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Be your own hatchet man

by Teo Soh Lung

The report of the Parliamentary Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods is exceedingly disturbing. I am disappointed with the contents and angry with the unwarranted and vicious attack on Dr Thum Ping Tjin at page 57, paragraph 238. Dr Thum is accused of being a liar with these words: “He has clearly lied.”

The entire report reads like a boring academic paper with one exception. It lacks originality and genuine research. It is a regurgitation of information and opinions gleaned from papers submitted to the committee and the oral evidence taken from several academics and experts, both local and foreign during the eight-day hearing.

The government has wasted a massive amount of taxpayers’ money – flying in experts from all over the world when our local academics and experts could have done the same job with just a token of appreciation. How much did we spend on the experts – their flight fares, hotel bills, food and allowance?

In addition to wasting a vast amount of money bringing in foreign experts, the government has also wasted our money in having 10 parliamentarians including several ministers and a deputy speaker, reading voluminous submissions and taking oral evidence for eight days and more instead of doing real work for the country. If their intent is to impress the public with the hundreds of pages of words, I am not impressed.

What is utterly disgraceful, distasteful and unacceptable is the singling out of historian, Dr P J Thum for unjust and baseless criticisms.

The committee had invited submissions from members of the public and Dr Thum like so many others, had responded with a paper containing among other matters, his findings on Operation Coldstore which took place in February 1963. Over a hundred top echelon opposition leaders were arrested and many detained without trial for decades under that fake security exercise. Dr Thum’s research debunked the PAP story and the report now shows that the committee, especially the minister was incensed.

At the select committee hearing, Dr Thum was unfairly grilled for more than five hours by no less a person than the Minister for Law, Mr K Shanmugam. At the end of the debate, it was obvious that the minister had lost and was visibly unhappy. The report is an unfair means of putting down a person who has embarrassed the committee, especially the minister.

I do not know of any parliamentary committee in the first world where a privilege of immunity from prosecution given by the people is used to attack an innocent citizen. Incidentally, three members of the committee, namely Minister K Shanmugam, Seah Kian Peng and Edwin Tong are also members of the Committee of Privileges and should know better than abuse parliamentary privileges in this manner.

The committee in inserting paragraph 238 clearly shows that it has taken advantage of its privileged position to avenge the loss of face suffered at the hearing which was broadcast worldwide. No one had asked the government to televise the debate between the minister and Dr Thum. The government had embarrassed itself by its own action.

Dr Thum will not have the opportunity to rebut the committee’s report and will suffer the injustice of having his name sullied in our parliamentary records and history. The damage is irreparable.

Our first prime minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew once said:

“… I needed no hatchet man.

All those who have dealt with me know that I have never flinched from going into a dark street on a dark night and it happens to be a cul de sac. No outlet – either the gangster or I will come out alive.”

Minister Shanmugam should fight his own battle. He should not need assistance or cover from the other nine. If he is sure that his knowledge of history is sound and Dr Thum has got it all wrong and lied, he should repeat paragraph 238 outside parliament. If he does that, I am sure Dr Thum will sue him for defamation and Singaporeans will crowdfund his legal costs to defend his rights which are also our rights as citizens.