NEE Soon East MP Louis Ng is not out to score political points. But he holds a record of sorts. He spoke 308 times in Parliament in unofficially ranked as the politician who conveys the most down-to-earth feedback right at the austere corridors of Parliament House.
The 40-year-old has no secret formula in daring to be different.
Simply because he speaks without fear or favour and residents in his constituency in the northern heartland of Singapore say he is a rare breed who listens to the ground and offers that soul-searching opinions of the grassroots folks, from senior citizens to the younger generation in any matter that affects their day-to-day life.
In his personal year-end report-card to his constituents, Ng laid out the cards: Speaking on 151 Parliamentary Questions, 109 Bills, three Motions, three Budget Statements, one Ministerial Statement, two President’s Address Debates, 65 Budget Cuts, two Adjournment Motions and one Public Petition.
According to Parliament records, no parliamentarians have come close to the 300-mark and the closest leading speakers were Non-Constituency MPs Leon Perera (286) and Dennis Tan (209), both from the Workers’ Party.
Over Facebook, Ng, who studied at the heartland St Gabriel’s School, wrote: “Some have asked me if there is a magic number in terms of the number of times I want to speak up in Parliament. The answer is ‘no’ but the target is a simple one. I want to speak up as much as I can.
“Why? Because I’m privileged to be in a position where I can speak up for people, for the environment and for animals.”
He admitted that, as a first-term Member of Parliament, under Nee Soon GRC with Home Affairs & Law Minister K. Shanmugam, he “enjoyed the debates, helping to shape policies and legislation and helping to make Singapore a better place for all”.
He added: “Thank you everyone for giving me this opportunity to serve and speak up for you. And a very big thank you to the amazing team of Legislative Assistants who work tirelessly every month and who help to give everyone a voice in Parliament.”
Ng came to Parliament with an awesome animal-heart, armed with a Bachelor of Science (Biology) from the National University of Singapore and a Masters in Science degree in Primate Conservation from Oxford Brookes University and founder of ACRES (Animal Concerns Research and Education Society).
Today, he has built his reputation as the “voice of the man-in-the-street” and some of the issues he raised in Parliament have included the plight of single parents and whether there should be restrictions on smoking within homes to protect neighbours from second-hand smoke.
Smilingly, he says: “I was understudying (Deputy Speaker and MP) Charles Chong before I became an MP. My last posting was at Joo Chiat and I always remember, he told me: ‘Louis, make sure you don’t just talk about animals in Parliament!’.
“I realise as an MP, my focus just can’t be on a single issue. I’m here not just to speak up about issues that I’m passionate about, but more importantly, about issues that Singaporeans are passionate about.”
George Han, the assistant branch secretary at Nee Soon East, who is Founder of Far East Advisory, says: “Louis (Ng) always has, in his heart, the interests of the less privileged. He speaks for them with conviction and possesses the commitment to action and to improve their welfare. From housing for single mums to environmental protection, he has put forth concrete ideas in his speeches which has struck resonance with both the general public and policy-makers.”
Another Nee Soon branch activist Dan Liu, who is Director at Morrow Architects and Planners, adds: “It’s quite inspiring to see someone like Louis (Ng), so passionate who not only serves from the heart at Nee Soon East, but is clearly is working to making the world a better place.”
SACRIFICES ON FAMILY TIME
Ng, a father of three toddlers, even sacrifices on family time to literally ‘walk the talk’. Just a few months after becoming an MP, he scored a parliamentary first as he went around to feel the heart-beat of the community by trying out various heartlander jobs. This initiative saw him work as a cleaner, cardboard collector, private-hire car driver, hospital assistant and bicycle-pedalling police officer, among other occupations.
He makes it distinctly clear he’s not out to simply score political points. He’s definitely not a “wayang man” putting on an act to be different from his political contemporaries. His primary motive remains in improving his understanding of national and heartland issues.
He explains: “It has shaped a lot of my thinking in terms of the speeches I’ve shared in Parliament about why some of these groups of people need help. For example, I worked with Hanif, a town council cleaner for a day. And from there, I realised what these migrant workers go through. How they come to Singapore, some of them for a 10-year stretch and never see their families.
“That led to me speaking up a lot on migrant worker issues. There’s been a shift about how in town councils, we need to look after our cleaners to make sure that their welfare is looked into more.”
Ng also sits on the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights group, a group of current and former Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) parliamentarians aiming to promote human rights in the region. He also started ‘Project Hearts to Hands’ refugee initiative with a group of volunteers for the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh.
MOST CONTROVERSIAL SPEECH
In probably his most controversial speech in February, he spoke up about the Public Service. Hitting the nail on the head, he highlighted that it is “most impossible to feel motivated to do more because mediocrity is rewarded”.
Ng concedes that at times, speaking up has garnered him some negative publicity. And his comments drew a sharp rebuttal from (Minister for Education) Ong Ye Kung, who led public service innovation efforts.
He adds: “They fear that they will be labeled as troublemakers and that their bosses will get angry. They fear it will affect their appraisal and their promotion,” Ng said at the time. “We now need to make sure that they don’t work in a system where they feel they need to be silent, where they feel they need to be ‘Yes sir’ men or women and where they feel that nothing will change even if they speak up.”
SAF officer Richard Woon, who lives in Holland Village, salutes Ng’s gutsy-style of speaking without fear or favour and says: “He has rightly urged people not to be afraid to speak up, and not to accept the status quo and they must fight for changes that will lead to an even better Singapore. I agree that the culture of being afraid, of keeping quiet, of not rocking the boat is detrimental to the public service and most of all to Singapore.”
In an interview with Bharati Jagdish over Channel News Asia in September 2018, Ng, who is married to British-born animal activist Amy Corrigan, laid his cards straight as a grassroots politician.
“I don’t think wayang should be part of politics. Sometimes we do choke up in Parliament in delivering the speeches. I urge everyone to see what the context is. Some of the things I’ve shared in parliament are very personal. I share it so that policies can change,” he said.
“The change in policy on parental leave for example, won’t benefit me since I had my kids already. It was really for the benefit of future parents. I was sharing the experience of how difficult and how painful it has been for me and my wife so that others won’t have to go through that same experience.
“But ultimately, everybody has their own views and everybody is entitled to criticise. As an MP, I should be open to public scrutiny, open to criticism. Again, I think that would make me a better MP, a better person. At the end of the day, I’m not here to do what’s popular, but I want to make sure what I do is right. And that’s most important to me.”
Ng is not wary of being branded a ‘Rambo-styled’ politician. (For the record, John James Rambo is a fictional character in the ‘Rambo’ series. He first appeared in the 1972 novel ‘First Blood’ but later became globally famous as the protagonist of the film series, in which he was played by Sylvester Stallone).
Ng, who is pint-sized compared to ‘Rambo’, promises to continue to speak up and he says: “Judge me by my actions over the last three years. I have delivered on my promise. I’m here to speak up, to speak my mind, to listen with my heart and my ears. And that’s what I fully intend to do. That’s my promise to the people and that’s what I’ve done.”
He clearly wants to continue to straddle both spheres – politics and civil society.
“We talk about diversity in politics, but civil society should be equally diverse. There should be people that are purely civil society activists. I think there are people that should straddle both. But you have to remember that ultimately we are on the same side. We all want what’s good for Singapore. We all want what’s good for the progress of this country.”
* The writer is a journalist with four decades experience. He sits on the Nee Soon East Citizens Consultative Committee (CCC) and does weekly MPS (Meet the People Session) on Mondays @ Nee Soon.