The recent parking saga involving elected Members of Parliament paying only $365 annually to park in car parks across the country has reminded me of the vital need for accountability of those elected to office. MPs are being paid with public funds to serve the people who have elected them. While it may not always seem obvious, it is imperative to bear in mind that elected MPs serve us – not vice versa.
In Singapore, there seem to have been quite a number of incidences where conflicts of interests have arisen. Take this parking incident for instance. Even though it would be in the interests of the public purse for MPs to pay what everyone else pays for parking, the elected MPs have never raised this issue in Parliament. Here we have a situation whereby an MP’s duty to the public is in conflict with benefits unto himself. Is it a tall order to expect people to vote against their own interests? In most instances, it would be. As such, MPs should never be put in a position whereby they are expected to vote for self-sabotage. This is where legislation needs to come in.
Another very prominent example of potential conflict between public service and personal gain is when an elected MP is also permitted to maintain his or her career separate to his or her role as MP. A recent example of this was when concerns were raised in relation to Minister of State, Edwin Tong having acted for disgraced pastor of City Harvest, Kong Hee. While he was not a minister at the time of Kong Hee’s hearing, he was still a member of Parliament with direct influence on our legislation given that he was the deputy chair of the Government Parliamentary Committee (GPC) for Home Affairs and Law. This issue of potential conflict would never have arisen if MPs had to choose between their public office and their personal careers.
While Edwin Tong has denied that there was a conflict of interest, this whole debacle could have been completed avoided if Tong was either MP or lawyer – not both. Besides, is there no conflict of interests just because Tong doesn’t think there is? Can we really expect people to always pick the option that best serves public interest at the expense of their personal interests? In my opinion, we can’t and as such, they should never have the choice!
What about the incident where MP for Sembawang, Vikram Nair was unable to help his constituents with recovering their life savings because he was representing the very people who had “taken” those life savings? While I appreciate that Nair never intended for these constituents to lose their life savings nor is it guaranteed that he could have helped them anyway, the fact that he had to tell his constituents that he couldn’t even try to help them because of the role he played in his other career must have led to these constituents feeling let down by the very person they elected to represent them. If Nair had to give up law in order to be a full time MP, this disappointment and possible conflict of interests would never have occurred.
The point is this. It is anathema to expect anyone to act against his or her own interest. Why then do our laws permit MPs to be put in that position in the first place? Elected MPs should have to give up their jobs. Further, their wages should also be as “clean” as that of the teachers.