SINGAPORE - The parliamentary committee looking into the conduct of former Workers' Party (WP) MP Raeesah Khan will meet again on Monday (Dec 20) — the deadline for three WP leaders to respond to a summons to provide documents.
Hearings held by the Committee of Privileges have revealed that after Ms Khan lied in Parliament on Aug 3, she confessed to WP chief Pritam Singh, party chairman Sylvia Lim and vice-chairman Faisal Manap at a meeting on Aug 8.
They reached an explicit, collective decision for her to come clean only on Oct 12.
On Nov 1 in Parliament, Ms Khan admitted in a statement that she had lied about accompanying a sexual assault victim to the police station, and revealed her own sexual assault 10 years ago as a student.
These are the facts agreed by Ms Khan as well as Mr Singh, Ms Lim and Mr Faisal in their testimonies. But where they differ is the explanation on why it had taken almost three months for Ms Khan to come clean.
Here are the key areas where their accounts differ.
How did party leaders react at Aug 8 meeting?
What Ms Khan said:
Ms Khan said Mr Singh had called a meeting with her, Ms Lim and Mr Manap on Aug 8, the day after she confessed to him about her lie. The meeting was held in Mr Singh's home.
Coming clean at the meeting, Ms Khan told them she had heard the anecdote at a support group which she attended as a victim, revealing that she had experienced a serious sexual assault when she was 18 years old and studying in Australia.
Asked how the leaders reacted, Ms Khan said there was "incredible disappointment".
She added during her testimony on Dec 2: "There was a lot of anger. But I think there was some compassion there as well."
As to what the leaders told her to do about the lie, she said: "The reaction was that if I were not to be pressed, then the best thing to do would be to retain the narrative that I began in August.
"Shortly after the meeting ended, Ms Khan sent a WhatsApp message to WP cadres Loh Pei Ying and Yudhishthra Nathan to update them. She told them that the three senior WP leaders had asked her to "take the information to the grave".
What Mr Singh said:
The Leader of the Opposition said he first heard about the lie on Aug 7 when Ms Khan called him. He had asked if the anecdote she related was true, and she said "no". It made him so incensed that he hung up on her.
"I was really angry. I cut the call," he told the committee.
It was after this phone call that he arranged for the Aug 8 meeting.
Mr Singh has categorically denied any instruction for Ms Khan to continue with her lie, and said at a hearing on Dec 10: "This rendition of what has happened is a complete, utter fabrication. It's a lie. It's... a bare lie."
He told the committee there was no discussion with Ms Khan about the lie at all at this meeting, because the party leaders were "more focused on her wellbeing, given the state that she was in".
Instead, after Ms Khan's confession, they moved on to talk about female genital cutting and polygamy, which Ms Khan had also covered in her Aug 3 speech.
As far as Ms Khan's confession was concerned, all Mr Singh said to her was that they would have to deal with the issue and she would have to speak to her parents, he told the committee. "I don't think it went beyond that," he said.
He also said that due to the trauma Ms Khan had suffered, he decided to give Ms Khan time, and did not discuss with her how to make a correction about the lie. In addition, he also did not discuss the matter with Ms Lim, Mr Faisal, or reveal anything to other party leaders.
What Ms Lim said:
Ms Lim, too, said nothing was asked of Ms Khan about her lie. Her main takeaway from that meeting was that Ms Khan had to speak to her parents before anything else could be done, she added.
She said the leaders had asked Ms Khan to get therapy to "stabilise" herself.
After Ms Khan left, Ms Lim said she did not discuss the matter further with Mr Singh and Mr Faisal.
She added: "I knew in my mind that the next steps will have to come, but at that point in time, we didn't talk about the next steps."
Ms Lim said she subsequently left it to Mr Singh to follow up with Ms Khan, as he knew her best and was the one guiding her during her parliamentary stint.
Ms Khan had helped out in Mr Singh's Eunos ward before being fielded as a candidate in the 2020 General Election, and he had also been communicating "on and off" with Ms Khan's family.
Mr Faisal, too, had told the committee that he had not done anything about the lie, since he fully trusted that Mr Singh would handle the matter.
What transpired on Oct 3 and Oct 4?
