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A call for equitable accountability: Should a Committee of Privileges investigate PAP’s Tan Chuan-Jin scandal?

Singapore’s political landscape has experienced a seismic shock with the recent scandal involving the People’s Action Party (PAP).

The revelation about the inappropriate relationship between former Speaker Tan Chuan-Jin and former PAP Member of Parliament Cheng Li Hui has brought back memories of another major political scandal that rocked the city-state two years ago in 2021 – the Workers’ Party’s (WP) Raeesah Khan saga.

The stark difference in the management of these two scandals, one fresh and one two years old, presents a notable contrast and prompts the question of whether the same standards of accountability and transparency were applied to both situations, or if we are witnessing a double standard.

In 2021, Raeesah Khan, then a WP MP, was found to have lied in Parliament. The subsequent investigation into not only her actions but also the conduct of her party leaders was both intensive and extensive.

Key WP figures like Pritam Singh, Faisal Manap, and Sylvia Lim were brought before a Committee of Privileges (COP) to probe their knowledge of Khan’s lie, their response, and their delay in prompting her to confess. The findings of the COP – chaired by Tan Chuan-Jin – further spurred referrals of two WP leaders for consideration of state prosecution.

Fast forward two years to the present day, and we are met with another scandal. The revelation of an illicit relationship between PAP’s Tan Chuan-Jin and Cheng Li Hui, both of whom have now resigned from Parliament and their party.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong admitted to having knowledge of this affair since the General Election of 2020. Yet, it remained shrouded in secrecy for over three years until it was only publicly disclosed on Monday (17 Jul), allegedly spurred by potential legal action from Mr Tan’s spouse.

The handling of these two cases presents a glaring disparity. The WP leaders were rigorously scrutinized and interrogated for their two-month delay in managing Raeesah Khan’s issue.

In contrast, PM Lee’s three-year concealment of Tan Chuan-Jin’s affair raises serious questions about transparency and accountability, especially considering that both MPs continued their political roles despite the PM’s knowledge of the affair.

Suppose the COP investigation was necessary for WP leaders following Khan’s resignation. Should there not be a similar inquiry into the PAP’s handling of Tan Chuan-Jin’s case, to clarify who knew about the affair, when and whether there was a deliberate attempt to cover up the affair to the Parliament and general public?

After all, the same standards should be applied, regardless of political affiliation.

The issue becomes even more significant considering that Tan Chuan-Jin was the Speaker of Parliament, a position wielding considerable authority.

In any democracy, it’s crucial that political leaders are held to the same standards of accountability and transparency.

Both these scandals resulted in the resignation of the MPs involved, but the discrepancy in handling raises significant questions.

As we compare a case from the past with one in the present, it’s vital that we ensure the same rules apply to all, regardless of when the incident occurred or which party was involved.

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