Monday, August 13, 2012

Scrutiny on Singapore Parliamentarians

I must have missed that important news that a bill wasn't passed last month due to the Parliament wasn't able to meet the quorum of 25%. This news report appears in the July 10 edition of Today newspaper. Ironically, the title of the article is "LTA's role under scrutiny" and the inability of parliament to meet quorum to pass the bill was stated right below the article.

"The Land Transport Authority of Singapore (Amendment) Bill was not passed yesterday as fewer than a quarter of members were present in the House at the end of the debate. Mr Lui is expected to address the LTA's role in last December's train disruptions in Parliament today."

The quorum of 25% (excluding Speaker) is pretty low taking into account that we have less than 100 MPs (99 parliamentarians including 87 elected MPs, 3 NCMP and 9 NMPs) in total. It simply means that the parliament will only need 25 parliamentarians (including NCMPs and NMPs) to be present in order to debate and pass any bills, laws or amendments.

It is utterly disappointing and outrageous that most of our highly paid elected MPs were not performing their duty as parliamentarians diligently, so much so that their absence had caused an amendment to the bill unable to be passed on time. It is totally unacceptable for MPs to be so irresponsible in not attending the sitting and resulted the parliament to miss such a low quorum requirement.

If these MPs feel that there are many more other commitments more important than fulfilling their role as parliamentarians, to do the very basic thing of attending parliamentary sitting diligently, then they should quit politics altogether. MP-ship is not just a title to make you look good, not just a political reward for your past loyalty to your party. Definitely not just the path for you to make quick money by getting as many directorships from public and private companies. MP-ship is about representing the voices of your constituents in parliament, putting up checks on the government on various issues, making decisions on their behalf when passing laws and bills. MP-ship is about serving the people, not serving your own interests first. If you really feel that there are more important things in your life, eg. making money, than performing the basic role as elected representative in parliament, then please, don't waste taxpayers' money, though that $14K or $15K per month may be just "peanuts" to you but it means a lot to many workers who earn less than $1K or $2K in Singapore. Most importantly, don't just chop place in parliament. There is one Chinese saying, don't just sit on the toilet bowl and not shit! (坐在茅坑不拉屎!)

Someone pointed out that this incident happened because the parliamentary sitting overrun the stipulated time. I don't think this is a good excuse at all. As a MP, what is so important that one could just walk out of parliament without passing the intended law? The basic fundamental role of a MP is to attend parliamentary sittings to facilitate the debates and passing of laws.

Let me use Hong Kong as an example for comparison, as I know Hong Kong much better, other than Singapore's system.

First of all, Hong Kong Legco (Legislative Council) members are paid lesser than Singapore elected MPs.

Secondly, Hong Kong Legco meets weekly (normally on Wednesday, with extension if there are more issues to debate. eg. budget) while Singapore Parliament meets only once a month.

Thirdly, there are 60 Legco Members (increasing to 65 after the coming Legco elections) while Singapore has 87 elected MPs, 3 NCMP and 9 NMPs, total 99.

Hong Kong Legco meeting has a quorum of 50% while Singapore parliamentary sitting has a low quorum of 25%.

Hong Kong has 24 out 60 pan-democratic (opposition) Legco members while Singapore has only 9 (including NCMPs) out of 99.

Technically speaking, Hong Kong Legco has suffered from quorum busting twice in history held by the pro-establishment members, in protest of the pan-democrats' proposed motion or speeches. They just refused to attend meeting to cause the close or adjournment of the meeting. On the other hand, the pan-democrats have used filibuster technique to drag on the meeting to prevent the passing of the government restructuring bill in May and June 2012. Although the Chairman of Legco has forbidden the debate of all amendments raised on the bills, the pan-democrats have successfully dragged on the meeting by making hundreds and thousand of amendments to preceding bills. During this process, the pro-establishment Legco members were basically FORCED to attend the prolonged Legco meetings right into the wee hours of late nights till dawn, just to maintain the basic quorum of 50% in order for the process to finish in time. Calls for count were made by the pan-democrats regularly during the filibuster period.

