Asia Parliament amends constitution due to Covid-19 to allow House to “meet” in...

Parliament amends constitution due to Covid-19 to allow House to “meet” in different locations

The change to the constitution cites that with the new amendment, MPs now have a way to “meet,” despite not being physically in one place but rather in a couple or more places assigned by the President while in live sessions or in simultaneous communication

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SINGAPORE – An article by The Straits Times released on Tuesday (May 5) reports that the House made a decision to legally make an amendment to the constitution, allowing Members of Parliament (MPs) to meet in different locations if needed.

Covid-19 has managed to impact the world in every way possible, including how governments run, and Singapore is not exempt. Singaporean Leader of the House, Grace Fu, had a second reading of the proposed change to the constitution, which originally mandated that Parliament “must meet in one physical location.”

Before the new Article 64A was put into motion, there were already a number of adjustments that had been set into place beforehand. According to straitstimes.com, although Parliament had come up with contingencies and privileges to best deal with the current pandemic, Ms Fu explained, “But it is entirely conceivable that exigencies may make it unsafe or even impossible for us to meet at one place.”

She also shared, “During such exigencies, it is even more critical for Parliament to carry on its constitutional functions of legislating and holding the Government to account.” In addition, she iterated, “In the constitutional framework, we are an essential service.”

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The change to the constitution cites that due to this new amendment, MPs now have a way to “meet,” despite not being physically in one place, but rather in a couple or more places assigned by the President while in live sessions or in simultaneous communication.

According to Ms Fu, “This physical separation will enhance the survivability of Parliament as an institution.” She added, “In the context of the Covid-19 situation, separating members into cohorts, and limiting the physical contact between these cohorts, allows us to cut down the chance of infection spreading to all the MPs.”

The details of where such appointed places will be, or which MPs would be assigned where has yet to be decided, but that decision can either be made by the House or by Mr Tan Chuan-Jin,  the Speaker of Parliament. Also, when activated, the bill is active for only six months in length, which is a time frame that can also be cut short if necessary.

According to The Strait Times report, if the bill is activated, despite not being together, MPs will still hold their privileges as members of the House. They will be allowed to take part in the Parliament proceedings for as long as they are at the assigned locations given by the House, and not within their own homes.

Ms Fu further explained that since Singapore is not a big country, there should be no reason that MPs cannot get to their designated sites. She also states that members must be “physically and fully present to apply our minds together to the important business of the Parliament, even if we co-locate between several places.”

Although these arrangements have been put into place, they have yet to be activated by Parliament since currently, Ms Fu claims there is still no need. But she also goes on to say, “If the need arises, for instance, if there is widespread local transmission of Covid-19, we can immediately implement the necessary arrangements.”

In the meantime, straitstimes.com also shares that these provisions, which were introduced, debated, amended, and passed “in a single sitting,” were done out of sheer urgency in order to be ready should the need suddenly arise. / TISG

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