Minister Lawrence Wong started the ball rolling last week. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong confirmed it on Saturday.
Post GE2020, the government’s message to the opposition is: Don’t just ask questions to check the government, the government also wants to check and scrutinise you.
PM Lee was explicit: “The main thing is we are recognising the leader of the main opposition party in Parliament and we hope that this will lead to the opposition in Parliament playing a more constructive and more substantive role, not just asking questions of the government, but also putting up alternatives, putting up proposals and being scrutinised so that Singaporeans can understand what the trade-offs are, what the choices are.”
We always knew there was a catch to appointing Pritam Singh Leader of the Opposition – there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch from the People’s Action Party.
However, a fundamental role of the opposition is to ask questions of the government. That’s how it constructively keeps the government in check. That’s why many Singaporeans voted for them, sending in opposition Members of Parliament to deny the government a blank cheque.
There shouldn’t be a barrier to the opposition asking questions that PAP MPs would never ask. When answers are not forthcoming, they should keep asking until answers are given. It’s no less than what the electorate expects of the 10 WP MPs and two Non-Constituency MPs from the Progress Singapore Party.
PM Lee unveiled his new cabinet on Saturday. Josephine Teo retained her Manpower Minister portfolio while Gan Kim Yong retained his Health Minister position despite massive COVID-19 mishandling under their watch.
Before the general election, Singaporeans were assured that there would be a right time for review and accountability for COVID-19 shortcomings. The opposition are in Parliament precisely to seek transparency and accountability for such ineptitude and it is their duty to ask many questions.
So the government’s new mantra of “don’t just ask questions” is nothing more than a red herring.
PM Lee’s contention that the opposition must put up proposals for scrutiny is reasonable – so long as the intent is for constructive debate and exchange and not to dig a hole for the opposition. Is it too cynical to imagine that the process could begin with the end in mind?
PM Lee also talked about letting Singaporeans “understand what the trade-offs are, what the choices are.” Wouldn’t it be best to have live broadcasts of parliamentary proceedings, so people can see and judge for themselves?
It is understandable that the appointment of Pritam Singh as Leader of the Opposition comes with strings attached. But the WP must be cognisant that those strings could be designed to tie a noose.