Workers’ Party (WP) secretary-general Pritam Singh clashed with People’s Action Party (PAP) minister Indranee Rajah yesterday (5 Nov) over a potential loss of moral authority, during the four-hour long parliamentary debate that followed Heng Swee Keat’s motion to get Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (AHTC) to require Sylvia Lim and Low Thia Khiang to “recuse themselves” from all financial matters related to AHTC.
Citing the recent High Court judgment that found Mr Pritam, Mr Low and Ms Lim liable for damages in the AHTC lawsuit, Deputy Prime Minister Heng asserted that a “time of reckoning” has come for the WP after years of “deception” as he demanded the recusal of Mr Low and Ms Lim.
Ms Lim and Mr Pritam called the motion “premature” since it comes before the window of appeal, in which the WP MPs can contest the judgment in the High Court, has yet to lapse. The MPs called the PAP’s motives into question for bringing forward such a motion before the legal proceedings are concluded and said that they will appeal the judgment.
Mr Heng – who is expected to succeed Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong after the next election – pointed out that an appeal takes time and asked what will be “done in the interim, pending the appeal…Will the Workers’ Party provide the House with any guarantees to uphold accountability and transparency between now and the appeal?”
Speaking on the same point, Indranee Rajah – who is part of Mr Heng’s fourth-generation PAP team and serves as Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office – asked:
“When you have somebody in a public position, if a court has found that they have done something wrong — there has been a breach of fiduciary duty, lack of integrity, that they have not acted with appropriate candour — should that person remain in position while those findings are there… whether or not an appeal is pending?”
Declaring that the WP’s standards are “very different” from the Government’s standards, she added: “It’s a question of what is the standard of governance and what is the appropriate conduct. And what is very clear is that the WP standard of governance and conduct is very different from that of this Government’s. That much is clear.”
Ms Indranee said that the WP would have “no moral authority” in the future to ask any government official to stand down or stand aside in the event of a similar case, if things remained as they were.
Mr Pritam shot back and questioned how it could be that the WP MPs would have no moral authority when “not a single” PAP MP filed a parliamentary question on the Keppel scandal, which he called “one of the most serious corporate scandals” to have hit a government-linked firm.
In 2017, news broke that Keppel Offshore & Marine was involved in a mega bribery case in Brazil. Some US$55 million were reported to have been paid by a Keppel agent to Brazilian govt officials in order for Keppel to secure deals in Brazil. These “improper payments” were made over a period from 2001 to 2014.
When Bloomberg broke the news in August 2017, Keppel quickly issued a public statement to deny the allegation. The Temasek subsidiary only came clean four months later and acknowledged that the corrupt payments made by their agent to Brazilian officials were “made with knowledge or approval” of former senior executives of Keppel.
Keppel Offshore & Marine USA pleaded guilty to the bribery scheme which ran for more than a decade, while its parent, Singapore-based Keppel Offshore & Marine, entered into a deferred-prosecution agreement with the government. It agreed to pay US$422 million (S$570 million) to end the U.S. bribery probe near Christmas in 2017.
Pointing out that not a single PAP MP filed a parliamentary question on the scandal when they had slightly less than 48 hours to do so after the matter came to light, Mr Pritam asserted: “I reject any suggestion that the Workers’ Party will not have any moral authority to question an issue like that when it comes up.”