Examples of how opposition MPs are “cornered” in the parliament

If the PAP government admits to not having a monopoly on knowledge and ideas, why do the party’s MPs react as if their opposition colleagues have nothing of value to offer in Parliament? Is the sole task of PAP MPs aimed at making the job of opposition MPs unpleasant in the House?” – Joseph Khoo

With the recent opening of the parliament sessions, we are beginning to see some not-so-sighty scenes of how opposition MPs are mulled by the ruling party MPs, regardless of whether their ideas are sound or not, nevermind if they speak with all good intention and sincerity. The ruling party has 81 seats and opposition WP has 6 seats, the highest ever number of opposition MPs in parliament since 1970 thanks to many unpopular policies which resulted in widespread unhappiness among voters.

It is sometimes puzzling to me how the ruling party assigns these “attackers”, is there some kind of walkie-talkie or tweeter in operation to say “Mr xxx it is your turn to rise to the challenge”? The reason I say this is some MPs who had nothing to do with the ministry concerned will often rises up to rebutt the questions or opinions posed by the opposition MPs. [Updated 29 Oct 2011: The Straits Times reported “Parliament watchers in the Chamber noticed notes being passed between the PAP frontbench and backbench after opposition MPs’ speeches, sparking talk that MPs were being told how to respond.“] I also notice cases where the minority MPs will rise to answer questions related to race, community or in a recent case involved the first Malay opposition MPs since 1963 (MPs clash over link between growth and social faultlines, The Straits Times Oct 18 2011). Here are some of the examples: 

Example 1: “Yaw Shin Leong’s mention of unemployment insurance drew a response from MP for Ang Mo Kio GRC Yeo Guat Kwang, who pointed out that ComCare gives out “three plus three months” financial assistance to unemployed workers.

Responding, Mr Yaw clarified that he was asking for a “study on its feasibility and not a knee-jerk implementation”. He also noted that Singapore has the “benefit” of seeing the results of the many unemployment insurance schemes around the world.” – Source

Example 2: “Workers’ Party chairman Sylvia Lim locked horns with PAP MPs Cedric Foo (Pioneer) and Heng Chee How (Whampoa) on Monday over her criticism of the Government as too focused on gross domestic product growth, at the expense of Singaporeans’ happiness.” – Source

“”Prosperity and progress are certainly important, but they cannot be ends in themselves. They should be the means to an end – the happiness of Singaporeans as a whole,” she (Sylvia Lim) added.

Rather than striving for “maximum” growth in Gross Domestic Product (GDP), Ms Lim suggested that Government could focus, instead, on improving the total fertility rate (TFR), linking the recent increases in housing prices as a dampener on the TFR.

Several MPs responded to the issue. Mr Cedric Foo (Pioneer) asked if Ms Lim thought that GDP as an indicator was “baloney” and argued that her example of Bhutan was an inappropriate example.

“I think the Opposition could not have chosen a more dissimilar country to compare Singapore with,” Mr Foo said. “We are exposed to the sea, exposed to the onslaught of competition to the world. We were dealt a different deck of cards and a different hand together, and we want to find our own formula forward.”

In response, Ms Lim clarified that she did not say that GDP is not a relevant indicator, but pointed out that the UN resolution had noted that GDP growth is an “inadequate” indicator to represent sustainability and state of happiness of a society. (Source)

[Askmelah’s Note: The National Pledge says “so as to achieve happiness, prosperity and progress for our nation.”. With our current development model, it should be reworded “so as to achieve progress, prosperity and finally happiness for our nation.” With all due respect, the founding father wrotes this with passion and commitment, the current leaders just drifted from the course along the way. It seems ok if such suggestion comes from a ruling party MP [see Look beyond GDP measure of growth, urges MP).]

