

For Singapore voters, this means demanding that opposition MPs, candidates and parties be held to at least the same high standards as those demanded of the PAP.

Mr Singh as WP leader has already said its candidate selection can be better, even as he denied personal wrongdoing, and added that he would fight to clear his name if prosecuted.

But voters will demand more than these of the WP.


Questions are already being asked about WP's internal party processes. Two issues have emerged: Why party leaders gave Ms Khan several months to set the record straight on her lies, and why a disciplinary panel on Ms Khan's behaviour was made up of precisely the three leaders who had been told about Ms Khan's lies since Aug 8?

To be taken seriously as a party, the WP will need to institute party processes that can withstand scrutiny.

Conduct expected of a dominant party

As politics gets more contested, no less important than raising the bar for the opposition is raising the bar for the PAP's behaviour as the dominant party.

Voters will demand that the PAP behaves as its ideals require. Observers will be reminded of past incidents when PAP leaders seemed to give themselves an easy pass over mistakes.

For example, as Mr Singh has highlighted to the COP - and as many others outside the House have noted - the Government took months to correct a statement made in Parliament by Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, minister in charge of the Smart Nation drive, that TraceTogether data would be used only for contact tracing purposes.

He had said this in June 2020, but found out in October that the Criminal Procedure Code allows TraceTogether data to be used for police investigations. This fact was made known publicly only in a January 2021 parliamentary reply.


Dr Balakrishnan eventually took responsibility for and apologised for his mistake. Importantly, the Government did its best to make good on the promise. It passed legislation in February 2021, under a certificate of urgency, limiting the use of TraceTogether data to investigations for specific, serious crimes such as murder and terrorism. And so trust, broken, could be mended.

Even if it rectified the situation eventually, the fact remains that government leaders allowed a false promise to the public to remain on the record, uncorrected, for months.

While no one is suggesting lies were involved, similar questions now being asked of WP leaders can be levelled at PAP leaders then. When did party leaders realise a false promise of data privacy had been made (even if unintentionally)? Why the delay in clarifying the statement?

But because Parliament is PAP-dominated, the issue was not blown up, and the political agenda moved on. But such murmurings inevitably arise again when the PAP, rightly, insists on holding everyone to the highest standards.

Beyond expecting PAP leaders to behave as high-mindedly as their rhetoric requires, voters will also want to see the PAP behave in a fairer and more equitable manner to its political opponents than it has tended to in the past.

While the hurly-burly nature of politics means political parties will do what they can, legally, to entrench their power and curb opponents, some of the PAP's tactics from the 1970s to the 1990s have been described as "knuckleduster" actions - from defamation suits to putting opposition constituencies last in the queue for state-funded upgrading works, among two oft-cited examples.

Those moves had lasting impact, putting many off the idea of engaging in politics, and avoiding partisan activity of any stripe.

Thankfully, to be fair to PM Lee and the current batch of leaders, these tactics are much less used today.

In life, as in politics, it is important, even as we take stock realistically of the past, to look forward and to press for positive change. In this respect, I cheered PM Lee's speech for elaborating on the values and democratic ideals expected of all in politics, especially when he made an explicit commitment to principled behaviour.

Notably, he acknowledged the desire for more contestation and pledged to do his best as leader of Singapore to help the opposition become more responsible: "I know Singaporeans want to see more political contestation, and I accept that. I expect that this is the way Singapore will go, in the longer term. That is how every parliamentary democracy evolves.

"And it was precisely because I recognised this, that on election night in 2020, after the WP won a second GRC in Sengkang, I offered to make Mr Singh the Leader of the Opposition, and equip him with the resources and support to play his role. That is the way a responsible government can help a credible, responsible opposition to emerge, and contribute to the maturing of our political system."

Conversely, what does a responsible government look like in an age of contested politics? What must it do, to make sure the system is in place for a peaceful change in regime when the time comes?

This is what PM Lee said on this: "I do not know when, or how, there will be a change of governing party in Singapore one day. My job as party leader is to make sure the PAP governs well to the best of its ability, so that it retains the mandate of the people for as many elections as possible.

"But my duty as the leader of the country is also to maximise the chances that whichever party wins future elections, it will uphold and be held to the same high standards of proper conduct and honesty as the PAP, so that our democratic system can continue to operate properly, whichever party is in charge, and would not go down the drain."

Mr Lee differentiated between his job as party leader and his duty as the leader of the country. I am glad for his choice of words: one is a "job"; the other is a higher "duty".

