MP Raeesah Khan shouldn’t have shared account containing ‘untruths’ in Parliament: WP chief Pritam Singh
SINGAPORE — Members of Parliament (MPs) are given significant freedom of speech but this “does not extend to communicating untruthful accounts, even if the MPs’ motives are not malicious”, Workers’ Party chief Pritam Singh said Monday (Nov 1), in responding to an admission by his party’s MP Raeesah Khan that she had misled Parliament.
- WP’s Raeesah Khan will be investigated by a parliamentary privileges committee, which can result in heavy penalties
- This was after she apologised over claims she made about the police treatment of a sexual assault victim
- She admitted to lying about certain details of the incident
- WP chief Pritam Singh said parliamentary privilege does not extend to communicating untruthful accounts
- Women’s advocacy group Aware said it was shocked and disappointed by Ms Raeesah’s fabrications
SINGAPORE — Members of Parliament (MPs) are given significant freedom of speech but this “does not extend to communicating untruthful accounts, even if the MPs’ motives are not malicious”, Workers’ Party (WP) chief Pritam Singh said Monday (Nov 1). He was responding to an admission by his party’s MP Raeesah Khan that she had misled Parliament.
In a statement following an apology by Ms Raeesah, the WP chief said that she should not have shared in Parliament an account of a sexual assault victim that contained untruths, by taking advantage of what is called “parliamentary privilege”.
Parliamentary privilege gives MPs the freedom to speak in the House without the possibility of being sued in a court of law, for example.
Mr Singh, who is also Leader of the Opposition, said: “Raeesah has apologised to the Singapore Police Force, victims of sexual assault, her constituents, the Workers’ Party members and volunteers, and her parents. She shared with me that she wanted to set the record straight in Parliament. This was the correct thing to do.”
On Monday, Ms Raeesah, who is MP of Sengkang Group Representation Constituency (GRC), was referred by Parliament to the Committee of Privileges to investigate her alleged breach of parliamentary privilege.
This was after she admitted to lying on three occasions in the House over a false claim regarding a sexual assault victim’s interactions with the police.
Leader of the House Indranee Rajah said that Ms Raeesah’s original claim and her subsequent refusal to clarify details of the incident had caused a cloud to hang over the police and led to a lot of time and resources spent investigating her claims.
“Most of all — and this really is most distressing — what has happened does a great disservice to the survivors of sexual assault and rape victims,” Ms Indranee said.
She invoked Section 100(7)(b) of the Standing Orders to refer the matter to the committee.
The Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware), which previously supported Ms Raeesah’s decision to not share details of the sexual assault with the authorities, said in a Facebook post on Monday that it was “shocked and disappointed” at her fabrication, as well as her decision to share details about the case in Parliament without the survivor’s consent.
“Such behaviour only sets back advocacy around sexual violence in Singapore and does a disservice to other survivors, for various reasons,” the advocacy group for women’s issues said.
Aware added that Ms Raeesah’s behaviour had played into the “persistent myth” that women frequently lie about assault, which has been used to discredit survivors of violence and allow perpetrators to escape accountability.
It said: “Unfortunately, high-profile instances of untrue stories can disproportionately colour the way society views other testimonies from women.”
The group added that it hopes Ms Raeesah’s incident does not undermine efforts to deal with sexual assault more sensitively and effectively, stating that the issue is an important one that should continue to be debated and discussed in Parliament.
WHAT COMES NEXT FOR MP RAEESAH KHAN
The Committee of Privileges, which is formed at the start of each parliamentary term, is made up of seven MPs and chaired by the Speaker of Parliament, who is presently Mr Tan Chuan-Jin. It is tasked to investigate complaints by MPs over alleged breaches of parliamentary privilege.
On Monday, Ms Indranee as well as Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam recused themselves from the privileges committee. Their vacancies will be filled by two other MPs.
Ms Indranee recused herself as she is the complainant in this case, while Mr Shanmugam did so as his ministry has been involved in the case, Parliament heard.
Mr Dennis Tan, WP’s MP for Hougang Single-Member Constituency, is a committee member.
Parliamentary rules ensure that the committee’s membership reflects the balance between the government and opposition benches in Parliament.
The remaining four MPs on the committee are:
- Ms Grace Fu, Minister for Sustainability and the Environment
- Mr Desmond Lee, Minister for National Development
- Mr Masagos Zulkifli, Minister for Social and Family Development
- Mr Don Wee, MP for Chua Chu Kang GRC
The committee produces a report at the end of its probe, which can recommend punitive measures against those who violate parliamentary privilege.
Being referred to the committee can result in heavy penalties. Under the Parliament (Privileges, Immunities and Powers) Act, the House is empowered to:
- Jail or suspend an MP who breached their privilege until the end of the term of the current Parliament
- Fine the MP a maximum of S$50,000
- Reprimand the MP
- Suspend the privilege and immunity of an MP in respect of liability in civil proceedings
WHEN MISTRUTHS ARE TOLD IN THE HOUSE
The last time the privileges committee convened to investigate a breach of parliamentary privilege was in 1996, when Singapore Democratic Party members including current party chief Dr Chee Soon Juan were charged with falsifying data and misleading the public at a parliamentary select committee.
They were ultimately fined various amounts for contempt of Parliament and perjury.
An elected MP was last hauled in front of the privileges committee 34 years ago, when the late WP secretary-general JB Jeyaretnam was referred to the committee four times in 1986 for various comments in Parliament. They included a false claim that the police had wrongfully arrested a man for not possessing an identity card, and another that the executive had interfered with the judiciary.
He was later found to have been in contempt of Parliament and fined. That same year, he was also forced to vacate his parliamentary seat due to a criminal conviction on a separate matter over party accounts.
Not all mistruths and falsehoods are referred to the privileges committee.
Several MPs, including MPs from the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP), have apologised for misleading Parliament.
In 2009, former Tampines GRC MP Sin Boon Ann from the PAP apologised for falling short of the standards of the House after he read an unverified email in Parliament accusing the media of having a liberal agenda during a controversy over Aware’s leadership changes at the time.
In 2018, WP chairman Sylvia Lim said that the Government had intended to raise the Goods and Services Tax to 9 per cent immediately but it had backtracked after receiving negative public reaction.
While acknowledging that she may have been wrong, Ms Lim insisted that no one other than the Government knew the truth, and she did not withdraw or apologise for the statement when called on to do so.
Stating that Ms Lim had fallen short of the honour and integrity expected of parliamentarians, then Leader of the House Grace Fu said that Ms Lim would be referred to the Committee of Privileges if she repeated such conduct and abused parliamentary privilege.