SINGAPORE - As the official Leader of the Opposition (LO), Workers' Party chief Pritam Singh will be given certain parliamentary privileges like the right of first response among MPs.
He will also have the right to ask the lead question to ministers on policies, Bills and motions, subject to existing speaking conventions, the offices of the Speaker of Parliament and the Leader of the House said in a joint statement on Tuesday (July 28).
The statement set out the duties of the new role, as well as the parliamentary privileges and resources accorded to Mr Singh, who is an MP for Aljunied GRC.
He will receive confidential briefings by the Government on "select matters of national security and external relations, and in the event of a national crisis or emergency", the statement said.
As the LO, Mr Singh will also have more time for his speeches, equivalent to that given to political office-holders.
According to the Standing Orders of Parliament, all MPs are allowed to speak for 20 minutes in response to questions raised, and can address a committee of the whole of Parliament for up to 10 minutes.
Ministers and parliamentary secretaries are entitled to speak for up to 40 minutes.
In terms of additional resources, Mr Singh will receive an allowance that is double that of an elected MP, or $385,000 a year, the statement said.
As for staff support, he will receive additional allowance to hire up to three additional legislative assistants, on top of the allowance that all MPs receive to hire one legislative assistant and a secretarial assistant.
He will also be provided a secretary to support him administratively with parliamentary business.
Mr Singh will have an office and the use of a meeting room in Parliament House.
The announcement comes after Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on July 11, after the results of the general election were announced, that Mr Singh would be designated Leader of the Opposition and be provided staff and resources to carry out his duties.
In the elections, WP had won a second GRC in Sengkang and 10 seats in Parliament, up from six in the previous election.
The joint statement said that similar to other Westminister parliamentary systems, the LO in Singapore will lead 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, Mr Singh will also be consulted on the appointment of opposition MPs to select committees, including standing select Committees such as the Public Accounts Committee.
"In addition to his parliamentary duties, the LO may be called upon to take on other duties such as attending official state functions and taking part in visits and meetings alongside members of the Government and the Public Service," the statement said.
The Government said it had decided on these duties and privileges after considering other Westminster parliamentary systems which have a formal LO designation such as Australia and Britain, as well as Singapore's circumstances.
"Such a position is not provided for in either our Constitution or the Standing Orders of Parliament," the statement said, noting that Singapore's legislatures have never formally had this position even in the 1950s and early 1960s, when there were "substantial numbers of opposition legislative assemblymen".
"Mr Lee Kuan Yew led the People's Action Party as the largest opposition party in the Legislative Assembly between 1955 and 1959, and Dr Lee Siew Choh led the Barisan Sosialis as the largest opposition party in the Legislative Assembly between 1961 and 1963. Neither Mr Lee nor Dr Lee were formally designated Leader of the Opposition."
But PM Lee has acknowledged that the recent election results showed a strong desire among Singaporeans for a greater diversity of views in politics, and that this trend is here to stay.
"Designating a Leader of Opposition will recognise this desire while enabling our political system to evolve in a way that maintains our sense of national purpose," the joint statement said.
It noted that as with any new political appointment, the role of the Leader of the Opposition will evolve as Singapore's political system evolves.
"We look forward to working with the LO to create a robust but stable political system serving the interests of Singapore and Singaporeans.
"These duties and privileges have been conveyed to Mr Pritam Singh. The Leader of the House (Ms Grace Fu) will make a statement in Parliament to formally set out the terms of the LO."
Parliament will open on Aug 24 with the President's Address, and the debate on it will start on Aug 31.
In a Facebook post on Tuesday night, PM Lee noted that there will be 12 opposition MPs in Parliament - 10 from the WP and two Non-Constituency MPs from the Progress Singapore Party (PSP).
"I hope to see not just more constructive debates, but serious policy alternatives from the opposition. Through this, not only will voters better understand the issues, but policies and plans will be improved with better outcomes for all Singaporeans," he wrote.
"I look forward to working with our colleagues across the aisle to build a better and stronger Singapore."
Also posting on Facebook, Mr Singh said he would extend support to the NCMPs from the PSP, in the light of the staff and resources accorded to him.
"I will speak in greater detail on the approach The Workers' Party will take in Parliament over the next term, and what the public can expect during the debate on the President’s address next month," he said.
Mr Leong Mun Wai, one of the PSP’s NCMPs, said in response to Mr Singh’s remarks: “We look forward to working with the LO and his party’s MPs to enhance transparency, leading to better policies for the good of Singapore and Singaporeans.”