SINGAPORE - 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.