Access to confidential briefings on select matters pertaining to national security and invitations to state functions are among privileges the Workers’ Party (WP) chief Pritam Singh will gain access to as Singapore’s first Leader of the Opposition.
The Office of the Speaker of Parliament and Office of the Leader of the House in a statement on Tuesday (28 July) said that Mr Singh will be granted the right of first response among Members of Parliament (MPs) and to ask the lead question to the ministers on policies, bills and motions, subject to existing speaking conventions.
He will also be allocated time to make speeches equivalent to that of political officeholders such as ministers and parliamentary secretaries.
Mr Singh will receive around S$385,000 as the Leader of the Opposition, which is double the allowance of an elected MP. He will also have an office and a meeting room in the Parliament House, as well as a secretary to assist him with administrative matters regarding parliamentary business.
Touching on the duties and privileges given to the Leader of the Opposition, the Speaker and Leader of the House said that they were derived from other Westminster parliamentary systems such as Australia and the United Kingdom — where the position is formally designated — as well as Singapore’s “own circumstances”.
“Singapore’s legislatures have never had formal Leaders of the Opposition, not even in the 1950s and early 1960s, when there were substantial numbers of opposition legislative assemblymen.
“Mr Lee Kuan Yew led the People’s Action Party as the largest opposition party in the Legislative Assembly between 1955 and 1959, and Dr Lee Siew Choh led the Barisan Sosialis as the largest opposition party in the Legislative Assembly between 1961 and 1963. Neither Mr Lee nor Dr Lee were formally designated Leader of the Opposition,” they said.
“Nevertheless, as the Prime Minister said in his swearing-in speech on 27 July 2020, the results of the 2020 General Election have “shown a strong desire among Singaporeans for a greater diversity of views in politics” and that “this trend is here to stay”. Designating a Leader of Opposition will recognise this desire while enabling our political system to evolve in a way that maintains our sense of national purpose,” they added.
While the majority of Singaporeans has still given the PAP the mandate to govern Singapore, the recent election has also demonstrated “a strong desire among Singaporeans for greater diversity of views in politics” and “more robust debate of policies and plans”, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in his speech at the swearing-in ceremony at the Istana yesterday.
The ruling party must acknowledge it and “evolve our political system to accommodate it, while maintaining our cohesion and sense of national purpose”, he said, noting that formally designating the status of the Leader of the Opposition is one of the ways to do so.
“I look forward to more vigorous but constructive debates in Parliament. I hope our colleagues across the aisle will step up to play their role of a responsible and loyal opposition,” said Mr Lee.
Mr Lee also called on opposition MPs to propose concrete policy alternatives to “help voters better understand the issues, choices and trade-offs, and in the process, improve policies and plans, and deliver better outcomes for Singapore”.
WP’s Yee Jenn Jong, who contested as part of the Marine Parade GRC team in the recent general election, however raised questions on the extent of data transparency on the Government’s part.
“I am sure the opposition parliamentarians will be raising constructive proposals in the 14th parliament, as I had observed since my involvement from the 12th parliament.
“The question remains whether the government will provide information when needed and will listen and acknowledge when changes are made after the opposition had first proposed them,” said Mr Yee.