What does being an effective Parliament really mean?
The Committee of Supply (COS) 2023 saw much debate during this past week across all of Singapore’s Government ministries. Some of the issues raised included BTO flat supply, climate change, fair working conditions for women and low-wage workers as well as maintaining food supply chains.
All these are so that the PAP-led Government can decide how best to use limited resources and sustainably build a future for Singaporeans and Singapore going forward:
Not divided, but in unity.
The quality and integrity of all debates in Parliament matter. MPs must be responsible with what they do and say in the House. Else, Singaporeans pay the price.
Leader of the House Indranee Rajah took to the podium this afternoon (Mar 6, 2023), expanding on the four principles set out by NMP Cheng Hsing Yao and added one more.
An abridged version of Leader Indranee’s speech follows:
Principle 1: Factual accuracy
This is important because decisions are made and opinions are influenced based on our deliberations. This is why MPs are expected to be able to substantiate any statements made by them, if challenged.
But beyond factual accuracy, is the deeper underlying principle of honesty and integrity. Because people must be able to trust what we say. Lying in Parliament, or to any Committee of Parliament erodes trust and debilitates our democracy.
What is less obvious, but equally dangerous, and which we must also guard against, are half-truths, misleading statements and innuendos which suggest false things without actually saying so.
Principle 2: Highlight benefits and trade-offs
While somethings are straightforward, a good deal of the issues confronting Singapore today are manifold and complex. Oversimplifying them does not give our people a true picture.
Given our small size, and limited resources, there are always trade-offs. Advocating a position without at the same time highlighting relevant downsides does our people a disservice.
Advancing generous policies without telling people how they will be paid for, or where the money to pay for it ultimately comes from, creates false hopes which will ultimately end in disappointment.
Seeking easy options, such as using up the reserves without good justification, rather than creating sustainable revenue streams, undercuts our resilience and chips away at the fundamental principles of prudence and responsibility.
Principle 3: Be constructive
It is par for the course that matters brought before the House to be vigorously debated, questioned and scrutinised.
However, at the end of the day, irrespective of our political stripes, we must have the same overriding objective, which is to improve the lives of Singaporeans and help Singapore prosper.
Principle 4: Avoid polarisation
We have seen the effects of this in other Parliaments and the outcomes are not pretty.
Perhaps the most shocking example of this was the US Capitol attack on Jan 6, 2021. Those were scenes we never expected to see in America, the bastion of democracy. But they happened and they happened as a result of deep polarisation.
We can have different political philosophies. But what we must avoid in our Parliament is the politics of division.
There is a difference between reflecting genuine ground concerns, which is our duty, and the deliberate stoking of anger and creating or intensifying of divides, which is not only wrong — but dangerous.
We must always strive to bring people forward in unity, even with diversity.
Principle 5: Do what is right and do not be populist
I would add one more point to Mr Cheng’s four principles: We should consistently endeavour to do what is right and avoid a descent into populism.
As Members of Parliament, we not only have to reflect the concerns of people and give voice to the aspirations of Singaporeans, but also exercise our judgement on issues and speak up for what we believe in, even if it is contrary to the prevailing or most popular view — to persuade our fellow MPs and the public at large as to what is the best solution to a difficult problem, or what is the most important issue before the country.
Parliament’s deliberations should shape the public discourse and set the direction for the country. We have to think not only about the here and now, but also for the future. We must think not only for one group, but for all Singaporeans.
Singapore is unique and special. And we have come this far, because our Parliaments before us did what was right for us.
That task is now ours and we must discharge it to the best of our abilities.
Cover photo credit: MCI, Parliament of Singapore / Facebook