I have made all these comparisons just to show how overpaid and under-work our elected MPs are. Hong Kong pro-establishment Legco members (equivalent to ruling party members) have to make extra effort to attend legco meetings OVER NIGHT just to maintain the high 50% quorum to fight back against the pan-democrats' aggression of filibuster. Our PAP MPs just let the bill lapse without even facing serious challenge from opposition due to their absence in parliament under a low quorum of 25%!

It is really a total disgrace and shameful for our highly paid parliamentarians not able to meet that low quorum of 25% that caused the adjournment of passing that bill!

It is even more frustrating that the opposition MPs and main stream media didn't take the ruling party MPs to task for wasting taxpayers' money and not taking their role as MPs seriously! These MPs didn't take their MP-ship too seriously and should face censure and reprimand. These MPs are only required to attend parliamentary sitting on a monthly basis and such arrangement shouldn't have caused much disruption to their own work, unlike the weekly meeting conducted in Hong Kong Legco. Yet, they have not put their role as MP as TOP PRIORITY during this period! What kinds of MPs are we having in parliament?

I hope that the opposition MPs' silence on this matter is not due to their own MPs being absent from the parliamentary sitting as well! If so, both the opposition and ruling party MPs should be put to scrutiny for wasting taxpayers' money and not taking their responsibility as MPs seriously.

I would suggest that to enhance transparency of the working of parliament, after each term, a report card on ALL the MPs should be published. Attendance rate (full attendance, not just sign and leave), number of speeches made as well as proposing bills or amendments to bills should be made known after parliament is dissolved, before the General Elections are conducted. In doing so, it will allow every voters to assess their own MP's performance better.

Quorum of parliamentary sitting should be raised to at least one third, if not 50%. We should have higher expectation on our MPs because we are paying them top remunerations in the world! We may not demand full time MP commitment from all of them but at least they should place their role of people's representatives as top priority in their life. Else, why vote and pay them so much?

For those who missed full attendance for a total of 3 parliamentary sittings consecutively or total of 8 sittings in a year, they should be sent to the parliamentary disciplinary committee for questioning and disciplinary actions to be taken against them if they do not have valid reasons. Reports of the findings should be published.

If we want to build our World Class parliament, we should start scrutinizing our MPs more thoroughly. Not meeting quorum for any parliamentary sitting is really totally unacceptable, in view of the low quorum, top remuneration and frequency of our parliamentary sittings. World Class parliament can only come with world class parliamentarians with high standards who take their role as people's representatives as top priority and performing their duties seriously and diligently. Else, all are just empty, highfalutin talks only.

Goh Meng Seng

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Verdict : Singapore Constitution Isn't that Democratic

Well, I have been waken from my political slumber once again and this time, it is really the most exciting and important happening that comes into my mind! I have long suspected that Singapore isn't a democratic country that all of us are made to believe by reciting our National Pledge everyday during our school time. Forget about the pledge which just state "Highfalutin" motherhood statements and ideas on "to build a democratic society". That pledge is after all, just for kids and teenagers to recite! How many of us, or the politicians who recite that pledge every time (only on National Day and election rallies), truly believe in all those Highfalutin ideas embedded in it? Stop kidding ourselves!

My suspicion that Singapore isn't and never was, a democratic society at all has been proven by a learned judge today. I am so happy that these mysterious doubts in my head have finally been cleared and solved. I have to thank this learned judge for his great effort in helping me to confirm that our Constitution wasn't really written with true democratic principles in mind. Let me elaborate here.

According to Todayonline report, the presiding judge of the Hougang By-Election case, Justice Philip Pillai, has declared that
"there was no requirement in the Constitution to call elections to fill elected Member vacancies. There being no such requirement, there arises no prescribed time within which such elections must be called".

He further elaborates that

Under the Constitution, to call or not to call an election to fill an elected Member vacancy is a decision to be made by the Prime Minister. Should the Prime Minister decide to call an election to fill an elected Member vacancy. The Parliamentary Elections Act merely provides the mechanism to hold such an election should the Prime Minister decide to call one.

Let me put it in simple words. The learned judge is basically saying that our previous "perceptions" that the government "must" hold a by-election if any parliamentary seat is vacated, is awfully and utterly wrong and rubbish! He is saying that there is absolutely NOTHING in our Constitution that says the government of the day MUST call for by-election under any circumstances! And he is basically saying that it is ALL UP TO the Prime Minister to decide on whether to call for by-elections or not. No other people, including the President, can make that decision! Well, never mind about what the Article 49 says "shall be filled by election ". "Shall" doesn't mean "MUST"! That is, in Singlish (Singapore English lingo), Bo Ba Ke!

