Effectiveness of Parliament depends on MPs’ ability to engage in respectful, responsible debates

17/04/2023

As we move into the Second Session of the Fourteenth Parliament, it’s worth recalling the Rules of Prudence that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong gave to PAP MPs after the Party won the 2020 General Election:

“…exercise judgement when putting your points across, and do not get carried away playing to the gallery.”

PM Lee also went on to exhort MPs to conduct themselves with modesty, decorum and dignity.

While these are the standards expected of our Party representatives, in truth, it should also be the standards that we Singaporeans expect of all our parliamentarians — from the PAP and opposition alike — because the effectiveness of our Parliament depends on them.

Respectable conduct and constructive debates

Firstly, Parliamentarians should conduct themselves respectably. As the people’s representatives, they carry a heavy duty of not bringing Parliament into disrepute.

They should refrain from engaging in combative behaviour and personal attacks during debates.

Instead, they should focus on supporting their position in a cool-headed manner without giving in to emotional outbursts.

This will not only foster a more constructive and productive discussion but also enhance the credibility and dignity of Singapore’s Parliament.

Honesty and trustworthiness

Singaporeans also expect our representatives to be honest and trustworthy.

They must be truthful in their statements and actions, and avoid misleading Singaporeans with half-truths or unsubstantiated allegations.

Unfortunately, there have been multiple instances that a member chose to treat misleading half-truths as “facts” in Parliament.

Half-truths like these are designed to evoke public outrage and feed into the narrative that this is a Government that doesn’t care for its people.

And as the people in question, we Singaporeans need to ask ourselves if such a narrative tally with the facts, and on a broader level, if it is in line with our own lived experience.

And if the answer is “no”, then we should also question the motivation behind the actions of parliamentarians who choose — repeatedly — to peddle such false narratives.

What are their objectives in doing so? Can we continue to trust them? And how sure are we, as constituents, that they can represent our interests?

The responsibility that comes with Parliamentary privilege

Of course, a parliamentarian might say that they are simply reflecting concerns from the ground.

Case in point, when questioned about the source of the allegation of vaccination-differentiation measures in a school, Non-Constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP) Mr Leong Mun Wai claimed that he saw it in a Telegram chat group — never mind that it was unsubstantiated and there was no proof.

However, there is a difference between reflecting real concerns from the ground and being mindful of speaking responsibly.

That is at the heart of this issue.

Our representatives have been afforded parliamentary privilege to speak freely and without fear in Parliament. This privilege comes with a duty to speak responsibly.

Abusing Parliamentary privilege is serious. parliamentarians who were found guilty in the past were censured or fined.

Effectiveness of Parliament depends on quality of members

The conduct of Singapore’s parliamentarians must be guided by a commitment to professionalism, integrity, and accountability.

They must uphold the highest standards of conduct to earn the trust of Singaporeans and use their Parliamentary privilege wisely while representing our interests.

Ultimately, the effectiveness of our Parliament depends on the quality of its members and their ability to engage in constructive, informed, and respectful debates.

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