In a post by the States Time Review, “More than 70 PAP MPs skip Parliament on Tuesday“, it is said that “According to a screenshot of a Parliament session on Tuesday (Jan 9), an estimated of more than 70 PAP MPs did not attend Parliament. Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam was the only senior Minister present, and none of the three Prime Minister runner-ups – Minister Chan Chun Sing, Minister Heng Swee Keat and Minister Ong Ye Kung – was present.”
Now, the opening paragraph of the article would have informed the reader that what was true at that moment of the screenshot, might not be exactly true for the entire day.
If one were to refer to the Parliament records, one will be informed that only five MPs and the Speaker of Parliament were marked absent for the day.
But it is true that the MPs and Ministers were not present during the speech made by Minister Grace Fu as shown in the video, so why are the MPs and Ministers marked as being present at the Parliament session?
If we look back to the Parliament records, late Lee Kuan Yew was marked present on the sessions he attended even though he sat often less than five minutes on his seat, being escorted in and out by parliament staff during the mid of Question and Answer sessions. If not for this occasional turn-up, he would surely have gotten zero for his attendance in Parliament.
Using that as a benchmark, we can assume that so long the MP show face at the Parliament for a while, sit down in the Parliament for a few minutes, one can be marked as being present. But of course, few MPs do that.
After the embarrassment caused by Nominated Member of Parliament, Eugene Tan for highlighting that quorum was not met in two passing of bills, leaders of the People’s Action Party have taken steps to ensure MPs from their party are present during the passing of bills. To ensure that quorum is met, one-quarter of 101 MPs need to be present or 89 MPs for the passing of constitutional amendments.
As one who frequents the Parliament, the MPs present in the Parliament can at times drop down to 24 MPs during speeches made during debates. The Ministers might not be even present when the speeches made were addressed to them during lengthy sessions such as the debate on the Administration of Justice bill, but it doesn’t matter because the speeches are written by civil servants from the ministries on behalf of the ministers.
This is perhaps one of the reasons why the government refuses to live stream its parliamentary sessions so that people are not informed how engaged are their MPs in representing them in the parliamentary debates.
Note that there is already a live stream being broadcasted to the various media agencies in Singapore, which is why the journalists can do live-tweeting so it will take a minimum of effort to live-stream the sessions via Youtube or Facebook.
Despite the constant excuse that there is no livestream because the demand for the livestream is low, the resources and manpower required to make this happen is minimum, in fact, so minimum that is it almost free to the government. Since last year, The Online Citizen had volunteered to stream the livefeed to public for free, but Parliament has not replied to TOC’s offer till date.
Contrary to the good practices by many democratic first-world countries that offer real-time streaming of parliamentary sessions and public access to parliamentary video archives. The refusal to perform such an effortless duty as a public good, will simply imply that there are things which the government does not want the public to know.