Pritam Singh asks PM Lee about timing of CPIB's public information on Ridout Road & Iswaran probe

The Prime Minister responded by saying that CPIB generally does not reveal its investigations for operational reasons.

Matthias Ang | August 02, 2023, 06:11 PM

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Leader of the Opposition Pritam Singh and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong sparred in Parliament on Aug. 2 about the timing of the public release of information by the government, regarding investigations by the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB).

This followed a ministerial statement by PM Lee and a reply by Education Minister Chan Chun Sing in response to queries about CPIB's investigation into Transport Minister S Iswaran, whether such investigations require the Prime Minister's concurrence and the timeline of the investigation.

What was the debate about?

Seeking clarifications, Singh said that there has been much "public disquiet" on the transmission of information surrounding the arrest of Iswaran by CPIB.

Singh, who is also leader of the Workers' Party said that in this term, the government has currently either been "slow to clear the air" or has been less than forthright and upfront with Singaporeans when it has had to deal with potentially embarrassing issues.

He named a few examples, including Ridout Road and the Iswaran probe.

In response, PM Lee said that CPIB investigations are not announced in the first instance, referencing Chan's reply on the matter.

According to Chan, if it is immediately announced that the person has been arrested and is being investigated, it may prejudice the person.

Chan also noted that in the case of Iswaran, disclosing his name on Jul. 12 was a departure from the norm, given Iswaran's status as a minister.

In addition, CPIB did not state that Iswaran had been arrested, as it wanted first to establish more facts of the case, including hearing his side of the story.

Singh highlights the timing of the information for Ridout Road & Iswaran's CPIB investigations

Singh noted that the public had not been informed forthwith in May 2023 that CPIB had been instructed to look into the rental of properties at Ridout Road by two ministers.

He highlighted that a statement by the Prime Minister on May 23 said Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean had been appointed to establish whether there had been any wrongdoing in the matter in order to maintain the "highest standards of integrity and government."

However, this statement "omitted" to mention that PM Lee had already directed CPIB to investigate the matter on May 17, a "full six days" prior.

The public only came to know about the CPIB investigation more than a month later, when investigations were completed, and a statement was released in the third person by the Prime Minister's Office on Jun. 28, Singh added. CPIB confirmed that no offence had been disclosed.

Singh also pointed out that CPIB's statement on Jul. 12, about how Iswaran is assisting with investigations, "omitted" to mention that he had been arrested a day before.

The Leader of the Opposition added:

"In a parallel universe sir, there is a perception that if a Singaporean or a Singaporean company took such a cavalier and breezy approach with critical facts under today's PAP, they can expect to receive a POFMA (Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act) from a PAP minister for perpetuating false statements of fact."

Singh then asked if PM Lee asked CPIB why it undertook such a course of action that brought "unnecessary attention to the CPIB's processes" and also "by extension, even its impartiality" involving the release of the statements.

PM Lee: CPIB generally does not reveal its investigations

In response, PM Lee said that for CPIB's statements, the CPIB does not investigate somebody unless there is a "very serious" reason to do so.

CPIB also does not generally reveal its investigations until it has reason to believe that the investigation must either carry on or go somewhere.

Therefore, in general, CPIB's investigations are not announced at all in the first instance, PM Lee added.

He then highlighted, "And when I ask the CPIB to investigate, it's my prerogative, I don't have to tell anybody."

What is important is that an investigation into the matter of Ridout Road was conducted, and the results were published, he said.

As for the Jul. 12 statement by CPIB, PM Lee reiterated Chan's point, pointing out that CPIB said what they felt justified in saying at that point for operational reasons and to be fair to the people involved.

The ministers will therefore go along with CPIB, unless they have strong reasons to do otherwise, and will not go beyond what the CPIB needs and is able to see.

"So I think in terms of transmission of information, we are pursuing a red herring," he said.

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