Screen grabs of a nearly empty parliament have been circulating online to give the impression that the PAP majority house has poor attendance record and that the MPs are skiving and not interested in participating in the parliamentary debates.
Attendance records in Parliament show that only the Speaker of Parliament and five other MPs were marked absent on January 9, the date when, according to a post in the States Time Review, more than 70 ministers were allegedly absent for the session. The news outlet reported that during that day, only Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam was the senior Minister who was present. Allegedly, Minister Chan Chun Sing, Minister Heng Swee Keat and Minister Ong Ye Kung were all absent.
However, the truth is, being absent at the time the photo was taken does not mean that the ministers were absent for the whole day.
Contrary to the States Times Review, per Parliament records, it was only the Speaker of Parliament, along with five other ministers, who were absent that day.
Below is a copy of Parliament records for attendance on January 9.
This begs the question as to why Ministers and MPs were marked present in the session, despite being absent during Minister Grace Fu’s speech?
As a precedent, we can look into former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew’s attendance records in Parliament. He was marked present for all sessions wherein he made an appearance, even if these appearances were only for a few minutes. He was often brought in and out of the room by Parliament aides, especially during the Question and Answer portion of the session. This tells us that MPs are marked present even if they are only at the session for a short while.
However, most Members of Parliament are regular with their attendance.
There were times when as few as 24 Members of Parliament are actually present, especially during speeches given for debates. Some Ministers don’t deem their attendance necessary or important even when they are addressed directly during speeches—for example, the speeches made during the debate on the Administration of Justice bill.
It’s possible that this is partly why the government does not live stream sessions in Parliament, so that citizens do not see how much of little their Members get engaged during debates.
However, news agencies have a live stream of the sessions broadcast to them. Members of the media also live tweet these sessions, so the public usually has no problem live streaming sessions through Facebook or YouTube.
The government has alleged that there is no need to livestream, since the demand for such real-time news is low, and there are manpower and needed resources to consider. However, the truth is, should the government decide to stream these sessions, they can say yes to The Online Citizen’s offer to live stream them free of charge to the public.
Parliament has so far had no response to this offer. This runs counter to the practice in many developed democratic countries, where legislative or parliamentary sessions are live-streamed for free, and archives are made widely available. Otherwise, the government comes across as refusing to be transparent, perhaps having something to hide.
Many netizens agree that there should be live broadcasts online
Some feel that the allowance that Members of Parliament receive should be taken away from them when they don’t attend sessions