30 years of GPCs

The time a GPC member asked MPs to vote against the Govt

In Parliament, MPs in government parliamentary committees have the role of scrutinising policies and legislation. Over the years, there have been memorable exchanges between them and ministers asked to explain their positions. Here are edited excerpts of three instances of MPs in GPCs crossing swords with ministers.

On funding for GPC researchers

MARCH 17, 1987

Member of Home Affairs GPC Tang See Chim: There is a vote for a parliamentary research officer in the estimates... and it is only for a single researcher.

GPCs are supposed to empanel their resource persons but that would be of no help. Resource persons are there more for feedback than research.

If a chairman of a GPC were to come to this House and air any matter that the resource persons point out, I am afraid that the minister concerned will dismiss such an airing gently if he is in a good mood, and unceremoniously if he is not.

So it is absolutely necessary to have more research help if the GPCs were to do a good job.

Leader of the House Wong Kan Seng: The Member for Chua Chu Kang has spoken up for the GPC chairmen. There is, in fact, a research officer's post and when we have filled (it), we will see how it works out. If it does provide useful service to the GPC chairmen and also to the other Members of Parliament, then we can consider increasing the number of research officers who could provide assistance to the GPCs. The GPCs also receive a lot of help from the ministries concerned.

Mr Tang: Mr Chairman, Sir, the minister is not convincing. He said there is one post. But we have nine GPCs. We must at least have nine research officers. I suggest that the GPC chairmen join with me in cutting the (budget) vote so the Leader of the House will take note and provide us with research help. Speaker: Mr Tang, are you withdrawing (the cut)?

Mr Tang: No, Sir, I am not withdrawing and I appeal to my GPC colleagues to vote against the minister.

(Question on the amendment put, and voted down.)


On using Medisave for health screenings

AUG 13, 2001

Deputy chairman of Health GPC Lily Neo: Mr Speaker, Sir, may I ask the Minister for Health whether he agrees that prevention is better than cure? If it is, would he not encourage more people to practise this by allowing them to go for health screening for common cancers and breast cancer using their Medisave?

Health Minister Lim Hng Kiang: I do believe that prevention is better than cure and, therefore, I urge all Singaporeans to have a very healthy lifestyle.

I have not ruled out health screening as a useful device. But before we undertake a mass health screening and also allow Medisave to be used for (it), we have to be convinced that (this) is effective, otherwise we undertake a major health screening and we get people all worked up, too many false results and it is not money put to good use.

Secondly, we must remember that Medisave is really intended as savings for medical treatment for old age. When we are still active, earning and have our own savings, we should use these to pay for the (health screening).

Dr Neo: I beg to differ. Colorectal cancer is the commonest cancer among Singapore men and women, and breast cancer is the most frequent killer of Singapore women.

The most important factor is early detection. Will the Minister for Health facilitate more people to go for early detection by allowing them to use their Medisave?

Mr Lim: For mammography, we have (screening) in our polyclinics, and we subsidise it up to 50 per cent.

I do not think cost is the main deterrent. We have run free mammographies, and the take-up rate is low.

Dr Neo: Sir, is it correct to say that mammography in polyclinics is only applicable to women aged 50 years and above on demand, that there is no population screening programme and there is also a co-payment fee of $50 for each screening?

But since (among women who) are diagnosed with breast cancer, half are below 50, and breast cancer is curable if detected early, should not the minister facilitate more women to go for early screening and save lives?

Mr Lim: We have to use our Medisave carefully. I sympathise entirely with women who want to do their breast screening early. I would urge them to do so.

My usual reply is: save on one hairdo and use the money for breast screening. I have been taken to task by many of my hairdressers in Telok Blangah but this is still my main message.

Dr Neo: Is it better to use Medisave to detect early diseases and save lives rather than safeguarding Medisave for old age and end-stage diseases, by which time, the funds in Medisave would have been made redundant in the case of cancers for such patients?

Mr Lim: Sir, if the Members support an increase in the Medisave contribution rate, I would allow Medisave to be used for such screening.

On consulting GPCs before major policies

JAN 18, 1989

Minister for Communications and Information Yeo Ning Hong: Sir, the Member for Fengshan gave a very spirited and vigorous speech yesterday. The Straits Times today started off its article on the speech: "Dr Arthur Beng (Fengshan) yesterday chided the Government for reneging on a promise to adopt a more consultative approach when formulating important policies."

I want to ask the Member for Fengshan whether The Straits Times has got him right, whether that was his intention, or whether he might have been misunderstood, that he was saying that the Government has gone back on its promise to be more consultative, in particular with respect to the Ministry of Communications and Information.

Former chairman for Communications and Information GPC Arthur Beng: The media is entitled to its opinion. I never used the word "chide", I never intended it to be a chide. I expressed what was my personal viewpoint.

Dr Yeo: (Did) the Member intend to convey the message, the impression, there had been no consultation with the Government Parliamentary Committee?

Dr Beng: On the issue of diesel tax, I conveyed the message that there could have been much more consultation.

Dr Yeo: I concede that point. My Minister of State has given the explanation as to why it is not possible to discuss matters that are time-sensitive or price-sensitive or tax matters. It is to ensure none of our MPs can ever be falsely accused of taking advantage of information they have obtained. In this way, we protect our MPs.

Has the Member been satisfied with the level of consultation on other matters?

Dr Beng: I thank the minister for his concern for us MPs. But surely the minister can consult with the MPs on matters of principle. I am not asking him the quantum of the tax or when tax is going to be implemented. Principles can, of course, be discussed.

Dr Yeo: When Government is accused of reneging on its promise to be consultative, it is a very serious matter. The principles for the tax increase for cars and for the diesel tax have been discussed many, many times.

We take the GPCs seriously. We take their views seriously. We take their proposals seriously. And we take consultation with them very seriously. I have no doubt that my other colleagues in Cabinet are equally committed to consultation with the Government Parliamentary Committees.

Dr Beng: It is really reassuring to hear the minister say that he is totally committed and so are his Cabinet colleagues. I think I have achieved the aim of my exercise yesterday. If I have extracted this, it is something which all of us are happy about, and we are very reassured about.

But, Sir, I want to put it on record, if the minister has misunderstood me, or my speech yesterday, that nowhere did I impute that the minister or his ministry was uncooperative with me over the whole period of my chairmanship of the GPC.

I mean no disrespect to the minister or to his ministry officials at all. If that has been mis-conveyed, I apologise.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 19, 2017, with the headline 'The time a GPC member asked MPs to vote against the Govt'. Print Edition | Subscribe