Parliament committed to holding Government accountable to S'poreans: Speaker Tan Chuan-Jin

SINGAPORE – Regardless of the crisis or challenge facing the nation, Parliament remains committed to upholding the democratic process of holding the government of the day accountable to Singaporeans, Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin said on Saturday (Aug 22), ahead of the opening of Parliament on Monday.

Calling on MPs to ensure that Singapore’s laws and regulations are rigorously reviewed and updated, especially to keep pace with the changes wrought by Covid-19, he promised to facilitate this by ensuring that more viewpoints are heard and examined in his role as neutral observer of Parliament’s debates.

“While the Government steers us through these uncharted waters in the coming months, and perhaps years, it is more vital than ever that Singaporeans are confident that Parliament will remain a steadfast and vigilant beacon in our role as the nation’s principal lawmaking body,” he said in a post on the Speaker’s Blog of Parliament’s website.

Citing the debates on the supplementary Budgets and other Covid-19 related Bills during the last term of Parliament, Mr Tan said every issue was thoroughly parsed and unpacked by MPs, who had passionately put forth their positions and sought clarifications on matters ranging from how much of the reserves should be tapped to the impact of safe distancing measures.

“There was a multitude of diverse perspectives, with many MPs – be it from the governing or the opposition bench – commendably raising the pertinent issues and questions that our citizens were seized by, even if these were arguably contentious.

“I firmly believe that this rigour of scrutiny in Parliament has led to better and more refined policies and initiatives for all stakeholders,” he said.

He also noted that even when there were disagreements or differences in opinions, MPs had expressed them in a responsible and respectful manner, and in accordance with the decorum of the House.

Sometimes, these divisions and disagreements are what people focus on as they make for “more dramatic headlines and click-bait fodder on social media”, said Mr Tan.

But he reminded MPs that no matter which side of the aisle they were on and what party colours they wear, “all of us form an important thread in strengthening the very fabric of Singapore society”.

Mr Tan said that with some changes in Parliament, such as Workers’ Party chief Pritam Singh being formally designated Leader of the Opposition and the addition of 31 newly elected MPs, there will be “an even richer array of perspectives shared and voices heard as we debate and scrutinise the important matters put before the House”.

He pledged to do his best to facilitate robust debate: “If re-elected, my approach as Speaker will remain being permissive and expansive where I can within the Standing Orders, so that as many viewpoints and insights can be delved into.”

“At the end of the day, it would be good to keep the tone sensible but I do not have issues with some histrionics and the argy-bargy of bipartisan politics so long as substantive debate takes place. And so long as it makes for better outcomes for Singaporeans and Singapore.”

He thanked Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong for proposing him as Speaker in the new term, adding that he looked forward to continuing as an impartial, neutral and objective facilitator of the proceedings and debates if re-elected.

The 14th term of Parliament will open on Monday with 93 elected MPs being sworn in, followed by President Halimah Yacob’s address, which will outline the priorities and policies for the years ahead.

This marks the start of the Government’s new term after the general election on July 10.

Noting that Parliament, like other agencies and organisations in Singapore, has had to adjust its customary way of doing things due to the coronavirus pandemic, Mr Tan said he foresees that precautions will continue to be taken, such as keeping MPs seated apart and speaking behind perspex screens.

With safe distancing measures in place, the proceedings for the reopening will be held across two locations, at the Parliament House and The Arts House, which is the old Parliament House.

Mr Tan said the old main Table of the House, which dates back to 1955, was brought back and placed where it used to be in the  old Parliament House, which had not been used for a parliamentary session since 1999, when Parliament shifted to its current location.

Pointing to the rich history of the old building in a Facebook post on Friday, he said: “Even as we reminisce and recall the past, we also need to remember that we are also creating history for future generations as we deal with the issues of the day and seek to manage the Covid-19 situation.

“Let us make sure that our future Singaporeans think of us with fondness and pride!”

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