Likewise, opposition leaders have to answer the call to a higher duty than as party leader. As Leader of the Opposition, for example, Mr Singh's first duty is to his country, not his party.

Going forward, leaders of political parties, including the PAP, must operate more like country leaders and less like party leaders. For the party in government, this means taking steps to make sure Singapore's politics, policies and processes are based on the right values, and conducive for an ethical, peaceful transition of power should that day arrive.

Good norms being created

As a perpetual optimist in Singapore, I am hopeful that in recent political events, and in Raeesah-gate and its fallout, we are seeing the creation of good norms in the new politics of contestation.

Making Mr Singh Leader of the Opposition with an office, and higher allowance to hire staff, was a good norm. It boded well for Singapore's political future.

Appointing a COP to investigate Ms Khan's lies was a good norm to uphold the integrity of Parliament.

The COP could have meted out penalties to the WP leaders it said had lied under oath, or acted in contempt of Parliament by refusing to answer questions.

COP members have explained that it chose to refer the WP leaders to the Public Prosecutor to avoid accusations of political bias, as seven of the eight members of the COP are from the PAP; and so that the WP leaders can defend themselves in court if the matter comes to a trial.

The explanation is reasonable, and indeed a court trial may be able to shed more light on whether WP leaders egged Ms Khan to perpetuate her lies.

Yet, questions have also been raised about whether the COP process too could be improved.

Both Ms Sylvia Lim and Mr Singh said some of their evidence had not been taken into consideration or recorded, although their statements were rebutted by COP members, who argued that all available evidence was considered and factored in the report that ran beyond a thousand pages.

The COP's long-drawn hearing has also struck some as being more adversarial than might be expected from a fact-finding parliamentary committee. Widely shared scenes of the committee en masse on benches set up high, with the witness seated on a lower level, alone, with no lawyer - looked inquisitorial. Some witnesses, especially Mr Singh, were subject to a questioning style that was more akin to hostile cross-examination by a legal adversary.

The whole point of having the COP process on the public record is to let Singaporeans see first-hand the workings of parliamentary democracy in action. The aim is to raise confidence in our political system. If the COP process has raised questions and is seen by some as partisan, then it should be overhauled.

In fact, I hope PM Lee - or his successor - as country leader sees it as his duty to review the political landscape to strengthen systems and processes that stand in the way of a credible, responsible opposition emerging.

Creating a more bipartisan COP that has fair, robust processes in place, might be a start.

As PM Lee has said, this episode can be a plus for democracy if it results in MPs being held accountable for their words and actions in Parliament.

I would say that the episode can strengthen Singapore democracy, if the party in power also takes a hard, honest look at itself, reviews political processes it has inherited, and removes or improves those which impede the growth of a responsible opposition.

If there is one takeaway from this episode, it is the need for external checks and balances. The WP won votes in the 2020 General Election on its platform of being a check on the Government. But the party that wanted to deny a "blank cheque" to the PAP (in the words of WP MP for Sengkang GRC Jamus Lim), also needs checking. It cannot expect a "blank cheque" simply for being the underdog.

Parliamentary processes like the COP are deemed to benefit from calling in the Public Prosecutor and the public justice system. The legislature, in other words, needs to be checked by the judiciary.

As politics gets more contested, the PAP is doing the right thing by insisting on high standards of integrity for the opposition and of acting as a check on the growth of unruly opposition.

But this cuts both ways. Both a dominant PAP and opposition parties must be held to the same high standards that voters, and the country, deserve.










*  Parliament: Who guards the guards, asks Shanmugam in rebutting WP MP's call for ombudsman
By Tham Yuen-C, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 4 Mar 2022

Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam on Thursday (March 3) rebutted the call by Workers' Party (WP) MP Leon Perera (Aljunied GRC) for an ombudsman, saying that setting up an independent agency to check on every aspect of government would replicate many parts of law enforcement agencies.

Singapore's system already provides many processes to check on wrongdoing including by the Government, whether it is corruption or foreign interference, said the minister. These include complaint systems, independent investigations by the police with outside persons sitting on panels, as well as judicial review, he added during the debate on his ministry's budget on Thursday.

Furthermore, having an ombudsman without any oversight from the Government would also raise the question: Who then deals with misconduct by the ombudsman or the officers within that office?

"Who guards the guards?" asked Mr Shanmugam.


"Take a hypothetical situation. Say you have an organisation where the top leaders engage in wrongdoing, or for example, say they set up a disciplinary committee to cover up what they did rather than actually investigate. You can ask 'quis custodiet ipsos custodes?'" he said, using the Latin phrase for the question he posed.


