by Kenneth Jeyaretnam
The PM’s Press conference of July 17th that was in addition to the Press Statement was extraordinarily alarming in what it revealed and what it didn’t reveal. I am reeling somewhat. I don’t think I am the only one.
The timeline that we can establish post conference is that LHL says he had known about the affair since some time after GE 2020. He doesn’t say 2021. So this must be between July and end Dec 2020.
He doesn’t specify exactly when. LHL also says that he doesn’t know when the affair began. Why doesn’t the PM know when the affair began? Can’t he ask a simple question and get a factual response?
Then of course, they accuse those of us seeking truth of rumour-mongering! Without an answer forthcoming we must presume it began before GE20 or at the latest during GE20.
However it’s significant that in 2017 political analysts were taken aback when Tan Chuan Jin was nominated as Speaker. It had been thought that Mr Tan had been earmarked for greater responsibilities in the Cabinet.
Usually the role of Speaker is filled by a senior backbencher not by a core member of the 4G Leadership Team. Whatever the reason PM Lee had decided in 2017 that TCJ was not to feature prominently in the leadership succession plan. Following his meteoric rise, his downward trajectory has now reached rock bottom.
I am of course only asking questions because the facts haven’t been provided but I think the timeline matters as I shall demonstrate below with regard to Cambodia and possibly other official trips.
This is a concern of public government behaviour and not a private matter. The time-line would also seem to encompass the pandemic and the accompanying restrictions. We need to know whether they did meet during these restrictions and breach them and each or both risked taking the virus back to their families.
Parliament certainly imposed social distancing rules for its members at that time, with members not even seated on the same floor. Restrictions weren’t lifted until March 2022. What is being hidden here by not providing us with the dates?
The second mystery and one huge inconsistency.
The PM did quite emphatically state that the Speaker of the House having an affair with an MP was a more serious matter because he was the Speaker of parliament and Ms Cheng was a member. (Remember that the Speaker must be non-partisan and fair to all MPs and has power over the conduct of Parliament and to discipline MPs.)
LHL emphasises that this is more serious than the hot mic issue. (Don’t forget, in Palmer’s case he wasn’t having his affair with an MP.)
So why weren’t Tan Chuan Jin (TCJ) and Cheng Li Hui (CLH) made to resign immediately when LHL was first alerted to the affair given that the PM considers it a serious transgression?
One brave journalist did ask why the timelines were so different between this Speaker’s affair and the length to resignation and Michael Palmer’s immediate resignation. The answer was not satisfactory but let me quote the PM exactly:
PM Lee Hsien Loong: ‘It would have come to light probably sooner rather than later because it had reached that point. Because in February I had spoken to Mr Tan and I accepted his resignation, I said sort out the succession arrangements in Marine Parade first. And we have been in the process of doing that, so for a start we have put Mr Edwin Tong and Mr Tan See Leng as the anchor ministers in Marine Parade and the process was in progress. Furthermore, as I said just now, very recently, I got new information that the relationship was continuing, and after our conversation in February, that was completely unacceptable. So he had to go. In fact both had to go, but it so happened that the hot mic incident came up and therefore, it precipitated this moment, but it will happen sooner rather than later, anyway.’
The PM had already been seriously criticised for going ahead with a GE during a pandemic.
Had they both resigned at that point immediately after GE 2020 at the beginning of the new 5 year term, LHL would have been forced to hold by-elections for both Tampines and Marine Parade and risked losing 2 GRCs as well as credibility.
So instead of putting the nation’s interest and the integrity of Parliament first the affair was kept quiet. Some might call this sweeping under the carpet.
The PM in his defence says that in that first instance the couple were offered counselling and asked to end the affair.
Very compassionate, but during that period of counselling wouldn’t it have been better for the Speaker to have taken a sabbatical or sick leave?
Having counselling and being in the same workplace every day doesn’t seem to be conducive to ending an affair. The inconsistency with Palmer’s swift removal is glaring.
What we need to ask is whether wittingly or unwittingly by his concealment of what was going on has the PM’s party gained a political advantage?
There is some plausible deniability in the mystery period in 2020 up to Feb 2023. Maybe the PM isn’t knowledgeable on matters of powerful allure of sexual attraction and the aphrodisiac of a workplace romance and thought his command could overturn the rules of nature. But after Feb 2023?
The PM confirms and he speaks clearly and it is said more than once that in Feb this year TCJ tendered his resignation and IT WAS ACCEPTED. From what had he resigned in Feb 2023? At that time had he just resigned as Speaker or as an MP or from the PAP – which is his current position?
Despite the fact that his position as Speaker should have been untenable at that point in Feb, or even from the first discovery, and that he is now a resigned or former speaker at the very least, he continued in his role.
Was TCJ allowed to continue drawing his $600,000 salary as Speaker as well as his tax-free MP’s allowance of around $200,000 a year for all of this time?
Even between Feb and now he has earned an extra $300 000. LHL admits that he knew their illicit relationship continued so has he decided that the people TCJ served would have been happy to pay TCJ for a kind of zombie position? Gonna use this phrase again. ” Schrodinger’s Speaker” both Speaker and not Speaker.
