Muted fanfare is probably how we would describe the first parliament session of the year. Like clockwork, the Serjeant-at-Arms bearing the medieval-looking mace led Speaker Seah Kian Peng into the chamber. It is a solemn procession and a reminder that parliament is a serious place for serious debates.
Day 1: AI invasion, noisy neighbours and a couple of Bills
Kickstarting the Parliamentary Questions (PQs) is the affable Mr Chan Chun Sing, who, as Education Minister, touched on how schools are equipping students with a knowledge of Artificial Intelligence (AI). Now, perhaps not all of us will get to witness the new robotic era. But it is reassuring nonetheless that the Government is staying ahead of the game and preparing our young ones for the future.
Moving back to the present, there were several pressing issues concerning workplace safety, biodiversity and managing disturbances in HDB flats. Unsurprisingly, there was plenty of chatter when the government relaxed the rental occupancy cap. Eight unrelated occupants in a 4-room flat? The fear is real and palpable. That one could end up sharing common spaces with rowdy neighbours from hell next door. However, the numbers shared by Senior Minister of State (SMS) Tan Kiat How paints a more reassuring picture. With 9,280 entire HDB units rented out whole to six unrelated occupants out of 1 million flats, the chances of putting up with nuisance tenants is less than 0.1%.
And just like that, the 90 minutes allocated for PQs was over. With three bills due a second reading, a significant amount of time was spent debating the Significant Investments Review Bill. There were concerns coming from both sides of the house. Unfortunately, what the Government sees as a national security measure often becomes framed as excessive interference or even a tool for retaliation by the Opposition. But despite both sides hardly ever seeing eye to eye, the Stillbirths and Births Bill provided some bright sparks that politicians from different fractions can still work towards a common good.
Day 2: Saving the environment (IRL and online)
Day 2 of parliament certainly picked up pace. For a start, Environment Minister Grace Fu updated us on how Singapore is working towards its COP28 goals. Considering how Singapore is already feeling the effects of erratic weather, the urgency to act is now more urgent than ever.
Following that, the remaining PQs touched on a series of blunders ranging from diplomatic bags to cord blood storage. It is a sad state of affairs when all it takes is one black sheep to cast aspersions on the entire system. And ironically, whenever the Government tries to strengthen regulations and close loopholes, it ends up getting accused of imposing oppressive laws.
Finally, the finale we have all been waiting for – a debate on a motion to build a safe and inclusive digital society. The call to action is timely, especially with scammers getting wiser and more sophisticated by the second. Because as MP Ms Tin Pei Ling said, scams are like cockroaches that keep evolving.
Very much like keeping Singapore safe from a pandemic, here is a motion that ought to unite both sides of the house. Unfortunately, all we got from the Opposition was a classic case of the bystander effect in a 7-hour debate.
Moving forward, will our parliamentary debates become more constructive? We will have to wait till February to see if things improve. Maybe that memo about parliament being a serious place for serious debates might get through to the other side.
Photo Source: Grace Fu/ Chan Chun Sing via Facebook