SINGAPORE - Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Friday urged Workers' Party (WP) chief Low Thia Khiang not to leave grave doubts about the integrity of his fellow MPs unresolved, following the recent hawker centre cleaning dispute.
At the heart of the issue, he said, was integrity and honesty.
"If we cannot trust a politician to tell the truth, then we cannot trust him or her to safeguard public funds, to put public interest ahead of personal gain, or to make decisions affecting the well-being and security of Singaporeans.
"This is the standard that we must hold ourselves to, and that Singaporeans have rightly come to expect from those in politics, whether in government or opposition. This is why we must take accusations of dishonesty against political leaders very seriously," he said.
Mr Lee said that if any of his People's Action Party (PAP) colleagues were accused of dishonesty - as WP MPs Sylvia Lim and Pritam Singh had been - he would get to the bottom of the matter.
And he made clear the rules for his own party: "If he has lied, there is only one option - he has to go. If he is innocent, I will insist that he clear his name publicly."
The PM's statement comes after a dramatic parliamentary exchange on Tuesday when Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan accused Ms Lim and Mr Singh of making false and untruthful statements when they tried to cover up their town council's demand for extra payment for cleaning of high areas at Bedok hawker centres.
The minister produced a dossier of what he said was "incontrovertible evidence" that a staff member of the WP-run town council, Mr Tai Vie Shun, had asked the hawkers to pay extra. Such cleaning is usually done and paid for by town councils.
Ms Lim, who chairs both the WP and the town council, denied the charges.
Dr Balakrishnan withdrew his parliamentary privilege, signalling his readiness to be sued by the two MPs if he had defamed them.
In the House, Mr Low said he would find out who had actually asked the contractor to give a quotation for the cleaning.
But on Wednesday, he told reporters there was no need for this, as an earlier WP investigation had proven the claim to be baseless.
He also deemed Dr Balakrishnan's remarks to be personal attacks and questioned if it made for "good politics", quoting the PM's comment a week ago that the country needs to get its politics right.
On Friday, Mr Lee said Mr Low was wrong to have done so.
He also noted that Dr Balakrishnan's statement was not his personal opinion but was that of the Government and had been approved by the Cabinet.
Noting that Mr Low had "reversed course without explanation", Mr Lee turned the argument on good politics back to the WP. "Good politics is first and foremost about integrity," he said. Mr Low's decision not to investigate was especially troubling in the light of past incidents, such as Mr Singh's plagiarism of an article.
In an oblique reference to the WP's slogan, he said of the unresolved hawker issue: "This is not how members of a First World Parliament should conduct themselves. Neither is this the sort of politics Singapore needs."
The WP on Friday night said it will respond to the PM's statement in due course.
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