SINGAPORE – A Workers’ Party cadre, Ms Loh Pei Ying, spent nearly four hours giving evidence to the Parliamentary Committee of Privileges on Thursday (Dec 2) and Friday.
Ms Loh was the secretarial assistant to former Sengkang MP Raeesah Khan from July 2020 until the MP resigned on Nov 30. She was also secretarial assistant to WP chief Pritam Singh from March 2013 to Jan 2016.
Her role as secretarial assistant was to help the MPs organise their Meet-the-People sessions, roster volunteers for these sessions, and draft letters on behalf of residents to send to various agencies.
Outside of her party work, she is the head and co-founder of Kontinentalist, a data visualisation website which describes itself as a data-driven storytelling studio based in Singapore.
The committee met for the first time on Nov 29 and resolved to call Ms Loh as a witness.
She was questioned largely about her knowledge of the facts surrounding Ms Khan’s discussions with the WP leadership.
Here are six key points from her testimony.
1. Who knew about the lie, and when
Ms Loh said that after Ms Khan admitted to Mr Singh over the phone on Aug 7 that she had lied in Parliament on Aug 3, the then-Sengkang MP sent a message to a WhatsApp group chat she had with her and another WP cadre, Mr Yudhishthra Nathan, to say she had done “something bad”.
“It sounded serious, and I was willing to listen to her and also show my concern for her as both a friend and as a party colleague,” she told the committee, adding that the WhatsApp exchange was very short.
“She just said that she had done something bad. I asked her what it was and then she did say that, at that point of time, there were only two people who knew of what this was: her husband and Mr Pritam Singh.”
Over a Zoom call, Ms Khan told Ms Loh and Mr Nathan that she had lied in Parliament to conceal her own past experience of sexual assault.
“She told us that she had lied because she was once a survivor of sexual assault herself. She relayed to us that this had happened when she was overseas, when she was 18, and that she had sought to heal from this episode by attending support groups,” Ms Loh said.
“That’s when she learned of this anecdote, and she told us that she could not share the circumstances of her learning of this anecdote because she also did not want to reveal that she was a member of the support group, and therefore, that she was also a victim of sexual assault.”
Ms Loh said Mr Singh would have known the details by Aug 8, when Ms Khan met with him, WP chairman Sylvia Lim and WP vice-chairman Faisal Manap to discuss the matter.
2. Ms Loh and Mr Nathan expected that the lie would be handled by WP leaders
Ms Loh said she and Mr Nathan were both shocked by Ms Khan’s revelations, but they were primarily concerned about her well-being.
She said: “Our primary concern was to just console her, listen, and that was primarily it. We didn’t advise her on any particular course of action.”
Ms Loh agreed with Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Edwin Tong – a committee member – that she and Mr Nathan expected the matter to be dealt with by the party’s senior leadership after they were told of the truth on Aug 8.
Ms Loh also agreed that, at that point, she was somewhat assuaged as senior party members were by then aware of the falsehood.
“I think on (Ms Khan’s) part, she might have felt that – this is my assumption – on her part, she might have felt that she had done her part to report it to her party leader,” Ms Loh added.
She also said she was not privy to any steps that might have been taken between August and the next Parliament sitting on Oct 4, nor did she and Mr Nathan discuss the matter with Ms Khan further during this period.
3. Mr Singh expected the issue to be raised in Parliament on Oct 4
On Oct 12, Ms Khan told Ms Loh that she intended to make a statement in Parliament clarifying the truth.
Ms Loh then reached out to Mr Singh to request a meeting to discuss how this clarification should be made. She later met Mr Singh at his house on the same day, along with Mr Nathan.
During that meeting, she learned that Mr Singh had met Ms Khan the day before the Oct 4 sitting – where she repeated the lie – and that he had told Ms Khan he had a feeling the issue might come up in Parliament.
Ms Loh said: “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.”
4. Ms Loh advised Ms Khan to tell the WP CEC
Ms Loh said she was scared for Ms Khan when she found out the then-MP had lied again in Parliament on Oct 4. She said she then advised Ms Khan to tell the truth to the whole WP central executive committee (CEC), which would necessitate the information becoming public eventually.
“At that moment, my primary concern was fear and worry for both Ms Khan and the party,” she said.
“It was only much later when I had more time to think about it that I felt that (Mr Singh) should have spoken up, because he’s the Leader of the Opposition and of the Workers’ Party. It is the right thing to do.”
5. Mr Singh left it up to Ms Khan to decide whether to continue lying
Ms Loh said Mr Singh and Ms Khan had very different levels of experience with politics.
Mr Singh is a more seasoned politician and Ms Khan would have relied on him to provide clarity, direction and guidance, Ms Loh said.
“Because he said, ‘I will not judge’, it might have given her the false sense that it was all right to not come clean,” she added.
6. ‘It pains me greatly (but) I have to be truthful to my country’
At the end of her second day before the committee, Ms Loh asked for a chance to give a personal statement.
She said she had been a Workers’ Party member for 10 years and had given its cause her personal time and youth, in case anyone thought she had come before the committee with any agenda.
“I’m very aware of the ramifications of what I’ve shared, including these WhatsApp conversations,” she said, tearing up.
“It pains me greatly, but to me, beyond anything else, it’s important to be truthful to my country.”