TL;DR – The Nominated MPs are bringing lotsa interesting flavours and fresh POVs to the usually strait-jacketed Parliament. Here are some gems.
With 2016 Budget debate speeches and the Committee of Supply (COS) debate underway, the Singapore parliament took a turn of surprise. Instead of the usual Members of Parliament (MPs) or even the Non-Constituency Members of Parliament (NCMPs) being cast under the light of scrutiny, it is the Nominated Members of Parliament (NMPS) who are taking the spotlight, proving that these elected roles are far from being empty voices.
What are Nominated Members of Parliament (NMPs)?
The Nominated Members of Parliament (NMP) Scheme came into force on 10 September 1990. The government’s reasons for implementing the scheme was first set out during a debate in Parliament on 29 and 30 November 1989 by then Deputy Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong, stating that it would provide more opportunities for Singaporeans to participate in politics.
Nominated persons have come from all backgrounds to provide diversity, but most have usually distinguished themselves in their fields, either through public service, community groups, or as a member of civil society. This could range from public servants to environmental activists, and must reflect a wide range of independent and nonpartisan views.
In Parliament, NMPs can participate in debates and vote on all issues except amendments to the Constitution, motions relating to public funds, votes of no confidence in the Government, and removing the President from office.
While we currently have nine NMPs representing the many voices in Singapore, I think these are the four NMPs who have stood out in the short time since they had taken their oath in Parliament on 24 March 2016.
The Inspirational One
Chia Yong Yong
“Why do persons with disabilities still not feel included in our society?
Background: President of the Society of the Physically Disabled since 2008, accomplished corporate lawyer, and a member of Our Singapore Conversation committee since 2013.
Campaigning for: National education campaign reach out to Singaporeans, and more opportunities and support to be available for the disabled.
In her speech during the Budget Debates 2016, she appealed that Singaporeans have a wider understanding of disability, and while she applauded the initiatives in Budget 2016 that provide disabled higher payouts and more training support, she says that the support needed for the disabled community needs to extend beyond the financial to make it successful. The part where she touched on the ‘small voices’ of the people with disabilities was just so heart-wrenching!
- We hope for you to be patient when we are slow in entering the elevator. We don’t like to hold up others.
- We hope for you to be accommodating when we make strange, loud noises. We can’t control our muscles.
- We hope for you to give up your seats in the train. We feel bad for you not to have a seat, but our ankles are weak and we cannot stand for long.
- Please understand if I refuse to communicate. Sometimes I’m afraid and confused from the many voices I hear in my own head.
- Do not be offended if I do not respond to your greetings. I cannot hear you.
- Give us a chance to train and upgrade our skills so that we can work. We cherish our hope for a brighter future.
- Give us a chance to work, so that we can be less of a burden to our families.
- Let my son have flexible working schedules so he can accompany me for my medical and therapy sessions. I do not want him to sacrifice his career development or lose his job because he’s looking after me.
- Be kind to my parents when I throw tantrums. It is not because they did not teach me well. I simply cannot comprehend my external environment.
- Please play with me. My legs are weak, but I still have a sense of adventure.
- Thank you for accepting me.
As an IP lawyer, Chia also appealed that the Government set clear guidelines for the retention of IP, especially those that will have strategic value to Singapore.
“We want to be able to monetise such intellectual property rights,” she said. “So that we can receive revenue, whether it be a one-time payment for transfer, or recurring revenue by way of royalties or license fees.”
The Relatable One
Background: Elected member of the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) central committee. Ex-president of the NUHEU. After she drove the union of the NUHEU and Healthcare Corporation of Singapore Staff Union, forming the Healthcare Services Employees’ Union (HSEU), she heads the new union as President.
Campaigning for: The rights of workers-in-transition, namely those who have lost their jobs and are currently looking for new employment in the structural unemployment. During the Budget debates, she raised the point that on top of training grants, there needs to be more psychological support for workers changing careers, such as mentorship support.
Ms Thanaletchimi called for more to be done for assist middle-income workers who have lost their jobs, as the job search can take more than six months to a year. She also pointed out that middle-income earners did not receive any tax rebates this year.
While Thanaletchimi didn’t get as much press coverage, her focus on workers-in-transition is extremely important and relevant, especially since we saw the highest number of workers laid off in 2015 since the 2009 global financial crisis.
Thanaletchimi also said that women should be given the opportunity to pursue “different definitions of success”, and that they should not fear “sacrificing their careers” for a family, citing flexible work arrangements as one way to help working mothers. Working mothers are, according to Thanaletchimi, part of the “vulnerable group” amongst low-wage workers and mid-career workers, and suggested that the Workforce Development Agency (WDA)’s Professional Conversion Programme (PCP) can be improved to foster close partnership among stakeholders.
Love what she said,
“Women should not be fearful of sacrificing their careers for a family.”
The Quotable One
Background: Co-founder of social enterprise group, Thought Collective
Campaigning for: Support for single mothers and the death of kiasuism
The culture of kiasuism, according to Kuik, is the root of many issues that Singaporeans face, pointing out the “toxic arms race” in tuition culture and the rise of “grantrepreneurs”. She stated that kiasuism kills innovation, as exemplified by the F&B industry, that is full of copycats and hipster cafes, and the lack of talent in industries like marine and construction.
“I don’t think kiasu culture should be celebrated. In fact, I think we should kill it. Because all these behaviours that we are telling Singaporeans are necessary to take us into the future – innovation, productivity, collaboration, generosity to the needy – they are wholly on a person’s desire and drive to generate greater worth and real value to share with the world.”
“And kiasu culture doesn’t give a damn about generating or sharing worth and value.”
Kuik also called for the same support provided to married mothers, such as the new CDA First Step Grant, to be made available to single mothers too.
“Wealth buys us second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth choices. But for many who are poor, bad choices are more difficult to recover from and good choices not always available or easy to take. When we show our strong support to the uplifting of parents who make poor choices, we teach not just them but their children, and ours too, the power of grace,” she said. “That even when we mess up and consequences must be made, as long as there are people who are rooting for us to find our way home, there is a chance for restoration. And that is what sows the ambition for transformation.”
Kuik seems to have a sense of humour too, laughing at her own fashion faux pas of wearing vertical stripes on TV.
The “Cheem” and Artsy One
Kok Heng Leun
Background: Theatre company Drama Box’s artistic director
Campaigning for: Education ministry and MCCY to invest more in creative and critical teaching, and for the government to place more emphasis on supporting the Arts in Singapore. Although there is some traction and buzz on this online, the coverage from the mainstream media is a little weak. But we think Kok has made some important points, so let’s help spread his message further.
According to Kok, the arts shares a core with the spirit of innovation, encourages critical thinking, and teaches collaboration with others. Singaporeans need art, as it teaches us how to ask difficult questions, and opens an avenue for discourse in a constructive environment.
“Perhaps there is some apprehension. Living together in a tight space means difficult questions should not be raised, for fear that some people might not be ready enough to be engaged– and Art raises difficult questions. Our culture rewards results and success – but Art promotes process and the value of failure. And it is precisely these intrinsic aspects of Art that can help empower us to create a diversified, creative and sustainable future for Singapore. And art can prepare us to engage critically, with wisdom and empathy.”
He also provided this analogy about collaboration that will blow your mind:
A triangulation must occur for us to make sense of this. Two people collaborated in setting up the experiment and measuring the shadows. It took two of them, from two different of viewpoints, to visualise the earth as round. It also took time – roughly a millennium – to finally arrive at a conclusion. It was through a collaboration on such a fundamental issue – is the earth flat or not? – that we are able to gain a more accurate view of ourselves.”