Parliament: MPs must be accessible, relevant and real, says newly elected Speaker Tan Chuan-Jin

Speaker Tan Chuan-Jin pledged to facilitate good, free-flowing debate and to be impartial, fair and firm as head of the legislature on Sept 11, 2017.
Speaker Tan Chuan-Jin pledged to facilitate good, free-flowing debate and to be impartial, fair and firm as head of the legislature on Sept 11, 2017.PHOTO: MCI

SINGAPORE - Parliament plays an important role channelling and reflecting peoples' voices, and MPs must ask questions, answer them and debate in a manner that provides hope and clarity, newly elected Speaker Tan Chuan-Jin said on Monday (Sept 11).

In his first speech addressing the House as head of the legislature, Mr Tan pledged to facilitate good, free-flowing debate and to be impartial, fair and firm.

He said he saw the presence of opposition colleagues in the House as "a strength and positive step towards constructive contestation of ideas", pointing out that such contestation is set to become more complex in the future.

He urged all MPs to work together with him to make Parliament "a beacon from where Singaporeans can take reference, with confidence, when addressing and understanding issues that will matter greatly for our collective well-being".

Mr Tan was announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong last week as his nominee for the post which Madam Halimah Yacob resigned from last month to contest the presidential election. PM Lee's announcement came as a surprise for some and sparked off discussion about whether or not he was "demoted", as he had to step down as Minister for Social and Family Development to become Speaker.

Referring to this on Monday, Mr Tan said it was "not a bad thing" that this led to discussion about the role of the Speaker.

"We do need fellow Singaporeans to be involved, and to gain a deeper understanding of not just the Speaker's role but also that of Parliament, its proceedings and how all of us here contribute to making Singapore a better home for our people," he said.

Speaking about the role of Parliament, Mr Tan said that MPs play a crucial role in ensuring the legitimacy of the laws in a Parliamentary democracy.

"The legitimacy of the laws we enact rests on the scrupulous attention we - on both sides of this House - pay to the reasoned debate which accompanies the passing of each law. No one doubts that our goal in these sittings must be to advance the interests of all Singaporeans," he said.

But he said with the proliferation of new ways for people to convey their views, such as through social media, MPs also need to "engage beyond this House, to tap on the collective wisdom that lies without".

"While we all need to be grounded and engaged, let us be clear - the buck stops here. We need to be the institution that channels and reflects the voices of the people, so that we can query, answer and debate in a manner that provides hope and clarity."

He added: "As Members of Parliament, whatever our stripes, we need to be accessible, relevant and to be real. We need to present the voices and needs of our individual constituents, but we need also to stand for a united Singapore, to speak with one voice in a fissiparous world," he said.

On Monday, PM Lee congratulated Mr Tan on being elected Speaker of Parliament. He wrote in a Facebook post: "I am confident Chuan-Jin will be an outstanding Speaker, and more. I wish him all the best!"