In Parliament on Friday, Education Minister Heng Swee Keat joined in the attacks on the Workers’ Party (WP) over the management of the WP town council, AHPETC.
In particular, Mr Heng claimed how WP non-constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP), Yee Jenn Jong, and “a group of party supporters” had “walked away quickly” when the resident allegedly asked the WP “group” about the town council issue.
“But he didn’t answer and walked away quickly,” Mr Heng told the House. “So is this the answer Mr Singh (and) the WP promised to residents? A WP CEC (central executive council) member and his activists meet residents, and they evade the question?”
Mr Heng continued:
"Won’t answer auditors. Won’t answer Parliament. Won’t answer residents. Who is left in Singapore that the WP think is worthy of an answer?"
It is rather strange to claim the WP was not answering to everyone or anyone.
First, the WP had welcomed the Auditor General’s investigation when the AGO was instructed to do so by the Minister of Finance in February last year. The WP had also spent the last one year assisting the AGO, opening its accounts completely and providing the AGO with as many as 16,000 pieces of documents and also assisting PriceWaterHouseCoopers (PWC), the other party which was brought in by the AGO to help in the audit.
It is important to note that neither the AGO nor PWC had said the WP or AHPETC had been evasive or uncooperative.
Second, the WP had at various intervals issued statements to explain its position on various issues dating back to 2013 and even earlier in 2011. The WP had also said it would give an account of the town council once the AGO has completed its review.
Third, after the AGO issued its report, the WP had deferred giving its explanation immediately because the Ministry of National Development (MND) had by then filed a motion in Parliament to debate the matter.
Fourth, thus when Parliament sat, WP MPs – especially Sylvia Lim and Low Thia Khiang – explained in some details the party’s position to the House.
So, it is hard to see how the WP has failed to give an account of itself.
Now, let’s return to Mr Heng’s allegations against Mr Yee and his WP friends.
Notice that Mr Heng has provided no substantiation whatsoever to back his claims that a resident had queried Mr Yee and “a group of party supporters.”
One has to naturally wonder how Mr Heng came to know of the incident, if it happened at all.
But we can be sure of one thing – Mr Heng, who was obviously not there when the alleged encounter took place, must have had the knowledge of the supposed incident through at least a third-party, if not a fourth or even a fifth-party account.
In other words, short of any audio or video recording of the encounter, it is simply just hearsay.
Mr Yee has now written a response to Mr Heng’s claims, and rather calmly related the events of the day which Mr Heng was apparently referring to.
“Yesterday in Parliament during the debate on the motion on AHPETC, Education Minister Heng Swee Kiat cited my encounter with one of his parliamentary colleagues during my house visits (HV) a month ago and another of my HV on the Thursday that had just passed,” Mr Yee wrote.
HV refers to “house/home visits”.
Mr Yee explains the incident:
“Minister Heng said I evaded a resident’s question on Thursday and walked away quickly. We had 2 groups doing HV at Pasir Ris that evening, so I had to check with everyone who were there on Thursday to find out if anyone did turn and walked away quickly when asked about AHPETC. No one had asked the other group about the TC, which was led by another WP CEC member. I had two helpers with me. I was sure I did not walk away without answering anyone on anything. Just to be very sure, I asked both of my helpers and they all were sure that I did not. Here’s the texted message from one of them, ‘I can’t remember the exact number of residents that asked about the AHPETC but you did not walk away nor not answer any resident’.”
Mr Yee continued:
“I could only recall a middle aged man who referred to the TC debate. When I introduced myself as from WP, he said he knew as he was just at that moment watching the news covering the debate. I recall replying that 4 of our MPs had spoken to reply to the findings of the AGO and the remaining AHPE MPs will speak the next day. I had probably also said that our MPs are answering the details of the AGO report in the debate. There was nothing that was specifically asked of me about AHPETC by the resident. Without any specifics to answer, we ended the conversation in a manner as I would normally do before we moved to the next house.”
So, the question which should be asked of Mr Heng is: where did the anecdote come from?
More importantly, how did Mr Heng ascertain that the story is factual, and not just hearsay worthy of being echoed in Parliament?
One would expect that a minister would deal in facts and not hearsay, which is what Mr Heng seems to have engaged in, given that thus far there is no evidence at all that what he said had happened had actually taken place.
Should Mr Heng, being a minister in the service of the people, apply the principle that one is innocent until proved guilty? Should he not, as minister, give the benefit of the doubt to the accused and not relate such unsubstantiated claims in Parliament as fact?
It is even worse when such hearsay is used as fact to discredit and attack one’s opponents.
It is indeed most unbecoming behaviour of a minister who should not have aired such hearsay in Parliament, and who should have known better.
Read Mr Yee's reply here: "Tales from house visits".
NOTE: In August 2014, MP Muhamed Faisal apologised for relating a story of 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." (CNA)
He was chided by the Minister of State (National Development), Maliki Osman, who said:
"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."