Top image: Venus Major / Unsplash
Parliament has convened once again. Last month, Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam and Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan fielded questions about their leasing of black-and-white bungalows along Ridout Road.
The saga continued today. This time, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong gave a ministerial statement to address concerns over the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau’s (CPIB) investigation into Transport Minister S Iswaran and the resignation of Members of Parliament (MPs) Tan Chuan Jin and Cheng Li Hui.
This is the first Parliamentary sitting since news broke of the CPIB investigation and the affair between the two former PAP MPs.
However, there was little that was said in the statement that Singaporeans didn’t already know, except maybe, for when exactly PM Lee found out about the affair (November 2020, if you must know).
If the statement failed to address public concerns, the clarifications that followed raised more questions than answers. Skeletons in Singapore’s political closet derailed the discussion—Raeesah Khan and TraceTogether tangents were once again given their time of day in Parliament.
The debate spiralled further into disorder when MPs debated over the use of the word “rape”. Minister Balakrishnan also recalled how difficult it was for him during the TraceTogether saga. However, that recollection was beside the point.
The clarification frayed so far from its original course that newly minted Speaker of Parliament Seah Kian Peng had to remind MPs to keep to the original thread of the debate. Sorry, no debate allowed, actually. The Speaker’s debut in Parliament was marked with repeated reminders to stay on track about the Ministerial Statement.
Alas, questions of public concern remain unaddressed—or poorly answered—even when Singaporeans hoped for some semblance of clarity.
The Unanswered Questions
1. Tan Chuan Jin’s Resignation Timeline
The question: “Could the Prime Minister detail for us what exact steps were taken between February and July 2023 to arrange for the care of Marine Parade residents? If that was the crux of the issue, then even if the planning for the care of Marine Parade residents was a proper justification for Tan Chuan Jin to remain a Marine Parade MP for five months, why was he not asked to step down as Speaker first and a new Speaker elected?” – Leader of the Opposition Pritam Singh
The non-response: “Marine Parade was a consideration. But all things considered, I should have moved earlier. But the important thing is, we move and we brought it out and we are open about it.” – PM Lee
Why the question is important: Mr Tan offered his resignation in February this year, and PM Lee accepted. He’d told Mr Tan to ensure his constituents in Marine Parade GRC were taken care of before leaving, PM Lee said at a media conference on July 17. However, it was only on that same day—after some five months had elapsed— that Mr Tan officially resigned.
Even as the PAP tries to spin its decision to go public with Mr Tan’s and Ms Cheng’s affair as one that shows its commitment to transparency, it hasn’t offered a satisfactory explanation to Mr Singh’s questions. Instead, what we got from PM Lee was as good as a deflection.
We still don’t know if any steps were taken between February and July to pave the way for Mr Tan’s resignation. We also don’t have an explanation for why Mr Tan was allowed to remain in his Speaker of Parliament role even when that had no bearing on his constituents.
PM Lee says the important thing is that the party took action. We think the sheer amount of time they actually took to move, however, is equally important. So is the apparent lack of action after Mr Tan’s offer to resign.
The PAP has long prided itself on being “whiter than white” and being able to “ownself check ownself”.
If there was a lapse of judgement on PM Lee’s part, the people of Singapore deserve a more detailed explanation beyond a “should have moved earlier”. “Ownself check ownself … eventually” just doesn’t have the same ring, we suppose.
2. The Select House Committee
The question: “Why were Speaker Tan and Cheng Li Hui allowed to be on the same standing Select Committee, namely the House Committee, after GE2020 when the Prime Minister was already aware of the affair?” – Mr Singh
The non-response: “With respect to the House Committee, there are several standing select committees. The names for the composition of the committees are put forward, in the case of the PAP representation, by myself. After the last general election, I had sought Leader of the Opposition’s nominations for the opposition MPs, because the rules provide that for standing select committees, the proportion of the ratio of majority MPs and opposition MPs should be roughly than the proportion that they’re represented in this house.” – Leader of the House Indranee Rajah
Why the question is important: PM Lee clarified that he knew of the affair in November 2020. He counselled the members involved and assumed that the affair would stop. Conversely, it was the Leader of the House that recommended MPs Tan Chuan Jin and Cheng Li Hui to the House Committee.
