SINGAPORE - 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, said Leader of the House Indranee Rajah on Tuesday (Feb 15).
By being allowed to give their views candidly, MPs can raise matters of public importance, safe in the knowledge that they are immune from civil or criminal proceedings.
"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 and to be able to substantiate matters said in Parliament, or any committee of Parliament," she said.
"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 to act in a manner that would undermine it or the work of its committees."
Ms Indranee was speaking at the start of the debate on two motions she filed related to the report by Parliament's Committee of Privileges on an untruth spoken in the House by former Workers' Party (WP) MP Raeesah Khan.
The report, released last Thursday, had recommended that Ms Khan be fined, and for Leader of the Opposition and WP chief Pritam Singh to be referred to the Public Prosecutor for possible criminal charges.
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 its recommendation that she be fined $35,000.
The second motion calls on Parliament to agree to refer Mr Singh as well as WP vice-chair Faisal Manap to the Public Prosecutor. It also seeks to defer any parliamentary sanctions on the duo and party chairman Sylvia Lim with regard to Ms Khan's lie, until the conclusion of any investigations and criminal proceedings against Mr Singh.
The three WP leaders, as well as People's Action Party MPs, are expected to speak during Tuesday's debate.
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 $25,000 for her first lie. For repeating the lie, the committee called for a $10,000 fine as it said she was then acting under the guidance of the three party leaders.
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.
Ms Indranee noted that 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 the erosion of public trust. Now, regrettably, we have to deal with our own situations 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," she said.
The two motions moved, added Ms Indranee, are about safeguarding the essence of democracy in Singapore and preserving its most vital and essential characteristics.
She said: "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," she said.