Article 49 Filing of Vacancies
(1) Whenever the seat of a Member, not being a non-constituency Member, has become vacant for any reason other than a dissolution of Parliament, the vacancy shall be filled by election in the manner provided by or under any law relating to Parliamentary elections for the time being in force.
(2) The Legislature may by law provide for
(a) the vacating of a seat of a non-constituency Member in circumstances other than those specified in Article 46;
(b) the filling of vacancies of the seats of non-constituency Members where such vacancies are caused otherwise than by a dissolution of Parliament.

This means that the Prime Minister has all the power in Singapore, to decide on his very own, whether to call for By-Elections or not. He is the CHOSEN ONE with the only POWER to do that. Even the parliament cannot force him to do anything if he just doesn't feel like it. Well, doesn't that sound like a dictatorial style kind of Constitutional Empowerment? YES! ABSOLUTELY!

Many other people, even those so call "Constitutional Experts" like Assistant Professor Jack Lee, NMP Eugene Tan, Professor Thio Li-ann, Professor Kevin Tan, ex-NMP Siew Kum Hong etc are ALL WRONG! They thought that it is legally binding that the PM must call for by-elections within a stipulated time. They were all WRONG in arguing on whether the PM must call for by-election within the time frame or not! They didn't know or realize that the Constitution wasn't written with such Democratic principles in mind at all in the very first place!

How could we consider the Constitution to be written with such Democratic principles when the power was empowered to ONE MOST IMPORTANT person to decide on such electoral matters? There wasn't any "RULE" written in Constitution to enforce proper representation of the people at all. Imagine, if a rogue government has been voted in and it started to round up all its opponents and put them behind bars for donkey years, it doesn't need to call for any by-elections at all because the Constitution doesn't say so! Never mind about whether the constituents who voted in those opposition MPs being ROBBED of their voices in parliament or not because, the PM just don't like to hold by-elections! So, the parliament could carry on to rubber stamp anything, everything under the sun; they could even change the Constitution to be written exactly like the ones communist countries have! They could even change Singapore's name to "People's Republic of Singapore"!

When the Constitution doesn't put much weight, stress and respect to the democratic idea of "people's representation" through fair and just universal suffrage or elections, could it be considered as a Constitution written with Democratic principles?

All these years, I have difficulties in convincing many people that Singapore isn't really set to be a democratic country at all but they just simply point to our National Pledge. Hey, how many people would bother to understand what our Constitution says? Well, the Americans might have been taught about their four pages of Constitution or "Charters of Freedom" as "National Education", but we are only taught about how good PAP is in our school's National Education! Nothing about our Constitution at all! Least about what Democracy means to us! I can't blame them because I can hardly remember our Constitution as well!

Well, even when PAP starts to berate the simple National Pledge as full of "Highfalutin Ideas", Singaporeans I have met still insist that we are "Democratic country". Never mind if we score so low in Press Freedom or Political Freedom or being labelled "ill-democratic"... They say we have elections, never mind about whether GRC is fair or not...In fact, our Main Stream Media have "well established writers" who constantly write about Democracy is bad! (Read Zaobao Forum)

I felt so depressed sometimes because so many people thought I am MAD to say that Singapore isn't really built on democratic principles and we are not tailored to be a democracy at all. I finally find solace and feel vindicated by the learned judge's, Justice Philip Pillai, public verdict on this matter.

I feel that it would be even convincing for others to believe me if someone could go to the court again and claim that the PM could actually APPOINT any persons to take over the parliamentary seats which are vacated in any circumstances! The judge could finally put to rest on any doubts about whether Singapore is written with Democracy in mind by giving the rightful judgement that since the Constitution is silent about it and didn't deny the PM of such power of appointment, the PM can just make such appointment! This does not contravene any Constitutional rules and it is in fact consistent with what the Constitution has been empowering the government, of appointing NMPs or NCMPs (who are losers in GE) into parliament! Never mind if NMPs have any basis of constituents' support, just forget about that Highfalutin Democratic idea of representation, just appoint. If the government can appoint anyone without a single constituent's support or vote into parliament, what's wrong for the PM to appoint any one to take over the vacated parliamentary seat? Anything is possible as long as the Constitution didn't state anything about it!

