Sylvia Lim does not apologise; Grace Fu disappointed
Sylvia Lim says GST hike timing suspicion may have been wrong but WP chairman refuses to retract statement and apologise; PAP's Grace Fu 'disappointed'
While admitting yesterday that her suspicion on the timing of the goods and services tax (GST) hike "may have been wrong", Ms Sylvia Lim refused to withdraw and apologise for her statements in Parliament.
The Workers' Party (WP) chairman maintained that she was doing her duty as an MP.
This followed repeated calls from the People's Action Party MPs over the last week for her to apologise, with Leader of the House Grace Fu saying that Ms Lim had accused the Government of being "untruthful".
Said Ms Lim yesterday: "I did not accuse the Government of being untruthful as alleged, and neither had I intended to accuse the Government of dishonesty.
"I do not accept the over-characterisation the PAP MPs have put on my words and intentions based on their own interpretation borne out of overactive imaginations and oversensitivity."
Ms Fu replied she was disappointed with Ms Lim's "deplorable" conduct, as the facts had been explained to her clearly.
She said she was putting Ms Lim on notice, as her behaviour "falls short of the standard of integrity and honour expected of all members", and she would be referred to the committee of privileges should she repeat "such dishonourable conduct and abuse parliamentary privilege".
"It reflects the low standards which the member and her party have set for themselves with regard to commitment to truthful and honest debate in Parliament," Ms Fu added.
Ms Lim said the Government had previously announced that it had enough money to last the decade, but speculation of an imminent GST hike started swirling in the lead-up to the Budget this year.
Citing media reports and economists who predicted the GST would go up either this year or the next, she said this gave rise to her suspicion that "test balloons" were being floated by the Government to raise GST immediately. But this was then postponed because of the public's negative reaction.
"Hence, I admit that I did suspect that the Government intended to raise the GST.
"However, the Government contributed to this suspicion by its non-denial of reports and economists' predictions of an immediate GST rise."
Commenting on the issue, political observer Eugene Tan said Ms Lim had made a reasonable and robust argument that she had not abused parliamentary privilege.
Said the Singapore Management University law academic, who served as a Nominated MP (NMP) from 2012 to 2014: "Ms Lim stuck to her guns. If I were in her shoes and if I felt that I had the basis for making a certain allegation or raising a concern or suspicion, I would of course have gone on record.
"I would not have apologised for and withdrawn those remarks either."
Reflecting on his time as an NMP, Prof Tan said: "I was conscious that parliamentary privilege empowered MPs to take part in the debates without fear or favour, but the privilege had to be exercised responsibly.
"There may be occasions when MPs were not able to verify or substantiate their remarks, but if we thought there was a reasonable basis for saying so, we did so and set out the basis for our opinions.
"No MP should be afraid to articulate such views."
Noting that WP Non-Constituency MP Leon Perera was also asked to apologise for a comment he made in January this year, Prof Tan said PAP MPs could have been "carefully scrutinising WP MPs' speeches", and he expects debates to be more robust going forward.
Political observer Mustafa Izzuddin said he does not see this issue going further, but it does lay down expectations for future debates.
"It shows that MPs from both sides, be it PAP or WP, need to up their game and make sure what they say is grounded in facts. They need to be able to present counter arguments and defend what they are saying robustly," he said.
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