The constitutional mess his throws up is staggering in addition to possible breaches of the ministerial code and the national security issue.
Was the President even infomed? Was this a kind of fraud on Parliament, particularly the Opposition, and on the taxpayer? Does any one person reading this blog think that any member of the opposition whether MP or NCMP would have agreed to a compromised speaker and MP continuing in secrecy?
If I were official Leader of the Opposition I would have been calling for a Motion of No Confidence right now. Oh wait… coincidentally Pritam Singh is a bit busy himself with an inconveniently timed leak of his own to deal with.
We can reasonably hope that the PM took measures to protect parliament and the Nation during the period from when he discovered the affair or at the very minimum from February 2023 onwards by limiting official duty contact between TCJ and CLH or reducing TCJ’s active role and getting the Deputy Speakers to stand in his place. Reasonable to assume but that didn’t happen!
Far from it, TCJ was allowed to chair the Committee of Privileges hearing on the Raesah Khan case in 2022. Everybody will remember that LHL was shaking with moral outrage as he excoriated Pritam Singh (and referred him to the AG) for keeping quiet when he knew Raesah had lied to Parliament.
A quick glance at the parliamentary Facebook page shows how busy TCJ was representing our parliament at home to foreign dignitaries and Ambassadors and leading missions overseas to foreign parliaments and conferences.
This is a major embarrassment for us in the International arena now that LHL has revealed that he wasn’t our Speaker because his resignation had already been accepted.
What will each leader and Ambassador be thinking now, when they discover they were meeting with an already resigned Speaker?
Here are a few of the roles he undertook from February onwards.
And CHL and TCJ? Here are photos of them attending The 43rd general assembly of the ASEAN AIPA. in Cambodia in November 2022.
The two of them,enjoying an overseas trip in 5 -star hotels, away from their families at the taxpayer expense.
Again this is an extremely serious matter. We need and we deserve answers ad of course a probe. The CPIB could be asked to conduct a probe but then we have a problem in that LHL needs to authorise it.
However if LHL is unwilling to sanction an investigation then the President can and should overrule him.
So despite knowing that the relationship had not ended, it was only in February this year, nearly three years after news of the affair first came to light, LHL finally made TCJ resign.
TCJ was allowed to continue in his post, because LHL wanted time to put in place arrangements to serve the residents of Kembangan Chai Chee (where my father contested in 1976) and Tampines East.
So LHL allowed the deception to continue, deceiving the Opposition, Parliament and the nation because it suited his interests. TCJ of course opened the 14th session of Parliament sitting next to Mdm Halimah. Was the President informed and was she also complicit in the cover-up?
Reading between the lines of what the PM said at the press conference, I would guess that LHL had planned a snap election once arrangements were in place.
Maybe he wanted to call a snap election this year after the EP elections, allowing him to finally hand over to Lawrence Wong so he could retire.
That way he could have avoided a scandal by getting both MPs to quietly step down at the election with no one the wiser to the cover-up and also used the time secured a safe-seat for parachuting his son into parliament.
The cover-up would never have come to light if it hadn’t been for the “hot mic” incident. TCJ’s highly inappropriate foul language towards an Opposition member of Parliament was according to LHL the precipitating act which meant that TCJ (and CLH) had to go immediately.
To me it indicates the immense strain TCJ must have been under to have to conceal his affair. After all the PM asked him to live a lie for all of that time.
To carry out his duties as though he hadn’t indeed resigned, deceiving his family, parliament and the tax-payer. This act of deception was unjust on every level and to so many people including all the voters in Marine Parade where 42% of the constituents did not even vote for TCJ.
What LHL did was wrong on so many levels that I don’t know where to start. Yet the man seemed blissfully unaware that he was confessing to an organised hush-up. Parliament and the public have been misled for almost three years grossly misled since February this year and all for his own narrow political advantage.
People should remember that LHL was concealing this when he professed to be incredibly angry with Pritam Singh for having known that Raesah Khan had lied to Parliament and keeping quiet about it.
At the time LHL accused Pritam of moral turpitude and contrasted his behaviour with what he said were the high standards of Low Thia Kiang. Pritam was referred to the AG for possible perjury charges though that seems to have been quietly forgotten.
I have mentioned a potential CPIB investigation of TCJ’s and CLH’s Parliamentary trips together. At the very least LHL should also be referred to the Committee of Privileges for concealing this from Parliament.
One can only conclude that LHL is so used to absolute power in his personal fiefdom and the successful gaslighting of Singaporeans that he doesn’t realise what he is confessing to. He needs to resign and call an immediate GE.
We must also at the very next session of parliament introduce changes that allow for by-elections in GRCs given how many are now without proper representation. I disagree with the PM. This is a disadvantage of GRCs, not an advantage.
This article first appeared on Kenneth Jeyaretnam’s blog. Mr Jeyaretnam is the Secretary-General of the Reform Party.