Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) secretary-general Chee Soon Juan has raised questions about the quality of service elected MPs who work day jobs give constituents, in a recent Facebook post.
In 2016, Dr Chee contested the by-election in Bukit Batok SMC that was left vacant after People’s Action Party (PAP) MP David Ong resigned due to an extra-marital affair with a grassroots member. The PAP fielded Murali Pillai as their candidate in the ward.
Mr Pillai, who lost the 2015 General Election when he was fielded against the Workers’ Party team at Aljunied GRC, won the Bukit Batok by-election with over 60 per cent of the vote.
Since the election, Dr Chee has been walking the ground at Bukit Batok SMC and has indicated his intention to contest the ward in the next general election.
In a Facebook post published on Monday (18 Nov), Dr Chee recalled that he had said that that MPs should serve their constituents on a full-time basis and give them undivided attention, during the 2016 by-election.
Noting that Mr Pillai responded that there is no need for this since it would require MPs to “give up their day jobs” and that PAP MPs who have full-time jobs “have not faced any problems going about their duties” as MPs, Dr Chee said: “This unfortunate description gives us an insight into his thinking – that an MP’s role is only a part-time gig.”
Asserting that one “cannot serve two masters at the same time,” Dr Chee asserted that holding a full-time job is taxing and will negatively impact the quality of service constituents should expect from their MPs. He said:
“Your day job requires you to deal with problems in the office – in Mr Murali’s case, matters regarding his legal practice – that are psychologically and emotionally taxing. You are mentally tired after 10 hrs at work. No individual can extend their full attention and tend to the people’s business after that.”
Referring to the recent non-compliances with fire safety regulations that were discovered after a fire broke out at Bukit Batok SMC, Dr Chee added: “I am not saying that Mr Murali has to check every fire hose reel himself, but there is a difference between spending 50 hours a week versus 5 in the estate when it comes to tending to its affairs.”
Dr Chee also asked whether Mr Pillai would be willing to spend his weekdays at the town council and tend to his legal practice in the evening instead: “Here’s a thought experiment that will clarify the issue. Why doesn’t Mr Murali spend his weekdays at the Town Council? After he’s done, he can go to his practice in the evening to take care of his cases.
“If he recoils from such an arrangement, why should residents accept the alternative and less desirable one?”
Pointing out that no employer would agree to pay an employee a full-time salary for working during the weekends and once during the work week, Dr Chee asserted that Singaporeans should also not be expected to bear the costs of a full-time salary for an MP who does his MP duties part-time or the costs of outsourcing work to managing agents that elected MPs are supposed to do:
“Will an employer agree to paying an employee a full-time salary (in an MP’s case $16,000 a month – tax free) and have him/her come in to work for a couple of hours during the weekends and once a week during weekdays? If not, then why do Singaporeans, who are the MPs’ employers, agree to pay their representatives that amount for part-time work?
“Not only do MPs work part-time, they use residents’ money to outsource to managing agents the work they are supposed to do. Managing agents are private, profit-making agencies.
“They add another layer of expenses for residents. This is why the PAP-run town councils keep on raising S&CC, the last round of increase (by as much as $17/month/unit) came in the last couple of years.
“Residents are thus hit with the double whammy: They don’t get the full attention of their MPs and have to pay extra for their estates to be run.”
Asserting that “adding substantial municipal duties while allowing MPs to continue with their day jobs inevitably leads to a compromise in their work quality,” Dr Chee explained how he and his party colleagues will handle the situation if they are elected into Parliament.
Promising to be a full-time MP who oversees daily operations without the need for managing agents and who is present in the ward everyday except when he has to attend Parliament, the SDP chief said:
“If elected, my colleagues and I will dedicate ourselves to full-time work. In BB, I will personally recruit the town council staff and oversee its daily operations. There will be no managing agents.
“I will be present in the town council office everyday except when I attend parliament. I will be available whenever my staff and the residents need me to not only resolve problems but to anticipate events and plan for them.
“Also, meet-the-people’s sessions need not be confined to a couple of hours in the evenings once a week.
“In addition, I will conduct regular town hall meetings with residents to make transparent town council work, plan with them the running of their estates and discuss PAP policies.
“On top of this, I will be in parliament tabling motions, proposing bills and making sure no one yawns. With all these responsibilities, I just cannot see how an MP’s job can be a part-time one.”