Example 3: Workers’ Party MP Muhamad Faisal Abdul Manap (Aljunied GRC) and Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Defence and National Development Maliki Osman (East Coast GRC) differed on the link between economic growth and social faultlines……Most of these faultlines are by-products of the Government’s growth policies, charged Mr Faisal. The family counsellor said economic growth had not prevented faultlines from developing further and ‘certainly did not heal any faultlines either’.

He cited the two casinos, which boosted the economy and created jobs but exacted a price on some members of society. He called for the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports to do more to help problem gamblers and their families.

Rebutting Mr Faisal’s points, Dr Maliki argued that there is no direct link between economic growth and family problems. (Source)

Example 4: Opposition leader Low Thia Khiang appeals to the ruling party: While Singapore should be fully aware of potential trade-offs in policy, we should also be on guard against viewing trade-offs only from the Government’s perspective. We should always assess trade-offs from the people’s perspective, especially those who are severely affected by the policy. “The general feeling among Singaporeans during the General Election and even now is that the Government is more concerned with paying its ministers well than about the welfare of the people … It seems to me that more often than not, the policy trade-off was biased against the people, especially those who are adversely affected.”

Mr Low also opined “it is high time the PAP MP’s refrain from using this (policy trade off) as a red herring to kill debate on alternative solutions and mechanisms to those proposed by the Goverment.” [Askmelah’s note: The example of Lee Yi Shyan’s use of the worst case scenario of Greece’s currebt debt problem is a typical example of knee-jerk reaction to fend off calls for more social assistance to the poor, nevermind there are other successful cases of socialist countries. It is not that Singapore do not have enough budget to be slightly more generous, on the contrary we have too much of it, just look at all the wastage here!]

Mr Low’s speech drew a 30-minute-long rebuttal from Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Lim Swee Say, who said he was at “a loss for words” at Mr Low’s comments. Addressing the House first in Mandarin, Mr Lim said that he “sincerely hopes the Opposition can change their usual ways” and not only criticise policies without putting forth alternative suggestions.

In English, Mr Lim added: “To accuse the PAP Government as a team of ministers led by the Prime Minister as individuals who are only interested in our self interests, and we come into politics to enrich ourselves, to take care of our interests at the expense of the people, I think I’m at a loss of words to describe my feelings inside.” (Source)

Example 5: Dr Puthucheary pointed to how the NCMP had cited an example of a family given only S$50 a month in financial aid by a Community Development Council and called it “going for the hyperbole of the one fact and one number to score points”….

Referring to Mr Giam’s point that the MediShield scheme is collecting more in premiums than it pays out in claims, Dr Puthucheary said there would be risks if it was ensured that payouts were the same as premiums collected.

Mr Giam then clarified that he was not suggesting payouts be equal to premiums, merely that the loss ratio of MediShield should be higher, given that commercial insurers in the United States were mandated a loss ratio of 80 to 85 per cent under ObamaCare.

Dr Janil, however, dismissed the comparison as invalid, adding that he was “loath to use the US as the be-all and end-all for a model”.

Nominated MP Laurence Lien weighed in, saying that leadership is not only about good answers and policies, but getting citizens involved. For example, good healthcare is not only about the infrastructure, but getting people to re-examine their diets and lifestyles. “The crux of the matter is that it is not just about doing things for the people, but doing things with the people,”  (source)


Rare examples of PAP MPs agreed with the Opposition MPs:

MP Denise Phua calls to scrap elected presidency


I am sure I can find a lot more examples to add as the parlimentary sessions continue. Stay tuned!

