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Have our MPs lost touch with the ground?, asks Lim Chih Yang.

The silent people’s representative

Lim Chih Yang / Writer

An elected representative by its very name signifies one who is popularly elected by the people to represent the people’s interest. In the United States, governors, mayors, senators, presidents… etc are all elected by the people via the ballot box.

In Singapore, the people’s representatives are the Members of Parliament, elected via a General Election every five years and chosen from the results of the ballot box. No doubt Singapore practices a different type of parliamentary election with Group Representative Constituency being a unique feature of our local political scene.

Nevertheless, MPs are still popularly elected and are, I dare say, obligated in their position by the very people who elected them into office. It is therefore very disheartening to note that the MPs do not seem to be in touch with the ground swell of feelings lately.

A case in point, Parliament was in session on 17 November 2008. The hot topic of the day has to be the purported losses that PAP-run town councils had raked up with their blind foray into investing in Lehman linked structured products. Why then was there only one parliamentarian who actually asked questions pertaining to losses by PAP-run town councils? Nominated MP, Eunice Olsen, who is not aligned to any constituency or political party, was the only MP who asked Minister of State for National Development Grace Fu about the issue. Perhaps the PAP MPs do not feel it right to ask difficult and potentially embarrassing questions of their fellow party MPs.

While the PAP MPs had suffered terribly in the eyes of their constituency in not speaking up for them, the opposition MPs fare no better. Unless there was a coordinated effort to silence them and prevent their views from being aired to the public, the three oppositions MPs did not raise a single question on the losses by the town councils.

On the same issue raised in Parliament, Minister of State for National Development Grace Fu, herself an MP for Jurong GRC was quoted as saying, when questioned if the town councils were aware of the investment risk they had taken.

“We should ask the Town Council and it is something the residents should pose to their respective Town Council.” - Minister of State for National Development Grace Fu. (TODAY)

Pardon me if I did a double take on her comments but this quote, coming from a Minister of State for National Development and an MP for Jurong GRC, I would expect her to raise these questions herself to the town councils in question on behalf of her constituency. No doubt the citizens of Singapore should take the initiative and play a role in nation building by scrutinizing the books of the town councils and questioning their investments returns, yet the fact remains that the MPs as the people’s representative should play their part as well.

Going along the same route, we did not see any strong leadership in the midst of the various fiascos that have hit Singapore recently. Hands up if we had noted any leadership in the minibond saga? Or how about when DBS retrenched almost 900 staff mainly in Singapore and Hong Kong. The labour chief, Lim Swee Say, could only issue a statement of disappointment which, I dare say, did not affect DBS position one bit.

Recently, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong mentioned that change has to come but only from within the ruling party and not “between parties”. An adversarial two-party system is also deemed unsuitable for Singapore. Given the passive and silent performance of the MPs on an issue that has got many Singaporeans grumbling not seen since the days of the Mas Selamat escape, have our MPs totally lost touch with the people’s feelings? Is the current single party system effective in addressing the concerns of Singaporeans?

Unless the MPs start to show themselves more as representative of the people of Singapore and not as members of their respective parties or political alignment can we see an adequate checks and balance within the current one-party system.

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