SINGAPORE: On Tuesday (19 Sept), Singapore’s ruling party lawmakers rejected a motion brought by Non-Constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP) Hazel Poa, which aimed to suspend Transport Minister S Iswaran during an ongoing corruption investigation.
Leader of the Opposition, Mr Pritam Singh, voiced the Workers’ Party’s dissent to the PSP’s motion and in favour of the motion filed by the Leader of the House. He emphasized the need to let the justice process unfold fully before taking any parliamentary action.
Hazel Poa, NCMP representing the Progress Singapore Party (PSP), filed a motion to suspend Mr Iswaran from his parliamentary duties for the remainder of the current session of the 14th Parliament.
The purpose is to halt his receipt of the MP allowance, which amounts to S$192,500 annually, during the ongoing investigation by the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB), during which he is not carrying out official duties.
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.
In response to Ms Poa’s motion, Indranee Rajah, Leader of the House, has also submitted a separate motion, calling on the House to resolve to consider the matter concerning Minister S Iswaran once the outcome of the ongoing investigations against him becomes known.
During the debate on her motion on Tuesday in Parliament, Ms Poa argues that this suspension is necessary to ensure the prudent use of taxpayers’ money, as allowing a suspended MP to continue drawing their full allowance during an investigation can be financially detrimental if they are later found guilty.
Ms Poa stated that PSP believes that the suspension, coupled with the provision for retroactive payment to Mr Iswaran if he is cleared of wrongdoing, represents a firm and equitable approach to addressing the matter.
Hazel Poa advocates for the responsible use of taxpayer money and accountability in Parliamentary suspension
In her address, Hazel Poa emphasized the primary objective of her Private Member’s Bill: to grant Parliament the authority to authorize the retroactive payment of allowances to suspended MPs.
She said Minister Iswaran no longer performs his duties as a Member of Parliament, whether in Parliament or in his constituency.
The Prime Minister has made the decision to place Minister Iswaran on leave of absence In both his capacity as minister as well as MP.
Furthermore, this case revolves around allegations of corruption, a crime that Singapore has consistently pledged zero tolerance for.
“For many years, the Government has justified the high salaries for political office holders on the basis of ensuring that our government remains honest and free of corruption.”
“This is why many Singaporeans, including myself Find it difficult to accept that taxpayers’ money is being used in this way.”
She then questioned whether Is it prudent to have a system where an MP found guilty of corruption, with suspended duties, can continue to receive their full MP allowance throughout the investigation and legal proceedings, including all appeal processes.
“Is this a good use of tax revenue? Isn’t this a drain on our resources? If this is not a desirable outcome, then we need to do something.”
Therefore, Ms Poa reiterates that her motion primarily concerns the responsible use of taxpayers’ money, not an assumption of guilt.
She contends that the motion put forward by the Leader of the House does not address this concern; instead, it advocates maintaining the current status quo.
Poa maintains that it is PSP’s position that an MP or minister under investigation for corruption, with suspended official duties, should be placed on unpaid leave until the investigation or legal case concludes.
She highlights that if Mr. Iswaran is innocent, there is no difference in outcome between suspending and not suspending him.
However, if he is found guilty, there is a significant difference. Suspending him from Parliament would result in the loss of his allowance, while taxpayers would save on revenue.
This demonstrates that suspension leads to a more fiscally responsible outcome. Poa emphasizes that Mr. Iswaran would receive reduced pay but still draw his full MP allowance.
‘Premature to take any action regarding Mr Iswaran’, says Ms Indranee
Earlier, Indranee Rajah, the Leader of the House questioned the motive of NCMP Hazel Poa’s motion, the basis and principles on which this suspension is being proposed.
While affirming the necessity for Members of Parliament to uphold the highest standards of integrity and adhere to the law, she underscores the importance of consistently applying “fairness and principles” to all MPs under investigation, rather than treating cases in isolation.
She further questioned whether this suspension proposal should extend to other MPs currently under investigation, such as Mr Pritam Singh and Mr Faisal Manap from the Workers’ Party.
Arguing that it is premature to take any action regarding Mr Iswaran at this stage because the outcome of the investigation is unknown, and there isn’t sufficient information to make an informed decision.
She further stressed the importance of dealing with such situations objectively and dispassionately, without exploiting them for political purposes and calling on opposition parties to uphold high standards both in words and deeds.
“We should not attempt to exploit such situations for political ends, but rather to do the right thing at the right time.”
Ms Indranee also defended that the PAP has been very strict with its MPs and ministers and will continue to be.
In response to Ms Poa’s speech later, Ms Indranee added that the specific legal provisions (Parliament Privileges Immunities and Powers Act) related to suspension and argues that none of them have been met in Iswaran’s case.
She highlights the importance of establishing principles for suspension, questioning whether it should be solely based on financial considerations and urging caution in suspending members without clear evidence or principles being violated.
“Ms Poa’s approach.. is really let’s just ignore whether or not he’s done anything wrong let’s just suspend him, because it’s a matter of money and then if need be we pay it back.”
“But I think we need to approach it as a matter of principle, which is that at the current time, when you cannot say clearly that some threshold has been crossed, then we say wait, wait see what the outcome of the investigations are.”
“Depending on the outcome, (if) a threshold has been crossed, then we will certainly look at it as a matter of party discipline, and the Prime Minister has very firm views on standards of integrity and conduct, and he will not let the matter rest if thresholds have been crossed.”