Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam said on Wednesday (4 November) that he has “heard nothing” to rationally justify convening a commission of inquiry on the Parti Liyani case.
At the end of his ministerial statement in Parliament yesterday, Mr Shanmugam said in response to Progress Singapore Party’s Non-Constituency Member of Parliament Leong Mun Wai’s call for such an inquiry — which he labelled as “vague” and “broad” — that convening a commission of inquiry is “serious business”.
“We are not shying away from it. I am prepared to recommend it. That’s not the issue. But it’s not a question of making some broad and vague statements,” he said.
Mr Shanmugam continued: “I have set out in the House what had happened [in the case]. I would expect you to be able to tell me based on what you have heard which part leaves you concerned with either the influence peddling issue or any other issue.”
“[Do] we have a commission of inquiry on the entire law, the police and enforcement system? Is that even imaginable? So can we please have some clarity on what is it that concerns you? What is it that you want the commission of inquiry to look into, which has gone wrong?” He further probed.
Mr Shanmugam cited Section 9 of the Inquiries Act, which stipulates circumstances in which an inquiry may be convened as seen below.
“I think it would have been clear to Mr Leong if he had looked at Section 9 that I don’t have the power to appoint a committee of inquiry in respect of AGC, because it is not an agency that reports to me,” said Mr Shanmugam, stressing that Mr Leong’s request is “not legally doable” for that reason.
If Mr Leong wishes to have another inquiry into the matter, then it would be necessary to state “commission of inquiry” instead of “committee of inquiry”, said the minister.
“That is very high-level, headed by a Supreme Court judge,” said Mr Shanmugam, adding that he is prepared to recommend to Cabinet a commission of inquiry.
Mr Shanmugam then prompted: “The Member [of the House] should tell us what he wants this commission of inquiry to look into. He should confirm that he will come to the commission of inquiry and state his position.”
This is because officers — both in the police force and the AGC — have “confirmed categorically” that “no improper pressure” was exerted and that Ms Parti’s case was dealt with as a “routine” one, he said.
“I have set out the facts … It shows that there was a good prima facie case to proceed [with the prosecution]. There is also a Disciplinary Tribunal which will look into the complaint against the AGC,” said Mr Shanmugam.
The minister then told the house: “Thus, before we have a commission of inquiry, which is a serious matter that will take up resources [and] lots of time, the Member should specify what part of this matter continues to reasonably make him believe and question that undue influence was used by the Liews.”
Mr Leong replied that he is aware of the distinction between a committee of inquiry and a commission of inquiry.
He explained that he posed the question to “establish a principle” as to whether there is consensus on a need for an independent inquiry into the case.
While he acknowledged that Mr Shanmugam’s ministerial statement had shed light on additional information on Ms Parti’s case, Mr Leong said that an independent inquiry could pave the way to “more discussion” on the matter and look into “systemic aspects of the whole criminal justice system”.
“For example, on evidence-gathering — I am not a lawyer by legal training, but I was told by lawyers that it could be called evidence contamination and all those things,” he said.
Mr Shanmugam then retorted: “I don’t understand why — if you knew the difference between committee of inquiry and commission of inquiry — you have asked me to do something that’s not possible.”
In response to Mr Shanmugam’s reference of the five-week gap between the filing of the police report by Mr Liew and the police officers visiting the scene, Mr Leong questioned why it had taken so long for police officers to do so, notwithstanding manpower constraints raised by the Minister.
Mr Shanmugam reiterated his earlier stance that manpower issues were an explanation — but not an excuse — for the five-week gap and that “the police do not in any way seek to defend it”.
“So what is it about the five weeks that concerns you? Is it that he [the investigating officer in Ms Parti’s case] was unfairly influenced? Is it something else?”
“He shouldn’t have taken that length of time, he will be disciplined, his reasonings will be gone into, and he will be dealt with,” said Mr Shanmugam, noting that he will not be prepared to recommend a commission of inquiry for that purpose.
Mr Leong accepted the minister’s explanation and went on to address Mr Shanmugam’s interpretation of the Liews’ behaviour in Ms Parti’s case, stating that it could be further investigated and analysed.
Speaker Tan Chuan-Jin interjected to ask Mr Leong on what specific point in the case that he would like a commission of inquiry to be convened.
Mr Shanmugam sought the Speaker’s permission to intervene, before stating: “There are 250,000 foreign domestic workers, and about 200,000 families. How they interact with each other cannot be the subject of a Government commission of inquiry.”
“It is legally not possible to hold a commission of inquiry to look into the conduct of employers and maids,” he said.
