Apologise for speaking in Parliament?


Why waste time on apologies for debates in Parliament – focus on working for Singaporeans?

I refer to the article “Grace Fu asks Leon Perera to apologise for ‘false allegations'” (Straits Times, Jan 4).

It states that “Leader of the House Grace Fu yesterday wrote to Workers’ Party Non-Constituency MP Leon Perera, asking that he withdraw his “false allegations” that Mediacorp had deliberately edited parliamentary footage of a debate on changes to the elected presidency.

She also called on Mr Perera to apologise at the parliamentary sitting next Monday for misrepresenting the facts and misleading Parliament during an earlier sitting on Nov 7 last year.”

MP wrote to newspaper to apologise?

Since we are on the subject of MPs apologising for what they said in Parliament – let’s look back in history at what are arguably – the most famous, if not the silliest MPs’ apologies.

MP for Tampines GRC, Sin Boon Ann, wrote to the Straits Times forum on 3 October, 2007 – “MP now convinced CPF funds don’t come cheap” (link) and said that:

“… it was reported that I used the word ‘cheap’ to describe CPF monies as a source of funds for the Government, in the debate in Parliament on CPF reforms.

I wish to clarify that my choice of the word was motivated by a comparison between the cost of CPF monies to the Government and the returns that the Government is able to get in the longer term through careful fund management…

I should emphasise that the word was not chosen, as some may have suggested, to imply that the Government was making money at the people’s expense.

I am glad to note that your newspaper had accurately reported my remark that any income derived from such investments has been applied for the benefit of the people of Singapore.

Having considered carefully the explanation of the Second Minister for Finance, Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam, I am now satisfied and have come to the conclusion that the CPF monies, with risk-free interest guaranteed, do not represent a cheap source of funds to the Government, particularly now that the interest rate on the CPF balances has been pushed higher by the recent changes.”

MP said in Parliament – why CPF returns so low?

In this connection, another MP’s (Ong Kian Min) speech in the Parliamentary debate on CPF changes, was the “talk of the town” amongst Singaporeans.

He had made a strong rebuttal to the proposed CPF changes, particularly on the issue of why the returns on CPF are so low.

Another MP wrote to newspaper to apologise?

On 27 September, 2007 – Mr Ong wrote to the Straits Times forum, to clarify the remarks he had made in Parliament.

From rarely refreshing speeches from the heart for the people by the MPs, to the (27 September, 2007) “apology like” letters in the Straits Times by the same MPs themselves – is it any wonder why some Singaporeans say that Parliamentary debate in Singapore is kind of docile, and not very lively?

Self rebuttals of MPs own remarks in Parliament?

The letters sounded almost like “self rebuttals” of the MPs’ own remarks in Parliament!

Unprecedented in Parliamentary history?

This I believe is unprecedented in Parliamentary history.

Just when we thought a new era of more open debate had arrived …. alas …..

Speaking up in Parliament?

It may indeed have been a sad day for Singapore – who else will ever dare to speak up in the future?

What message are we sending to MPs and Singaporeans?

What kind of leaders are we grooming?

With reference to the articles “PAP wary of those too eager to please” and “In search of 4th-generation leaders” (ST, Oct 6), what kind of leaders are we grooming when they have to write to the Straits Times forum to clarify their own rebuttals in Parliament in debating national issues?

The whip?

The fact that the whip is seldom lifted, may be a stumbling block to diversity and alternative view points in Parliamentary sessions.

As for the issue of CPF changes itself, since it has been said that the CPF system is flawed, and that’s why there is a need for a major reform of the CPF system now, how can we be so sure that the proposals to fix the “flaw” were or are perfect (in Parliamentary debates)?

For arguments’ sake – if the past policies were not perfect (flawed), how can we be sure that the new policies are perfect (not flawed too) ?

Free and unfettered debate in Parliament?

Only a free and unfettered debate in Parliament can ensure that policies are subject to comprehensive and diverse review, on a continuing basis.

By the way – why not telecast Parliamentary debates live, so that arguably – Ministers and MPs don’t have to waste their time to ask for or give apologies, or worry about what they say in the heat and bustle of Parliamentary debates.

Leong Sze Hian

About the Author

Leong Sze Hian has served as president of 4 professional bodies, honorary consul of 2 countries, an alumnus of Harvard University, authored 4 books, quoted over 1500 times in the media , has been a radio talkshow host, a newspaper daily columnist, Wharton Fellow, SEACeM Fellow, columnist for theonlinecitizen and Malaysiakini, executive producer of Ilo Ilo (40 international awards), invited to speak more than 200 times in over 30 countries, CIFA advisory board member, founding advisor to the Financial Planning Associations of Indonesia and Brunei. He has 3 Masters, 2 Bachelors degrees and 13 professional  qualifications.