After an exchange with Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam in Parliament on Mar. 20, Leong Mun Wai of the Progress Singapore Party (PSP) made a Facebook post on the same night to voice his opinions.
The post titled “MR LEE HSIEN YANG ABSCONDED” was uploaded by the Non-Constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP) at around 11:30pm.
Shanmugam responded through a ministerial statement in Parliament on Mar. 22 and asked Leong to take down the Facebook post, as it contains serious misrepresentations.
Shanmugam says Facebook post is improper
Shanmugam said that Leong’s actions were quite improper and contrary to the requirements of Parliamentary Procedure.
Shanmugam explained that while he had wanted to address Leong’s statements in the Facebook post yesterday (Mar. 21) at the earliest opportunity, he decided to postpone, “out of respect for Mr Leong’s bereavement over the passing of his mother”.
Leong’s mother died on Mar. 17, and Shanmugam expressed his deepest condolences to Leong for his loss.
Shanmugam said Leong had made several claims in his post, including:
“One, my characterisation of Lee Hsien Yang and Lee Suet Fern as having essentially absconded was inaccurate.”
“Two, he also said that by disclosing the investigation into the Lees, Senior Minister Teo and I have risked turning Parliament into, I quote, a platform to colour public opinion on criminal proceedings.”
He said the two statements are a mixture of misrepresentation and inaccuracy.
Shanmugam says “essentially absconded” is not wrong
Shanmugam emphasised that the Court of Three Judges and Disciplinary Tribunal said that Lee Hsien Yang and Lee Suet Fern had lied under oath and that there was dishonesty.
He then turned to Leong and asked if he agreed with the courts that they lied on oath.
This prompted a heated exchange between Shanmugam and Leong that lasted more than five minutes.
After the exchange, Shanmugam reiterated what he had said on Mar. 20, that Lee Hsien Yang and Lee Suet Fern had initially agreed to attend a Police interview when the Police met them on Jun. 9, 2022.
Shanmugam shows police letter addressed to Lee Hsien Yang
He said they had agreed to attend the interview, and after they agreed to the date on Jul. 13, 2022, the officer handed them a letter.
Shanmugam showed the letter on the screen addressed to Lee Hsien Yang titled “Request For Cooperation In Investigation”.
The letter mentioned that the police require Lee Hsien Yang’s assistance with their investigation into potential offences of “Giving False Evidence” under Section 193 of the Penal Code.
It also stated that the police required Lee Hsien Yang to attend the interview at Police Cantonment Complex voluntarily. While the date and time were not filled in, Shanmugam explained that a police officer had filled in the details by hand in the copy of the letter they handed Lee Hsien Yang.
Shanmugam continued to explain that when the interview day came, Lee Hsien Yang and Lee Suet Fern emailed the police, saying they would not be attending the interview.
“By that time, they had left the country,” Shanmugam emphasised. “From what they have said to the police and what Mr Lee Hsien Yang has said since it is clear that they have no intention of returning.”
Lee Hsien Yang said on social media that he is a “fugitive”
Shanmugan said that after Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean replied in Parliament on Mar. 2, Lee Hsien Yang said on Facebook on Mar. 7 that he has” been made a fugitive by his own country”, and he repeated that he’s a fugitive on Instagram on Mar. 12.
The Facebook post and Instagram post were both shown in Parliament.
Shanmugam also said that Lee Hsien Yang mentioned in an interview with a foreign news outlet on Mar. 8 that he is “unlikely to return to Singapore, at least for the foreseeable future”.
“He himself admits that he is a fugitive. To assist Mr Leong in better understanding the dictionary meaning of fugitive. I’ll flash it on the screen.”
Shanmugam shows dictionary meaning of “fugitive”
He showed the Parliament the definition of “fugitive” from the Cambridge Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English, Oxford Learners Dictionary, and Macmillan Dictionary.
Shanmugam read out two of the definitions:
“From Merriam-Webster, a fugitive is a person who flees or tries to escape, such as a person involved in a criminal case who tries to elude law enforcement, especially by fleeing the jurisdiction. Macmillan’s definition is someone who has done something illegal and is trying to avoid being caught by the Police.”
Shanmugam then said, “This is how Mr Lee describes himself. He says that he has run away to avoid the Police.”
Shanmugam pointed out that Leong seems to know Lee Hsien Yang well, as Leong had posted many photos of them together on social media, and Leong had said that Lee Hsien Yang is a valuable member of his party.
Shanmugam: If they are not returning, they have absconded
“For all we know, they might be in regular contact with each other,” Shanmugam added.
He then turned to ask Leong, again through the Speaker, if he was saying that Lee Hsien Yang will come back and cooperate with the authorities, “Simple question. No need to ventilate. We can ventilate later.”
After another brief exchange with Leong, Shanmugam continued his ministerial statement, concluding his reply on Leong’s first assertion.
“Everyone, including Mr Leong, knows that (Lee Hsien Yang and Lee Suet Fern) have left the country, that they are fugitives, and they’ve told the media they are not returning to Singapore. They have absconded. So let’s not hide behind the smokescreen of whether or not a CPC order was issued. They were asked to cooperate, and they have run away. And you can say they have absconded when they themselves know they are fugitives.”
Shanmugam addresses Leong’s parliamentary behaviour
On the second issue, Shanmugam pointed out three parts.
Shanmugam says there’s no double standard on KOM investigations
Regarding Leong’s views on the Keppel Offshore & Marine (KOM) investigations, Shanmugam said he had explained the differences between the cases on Monday and why names are disclosed in legal proceedings in some circumstances.
