Speech by Leader of the House, Minister Indranee Rajah on the Two Motions on Committee Of Privileges Report

PMO Ministers | 15 February 2022

Transcript of Speech by Leader of the House Minister Indranee Rajah on the Two Motions on Committee Of Privileges Report on 15 February 2022.

 
Mr Speaker, on the face of it, the Motions before us today require us to make certain decisions about the conduct of certain MPs. However, the Motions are of far deeper and greater significance. Fundamentally, the Motions are about safeguarding the essence of democracy – our democracy – and preserving its most vital and essential characteristic, which is trust. They are about the need to ensure the integrity of our Institutions and Parliament in particular, and about the confidence Singaporeans can have in their elected representatives.

These things are not given. Established democracies like Australia and the United Kingdom have in recent months had to deal with allegations of senior parliamentarians being untruthful. The consequences are erosion of public trust. 

Now, regrettably, we have to deal with our own situation of parliamentarians being untruthful.  How we deal with this will reflect on our values and the standards of conduct to which we hold ourselves as MPs. 

How did we come to this point? Let me provide a quick recap:

On 3 August 2021, Ms Khan spoke during the debate on the Workers’ Party Motion titled “Empowering Women”. She claimed that the Police’s response to sexual assault survivors who lodged police reports was sometimes “disheartening”. She alleged that three years ago she had accompanied a sexual assault survivor to make a Police report against a rape that was committed against the survivor. She claimed to have witnessed the survivor come out crying; the police officer had allegedly made comments about her dressing and the fact that she had been drinking. Ms Khan made that statement twice on 3 August, and repeated it during a later session on 4 October. However, on 1 November 2021, Ms Khan confessed in Parliament that she had not in fact accompanied the survivor to the police station (I will refer to this as “the Untruth”). I raised a complaint under Standing Order 100(7)(b) against Ms Khan for breaches of privilege and the matter was referred to the Committee of Privileges (the “Committee”).

The Committee was duly convened and began its inquiry on 29 November 2021. The Committee completed its work and presented its report to Parliament on 10 February 2022, making findings and recommendations in respect of Ms Khan’s conduct. However, in the course of its inquiry, the conduct of 3 senior members of the WP leadership also came into question. This led the Committee to also make certain findings and recommendations relating to them as well.  

Before I go into the report, Mr Speaker, let me say something about the privileges and immunities of Parliament, and the corresponding duty that arises.

One of the most powerful things about a Parliamentary democracy is the ability to speak freely and candidly in Parliament. This is so that MPs can raise matters of public importance, safe in the knowledge that they have immunity from civil or criminal proceedings outside this House. That is a great privilege. In Singapore, this is enshrined in the Parliament (Privileges, Immunities and Powers) Act of 1962 (the “PPIPA”). But because it is such an important privilege, it must also be used responsibly and must not be abused. This includes the need to be truthful on, and to be able to substantiate, matters said in Parliament (or any committee of Parliament). 

The other aspect of Parliamentary democracy is that MPs are expected to act honourably and to respect the processes of Parliament as an institution, and not act in a manner that would undermine it, or the work of its committees.

Thus, dishonourable conduct, abuse of privilege and contempt of Parliament (including its committees) are offences under the PPIPA. 

Parliament is expected to keep its own house in order. Hence, the Act gives Parliament power to deal with such offences ranging from a reprimand, suspension of privileges or from Parliament, a fine or even committal to prison and expulsion from Parliament. In addition, if the conduct constitutes an offence listed under Part 5 of PPIPA, Parliament also has the power to refer the matter to the Public Prosecutor.

Let me now deal with the findings and recommendations of the Committee.

Findings and Recommendations against Ms Raeesah Khan 

RK - Abuse of Privilege (Paragraph 2(a) of First Motion) 
First, in respect of Ms Raeesah Khan for abuse of privilege. In terms of liability, the case against Ms Khan is clear and straightforward. She has admitted she lied in Parliament twice on 3 August 2021 and again on 4 October. The Committee has therefore found she had “acted with disregard for the dignity and decorum of the House” and recommended that Parliament finds Ms Khan guilty of abuse of privilege on all 3 occasions. And you will see that this is dealt with in paragraph 2(a) of the First Motion. 

