Abuse of Power: Debate on PM, DPM Statements – Speech by Leon Perera

(Delivered in Parliament on 3 July 2017)


Mr Deputy Speaker sir, imagine, if you will, a public listed company where two ex-employees have made allegations on Facebook of

abuse of power by the CEO. The Board of Directors meets. It decides to convene an extraordinary meeting of shareholders or EOGM to debate the allegations. While waiting for this EOGM, individual Directors rebut the whistle-blowers’ claims on Facebook. However no one – no independent director, no special auditor, no consultant, no member of management, no CPIB or other law enforcement officer – has met and interviewed the two self-styled whistle-blowers to ask them for proof, to interrogate their claims and investigate their veracity. Instead at the Extraordinary General Meeting, the CEO rebuts the Facebook posts. He then asks for a vote of share-holders to decide if he should step down. No independent investigation of the claims made, just settled by debate after hearing his side of the story. Would such a company be deemed to have met best practices of corporate governance? Would such a company be seen to be beyond reproach?

This analogy, while imperfect, does illustrate some of the dilemmas this House faces in discussing this matter. It is the process we follow to resolve this issue that I will focus on in my speech. I shall not speak on the issue of what should be done to the house at No. 38 Oxley Road or what the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew wanted for his house, questions on which the Workers’ Party does not adopt a Party position, as my colleagues have explained.

Madam Speaker, abuse of power and the integrity of our public institutions are serious issues and they are the crux of the matter today – not the house, not the will, not the affairs of one family. The allegations of abuse of power that have been made include, among other things

  • the abuse of a Ministerial committee to pursue a personal agenda
  • the improper use of a document obtained in the PM’s public capacity by his personal lawyer
  • allegations of intermeddling and appropriation of items without the permission of an Estate by the PM’s wife
  • allegations of the influence of the Prime Minister’s wife on governmental functions
  • allegations of the government surveilling and harassing the accusers, turning their lives into “an Orwellian nightmare.”

The PM has acknowledged that this controversy has damaged the reputation of Singapore for institutional probity and Singaporeans’ confidence in the government.

If allowed to fester, these allegations will damage Singapore even more in the weeks and months ahead. They must be decisively addressed, the truth established and appropriate actions taken. Whatever happens today in Parliament – whatever attacks are levelled against the accusers, whatever compromises are suggested, whatever admissions of error or wrong-doing are made – we cannot dismiss such allegations without allowing to the accusers a public platform to defend and expand on their views, share their evidence and be cross-examined – a public platform where all can see justice being done.

Otherwise the matter may never be put to bed. The conclusions made in this House in the wrapping up speeches after this debate may simply be rebutted on Facebook the next day with reference to fresh information.

I fear that today and tomorrow an attempt will be made to close the issue and move on, without a proper process of fact-finding that gives the accusers a chance to state their case and be cross-examined. If we do that today, the accusations will continue. The Facebook posts will continue. The erosion of public and international confidence will continue.

In fact, in his FB post of Thursday 29 June, Mr Lee Hsien Yang stated “We have begun to show evidence of his misuse of his position etc”. Note the choice of the word “begun.” Can anyone seriously argue that we can properly put these allegations to rest once and for all simply by debating amongst ourselves in this House today?

Nor should we settle for a debate today that ends on the question – do you have confidence in the government or not, are you calling for the resignation of key figures or not? If not, then let’s move on. This is not the way to deal with these allegations. No one should be asked – “”do you want the PM to resign, do you have confidence in the current government, yes or no?” – without the benefit of a fact-finding process that allows the accusers to testify and be cross-examined.

This is not a time for calls of “are you for me or against me.” To those who hope to make such a call today, I ask you – why are you afraid of a proper, public fact-finding process that allows the accusers to testify and be cross-examined? What are you afraid of? I will now speak about some issues related to the allegation of abuse of power.

DPM Teo said that the Ministerial Committee on No 38 Oxley Road was convened to explore options. There is an established process for gazetting a building as a national monument or some equivalent of that. Why were the established channels not used in this case? Now it might be argued that perhaps this case is not like others, because deference needs to be shown to the wishes of the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew.

However, if that is the stance of the government, why was a non-transparent Ministerial Committee chosen as the right organizational form for resolving this? Why not some kind of independent panel with the expertise and resources to perform expert heritage analysis and public opinion sensing? A panel that would not be seen by anyone as potentially compromised by the fact that its members directly report to an individual who has personal ties to the matter at hand.

Even more importantly, the Ministerial committee seems to have focused primarily on revisiting the issue of the wishes of the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew as expressed in his last will. The committee wrote to Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Dr Lee Wei Ling on this question and asked if they would file statutory declarations on the same. The Cabinet secretary made a statement on this. The PM released portions of his statutory declaration relating to this. SMS for Law Ms Indranee Rajah released several FB posts on this.

Surely the proper platform to challenge the late Mr Lee’s will would have been in Court? In fact, other than revisiting the issue of what the late Mr Lee wanted, there is little evidence available to date of any other work done by the Ministerial Committee in respect of heritage impact assessment, public opinion sensing and so on. Why did the Ministerial Committee and other PAP politicians focus so much on the issue of what the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew wanted? Why was the machinery of government applied to take up a position on a private family matter of a will which had never been litigated in Court? Is opening questions about the late Mr Lee’s will without going to the Courts the legitimate business for the government of Singapore as opposed to being merely a legitimate concern for one individual member of that government in his individual capacity?

In the past, the process of independent fact-finding favoured by members of the PAP was suing for defamation in Court and that is certainly one way to resolve the matter. My colleague MP Pritam Singh has eloquently argued for an additional method which is a Parliamentary Select Committee, a call to which I agree.

Such a committee would have the advantage of leading a process that could determine the facts and recommend follow-up action to Parliament. The follow-up action could relate to the incidents at hand and it could also relate to systemic changes the Committee may propose to curtail the ability of future office holders to abuse their powers or to clarify any grey areas in the current rules that may have enabled this unfortunate series of events to occur, and prevent such incidents from recurring.

The Committee’s independence would be under-scored by the presence of non-PAP MPs on the committee. In fact in his message on 19 June the Prime Minister specifically highlighted that non-PAP MPs would be able to question him in Parliament today.

A Parliamentary Select Committee merely builds on that institutional recipe of multi-partisanship that the PM himself positively alluded to, but extends it to include a process of fact-finding involving public hearings and cross-examination of the individuals who have laid these issues before the nation, together with other persons of interest.

The truth would out. If the claims are baseless the accusers will lose credibility. If there is a basis to their claims, that can be acknowledged and followed-up.

In fact, a few members of this House have spoken today posing questions to Mr Lee Hsien Yang and we need to ask: how do we envisage that he should respond to these questions posed to him when he is not present?

In conclusion Madam Speaker, Singapore is strengthened not weakened when we follow a rigorous, independent process to deal with such allegations.

Singapore is strengthened not weakened when we not only do the right thing but we are seen to be doing the right thing by giving the accusers a right to make their case, be cross-examined and rebut replies.

At the dinner table two days ago, when we discussed this issue, my daughter asked me, “Daddy, why are they ensnaring us in their family quarrel?” My answer to her was: “I’m not sure. But there seem to be some serious national issues that need to be addressed. We will have to hear all sides out.”

Madam Speaker, let us have a Parliamentary Select Committee process with televised hearings on the issues of abuse of power, or some other form of public, interrogative fact-finding with the accusers present, to finally put this matter to bed.

Thank you.