Tuesday, 3 October 2023

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Uniquely Singapore, F1 or F9: Parliamentary debate, then self-rebuttal?

By Leong Sze Hian

I refer to the article “S’pore has an edge in grooming leaders: MM – A robust system is in place here to groom a new generation of leaders” (ST, Oct 6).

So, what has grooming the next generation of leaders got to do with members of Parliament (MPs) writing to the Straits Times forum?

Well, MP for Tampines GRC, Sin Boon Ann, wrote to the Straits Times forum on 3 October, “MP now convinced CPF funds don’t come cheap” (link) and said that:

“… it was reported that I used the word ‘cheap’ to describe CPF monies as a source of funds for the Government, in the debate in Parliament on CPF reforms.

I wish to clarify that my choice of the word was motivated by a comparison between the cost of CPF monies to the Government and the returns that the Government is able to get in the longer term through careful fund management…

I should emphasise that the word was not chosen, as some may have suggested, to imply that the Government was making money at the people’s expense.

I am glad to note that your newspaper had accurately reported my remark that any income derived from such investments has been applied for the benefit of the people of Singapore.

Having considered carefully the explanation of the Second Minister for Finance, Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam, I am now satisfied and have come to the conclusion that the CPF monies, with risk-free interest guaranteed, do not represent a cheap source of funds to the Government, particularly now that the interest rate on the CPF balances has been pushed higher by the recent changes.”

In this connection, another MP’s (Ong Kian Min) speech in the Parliamentary debate on CPF changes, was the “talk of the town” amongst Singaporeans.

He had made a strong rebuttal to the proposed CPF changes, particularly on the issue of why the returns on CPF are so low.

On 27 September, Mr Ong wrote to the Straits Times forum, to clarify the remarks he had made in Parliament.

From rarely refreshing speeches from the heart for the people by the MPs, to the (27 September) “apology like” letters in the Straits Times by the same MPs themselves – is it any wonder why some Singaporeans say that Parliamentary debate in Singapore is kind of docile, and not very lively?

The letters sounded almost like “self rebuttals” of the MPs’ own remarks in Parliament!

This I believe is unprecedented in Parliamentary history.

Just when we thought a new era of more open debate had arrived …. alas …..

It may indeed be a sad day for Singapore – who else will ever dare to speak up in the future?

What message are we sending to MPs and Singaporeans?

With reference to the articles “PAP wary of those too eager to please” and “In search of 4th-generation leaders” (ST, Oct 6), what kind of leaders are we grooming when they have to write to the Straits Times forum to clarify their own rebuttals in Parliament in debating national issues?

The fact that the whip is seldom lifted, may be a stumbling block to diversity and alternative view points in Parliamentary sessions.

As for the issue of CPF changes itself, since it has been said that the CPF system is flawed, and that’s why there is a need for a major reform of the CPF system now, how can we be so sure that the current proposals to fix the “flaw” are perfect ?

The past policies were not perfect (flawed), how can we be sure that the new policies are perfect (not flawed too) ?

Only a free and unfettered debate in Parliament can ensure that policies are subject to comprehensive and diverse review, on a continuing basis.

Visit Sze Hian’s website for more of his writings.

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