Parliamentary privilege: To “mislead” or not to “mislead”: that is the question?

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What does “mislead” in Parliament mean?

I refer to the article “Parliament: WP’s Leon Perera apologises, withdraws statements on Mediacorp’s editing of parliamentary footage” (Straits Times, Jan 8).

It states that “House Leader Grace Fu acknowledged and thanked Mr Perera for the apology, adding she did not want to “read too much” into whether his intentions were deliberate.

“The MPs are given parliamentary privilege to speak freely and surface different views, but this must not be misused to misrepresent facts or mislead the Parliament,” said Ms Fu, who sent a letter to Mr Perera last week asking him to apologise.

“Statements that are wrongly made in this House deserve to be retracted if it is indeed untrue, so that members can benefit from the discussion and restore trust in each other’s statement in this House. Only in that way, we can have a useful and effective discussion in this House,” added Ms Fu, who is also Minister for Culture, Community and Youth.”

In this connection, let’s try to look at some examples in Singapore’s history to try to have a better understanding of possibly some of the issues – from a “in the public interest and fair comment” perspective – as to what may or may not be construed as “misleading”?

Low Thia Kiang Ng Eng Hen GIC CPF

The Finance Minister in a Parliamentary reply in May 2015 said that only the GIC managed CPF funds. So, why is that in 2007, when MP Low Thia Kiang asked, “I would like to seek clarifications from the Minister. Does the GIC use money derived from CPF to invest?” –

Then Manpower Minister Ng Eng Hen said, “The answer is no”?

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And also why did the late former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew say in 2001, when he was the chairman of GIC, that “I want to clarify that there is no direct link between the GIC and the CPF.”. The Straits Times carried an article headlined, “GIC does not use CPF funds: SM Lee”?

Then Minister for Labour and Communications Ong Teng Cheong said in 1982 that, “CPF savings form a large portion of Singapore’s savings. These savings are used for capital formation which means the construction of new factories, installation of new plant and equipment, expansion of infrastructure such as roads,’ ports and telecommunications, the building of houses and so on”. Temasek has an annualised return of about 16% per annum, since its inception. Since state companies like SingTel were arguably built with CPF funds and were transferred to Temasek – is it arguably, categorically and absolutely correct for the Finance Minister to say that “No. It (Temasek) has never managed CPF funds”?”

Leong Sze Hian

About the Author

Leong
Leong Sze Hian has served as president of 4 professional bodies, honorary consul of 2 countries, an alumnus of Harvard University, authored 4 books, quoted over 1500 times in the media , has been a radio talkshow host, a newspaper daily columnist, Wharton Fellow, SEACeM Fellow, columnist for theonlinecitizen and Malaysiakini, executive producer of Ilo Ilo (40 international awards), invited to speak more than 200 times in over 30 countries, CIFA advisory board member, founding advisor to the Financial Planning Associations of Indonesia and Brunei. He has 3 Masters, 2 Bachelors degrees and 13 professional  qualifications.