RK - Penalty for lying (twice) on 3 August (Paragraph 2(b), First Motion)
The next issue is what penalty she should receive for these abuses of privilege.

Here, it is undisputed that when she lied on 3 August, she was the only one who knew that what she had said was untrue and therefore, acted entirely of her own accord. Hence, she should bear the full and sole responsibility for those transgressions. The Committee has accordingly recommended that a fine of $25,000 (that is half the maximum penalty) be imposed on Ms Khan for lying twice on 3 August. And that is dealt with in paragraph 2(b) of the First Motion.

RK - Penalty for lying on 4 October (Paragraph 2(c), First Motion)
I turn now to the penalty for the lie repeated on 4 October 2021. This is the issue that occupied the bulk of the Committee’s inquiry. Because by this time, she had disclosed the Untruth to the Leader of the Opposition Mr Pritam Singh and the other two senior Workers’ Party (WP) leaders, Ms Sylvia Lim and Mr Faisal Manap, who are the Chairman and Vice-Chairman of the Workers’ Party respectively.

So, the issue is this: when Ms Khan repeated the lie in Parliament on 4 October, was she acting on her own accord or was she acting on the guidance of her senior party leaders? 

If she was acting on her own, then the penalty should be higher, because it means that she and she alone was responsible for deliberately repeating the lie despite being told otherwise – as claimed by Mr Singh – showing a lack of remorse. But if as a young and inexperienced MP she was acting on the instructions or guidance of her party leaders, to whom she deferred and to whose views she gave weight, then that would be a mitigating factor. Because then she is not the only one responsible. In this case, the penalty should be lower. 

And here, the accounts of Ms Khan and the 3 senior WP leaders are diametrically opposed – so much so that, in fact, there can be no possibility of this being a case of differing interpretations or of any misunderstanding. It is a situation where either Ms Khan lied to the Committee, or else Mr Singh, Ms Lim and Mr Faisal lied to the Committee. There is no in-between.

Ms Khan’s evidence is that when she repeated the lie on 4 October, it was her understanding, based on what Mr Singh said to her on 3 October, that there would be no consequences if she continued with the Untruth. Mr Singh, on the other hand, says that Ms Khan did so on her own accord and contrary to instructions given. Ms Lim and Mr Faisal say that they did not discuss the issue with her. They left it to Mr Singh.

Two meetings are key to this issue: the meeting between Ms Khan and the 3 senior WP leaders on 8 August 2021 (“the 8 August Meeting”), and the meeting between Mr Singh and Ms Khan on 3 October 2021 at her home (“the 3 October Meeting”)

Regarding the 8 August Meeting, Ms Khan’s evidence was that the 3 senior WP leaders told her to continue with the Untruth. There was no need for her to clarify the truth in Parliament, and Mr Singh told her to “take the information to the grave”. 

The 3 WP leaders on the other hand say that there was simply no discussion on the matter after Ms Khan confessed to them, or indeed, for nearly 2 months which passed thereafter. Instead, the discussion moved on to other matters.

Next, the 3 October Meeting. This is of critical importance because it took place the evening before the Parliament sitting of 4 October, where Ms Khan said the lie for the third time. This meeting involved just Ms Khan and Mr Singh. No one else was present.  

The issue with regards to the 3rd October Meeting was whether:

Mr Singh had made it clear to Ms Khan that she had to tell the truth; or Mr Singh gave Ms Khan a choice as to whether to tell the truth or keep to the Untruth, and if he did give her such a choice, whether he pointed her in the direction of how that choice should be exercised.

Ms Khan’s evidence is that “the conversation was that if [she] were to retain the narrative or if [she] were to continue the narrative, there would be no judgement”. Her understanding of this therefore was that there would be no consequences if she continued with the lie. She was not instructed to tell the truth.

Mr Singh’s evidence on the other hand was that he did not give Ms Khan a choice and that he made it “crystal clear” that she had to tell the truth. 

Presented with such conflicting evidence, there is only one way to tell who is telling the truth and that is to test is against objective evidence, which is what the Committee did.  They assessed it against:

the contemporaneous evidence; against written documents; against the conduct of the parties both before and after the relevant events; and they tested it against whether the evidence given to the Committee made sense.

