SINGAPORE: Pritam Singh, the leader of the Opposition representing the Workers’ Party, expressed opposition to a motion put forth by the Progress Singapore Party (PSP) regarding the suspension of Transport Minister Mr S Iswaran from the Parliament.
He stressed that in the Workers’ Party’s view, the wheels of justice must be allowed to fully turn before Parliament decides what to do.
“It would not just be unfair and premature, but significantly, this House would be seeking to overturn the electoral mandate given to Mr Iswaran by the people through the ballot box by prematurely passing judgment on him. ”
The motion, which was debated in the Singapore Parliament on Tuesday (19 September), was filed by PSP Non-Constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP) Hazel Poa on 7 September.
It called for Mr Iswaran’s suspension amidst ongoing investigations into allegations of corruption.
In addition, Ms Poa also introduces a Private Member’s Bill to amend the Parliament (Privileges, Immunities and Powers) Act 1962, which seeks to provide Parliament with the power to back-pay the MP allowance that was withheld from an MP who has been suspended from the service of Parliament.
Mr Singh stresses the rule of law as crucial factor in debunking Ms Poa’s proposal
In his speech, Mr Singh who is also the Workers’ Party chief, said there are two key issues for Parliament to consider.
First, whether it is fair and proper for a duly elected Member of Parliament to be suspended from responsibilities towards his or her constituents and legislative duties before due process is concluded.
Second, what Parliament ought to do when a Member of Parliament has been effectively interdicted from MP duties arising from actions taken by his or her Party leader.
Notably, Mr Pritam Singh and Mr Faisal Manap, both MPs of the Workers’ Party, are presently under investigation in relation to the findings arising from the Committee of Privileges Inquiry concerning a complaint involving Miss Raeesah Khan.
While Ms Poa suggested that an MP should be suspended from Parliament because he has been arrested and is being investigated for the serious offence of corruption, Mr Singh argued that the centrality of the rule of law in Singapore renders her suggested course of action premature.
“A point made all the more stark because we do not even know the details of what Mr Iswaran is accused of. Parliament should be mindful of the dictum of presumption of innocence.”
He also requested the PSP colleagues to consider the precedent their motion would create should a future government decide to fix opposition MPs by way of politically-motivated investigations.
Turning to the matter of Mr Iswaran’s MP allowance, Mr Singh suggested that while suspension from Parliament might not be appropriate, suspending the payment of the allowance could be considered.
He referred to concerns among the public, who are puzzled by Mr Iswaran’s continued collection of his allowance despite his absence from parliamentary and constituency duties.
Mr Singh grills the Leader of the House with crucial questions on Mr Iswaran’s Parliamentary status
Mr Singh further raised several questions for the Leader of the House to address. He inquired whether Mr Iswaran’s ban on entering government buildings extended to Parliament House.
He also asked whether Mr Iswaran had access to the Public Service Division’s Member of Parliament Appeal System and whether he was expected to assist his constituents in his capacity as an MP.
Furthermore, Mr Singh sought clarification on whether the motion contemplated a clawback of Mr Iswaran’s MP allowance for the period during which he had not performed MP duties, which he argued would be a reasonable expectation of the public.
He also challenged the leader’s motion, which says that this House will consider this matter when “the outcome of ongoing investigations is known”.
“This contrasts with what the Prime Minister said during the clarifications of the Prime Minister’s Ministerial Statement on Mr Iswaran last month. The PM said and I quote, “if there is a case, the case has not been heard, he has not been found guilty or acquitted or whatever.””
He asked whether the House would consider the matter once investigations were completed and a decision was made regarding charges against Mr Iswaran or only upon the conclusion of the entire criminal justice process, including any possible appeals.
The PPIPA currently lacks provisions for suspending allowances, says Ms Indranee
In response to Mr Singh’s query, Ms Indranee Rajah, the Leader of the House, acknowledged that Mr Singh’s second question revolved around the appropriate measures Parliament should take during the interim period.
However, Ms Indranee pointed out a significant challenge with this proposal, alluding to the fact that the Parliament (Privileges, Immunities and Powers) Act 1962 (PPIPA) currently lacks provisions for suspending allowances.
“The difficulty with that and this is what Ms Poa was alluding to, is that there’s no provision in the PPIPA currently to suspend allowance.”
She explained that the existing law adopts a binary approach, where a sitting MP receives the full allowance, while a suspended member receives none. Consequently, the law does not provide for any intermediate measures.
“If the member is suspended, then he doesn’t get any allowance. so the law does not provide for anything in between.”
Ms Indranee advocated for waiting until the investigation concluded to gain a clearer understanding of the appropriate course of action.
She further elaborated on the steps to be taken regarding the monies paid to Mr Iswaran.
According to her, a decision would be revisited when the Attorney General’s Chambers revealed whether they intended to bring charges against him and, if so, the nature of those charges.
“We will look at it again when we know if the Attorney General’s Chambers intends to bring any charges, and if so what the charges are, we will consider a claw back if Justified, ” she said.
“If Mr Iswaran being charged, the Prime Minister will consider the allegations the accusations against him, and decide whether to make him resign and to pay back both salary and allowance without waiting for legal process.”
This action would be grounded in PAP’s party discipline, as Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who is also the ruling party chief, would perceive it as a failure to meet party standards and conduct, irrespective of any criminal allegations.