SINGAPORE - Non-Constituency MP Leong Mun Wai apologised on Tuesday (March 8) evening for his posts on Facebook claiming that he was prevented from asking questions at the debate on the Manpower Ministry's (MOM) budget.
In a personal explanation shortly before the end of the day's Parliament sitting at 8pm, he said that it had not been his intent to impugn the Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin or parliamentary processes.
"Today, I would like to sincerely and unreservedly apologise to the Speaker and this House for my Facebook comments of 12.52pm and 12.53pm on March 7, 2022, and the video I posted at 6.55pm on March 7, 2022," he said.
"And the statements therein which impugn the Speaker and the processes of the Parliament."
In response, Deputy Leader of the House Zaqy Mohamad said he accepted Mr Leong's apology, and called on all MPs to "resist any attempt to lower the standing or dignity of this House".
In his apology, Mr Leong, who is from the Progress Singapore Party (PSP), said that during the debate on MOM's budget on Monday, he had hoped to ask Manpower Minister Tan See Leng a "very important point about the displacement of Singaporean PMEs".
He said: "In my social media post, I was trying to highlight that some amount of discretion and flexibility with the Standing Orders will go a long way in enhancing our discussion in this House."
Mr Leong said he had taken down the Facebook post and comments at 5.30pm on Tuesday, and that he undertakes not to repeat such words again.
"I acknowledge that I had not set out all the facts in my post, and thus gave a misleading impression."
Mr Leong also confirmed that he would be putting up a similar apology on Facebook as requested by Mr Zaqy earlier on Tuesday.
Responding to queries from The Straits Times, Mr Leong said he will be filing follow-up questions to the issues he had raised for future sittings.
On Tuesday morning, Mr Zaqy said that Mr Leong had in his social media posts impugned Speaker Tan Chuan-Jin and the process of Parliament, and also misrepresented how the debate proceedings for MOM were ended on Monday.
"This is dishonourable and a contempt of Parliament, and breaches the Parliament (Privileges, Immunities and Powers) Act," he said then.
The posts suggested that Mr Tan could have called on Mr Leong "but deliberately did not do so for improper reason", said Mr Zaqy.
Mr Tan had on Monday explained the process for the debates and that it was his duty to enforce the cut-off times for the proceedings, but despite this Mr Leong had proceeded to put up a video and post that impugned the Speaker and the process of Parliament, added Mr Zaqy.
Following Mr Leong's apology, Mr Zaqy said that in other juridictions, there are examples where procedural rules of Parliament "are used to prevent or frustrate the government of the day from carrying out its proper functions".
"It would be completely contrary to our interests for this to occur in this House," he said.
Singapore has developed a set of procedures and practices to guide Parliament in discharging its duties in an effective and efficient manner, he added.
"The rules have been designed and fine-tuned over the years and have worked in ensuring that important issues to us are brought up before the House and robustly debated while allowing business to be completed without undue delay."
He added that Mr Leong himself should acknowledge this, given the long debate six months ago on two motions on jobs and Singapore's foreign talent policy.
That 10-hour debate in Parliament last September stretched past midnight and saw four political office-holders rebut the PSP's assertion that the Government's foreign talent policy has cost citizens jobs.
Earlier on Tuesday, Mr Tan made a statement in the House that MPs were informed of the cut-off time for MOM last Thursday, and again on Monday in Parliament's Daily Working Paper. He noted that 30.5 minutes were allotted for clarifications, but that he had allowed the debate to continue for 48 minutes till the cut-off time of 12.40pm.
Ten MPs made clarifications, including four opposition members and one Nominated MP. Mr Leong was not the only MP who could not ask a clarification at the end of the debate, he added. Others not called upon included PAP MPs Edward Chia, Louis Ng, Melvin Yong, Yeo Wan Ling as well as Workers' Party MP Leon Perera and Nominated MP Janet Ang.
It is his duty as chairman of the debates on various ministries' budgets to end each debate when the cut-off time for that ministry is reached, Mr Tan said.
"As the Chair of the Committee of Supply (COS), I will continue to ensure that the proceedings in the COS is undertaken in a fair and orderly manner," Mr Tan said using the formal name for the debates.
This year's debates on each ministry's budget saw more than 600 cuts - speeches by MPs - filed, tallying up to more than 50 hours of debate, noted Mr Zaqy.
"I don't think anyone can reasonably say that the budget was not extensively debated," he said.
He added that there are other avenues for issues to be raised in subsequent parliamentary sittings.
"(MPs) all play a part in ensuring that robust debate can take place here and that Parliament remains a trusted and respected institution and where issues can be raised fairly and can be scrutinised by the public," concluded Mr Zaqy.