The chairman of Progress Singapore Party (PSP) Dr Tan Cheng Bock has called Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam a “bully” in the way he asked a question to PSP’s Non-Constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP) Leong Mun Wai in Parliament last May.
“I think Shanmugam is a bully… It’s the manner he posed that question to him, it’s very not gentleman for a minister,” said Dr Tan in an interview with Yahoo News Singapore.
Dr Tan was referring to the Parliament session in May when Mr Shanmugam openly challenged Mr Leong to file a motion to debate on the controversial India-Singapore Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) to find out if Singaporeans are benefitting or losing from the free trade agreement.
“There have been several canards about CECA promoted by whispering campaign. If anyone here believes that CECA is a problem, put it up for a motion, debate it openly, and let’s hear if Singaporeans benefit or lose from it,” Mr Shanmugam said.
He added, “I’m looking at you, Mr Leong. I invite you to put up a motion to debate CECA. You know that most of what is said about CECA is false.”
In response to the Law Minister’s challenge, Mr Leong said that PSP is interested in taking up the issue of CECA at “some point in time”.
Later in June, Mr Leong wrote in a Facebook post that the PSP has accepted the challenge to have “a thorough debate” on Singapore’s employment policies and the CECA, in the spirit of “protecting our domestic economy and our people”.
Following that, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung and Manpower Minister Tan See Leng delivered ministerial statements to defend the Government’s position on CECA in Parliament earlier this month (6 July). Mr Ong accused PSP of using CECA as a “political scapegoat” to discredit the People’s Action Party (PAP).
Commenting on this, Dr Tan said in the interview that PSP is being targeted by the ruling party, adding that he is glad that Mr Leong took up the challenge thrown by Mr Shanmugam.
When asked if he played a role in getting Mr Leong to accept the challenge, the 81-year-old chairman said: “I think to a large extent he was also influenced by my opening remarks when I wanted to form the party (a few years ago) and said one of the areas that we should really look into is this review (of) CECA, on our employment of PMETs.
“I’m happy for him, I am glad he took the challenge. If he didn’t take the challenge I would have scolded him,” said Dr Tan.
However, the former veteran PAP MP agreed that it was a daunting challenge for Mr Leong to face off the ministers.
He also noted that it is good sign that ministers are challenging his party and that the PAP is worried about PSP.
“They know that the PSP is not just a fly-by-night party now,” he added.
Dr Tan also pointed out that the NCMPs have strong support from others in the party to prepare for parliamentary debates.
“You think Mun Wai, when he goes to Parliament he’s not backed by people? Of course I have team to back him. I have a special parliamentary team manned by very good people, smart people, to give him the ammunition… for both of them.”
According to Dr Tan, although the party may not have “great debaters”, but it tries to raise concerns of Singaporeans. “This is what the people have told us, so this what we are telling you.”
PSP’s NCMPs have had credible performances
Speaking about the NCMPs, both Mr Leong and Ms Hazel Poa, Dr Tan expressed that they had credible performances with the ministers since the opening of Parliament on 24 August last year, adding that the duo managed to articulate PSP’s positions on different issues.
“So Mun Wai is quite cautious, he has all these figures, and it’s up to the government to challenge him. And I find that they (the ministers) have not been able to challenge him so well,” he said.
He continued, “And then Hazel is very, very quiet, in her own way, not confrontational but she will tell you something I think the government will have to take note. Look at her educational speeches.”
Dr Tan, a retired general practitioner, also remembered the advice he gave to Mr Leong and Ms Poa upon their entry into the Parliament. He told them that being under constant scrutiny in Parliament is par for the course as they are the minority, adding that they should always remain calm when debating issues.
“You will get a lot of parliamentary wounds, you will get hit. But don’t worry, this is part and parcel of the growing up process of any NCMP in Parliament. But it is important that they maintain their stature and cool, because they will be the example, where many people are watching (them) and they are hoping that they will be of value as MPs in the future. So it’s a tough journey.”
Speaking about the party’s future, the octogenarian said that he is focusing on cultivating PSP’s network with external associations as well as professionals, adding that this is part of PSP’s long-term goals to move away from a party that has been closely associated with him.
“PSP was formed by Tan Cheng Bock but it is the people’s party, not my party… and Singaporeans must come to realise there is hope in joining this party because we are giving a different perspective of how things should be managed and how things should be run,” he said.
Dr Tan strongly hopes that his and the PSP’s efforts will show positive results at future elections.
“This is very important, must get that message across that there is an alternative to the PAP. The PAP has got no prerogative to run, to rule this country forever,” he stated.