Ministerial statements on 6 July, “no substitute for having a separate debate” on Free Trade Agreements: PSP’s Leong Mun Wai

The upcoming debate expected to take place with two upcoming ministerial statements is not a replacement for a separate debate on a Parliamentary motion on Foreign PMET Policy (FPP) and Free Trade Agreements (FTAs), said Progress Singapore Party (PSP)’s Leong Mun Wai.

In a Facebook post on Monday (5 July), Mr Leong said that while he is heartened by “the outpouring of interest” shown by Singaporeans in the upcoming Parliamentary sitting commencing today, the debate on the aforementioned issues will not be taking place on Tuesday.

“I have noticed that some people are under the impression that the #PSPJobsDebate will take place this coming Tuesday (6 July). The #PSPJobsDebate refers to the Motion that the PSP intends to table in a future parliamentary sitting.

“I would like to definitively state that the debate itself will NOT be happening on 6 July,” he wrote.

Commenting on why the upcoming ministerial statements will not suffice in covering the FPP and FTA issues, Mr Leong said that Members of Parliament (MPs) will need time to process content and information revealed through such ministerial statements.

Even when Health Minister Ong Ye Kung had indicated that the ministerial statements will be opened for debate immediately after they have been delivered, Mr Leong noted that MPs can only speak once for 20 minutes and ask for clarification if called upon to do so by the Speaker.

“In contrast, a Private Member’s Motion tabled by a parliamentarian will give him (or her) time to set out his case, since the mover of the Motion is allocated 40 minutes to speak both at the start and the end of the debate.

“In between, members will have a chance to rise to speak for or against the motion, and there will be chances to respond and clarify. Such a format will allow for a more substantive and informative debate,” he said.

A separate debate, Mr Leong added, would also create room for MPs to discuss FPP and FTA issues “on a broader scale”.

“The recent World Values Survey conducted by the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) found that more than half of the people surveyed were worried about losing or not finding a job. If our FPP/FTA strategy was that effective, then why are our people so worried about their employment prospects? These worries cannot just be attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic alone,” he stressed.

Referencing the motion PSP intends to table in a future parliamentary sitting, Mr Leong stated that the party will “decide on the timing to file the motion after receiving the relevant data from the government”.

“The actual date of the debate will depend on other schedules of Parliament as well as the decision of the Speaker,” he remarked.

It has been confirmed that the questions on FPP and FTAs will be shifted to Tuesday’s Parliament sitting.

On 1 July,  Mr Ong said that he and Manpower Minister Dr Tan See Leng will be delivering ministerial statements after Mr Leong had accepted Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam’s challenge to seek “further clarification” on foreign employment policies and the India–Singapore Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA).

“In the run-up to the filing of PSP’s proposed motion, we have received many parliamentary questions on the matter, including many from PSP.

“To answer these questions, Dr Tan See Leng and I will be delivering Ministerial Statements at next week’s sitting – he as Minister for Manpower and Second Minister for Trade and Industry, and I as a former trade negotiator,” said Mr Ong.

Mr Ong in his Facebook post claimed that unhappiness towards Indian immigrants in Singapore is fuelled largely by false allegations made by PSP on how CECA has allowed Indian professionals to come here easily for work.

The minister said that while there are concerns about racist behaviours in Singapore that need to be addressed, PSP’s “false allegations” on CECA have exacerbated the problem.

“The recent two incidents of verbal and physical assaults on Indians were disturbing and not reflective of what Singaporeans are,” the Minister noted.

“They occur amidst an undercurrent of sentiment against immigrant Indians over the past 2 years. There are concerns from Singaporeans that need to be addressed, but the unhappiness is also fuelled in no small part by false allegations by the Progress Singapore Party (PSP) about how CECA has given Indian PMEs a free hand to come here to work,” Mr Ong added.

The two recent racial incidents that Mr Ong was referring to are the case of a senior lecturer who had verbally uttered racist remarks at an interracial couple, and a separate case of an Indian woman who was verbally assaulted by a Singaporean for supposedly wearing her face mask wrongly.

The Health Minister went on to note that the duo will explain how important FTAs are to Singaporeans and how they work. They will also be addressing the “false allegations” that FTAs permit foreign professionals a free hand to live and work in Singapore.

“We will also move to open our Ministerial Statements for debate. This will allow members of the PSP to respond to our statements if they wish to,” he concluded.

Shortly after that, PSP’s secretary-general Francis Yuen issued a statement on the party’s Facebook page saying that PSP refutes the “false allegations” put forth by Mr Ong.

“We are bewildered by Mr Ong’s baseless allegations that we have contributed in no small part to the undercurrent of sentiment against immigrant Indians through PSP that CECA has given Indian PMETs a free hand to work here,” the statement reads.

It went on to state that Mr Ong’s statement is a serious allegation made without facts as to where and when such alleged false statements were made by PSP.

“Unless there is evidence to back his allegation, the minister should withdraw his statement and make an apology,” remarked PSP.

However, it emphasised that this is a debate about Professionals, Managers, Executives and Technicians (PMETs) which will be vigorously debated in Parliament by its Non-Constituency Members of Parliament (NCMPs), and not about racial tensions.

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