Speaker Tan Chuan-Jin: Need for pragmatism amid idealism

Substance, not just rhetoric, matters; and disagreements must not distract from improving life for Singaporeans

Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin, presiding over his first Budget marathon, spoke somewhat wistfully yesterday of his desire to join in the debates.

"Some of you think the biggest challenge being up here is how one manages to stay awake or how we answer the call of nature.

"Well, that will remain a trade secret," he said, bringing levity to eight days of parliamentary debate filled largely with serious speeches and equally serious questions.

"What I find most challenging is having the desire to participate but not being able to do so in a way that all of you do.

"So what you all have is a unique, precious privilege to make a significant impact on the well-being of our people."

Elected Speaker last September, the former Cabinet Minister would typically, in his five years as an office holder in Government, take great pains to explain the issues of the various portfolios he held.

So, in the dying minutes of the debate, he seemed almost unable to contain himself, declaring with a grin: "Finally, I get to speak! It is my once-a-year occasion."

In his 10-minute speech, he gave MPs a pat on the back for their active participation even as he stressed the need to be pragmatic in the journey towards the nation's ideals and aspirations.

Substance and details matter too, not just eloquent, emotive rhetoric, he added.

Mr Tan spoke of trade-offs that must be made, along with difficult, unpopular choices.

This is especially so when seeking to balance four purposes he distilled from the debates: making things better for individual Singaporeans and the wider society, plus meeting today's needs while catering for future ones.

The key is to be united, he added.

Differences are often amplified during debates, but there are more points of convergence and agreement than not, he observed.

He cited the move taken for the vote on the national Budget, in which members voted not by saying "aye", but electronically at their individual seats.

All Workers' Party MPs present voted against Budget 2018.

They had said they could not support the future rise in the goods and services tax without more information.

Said Mr Tan: "Argue, fight by all means, but within limits and in a responsible manner.

"I'm thankful that despite it all, we do have a unity of thought and conviction on where we should go and how we should position ourselves as a nation."

Mr Tan stressed the need to build a caring society.

Going the extra mile for each other will "make us great as a nation", he said.

"Unlike everything in the Budget, it cannot be mandated by law, but it can be nurtured. And it is for us as Singaporeans to respond."

Singapore Politics