By Singapore Armchair Critic
So it was reported that last week in Parliament, not even a quarter of our 87 elected Members of Parliament (MPs) were present to vote for the passage of two Bills. Alerted to the lack of a quorum required to pass a Bill by Nominated MP (NMP) Eugene Tan, the Deputy Speaker rang the division bell to summon the missing MPs, who then, in the words of our mainstream media, “streamed into the Chamber to take their seats after a few minutes.”
Now according to the “Rules of Prudence” issued by the Prime Minister’s Office after GE 2011, “[PAP] MPs are expected to attend all sittings of Parliament.” PAP MPs have to seek the permission of the Party Whip and inform the Whip if they have to be absent during a sitting (see rule no. 23).
The current Party Whip is Gan Kim Yong, who is assisted by his Deputies Amy Khor and Teo Ho Pin. It is not known if the Whip has indeed been notified of the absences.
Intrigued by the whereabouts of our handsomely paid MPs, I did a bit of investigation on our Parliament website. To my disappointment, Votes and Proceedings published by the Parliament record neither the number of MPs nor the names of those who vote for a bill.
The only exception is when a Member calls for a division, in the case of which “the Votes and Proceedings shall include the numbers voting for and against the question, the names of Members so voting and the names of the Members present who abstained from voting”(see Standing Orders of the Singapore Parliament, 30(3)).
This happened on a sitting on 8 February 2013, during which Workers’ Party Low Thia Khiang called for a division to the motion to endorse the controversial Population White Paper. If you need to refresh your memory on who and how many voted for the darned White Paper, you can click on this link.
Nonetheless, Votes and Proceedings do record the MPs who are present and absent on a sitting.
Using the information available, I constructed the following chart which shows the absentee rate of all Members of the 12th Parliament over 82 sittings from October 2011 to May 2014.
No prize for guessing who tops the cohort for absenteeism.
Former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew was absent on 64.6% of all 82 sittings. Next to top the list is former Minister Mah Bow Tan (Tampines GRC), who was absent 39% of the time. Raymond Lim Siang Keat (East Coast GRC) took the third place with an absentee rate of 28%, followed by Irene Ng Phek Hoong (Tampines GRC) and Fatimah Lateef (Marine Parade GRC) at a rate of 22%.
Note that three out of the five MPs of Tampines GRC came out tops in absentee rate, resulting in an average absentee rate of 19.27% for the MPs of Tampines GRC.
On the other side of the scale are MPs who clocked zero absenteeism over 82 sittings, namely (in alphabetical order) Chan Chun Sing, Faizah Jamal, Gerald Giam, Heng Chee How, PM Lee Hsien Loong, Lim Biow Chuan, Lim Swee Say, Low Thia Khiang, Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim, Denise Phua, R Dhinakaran, Teo Chee Hean, Lawrence Wong and Zainudin Nordin.
While some may attribute MP’s absenteeism to their other commitments, such as a full-time job and directorships, just looking at the MPs who were present at every Parliament sitting is enough to challenge this argument since the list includes MPs cum Ministers who wear many hats.
As the next General Election is not too far away, voters could take this opportunity to do a mid-term review of their MPs (who’s your MP) and assess if they have performed satisfactorily since GE 2011.
A good starting point is to question your MP about his or her attendance in Parliament and the Bills he has voted for. The next is to search the Parliament reports for what he has advocated in Parliament, and finally, what he has done for your constituency.
The author blogs at singaporearmchaircritic.wordpress.com.