Nobody likes to lecture people on rules but aren’t rules there for a reason?

This happened to me once.

Man: “You can’t enter through here. You have to take that route and go through the security.”

Me: “But the security post is not tended by anyone at night.”

I wanted to take a shortcut instead of going by the longer route which, to be fair, is the proper procedure, an empty security post notwithstanding.

I complied but not before grumbling under my breath. But why was I compliant? Because I understand he is just doing his job. And, ultimately, rules are rules; a world without rules is not all that pleasurable to live in (imagine cars not stopping at red lights).

Oh my, the chaos.

Kerfuffle in Parliament

This brings me to the kerfuffle in Parliament that is playing out as I write this article.

Long story short: Progress Singapore Party’s Non-constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP) Mr Leong Mun Wai commented on Facebook, accusing Speaker Tan Chuan-Jin of not giving him a chance to speak at the end of Ministry of Manpower’s Committee of Supply Debate on Mar 7. The Speaker then reminded members of the rules of Parliamentary proceedings on the same day. Mr Leong doubled down instead and posted a video on Facebook hours later with the title “This is how Speaker prevents a member from speaking”. On Mar 8, Deputy Leader of the House Zaqy Mohamad said Mr Leong’s posts and video had impugned the speaker and the process of Parliament and asked Mr Leong to apologise.

The rules here are simple:

  1. Every ministry’s Committee of Supply debate must occur within the guillotine time – like its name suggests, is the macabre term for cut-off time.
  2. 40 per cent of the time is for the Members to make their cuts, 50 per cent of the time would comprise response time from the ministries, and 10 per cent of the time allocated for clarifications.

And to be perfectly fair, Speaker Tan Chuan-Jin also said that he’d like to give airtime to different members from different parties and he does keep track of who spoke. He added: “I would like to give opportunities for various members from various parties to be able to speak. Different members have opportunities to speak at other time. So we’d like to give the airtime to different members as well.”

Rules are rules

As mentioned, I’m not exactly a stickler for rules but then again, rules are rules. Perhaps Mr Leong felt aggrieved not being able to clarify things with Manpower Minister Tan See Leng.

But as a politician who has been participating in Parliamentary proceedings since August 2020, he must surely understand the importance of keeping to rules, especially in Parliament. Last thing Singapore wants is for Parliamentary proceedings to regress into a lawless forum where members can speak out of turn and over each other.

Next thing we know, shoes will start flying.

And besides, if he understands the rules, he has the opportunity to raise the questions that he had wanted to ask during subsequent parliamentary question times.

Speaker and Deputy Leader are merely upholding the rules to maintain the sanctity and decorum of Parliament. I’m quite sure that both of them, like the aforementioned man who reminded me of the rule, do not enjoy lecturing and reminding people of rules.

But rules are rules (it doesn’t hurt to repeat this) and as the head of Parliament, the Speaker must do his job of keeping order in the chambers while ensuring each and every member has the opportunity to speak.

For Mr Leong, I’m sure he knows that it is only the right thing for them to do. And as an accomplished professional, Mr Leong must surely understand that operating by the rules is only the honourable thing for any member to do – Non-constituency or not.