What Ms Khan said:
It was only on Oct 3 that Ms Khan would speak again with any party leaders about her lie.
She met Mr Singh in her home that day to discuss the matter. She told the committee that no one else was around, and that he had told her he had an inkling she might be pressed about her untrue anecdote during the Parliament sitting on Oct 4.
In her view, Mr Singh had left it up to her to handle the matter as she deemed fit, including if she chose to continue lying.
"The conversation was that if I were to retain the narrative, or if I were to continue the narrative, there will be no judgment," she told the committee.
"My interpretation was that there'll be no consequences for me to continue the narrative that I had begun in August."
On Oct 4, Ms Khan repeated the lie in Parliament when asked for more details about her anecdote by Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam.
While Mr Shanmugam was speaking about the matter, Ms Khan had sent Mr Singh a text message, asking: "What should I do, Pritam?"
Asked by the committee if Mr Singh had asked her why she did not tell the truth that day, she said "no".
But she added: "I think regardless of the discussion that I had, I agree that it was my responsibility to come forth with the truth, and I take full responsibility for that. I think, despite advice, I should have taken the step to rectify my mistake then."
What Mr Singh said:
Mr Singh recalled he had gone to Ms Khan's house at around 6pm on Oct 3, and that her whole family was at home — contrary to her account.
He described how he had a short conversation with Ms Khan's father and mother on that day, and also said "hello" to her husband and saw her son.
Mr Singh said he had told Ms Khan it was possible she might be asked about her untruthful anecdote in Parliament and it was important that she "take responsibility and take ownership of the issue".
He told the committee that at no point did Ms Khan ask him for help, guidance or advice about what to do. "And then I told her, 'I will not judge you'. And 'I will not judge you' meant 'I will not judge you if you take responsibility and ownership'. That was the gist of the conversation."
Mr Singh said he had no doubt in his mind that on Oct 4, Ms Khan knew she should have told the truth if questioned, "because I had told her to take ownership and responsibility, so in my mind, it would have been clear what the right thing to do was".
Explaining why he did nothing, even though he knew she was lying again, Mr Singh said that as at Oct 4, he did not know if Ms Khan had spoken to her parents about the matter, and so could not possibly have corrected Ms Khan on the spot.
He also told the committee that every WP MP is a leader in his own right and is expected to take responsibility, so it was Ms Khan's prerogative to set the record right.
"I believe the Leader of the Opposition... a party leader, doesn't take an oath on behalf of all his MPs. Each MP takes an oath on their own standing on their own merit," he said.
"Every Workers' Party MP is a leader, they have to take responsibility."
After lying again on Oct 4, a distraught Ms Khan met Mr Singh in his office in Parliament House, together with Ms Lim. There, she told Mr Singh and Ms Lim that perhaps there was another path, of "truth" and "honesty", Mr Singh told the committee.
What Ms Lim said:
Ms Lim told the committee nothing else was ironed out at the late night meeting on Oct 4, which ended with Mr Singh saying they would discuss the matter further.
Ms Lim said neither she nor Mr Singh had indicated when Ms Khan should make a statement in Parliament, though this was what she had in mind.
The WP chairman also said she was very frustrated when Ms Khan stuck to her untrue anecdote that day, "because it didn't appear that there had been any progress made on moving towards correcting the record and in fact... there was doubling down on the untruth."
She added that when she met Ms Khan separately, before the meeting with Mr Singh, she had told Ms Khan that an issue brought up in Parliament should be dealt with by Parliament, since things said in the House are protected by privilege.
Implicit in this was the expectation that Ms Khan would have to own up, Ms Lim said, though she never explicitly told Ms Khan to tell the truth.
At this meeting, the party leaders also did not ask Ms Khan if she had already told her parents about her past sexual assault.
Who wanted to tell the truth?
What Ms Khan said:
The collective decision to come clean was reached only on Oct 12, during a meeting with Mr Singh and Ms Lim, Ms Khan said.
She said Mr Singh had called a meeting with her and Ms Lim in the morning and that after a discussion, all three of them decided together that she would have to tell the truth in Parliament.
