Some Singaporeans have asked about Parliamentary Select Committees. What are they?
Parliament hosts powers to appoint Select Committees of MPs to look at issues in depth, including calling for evidence and summoning witnesses if necessary. My WP colleagues and I have filed a number of parliamentary questions that relate to allegations of the Prime Minister abusing his powers in the matter of 38, Oxley Road. The Prime Minister has announced he will make a statement in Parliament and welcomes vigourous debate. There is one problem though. Unlike the Prime Minister, Mr Lee Hsien Yang and those who support him will have no opportunity to clear the air on 3 July 2017.
In the interests of fairness, Mr Lee should be allowed to tell his story to Parliament too. A Select Committee would allow MPs the opportunity to call up any witness, including the Prime Minister or anyone else to get to the truth of the matter behind the allegations of abuse of power.
By way of a parliamentary question, I have asked the Prime Minister to support the setting up of a Select Committee to look into the serious allegations made against him. The use of Select Committees for such a purpose is nothing new. The PAP have used Select Committees to look into allegations made against the Government in the past.
On 21 Mar 1996, Parliament resolved to appoint a select committee to verify the Government’s healthcare expenditure, amongst other reasons, to verify statements made in the Singapore Democratic Party publication, The New Democrat and in a speech made by SDP MP Ling How Doong in Parliament where he said, “healthcare costs are not subsidised at all.”
One submission to this Select Committee defined the role of Select Committees perfectly:
“The public has every right to know the facts and to receive from the Government the fullest possible information….The Select Committee serves a useful and informative field of public education and members of the Select Committee would seek to produce agreed reports in the best interest of the public.”
In a voluminous report (hyperlinked below), the Select Committee on Healthcare Subsidies published all the questions MPs put to various witnesses who were asked to give evidence to the committee. But things did not stop there. In view of the replies given to the Select Committee by Mr Chee Soon Juan and other witnesses, then Minister of Health George Yeo filed a complaint of contempt of Parliament to the Committee of Privileges against several witnesses arising out of the Select Committee hearings. I remember watching clips of the Select Committee hearing on TV, with PAP MPs relentlessly questioning Chee Soon Juan.
Like many Singaporeans, no one knows how long the current episode is going to drag on for with new information and allegations coming out almost on a daily basis, and perhaps even after 3 July 2017.
The allegations of abuse of power by the Prime Minister need to be looked into. A Parliamentary session as a forum to hear only one side of the story will just not do. After all, it was the late Lee Kuan Yew who said:
“No government in this part of the world will open willingly when it need not open a problem like this and take it out, whether a Commission of Inquiry, debate in Parliament, Select Committee, or even a prosecution if a case could be made out.”
30 Sep 1996 – Report of the Select Committee on Verification of Healthcare Subsidy of Government Polyclinics and Public Hospitals: goo.gl/zgk6ie
22 Nov 1996 – Report of the Committee of Privileges: Complaint against Representors from the Singapore Democratic Party: goo.gl/xG6ER3