Parliament debates COP report, Workers' Party chief Pritam Singh faces biggest political test

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SINGAPORE - Leader of the Opposition Pritam Singh is likely to face his biggest political test yet as he addresses Parliament on Tuesday (Feb 15) on the lying saga triggered by Ms Raeesah Khan, a former MP from his Workers' Party (WP).

The House is scheduled to debate and vote on a parliamentary committee's recommendations to fine Ms Khan, and for Mr Singh to be referred to the Public Prosecutor for possible criminal charges.

Leader of the House Indranee Rajah has filed two motions related to the Committee of Privileges' report released last Thursday (Feb 10), to be debated simultaneously.

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 of a $35,000 fine.

The second motion calls on Parliament to agree to refer Mr Singh as well as party 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.

Following the release of the committee's report, the WP had said the three leaders will be expressing their views on it in Parliament.

Observers say their speeches will likely prove a defining moment for both Mr Singh, who was given the official title of Leader of the Opposition after the general election in 2020, and the party, which has made electoral gains in recent years as a self-styled check on the ruling People's Action Party (PAP).

The case centred on a speech Ms Khan gave in August last year where she said she had accompanied a sexual assault victim to the police station and alleged that the police were insensitive to the victim. The police said they could find no such case.

In November, she admitted to the House that she had lied. She had never accompanied a victim to the police station. She said the account was something she had heard from a victims' support group, which she was part of as a sexual assault victim herself. She resigned from her MP seat and from the party.

The matter was referred to the Committee of Privileges, which comprised seven PAP MPs and one WP MP. After a three-month probe where the three WP leaders, among others, gave evidence, the committee 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 - both Aljunied GRC MPs - 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.

Tuesday's debate could yet shape views on the ground in the WP-run GRCs - Sengkang and Aljunied.

Over the weekend and in the wake of the committee releasing its report, The Straits Times spoke to 100 residents in each constituency.

Most believe Ms Khan and the party's leaders should be held equally responsible for the unfolding saga.

Several said the episode amplified the importance of integrity and honesty as qualities in MPs they vote for.

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Yet many were wary of dismissing the WP as a whole over the mistakes of a few key people.

Saleswoman Clara Chong, 29, a resident in Ms Khan's former constituency, Sengkang GRC, said: "As an MP, it should be common sense not to lie… She could have admitted to it the second time, regardless of whether her leaders told her to continue lying or not. It's her own responsibility."

Mr Raja Muthu, 26, said that as WP secretary-general, Mr Singh should be held just as accountable. "Maybe he didn't ask his party member to lie, but he should have told her to come clean when she confessed to him," added the fresh graduate who lives in Sengkang GRC.

The committee had found that Mr Singh and WP leaders had taken no action for some three months after Ms Khan first came clean to them.

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A parliamentary committee has recommended that former Workers’ Party MP Raeesah Khan be fined and Leader of the Opposition Pritam Singh be referred to the Public Prosecutor for their roles in lies told by Ms Khan in Parliament in August and October.

In Aljunied GRC, student Charissa Loo, 23, said: "The WP leaders and a member are at fault here, but the others should not be boycotted. Perhaps they can have a change of leadership and rework the party instead."

Retiree Kim Lay Sin, 78, said it was "ridiculous" for one member's mistake to bring down an entire party that has otherwise functioned as a strong opposition worth supporting. "The others have served well and I still have faith in them," added Madam Kim, who lives in Aljunied GRC.

Some felt the entire episode had affected the WP's reputation, especially among new and middle-ground voters, and that the party would have to play catch-up to "make things right", as one said.

"Because of this big hoo-ha, it's natural for people to feel a bit wary of the party now," said engineer Shafeeq Hussein, 29, who lives in the Compassvale ward previously under Ms Khan.

Student Gerald Tan, 25, added: "Moving forward… they will have to work extra hard to prove themselves worthy of a vote in the next election."

In both Sengkang and Aljunied GRCs, over seven in 10 residents agreed with the fine for Ms Khan.

When asked about Mr Singh facing additional investigations with the possibility of criminal charges, some four in 10 residents in Aljunied disagreed with the recommendation. In Sengkang, three in 10 disagreed.

Across the two areas, close to four in 10 said they were unsure about voting for the WP at the next polls. But Aljunied residents were noticeably more bullish about the party's future prospects, with four in 10 saying the saga would affect the WP's chances at the next election, compared with over half in Sengkang.

As to whether the entire episode had changed their view of the party, four in 10 in Sengkang said yes. In Aljunied, four in 10 said it had not.

Sengkang resident and retired educator Melissa Chew, 67, said the whole "blame game" has wasted both time and resources for all involved.

"This is an episode worth remembering as it highlights the importance of honesty and character in leaders," she added.

  • Additional reporting by Bryan Cheong, Cheong Chee Foong, John Elijah Gan, Kolette Lim, Gena Soh

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