(After Note: Some of my friends questioned me about this point about the legitimacy of having PM appointing any individual to take over any vacated seat. I just told them, our learned judge has written his judgement and verdict based on something which is not written in the Constitution, not something that was written in the Constitution! Thus, I am very confident that our learned judge would also use this argument that anything that is NOT written in the Constitution could be viewed as legitimate! Thus, those who don't agree are those who don't really understand how our legal system works! Just like those Constitutional experts who have gotten all their reasoning wrong because they have blatantly ignore this good practice of our law! )

In fact, PAP has already exercised such idea! Any seats vacated in any GRC, they don't need to go for by-elections, never mind if the constituents of that vacated seat has lost their representative and voice in parliament or not. PAP can just appoint the rest of the MPs in that GRC to take care of his ward, represent his constituents... no need by-election what! This is just short of appointing a non-MP to take over his place!

Well, to further into the logical argument, if they can do that for GRC, why can't they do it to SMC as well? Even if it is an opposition ward, never mind. Just as long as PAP PM APPOINTS a PAP MP to "take care" of this ward, as long as someone can go to the ward and sit down, listen to the constituents' problems and write letters for them, problem solved! Well, even if PM wants to exercise his power further, he could have just appointed the PAP candidate who have lost in that opposition ward to stand in as MP! Why not? All matters are about weekly writing letters sessions! The MPS, meet the people sessions!

In short, my fellow Singaporeans, please wake up and stop your democratic dreams! It must be very clear to all of us now that the learned judge has just basically confirmed that the Constitution has given the PM FULL POWER to dictate on such electoral matters, aka by-elections. The Constitution WASN'T supposed to be written to enhance Democracy as we have foolishly misled ourselves by reciting the pledge with those highfalutin ideas! No matter how hard you dream, the truth has already been revealed and confirmed. Please remember, PAP has all along given all the hints about the TRUE Singapore; it is not our right to vote but just a privilege given by PAP. A privilege that could possibly be taken away from us. Our National Pledge is just full of Highfalutin Ideas which are never meant to be achieved.

We should be prepared, fully be prepared for the day, as I have mentioned, for the possibility to be renamed as People's Republic of Singapore. That would be a name that truly represent what Singapore is.

We will be celebrating our National Day in one week's time. May be it would be a good time to reflect on the REALITY that is brought on by this very important verdict by the learned judge. May be we should pause a while and think whether we should continue to recite that Highfalutin National Pledge after we are awaken to the fact that the very fundamental of our Nation's existence, the Constitution, isn't exactly written with much Democratic principles in mind.

Goh Meng Seng

Hougang resident's by-election application dismissed by High Court Judge
Updated 03:25 PM Aug 01, 2012
SINGAPORE - A High Court Judge has dismissed a Hougang resident's application to declare that the Prime Minister does not have "unfettered discretion" over whether and when to call a by-election.

Madam Vellama Marie Muthu had also applied for a mandatory order for the by-election to be called in Hougang within three months or a reasonable time, after the seat was vacated.

Mdm Vellama, 42, a part-time cleaner, had filed her application on March 2, following the sacking of former Member of Parliament Yaw Shin Leong from the Workers' Party on Feb 15.

In his judgment released today, Justice Philip Pillai noted there was no requirement in the Constitution to call elections to fill elected Member vacancies. There being no such requirement, there arises no prescribed time within which such elections must be called, he added.

Under the Constitution, to call or not to call an election to fill an elected Member vacancy is a decision to be made by the Prime Minister, said Justice Pillai. Should the Prime Minister decide to call an election to fill an elected Member vacancy, he has a discretion as to when to call it, he added.

The Parliamentary Elections Act merely provides the mechanism to hold such an election should the Prime Minister decide to call one, said Justice Pillai. In the event that the Prime Minister decides to call an election to fill an elected Member vacancy, section 24 of the Parliamentary Elections Act requires that the President issue writs under the public seal to the Returning Officer to convene such election to supply vacancies caused by death, resignation or otherwise. "In so doing, the President is obliged to act in accordance with Article 21 of the Constitution," he added.