Workers' Party motion on town councils 'inadmissible'

Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob has ruled that an adjournment motion on the town council review, filed by Workers' Party chairman Sylvia Lim, is inadmissible in Parliament when it sits next Monday.

The reason: The subject of the motion will be fully debated under a ministerial statement to be presented at the same sitting.

Ms Lim had filed the adjournment motion earlier this week, on Monday, following last Friday's announcement that National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan would deliver a ministerial statement on the review in Parliament.

She did so as she wanted more time to discuss the issue, she had said, citing Standing Order 23 of parliamentary rules. It states that MPs may only seek clarification on a ministerial statement, not debate it.

An adjournment motion would let her speak for 20 minutes at the end of the sitting.

But yesterday, the Clerk of Parliament said debate on ministerial statements is provided for under Standing Order 44.

"Members can make their speeches during this debate, not only clarifications," said the Clerk. Each MP can speak up to 20 minutes, followed by a wrap-up speech from Mr Khaw that can last up to 40 minutes.

Hence, to avoid repetition, the Clerk said: "The Speaker has ruled it inadmissible."

She cited Standing Order 53(2), which states it is out of order to discuss the subject matter of a motion - which in this case is the ministerial statement - in an adjournment motion.

When contacted, Ms Lim told The Straits Times that when she filed the adjournment motion on Monday, there was no indication that the Government would provide for any debate.

"In any case, this is an important matter and we will be participating in the debate on the motion, which was notified on Tuesday," she added.

Ms Lim is chairman of the WP's Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council. In January, she filed another adjournment motion: on safeguarding public interest in town council management.

She withdrew it after the Government announced its review of the fundamental nature of town councils and a controversial sale of computer software from People's Action Party town councils to a PAP-owned IT company.

A report on the review by the National Development Ministry was released last Friday. It highlighted the risk of politicising town council administration and called for a "strategic review" of town councils.

andreao@sph.com.sg