SINGAPORE - The Workers' Party's (WP) candidate selection processes "can always be better" and it will strive to ensure it fields individuals who meet the standards expected of MPs, said Leader of the Opposition and party chief Pritam Singh.
He was speaking in Parliament on Tuesday (Feb 15) during a debate on two motions relating to a parliamentary committee's recommended sanctions on his former MP Raeesah Khan as well as himself and party vice-chairman Faisal Manap for their roles in repeated lies told by Ms Khan in the House last year.
The panel had called for Ms Khan to be fined $35,000, and for Mr Singh and Mr Faisal to be referred to the Public Prosecutor for possible criminal charges.
While Mr Singh rejected any conclusions that he had committed any offences, he said there were "absolutely" legitimate questions raised by Singaporeans about his party's candidate selection processes.
"As this House knows, and as the Government has also previously shared… no selection process is foolproof, and people can change," he noted.
"Even PAP (People's Action Party) MPs have been found guilty of criminal conduct or forced by their party to vacate their seats for other reasons. Potential PAP general election candidates have also been substituted at the 11th hour.
"The point is that even people who exhibit politically attractive character traits can turn out to be unsuitable," Mr Singh added.
"The Workers' Party also has had its fair share of the same experience."
He said it could be very difficult, if not impossible, to test a person's judgment in all circumstances prior to fielding them as political candidates.
"This is so even for the PAP, with its massive resources and far greater ease in finding willing candidates compared to opposition parties," Mr Singh said. "However, the Workers' Party does not use these realities as excuses.
"In the main, our candidate selection processes can always be better in spite of the extraordinary circumstances and the political culture of a one-party dominant state."
He said he would work with party members to fine-tune these processes as best they can, "taking into account the structural challenges" faced by the opposition.
WP leaders will also take into account demands that the party fields individuals who "do not lower the esteem of Parliament" and who "meet the standards expected" of MPs.
"I will endeavour to the best of my abilities to ensure that our candidates are rational, responsible and respectable," said Mr Singh. "And if any candidate selection decisions are wrong, I as secretary-general of the party take full responsibility."
Earlier, Mr Singh also acknowledged that he had given Ms Khan too much time to "settle herself" before "closing" with her the issue of her lies, which she first told on Aug 3 and repeated on Oct 4.
He said that between Aug 8, when Ms Khan came clean to WP leaders, and Sept 30, he should have been "proactive and checked where she was", in letting her family know that she had been a victim of sexual assault herself.
Ms Khan has explained that she lied because of her own personal trauma.
Mr Singh said: "That omission is mine alone… However, I will continue to be as sympathetic to anyone who shares such deeply personal details with me.
"My instinct, even today, would be to keep the information of the sexual assault to myself, or to a very small group of trusted individuals, given its highly personal and sensitive nature," he added.
"I would allow such a person space to deal with the matter. I still believe that it was right that the clarification was made in Parliament rather than out of it."