Ahead of new session, Speaker Tan Chuan-Jin calls on MPs not to make unfounded allegations in Parliament

Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin called on MPs not to make unfounded and unsubstantiated allegations in Parliament, as Parliament goes into its mid-term break. PHOTO: GOV.SG

SINGAPORE - MPs should not make unfounded and unsubstantiated allegations in Parliament, such as may be seen in other countries, Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin said on Friday.

He also called for responses to be sharper in the new session of Parliament, which will reconvene on April 10 after its customary mid-term break starting on Friday.

Responding to queries from The Straits Times on his hopes for the upcoming session, he said that in other countries, politicians use the approach of making unfounded allegations because it works in affecting how the public feels.

“The truth almost seems to not matter so much. And sadly, politicians get away with it. We ought to do better,” said Mr Tan, who has been Speaker since 2017.

“I expect MPs to continue to speak with passion, but I urge MPs to also listen carefully to the replies given, and then consider raising new points or moving to new topics, rather than just belabouring the same points ad nauseum.”

The Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement on Friday that Parliament would be in recess from Friday and reconvene on April 10. The new session will kick off with an address by President Halimah Yacob, with ministries unveiling their plans, followed by a five-day debate in the House.

Mr Tan said: “I would also like to remind MPs not to equate quantity for quality. Some seem to take pride in showing off their ‘numbers’, and I find that trite as we would just end up with a numbers game.”

He added that the role of MPs in Parliament is to listen, assess and make the best possible right decisions for the people and nation, rather than doing what is popular. 

“There are always real trade-offs, and we need to be honest and upfront about these, rather than make offers on things that we know we don’t have to actually do,” he said.

“Let us take Parliamentary business on an upward trajectory and not down the slippery slope of populism where it will end up inevitably as a race to the bottom.”

Looking back on the first session of the 14th Parliament, Mr Tan said it had been “memorable and eventful”, mainly due to the arrangements made to ensure Parliament could continue to perform its role amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

This session of Parliament also saw the sitting on Jan 4, 2021 being the first full-length sitting livestreamed on YouTube.

With a wider audience reached, Leader of the House Indranee Rajah and Mr Tan had urged MPs to resist playing to the gallery, as seen in other jurisdictions.

“We held Singapore MPs to a higher standard and urged them to make speeches within our own Parliament chambers that were evidence-based and backed by substance,” he said.

“By and large, I think debates in our Parliament remain vigorous and civilised. There is order in the debates and there is substance in the speeches.”

There were also more parliamentary questions filed, said Mr Tan, with about 2,600 in 2021, and close to 2,800 in 2022. 

He also noted a richer array of perspectives shared and voices heard with an increased opposition presence in the chamber – nine elected MPs from the Workers’ Party and two Non-Constituency MPs from the Progress Singapore Party. 

A record was set during the sitting on Sept 14, 2021, for the longest sitting ever since Independence, at 13.5 hours, with a prolonged debate on securing Singaporeans’ jobs and livelihoods.

Leader of the House Indranee Rajah added that the House got through an “exceptionally large amount of business” in this session, having passed an unprecedented five Budgets in 2020 amid the pandemic.

It also passed over 100 Bills, debated more than 20 motions and heard close to 30 ministerial statements, she noted.

In this period, the House also tackled the problems from the Covid-19 pandemic and rising costs of living and inflation, signalled its commitment to women’s advancement, committed to a greener future, as well as made moves for inclusiveness such as repealing Section 377A that criminalised gay sex.

On the goals for the next session, Ms Indranee said it will focus on refreshing the social compact under the Forward Singapore nationwide engagement exercise.

She noted that some initiatives that are part of Forward SG’s focus were announced at Budget 2023 and the debate on each ministry’s budget, such as moves on housing, promoting family well-being, strengthening the training and placement ecosystem for workers, and making Singapore more inclusive.

“Many more areas are under study and review. These range from the early years of life, to diversifying pathways in schools and strengthening Singaporeans’ career health, ageing well, and enhancing retirement security,” she said.

“These ongoing reviews build on past efforts, and will shape the Government’s agenda in the second half of Parliament’s term and beyond.”

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