I think the phrase “screwed up’’ is an understatement given what we’ve heard from the Committee of Privileges investigating the lies that Ms Raeesah Khan told Parliament.
It was a shock to know that Khan had fabricated her anecdote about accompanying a rape to the police station. It was a bigger shock to know that the Workers’ Party had known about the lie one week after she told it and let it fester for the next three months. And now there’s this revelation that key leaders of WP had actually advised her to “continue her narrative”. At least, that’s what Ms Khan told the committee. She said that there was no instruction to tell the truth. In fact, the directive that she was given by the party leadership was to ignore queries from the police for details of the incident she spoke of.
Given her record, people would ask : Is this yet another lie? If so, she would be a colossal idiot given the status of the committee with its powers to fine, jail or suspend members.
Her testimony came after Thursday’s bombshell press conference that WP held in the wake of her resignation from the party. It makes you wonder about the timing. Did the WP know what she would be saying to the committee? Was the press conference an attempt to stick its oar in first? And is that why she wasn’t present at the press conference? Because there would be two differing accounts?
If this was just an ordinary ‘he-say, she say’’ saga and not about the main opposition party in Singapore, I would just dismiss it as another entertaining distraction from the usual humdrum politics of Singapore. But this is about a party which won enough parliamentary seats to land its chief the title of Leader of the Opposition. I would add that many had also hoped it would be the start of a stronger check on a Government which has a super-majority in Parliament.
Now, the party looks like a shambles. It had three elected MPs – Mr Pritam Singh, Ms Sylvia Lim and Mr Faisal Manap – who watched her lie in Parliament on Oct 4 and kept quiet. What’s worse was that they were the ones who had wanted her to keep lying, in the hope that the issue would somehow go away. And it was these same three who formed a disciplinary committee to look into this “lie’’. What gives man?
I wonder what was in the disciplinary report in the end. Did it mention their own participation in the saga? Or was this just to show it had done “due diligence”?
There was some deft questioning by PAP MP Edwin Tong who tried to nail down the “degree of culpability’’ on the part of Ms Khan. Did she perpetuate the falsehood of her own accord or was she acting on the guidance of other people? Specifically, he wanted to know the specific advice that WP leaders gave to Ms Khan after she came clean before them.
She was careful always to take on the bulk of the burden on her shoulders, refusing, she said, to absolve herself of any responsibility for her mistake. This, even though she made it plain she was depending on her seniors to guide her out of the morass. And that they never told her to come clean – until it looked like the matter would not die quietly.
Asked if she thought the party had let her down, for example, Ms Khan replied: “My thought process…I had made a terrible mistake and I had to account for it. I was not thinking about whether I was betrayed or that I was not supported.’’
Her performance during the hearings was pretty lacklustre, especially when compared to the testimony of her secretarial assistant Loh Pei Ying who made no bones about what she felt about the party’s conduct to her boss.
She came across as a very young person who was so out of her depth that she should never have been fielded as a candidate. Her pre-occupations, even during the panel’s hearing, was for abused victims – to the extent that other values became secondary.
From her own testimony, she made up the anecdote thinking that it would be more credible if she said she was there with the rape vicim. (In other words, the truth didn’t matter as much as a good story). She did not see it as an accusation against the police, nor did she expect that the police would follow up. (Which makes me wonder if she knows what accountability is about).
As far as she was concerned, she was making a call for people to be trained to be sensitive to rape victims. (Which she admitted could be made without involving anyone or castigating the police). And, even during such a tense session, she thanked panel member Ms Grace Fu for using the term “survivor’’ instead of victim which she described as a “great step’’.
It transpired that Mr Singh had seen the fake anecdote in her August speech, and had suggested that it be substantiated. She ignored it, she said, because she did not understand Mr Singh’s point. It was a point Workers’ Party MP Dennis Tan, who is on the panel, referred to later, ostensibly to make the point that the anecdote was a last-minute addition to her speech, which had nevertheless been caught by Mr Singh.
Mr Singh might have been sharp enough to catch the anecdote, but his political instincts failed him thereafter. He offered her assurances that there would be “no judgment’’ against her, a term which wasn’t fully clarified.
At times, Mr Khan took it to mean that there would be no disciplinary action. Hence, she was surprised to be hauled before the panel which, in any case, focused on her performance in Parliament rather than the specific lying incident.
At other times, she took it to mean that it was for her to decide what she should do and there would be “no judgment’’ on her.
Whatever the interpretation, the panel seemed satisfied that, despite what Mr Singh had said publicly about directing her to clarify her statements, she had made it clear that no one in the party had hitherto told her to own up. In her own words to two others, she was to carry the information to the grave.
It was decided only in late October that she should come clean with a personal statement in Parliament because the matter “wasn’t going to go away’’.
What happens now? From what Mr Tong had said, the panel had to assess the “degree of culpability’’ of Ms Khan. Such an assessment cannot be made without calling further witnesses before the panel, especially the three elected MPs implicated in the saga. I don’t wonder why Mr Dennis Tan voted against making the recordings of the hearings public; it’s rather damning for the WP leadership. But the WP must practise what it preaches about openness and transparency because they are key party planks.
The WP has been in hot soup before. It emerged unscathed despite the numerous trials over its handling of town council accounts. It even added one GRC to its fold. But the town council saga was too drawn out and complicated for even political watchers to follow.
The difference between truth and lies is something people can understand. Except that, right now, I can’t tell what the real story is.