Shanmugam & Leong Mun Wai Spar Over Definition Of ‘Muddy The Waters’ In Parliament

Leong Mun Wai & Shanmugam Debate About What ‘Muddy The Waters’ Means

On 22 Mar,  Minister for Law and Home Affairs K Shanmugam and Non-Constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP) Leong Mun Wai debated over a post that the latter had made on Facebook.

Much of the debate centred around accusations by Mr Leong in that post.

Firstly, that bringing up the Parti Liyani case was an attempt to “muddy the water”, and secondly, that both Mr Shanmugam and Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean had “run the risk of turning Parliament into a platform to colour public opinion on criminal proceedings”.

Mr Shanmugam also asked Mr Leong to retract the allegations and remove the Facebook post, but the latter refused.

However, he did withdraw a statement he made that individuals with KOM had been found guilty overseas.

Leong Mun Wai & K Shanmugam lock horns in Parliament on 22 Mar

On what ‘muddy the waters’ means, Mr Shanmugam addressed Mr Leong Mun Wai and brought up a dictionary reference from Merriam-Webster.

Source: MCI Singapore on YouTube

“What you are saying is it is not relevant, and it’s used to confuse Parliament. That is in essence what ‘muddy the waters’ means,” he said.

In response, Mr Leong said he did not accept the relevance of the Parti Liyani case in the debate.

“The issue is about the fairness of the KOL and LHY case,” he added.

Mr Leong then said by bringing in another case, Mr Shanmugam was ” clouding the thinking of the people”.

“I didn’t say it’s irrelevant, I didn’t say you are confusing Parliament. Minister, don’t put words into my mouth.”

Shanmugam asks Leong Mun Wai for definition of ‘muddy the waters’

When Mr Shanmugam again asked for Mr Leong’s definition of muddying the waters, the latter responded:

“Speaker, now I think the minister is testing whether I’m from a lousy school or not.”

Speaker Tan Chuan-Jin interjected, saying that when a debate is carried out outside of Parliament in a “one-dimensional way”, the idea behind the present debate is to continue that and tease out the clarity.

Mr Tan added, “There is no allegation about what school you come from. I’m sure you come from a very good school.”

Source: MCI Singapore on YouTube

The speaker also probed Mr Leong about the Parti Liyani case he cited, asking, “Can I take it you are saying Parti Liyani case is relevant? …is it relevant or not? And what does muddy the waters mean?”

Finally, Mr Leong responded with his definition.

“My understanding of the English is that you cloud the real issue. That’s why you are swimming in the muddy waters. Because you are introducing new things into the discussion.”

“You cloud the waters, you introduce new things so that people can’t see the facts. It’s irrelevant and you’re introducing it. That is what you’re saying.”

Shanmugam asks Leong to withdraw allegations

In response, Mr Shanmugam pointed out that what Mr Leong said was “a serious allegation”.

“Sir, this is a serious allegation. Will the member withdraw his allegation that Parti Liyani was referred to in order to muddy the waters. And will the member accept that it was quite wrong to suggest motives on a false basis,” he asked.

“But if you don’t disagree, you keep quiet, you go out there, then I’m entitled to ask this, and so it’s not my intention to leave matters be here if the member does not withdraw his allegation,” he added.

“Speaker, I’m not going to withdraw that,” Mr Leong responded.

Later, Mr Shanmugam said Mr Leong had also asserted in his post that this is “fundamentally a family matter”, and that it’s not appropriate for Parliament to discuss the issue concerning Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Mrs Lee Suet Fern.

Lee Hsien Yang & Wife Were Publicly Named As They Left S’pore During Investigations: Shanmugam

Mr Leong said that he did not see the need to raise issues related to further developments regarding 38 Oxley Road, even though they had been debated in Parliament in the past.

Mr Shanmugam then summed up the exchange as follows:

“Sir, we’ve had this exchange today for one reason only. Parliament is a place for debate.. . on the basis that we are all trying to do our best for Singapore.”

“We try through the exchange of ideas and debates, try to get to a point. But when someone is in the House, doesn’t raise a point, says that he was digesting it, and then goes out and puts a Facebook post with both improper statements and untrue statements…then he is abusing 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,” Mr Shanmugam added.

“Parliament should not be brought into disrepute with this kind of conduct. Sir, we take a serious view of his conduct. This is not the first time he has breached the rules.”

Mr Shanmugam proceeded to bring up three separate incidents:

  • 25 Feb 2021 – Mr Leong apologised for misrepresentations
  • 10 May 2021 – he again breached serious parliamentary privileges
  • 8 Mar 2022 – he again had to apologise

“This has unfortunately become a pattern for Mr Leong,” the minister noted.

Anyone found to have contravened parliamentary privilege faces a jail term of up to two years, a fine of up to S$5,000, or both.

Mr Leong reminded to retain decorum

Mr Shanmugam again explained why Parti Liyani is in fact relevant to the debate, and invited Mr Leong to debate if he thinks it isn’t.

“Don’t be a coward, keep quiet here, say ‘it’s an attempt to muddy the waters’. That’s casting aspersions on me, and that is not acceptable.”

When Mr Tan asked if Mr Leong had withdrawn his allegations against the six KOM members, the latter replied:

“Speaker, if minister didn’t ask me that question, I suggest you don’t ask me.”

This drew an audible “wow” from Mr Shanmugam and Leader of the House Ms Indranee Rajah immediately raised her hand to remind Mr Leong to be mindful of his conduct.

“I’ve been more than tolerant, more than accommodative of you. Can I remind you, let’s retain the decorum of this,” Mr Tan later reminded Mr Leong.

Mr Leong apologised to Mr Tan after that.

In response to queries by Channel NewsAsia (CNA), the Office of the Clerk of Parliament said that nobody has filed a complaint against any MP to Parliament regarding breaches of parliamentary privilege.

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Featured image adapted from MCI Singapore on YouTube.

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