SINGAPORE: There was a sharp exchange on Monday (Aug 4) between Minister of State (National Development) Maliki Osman and Workers’ Party Member of Parliament Muhamad Faisal Abdul Manap, which even saw Parliament Speaker Halimah Yacob stepping in to remind MPs of the importance of providing details when they cite incidents involving government agencies and public servants.
During the debate on the Family Justice Bill, Mr Faisal had alleged that when he was a counsellor, he came across a couple who were having housing issues and advised to file for a divorce by the Housing and Development Board – so that the wife would be eligible to buy a house under the Singles Scheme and she could subsequently remarry her husband. Mr Faisal, however, could not provide the details. Here are excerpts of the exchange:
Dr Maliki: It is very important for Members of the House to understand that if we highlight cases in this House, we have to be prepared to disclose all information … Because I don’t think allegations of such a nature can be allowed to go past without verification. I hope Mr Faisal will be able to get back to the (client) and ask … for permission for us to clarify this situation. If not, I hope the case that was highlighted here should not be considered seriously in this Chamber.
Mr Faisal: I don’t have (the) contacts since I am no longer a counsellor. But again, I used that as one example of many cases I have encountered of such difficulties … I don’t have the details of my client.
Mdm Halimah: It is quite different to say that HDB rejected the appeal (compared) to saying that it is because of the advice of the HDB officer that the couple should divorce … So since you cited the person and you said you got her approval to raise the issue, the question asked by the Minister of State is whether you can provide particulars so he can verify and prevent (the situation) from repeating if (it) is indeed … as you have said.
Dr Maliki: These are very serious statements that are being made against our civil servants … If such allegations are made, we must give them a chance to clarify …
Mr Faisal: I have no intention of disregarding the good work that has been done by civil servants in our public services. I just wanted to feedback the experiences that I had encountered …
Dr Maliki: It is very important for us to uphold the integrity of this Chamber and … that of our Civil Service. The Member highlighted a case and made very serious allegations that a HDB officer actually asked the couple to divorce … For such allegations to be made in this Chamber, it is very serious.
Mdm Halimah: Although Members are covered by parliamentary privilege, it is important when incidents are cited, particularly involving government agencies and public servants, the particulars can be provided … to verify … the facts. That will really help to improve the debate in the House, it adds credibility to the whole process … as well.
(After Law and Foreign Minister K Shanmugam had wrapped up the debate)
Mr Faisal: It is not my intention to give a negative impression of any of the public services or government offices. I will be more careful in future and I apologise.