The PSP was formed just last year, yet won 40 percent of the votes in the wards they contested in during the General Elections on July 10. Although PSP failed to win any seat at the elections, it did well enough for two of its members to qualify as NCMPs, being the best-performing candidates that missed getting elected as Members of Parliament (MPs). Leong Mun Wai and Hazel Poa Koon Koon were sworn in as PSP’s NCMPs at the opening ceremony of Singapore’s 14th Parliament on August 24.
Both of them were government scholars who previously worked in government institutions and then moved on to the private sector. Leong formerly worked at the Government of Singapore Investment Corporation (GIC) and in 1997 became managing director of OCBC Securities. He is the founder and owner of a private equity firm. Poa previously worked in the Prime Minister’s Office and Ministry of Finance, then left for the financial sector. She and her husband Tony Tan Lay Thiam now run education centres in Singapore and Indonesia.
In Parliament, Leong will focus on jobs and immigration, while Poa will concentrate on social safety nets. “It is important to stop the bleeding first,” said Leong.
Unemployment has become a major problem in Singapore and other countries, as COVID-19 blighted the economies of Singapore and the whole world. The Lion City’s unemployment rate rose from 2.4 percent in the first quarter to 2.9 percent in the second quarter, the highest level in more than 10 years.
“From the ground feedback, the loss of jobs to foreign talent and social safety net are the two most talked-about issues. Jobs are the foundation of human dignity. Just imagine the stress on the whole family when a breadwinner loses his job,” Leong said.
“Having been ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic over the last nine months, the urgency and importance of strengthening the social safety net has become even more crucial. Even before COVID-19, economic policies have already undermined social inequality and mobility,” he added.
Poa said, “For now, what is most important is how to help the people cope with the current health and economic crises. This involves economic recovery and restructuring, ensuring job opportunities for Singaporeans, as well as assistance for individuals and businesses.”
“Over the longer term, I feel we need to change our mindset towards strengthening social safety nets, proactively reduce income inequality and reform our education system to better prepare our young for the future economy and society,” she added.
Poa sees her role in Parliament as providing checks and balances as well as offering alternative points of view and ideas.
Leong and Poa will be asking for more data for the sake of transparency and report cards on various policies, such as the Fair Consideration Framework and Singapore’s free trade agreements with countries like India.
The Fair Consideration Framework requires employers to give fair consideration to Singaporeans for job opportunities.
The two NCMPs will also ask for a report card on the use of the relief packages totaling about S$100 billion, as announced by the government to counter the economic fallout from the pandemic, Leong said.
On her role as NCMP, Poa said, “Obviously I would have preferred to enter Parliament as an elected MP, but I would rather see the glass as half full than half empty. I am grateful for the opportunity to enter Parliament and be able to raise issues that are important to Singaporeans.”
On his Facebook on July 7, Leong described the NCMP scheme as “a sad invention for Singapore’s democracy”.
“The NCMP is most likely a ploy to lure the swing voters away from voting for the alternative camp… Hence the NCMP scheme in its current form is more like an anchor to prolong the one-party system in Singapore. The political system needs no further stabilization because in practice, the first-past-the-post electoral system has demonstrated that it strongly favors an entrenched incumbent,” Leong said in his Facebook page.
However, he told the Palm, “We nevertheless have to accept it in order to play by the rules imposed by the incumbent and to be the voice of the people who voted for us and those who supported us (but may not have voted for us). We intend to work for those who didn’t support us as much as for those who did.”
During breaks at the Parliament ceremony on August 24, Leong spoke to MPs of both the opposition Workers’ Party and the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP), including some PAP ministers, Leong disclosed. “My approach is to talk to people on both sides of the aisle.”