While the government may have dropped the ball in the COVID-19 fight, you can rest assured that it is very much on the ball when it comes to keeping the opposition at bay.
When Pritam Singh of the Workers’ Party (WP) asked about the size of Singapore’s reserves last week, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat expressed outrage that he was doing it while the country was “in the middle of a storm.”
As in, how dare you ask such a question at a time like this! After this show of petulance, he rejected Pritam’s question.
Heng did not say why “in the middle of the storm” the government had the luxury of time to introduce a Bill in Parliament with elaborate special provisions for a pandemic general election. After which, it still has to expend enormous efforts to plan, schedule and execute the election.
A similar thing happened earlier in the year when Pritam asked for more clarity on government employment statistics under the various Industry Transformation Maps, to show exactly how many jobs are filled by Singaporeans, Permanent Residents and foreigners.
This time, it was Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing who took offence: “We can get you the numbers. But let me say this: What is the point of the question?”
Express outrage by countering the original question with your own loaded question. That’s it, job done!
If we go a little further back, to 2018, WP’s chairman Sylvia Lim was roundly chastised for suggesting that the government had “floated test balloons” about the impending GST hike.
The government took grave offence. Sylvia was accused of dishonesty and hypocrisy and asked to apologise to the House. Once outrage is taken to such an extreme, the opposition MP has to backpedal.
In this case, it did not matter that later on, it transpired that the National Trades Union Congress did previously conduct a survey on tax-related matters with its union leaders. What’s done is done. In Parliament, the PAP holds all the cards.
The playbook is simple: once you have thrown a tantrum and put the opposition MP on the defensive for asking the question or making a comment, there really isn’t any need to proceed further. When the opposition is outnumbered and outgunned in Parliament, it’s not much they can do.
Of course when it comes to a virus, it’s a different story. You can’t shame or bully a virus into submission.