Privileges committee recommends S$35,000 fine for Raeesah Khan for lying; Pritam Singh, Faisal Manap to be referred for possible criminal proceedings
SINGAPORE — Former Workers' Party (WP) Member of Parliament (MP) Raeesah Khan should be fined S$35,000 for lying to the House multiple times and abusing her parliamentary privilege, the committee investigating her recommended the penalty in its final report to Parliament on Thursday (Feb 10).
- The Committee of Privileges was tasked to investigate former Workers' Party MP Ms Raeesah Khan, who had lied in Parliament about a sexual assault case
- Ms Khan had abused her parliamentary privilege, the committee concluded
- The report also found that three senior WP leaders had not been truthful to the committee
- It recommended that Parliament fines Ms Khan S$35,000 and refers WP chief Pritam Singh and WP vice-chair Faisal Manap to the public prosecutor
- Doing so would allow the public prosecutor to consider all the evidence afresh in a criminal proceeding
SINGAPORE — Former Workers' Party (WP) Member of Parliament (MP) Raeesah Khan should be fined S$35,000 for lying to the House multiple times and abusing her parliamentary privilege, the committee investigating her recommended in its final report to Parliament on Thursday (Feb 10).
As for WP chief Pritam Singh and party vice-chairman Faisal Manap, they should be referred to the Public Prosecutor to "consider if criminal proceedings ought to be instituted", due to Mr Singh's conduct during the committee's probe and Mr Faisal's refusal to answer relevant questions, the report said.
The Committee of Privileges, chaired by Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin, was looking into Ms Raeesah's conduct after she admitted on Nov 1 that she had lied in Parliament. This was over a claim that she had accompanied a sexual assault victim to a police station where the victim was treated insensitively.
The committee did not recommend any action against WP chairman Sylvia Lim, noting that Ms Lim was prepared to voluntarily tender evidence that was "damaging" to Mr Singh.
Her handwritten notes of the WP's disciplinary proceedings, which she submitted to the committee during her testimony on Dec 13, helped set "the position quite clearly", the committee said in the report.
The committee concluded that Ms Raeesah had acted under the guidance of the three senior WP leaders to keep to the untruth, and that Ms Raeesah was "not solely responsible" for repeating the lie in Parliament on Oct 4 last year.
The report said that the committee will consider sanctions for Mr Singh's, Ms Lim's and Mr Faisal's role in Ms Raeesah's lie, as well as lies told by Ms Lim and Mr Faisal to the committee while under oath or affirmation during the committee's probe, but this would be after the conclusion of any criminal proceedings against Mr Singh by the public prosecutor.
It added that it is beyond the purview of the committee to recommend any penalty on the three WP leaders, but added that Parliament has the power to consider their role and impose sanctions in the context of the committee's findings.
Under the Parliament (Privileges, Immunities and Powers) Act, if any MP has committed an offence of dishonourable conduct, abuse of privilege or contempt, Parliament may impose penalties and refer them to any select committee for a new probe.
The committee this round decided to refer the WP leaders to the Public Prosecutor instead, rather than recommending a new committee of privileges, because a new committee may not uncover more evidence, the report stated.
The Attorney-General, who has the powers to institute, conduct or discontinue any proceedings for any offence, serves as the Public Prosecutor.
This is the first time that a privileges committee has referred any matter for criminal proceedings.
Doing so would allow the Public Prosecutor to consider all the evidence afresh, including evidence that emerges later, before deciding whether criminal charges should be brought against Mr Singh, the report said.
"Mr Singh will have the opportunity to defend and vindicate himself, with legal counsel, if criminal charges are brought," the report added.
The committee's probe began after Ms Raeesah's controversial admission to Parliament on Nov 1 last year that she had told lies about a sexual assault case.
Ms Raeesah's has since resigned from the party and vacated her position as MP for Sengkang Group Representation Constituency.
From Dec 2 last year, the committee began hearing evidence from those involved, as well as from expert witnesses and longtime WP members.
Committee chairman Tan said: "Parliamentary privilege is sacrosanct, and the committee takes a serious view of any MP who abuses this privilege in the chamber.
"While the findings can also serve as useful lessons and deterrence against future breaches, I would like to remind all Members of the House that the onus should always be first and foremost on us to exercise parliamentary privilege diligently and responsibly."
WHAT THE REPORT SAYS
The report elaborated on how the committee deliberated on the evidence and came to a decision, given how the accounts of Ms Raeesah and her WP aides differed from those of the senior party leaders.
Among other things, a key issue surrounded what the three senior leaders had told Ms Raessah to do or not to do about the untruth.
The committee said that it had considered contemporaneous evidence from Ms Raeesah's aides Loh Pei Ying and Yudhishthra Nathan from an Aug 8 meeting, which was attended by Ms Raeesah and the three WP leaders. This was the first time Ms Lim and Mr Faisal had come to learn of the lie.
Following the meeting, Ms Raeesah had sent text messages by phone to her aides, saying the senior WP leaders agreed that "the best thing to do is to take the information to the grave".
The committee assessed that she was told to "retain the narrative that she began in August” if she was not pressed, and that Mr Singh had "specifically" told her to take the lie to the grave.
It also accepted Ms Raeesah's evidence — that she was told on Oct 3 by Mr Singh that "there would be no judgement" against her — as indicating to the former MP that she should continue with the untruth.
The committee said in the report that it is satisfied that Mr Singh, and to a lesser extent, Mr Faisal and Ms Lim, "have been untruthful in their evidence, under oath" to the committee.
"This may amount to perjury, a serious criminal offence, in respect of which, various consequences could follow."
Under the Penal Code, those found guilty of perjury may be jailed for up to seven years and fined. Singapore's Constitution states that an MP who has been convicted of a crime in Singapore or Malaysia and jailed for more than a year, or fined more than S$2,000, may lose their MP seat.
On Thursday, a statement from the Clerk of Parliament office said that the views of every committee member were sought, and they could state the grounds of their objections if there were any.
Mr Dennis Tan, the WP MP for Hougang, who is also a committee member, had objections to the report, the statement said.
Among other concerns, Mr Dennis Tan had said that it was not relevant whether the party leaders had instructed Ms Raeesah to lie, stating that this was a "dangerous line", which would encourage young MPs to "run to a leader" for advice in order to absolve them of responsibility.
Even if Mr Singh or other leaders had told Ms Raeesah to bury the untruth, the onus should have been on her to disagree with her party leaders and insist on coming clean, Mr Dennis Tan said in the minutes.
Instead, he preferred an approach where if an MP was untruthful to Parliament, it was “one strike and you are out” as far as personal responsibility is concerned, with “absolutely no exception”.
Mr Dennis Tan also preferred Mr Singh's evidence to that of Ms Raeesah, as “he cannot believe that Pritam would come up with a plan to bring the statement to the grave”, the minutes stated.
Following Mr Dennis Tan's objections, the committee went through each paragraph of the draft report again, and invited him, notwithstanding his objection to the conclusion of the report, to state the grounds of his objections and to raise any other points. The Hougang MP had no further comments to offer, the statement said.
The committee's proposal has been submitted to Parliament, where Leader of the House Indranee Rajah will give notice of a motion to express Parliament's opinion on the report, the press statement said. This debate will take place "in due course", it added.
During this debate, the minister who moved the motion may have up to 40 minutes to speak on the motion, and each MP is given up to 20 minutes for backbenchers, and 40 minutes for office holders, to debate the motion.
After a 40-minute reply by the minister at the end of the debate, the motion will be put to a vote. Only a simple majority is needed for Parliament to accept the Committee of Privileges' report.
The committee's findings are available online here.