In Parliament yesterday (6 Mar), Minister Grace Fu joined in to ask Workers’ Party Chairman Sylvia Lim to apologise to the House before the end of Parliament’s sitting on Thursday (8 Mar).
Ms Lim has earlier alleged on 1 March that the government had floated “test balloons” before the Budget announcement, then possibly “backed down” on an immediate GST hike due to the negative public reaction. The government announced that the GST hike from 7 to 9% will be implemented sometime in the period between 2021 and 2025.
Both Law Minister Shanmugam and Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat then immediately asked Ms Lim to withdraw her comments. They denied that the government had ever floated any “test balloons”.
Then Grace Fu yesterday joined in the chorus and stressed that the Government has never floated test balloons on this matter, and that it has been “deliberate and consistent in all its statements since Aug 2013”.
“As the Minister of Finance said in this statement, MPs are entitled to raise suspicions in Parliament, if they honestly believe them,” she said. “But honest belief requires factual basis.”
“And when clear factual replies have been given, an honourable MP should either refute them with further facts, or acknowledge them and withdraw their allegations, especially if their allegations had insinuated a lack of candour or wrongdoing on the part of the Government.”
“Her allegations have been refuted, the facts she cited have been shown to be inaccurate, and she has not raised any further facts to substantiate her ‘suspicion’,” Ms Fu added. “Parliamentary privilege does not entitle MPs to knowingly maintain allegations that have been shown to have no factual basis.”
MP Charles Chong alleges WP lost $22.5 million of town council money on eve of 2015 GE
Back in 2015 on the eve of the General Election, PAP candidate Charles Chong printed brochures and distributed them amongst Punggol East residents, alleging that WP had lost $22.5 million of town council money.
Charles Chong eventually won the election at Punggol East to become the MP of the single ward constituency. He won by 51.76% with only a slim majority of 1,156 out of 33,137 votes.
After independent auditor KPMG said in a recent final report last month that the Aljunied Hougang Town Council (AHTC) had fixed all its financial and governance lapses, WP MP Png Eng Huat took the opportunity to address Chong’s allegation on his Facebook page on 15 Feb.
“I waited further for KPMG to publish its final report to complete the final piece of the puzzle (of the missing $22.5 million). The final report speaks for itself,” Mr Png said.
“We will never solve the mystery of unaccounted $22.5 million now as none of the audited statements from the two town councils and special reports by KPMG and PwC (hired by PRPTC to also look into the accounts of PE after GE2015) could shed any light on the allegation,” he countered.
Instead of apologizing, Chong responds by blaming WP
In response, Straits Times published Chong’s reply to Mr Png’s Facebook post on 19 Feb. He continued to maintain that there was no reliable way to ascertain what happened to the money because WP had not submitted clean accounts for Punggol East.
He explains that in 2015, the WP-run town council’s financial statements were all qualified by their own auditors.
“Consequently, there were no reliable figures to adequately account for the moneys that were transferred to them by Pasir Ris-Punggol Town Council after the by-election in 2013,” he added.
But the fact remains that international auditing firm KPMG has already concluded that the money was intact and cleared WP TC’s account, never mind if WP had used its own auditors before KPMG.
Applying Grace Fu’s argument on Charles Chong
So, going by Grace Fu’s argument yesterday, we can also say that PAP MPs are entitled to raise suspicions if they honestly believe them. But honest belief requires factual basis.
And when clear factual replies, like KPMG has already cleared WP TC’s account, have been given, an honourable MP like Charles Chong should either refute them with further facts, or acknowledge them and withdraw their allegations, especially if their allegations had insinuated a lack of candour or wrongdoing on the part of WP.
Charles Chong’s allegations have been refuted, the facts he cited have been shown to be inaccurate, and he has not raised any further facts to substantiate his ‘suspicion’.
Instead, he further obfuscated the matter by saying that WP-run town council’s financial statements were all qualified by their own auditors.
Charles Chong did not apologise to WP and do notice that WP MP Png Eng Huat also did not insist that he must. Mr Png only issued a muted statement on his Facebook page saying that the “mystery of unaccounted $22.5 million” will never be “solved”.
In fact, Charles Chong should be lucky that WP did not take the matter up in court to ask for invalidation of the election result in Punggol East so as to initiate a new election, since Charles Chong won by a hair’s breath and his false allegation that WP has lost the $22.5 million of TC money has probably affected the voting result somewhat.