The curious case of déjà vu in Parliament

13/01/2022

In the seminal masterpiece The Matrix, the protagonist named Neo saw a black cat walked by, shook itself and a split second later, he witnessed an exact black cat walked by and behaved in the same way.

He uttered: “Déjà vu,” making his comrades go on heightened alert mode.

While déjà vu means “a feeling of having already experienced the present situation”, what Neo said was far more ominous.

In The Matrix lexicon, déjà vu means there’s a glitch in the Matrix, which results in a repeat occurrence of an event that happened recently. In the movie, a déjàvu sighting served as a warning for the band of freedom fighters as they knew trouble was imminent whenever there was a glitch in the Matrix.

And there was a glitch during the first sitting of Parliament for 2022.

Yes, a glitch

Progress Singapore Party’s (PSP) Non-Constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP) Leong Mun Wai first made claims on Jan 10 that “some teachers have already practised vaccination differentiated safe management (VDS) measures in schools”.

Even though Education Minister Chan Chun Sing had earlier said that there are no plans to implement VDS measures for children aged 12 and below in schools.

Mr Leong didn’t substantiate and said that it was feedback from residents via WhatsApp messages.

He repeated the allegations again on Jan 11 and despite the Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin’s best efforts to direct him, Mr Leong, ultimately, failed to back up his allegations against our teachers.

Sounds familiar? Did you like, Neo, feel a sense of déjà vu?

A brief digression on history

Yes, not more than 2 months ago, former Member of Parliament for Sengkang GRC Raeesah Khan resigned after she admitted that she lied in Parliament about a sexual assault case, which she had claimed was mishandled by the police.

Despite being asked to substantiate her allegations first by Minister of State for Home Affairs Desmond Tan and subsequently by Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam, she repeated the lie three times in Parliament. She only came clean on Nov 1, 2021.

In the same month, she resigned from the Workers’ Party and was referred to the Committee of Privileges for breach of parliamentary privilege after her confession.

Learning from history

Spanish philosopher George Santayana once wrote: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” The freedom fighters in The Matrix were well aware of this fact because they learned from past experiences; that wasn’t the first glitch in the Matrix.

And Neo quickly learned the harm and destruction a glitch could bring as he witnessed one of his comrades killed and another comrade, his mentor Morpheus, captured.

Although not a literal life and death matter, it remains no joking matter for not being able to substantiate claims in the highest office in the land.

Mr Leong could surely learn from what happened to Ms Khan.

As a NCMP, Mr Leong should remember that the sanctity of our parliamentary politics needs to be upheld and that the privilege to speak in Parliament must be exercised responsibly.

Speaker Tan wrote in his blog this month: “The recent complaint that we looked at – and for which we will be presenting our findings and recommendations to Parliament through our Report in due course – is an important reminder that MPs must not wilfully abuse the immunity and privileges being an MP accords them.”

If these were not sufficient for Mr Leong to remember, perhaps Minister Indranee’s latest salutary advice to him would.

“And the reason why you provide details if you are a responsible Member of Parliament, is because when you come to this chamber and you’re given a seat in this chamber, you’re expected to discharge your duties responsibly. When you make allegations against teachers, and just cast it out there, you must be able to substantiate it.”

Let’s hope we don’t witness another déjà vu in Parliament again. There are simply too many matters that are far more important that are at stake.

Cover image credit: Warner Bros.