“I invited him to point it out so we can discuss which area of my explanation he does not understand or disagrees with. He did not respond.” Shanmugam pointed out.
He then said that Leong had said on Facebook that there are double standards because the individuals in the KOM case are “actually guilty”.
Asks Leong to exercise parliamentary privilege to speak responsibly
Shanmugam reminded all Parliamentarians that by asserting persons investigated by CPIB are “actually guilty”, Leong is making assertions against a number of persons that have not been found guilty.
He then invited Leong to either substantiate his statement that they were all guilty or withdraw it.
“So the member has the Parliamentary privilege to speak, but that has to be exercised responsibly,” Shanmugam commented.
“One cannot, under the cloak of Parliamentary privilege, make these sorts of statements about people, and if he does not withdraw, then (Speaker) sir, we will consider what else needs to be done”, he added.
Shanmugam asks Leong to withdraw comment of “muddy the waters”
After Leong had given his reply, Shanmugam moved on to the next point about the Parti Liyani case.
“Leong said that my referring to Parti Liyani is an attempt to muddy the waters because the case is irrelevant. The member has ascribed an improper motive to me. The essence of the statement is that I used an example which is irrelevant and that it was used to confuse Parliament.”
Shanmugam said before he paused to make things clear about debating in Parliament and went on to seek clarification from Leong on why he said the Parti Liyani case is not relevant.
“I explained why the Parti Liyani case is relevant. It is an illustration of a fairly similar case, where we also released the identity of a person who was being investigated and where the member was present and did not object.”
After another 10-minute debate, concluding with Leong refusing to withdraw the statement regarding “muddy the waters”, Shanmugam continued to respond to the next point on Leong’s Facebook post.
Shanmugam says Leong made comments on “false basis”
Shanmugam said that Leong had asserted that the 38 Oxley Road matter is a “family dispute”, which is a private matter not appropriate for Parliament, which he said is supposed to be a forum for debating issues of public interest.
“Members will recall issues relating to 38 Oxley road were first made public by Mr Lee Hsien Yang himself in 2017. Then in a series of public statements, the ministerial statements in 2017, parliament debates of no. 38 all took place here in Parliament. Earlier this month, a question was asked in Parliament on 38 Oxley Road, we answered. I explained on Monday why the matter had to be answered.”
Shanmugam then asked Leong which part of the explanation does he disagree with.
Leong replied that he agrees that there is public interest in 38 Oxley Road and has no issue with the matter being debated in Parliament before the time he comes into Parliament, but he doesn’t agree with raising “those issues” in Parliament again.
Shanmugam replied that what Leong had answered was on a “false basis” because the issue came about again after a Member of Parliament raised a question, and hence answers were given.
“We had this exchange today for one reason only. Parliament is a place for debates.
Parliament is a place where we exchange viewpoints, and on the basis that we are all trying to do our best for Singapore, we try and, through the exchange of ideas and debates, try and get to a point, but when someone is in the House, doesn’t raise a point, still said ‘while he was digesting it’, and then goes out and puts a Facebook post, with both improper statements and untrue statements. Then he is abusing the Parliamentary privilege.
He is in breach of Parliamentary rules, and that is why we have to pull it up and ask a number of questions.
That is why I decided to ask the Member a number of questions because Parliament should not be brought into disrepute with this kind of conduct.”
Pointed out previous incidents of Leong’s breaches
Shanmugam pointed out that this is not the first time Leong has breached the rules of parliamentary procedure and raised three examples:
“On Feb. 25, 2021, Leong apologised in Parliament for the misrepresentations he made.
On May. 10, 2021, he again seriously breached parliamentary procedure and was told so.
On Mar. 8, 2022, he again had to apologise in Parliament for his improper and uncalled-for comments.”
Shanmugam then said,
“This has unfortunately become a pattern with Mr Leong. In Parliament, we are prepared. As I said, for serious debate, members can be tough as they wish. And if anyone questions, they can be raised as we are discussing rather than keeping quiet here and then going out and casting aspersions.”
Shanmugam then went on to read out Section 31(g) of the Parliament (Privileges, Immunities And Powers) Act:
No person shall — publish any statement, whether in writing or otherwise, which falsely or scandalously defames, or which reflects on the character of, the Speaker or any Member touching on his conduct in Parliament or anything done or said by him in Parliament.
“You have your viewpoints. You think that someone is not telling the truth. You think that someone is being dishonest? You think someone is trying to muddy the waters? Do that in Parliament. Let’s have a debate. But you don’t go out after keeping quiet here and try and mislead the public. That is the rationale for Section 31, and that is why we have to take a serious view.
Parliament is a place for discussion, I agree entirely with Mr Leong, but it’s not a place for playing hide and seek. You debate here. In my view, he has breached section 31, that’s my view, in the context of his post. And (Speaker) Sir, through you, I ask that he deletes his post except that he has misrepresented the position, and he should apologise.”
Shanmugam considering further action
Leong said he would only delete his Facebook post if Shanmugam points to the “specific issues” in his post.
After Shanmugam went over the points again, Leong said he did not intend to cast aspersions on “the Minister”, but did not commit to deleting his post or withdrawing all his statements.
Shanmugam said that he took it that Leong did not withdraw the statements and will “proceed to consider the next steps”.
“If anytime (Leong) changes his mind before a decision is reached. He can let us know. Thank you. So that’s the end of my ministerial statement.” Shanmugam concluded.
However, Leong had more clarifications, and the debate lasted for another 20 minutes.
Top image via MCI youtube