Workers' Party chief: Good politics is being all-inclusive
As Parliament sat for the fourth day yesterday, MPs resumed the debate on President Tony Tan Keng Yam's address made two weeks ago and also gave ministerial responses to parliamentary questions. Here are some highlights
A good political system will prevent bad government and the failure of governance, said Member of Parliament (MP) Low Thia Khiang.
Speaking in Parliament yesterday on the debate about what is good politics, the Workers' Party chief gave the opposition's perspective, saying: "The outcome of good politics is not just good policy and ensuring no gridlock. That would be a narrow technocratic view of politics.
"The outcome of good politics is the fostering of a political system that is able to withstand shock and turbulence, including the unexpected collapse or slow corruption of the ruling party, to ensure the continuity of the nation as a united people."
The Aljunied GRC MP also said he agreed with the President's address where a call was made for the Government to look into how to "refresh" the political system.
The opposition party MP said national interest should be defined by "consensus" and the narrative "should not be shaped and monopolised by the ruling party".
Mr Low outlined the characteristics of "good politics" as being all-inclusive and giving space for differences in opinion to flourish without being marked as "disloyal and divisive".
He also said "good politics" should be nudging instead of censoring and should provide space for discussion between those with narrow political interests.
Mr Low added that "good politics" must also trust Singaporeans to be "independent, rational and wise social actors", and see value in having alternative parties and having the opportunities to develop.
"If this Government truly believes in preserving this shiny red dot, then the onus is on it to build a political system conducive to the growth of alternative parties, as well as the renewal of the ruling party," said Mr Low.
"Political value must not be narrowly construed and concentrated in one political party. That is too dangerous for a small state such as ours."
Mr Low also commended the SkillsFuture initiative, in which Singaporeans aged 25 and above get $500 in credit to pay for a range of courses to upgrade their skills.
He believed it leveraged on the "narrow interests" of individuals to pursue a "collective good" and utilised a "nudge policy" instead of the "usual carrot-and-stick approach favoured by the Government".
He added: "The whole policy is focused on empowering Singaporeans, instead of trying to direct or steer them to fit into the planned economy or the needs of corporations."
To further empower confident Singaporeans, Mr Low suggested that the "policy DNA" characteristic of SkillsFuture be applied to other areas like politics, schools and the small- and medium-sized enterprises sector.
He said that because global conditions have changed, Singaporeans need to be nimble and experiment to find and seize "hidden opportunities".
"The red dot will no longer be red if its people turn pale in the face of challenges or when faced with intimidation. Hence, nurturing a confident Singaporean people is the way to ensure that our children and grandchildren will thrive," said Mr Low.
He ended by turning to Singapore's foundational ideas enshrined in the National Pledge.
"Mr Lee Kuan Yew said in 1996: 'When my colleague and I settled the words of our Pledge, we did not focus on our navel, or we would have missed that rainbow in the sky'," quoted Mr Low.
"No other nation in Asia has such lofty and progressive ideals, and it would be an injustice to the memory of our founding leaders and pioneer generation if we do not chase this ideal and keep focusing on the PAP navel instead," he said.
"Singapore needs to choose and make our own destiny, but we cannot depend on one political party or the government for charting and directing our path, if we are to be not just an exceptional, but an outstanding nation that is an example to all in Asia."
If this Government truly believes in preserving this shiny red dot, then the onus is on it to build a political system conducive to the growth of alternative parties, as well as the renewal of the ruling party.
- Workers' Party chief and Aljunied GRC MP Low Thia Khiang
Countering religious radicalisation
Foreign religious preachers whose teachings are intolerant of other religious faiths and practices are not welcome in Singapore, said Minister for Home Affairs and Law K. Shanmugam.
He said: "Even if they do not say these things in Singapore, we cannot allow them to build up their following in Singapore because fundamentally those teachings will destroy our society."
In response to MP Alex Yam's parliamentary question about efforts to counter religious radicalisation, Mr Shanmugam said that the local Muslim community and religious organisations have put in "considerable effort" to counter the radical ideology of terrorist groups, and are also tailoring their messages and engagement platforms to reach out to young people.
Sexual misconduct by educators
Fourteen cases of sexual misconduct by educators have been prosecuted in court in the past five years, said Minister of State for Education Janil Puthucheary, in response to a parliamentary question about the handling of educator sexual misconduct.
While such educators make up a small minority of the teaching force, he said: "Every case is one case too many. We expect all educators to conduct themselves in a manner which upholds the integrity of the profession and the trust placed in them."
Mr Puthucheary added that during the investigation of such cases, the educators involved are suspended from service so that they are separated from students.
If found guilty, or even in cases where findings are inconclusive but there is a serious breach of professional boundaries, they will be dismissed.
He added that when there is insufficient evidence for a case of sexual or professional misconduct, but sufficient evidence remains to raise genuine concerns, educators will be redeployed to jobs that do not require interaction with students.
Government's long-term planning
One of the things that the Government did not do so well is to plan for the long term, said Nee Soon MP Lee Bee Wah.
This is illustrated by the recent spate of MRT disruptions, she said.
"The problem lies in engineering issues which were not properly addressed from the early days of the MRT system. We didn't train a pool of engineers and technicians to specialise in maintaining the rail system," she said.
Adding that economic benefits cannot be the sole yardstick in decision-making, she said: "Now (Transport) Minister Khaw Boon Wan and his team have the unenviable task of completing a major overhaul while maintaining normal services."
Ms Lee also raised the issue of the maintenance of the Sports Hub, which was off to a rocky start when it faced problems with its grass pitch and roof. Concert-goers even complained about its sound system.
She said: "We have to accept that the Government could have done better, experts from our National Parks Board could have anticipated the problems and exercised more oversight over the project execution, especially with all the public money invested in the project.
"Perhaps (the) Government had drawn the line too fine, too clearly and washed their hands (off the matter) too early."