Mr Speaker, Sir, I would like to thank all who have participated in this debate.
All of us share a common desire to maintain high standards of conduct in this House and to treat Members who are under investigation firmly and fairly. These are motherhood statements that few are expected to disagree with. How we apply such standards, however, may not be the same. Such differences will come to the fore when we apply them to specific cases, like in the case of Minister Iswaran.
While PSP feels that it is fair to suspend Minister Iswaran for now and to back pay him when he is cleared of all wrongdoing, the Leader of the House does not think so. That is a judgement call and I think we will have to agree to disagree.
I have also asked for leave to table an amendment Bill to make it possible for Parliament to back pay Minister Iswaran, if necessary.
Under current provisions in the PPIPA, no allowances are to be paid to Members who are suspended from the service of Parliament. We have proposed to amend that provision to allow Parliament to pay such allowances if a resolution is passed. This amendment gives Parliament the flexibility to decide whether suspended Members should be paid their allowance, whether in full or in part. Without this flexibility, Parliament is hampered in taking timely disciplinary actions. If we are unable to backpay and we have to uphold the principle of innocence until proven guilty, it means that we cannot suspend any Member until the entire legal process has been completed. This may be a long period of time.
We are, in fact, being held ransom due to the lack of provision to back pay. Regardless of Parliament’s decision on Minister Iswaran, we believe that the amendment should still be passed. There is only upside and no downside to this amendment.
Let me know address the issues that have been brought up by various Members.
I think the common theme that runs throughout is presumption of innocence. All who spoke – Mr Lim Biow Chuan, Mr Raj Joshua Thomas and Mr Vikram Nair – made the same point that by suspending, we are presuming that he is guilty. That is a point that I dispute. I think that that argument is a red herring.
If suspension means presumption of guilt, then I am afraid we have been doing that on many, many occasions. Police officers have been suspended from duties and placed on half pay while they are under investigations as evident in answer to a Parliamentary Question just yesterday and the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has also said that that is a standard practice for Police officers.
So, the fact of the matter is suspension is not a determination of guilt. It is merely a measure that is commonly used to deal with situations where a person is under investigation. Most of the time the suspension comes in two parts: suspension of duties and an effect on the pay.
In this particular case, the Prime Minister has already made the decision to suspend Minister Iswaran from his Ministerial duties and reduced his pay to $8,500. He has also suspended him from performing his MP duties and have his other colleagues cover for him in his constituency. So, the suspension is already done. All that I am asking for in this House is to suspend the allowance as well.
In addition, Members Raj Joshua Thomas and Vikram Nair also mentioned that MPs have the mandate of the people and, therefore, suspension of duties should not be lightly done. I would like to seek clarification from them. Does this mean they have an issue with the Prime Minister’s decision to suspend Minister Iswaran from his duties as an MP?
The Leader of the House said that while section 59(5) says that Parliament can suspend a Member, we should not be doing something just because we can. I believe I made it very clear why we are asking for this. It is not just because we can. I have also listed the three reasons why I think we have a good case to suspend Minister Iswaran.
The Leader of the House proceeded to address them one by one, but she does them in isolation. For example, when I said that he is not performing the duties, she quoted the example of medical leave. But the three conditions are meant to be taken together, not individually. For example, when we say that you can vote if you are a Singapore Citizen and aged 21, you do not tackle the criteria one by one. Age 21 separate from Singapore Citizen. Both conditions must be satisfied.
PSP feels that adopting a harsher stand against corruption versus other wrongdoing is fair, given the extremely high salaries we are paying Ministers to stay corruption-free. Since we are paying such extraordinarily high salaries, is it not fair for the consequence of corruption and the handling process of its investigation to be correspondingly tougher?
Adopting a light touch approach here will only send the wrong signal. The sanguine approach adopted towards Minister Iswaran’s MP allowance stands in stark contrast to the approach adopted towards the public. If Minister Iswaran continues to receive over $20,000 per month while not performing any duties and under investigation for corruption, while ComCare recipients who are permanently unable to work due to old age, illness or disability get $640 per month, what does this say about our values? How is it equitable that Minister Iswaran gets in one month what these ComCare recipients get over three years? If the investigation and prosecution take one year, the amount he continues to receive will be equivalent to what these ComCare recipients get over 38 years.
PSP urges the House to suspend Minister Iswaran and to back pay him if and when he is cleared of all wrongdoing. We have explained why our approach leads to better use of taxpayers’ money while making sure that Minister Iswaran is not penalised should he be found innocent. This is in line with our idea of being firm and fair.
We trust that all who have been following this debate are well able to come to their own conclusions. We will leave it at that.