While F1 fans were happy that the Singapore F1 Grand Prix went on without a hitch, not everyone was happy with the Transport Minister S. Iswaran’s corruption investigation.
Specifically, many were concerned that he continued to receive a significant sum of money despite not currently performing his duties.
On 7 Sep 2023, NCMP Hazel Poa from the Progress Singapore Party (PSP) filed a motion to suspend Iswaran from Parliament.
The reason? He should not receive the MP allowance of $192,500 per year without performing his duties.
On 19 Sep 2023, the motion was debated and thrown out.
Here’s what you need to know.
NCMP Hazel Poa: It’s about Taxpayers’ Money
Previously, Iswaran was placed on official leave by PM Lee and told not to carry out any official activities while the investigation is ongoing.
His ministerial pay was stopped, replaced by a nominal monthly salary of $8,500 a month until further notice.
Iswaran, however, continued to draw the MP allowance of $192,500.
PM Lee said taking away the MP allowance was beyond the “Prime Minister’s discretion”, and the removal of the allowance requires parliamentary action.
In her speech, Poa highlighted four pointers:
- Iswaran is currently not performing his official duties in Parliament or West Coast GRC; which means, he is “essentially suspended” but still receiving pay
- The investigation is about corruption, and a stronger response should be warranted
- It is not a “good use” of taxpayers’ money to continue paying an MP an allowance until the investigation is completed, a verdict is reached, and all avenues of appeals are closed
- It’s easier to reimburse the MP than to claw back money that is already paid out
Poa also filed a second motion for permission to introduce a Private Member’s bill to amend the Parliament (Privileges, Immunities and Powers) Act.
This will allow Iswaran to be reimbursed his MP’s allowance if found innocent.
PAP Indranee Rajah Counter Motion: Do The Right Thing at the Right Time
Leader of the House Indranee Rajah, however, felt it was “premature” to take any action against Iswaran.
“We simply do not have sufficient material to make an informed decision at the present time.”
She cautioned against exploiting the case for political gains, and asked for it to be approached “objectively and dispassionately”.
Indranee also questioned if the motion should apply on other cases as well.
Leader of the Opposition and WP chief Pritam Singh, as well as fellow WP MP Faisal Manap, are under police investigation for their conduct during the Raeesah Khan hearings.
She asked if Poa was also requesting their suspension.
Indranee filed a counter-motion where the party will consider what to do regarding Iswaran’s MP allowance after the outcome is known.
This includes considering a clawback of his allowance.
Workers’ Party (WP): Innocent Until Proven Guilty
LO Pritam Singh said WP could not support PSP’s motion due to the “presumption of innocence” (read: innocent until proven guilty).
Should Parliament take action against Iswaran, it would be “unfair and premature”.
He also asked the PSP to consider the ramifications of the motion and whether future governments would use it as a way to “fix the opposition”.
However, he acknowledged that there are concerns about Iswaran continuing to receive his pay despite doing nothing, and asked Indranee for clarifications on her counter-motion.
- The full extent of Iswaran’s ban and whether he was barred from entering Parliament
- If his pay can be clawed back should he be found guilty
- Whether actions will be taken against Iswaran after the investigation outcome is known, or after all court avenues are exhausted
Iswaran is still able to enter Parliament should he want to, Indranee clarified.
The Prime Minister was able to interdict Iswaran and stop him from carrying out his ministerial responsibilities as he was appointed by the Prime Minister.
However, as an MP elected by constituents, he could still enter Parliament and continue carrying out his MP duties.
Iswaran did not as he had been requested by the Prime Minister to stop.
“As a matter of party discipline he has been requested by the Prime Minister to also cease his MP duties because you can imagine how difficult it is to carry out the MP duties when you are under investigation or even to come to Parliament.”
Regarding the clawback, Indranee said the party will consider the matter again once the outcome is known.
“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.”
The Prime Minister will also take the allegations into consideration if Iswaran is charged.
This could result in a resignation or being made to pay back his salary and allowance without waiting for the legal process.
Debate Based on Principles
In her concluding speech, Indranee said that the matter should be addressed on the basis of principles.
The decision to suspend is, in itself, a punishment and should have a legal basis.
If the principle is based on a leave of absence, there have been cases of MPs being placed on leave of absence due to health issues, and the Parliament did not suspend them for that.
Should the principle be based on Iswaran being under arrest, Indranee said that it is still at the investigative stage and no wrongdoing was established.
And if the principle was based on the constituents not being taken care of, other MPs are taking up the slack to take care of the constituents.
Indranee also questioned if suspension should be applied even for other accusations such as rape or murder, to which Poa said she had not considered the matter.
This means, Indranee says, she did not consider this principle.
In response, Poa said that while Indranee had rebutted her principles in isolation, they were meant to be “taken as a whole”.
She added that MPs were being “held to ransom” due to the lack of legal ability to reimburse any suspended MP for their allowance after they’ve been cleared of any wrongdoing.
The system also hampers the Parliament from taking “timely disciplinary actions”.
“If we’re unable to back-pay and we have to uphold the principle of ‘innocent until proven guilty’, it means that we cannot suspend any MP until the entire legal process has been completed. This may be a long period of time.”
Poa pointed out that taking a “harsher stance” against corruption is fair. After all, the reason for giving ministers high salaries is to ensure they remain corruption-free
After the two-hour-long debate, all of the MPs, with the exception of PSP’s Hazel Poa and Leong Mun Wai, supported Indranee’s counter-motion.
This is based on the notion that all accused parties should be presumed innocent until convicted.
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