It was reported that the top 3 absentee MPs from Parliamentary sittings for last year (2018) were from the People’s Action Party, with Mr Iswaran at the top. He missed 9 or 28% of the total 32 Parliamentary sittings last year.
Prof Fatimah and Dr Ng Eng Hen came in joined 2nd, who both missed 8 or a quarter of the Parliamentary sittings:
- Mr S Iswaran (West Coast GRC) – 9 (28%)
- Prof Fatimah Lateef (Marine Parade GRC) – 8 (25%)
- Dr Ng Eng Hen (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC) – 8 (25%)
Mr Iswaran is currently the Minister for Communications and Information while Dr Ng Eng Hen is the Minister for Defence. The rest of the MPs who missed more than a fifth of Parliamentary sittings last year included:
- Mr Teo Ser Luck (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC) – 7 (22%)
- Mr Lee Yi Shyan (East Coast GRC) – 7 (22%)
- Mr Masagos Zulkifli (Tampines GRC) – 7 (22%)
As explained in a TOC article last year, MPs do not need to attend the whole Parliamentary session for that day. They can come and go. As long as the MP shows his or her face at the Parliamentary sitting for a while, one can be marked as being present. A good example was the late Lee Kuan Yew, who was marked as present on the sessions he attended even though he sat often less than five minutes in Parliament, being escorted in and out by parliament staff.
Perhaps the MPs feel that they don’t have to attend in entirety since everything said in Parliament is recorded in the Hansard and can just read it offline.
However, Parliament also requires them to vote on proposed bills and certainly their actual attendance at the time of the vote would be required.
Prof Eugene Tan intervenes in Parliamentary voting proceedings
In 2014, then NMP Eugene Tan who is also a law professor at SMU, stopped 2 voting proceedings in Parliament when he noticed that it was constitutionally short of the necessary quorum to do so. Under the Constitution of Singapore, one-quarter of MPs need to be present for any passing of constitutional amendments.
On 7 Jul 2014, when amendments to the Radiation Protection Act and the Copyright Act were to be passed, Prof Tan observed that there was no quorum, or the required number of MPs present in the House, as required by the Constitution. A quorum was one-quarter or 22 of the total of 87 elected MPs then. At least 65 MPs were not in the House at the time when voting was called for the 2 Bills.
At 5.34pm after the Radiation Protection (Amendment) Bill was read a second time and was about to be committed to a Committee of the whole House, Prof Tan raised his hand. Deputy Speaker Charles Chong took notice:
At 6.46 pm, then Senior Minister of State for Law Indranee Rajah read out the Copyright (Amendment) Bill the second time. At about 7pm, Indranee Rajah finished the second reading and begged to move the bill. And again, Prof Tan raised his hand.
The Parliament again did not have the quorum. This time, Minister Ng Eng Hen as “Leader of the House” intervened and requested that the Parliament be adjourned so as to proceed with the voting for next day.
The 2014 incident was not the first time it happened in Parliament. Prof Tan had also twice raised similar observations in Parliament in 2012, one of which was when the amendments to the LTA (Amendment) Bill were put to the vote. Like the Copyright (Amendment) Bill, it was adjourned as it did not have the quorum.
It is unclear if any bills have been passed unconstitutionally by Parliament without a quorum.
And to add insults, it was NMP Prof Tan who raised the matter and not the Speaker or the Deputy Speaker of Parliament both in 2012 and in 2014, as it was the responsibility of the Speaker to ensure there is quorum for any bills passed in Parliament.