Veteran politician Dr Tan Cheng Bock has thrown his weight behind Workers’ Party chairman Sylvia Lim after five prominent ruling party politicians took Lim to task over her remarks on the timing of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) hike announcement.
Voicing his support for Lim on Facebook today, Dr Tan asserted that the ruling party ministers were “brow beating” Lim. In a post that has since gone viral, he said:
“BE GRACIOUS IN PARLIAMENT
“Having watched the video on the GST debate, I felt the PAP ministers especially Shanmugam were brow beating MP Sylvia Lim by demanding an apology for asking whether the government postponed the GST hike because of negative public feedback. Many people perceive this brow beating as arrogance. I remember our former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew once told all PAP MPs in 1988 “Any show of arrogance or indifference by any MP or Minister will erode confidence in him and, later, in the government.”
“Instead of getting upset, the Ministers should be thankful Sylvia Lim gave them an opportunity to explain. If the government’s position is ‘no’ then just say no and let’s just stop at that. No need to get defensive. As PM Lee Hsien Loong rightly said at the close of the Oxley Road debate: “If MPs believe that something is wrong, it’s an MP’s job to pursue the facts and make these allegations in their own name, decide whether something seems to be wrong, and if you think something is wrong, even if you’re not fully sure, then come to this House, confront the Government, ask for explanations and answers.” I enclose a video clip of Sylvia Lim quoting PM Lee.
“PM Lee was echoing the view of our former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew who said “All MPs new and old, should speak out. You have to speak up and bring out the grapevine criticism in the coffee shops and hawker centres. It is damaging for the government not to openly refute it with facts and argument. By bringing up apparently embarrassing issues, you help the government openly state the facts and explain the reasons for our policies and so continue to hold the ground.”
“So be gracious, no need to over-react or ask for any apology for bringing out “grapevine criticism” or “apparently embarrassing issues” in Parliament.”
Lim had said earlier that the Government had floated “trial balloons” on a possible tax hike but possibly backed down after the public noted Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam’s comments in 2015 that the Government has enough revenue for the next decade.
While the Aljunied GRC MP defended her statement as “honest suspicion,” her remarks drew intense flak from Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam who refuted the allegation and asserted that her statement was both “dishonest” and “hypocritical”.
Shanmugam and Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat pressed Lim to withdraw her statement. Heng later wrote a letter and pressured Lim to behave as “an honourable MP should” and retract her statement.
This was followed by Leader of the House, Grace Fu, giving Lim a 3-day deadline to apologise for the “false allegation” or risk further action on Tuesday, 6 Mar. When Lim refused to, a “disappointed” Fu put Lim on notice and added that Lim’s behaviour is indicative of the low standards of “the member and her party,” and that her actions are “deplorable”.
After this, Senior Minister of State for Law Indranee Rajah took to Facebook to share her take on the events. Many netizens found her explanation of why Fu had said that Lim had not behaved honourably to be “unnecessary” and urged her to move on.