On the Committee of Privileges report on Raeesah Khan’s untruths spoken in Parliament — speech by Sylvia Lim


 In my speech on the Motion, I wish to make a critical clarification on a specific finding by the COP.  I will also touch on the possible referral of Mr Pritam Singh and Mr Faisal Manap to the Public Prosecutor.  Finally, I will argue why some reforms to the COP and its processes are much needed. 

Evidence interpreted against Mr Singh 

During the COP deliberations, a matter has arisen about the handwritten notes tendered voluntarily by me to the COP.  These notes were used as evidence against Mr Pritam Singh, to support the finding that he had given her a free choice to continue the lie she had told in August. 

It is necessary for me to correct misconceptions that have arisen from the COP’s findings here.  At paragraph 237 of the Main Report, the COP finds that my handwritten notes were useful to the Committee in its deliberations.  The COP further notes, among other things, the following: 

“237(3) Ms Lim, a lawyer and Chair of the WP, would have appreciated the effect of such evidence.  It would be, and was, extremely damaging to the testimony given by Mr Singh – it directly contradicted Mr Singh’s evidence that he did not give Ms Khan a choice. 

“237(4). Ms Lim was clear in her testimony that a choice to tell the truth cannot be given to the WP MPs (an obvious point) (footnote 421).  That was also directly contrary to what Mr Singh had done, and Ms Lim recognized that (footnote 422).” 

Speaker, I take a different view.  If read in the proper context, my evidence is not inconsistent and not damaging to Mr Singh.   In fact, it is consistent with his evidence that he was telling her, she had to tell the truth.  Let me explain why. 

I had testified that the extracts from my notes had to be seen in totality to understand it (para 51 of Main Report).  First, let me quote that extract from my handwritten notes, which was recorded in the form of question and answer.  

PS: Before Oct session, I met you + told you that it was your call. Did need to tell the truth in Parl occur to you?  

RK: Yes, but consumed with guilt + own experience.  Thought it wouldn’t come up. 

PS: Can’t lie, right?”  

RK: Yes. 

Just looking at this extract, we see that when Mr Singh says to her “Can’t lie, right?”, Ms Khan does not contradict him – she says “Yes”, which is an acceptance that she cannot lie.  Does this not mean that she understood what he meant all along – that she had to tell the truth?  When he put to her that she could not lie, she did not say that she was given a choice.   

Secondly, I am baffled by the COP’s conclusion that I had somehow recognized that Mr Singh had acted contrary to an MP’s duty to tell the truth.  As I was puzzled as to why the COP stated that, I examined the footnotes used by the COP for this conclusion.  I submit that the evidence I gave does not support this finding.   For this please allow me to refer to the transcripts of evidence.   

The COP cites footnote 421 as the basis for stating that I wasclear in my testimony that a choice to tell the truth cannot be given to the WP MPs But if one looks at footnote 421, it refers to a particular paragraph of my evidence, which is as follows: 

[12554] Ms Sylvia Lim: You see, it never crossed my mind and I cannot fathom this possibility that Pritam would have given her the option to choose between telling the truth or continuing the lie. That never crossed my mind and I do not believe it to be true… 

The COP does not quote this paragraph accurately when it states that I was clear that a choice to tell the truth cannot be given to MPs.  I had also stated at the same time that I could not imagine Mr Singh giving Ms Khan a choice and I do not believe it.  That puts a totally different complexion to the paragraph cited by the COP. 

Later in my testimony, I was asked by the Chairman about the notes I recorded.  I was questioned repeatedly about whether I agreed that the phrase “it is your call” could be interpreted as giving her a free choice to decide whether to tell the truth or not.  When I refer back to the evidence that the COP relies on, I find that four vital paragraphs that immediately followed were not included,  which are critical to properly understand my evidence.   

The COP finds that I “recognised” that Mr Singh had acted contrary to an MP’s duty to tell the truth.  For this, it quotes my evidence from transcripts, at paragraphs 12936 to 12945.  Please let me spend a little time on this.   

Here are the paragraphs the COP relies on: 

[12936] The Chairman: In that last page, you mentioned about the conversation on 3 October. At the top of the page where Mr Pritam Singh said: “Before the October session, I met you and told you it was your call.” So, meaning that it was really up to her to decide what to do. 

[12937] Ms Sylvia Lim: I don’t know the context but he phrased it in this way. 

[12938] The Chairman: From this, it would seem to be that it’s really for her to decide, which is, I guess — 

[12939] Ms Sylvia Lim: She has to decide, yes. 

[12940] The Chairman: — I guess, if you follow from this, when he said that: “I will not judge you”, is that, “You decide what you want to do, I will not judge you for that”. Would that be a fair interpretation, as you see it? I know you were not there — 

[12941] Ms Sylvia Lim: I wasn’t there. 

[12942 & 44] The Chairman: I am saying that as from what he has recounted here, as recorded, and what we know now of what would have been said specifically, this would be a reasonable interpretation of it? … That line came from Mr Pritam Singh himself who said: “to take ownership and responsibility, I will not judge you.” So, I’m just asking based on what Mr Pritam Singh has shared, and given what he said now here, would that be a reasonable interpretation, that it was really left for her to decide? 