Taking all these into account, the Committee found that Ms Khan was telling the truth and that Mr Singh, (and to a lesser extent, Ms Lim and Mr Faisal), had lied to the Committee: immediately after the 8 August meeting, Ms Khan sent a Whatsapp message to her assistants, stating that “they’ve [meaning Mr Singh, Ms Lim and Mr Faisal] agreed that the best thing to do is to take the information to the grave”. So there is written, contemporaneous evidence immediately after the meeting. Her evidence was corroborated by Ms Loh and Mr Nathan; On the 3 WP leaders’ own evidence, between 8 August and 3 October, nothing was discussed about clarifying the lie, but they all agreed that telling the Untruth in Parliament was a serious matter and should be corrected; There were no correspondence or documents from them on the issue at all; They did not speak with Ms Khan on the issue; While Mr Singh had claimed he was concerned about ensuring that Ms Khan’s family was told about the sexual assault before clarifying the Untruth,not once did he or the others check if she had spoken with her parents; No steps were taken for any clarification to be made in Parliament, ahead of the September or October sittings. The other WP CEC members were kept in the dark. Mr Singh established a Disciplinary Panel consisting of the very same people who knew she lied consisting of himself, Ms Lim and Mr Faisal, and they did not disclose this to the CEC.
All of these are consistent with a situation in which she was told to maintain the lie.

As to the 3 October Meeting, the Committee found “the evidence quite clear that Mr Singh strongly pointed Ms Khan towards continuing with the Untruth on 3 Oct”: They found as follows: On 3 October, Mr Singh visited Ms Khan at her home specifically to advise her on what to say at the 4 October Parliamentary sitting because he “had a feeling” the topic might come up.  He did not tell Ms Lim or Mr Faisal about the meeting. 

At this meeting, Mr Singh did not tell Ms Khan to proactively raise the matter, or to tell the truth. This is not disputed but this common position was only arrived at after inconsistencies in Mr Singh’s evidence were pointed out and he had changed his evidence. 

Mr Singh initially said Ms Khan had to proactively clarify the truth on 4 October even if the issue did not come up. But when it was pointed out that no preparations had been made, there was no draft statements for example, then  he said no preparatory steps were taken because it was uncertain if Ms Khan would have to clarify the truth. At this point he realized his earlier evidence was untenable and he changed his position and admitted that he did not tell Ms Khan to come clean proactively on 4 October. He then said she should tell the truth if raised.

But Mr Singh’s claim that he made clear on 3 October that Ms Khan should clarify the truth if raised is contradicted by the fact that no preparation whatsoever was made prior to 4 October to prepare for the truth to be told. (Ms Lim admitted, in the context of whether it would have been possible on 4 October to have Ms Khan clarify the truth the next day on 5 October, that this was not possible because time was needed to carefully structure Ms Khan’s clarification and to make the necessary preparations) This is borne out by what happened after the decision was taken to come clean on 12 October when the whole Workers’ Party machinery swung into action – there were discussions on what the draft statement would look like, the drafts were personally vetted by Mr Singh and shown to their CEC, their activists and social media teams were prepped, etc. 

On 4 October, as Minister Shanmugam was asking Ms Khan in this Chamber to confirm if the incident had really occurred as she had described, Ms Khan texted Mr Pritam Singh to ask “What shall I do Pritam?” If, as he claimed, he had been clear that, if asked, she should tell the truth, there would have been no need for her to text him for guidance.

Further, if Mr Singh’s evidence was true, it would mean that when Ms Khan lied again on 4 October, she would have flagrantly disobeyed his instruction on the previous day. So you would expect in such a situation he would immediately have demanded an explanation. Yet Mr Singh did not speak to Ms Khan for the rest of the day, until close to midnight. And even then there was no instruction to clarify the truth the following day on 5 October when Parliament was still sitting.

Mr Singh told Ms Khan that he would not “judge her”.  This makes no sense if he had told Ms Khan to tell the truth, as there would be nothing to judge. However, it makes a lot of sense if he had told or encouraged her to continue the lie.

