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

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