After numerous calls from both the public and various alternative politicians, the Government has finally permitted parliamentary debates to be live-streamed. Prior to this, only cut-up video clips of parliamentary debates were publicly available.
These videos were edited and represent only a snapshot of the debates which have led some to opine that video clips allowed the Government the means to control the narrative.
Now that live streaming is permitted, Minister for Communications and Information, S Iswaran has reiterated the importance of preserving the integrity and dignity of Parliament as a forum for serious debate on national issues and has urged all members of the House to “uphold the highest standards of conduct and decorum” during the course of the parliamentary sessions.
This is not the first time authorities have flogged the issue of parliamentary conduct.
Just last year, Dr. Michele Khoo (Khoo), press secretary for the spokesperson for then Leader of the House, Grace Fu, had said that live broadcasts of Parliament risk turning the House into a “form of theatre” which did not add to transparency. Khoo also took the opportunity to reiterate that the Government had no plans to broadcast Parliamentary sittings live.
Speaker of Parliament, Tan Chuan-Jin had also sounded the warning bell against members of parliament (MP) being fractious. He further added that robust and passionate debate on issues can take place without MPs being needlessly quarrelsome.
While the U-turn is welcomed, it does lead one to wonder where the concern with theatrics has come from? In citing fears of such unbecoming conduct, are our Ministers drawing from previous examples?
It bears remembering that our Parliament has been overwhelmingly dominated by the ruling Peoples’ Action Party (PAP) ever since its inception. So, if anyone has fallen short of the standards of conduct (whatever that might be), wouldn’t it be likely that it would be a PAP politician?
Let’s look at some examples.
In a time not so long ago, the Workers’ Party’s (WP) Pritam Singh (Singh) had raised valid questions in relation to the state of the national reserves in Singapore only to be roundly told off by Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat. Heng said : “It is neither in the interest of Singapore, or Singaporeans, to repeatedly ask about the size of our 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.”
What about the time when Singh queried Minister for Trade and Industry, Chan Chun Sing on the number of jobs that went to Singaporeans and permanent residents respectively from 2015-2018. Not only did Chan refuse to directly answer the question, he attempted to deflect it by implying that Singh was asking pointless questions. He said : “We can get you the numbers. But let me say this: What is the point behind the question? First, has local unemployment increased with all these efforts?”
There is also the time when Minister for Law and Home Affairs, K Shanmuggam appeared to attempt to intimidate the WP’s Syvia Lim when she raised questions in relation to the Government’s proposed Goods and Services Tax (GST) hike. In what seemed like a personal attack on Lim, Shanmuggam accused Lim of being hypocritical and dishonest in the statements she makes in Parliament.
More recently, we have seen seven PAP MPs round on WP’s Jamus Lim like a braying pack when the latter made his maiden speech in Parliament.
Let’s also not forget the PAP’s Murali Pillai’s seemingly massive overreaction to the WP’s Dennis Tan raising concerns over allegations that the PAP had complained to the Elections Department about the WP’s placement of posters in Hougang Single Member Constituency despite the PAP having itself planted its flags in front of WP’s banners in Hougang.
Looking at these examples, it begs the question of whose drama the PAP is concerned about? Its own politicians perhaps?
Or maybe, it is concerned that alternative politicians could somehow steal the thunder from the PAP without the extra tool of being able to edit videos?