SINGAPORE — Ms Hazel Poa has filed a motion asking that Transport Minister S Iswaran be suspended as a Member of Parliament (MP) as his investigation by the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) continues.
In a Facebook post on Friday (Sept 8), Ms Poa, a Non-Constituency MP from Progress Singapore Party (PSP), wrote that she filed the motion on Thursday (Sept 7) to suspend Mr Iswaran “for the remainder of the current session of the 14th Parliament”.
This is so that he “no longer receives his MP allowance of S$192,500 per year while he has been requested by the prime minister to not perform any official duties during his investigation by CPIB”, she added.
Her post came after Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in a ministerial statement delivered in Parliament on Aug 2 that Mr Iswaran was currently interdicted with a reduced pay of S$8,500 a month until further notice.
This sum works out to be about 15 per cent of the benchmark level of a government minister’s monthly salary at S$55,000, the Public Service Division states.
In addition, Mr Iswaran is still allowed to draw the annual MP allowance of S$192,500.
Responding to a question by Workers’ Party MP Dennis Tan, Mr Lee said that Mr Iswaran can continue to draw an MP’s allowance because it differs from a minister’s pay and does not come under the prime minister’s discretion.
Mr Lee added that to remove the MP’s allowance, Parliament has to move a motion to interdict the MP as an MP. “Parliament has not done that. Neither, in previous cases, has Parliament done that,” Mr Lee said, referring to past cases where ministers had been investigated for corruption.
In her post on Friday, Ms Poa said that the motion was filed for the next Parliament sitting, which is scheduled on Sept 18 as stated on the Parliament’s website. The motion itself is likely to be slated for debate on or after Sept 19, she added.
She also said that she will introduce a Private Member’s Bill to amend the Parliament (Privileges, Immunities and Powers) Act to ensure that Parliament “has the power to back-pay Mr Iswaran” and he is rightly reimbursed, should he be cleared of any wrongdoing by CPIB.
The law sets out the privileges, immunities and powers of the Speaker, members and committees in Parliament and also regulates the conduct of MPs.
In response to TODAY’s queries, Ms Poa said that she is tabling the motion “as a follow-up” since Mr Lee had previously mentioned that it was not within the prime minister’s discretion to suspend an MP’s allowance, and that such a move must be done through a motion in Parliament.
She added that to allow Mr Iswaran to continue drawing a reduced salary and allowance was also “not a good use of taxpayer’s money”, since he is on a leave of absence and is not performing his duties as MP or minister.
“If he is found guilty, we would not be able to recover the money paid to him while under investigation and not performing his duties,” Ms Poa said.
“If he is found innocent, we can back-pay him to ensure fairness,” she added, explaining the purpose of introducing the amendment bill at the next parliamentary sitting.
“I would prefer that Mr Iswaran is placed on no-pay leave and then be back-paid if found innocent. This is not a presumption of guilt. I believe in innocent until proven guilty.”
Mr Iswaran was arrested by CPIB on July 11. He is out on bail and has been placed on a leave of absence. CPIB’s probe also involves billionaire Ong Beng Seng, the man widely credited with bringing F1 motor-racing to Singapore.
TODAY has sought an update on the investigations from CPIB.