Ms Loh’s and Mr Nathan’s evidence contradict what Mr Singh said. On 12 October, Mr Singh told Ms Loh and Mr Nathan that he had met Ms Khan on 3 October and told her “I will not judge you”. Both Ms Low and Mr Nathan understood this to mean that Mr Singh had given Ms Khan a choice as to whether or not to come clean, and that if she chose to repeat the Untruth she would not be judged. Mr Singh claimed he did not give Ms Khan a choice as to whether to tell the truth. But this is contradicted by Ms Lim’s notes taken during the Disciplinary Panel, in which she recorded Mr Singh as telling Ms Khan that “I told you it was your call”.

On 7 October, Ms Khan had sent an email to Mr Singh, Ms Lim and Mr Faisal seeking their advice on what to do because she had just received an email from the Police requesting her assistance. In her e-mail, she thanked the senior WP leaders “for listening to me, for caring for me and for guiding me throughout this without judgement”. The Committee found that if Mr Singh had indeed told Ms Khan on 3 October to tell the truth, then after she lied again on 4 October (which would have been a breach of that instruction) she would not be thanking them for guiding her without judgment. Here the operative word is “guiding”. Implicit in her email is that she had followed their guidance until then.

The Committee found that by telling Ms Khan on 3 October that “there would be no judgement”, Mr Singh had left her with the view that if she were to continue with the Untruth, there would be no judgement on her.

The Committee further found that taken together, the events of the 8 August and 3 October Meetings would essentially point Ms Khan in one direction, which is, to keep to the Untruth if the issue was raised, with the assurance that Mr Singh would not judge her if she did so. 

The Committee therefore found Ms Khan’s culpability in respect of her repetition of the Untruth on 4 October was mitigated by the following: The fact that she was a first-time MP who confessed to and sought guidance from her Party leaders as to what to do; Regrettably the guidance they gave, and which she followed, was to maintain the lie; Her conduct and evidence showed that she would have come clean, if she had been advised to do so from 8 August.

The Committee also took into account that Ms Khan’s mental health had been “unfairly and publicly attacked, in particular, by Mr Singh”, and that Ms Khan had resigned as a Member of Parliament.

The Committee has therefore recommended a lower fine of $10,000 in respect of the repetition of the Untruth on 4 October 2021. This is dealt with in 2(c) of the First Motion.

Recommendations Re – Mr Pritam Singh, Mr Faisal Manap, Ms Sylvia Lim
Mr Speaker, Sir, I turn now to the recommendations vis-à-vis Mr Pritam Singh, Mr Faisal and Ms Lim. Based on the objective evidence before the Committee, the Committee made these findings:

That all 3 senior WP leaders have lied to the Committee as to what was discussed at the 8 August Meeting, and that they guided Ms Khan to maintain the Untruth she had told; That Mr Singh lied about what happened at the 3 October Meeting and essentially gave Ms Khan to understand that it would be all right to maintain the Untruth if the matter came up in Parliament the next day.

In addition, Mr Faisal refused to answer a question from the Committee at least eight times, despite being reminded that he had been called before the Committee to assist with its investigations, and that his refusal would amount to an offence and constitute a contempt of Parliament. 

The Committee considered that Mr Singh and Mr Faisal’s conduct could constitute a contempt of Parliament and offences under Part 5 of the PPIPA. As the Committee was convened to look into the complaint against Ms Khan, the Committee noted that it was beyond its purview to recommend any penalty in respect of the 3 senior WP leaders for their conduct which arose in the course of the inquiry.

Parliament however has the power to consider what should be done and take the appropriate action.

To assist Parliament in this task, the Committee has made the following recommendations for our consideration: that while Parliament has the option to refer the 3 senior WP leaders to another Committee of Privileges, it is unlikely that another Committee would make much progress in terms of uncovering more evidence. that a distinction should be drawn between the conduct of Mr Singh on the one hand, and Ms Lim and Mr Faisal on the other, given their different roles and conduct.  The Committee notes Ms Lim’s and Mr Faisal’s roles were “relatively subsidiary”, while Mr Singh appeared to have played “the key and leading role in guiding Ms Khan in respect of the Untruth”.  

The Committee has therefore recommended that Parliament refer Mr Singh’s conduct to the Public Prosecutor, with a view to considering whether to institute criminal proceedings. This is addressed in paragraph 2 of the Second Motion. 