Mr Perera had said that an ombudsman would be able to check on senior ministers, citing the risks of foreign influence with geopolitical tensions ratcheting.

He said: "Ministers, including the Home Affairs Minister and Prime Minister himself, would be extremely high-value targets for foreign interference, particularly given what some might say is Singapore's significant role in Asean."

"An office of an ombudsman would create investigative resources behind a legitimate institutional check that would be seen to be legitimate. In the current climate, there is more of a need for this," he added, saying this would be similar to the practice in New Zealand.

Mr Shanmugam, referring to Mr Perera's previous parliamentary speeches on the topic, said the WP MP had a penchant for recommending that outside commissions and an ombudsman look into all matters, from caning to foreign interference.

But he questioned the efficacy of this, saying the ombudsman would have to replicate many parts of existing law enforcement agencies, including the intelligence agencies, so that it can investigate such complaints on its own.

"I would suggest it doesn't make much sense. Because how do you replicate, and at what cost, an entire investigative mechanism outside the Government?"

Mr Shanmugam added: "You've got to then set up an entire huge structure at the taxpayers' expense to investigate this. Rather than having a proper legal process, including a complaint system, an independent investigation set up, say by the police, with some outside people sitting on it, or judicial review."

As it stands, law enforcement agencies can already go to the President - an independent person who can give directions and authorise checks, said Mr Shanmugam.

"We institutionalised it such that the CPIB (Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau) can go straight to the Prime Minister. But where the Prime Minister himself is the possible subject of investigations, or if the Prime Minister doesn't want to do something, the CPIB can go to the President. Not many countries have done this," he said.


Mr Shanmugam said there are systems in place and a variety of people who can lodge complaints and launch investigations into wrongdoing, including the Auditor-General's Office, the Attorney-General, the CPIB and the police.

And civil servants are obliged to go to a higher authority if they think their minister is doing wrong, "and if they believe that the higher authority is not acting properly, they can take it up all the way", he added.

These civil servants are, in turn, protected through the structure of the Public Service Commission, which appoints senior public officers, and the minister said such appointments "cannot be interfered with willy-nilly by the Government".

"I would say, look at all that first, and look at the ground situation before we start talking about replicating more and more institutions outside," he added.

On Mr Perera's reference to New Zealand, Mr Shanmugam said the situation there was different, noting that political parties are allowed to accept donations from locally registered companies, even if they are foreign-owned. He cited former National Party MP Todd McClay, whose party received a NZ$150,000 (S$138,000) donation from a company owned by Chinese businessman Lang Lin, after the two men had met.

Mr Shanmugam cited recent articles from The Guardian and Financial Times to make the point that New Zealand's international reputation for political integrity had taken a beating recently, with the country being described as "at the heart" of global money laundering.

"I would ask Members to perhaps do their research before they cite various countries and their institutions as models," he added.

In response, Mr Perera asked why many countries have an ombudsman if it was such a bad idea.

Unlike law enforcment institutions which sit on the organisation chart within the executive government and are “within that command and control hierarchy”, an ombudsman would report to Parliament, added Mr Perera.

“So when it investigates alleged abuses, it is seen to be an investigation coming from a different part of the Government...to do that has advantages in terms of vertical accountability that is felt by the society, and in terms of the strength and solidarity of our polity,” he said.

He also said that the practical issues of duplication can be resolved by having the ombudsman office direct the investigations while using resources from other agencies.

Replying, Mr Shanmugam reiterated that Singapore’s system already allows for such a process, where enforcement agencies, like the CPIB, can direct investigations and report directly to the President who is not part of the executive.

This is similar to Mr Perera’s suggestion, he added, saying: “I have explained how that is so. So I don’t understand what the argument is. Maybe Mr Perera hasn’t understood the constitutional structure and how the CPIB can go directly to the President.”



** 29 April 2022














***  4 Sep 2022

Daniel Goh says Workers' Party disciplinary panel formed to look into his Facebook posts on Raeesah Khan
By Jean Iau, The Straits Times, 4 Sep 2022

The Workers' Party (WP) has convened a disciplinary committee to look into the Facebook posts of cadre member Daniel Goh regarding former WP MP Raeesah Khan.

On Saturday, the former non-constituency MP said on Facebook that he had declined to be interviewed by the committee, which had asked to hear the rationale behind his public statements.

Associate Professor Goh said the committee alleged his posts had revealed the inner workings of the parliamentary caucus of the WP MPs, allowed political opponents to have an inside understanding of how the WP operates and cast a cloud over the character of the leadership of the party.


