Minister for Culture, Community and Youth, Grace Fu said in a statement to the media on Monday that Ms Lee Lilian's decision not to take up the Non-Constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP) should not be taken lightly.
Ms Lee was Workers' Party's (WP) candiate at Punggol East SMC during the General Election 2015 and had lost to her opponent, People's Action Party's candidate, Charles Chong with the result of 48.24% to 51.76%.
Ms Fu said, “Like many of her constituents, I learnt first from the media and later from her absence from the opening of Parliament that she is not intending to assume the NCMP seat, despite having campaigned hard to persuade voters to elect her to a seat in Parliament.”
“Her decision not to take up the seat should therefore not be lightly taken, added Ms Fu. “About 15,800 voters in Punggol East had cast their ballots for her...They, along with many other Singaporeans, would want to understand the basis of her decision.”
Ms Fu said that the NCMP seat would allow Ms Lee "to participate fully in parliamentary debates, raise motions, and ask questions in Parliament,” and added in her statement that WP have to put it to Parliament for a decision by “moving a Motion at a sitting of this Parliament” if they want to propose another candidate instead of Ms Lee, which they did on Monday.
In September last year after the election has concluded, Ms Lee shared that she would not seek the position of NCMP, saying on her Facebook post, "I respect the voters decision, and I should give this chance to my other WP colleagues. We really have some good people who deserves the slot.".
And earlier this week, she wrote, "The decision to not take up the NCMP position was made after serious considerations. It was not taken lightly. Let's not lose focus on the larger national issues in Parliament and work together to better the lives of all Singaporeans in this country. This was posted along with WP's press release on the motion filed to transfer the seat to another WP candidate, Daniel Goh.
What Ms Fu missed in her press statement
The issue with being an NCMP is that while the NCMPs are doing about the same as what a normal MP would do, meeting the residents, hearing out and trying to resolve their issues, not to forget to sit for parliament.
However, NCMPs are paid only 15% of what MP get in a year or $28,900 per annum, similar to what Nominated Members of Parliament would get. As NCMP and NMPs do not have a community-based role and that they cannot vote on government budgets and changes to the Constitution.
The Singapore Parliament can meet at any time of the year. The date of the sitting can be specifically named by Parliament upon its adjournment or, if no date is fixed, called by the Speaker. In the case of Ms Lee, given that she does not have any form of passive income nor does her profession allows flexibility in adjusting work commitment as a lecturer or lawyer would have.
Therefore, it is not just about taking a seat in parliament but at the same time, taking up a thankless commitment for the next five years with repercussions on one's finance status and family obligations.
If the NCMP requires one to serve the community, then what about NMPs who are not elected by the people and yet draw the same pay? Does proving her worth in parliament give justification to the people in her contesting ward in voting for her in the next election or would it justify her position as
Does proving her worth in parliament give justification to the people in her contesting ward in voting for her in the next election or would it justify her position as a NMP since she would be working beyond what she is paid to do.
Given that Ms Lee had served as a Member of Parliament (MP) during the last parliament and said her piece during the parliamentary debates. The voters have made their choice of the best candidate to serve the constituency and Ms Lee ought to be given the choice of whether to take up with the seat as a NCMP.
The next question is whether would the People's Action Party block the motion to allow the transfer of the NCMP to WP representative, Daniel Goh.