[Updated 29 Oct 2011] Today’s Straits Times article titled “All fired up in the house” has an excellent report on this topics. Some of the highlights are:

  • Ms Sylvia Lim(Aljunied GRC) spoke about it (gross national happiness index) briefly, but no fewer than seven PAP MPs chose to rebut her. They included National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan, who spoke at length about Bhutan, where the index originated, and why ‘Bhutan is not Shangri-La on earth’.
  • The sharp exchanges over the five days of debate have also led some to point out the first signs of a potentially worrying trend – criticism for criticism’s sake and attacks motivated more by partisanship than substantive differences.On these, neither the PAP nor the opposition emerges entirely spotless.’ At times, the debate became a matter of who can get the last word,’ rues Mr Zaqy. ‘I would like to see more MPs making substantive arguments rather than simply trying to hit one another to score political points,’ he adds.
  • One such example (when the same point was made by a PAP backbencher and an opposition MP, the Government would attack the latter but not the former) was when both Mr Baey Yam Keng (Tampines GRC) and Mr Singh raised the issue of state control over the traditional media. Mr Baey said that if the Government were to ‘persist on keeping a tight rein on mainstream media’, the latter would lose credibility and people will rely even more on social media. Mr Singh made a similar point, arguing that a common perception that the mainstream media was controlled had led many to turn to new media for news and commentary. But only Mr Singh received strong rebuttals – and from no less than Mr Shanmugam, who challenged him to say if he believed the Government was exercising indirect control over the mainstream media.
  • On a positive note: WP’s Chen Show Mao (Aljunied GRC), whose maiden speech had the entire Chamber rapt, spoke extensively in classical Chinese, quoting from Confucius’ Analects, among other classics.Mr Chen said political diversity was not the same as political division, and that communities become stronger through debates. He also likened the relationship between the ruling party and the opposition to that between a wise emperor and his boldly critical adviser. This drew out fellow Chinese language enthusiast Sam Tan (Radin Mas), who also peppered his reply the next day with classical Chinese, calling Mr Chen’s speech ‘refreshing’ and worthy of applause.

[Updated 3Jun2014] Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Workers’ Party (WP) chief Low Thia Khiang faced off on Wednesday afternoon in parliament, with the government leader accusing Low’s opposition party of being “inarticulate” outside of election periods. In the continuing parliamentary debates on President Tony Tan Keng Yam’s address to the House, a roughly 12-and-a-half minute verbal battle between the secretary-generals of the incumbent People’s Action Party (PAP) and lead opposition party WP saw the premier asking Low repeatedly, “Where do you stand? Where are we totally wrong?” Lee accused Low and his WP MPs of failing to express clearly their position on important issues.  In a serious parliament the government presents policies, the opposition presents its alternatives,” said Lee. “You do have a responsibility to say which direction are we going, and that direction has to be set clearly, not to explain to the PAP but to explain to Singaporeans what you stand for. And what you stand for cannot be what the PAP is doing, and a little bit better. That means you have no stand.” – PM Lee asks Low Thia Khiang: Where do you stand? read this to understand the exchange of words between the two.



PAP MPs’ knee-jerk rebuttals unproductive

Source: The Straits Times, 22 Oct 2011

PARLIAMENTARY debate should have been different now after the watershed general election in May. But if this week’s session is any indication, it appears to be business as usual.

If People’s Action Party (PAP) Members of Parliament routinely rose one by one in rebutting the opposition in the past, the electorate, unfortunately, received more of the same this week.

So is it any surprise to find parliamentary reports describing an opposition MP’s speech drawing the same, virtually automatic chorus of PAP rebuttals, such as the ones where PAP MPs ‘rose to rebut’, or the ones where the opposition MP’s remarks ‘drew quick fire’.

If the PAP government admits to not having a monopoly on knowledge and ideas, why do the party’s MPs react as if their opposition colleagues have nothing of value to offer in Parliament?

Is the sole task of PAP MPs aimed at making the job of opposition MPs unpleasant in the House?

Will we inadvertently cast aside good ideas and valid concerns simply because they originate from the opposition?

I hope all political parties will set aside such politicking in the House, or weak attempts at wit such as Pioneer MP Cedric Foo’s rebuttal of the opposition on Bhutan’s gross national happiness concept when hesaid: ‘So maybe (since) they only have two opposition MPs, the people are very happy’ (‘MPs push for change in Govt-citizen ties’; Tuesday).

Joseph Khoo