SINGAPORE - Parliament on Tuesday (Feb 15) voted to refer Leader of the Opposition and Workers' Party chief Pritam Singh for further probe by the Public Prosecutor over a lying scandal, after a four-hour debate in which Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong urged MPs from both sides of the aisle to vote with their conscience.
PM Lee warned that trust in Parliament and Singapore's political system will be eroded if flagrant, egregious transgressions by MPs were allowed to pass.
The vote came after a total of 10 MPs, including three from the WP and two Nominated MPs, spoke on the report of Parliament's privileges committee that had called for Mr Singh to be referred to the Public Prosecutor for possible criminal charges over lies he told under oath.
Speaking before the vote, Mr Singh said he had no objection to being referred to the Public Prosecutor and would do his utmost to clear his name.
The committee was set up to look into lies told by former MP Raeesah Khan in Parliament on Aug 3 and Oct 4, but had found serious misconduct by Mr Singh, as well as WP chair Sylvia Lim and vice-chair Faisal Manap, in the process of its investigations.
PM Lee said integrity was the linchpin of democracy, adding that giving Mr Singh and his fellow WP leaders a free pass would be detrimental to democracy.
"A democracy not founded on integrity stands on shaky ground, and will soon totter," he added.
The three WP leaders, speaking during the debate, maintained that they had never asked Ms Khan to take her lie to the grave, as she had claimed.
The House voted on two motions, the first of which called on it to agree with the committee's finding that Ms Khan was guilty of abusing parliamentary privilege by lying in Parliament last year, and its recommendation that she be fined $35,000 - $25,000 for the lies she told in August and $10,000 for lying again in October.
Leader of the House Indranee Rajah had proposed to allow MPs to vote on the different parts of this motion separately, after Mr Singh said the WP would not support the part about Ms Khan's reduced $10,000 fine that was premised on her receiving guidance by WP leaders to lie.
The second motion, which was also split, called on Parliament to agree to refer Mr Singh as well as Mr Faisal to the Public Prosecutor. It also seeks to defer any parliamentary sanctions on the duo and Ms Lim with regard to Ms Khan's lie, until the conclusion of any investigations and possible criminal proceedings against Mr Singh.
Both motions were passed, with Mr Singh and the WP MPs supporting part of the first motion, and voting against the second.
Progress Singapore Non-Constituency MPs Leong Mun Wai and Hazel Poa voted in support of all parts of both motions, except for the $10,000 fine for Ms Khan that the WP also voted against.
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 $35,000 in all.
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.
At the start of the debate, Ms Indranee noted that 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.
Speaking next, Mr Singh rejected the committee's conclusions that he had guided Ms Khan to lie to Parliament last year, and that he had committed any offences as part of his role in the entire affair.
He acknowledged that he had given her too much time to clarify the lie, and said he had done so because he was sympathetic to how she had been a sexual assault victim.
PM Lee, in his speech, underlined the gravity of the matter before the House, noting that for Singapore's system to work, people must be able to respect the institution of Parliament and trust its members, processes and proceedings.
That is why the right norms of behaviour among MPs have to be guarded carefully, foremost being to tell the truth always and to do right by Singapore, even when - and especially if - it is hard or awkward, he said.
"If something goes wrong, or something wrong has been done, own up and take responsibility - do not hide, dodge, or spin further lies, to obfuscate and cover up the original fib," PM Lee said as he called on all MPs to vote with their conscience on the two motions.
"The COP report is long and detailed, but the core issues are few and stark... Online, people call this Raeesah-Gate, after Watergate. And just like in the original Watergate affair, while investigating Ms Khan's transgressions, the COP unexpectedly stumbled upon a cover-up by WP leaders, even more serious than the original offence," he added.
"Now with the findings before us, it is our responsibility, Parliament's responsibility, for the MPs to take the necessary and appropriate course of action."
Said PM Lee: "If Parliament condones lying among its own members, how can Singaporeans trust the institution of Parliament? If we let flagrant, egregious transgressions pass, it will erode trust in our leaders, respect for Parliament, and support for our whole political system, and Singapore will be heading for trouble."