'Future govt' might 'fix' opposition MPs the same way if precedent set: Pritam Singh on voting against suspending Iswaran as MP

He pointed out that it is also "unfair and premature".

Matthias Ang | September 20, 2023, 02:39 AM



The Workers' Party (WP) voted against the motion filed by Progress Singapore Party (PSP) two Non-Constituency MPs, Hazel Poa and Leong Mun Wai, in Parliament on Sep. 19, 2023, to suspend Transport Minister S Iswaran as a Member of Parliament (MP).

WP's Secretary-General Pritam Singh said WP "cannot fully agree" with the motion as it would not only be "unfair and premature", it would also be "seeking to overturn the electoral mandate given to Iswaran by the people through the ballot box by prematurely passing judgment on him".

WP votes for PAP's motion, votes against PSP's motion

Other than filing a motion to suspend Iswaran, PSP also filed another motion to introduce a Private Member's Bill to amend the Parliament (Privileges, Immunities and Powers) Act, which she explained was for ensuring that Parliament has the power to backpay Iswaran should he be cleared of any wrongdoing and resume his official duties.

Leader of the House Indranee Rajah filed a motion titled "Consideration Of Matters Regarding Member Of Parliament", which asks for the Parliament to:

  1. Affirms the need for Members of Parliament to uphold the highest standards of integrity and conduct themselves in accordance with the law;
  2. Affirms the need to deal firmly and fairly with any Member of Parliament who is being investigated for possible wrongdoing; and
  3. Resolves to consider the matter regarding Member of Parliament S Iswaran when the outcome of the ongoing investigations against him is known.

WP voted for Indranee's motion.

A future government might 'fix' opposition MPs the same way if precedent set: Pritam Singh

In his speech, Singh pointed out that there are two issues to consider — whether it is "fair and proper" to suspend a "duly elected MP" before "due process is concluded" and what Parliament should do when an MP has been "effectively interdicted" from his duties arising from actions taken by their party leader.

On the issue of fairness, Singh said that even though Iswaran has been arrested and investigated for the serious offence of corruption, the "centrality" of the rule of law in Singapore renders the proposed suspension "premature".

"A point made all the more stark because we do not even know the details of what Mr Iswaran is accused of," Singh added.

Parliament should be mindful of the "dictum of presumption of innocence", he said.

"With respect, I would also request the PSP colleagues in this House to consider the precedent their motion would create should a future government decide to fix opposition MPs by way of politically motivated investigations."

@mothershipsg WP voted in favour of the government’s motion and disagreed with PSP. #sgnews #tiktoksg #sgparliament ♬ original sound - Mothership

WP believes "wheels of justice" must be fully allowed to turn first

Singh pointed out that there have been cases of people who have been investigated under the Prevention of Corruption Act and were not charged, people who were acquitted after the cases went to trial or had their convictions overturned upon appeal.

He believes that any of these scenarios could come to pass in Iswaran's case.

Hence, he said the WP is of the view that the wheels of justice must be fully allowed to turn before Parliament decides what to do.

May be appropriate to suspend Iswaran's allowance, but not from Parliament: Pritam Singh

While Singh believes that it might not be appropriate to suspend Iswaran from Parliament, it might be appropriate to suspend the payment of his MP allowance, citing public disquiet due to his continuance of drawing allowance.

He also understands that Iswaran was neither performing duties in his constituency nor Parliament and his "likeness" was not found on West Coast GRC banners.

Singh also pointed out that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's act of interdicting Iswaran as a Minister also appears to have also effectively interdicted him as an MP.

Hence, he sought three clarifications from Indranee — whether Iswaran still has access to the Parliament House and the MP's appeal system, whether PAP will contemplate clawing back Iswaran's allowance, and when exactly PAP will consider "consequences" against Iswaran, such as after completion of investigations or after possible judiciary proceedings.

Indranee: Iswaran only loses his allowance if he is suspended as MP under current legal provisions

In response, Indranee said there is currently no provision in the Parliament (Privileges, Immunities and Powers) Act (PPIPA) to suspend allowance.

In addressing the "difficulty" in Singh's position, she said, "It's a binary position. If the person is a sitting MP, he receives the full allowance. If the member is suspended, then he doesn't get any allowance. So the law does not provide for anything in between."

Iswaran entitled to enter Parliament, but asked not to: Indranee

On whether Iswaran can still enter Parliament, Indranee said that following his interdiction as a minister, he was not allowed access to government buildings related to his position to not prejudice the investigation on him.

Indranee pointed out that Iswaran's MP status was not an appointment by the Prime Minister but mandated by constituents of West Coast GRC.

Hence, he can continue to attend Parliament since he is not suspended as an MP.

However, Indranee explained that as a matter of "party discipline" and "good order", PM Lee requested him to cease his MP duties.

She added that to his credit, Iswaran has complied, although he is fully entitled to come in as an MP.

"So leave of absence and being unable to perform MP duties is quite different from suspension," she said.

Regarding when the "consequences" for Iswaran would happen, Indranee said, “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.”

She said they would consider a clawback of Iswaran's allowance if warranted.

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