By Augustine Low
A Parliament of Singapore factsheet states that “being an MP requires much time, commitment and hard work!” Do you know if your MP (Member of Parliament) lives up to these requirements? What do you want to see more – and less – from your MP?
It is reasonable to have greater expectations of our MPs because they have chosen to serve Singaporeans in that special capacity. And with a monthly remuneration of $16,000, they aren’t exactly paid peanuts!
Here is a take on how our MPs can do more:.
Be present: There’s no point in having a heavyweight politician or Minister as an MP if it means that he or she will be frequently absent due to heavy commitments and constant travel. Those who wait in line for hours at the meet-the-people session expect to see the MP face-to-face, for a few minutes at least, after being attended to by an army of helpers. And the pet peeve of those who do get to see the MP is the turn-off of stock replies like I can try, I cannot promise, It’s a case-by-case basis.
True, the MP cannot do the impossible but it helps to be present in the moment and connect one-on-one because every grievance, request or appeal is unique to the person making it.
Stand up for yourself: I once had a visit from the MP during election time and he kept saying why I should vote for his party. I wanted to know why, but he insisted on hiding behind the party, and not pitting himself as an individual. It would also be very welcome indeed if MPs occasionally make a stand or state an opinion that diverges from the party line. We’ve seen it happen, but it’s so very rare. The doctrine that members of a political party must agree with and toe the party line is just too limiting and makes a mockery of the fact that MPs are individuals in their own right who are answerable to their electorate.
Stand out for something: Very often, there is very little to remember our MPs by. They have their turn asking questions and making speeches in Parliament. But about what, we can hardly recall. Why not identify a cause or two and go for it, nail down the details, seek the answers, drive home the point that you are dead serious about it. Lily Neo is one MP who stands out for something – she vociferously speaks out on behalf of the poor and marginalised, asking time and again for more to be done for them and hitting out at what she calls the “growth at all costs” policies of the PAP government.
In his time, Chiam See Tong exasperated the National Development Minister to no end with his constant hounding about HDB flat subsidies. Up to now, the exact breakdown cost of HDB flats remains one of Singapore’s biggest mysteries. Chiam never did get many of the answers he sought but he never gave up and Singaporeans salute him for his perseverance.
Cut out the cheap shots: Social media is a great way to reach out but I can’t think of any reason what selfies of one looking cool or working out in the gym has to do with connecting with residents. Yet MPs like Baey Yam Keng post such selfies on Instagram regularly, along with photos of meals. If MPs want to connect at a personal level, it would be more useful for them to share about their life experiences, such as challenges raising children or caring for aged parents. But without resorting to scoring political points, as in the case of Hri Kumar, who shared about his daughter saying: “Papa, I don’t want you to be an MP anymore.” Ah, so he wants us to know that he is working too hard and has too little time for his family!
Speaking of cheap shots, a final request to MPs: Please do not post photo after photo of you smiling happily with happy residents at happy events. That’s not the real Singapore!