Now, Mr Speaker, some may wonder why Mr Singh and Mr Faisal should be referred to the Public Prosecutor and why this cannot be dealt with “in-house” by Parliament. Others may also wonder why it is the case that for Ms Khan, who lied to Parliament, a fine is proposed, whereas in the case of Mr Singh, who also lied, but to a Committee of Parliament, he should be referred to the Public Prosecutor instead of just being fined like Ms Khan. 

These are important questions and I want to address them.  So let me just explain a little bit about the PPIPA and how it works. Under the PPIPA, there are what I would term, and this is my term, general offences: offences of dishonourable conduct, abuse of privilege and contempt. These Parliament can and often would deal with it themselves. But there's also a certain category of offences which could be dishonourable conduct or you could classify them as contempt, but they're very specific under Part 5 of the PPIPA. These include lying to committee in Parliament and refusing to answer questions, as well as refusing to produce documents. There are other offences listed in Part 5. These are a special category. What is common about them and why they are also regarded as serious, is that they essentially pervert, or obstruct or prevent the processes of Parliament. Now for the Part 5 offences, Parliament has the power to refer these to the PP. The PPIPA does not provide for other offences to be referred to the PP. It has to be under Part 5. And you could have an offence which is a Part 5 offence, but which Parliament may choose not to refer if it doesn't think it is that serious. So in this case, the Committee found that all three lied, but it is only recommending to refer Mr. Singh to the PP, not Ms Lim, not Mr Faisal Manap, because their roles were subsidiary and their lies were not as egregious. 

Then you may ask - okay, so what is the difference between Mr Singh's lie and Ms Khan’s? The seriousness of the conduct on the part of Mr Singh is this. 

Ms Khan lied to Parliament, and that was bad enough. But Mr Singh on the other hand, if what the Committee found is correct, not only lied but lied under oath. And not only that, but this was in proceedings before a Select Committee of Parliament conducting a formal inquiry and tasked with finding out the truth. Then there is the question of the consequences of a lie in this context – because it would, if believed, had had a bearing on the punishment to be meted out to Ms Khan. The lies would have determined the fate of another. This is a different order of seriousness altogether from Ms Khan’s conduct.  It is a Part 5 offence under the PPIPA. And only Part 5 offences are referrable to the PP. The other thing is that it would also mean Ms Khan was following his guidance when she lied on 4 October. And that is also very serious. So, given the seriousness of the matter, it would be the fairest course of action to all concerned to refer it to the PP. The PP will have the opportunity to consider all evidence afresh, including new evidence, in deciding whether or not to prefer criminal charges against Mr Singh. It would also give Mr Singh the opportunity to defend and vindicate himself, with legal counsel, if criminal charges are brought.Fourth, the matter would be adjudicated by the Courts which are independent.

In the case of Mr Faisal, his refusal to produce documents or answer questions can also amount to an offence under the PPIPA, so the Committee has recommended that he also be referred to the Public Prosecutor. This is addressed in paragraph 2 of the Second Motion. 

Apart from the offences to be referred to the Public Prosecutor, there remain the following potential offences under the PPIPA that need to be dealt with by Parliament: Dishonourable conduct and contempt of Parliament on the part of Mr Singh, for lying to the Committee, and for his role in guiding Ms Khan to lie to Parliament. The Committee has recommended that Parliament defer any action on this until the criminal proceedings (if any) are completed. This is dealt with in paragraph 3(i) of the Second Motion. 

Dishonourable conduct and contempt of Parliament on the part of Ms Lim and Mr Faisal for lying about the 8 August meeting and for their initial concurrence in the guidance to maintain the lie by agreeing it should be taken to the grave. Likewise, the Committee has recommended that any decision on this be deferred until the outcome of the referral of Mr Singh’s conduct to the Public Prosecutor. This is dealt with in paragraphs 3(i)-(ii) of the Second Motion.

In conclusion, the conduct of Mr Singh and Mr Faisal will be considered by the Public Prosecutor under the criminal justice process. Parliament will only consider the remaining issues (if any) after the criminal justice process has taken its course, by which time we will have the benefit of what emerges through that process. This is the fairest way forward for all.  

Mr Speaker, the recommendations made by the Committee are sound and balanced given the circumstances. I would ask Members to accept them and to support the Motions, as I do, so as to uphold public trust in Parliament and in our democracy. 

Mr Speaker, I beg to move.

Parliament

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