Thursday, 28 September 2023

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Whip: To lift or not to lift? What is “a matter of conscience”?

~By: Leong Sze Hian~

The Government Whip Gan Kim Yong in response to a query from Today, said that the whip will be in place when Parliament debates a new formula for ministerial salaries – ““There is no intention to lift the whip. We would only do so if the subject is a matter of conscience," he wrote in an emailed reply” (Channel NewsAsia, Jan 12).

If a debate to decide how much the people in Government should pay themselves, is not considered “a matter of conscience“, then what is?

According to the dictionary, “conscience” is “the sense or consciousness of the moral goodness or blameworthiness of one's own conduct, intentions, or character together with a feeling of obligation to do right or be good”. 

If high pay has really enabled Singapore to recruit the best talent into Government, then why do the PAP not even have the confidence and openess to allow MPs to vote on this issue, without being forced to vote according to the party line?

On the issue of lifting the whip, a Mr De Costa alerted me to some interesting things which the Emeritus Senior Minister said in the 2006 general elections.

“Mr Goh also elaborated on what he means by raising the whip in Parliament so that Mr Sitoh and Mr Eric Low can raise opposing views.

Mr Goh says: "Actually I was trying to find a way out to a question where somebody said that there are people who wanted an opposition. They also want upgrading, so in my mind I thought well we can have the best of both worlds – we can have upgrading and if they elect Sitoh Yih Pin and Eric Low, we can lift the whip for them. That means we can also have an opposition voice in Parliament.

Let's make it clear, I mean they are PAP MPs so it is not quite the same as an opposition MP. But what I hope Eric Low and Sitoh Yih Pin would do regardless of whether the whip is lifted or not is to speak their minds frankly. Whatever views they have, even though they disagree with the government or with the party, they must voice them in Parliament – that's important. So it's my advice to Sitoh Yih Pin just now.

I say, 'Look, in order to establish yourself later on as an MP, you must not come across as a 'yes' man. Come across as Sitoh Yih Pin, who has got a view, who has got a voice; be prepared to raise difficult issues to the government so the whip is actually immaterial.' It's whether he is prepared to speak on policies when he has a different view and whether the government 
will support it." – CNA/de”

So, was the whip lifted for the new PAP MP for Potong Pasir,Sitoh Yih Pin, in the recent Parliamentary debate on Ministerial Pay? If it wasn't, why not? The then Senior Minister promised it in 2006. Doesn't it show that senior PAP ministers are just like the ordinary politicanns they decry: promise inconvenient things that they later conveniently forget?

Finally, on Potong Pasir constituency, Mr De Costa showed me a letter which a government agency had written to him responding to a letter which the MP for Potong Pasir had written on his behalf. It reads, in part, “I refer to your representation through the honourable MP for Potong Pasir GRC”, which was copied to the MP for Potong Pasir GRC.

And I thought (and so did Mr De Costa) Potong Pasir is a SMC.Does it mean that Potong Pasir may become a GRC? Or is it “an honest mistake”? Remember Tin Pei Ling redesignated her ward as a SMC

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