Amid the intense discussions about the big picture, and the nuts and bolts of Government programmes and policies, Members of Parliament (MPs) have — over the past fortnight — “never lost sight” of Singaporeans and the country, said Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob yesterday as she wrapped up the Budget and Committee of Supply (COS) debates.
Adding that this shone through very clearly, she reminded the House that “this is as it should be”.
“Singapore and our fellow Singaporeans … are always at the centre of it all,” she said.
Madam Halimah noted that the Budget statement was delivered against the backdrop of “a world in the grips of growing uncertainty in the global economy brought about by disruptive technologies and innovation, and the accompanying rise of populism and protectionist sentiments in a number of countries”.
Despite having different political beliefs, MPs from the ruling People’s Action Party and the opposition Workers’ Party came together “for matters touching on the country’s interests”, said Madam Halimah, who noted a “convergence of views … when it comes to protecting our sovereignty”. This could also be seen at overseas parliamentary meetings when Members are representing Singapore, she said.
While praising the MPs for their “sharp, incisive minds that have become a hallmark of our Parliament”, Madam Halimah did have a quibble: “If only Members could learn to do away with long preambles and go straight to the point raised in their questions and clarifications, they would not need to deliver their speeches at breakneck speeds.”
There were a total of 545 cuts filed by MPs for the COS this year — a 9 per cent increase from last year and the highest in five years, said Leader of the House Grace Fu. The increase “speaks to the scale of the challenges we face and the dedication of the Members”, said Ms Fu, who is the Culture, Community and Youth Minister.
Ms Fu said that the Budget came at a time when Singapore has to grapple with, and adapt to, changes. Businesses are bracing themselves for “difficult economic headwinds”, while workers are not concerned with just the short-term outlook on the job situation, but also their longer-term prospects.
Hence, it came as “no surprise” that the Ministry of Manpower topped the list of total speech time for the cuts filed, with Members spending a significant amount of time scrutinising the Committee on the Future Economy initiatives, while others raised questions about how to help workers, and small and medium enterprises, she added.
Ms Fu said she disagreed with the view of some MPs that the public service may have “lost its heart”. The Public Service is “bound closely to the people it serves”, with public servants across the sectors working hard to “transform our economy, safeguard our security, protect our environment, and build an inclusive society”, she stressed.
“But the Government does not have all the answers, and we cannot steer this ship alone … If we all have that ‘heart’, that desire to forge a better future for all Singaporeans, we can build a stronger, a big-hearted Singapore,” said Ms Fu, urging businesses, unions, community organisations and individuals to work together.