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Parliamentary speaker Tan Chuan Jin admits to muttering ‘fxxking populist’ after Jamus Lim’s speech

A video circulating on Singapore’s social media has sparked controversy following remarks heard in Parliament.

The video, recorded during the parliamentary sitting on 17 April 2023, features someone audibly whispering “fxxking populist” just as Workers’ Party Member of Parliament for Seng Kang GRC, Associate Professor Jamus Lim concluded his speech during the Presidential speech debate.

In his address, Asst Prof Lim emphasised the need for an official poverty line in Singapore. He criticised the current system of varying benchmarks as confusing and inefficient in identifying and aiding the economically vulnerable.

Asst Prof Lim argued for an expanded definition of “basic needs”, including elements such as smartphones, holidays, and cultural gifts that are crucial for societal participation and mental health.

The associate professor faulted the government for overlooking these aspects and the psychological toll of poverty.

This oversight, he claimed, resulted in a disconnect between government policies and Singaporeans’ perception of a fulfilling life.

Asst Prof Lim suggested establishing a committee, composed of members from civil society, academia, and the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF), to define a comprehensive poverty line.

This would then serve as a benchmark to revise government assistance thresholds and the Local Qualifying Salary.

Furthermore, Asst Prof Lim called for improvements to the ComCare system, labelling it as intrusive and miserly.

He proposed less rigorous pre-approval scrutiny and implementing more conditional cash transfers. He also criticised the low support amounts and income threshold of Workfare, urging enhancements to support parents and younger workers.

The contentious whisper was heard just as People’s Action Party (PAP) MP for Sembawang GRC, Mr Vikram Nair, prepared to take the stage.

The identity of the individual who made the comment remains unconfirmed, but a Facebook post by Mr Tan Chuan Jin, Speaker of Parliament, suggested that he was the culprit.

Mr Tan acknowledged in his post that he had listened to the video and identified the remarks as his own.

He clarified that these were private thoughts he had inadvertently uttered and apologised for his unparliamentary language.

Mr Tan further mentioned that he had personally apologised to Asst Prof Lim, who accepted his apology.

It should be noted that Mr Tan had been the Minister for Social and Family Development between 2015 and 2017 before his appointment as Speaker of the Parliament in 2017.

This incident is not the first instance of a PAP politician getting ensnared in a controversy over remarks made via hot mic in Parliament.

During a marathon debate on two motions on jobs and livelihoods in the House in September 2021, Manpower Minister Tan See Leng and Progress Singapore Party’s Non-Consiteuncy Member of Parliament, Mr Leong Mun Wai had several exchanges after Dr Tan delivered his speech.

At one point, after Mr Leong had spoken, a voice could be heard saying “he’s illiterate”.

Later, after another exchange between Dr Tan and Mr Leong, a microphone picked up someone saying: “Seriously, how did he get into RI?… Must have been a lousy school.”

Dr Balakrishnan later apologized for his comments to Mr Leong, who has accepted the apology.

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