SINGAPORE - The Workers' Party (WP) does not have enough MPs in Parliament to form a shadow Cabinet but it will organise itself to scrutinise policies in five areas important to Singaporeans, said WP chief and Leader of the Opposition (LO) Pritam Singh.
The five areas are: health, ageing and retirement adequacy; jobs, businesses and the economy; education, inequality and the cost of living; housing, transport and infrastructure; and national sustainability, a broad area about how to ensure Singapore continues to thrive far into the future for successive generations.
Mr Singh made the remarks during the debate on the President's Address on Monday (Aug 31), during which he spoke at length for the first time in his new role as LO.
He also set out the WP's plans for this term of Parliament in a speech that had as its theme the idea of change.
He said: "First, I will speak about certain things that have changed in Singapore. Second, I will talk about things that must not change. And third, I will suggest some things that should change."
On his appointment to the new role of LO, Mr Singh said it was a sign of changes happening in Singapore politics, and that it had created expectations among the Government and the people.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had announced that Mr Singh would be accorded the new role after the WP won 10 seats in the July 10 polls, including Sengkang, its second group representation constituency.
Speaking in Parliament on Monday, Mr Singh said: "My personal expectation is that my Workers' Party colleagues and I will have to work extra hard. We will have to ask ourselves tough questions before critiquing government policy. The chief of which is, what would we do if we were in charge."
Even then, he said there must be clarity about "what the opposition can and cannot do".
With just 10 MPs in Parliament, the WP falls far short of the resources available to the Government, Mr Singh said, and it was important for Singaporeans to take this into account when forming their expectations of the opposition.
As the LO, Mr Singh will get to hire three more legislative assistants and one more secretarial assistant. All other backbench MPs can hire one legislative assistant and one secretarial assistant.
However, he added that the Government has at its disposal 146,000 full-time officers in the public service, of which 85,000 are civil servants.
Given this, the LO's office "will not have the breadth and depth of the party in government in coming up with alternative policies", he said.
He also reiterated his argument that how much the opposition can do also depends on the quantity and quality of information the Government releases.
Said Mr Singh: "We intend to make targeted inquiries of government departments and public agencies as such information is essential for crafting alternative policies. On its part, the Government should consider how it can put out more information without being asked to, particularly information and indicators benchmarked against other countries."
He said based on his assessment, Singaporeans expect the WP and the opposition in general to play a constructive role in Singapore politics, which should advance everyone's interests, regardless of their position on specific issues.
Mr Singh also said the WP will set its own standards and chart an independent course. "The Workers' Party has always taken the position that when it is in the opposition, it owes its loyalty to the President, the Republic of Singapore and the people," he said.
In his speech, which lasted for 33 minutes, Mr Singh also spoke about things in Singapore which he said must not change, including the nation's historical position as a trading nation, the Government's position on defence and foreign policy, and values which have become synonymous with Singapore, such as multiracialism and the culture of abhorring corruption.
Describing Singapore as a "glass half-full that can be topped up", Mr Singh also said there are things in the country that should change, which he believed would improve governance.
These include the formation of more select committees to deal with certain issues that can be divisive, as well as a change in how Singapore manages and accommodates foreigners in the economy.
Also up for change is a shift in how the work of tradesmen are valued and also greater help for those who need it most, he added.
Summing up, Mr Singh said: "However Singapore pivots or evolves in the years to come, I believe a reasoned conversation before choices and decisions are made or not made will be critical.
"The Workers' Party will seek to play a positive role in the national conversation both in and out of Parliament to leave behind a Singapore, our children and future generations can be proud of."