On her own reasons, she said: "For me, personally, the consideration was that this was something that would weigh on me for the rest of my life. And because of that, it was something that I needed to clarify. I don't think I could have lived with myself.
"The other concern was, like I mentioned as well, my mental health, because I think it was obvious that this was really affecting me and that I needed to clarify it for my own conscience."
Asked why her party leaders wanted her to tell the truth, Ms Khan said: "I think their consideration was that the matter will not be dropped."
After the meeting, she spoke to Ms Loh and Mr Nathan, the WP cadres, separately and told them about having to make a statement in Parliament to set the record straight.
What Mr Singh said:
Mr Singh told the committee that Ms Khan had been unwilling to come clean even at this stage — contrary to her testimony — and had to be compelled to do so by the WP leaders.
"She didn't want to tell the truth. Sylvia gets angry. I know because I remember quite clearly," he said, recounting their Oct 12 discussion.
He added that he told Ms Khan that she had no choice but to confess as the matter was not going to go away. "Don't even think that... this is going to be just left alone."
They also discussed the statement she would make, he said, and Ms Khan was told to write her own statement and show it to party leaders before she read it out in Parliament at the next sitting.
"The reason why I felt it was important to look at what she was saying was, I'm not sure what she's going to say in a personal explanation on Nov 1," he said.
"So you better show me what you're going to say, don't come up with some cockamamie lie again."
At this point, the party's central executive committee (CEC), the top decision-making body was still not aware of the matter, Mr Singh said.
The party leaders did not reveal the lie to the CEC until Oct 29. The CEC also did not know that Mr Singh, Ms Lim and Mr Faisal had known about the matter since early August when they subsequently deliberated an internal disciplinary panel's recommendations on Ms Khan. The panel had comprised solely of the three top WP leaders.
What Ms Lim said:
Ms Lim said Mr Singh started off the meeting by asking Ms Khan if she had decided what she was going to do about her lie.
To this, Ms Khan had replied: "I still don't think I want to tell the truth."
"At that point, I got angry and I think Pritam was also angry. And we... told her that this correction has to be made," Ms Lim told the committee.
"We tried to persuade her by saying that if you do not make the correction, this is going to weigh on you for the rest of your life, and it's too much of a burden for anyone to bear. You need to correct this so that everyone is clear and we can move on from there."
Eventually, Ms Khan agreed to make a statement in Parliament, though it became clear she had not told her parents yet of her sexual assault as at Oct 12, Ms Lim said.
What was said to WP members on Oct 12?
What Ms Loh and Mr Nathan said:
Ms Loh and Mr Nathan initiated a meeting with Mr Singh on the night of Oct 12 after Ms Khan told them she would have to make a statement in Parliament.
Mr Nathan said they were concerned about how the statement would be worded and how it would impact Ms Khan's mental health. They also wanted to know what would happen next, since they usually assisted Ms Khan with her speeches and social media accounts in the course of party work.
During that meeting at Mr Singh's home, they learnt that Mr Singh had met Ms Khan on Oct 3 and that he had told Ms Khan he had a feeling the issue might come up the next day, they said.
Ms Loh told the committee: "I don't know the full details of what he said to her, but he shared with me that he said, 'I will not judge you' to Ms Raeesah Khan."
Mr Nathan said: "(Mr Singh) had expressed to us that regardless of whether she had maintained the line of argument, of maintaining the survivor's or the victim's confidentiality, or whether she decided to tell the truth, that he would not judge her."
What Mr Singh said:
Mr Singh acknowledged that he had a conversation with them about what he told Ms Khan on Oct 3.
He said while he did not "narrate the entire episode" about his conversation with Ms Khan on Oct 3, he did tell the two party members that he expected Ms Khan to take ownership and responsibility for the matter.
It was in this context that he told them about telling Ms Khan "I will not judge you".
Mr Singh explained to the committee that what he meant was Ms Khan was a leader in her own right and had a choice in the matter.
"To me, that was my way of communicating to them that Raeesah would have been quite clear in her mind that she had to tell the truth," he said.
Mr Singh also speculated that Ms Loh and Mr Nathan may have "had a skewed impression" of their conversation with him because they were very protective of Ms Khan.
This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.