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SINGAPORE — A week after Sengkang Member of Parliament (MP) Raeesah Khan lied to Parliament in August about accompanying an alleged rape victim to make a police report, she confessed her "untruth" to the Workers’ Party (WP) leadership.
She confessed it to WP chief Pritam Singh after being "repeatedly pressed", said Singh at a press conference on Thursday (2 December). Party chair and co-chair Sylvia Lim and Faisal Manap were also aware of the untruth.
After Singh urged her to contact the victim and to extend the information to Minister of State for Home Affairs Desmond Tan, who had sought clarification in the House on the matter, she had initially "stuck to the untruth" in communications with Singh, before disclosing "disturbing personal revelations" about her own personal history and sexual assault.
The WP Secretary-General then urged her to speak to her family members on the matter. "In my judgment, it was important that she did so before she could fully address the reasons behind her untruthful conduct in Parliament and to correct the record. In view of her sexual assault and my assessment of her state of mind, I was prepared to give her the space necessary to address the matter with her loved ones."
While she did not attend the parliamentary sittings in September due to a bout of shingles, Raeesah was told that she would have to set the record straight in the House. Singh stressed that before delivering her August speech, Raeesah had been told, "She had put that anecdote down. It was made known to her that, 'You better be ready to substantiate this.'"
Repeated the lie
However, in October, when questioned by Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam about her remarks in August, Raeesah repeated the lie - she told the House that she could not elaborate further on the incident as she wanted to protect the victim's confidentiality.
"Raeesah repeated an untruth on the parliamentary record, which was totally inconsistent with the revelations she had shared with the party leadership after August," said Singh. The police later said Raeesah did not turn up for an interview despite two requests by the agency to provide case details.
Having agreed with the party that she would set the record straight, Raeesah admitted to the House on 1 November that she had lied to Parliament about the alleged rape victim.
Disciplinary panel recommendations
A disciplinary panel was then set up by the WP, but before it could submit its recommendations to the (WP) Central Executive Committee (CEC), Raeesah verbally informed Singh at 430pm on Tuesday of her intention to resign from the party and as an MP.
The CEC then met on Tuesday night to deliberate the panel's recommendations and “voted overwhelmingly” to ask the 27-year-old to resign, failing which she would have to be expelled from the party.
At the same meeting, Raeesah tendered her resignation in writing. In her resignation letter to Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin, she said that she will continue to assist the Committee of Privileges in its investigation into her breach of parliamentary privileges.
Raeesah had been an MP for a total of 16 months.
Apologising to Sengkang residents and all victims of sexual assault, Singh added that the party leadership was disappointed by Raeesah’s “inexplicable” behaviour in lying to both Parliament and the party.
Why was action not taken earlier?
Pressed by reporters as to why other WP MPs had not corrected Raeesah's "untruth" in October, Singh said it was for her to correct the parliamentary record as she was the one who had spoken it.
But wouldn't allowing the untruth to stand have resulted in more questions from the public, and even long-term damage to the party, asked Yahoo News Singapore? Acknowledging this, Singh responded, "If you have done something wrong, it is your responsibility to set the record right. And indeed, there was a risk that the issue would be exacerbated but only Raeesah knew the truth of what she had said and what she'd experienced, and it was for her to clarify that."
He added that it was a judgment call by the party leadership. "If we verbalise what she told us and that information was incorrect, I'm not sure whether the consequence would have been worse, where Ms Khan later may come up and say, 'Actually, no, that's not really the whole truth of what was said'."
Once she had owned up to her mistake and taken responsibility for it, and the truth of the matter was established on the record, disciplinary action from the party's perspective would follow, added Singh.
Why was Raeesah not present to explain herself?
Asked by Yahoo News Singapore why Raeesah was not present to explain her actions and whether she had spoken to residents on her actions, Singh said, "She has resigned from the party, and so this is a party matter that we have to carry forward, and this is what we're doing now."
He added that he does not know "the extent to which she reached out to residents" about the matter, but she was active on the ground before her resignation.
Does the WP now regret choosing Raeesah as a candidate, and does its selection process need to be reviewed? Singh responded that no candidate selection process can be foolproof.
"Generally speaking, the selection process will raise individuals who are most likely to be able to succeed and do well as increase and I think we've seen that. But I believe every now and then, there will be conduct by some MPs that would be...I can't think of a better word other than inexplicable, based on the knowledge one has at the time."
It was not the first time that Raeesah had come onto the police's radar.
During last year's General Election, two police reports were filed against the 27-year-old over her comments on social media that were alleged to be racially divisive. Following a police investigation, she was eventually issued a stern warning.
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