Vigilance needed: Planted questions and prepared answers in Singapore Parliament

Vigilance needed: Planted questions and prepared answers in Singapore Parliament

Life is full of surprises, but many things that may seem spontaneous are actually carefully planned.

Seemingly innocuous questions posed by Members of Parliament (MPs) in the Singapore Parliament can have far-reaching consequences in the political realm.

The answers provided by Ministers from the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP), can be damning against individuals or political parties and are extensively covered by the local media.

A recent example of this is the case of Senior Minister and Coordinating Minister for National Security, Mr Teo Chee Hean.

Mr Teo strongly criticized an e-book titled “The Battle Over Lee Kuan Yew’s Last Will,” authored by Mr Sudhir Thomas Vadaketh, stating that the book is “not credible” and is “calculated to mislead.”

Mr Teo was responding to a written parliamentary question by Mr Zhulkarnain Abdul Rahim, MP for Chua Chu Kang GRC, last Thursday (2 Mar).

In his reply, Mr Teo also conveniently mentioned how Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Mrs Lee Suet Fern are being investigated by the police and alluded to them being on the run.

Subsequently, the local media reported that Lee Hsien Yang could not qualify to stand as a candidate for the upcoming presidential election due to his perceived character in a judgement by the Court of Three Judges (CoTJ).

The question posed by Mr Zhulkarnain was about whether the e-book accurately represents the circumstances surrounding the signing of late Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s last will, as found by the Disciplinary Tribunal and CoTJ in disciplinary proceedings against Mrs Lee Suet Fern, where she was found guilty of professional misconduct.

One may wonder what the point of the question in February was, given that the e-book was published in July last year.

Another case involves Mr Christopher de Souza, MP for Holland Bukit-Timah GRC, who asked a question in parliament about whether TraceTogether data would be used for criminal investigations and, if so, what are the legal provisions and safeguards in using such data.

This question, filed in December 2020, allowed the government to clarify that the data collected from TraceTogether could be used for other purposes, contrary to what Dr Vivian Balakrishan and Senior Minister Teo said in Parliament in June 2020.

It was only through a heated exchange in Parliament following an unexpected outcry from the public that Dr Vivian shared that he became aware of the inaccurate statement about TraceTogether in October 2020 when a member of the public asked him whether the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) applied to the data.

Dr Vivian later shared that he was informed then that the CPC did apply and that the police had requested to access TraceTogether data on one previous occasion.

One should ask whether the parliamentary question from Mr de Souza, two months after Dr Vivian’s realisation of his lapse, was his own or if he was assigned to ask the question to allow the government to clarify without being seen as making a mistake, telling a lie, or risking being subsequently found out.

In a recent case, Ms Tin Peiling, MP for MacPherson SMC, asked a supplementary question in Chinese to Senior Minister of State for Communications and Information, Tan Kiat How, about the government’s spending on advertising during the Committee of Supply debate in Budget 2023 on 28 February.

Despite it being a supplementary question—meaning it was not filed to parliament for the ministries to prepare a written script and supposedly said off the cuff—Mr Tan had a script typed in Chinese, which he was reading word for word (you can see that in the video that he had his eyes glued to the script).

This raises questions about whether the question was planted to allow the government to shape the narrative around their spending on social media advertising.

Based on the examples cited, it is reasonable for people to assume that questions from PAP MPs may be planted by the establishment to push certain narratives on issues, especially when the topic is hotly discussed in public or for a specific agenda.

Planted questions in Parliament undermine the integrity of the democratic process and weaken public trust in the government.

This brings me to what the Nominated Member of Parliament, Cheng Hsing Yao, chief executive of listed property developer GuocoLand and a former civil servant, said yesterday about maintaining respectful proceedings in Parliament and making factually accurate statements.

Putting aside the irony of Ms Indranee Rajah’s response, which suggests that the PAP MPs were following Mr Cheng’s advice and that it was the other side pandering to popular views, I would like to note how amazing it is that Ms Indranee had a speech prepared with the exact words she needed to respond to Mr Cheng’s speech, which was delivered just seconds before she had to give hers.

Singaporeans must remain vigilant against attempts to manipulate public discourse and shape the narrative, especially since the media, which is supposed to play a critical role in holding the government accountable and providing objective and accurate reporting to the public, is not always fulfilling its duty.

Notify of
Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments