SINGAPORE - Having more opposition MPs in Parliament will mean a greater diversity of views and more robust debate, said Leader of the House Indranee Rajah on Monday (Aug 31).
But Singapore should work to ensure that this diversity does not lead to polarity of country or people, she added in a ministerial statement on the duties and privileges of the Leader of the Opposition.
"Experience elsewhere shows that unity in diversity is not an assured outcome," said Ms Indranee, who is Minister in the Prime Minister's Office.
"Our goal should be to harness this diversity of views in a constructive manner so that we can, as a Parliament, better serve the interests of Singaporeans and Singapore."
There are currently 12 opposition MPs in Parliament - 10 elected MPs from the Workers' Party (WP) and two Non-Constituency MPs from the Progress Singapore Party.
WP chief Pritam Singh has been formally appointed Leader of the Opposition (LO), and will sit opposite Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in Parliament. This is similar to the practice in other countries that recognise this role, Ms Indranee said.
She added that the Government considered the conventions and practices of other Westminster-style parliamentary systems, such as Britain and Australia, in deciding the duties and privileges of the LO.
"What I have set out... reflects what we have adapted to suit our current political and parliamentary context," she said.
As LO, Mr Singh will have the right to ask the lead question to ministers on policies, Bills and motions, subject to existing speaking convention and at the discretion of the Speaker of Parliament. Parliament also moved a motion to give Mr Singh more time for his speeches – 40 minutes – equivalent to that given to political office-holders.
He will be given an office in Parliament, staff support and an allowance that is double that of an elected MP, or $385,000 a year. Mr Singh has said that he is setting aside half the pay increase he will get as LO for donations to residents, his party and charities.
"With more opposition MPs in Parliament, we hope the opposition will play a bigger role in putting up alternative views and proposals for debate," Ms Indranee said as she set out the LO's duties.
Mr Singh (Aljunied GRC) will be responsible for leading the opposition in presenting alternative views in parliamentary debates on policies, Bills and motions.
He will also lead and organise the scrutiny of government positions and actions in Parliament.
In addition, he will be consulted on the appointment of opposition MPs to select committees, including standing select committees such as the Public Accounts Committee.
He may also be called upon to attend official state functions, and will from time to time receive confidential briefings by the Government to ensure better understanding across both sides of the House on issues such as national security and external relations.
"The role of the Leader of the Opposition in Singapore will evolve with our politics," Ms Indranee said. "It must always be the ambition of this House to live up to the expectations of our people and create a political system that is focused on serving Singapore and Singaporeans to the best of our abilities."
She added that she looks forward to working with Mr Singh to achieve these outcomes.
Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin said he looks forward to working with Ms Indranee and Mr Singh to ensure the “productive and orderly conduct” of parliamentary business and debates.
“I’m also confident that under their capable leadership and cooperation across the aisle, the decorum, dignity and honour of the House will be upheld by all members at all times.”