A forum letter writer has asked why the Workers’ Party (WP) doesn’t form at least one shadow ministry with the resources it does have, after the party said that it would not form a shadow cabinet like the elected opposition in other Westminster parliamentary systems.
The WP was the only party that was elected to Parliament in the 2020 general election and won an unprecedented 10 seats in the House. A day after the election, which saw the ruling party suffer its second-worst electoral result since independence, WP chief Pritam Singh was made Singapore’s very first Leader of the Opposition.
Mr Pritam was given additional duties and privileges and prominent members of the ruling party came out to say that they expect the opposition party to put up alternative policies for scrutiny in the House instead of just serving as a check for its policies.
In his maiden parliamentary speech as Leader of the Opposition, Mr Pritam set out the challenges the WP faces given that it has 10 seats in comparison to the ruling party’s 93 seats in Parliament. He added that the government has the public service at its disposal, which employs 146,000 full-time officers, including 85,000 members of the Civil Service.
Mr Pritam pointed out that his office “will not have the breadth and depth of the party in Government in coming up with alternative policies” but his party “will continue pursuing alternatives we feel are important for Singapore.”
Additionally, Mr Pritam said that it is unfeasible for the WP to set up a shadow cabinet. He said: “With just 10 MPs, far from the more than one-third necessary to check the PAP’s supermajority, it is not feasible for the WP to set up a shadow cabinet in the tradition of Westminster parliaments.
“There are sixteen ministries, including the Prime Minister’s Office. These 16 ministries have the resources of 37 political officeholders from Parliamentary Secretary upwards. Of these 37, 20 are full ministers.”
While the WP will not shadow each ministry, Mr Pritam has organised his MPs to “look into five areas that are critical for Singapore and of huge importance to Singaporeans.”
These areas are (1) Health, ageing and retirement adequacy; (2) Jobs, businesses and the economy; (3) Education, Inequality and the Cost of Living; (4) Housing, transport and infrastructure: and (5) National Sustainability.
While some Singaporeans welcomed this arrangement, others have mixed feelings. One forum letter writer expressed his disappointment in the fact that the opposition party has chosen not to set up at least one shadow ministry with the resources it does have.
In a letter published by the Straits Times on Thursday (3 Sept), Colin Loh Yoon Fui wrote: “It is disappointing that after all these years in Parliament, having 10 elected MPs and having Mr Pritam Singh appointed Leader of the Opposition, the Workers’ Party (WP) still has not designated at least one shadow minister.”
Asserting that a shadow minister would demonstrate the WP’s “genuine intention to run the country in the future,” Mr Loh said that the party does not need the whole civil service to do this. He claimed:
“Mr Singh says the WP does not have the resources. But the WP does not need to have the whole civil service at its disposal. All it needs is a small group of people to do in-depth research, seek feedback from constituents and come up with good alternatives.”
Asserting that the WP’s 13 legislative assistants are more than enough for the party to form at least one shadow ministry, Mr Loh asserted that “Singaporeans can then entrust the WP with more responsibilities in future elections” if the shadow ministry does a good job.
He added: “The WP cannot continue to run “by-election” strategies for future general elections.”
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