Speaker Tan Chuan-Jin speaks his mind on...

The Straits Times - - HOME -

THE QUAL­ITY OF DE­BATES HE HAS SEEN IN HIS FIRST YEAR

I’m ac­tu­ally quite pleased with the qual­ity of dis­cus­sion and de­bates. Can it be bet­ter? Of course it can, but that de­pends on one’s ex­pec­ta­tions.

I some­times read peo­ple say­ing that noth­ing sub­stan­tive is be­ing said, that peo­ple are not push­ing the bound­aries. But even for the Peo­ple’s Ac­tion Party (PAP), which forms the Gov­ern­ment, many Mem­bers of Par­lia­ment (MPs) do raise is­sues, ques­tions and push the bound­aries.

Be­ing the Speaker has given me the op­por­tu­nity to take in all the dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives. The cur­rent sit­u­a­tion is en­cour­ag­ing and (it is) some­thing we should not lose.

We should strive to cre­ate a more tol­er­ant en­vi­ron­ment, so that peo­ple feel free to ar­tic­u­late their views.

EN­SUR­ING DIF­FER­ENT VIEWS ARE AIRED

If we have lim­ited time for oral an­swers to all the ques­tions raised, I may want to make sure I get the op­po­si­tion mem­bers and Nom­i­nated MPs to speak up.

It may mean the num­ber of ques­tions is not pro­por­tion­ate to their rep­re­sen­ta­tion, but that is okay... At least the dif­fer­ent groups get to air their views.

As much as pos­si­ble, I make it a point to al­low all MPs who raise their hands to ask their sup­ple­men­tary ques­tions dur­ing ques­tion time, or al­low MPs to ask for clar­i­fi­ca­tions dur­ing de­bates on any item of busi­ness.

I be­lieve this will al­low for more crit­i­cal de­bate of the im­por­tant is­sues.

For ex­am­ple, at the May 17 sit­ting this year for the Min­is­te­rial State­ment on Na­tional Ser­vice Train­ing Deaths, I al­lowed clar­i­fi­ca­tion time to go on for about 40 min­utes.

But I have also learnt that I must keep track of time – as it is, the num­ber of hours that Par­lia­ment sits in a year has gone up.

OP­PO­SI­TION MPS’ CLAIMS THAT QUES­TIONS ARE NOT AN­SWERED

As long as a ques­tion is filed, it will be an­swered – in oral or writ­ten form. If you want to ask the ques­tion ver­bally and fol­low up with a sup­ple­men­tary ques­tion, you can al­ways roll it to the next sit­ting and the sit­ting there­after. I get the same com­plaints from PAP MPs too. But the fact is, many dif­fer­ent ques­tions are tabled for the var­i­ous min­istries. At some point, we will come to it.

Even if we don’t get it ver­bally dis­cussed and de­bated, there will be a writ­ten re­sponse. The Gov­ern­ment can’t hide if a dif­fi­cult ques­tion is filed. It has to an­swer.

I think the real com­plaint may be that MPs, what­ever their af­fil­i­a­tion, pre­fer their ques­tions to be ad­dressed orally in Par­lia­ment so that they can ask sup­ple­men­tary ques­tions. I can un­der­stand that.

THE QUAL­ITY OF DE­BATES HE HOPES TO SEE

MPs have quite a wide lat­i­tude to say what they need to say... and I would want to en­cour­age them to speak their minds.

I would like the de­bates to be pas­sion­ate, es­pe­cially on is­sues that con­cern Sin­ga­pore­ans at large, and I ex­pect MPs to take on the front­bench on is­sues they are con­cerned about.

If you get a strong re­sponse from the front­bench, then we ex­pect you to re­spond strongly as well, if you feel strongly enough about the mat­ter. One should be ma­ture enough to see that none of this is per­sonal.

While one should keep within the bound­aries of what is ac­cept­able, I’d like to take a more lib­eral per­spec­tive and al­low that de­bate to take place. I think we’re bet­ter for it.

Even though we are a bit un­com­fort­able some­times, as long as the sit­u­a­tion doesn’t get out of hand – we’re nowhere near that at the mo­ment – it is all right.

WHERE TO DRAW THE LINE IN HEATED DE­BATE

As Speaker, I am guided by prece­dents, stand­ing or­ders and a healthy dose of judg­ment. But my gen­eral ap­proach is to be ex­pan­sive and per­mis­sive where I can.

I don’t think we have reached a stage where peo­ple may end up trad­ing blows. Some de­bates have got quite heated, but they are well within ac­cept­able bound­aries.

If it goes a bit fur­ther than where it should be, I may have a word with the re­spec­tive par­ties’ lead­ers or the in­di­vid­u­als them­selves. But I have not yet seen a need to do that.

Seow Bei Yi

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Singapore

© PressReader. All rights reserved.