Parliament Rejects Motion To Suspend Iswaran As MP, Corruption Probe Still Ongoing
Parliament has rejected a motion to suspend Transport Minister S Iswaran as MP.
The rejection was voted in favour by both People’s Action Party and Workers’ Party MPs as they believed it would be premature while investigations are ongoing.
The motion was filed by Progress Singapore Party’s Non-Constituency Member of Parliament Hazel Poa to cut off his MP allowance of S$192,500 a year.
Before the debate on Tuesday (19 Sep), she had detailed her intentions in a Facebook post on 8 Sep, saying that Mr Iswaran should not receive his MP allowance while not performing any official duties during his leave of absence.
However, Leader of the House Indranee Rajah stressed that suspending Mr Iswaran today would be premature as the outcome of his corruption probe remains unknown. She posited that the wisest thing to do right now was to wait.
Here’s a look at the points raised by Ms Poa, and Ms Indranee’s responses to them.
Leave of absence not a good reason to suspend Iswaran
When introducing her motion, Ms Poa rationalised that Mr Iswaran should be suspended as he was on a leave of absence.
To this, Ms Indranee said it is not a reason for suspension.
If that were the case, she said Workers’ Party MP Faisal Manap would have to be suspended, as he had taken a leave of absence due to illness. “We don’t do that, he was ill.”
Being under arrest is part of police procedure
Another rationale Ms Poa presented was that Mr Iswaran was under arrest.
However, Ms Indranee said placing someone under arrest as they’re under investigation was a part of police procedure.
As they are still at the investigative stage, it has not been established whether there had been any wrongdoing on Mr Iswaran’s part.
Not performing his duties, but his constituents are cared for
Additionally, Ms Poa asserted that Mr Iswaran should be suspended because he was no longer serving his duties as MP in the interim, both in West Coast GRC and Parliament.
Ms Indranee highlighted that while that may be the case, it was imperative to let his constituents know they are still being taken care of and in good hands.
“In fact, Minister Desmond Lee has been going to Meet-the-People sessions. He and another MP have been doing house visits in West Coast GRC, and covering other events on the ground.”
Prudent use of taxpayers’ money?
The use of taxpayers’ money paid to Mr Iswaran when under investigation while not performing his duties was also another bone of contention for Ms Poa. “Isn’t this a drain on our resources? This motion is, therefore, about the prudent use of taxpayers’ money, not a presumption of guilt,” she noted.
Ms Indranee answered that the more important question here was the principle this was based on.
“You don’t suspend somebody just because you don’t want to pay him.
“You have to suspend him because there is a principle breached or threshold crossed. Now, depending on the outcome, the threshold may be crossed, I don’t know. None of us knows,” she said.
Hence, her motion was to wait for the outcome before deciding what to do next.
Taking note of Leader of the Opposition Pritam Singh’s views, Ms Indranee understands that he has taken a similar position as her and that the consensus was for everyone not to “pre-judge the issue.”
She said this view was correct because when Mr Singh and Mr Faisal were under investigation by the Committee of Privileges in late 2021, Parliament did not suspend them as they felt it was better for the outcome to be heard first.
Move to suspend Iswaran wasn’t a matter of policy or principle
Ms Indranee was concerned about Ms Poa’s move to suspend Mr Iswaran, which did not appear to come from a place of principle.
Wanting to clarify under which specific provision Ms Poa was seeking the suspension, Ms Indranee said, “PSP’s argument is that I want to cut your pay. And because I want to cut your pay, I want to suspend you.”
She pointed out that this was not the correct approach. “If you look at our rules, generally, suspension is a punishment. It is punitive in nature generally, and the cutting of pay is a consequence, so we must first ask ourselves, in what scenario do you suspend, and has that threshold been met?”
Ms Indranee took the time to review every possible provision, such as Section 19, Section 20, and Section 29(3) of the Parliament (Privileges, Immunities and Powers) Act 1962.
She maintained that nothing from the CPIB probe so far has triggered the above sections for suspension.
Indranee says this House shouldn’t do something just because it can
Ms Indranee brought up Standing Order 59, which has a specific provision on suspending MPs. However, she noted Standing Order 59 (5) was simply a general provision.
For easy reference, this Standing Order dictates, “Nothing in this Standing Order shall be taken to deprive Parliament of the power of proceeding against any Member according to any resolution of Parliament.”
To which Ms Indranee said,
If you’re relying on that provision, effectively what you’re saying is that because I can pass a motion to suspend you, I will.
She explained that as a Parliament and a House, members must act on principle. Otherwise, it would be dangerous.
“Because what it then means is that we can pass any resolution that we like without having to regard values, principles or standards and targeted specifically at any member of this House.
“Think about what kind of Parliament would that be, what would the standards of integrity of that Parliament, what would be the sense of fairness, and how would people regard this House if we did something like that,” she warned, urging caution when it comes to talks of suspension.
Open to considering a clawback
Before ending her speech, Ms Indranee noted that Ms Poa’s main concerns were a matter of money.
“But I think we need to approach it as a matter of principle. At the current time, when you cannot say clearly that some threshold has been crossed, then we say wait. See what the outcome of the investigations is.
“And if, depending on the outcome, the threshold has been crossed, then we will certainly look at it as a matter of party discipline,” she said.
However, to set minds at rest, Ms Indranee shared that they would “certainly consider” a clawback and deliberate on how to approach it.
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