The response only raised more questions. Singaporeans can only speculate who was made privy to the affair between the former party members.
Of course, talking about proportional representation does little to answer the question about a potential conflict of interest. Especially when there are other members the PAP could have recommended to the House Committee.
3. Sensitivity Issues
The question: “When former WP MP Raeesah Khan revealed to the WP leaders that she was a rape victim, sensitivity was not even considered by the Committee of Privileges in accounting for the delay in addressing Raeesah’s lies to Parliament. And the Prime Minister did not bat an eyelid in giving the Leader of the Opposition a sermon on Confucian ethics, morality and shame. Even though at the material time, he would have been aware of the affair between Speaker Tan Chuan Jin and MP Cheng Li Hui.” – Mr Singh
The non-response: “As for Raeesah Khan, that raises many issues, and those issues are now- have been exhaustively debated in the Committee of Privileges. Further problems were recorded and reported by the Committee of Privileges and the matter has been referred to the police for investigations. So I would leave that to the police to pursue the matter and take it where it may.” -PM Lee
Why the question is important: It isn’t really about Raeesah Khan, per se. It’s about why PM Lee saw fit to chastise the Worker’s Party for having “no contrition” over Raeesah’s case in a Parliament sitting while keeping mum about Tan’s and Cheng’s inappropriate relationship.
Sure, the police are on the case. Tell us something we don’t know.
It’s clear that the circumstances of the two cases couldn’t be more different. One involves a sexual assault survivor-victim lying in Parliament and the other is an extra-marital affair between the Speaker of Parliament and an MP. In both cases, however, the leaders of both parties have defended their lack of action by claiming they’re being sensitive to the errant MP’s family members.
When does an MP that’s made a misstep deserve time and space? And are all MPs held to the same standard regardless of political affiliation?
This discussion, however, was further derailed when Minister of Law K Shanmugam turned it into a question of whether Mr Singh was being sensitive when he used the word “rape” instead of “sexual assault” during the Committee of Privileges proceedings.
4. Surveillance on MPs
The question: “ … whether anyone applied for a permit to conduct surveillance on the two WP politicians under the Private Security Industry Act? And if not, will the police conduct any investigations to determine if any laws were broken?” – Mr Leong Mun Wai
The non-response: “I suppose the question, I think, is directed indirectly to me. So, can I ask through you which provision of the Private Security Industry Act is Mr Leong referring to? I just want to understand the provision. So that we can be clear.”
“Last Saturday, PSP came to my constituency. As usual, they sat in a corner and had their coffee. My people were there.”
“Then, I did my usual walkabout and PSP sent someone to video me. And I have a photograph of that if Mr Leong wishes. So certainly your party doesn’t think that there is anything wrong in constantly videoing us.” – Mr Shanmugam
Why the question is important: Maybe Mr Leong’s question could have been better phrased. Under the act he mentioned, Private investigation work into political figures does require special approval from the Singapore Police Force. This, however, only applies to the President, the Prime Minister, a Minister or a Minister of State.
He also didn’t specify which two WP MPs he was referring too, but we can hazard a guess that he’s alluding to Leon Perera and Nicole Seah, and the video of them having dinner. In the video, Mr Perera is seen caressing Ms Seah’s hand.
Obfuscated by both Mr Leong and Mr Shanmugam was the real question on Singaporeans’ minds: Was it more than a coincidence that the news of the affair between MPs Leon Perera and Nicole Seah broke soon after revelations of the affair between MPs Tan Chuan Jin and Cheng Li Hui?
While we still know nothing of the video’s origin, addressing it head-on in Parliament could have assuaged the speculation around the uncanny coincidence of the videos of the WP MPs.
Instead, all we got was another frustrating exchange between Mr Leong and Mr Shanmugam. Deja vu, anyone?