Speaking up, after being an NMP

Nominated Members of Parliament have first to meet appropriate career and representational yardsticks to have their names put forward for consideration. It is as it should be, as the NMP scheme is in a sense an alternative service route for committed people who are not drawn to the combativeness of elective politics. The backgrounds of those who are eventually chosen by a parliamentary committee often bear a close relation to the big issues of the day or the state of Singapore society during any given selection round.

The newest crop of NMPs announced last week, for instance, broke new ground in having a wheelchair user, lawyer Chia Yong Yong, among the nine picked. It was a way of acknowledging that a never-stand-still, rich but rather unequal society needs to be suffused with compassion and more attention paid to less fortunate people - those with special needs, say. Thus would Singapore become not only the best home, but also one with heart.

There has been a wealth of expert knowledge, insight and some original thinking paraded by the better NMPs in the 24 years the scheme has been in existence. A number of them would have been a credit to any party in the House as elected members. Names like Walter Woon, Laurence Lien and Kanwaljit Soin would rank high on any list. These are people with a social conscience, a daring to challenge the status quo for what they strongly believe will be positive outcomes.

The pity is that most past NMPs (there have been 65 alumni since 1990) are distinguished less by their public persona than their anonymity. Why are their voices so rarely heard in public debates on matters of consequence? Quite a few were known to be voluble in parliamentary debates. There need be no mental demarcation between the parliamentary chamber and the public domain where ideas are concerned. Their contributions are welcome, and would get a respectful hearing.

For the privilege of parliamentary immersion they have undergone, on top of the success they have made of their vocations, they should be taking leading roles in public discourse and the creation of a vibrant, socially responsive civil society. Far too many may have chosen to concentrate on their careers and businesses. They can adopt a public profile while tending to their livelihoods. Some do contribute time and ideas in voluntary organisations and ad hoc government committees but prefer to stay out of the limelight, having "had their say". That is a pity. Civic groups, non-governmental organisations and philanthropic foundations are crucial to Singapore's societal and intellectual ferment. But they cannot play their part without sustained input.