Ex-Speaker Tan Chuan-Jin formally apologises for hot mic comments, no further action taken
Leader of the House Indranee Rajah on Wednesday read out Mr Tan’s apology on his behalf, after he resigned from the People’s Action Party on July 17 following an extra-marital affair with fellow former MP Cheng Li Hui.
“(I) sincerely apologise to the House for the unparliamentary language that I used, and for not respecting the dignity and decorum of the House,” Mr Tan wrote in his letter.
Ms Indranee called the incident “very regrettable”, and said she was of the view that no further action needed to be taken as Mr Tan had acknowledged his lapse and apologised to the public, Workers’ Party MP Jamus Lim (Sengkang GRC) and to the House.
In a video released in July, Mr Tan is heard muttering “****ing populist” on the microphone during a Parliament sitting on April 17 this year, after a speech by Associate Professor Lim.
Ms Indranee said on Wednesday: “As Members of Parliament, it is incumbent upon us to uphold proper standards of conduct, and especially so the Speaker who chairs the proceedings in this House and has the duty of ruling on the conduct of other Members.
“Rude and unparliamentary language, and expletives, in particular, certainly do not meet the standards expected of all Members, and lower the dignity and decorum of the House.”
She cited previous incidents of how unparliamentary language in Parliament is dealt with in Singapore and abroad, which she said provide not only a reference point on handling such matters but also show that such incidents happen more often than they should.
In November 1995, MP Ling How Doong had “described the speech made by another MP in vulgar terms, called the other MP a word questioning the legitimacy of his birth and referred to him using an anatomical term”, according to a formal complaint filed against him.
He also refused to sit down after then-Speaker Tan Soo Khoon told him to do so.
Mr Ling later withdrew his remarks and apologised in Parliament, and the matter was closed.
In March 2005, a Nominated Member of Parliament Associate Professor Ong Soh Khim said unparliamentary words during a sitting which were not captured on record and interrupted the then-Deputy Speaker. Several complaints were filed against her, and after the Speaker spoke to her, she agreed to unreservedly apologise to the House for the use of unparliamentary language.
In December 2022, then New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern called a political opponent, Mr David Seymour, an “arrogant p***k” without realising the microphone was still on. She later apologised directly to Mr Seymour, who accepted it.
Returning to Mr Tan’s case, Ms Indranee said it was her view that the necessary steps had been taken to redress the incident, and it could be closed.
WP MP Sylvia Lim (Aljunied GRC) questioned if Ms Indranee - as Leader of the House - had directed Mr Tan to provide an apology, since it was unclear who had the power to punish the Speaker for unparliamentary conduct.
Ms Indranee responded that she was not exercising any authority over Mr Tan and merely sought to indicate her view to him as Leader that a withdrawal of the comment and an apology should be required.
“It was my view that this specific matter did not require further action, but I’m not saying that I have the power to conclude it. If any member thinks otherwise or wishes to do otherwise, it is open to another member to do so,” she said.
Pritam asks if police should look into hot mic video
Leader of the Opposition Pritam Singh asked if Ms Indranee would consider getting the police involved to determine who leaked the video of the incident months after it had occurred, especially since the utterance was not audible to the MPs present at the time.
He referred to the amount of time that it took for the video to become public after the incident happened and said: “I’m not sure whether the Leader (considers that) there is something suspicious about that.
“There is also the matter of what we came to know later of a long-running affair between Speaker and another MP, whether in total there are circumstances which the authorities should actually look into.”
Ms Indranee said that it was not clear to her that any offence had been committed in posting a video online and amplifying its audio.
Mr Singh pressed on, clarifying that he was not referring to a specific offence but the total circumstances. He said: “I have had some individuals come up to me questioning whether there is a false flag in this. All sorts of issues have come up and so far as the public can be concerned so it’s a matter that I’m raising to the leader for her consideration.”
Ms Indranee reiterated that the police generally do not investigate things that are not offences.
“But should something further come up, which indicates that an offence may have occurred, then the matter can be reconsidered at that time,” she added.
Non-Constituency MP Leong Mun Wai brought up an earlier hot-mic incident in September 2021 involving him.
After Mr Leong had spoken during a debate on jobs and livelihoods, a voice could be heard saying “he’s illiterate” and later on “seriously, how did he get into RI?... Must have been a lousy school”.
Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan subsequently called Mr Leong to apologise for his private comments to a colleague in Parliament.
On Wednesday, Mr Leong asked if the Speaker had made a mistake by not asking Dr Balakrishnan to formally apologise in Parliament.
Ms Indranee noted that Mr Leong had then accepted the apology, and said: “If Mr Leong wishes to take that matter further, it will be up to him, except that I’m not sure whether he still is within the time for his matter, but I’m sure he will take the appropriate advice on the regulations and the rules and do what is necessary.”