Mr Shanmugam stressed that he has addressed the motive issue and insisted that he did not do so to cause doubts, but because there was a duty to investigate following the High Court’s observations, the findings of which he was obligated to put forth before the House.
“The interpretation of motive has nothing to do with the Government. I just explained why that was put forward. It has got nothing to do with how the police proceeded. It has got nothing to do with how the AGC proceeded. It is something that has come out in the course of the subsequent investigations. How is that the subject matter of a commission of inquiry?” Mr Shanmugam stressed.
Mr Leong replied, suggesting that it would be necessary to “get to the bottom of it” when “new information” is made available.
Mr Shanmugam interjected, saying that he is not prepared to recommend a commission of inquiry to look into the issue of motive.
“The High Court has acquitted Ms Liyani. That’s final. This House is now dealing with whether there was any improper influence exerted on AGC or police,” he said.
Mr Leong replied that while he will withdraw his proposition or recommendation for an independent inquiry if the minister deems it to be enough, he reiterated his point that “the whole case probably requires more investigation, and interpretation of the facts”.
Mr Shanmugam replied: “Mr Leong, it is not right to come here and say, ‘I think that a commission of inquiry is necessary, I cannot tell you why, I cannot tell you what my concerns are, I cannot pinpoint anything, I make no allegations, but in general, you know, it’s good to have a commission of inquiry’.”
“If there is something specific, put it down. We will hold the commission of inquiry … So far, we have heard nothing that I can rationally put together to justify a commission of inquiry,” he said.
Leong Mun Wai reiterates call for independent inquiry, internal reviews within relevant agencies may not be enough to address systemic issues
Mr Leong later reiterated his call for an open and independent inquiry into potential lapses in Ms Parti’s case.
“I do not think it is unfair to say that there were lapses in all three major institutions of our criminal justice system – the police, prosecution and the State Courts,” he said in his speech on a motion moved by Workers’ Party chairman Sylvia Lim of Aljunied GRC on the criminal justice system.
Mr Leong said that it is “extremely fortunate” that Ms Parti’s counsel Anil Balchandani’s unwavering efforts and the High Court’s decision had shed light on such lapses in her case and “prevented a miscarriage of justice”.
Stressing that while it is important for the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Attorney-General’s Chambers to carry out their own internal investigations into the matter, Mr Leong said that it would not suffice to address certain concerning issues.
Stopping short at an internal review, he said, may give rise to three problems.
Firstly, it is likely that the agencies would like to “paint the best picture of the situation” when they are placed under such scrutiny, said Mr Leong.
“Are they independent enough to be completely objective in their review?” He questioned.
Secondly, such internal investigations may not be sufficient to address systemic issues, as they will conduct the review on “a micro and not a macro” level.
An independent inquiry, said Mr Leong, will span all three institutions and will thus enable a clearer look into the entirety of the Singapore criminal justice process.
He cited the committee of inquiry into MRT breakdowns convened in the wake of two consecutive breakdowns in December 2011.
The COI convened by then-Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew, he noted, ran in parallel to SMRT and the Land Transport Authority’s own internal investigations.
“Both parties clearly have a duty and responsibility to find out what went wrong, especially for those areas that they are accountable for.
“The COI, on the other hand, is an independent party appointed by the Ministry of Transport that will also look into the larger systemic issue beyond what SMRT and the LTA will cover in their respective probes,” he said.
Ms Parti’s case, however, requires greater coordination, as it is not restricted to one ministry — it also involves the AGC and the State Courts, said the NCMP.
Thirdly, an internal investigation by the relevant agencies alone “is unlikely to assuage” Singaporeans’ doubts and assure the public that justice was seen to be done, said Mr Leong.
“Convening an independent inquiry with hearings that are open to the public or live-streamed will go a long way to show our citizens that justice is being done,” he said.
Mr Shanmugam responded that Mr Leong was “quite wrong” in saying Ms Parti’s case was only reviewed internally.
“It’s gone through a very public process, with detailed cross-examination and a minute forensic examination of every possible issue relating to police and AGC,” he said.
Mr Shanmugam reiterated his earlier point that disciplinary proceedings were underway for both police and AGC officers involved in the case.
He also prompted Mr Leong to clarify if he was suggesting that there was improper influence in the case, to which Mr Leong replied that he was not.
Mr Shanmugam then repeated that there was no basis for a commission of inquiry if such is the case.
Conceding to the minister’s explanation for the second time, Mr Leong said that he will withdraw the proposal for such an inquiry.
“We thought the systemic faults alone were enough to be a basis for the inquiry, but after your explanation, we are prepared to accept that you had done a thorough investigation of the situation already,” he said.