Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong has called the formal appointment of Workers’ Party chief Pritam Singh as Leader of the Opposition a “very significant move.”
The significance can come in different ways.
Having live broadcasts of parliamentary proceedings would be a significant move to usher in the appointment of Leader of the Opposition. How the opposition is treated in Parliament also has to change significantly.
The Workers’ Party has asked many serious, pertinent questions, only to be rebuffed time and time again.
Will Pritam Singh as Leader of the Opposition be accorded greater respect? Will he get the answers that not only he and the WP but all Singaporeans deserve?
Early this year, when Pritam asked for specific government employment statistics, Minister Chan Chun Sing replied: “We can get you the numbers. But let me say this. What is the point behind the question?”
When Pritam asked about the size of the country’s reserves, DPM Heng Swee Keat shot back: “It is neither in the interest of Singapore or Singaporeans to repeatedly ask about the size of the reserves. We are in the middle of a storm, and I’m very disappointed that Mr Pritam Singh has used this occasion to raise this question again.”
You may also recall that when the WP’s Png Eng Huat queried about the remuneration given to key management staff at Singapore’s sovereign wealth funds, GIC and Temasek, Minister Lawrence Wong sidestepped by saying: “Government maintains an arms-length relationship with the companies and does not interfere in their operational decisions such as remuneration.”
Is the Leader of the Opposition entitled to get answers on the size of the country’s reserves and the salaries of top Temasek executives such as Ho Ching?
If Pritam Singh and our elected parliamentarians continue to get stonewalled, sometimes even chastised, for asking inconvenient and tough questions, then there would be no change to the status quo.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has said that the election results show a “clear desire for diversity of voices in Parliament” and that “younger voters also want to see more opposition presence in Parliament.”
His concessions, coupled with Pritam Singh’s designation as Leader of the Opposition, ought to result in more robust debate and constructive Q&A in Parliament. Otherwise it would just be lip service.