[12945] Ms Sylvia Lim: Well, I mean, I don’t know what he said because I’ve put myself on a news block-out for the last few days. But in any case, it is recorded as it is recorded, yes. 

The COP then cuts off its reference abruptly there.  Now, up to this point, I was at best telling the COP that I was not there at the meeting on 3 October.  Where was there any recognition by me that Mr Singh had done something contrary to an MP’s duty to tell the truth? 

Crucially, the COP ignored the next four paragraphs, which show the Chairman still continuing his clarifications with me, which I shall now read out: 

[12946] The Chairman: Just to remind you, the specific line he said was: “to take ownership and responsibility and I will not judge you.” So, these few lines came out across clearly as what he conveyed. 

[12947] Ms Sylvia Lim: Okay. 

[12948] The Chairman: And I’m just asking you, that based on what you’ve recounted here, it would suggest that the option was left to Ms Khan to decide what to do. 

[12949] Ms Sylvia Lim: I think it also has to be looked at in the whole context, because what we recorded here was that: “I told you it was your call, did the need to tell the truth in Parliament occur to you?” Then she says: “Yes, but I was consumed with guilt in my own experience and I thought it wouldn’t come up.” Of course, she’s not saying here: “You gave me a choice, so I made that choice.” She says: “I was consumed with guilt in my own experience and I thought it wouldn’t come up.” And he says: “But you can’t lie, right?” and she says: “Yes.” So, it has to be taken, I think, in totality to understand it. Like I said, I wasn’t there but this is what I recorded. 

These last four paragraphs were curiously excluded from the COP’s footnote 422 even though it was part and parcel of the Chairman’s clarifications on the same topic.  If included and properly understood, I submit that my evidence does not support the COP’s conclusions. 

Referring Mr Singh and Mr Faisal to Public Proosecutor 

Speaker, if Parliament refers Mr Singh and Mr Faisal to the Public Prosecutor, it is only right to expect that the Public Prosecutor, law enforcement and the Courts will handle this matter impartially.  How they approach this matter has serious ramifications.  A court conviction may prematurely terminate the service of a Member of Parliament who has been duly elected by the people.  It is provided in Article 45 of the Constitution that convictions in a court of law can disqualify an elected MP from Parliament, if the fine is $2,000 or more.  Contrast this with fines meted out by Parliament itself under PPIPA, which can go up to $50,000, but will not disqualify an MP from continuing to serve in this House. 

COP Composition and Processes 

Before I end, I would like to comment on the COP composition and processes. 

The COP has disciplinary functions and recommends punishments for MPs.  There has been public discussion about the composition of the COP, as it is overwhelmingly dominated by ruling party members.  I find the state of affairs unsatisfactory as well.  As it currently stands, the Committee only has one out of its 8 members from the opposition Workers’ Party.  This does not bode well for a fair hearing in a Parliament where the ruling party has a super majority of 90%.   

There is public interest to ensure that elected MPs are subject to fair Parliamentary hearings.  One way towards this is to have a more balanced composition.  My suggestion is that Parliament consider amending the Standing Orders on the composition of the Committee of Privileges.  If the Committee’s total strength is to remain at 8 members in all, then 3 members should be from opposition parties.  This is likely to result in a less one-sided hearing and fuller consideration of relevant evidence.   

I move on to some observations about the COP processes. 

First, on representation before the COP.  I would like to ask how the Committee decided on conducting the questioning of witnesses by itself.  In a past COP in 1986, Parliament resolved to have questioning conducted by a law officer of the Legal Service; it was further resolved that lawyers be allowed to represent the MP and other persons as well.   

It would seem to me that such a process is better.  It would enable the Committee to sit back and concentrate on evaluating the evidence dispassionately, rather than have Committee members actively positing a certain case theory and trying to break witnesses down.  If legal representation is allowed, there may be less need for Parliament to make referrals of cases to the Public Prosecutor.  May I ask: On what basis did this Committee decide to do the questioning itself and not allow lawyers in? 

Secondly, I believe guidelines are needed to safeguard the dignity of such Parliamentary hearings.  Members of the public have noted the strenuous questioning of Mr Faisal and Mr Singh.  Mr Faisal was questioned for about 6 hours in a single day.  In Mr Singh’s case, the questioning was done for 9 hours in a single day, which, including waiting time, took 12 hours.   While my own questioning was less than 3 hours, I waited for two days in a guarded room and was denied the use of any communication devices.  When I needed to visit the bathroom, I was accompanied by security.  When I requested to use the disabled toilet to have more space, permission was sought.  Doesn’t all this border on oppressive?  Our courts of law do not subject witnesses to such treatment.    

Concluding Observations 

To summarise, I have made a critical clarification about my evidence before the COP.  I have also commented on the intended referral of Mr Singh and Mr Faisal to the Public Prosecutor.  And finally, I have shared my observations and personal experiences to argue that reform to COP processes is much needed.