Parliament: Less rhetoric, more robust actions is the Singapore way, says Speaker Tan Chuan-Jin

SINGAPORE – Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin is sometimes asked to view clips of parliamentary debates overseas showing fistfights or speeches that are eloquent, humorous or sharply satirical.

“But I ask myself, after this, what is next? What then do we do?” he said in Parliament on Friday (March 6) as he stressed the importance of translating rhetoric into action.

In contrast, MPs’ speeches in Singapore are often “substantive and heavy”, Mr Tan added. Some may be challenging to sit through, or could benefit from more flair and panache.

But such speeches also feature “solid, down-to-earth ideas, plans and execution, and not just creating beautiful castles in the air”, he said. They also give a sense of how the Government intends to address Singaporeans’ concerns and realise their collective vision.

In a speech capping the nine-day debate on Budget 2020, Mr Tan noted that last year’s edition centred on killing the “sacred cow” of secondary-level streaming.

This year, he quipped, the Budget included “Mandai Zoo, River Safari and Jurong Bird Park” as MPs and ministers highlighted various creatures when debating about food security, disease outbreaks and environmental conservation.

There were Impossible Meat satays and gyozas, Aedes in the war on dengue and the Raffles banded langurs that monkeyed around in the Central Catchment Reserve, he noted, bringing smiles to MPs’ faces.

But all this talk is just “small slivers of a bigger whole… Nothing is too trivial not to be addressed (by the MPs),” Mr Tan said.

The Speaker noted that Singapore has learnt lessons from the coronavirus outbreak, a point also made by Leader of the House Grace Fu in her round-up of the debate.

Although Covid-19 has generated fear and anxiety, it has also shown the community at its best, Ms Fu said. Larger businesses are stepping up to help smaller ones, while community groups and companies have banded to help the needy.

The challenges that Singapore faces will be “increasingly complex and unexpected”. But if its citizens work together – just as they are doing in the current outbreak – problems can be turned into possibilities, she added.

She listed four themes in this year’s Budget that will shape Singapore in the years to come. These are forging a resilient nation, establishing a city of possibilities, creating opportunities for all and building a caring and cohesive community.

“I am heartened to hear the theme of partnerships come through strongly in our debates,” said Ms Fu, who is also Minister for Culture, Community and Youth. “The momentum is clear. Singaporeans can and want to play a bigger role in shaping Singapore.”

Government agencies will open more opportunities for Singaporeans to do so, she added.

Mr Tan noted that one criticism of the Government is that it spends on the future and, therefore, has less to spend in the present.

“We all know the common complaint that Singaporeans may have,” he said. “Why do you not care for me today? I’ve got problems today.”

But this approach is how Singapore can do what it is doing in the current Covid-19 outbreak, Mr Tan said. “With our prudence and savings, we are able to fund and deal with this event that just dropped on our laps.

“Imagine if we decided to spend more, save less. It is far easier to be popular than to be prepared.”

Beyond all the “political bluster”, Mr Tan said there is a strong unity in approach from MPs on both sides of the fence.

But it is the people’s support that allows Parliament to have the courage to take “the more difficult, but yet perhaps the more correct path”.

“This support will not and does not exist if there is no sense of unity and no sense of togetherness, which is why the idea of Singapore Together is so precious,” Mr Tan said.

“It is not just a slogan, something that we just mouth off in Parliament. There are actually things that we can do.”

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