SINGAPORE: Indranee Rajah, Leader of the House, informed Parliament on Monday (5 February) that Parliament would await the conclusion of former transport minister S. Iswaran’s court case before determining the necessity of a Committee of Inquiry (COI).
This statement came in response to a query by Yip Hon Weng, PAP MP for Yio Chu Kang SMC regarding the potential need for a COI to further investigate and affirm the Government’s commitment to maintaining a corruption-free system.
Ms Indranee explained to the House that COIs are typically convened to examine incidents such as accidents resulting in death, serious injury, or significant property damage, as well as occurrences posing risks to public safety, health, or ministry management.
Previous COIs have investigated events like the 2018 SingHealth cyber attack and the 2019 death of Singapore actor Aloysius Pang during reservist duty.
Ms Indranee said: “The purpose of a COI is to investigate something with a view of finding out how it happened.”
“In this case, the CPIB has investigated the matter. Based on the investigations, the Attorney-General’s Chambers took the view that there is a basis for criminal charges to be brought against Mr Iswaran.
“Determination of criminal offences is a matter for the court, which is currently dealing with the case.”
Ms Indranee said Mr Iswaran was not suspended as an MP, and his MP allowance was not withheld during the investigation.
She was responding to a question by Mr Henry Kwek, PAP MP for Kebun Baru about the case.
On Monday, Ms Indranee emphasized the importance of providing due process to everyone accused of wrongdoing, including MPs.
She noted that in many parliamentary systems, such as the United Kingdom, there is no general practice of suspending a member under investigation.
Withholding an MP’s allowance during LOA would prejudge the issue, says Ms Indranee
Ms Indranee also highlighted distinctions between taking a leave of absence (LOA) and suspension.
She said LOA does not imply wrongdoing, as MPs can apply for it due to various reasons, such as illness or overseas travel.
In contrast, suspension functions as a sanction or penalty. Additionally, she clarified that Parliament does not decide if an MP is placed on LOA.
“The MP can apply for LOA on his or her own accord, or be required by the party to take LOA. Whether or not the party requires the MP to take LOA will depend on the circumstances of each case.”
Since LOA is not an indication of wrongdoing, Ms Indranee said it would not be correct to withhold an MP’s allowance while he or she is on LOA as that would be prejudging the issue.
She added: “If the MP is placed on LOA and is subsequently charged or convicted, it would be the party’s responsibility to ensure that the MP pays back the allowance received during the period, if that is the right thing to do in the circumstances.”
“Given that leave of absence is not an indication of wrongdoing or a sanction, it would not as a general rule, be correct to withhold the MP’s allowance while he or she is on LOA.”
“If the house were to withhold the MP’s pay pending the investigations or the outcome of the case, we would encounter the same problem that arises for suspension, ” she added.
Former PAP minister charged with 27 offences including corruption charges
In July 2023, S. Iswaran was arrested by the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) and subsequently released on bail.
Following his arrest, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong directed him to take a leave of absence until the CPIB’s investigations concluded.
On 18 January, Iswaran faced 27 charges, including two counts of corruption, 24 counts of obtaining items from individuals with whom he had business dealings as a public servant, and one charge of obstructing the course of justice.
These charges are related to the alleged acceptance of items, such as tickets to musicals and football matches, from billionaire hotelier Ong Beng Seng, with a total value exceeding S$380,000.
He is accused of obtaining items, such as tickets to musicals and football matches, from billionaire hotelier Ong Beng Seng. The value of the items in the 27 charges is worth more than $380,000.
Iswaran’s pre-trial conference is scheduled for 1 March.
Mr Iswaran also resigned as the Transport Minister, and Member of Parliament for West Coast GRC, and relinquished his membership in the People’s Action Party (PAP).
Maintaining his innocence, Iswaran, in a media statement on 18 January, expressed his commitment to returning his reduced monthly salary of S$8,500 and the MP allowance he had received since the commencement of investigations in July 2023.
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