With the Committee of Privileges (COP) debate taking place yesterday (15 February), most of us may already know that Raeesah Khan will be fined $35,000 and that both Pritam Singh and Faisal Manap will be referred to the public prosecutor.
Wait. Am I missing anyone?
Ah, yes. Sylvia Lim.
Although no charges have been pressed against the chairman of the Workers’ Party (WP) for now, here’s what she had to say during the lengthy 4-hour debate yesterday.
Composition of the COP
We all knew that this was coming, no?
Just FYI, out of the eight members of the COP, only one member, Dennis Tan, is from the opposition.
That’s basically like the composition of Parliament.
To put it in Lim’s words, many members of the public found the COP “overwhelmingly dominated by ruling party members”, and that it would benefit the public to “ensure that elected MPs are subject to fair parliamentary hearings”.
She echoed this sentiment as well, expressing her dissatisfaction and claimed, “This does not bode well for a fair hearing in Parliament where the ruling party has a supermajority of 90 per cent.”
She then suggested that the COP be reshuffled to have a more “balanced composition”.
As a general rule of thumb, she said that three members of an eight-member COP should be from the opposition.
“This is likely to result in a less one-sided hearing and fuller consideration of relevant evidence,” she explained.
In response to that, Leader of the House Indranee Rajah rebutted by saying that “Mr Dennis Tan was nominated by Mr Singh and he certainly did not complain at that time or say that he should have more opposition members.”
She also said that Lim was trying to “cast aspersions” on the committee, saying, “So it just really rather does sound as though if you don’t like the outcome of the Committee of Privileges, then you complain about how it is composed when it was never an issue before.”
Lawyers Not Allowed to Represent Those Before the COP
Lim then brought up the issue of how lawyers are not allowed to represent those before the COP now. She asked why this is so, given that the COP utilised this method of investigation in 1986.
She also mentioned how “Parliament resolved to have questioning conducted by a law officer of the legal service” back then during the previous COP, and expressed her support for such a method of investigation.
“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,” she concluded.
TL;DR: Lawyers > themselves.
Ms Indranee then responded by saying that lawyers are only allowed to represent witnesses before the COP in specific circumstances and if witnesses apply for it.
She also pointed out that both Lim and Singh are lawyers by profession, and suggested that they probably would not have required any extra assistance when testifying in front of the COP.
She added that the questions that the witnesses were asked “were not particularly difficult, well within their ability to understand and respond to”.
Misinterpretation of Her Evidence
In response to the COP saying that she had offered useful evidence, Lim claimed that the COP had misinterpreted it.
The piece of evidence submitted was a set of handwritten notes by Lim which she had taken down during a meeting with Pritam Singh, Faisal Manap and Raeesah Khan, which the COP found to be supportive of the stand that Singh had asked Khan to continue with her lie in Parliament.
The notes captured the conversation between Pritam Singh and Raeesah Khan during the meeting, in which Singh mentioned that he had previously met Khan to tell her that it was her call.
Singh also asked Khan if the “need to tell the truth” had occurred to her in Parliament, to which Khan replied, “Yes but consumed with guilt + own experience. Thought it wouldn’t come up.”
Afterwards, when Singh asked Khan, “Can’t lie right?”, Khan agreed.
Lim explained her view and context of the evidence in Parliament yesterday, insisting that it was “not inconsistent and not damaging” to Singh.
“In fact, it is consistent with his evidence that he was telling her she had to tell the truth,” she added.
She also indicated that she was “baffled” by the COP’s conclusion based on that piece of evidence, in particular how the committee felt that she had portrayed Singh in a way that he was not telling the truth as an MP, therefore failing his duty as an MP.
In addition, she also mentioned that her testimony to the COP was not quoted accurately.
“I’d 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,” she insisted.
Length and Nature of COP Investigations
The last point that Lim brought up was that the COP investigations were conducted in an inappropriate manner that all three WP leaders were subjected to.
She termed the questioning sessions as “strenuous” and “bordering on oppressive”, and that their treatment throughout the sessions went against the codes of law. She also described how Singh and Faisal were questioned for nine and six hours within a single day.
For Singh, the waiting time brought the entire investigation up to 12 hours.
Although her own session lasted less than three hours, she claimed, “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.”
She urged that guidelines be put in place “to safeguard the dignity of such parliamentary hearings”.
Afterwards, Ms Indranee clarified that the length of hearings and investigations “depends on the answers that they give”, and that those who gave more straightforward answers would be able to help the COP conclude their investigations at a faster rate.
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