The track record that matters more

Andrew Loh

Once every five years, People’s Action Party (PAP) Members of Parliament (MPs) pose for photo-ops with the media when launching estate upgrading programmes in the heartlands.

In recent days, one would have heard PAP MPs cite their “track record” in the constituencies they are responsible for as proof of their capabilities and performance. The latest one to do so is Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam, MP for Jurong GRC. He was quoted as having said that “the People’s Action Party (PAP) team has a track record in Jurong.”

Dr Ng Eng Hen, another PAP MP, said “at the end of the day, he believed voters would ask if the candidate had a track record and could be trusted.”

There is, on the surface, nothing wrong with citing one’s track record to defend one’s performance.

However, there is something amiss when one uses this track record of one’s work in the constituencies as proof that one is deserving of being re-elected.

An MP’s most important job, I would argue, is not that of just an estate manager. If it were, there would be no need for MPs. We could pay professional town managers to do the job. Indeed, it is believed that some town councils already do engage such professionals.

An MP has much more serious responsibilities and solemn duties which are entrusted to him by the electorate. He is thus empowered, as a representative of his constituents, to speak on their behalf in matters of utmost importance in the highest law-making institution in the country, Parliament.

This is how the people’s voice and views are heard and taken into consideration by the Government when it makes legislation or policy decisions which affect all citizens.

To cite one’s work as an MP in the constituency as justification to be re-elected is thus myopic and indeed misleading.

The question is not whether one’s performance in handling municipal issues entitles one to being re-elected. The real question, and a more significant one, is the track record of an MP’s performance in Parliament – whether he spoke up adequately for his constituents, whether he discharged his responsibilities to the full, what were his input in debates, the substance of his argument for or against any legislation or policy, etc.

Since the last General Election in 2006, many issues of deep concerns have surfaced. Issues such as the cost of living, the runaway prices of public housing flats, the security of employment, retirement in old age, cost of healthcare, public transport failings, the losses in Government investments, the escape of a terrorist suspect, the massive floodings in many areas in Singapore, the losses suffered by thousands of investors in toxic financial products, the influx of foreigners, the negative effects of the casinos, the overspending in the Youth Olympic Games, the raising of the Goods and Services Tax (GST), etc.

There were changes to the Constitution, new laws were created, such as the Public Order Act, amendments to certain legislations such as the Films Act, and the Government dipping into the reserves.

What did each MP do in each of these instances? What were their stands? How did they vote? What arguments did they put forth? What were the reasons they supported or did not support these changes?

In short, did the MPs adequately, responsibly and ably represent their constituents and discharge their duties?

To ask voters to simply look at one’s track record in the constituency is thus an attempt to shield oneself from scrutiny from the deeper and more important issues.

There are things of more consequence than whether an MP has built a covered walkway, or a new playground, or installed new lifts which stop at every floor.

To ask voters to consider these as of utmost importance is to tell voters to gaze at their navels and play pretend and ignore the wider issues.

Surely, for taxpayers to pay each MP S$13,500 a month, which works out to close to S$1,000,000 for an MP’s five-year term, and to consider his achievements in municipal issues as the only yardstick in deciding whether he deserves to be re-elected, is ridiculous.

Perhaps it is precisely because the PAP is afraid of Singaporeans scrutinizing or revisiting issues which make the PAP nervous or uncomfortable that it is trying to focus voters’ minds on mundane municipal matters instead. It is, after all, easier to roll out impressive estate “upgrading programmes” once every five years than to delve into policy matters.

The PAP should be mindful that perhaps the point has been reached where voters no longer are enchanted by multi-million dollar town refreshment plans.

There are more pressing concerns which Singaporeans are insecure about.

If the PAP ignores these and tries to whitewash these worries by enticing voters with superficial carrots, it may one day wake up to find that the ground has shifted beneath its very feet.

For at the end of the day, the track record that matters is whether legislations and national policies approved of in Parliament have benefited Singaporeans in real and tangible ways.

And as representatives empowered by the people through the vote, MPs are and must be held to a much higher and loftier standard – one befitting a Member of Parliament.

If MPs were to be just judged on their “track record” as estate managers, we can save ourselves the trouble of having to cast our votes. For if that were all they were, it doesn’t make any difference whether they are elected or not.

For, as mentioned, we can employ managers to look after our towns.

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