Ms Khan resigned from the party and as an MP for Sengkang GRC last November after she admitted to lying in Parliament.

Prof Goh then posed several questions regarding her resignation and said that it had left "many inconvenient questions" for the WP leadership unanswered.

In a separate post, he said the party's leadership must take some responsibility for allowing the transgression to persist.

He also related his own experience in which speeches were shared, reviewed and debated among MPs, and if a mistake was made, it was rectified immediately.

In Prof Goh's post on Saturday, he said that his earlier posts were questions based on public information as he had stepped down from his party posts in 2020.

He also said he had asked the questions as a concerned citizen and as a party member who believes that "public accountability and integrity are non-negotiable values demanded of our political leaders".

"In issues of grave public interest, questions must be asked about the inner workings of any organisation. If asking those questions carries a price, I am willing to pay it, and count it inexpensive," wrote Prof Goh, the associate provost of undergraduate education at the National University of Singapore.


He added that he has no intention of participating in party matters, including the Cadre Members' Conference in a few months' time to elect the party leaders.

Prof Goh urged the party leaders to make public the grounds of their decision to convene the committee and explain any disciplinary sanctions they would impose on him.

He also questioned what the committee had meant when it said his posts had cast a cloud over the character of the leadership of the WP, as it suggested to him that his questions, rather than the leaders' actions and responses, had caused people to lose their trust in the WP leaders.

When asked by The Straits Times on Sunday if he was planning to remain a member of the party, Prof Goh said: "I have no intention of resigning."

When contacted by ST, the WP declined to comment on the disciplinary committee and the sanctions it may impose on Prof Goh.

He stepped down from his party posts prior to the general election in 2020 owing to his health. He was a non-constituency member of Parliament between 2016 and 2020.



















*  Two key aides of ex-Workers’ Party MP Raeesah Khan resign from party
By Ng Wei Kai, The Straits Times, 9 Nov 2022

Two Workers’ Party (WP) members closely linked to former Sengkang GRC MP Raeesah Khan have resigned from the opposition party.

In a Facebook post on Wednesday, Mr Yudhishthra Nathan and Ms Loh Peiying said they put in their resignation papers to WP chief Pritam Singh but had stopped their involvement in party volunteer work since December 2021.

The Facebook post said the two of them were members only in name for the past 11 months and did not actively contribute to the party.

Mr Nathan and Ms Loh gave evidence at a Parliamentary Committee of Privileges (COP) hearing convened in December 2021 to investigate Ms Khan’s conduct.

Ms Khan admitted to lying in Parliament about a sexual assault case in August 2021. She resigned from the WP a few months later in November.


Ms Loh was Ms Khan’s secretarial assistant and a party member for 10 years who earlier served as Mr Singh’s secretarial assistant. Mr Nathan was a WP volunteer since 2013, and joined the party in 2016, rising to council member of the WP youth wing.

In the Facebook post, Mr Nathan and Ms Loh – both WP cadre members – said the last 11 months have not been easy and that they had reached a point where they both wanted to move on.

It said: “We want to return to being regular citizens, free to express ourselves as individuals, without others questioning our loyalties and allegiances.

“We have both been with the party for nine years or more, and have been cadres since 2016. In these years, we have loved the party dearly, and contributed actively in many teams and departments, both grassroots and strategic.”

Cadre members are part of the party’s inner circle, with the power to elect its leadership.

In their evidence to the COP, Mr Nathan and Ms Loh appeared to contradict the version of events offered by WP leaders, including Mr Singh, that pinned the blame solely on Ms Khan for lying in Parliament.


They also said WP leaders had asked Ms Khan to “take the information to the grave”. Party leaders, the two members said, were also unfair to Ms Khan by not being transparent about their own role in the incident.


The COP released its full findings in February, and recommended that Ms Khan be fined $35,000 for lying in Parliament multiple times and abusing her parliamentary privilege.

It also referred Mr Singh, who is WP secretary-general, and WP vice-chairman Faisal Manap to the police for investigations.

In the Facebook post, Mr Nathan and Ms Loh said they hold memories of their time in WP with fondness.

“We have made lifelong friends in each other, and with others along the way. There are many good people in the rank and file of the Workers’ Party who have dedicated their lives towards building a better Singapore.

“We hope they remember to keep the welfare of Singaporeans at the centre of all that they do.”







Related



Report by the Committee of Privileges -Complaint against Ms Raeesah Khan for Untruth Spoken in Parliament



Raeesah Khan lying in Parliament: Workers' Party attempts at cover-up backfires spectacularly

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