COP hearing: Lies and ….more lies?

What would I give to be a fly on the wall of Mr Pritam Singh’s home on Aug 8? Then I would have a full account of what really was said among the three Workers’ Party leaders and Ms Raeesah Khan. 

Even after Mr Edwin Tong’s re-examination of Ms Khan on what transpired that day, I am still not sure what happened during that one-hour meeting.

So Ms Khan announced to them that she told a lie in Parliament and then segued to saying why, that is, she did not want it known that she herself was a sexual assault victim. Then we heard from the three leaders that she was terribly distraught and they set about commiserating with her and asking about her well-being. They asked her who else knew of the incident. 

The next thing we know about the meeting is that she seemed to have collected herself enough to talk about putting out a statement clarifying a speech on female genital cutting and polygamy. Contrary to what the trio said about having “zero’’ discussion on what she or the party should do during that meeting, she said that Mr Pritam spoke about bringing her before the Committee of Privileges and later seemed to change tack and tell her to take the information “to the grave’’. She was adamant that those were the very words he used, which she repeated in a WhatsApp message to her two assistants.

Mr Singh denied raising COP at that point of time, and I was inclined to believe him. It doesn’t seem logical for a party leader to immediately throw a member to the wolves, so to speak. Unless he was speaking in anger. 

Mr Tong asked her if Mr Singh had told her to speak to her parents, when he was accompanying her out of his house that day. She denied this. I wish he had asked her whether this was a point the leaders kept stressing, and that it was a pre-condition for making a clarification in Parliament. That was a critical point, after all, in the Workers’ Party narrative about delaying the clarification. 

Nor did she admit to being distraught, pointing instead to how she  was calm enough to discuss the statement that she was to put forth that same day. In fact, she was adamant that she wasn’t as distressed or emotional as the party leaders had made her out to be. She might be stressed, but she was not “dazed’’ and she didn’t cry, she said, when asked about the late night meeting with Mr Singh and Ms Sylvia Lim on Oct 4, after her interrogation by Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam in Parliament.  

I have always thought it inconceivable that none of the leaders raised the matter with her in the meantime, not even to ask about her well-being, even up to Oct 4. Nor was any word exchanged about whether her parents had been told about what had happened. 

One interesting point surfaced during the hearing about her parents’ foreknowledge which wasn’t followed up on. It seemed clear that even by Oct 4, she hadn’t clued in her parents, as Mr Singh had surmised.

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Could she have clarified the matter on Oct 5 as Parliament would still be in session, Mr Tong had asked. She said yes, as it would have just required one conversation with her parents. And the issue, she added, would have been whether she should include her personal experience in making the clarification. 

I thought this was pertinent as she could have corrected the lie much earlier without citing anything personal. Was there any need for her to say why she was present at a meeting with sexual assault victims? I know her colleague, Mr Jamus Lim, said that he thought she should, but in the interest of time, I believe it would have sufficed as a correction –  with or without her parents’ knowledge.  

Ms Khan maintained that she wasn’t given “a choice’’ to keep to the lie or tell the truth,  not even on Oct 3 when Mr Singh met her to alert her that the issue might be raised the next day. Mr Singh didn’t tell her to “take responsibility’’ or “ownership’’ that night, she told the committee, but that she should continue the narrative and that he wouldn’t judge her. 

This came through when she was asked about a particular conversation she had with Mr Singh during the WP disciplinary inquiry on Nov 29. It had to do with how Mr Singh had said on Oct 3 that it was “her call’’ on what should be done if she was asked about the lie in Parliament. She said that the meeting notes were accurate, but maintained that Mr Singh didn’t give her a choice. Rather, he told her to maintain the lie.

It wasn’t a satisfactory answer. The normally meticulous Mr Tong also did not take her through the rest of the conversation about the guilt she said she was consumed with when she doubled down on the lie, and how Mr Singh had said : “Can’t lie right?’’

Why not a direct question to Ms Khan on why she had never, at any point, noted that it was Mr Singh and the two on the disciplinary panel who told her to lie? She had ample opportunity to do so, whether to the WP central executive committee or to the DI members themselves. 

Ms Khan also tried to explain that statement she made at that late-night meeting after her run-in with Mr Shanmugam: “There’s another way, to tell the truth.’’ I am using the word “tried’’ because she was helped along by Mr Tong who kept summarising points to ask her for confirmation. 

She said her statement to Mr Singh and Ms Lim was about taking  a different approach to the clarification as opposed to what she had been told to do. When Mr Singh said that she had made her choice earlier that day, she was shocked as this wasn’t what she had expected him to say. Again, the logical response from her would have been: “That’s what you told me to do!’’

 At least twice, Ms Khan said the WP was “out of line’’ raising questions about her mental state, although it was she who first brought up the issue during the WP’s disciplinary inquiry. 

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Besides the testimony of Institute of Mental Health’s Dr Christopher Cheok, I also wonder if the committee had the notes of the psychotherapist who had talked about her possibly suffering from post-traumatic stress. Perhaps, they are among the documents that the WP should have handed up to the committee on Monday. 

This looks like a merry-go-round of he said, she said and they said. Mr Singh has accused Ms Khan of lying while Ms Khan is accusing the WP leadership of conspiring against her.

I appreciate the committee’s transparency in the conduct of the hearings, especially in releasing the videos. I am sure the members realise that it wouldn’t just be the witnesses’ behaviour that will be the subject of scrutiny by the public, but their own as well. 

But it will be the committee which sieves through the testimonies to decide on what led up to the lie and the circumstances leading to the clarification on Nov 1. It will also decide on the degree of culpability or involvement of others in what might be a possible “cover-up’’. How it will do so without being accused of being partisan, I don’t know. 

As much as we talk about the level of trust the WP seemed to have placed in their leaders, we need also to trust that the committee will take an antiseptic view of the proceedings and live up to the standards expected of Parliament. 

In any case, I don’t know if this is the last instalment or whether the series is continuing. It sure is getting awfully draggy.

Further reading

© 2022 Bertha Henson

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