SINGAPORE — A social entrepreneur, an architect and a corporate lawyer diagnosed with peroneal muscular atrophy were among the nine picked to be Nominated Members of Parliament (NMP).
A total of 36 individuals had put themselves up for consideration to chime in with alternative voices in the House, including law don Eugene Tan and businessman R Dhinakaran, who were seeking second terms, but after about two months of deliberation, the Special Select Committee of Parliament went for a slate of fresh faces.
Explaining their decision in a press statement yesterday, Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob, who chaired the committee, said: “We looked for eligible candidates who had distinguished themselves through their contributions to society or to their respective fields, and who could bring their specialised knowledge to add to the depth and breadth of debates in Parliament.”
Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen, who is Leader of the House and one of the eight committee members, said the search was for new NMPs “who could add to discussions of issues facing Singapore in this term”.
He listed a raft of issues, including ageing, economic restructuring and a better living environment. “We believe the new NMPs will help Singapore deal with these challenges,” he added.
The NMP nomination process began in April, drawing 14 proposal forms submitted by the seven functional groups invited to nominate NMPs, namely, business and industry; labour; the professions; tertiary education institutions; social service organisations; civic and people sector; and the media, arts and sports organisations; and 22 by members of the public by the time nominations closed a month later.
After informing elected parliamentarians of the list of candidates, the committee, which included Workers’ Party chief Low Thia Khiang, went about its assessments, including meeting some candidates face-to-face and asking MPs for feedback.
After their 12th meeting on July 31, they agreed on the nine, whose term will commence after they are presented the Instruments of Appointment by the President on Aug 26.
One of the newly appointed NMPs, social entrepreneur and co-founder of The Thought Collective, Ms Kuik Shiao-Yin, told TODAY that while plenty of attention had been given to social enterprises, it was important to “broaden the definitions of what social entrepreneurship is and look into the current subsidies available for small and medium enterprises, which social enterprises could also tap”.
Another newly appointed NMP was lawyer and Society for the Physically Disabled president Chia Yong Yong, who has been a wheelchair user for the past 20 years due to peroneal muscular atrophy.
Asked whether her nomination would pave the way for more people with disabilities to enter Parliament, Ms Chia said she hoped it would “encourage persons with different limitations to know they too can serve society and that they have the same opportunities to step up”. “It is also an indication of the Government’s openness to have a wider range of views in Parliament,” she added.
Ms Chia’s appointment — she is the first parliamentarian with physical disabilities in recent years — is a step in the right direction, said political analysts. Former NMP Siew Kum Hong said: “This recognises her accomplishments and also demonstrates that disabled persons are able to participate in public life just as much as able-bodied people.”
Mr Zulkifli Baharudin, also a former NMP, said it showed the committee recognised that Ms Chia could contribute as much as anyone else. He added that the current slate of NMPs is also “reflective of current thinking”, where increased focus would be placed on social issues. “Society is changing and I think the leadership must change to reflect this too.”
However, Mr Siew noted that while the choices all seemed to be established individuals, “they do seem safe”. He was disappointed that there were no appointments from civil society and the arts community — the only candidate was Drama Box artistic director Kok Heng Leun. “The arts community’s process is probably the most bottom-up, transparent and grassroots-driven of all the processes for surfacing nominees. So it’s disappointing that the committee did not select the nominee with probably the most legitimacy in terms of representing a functional constituency.”
When contacted, Mr Kok, 48, expressed disappointment, but said “the advocacy for the arts will not stop”. “We probably have to start thinking about finding and creating more legitimate spaces to talk about arts policies and important arts issues. Maybe, we should start thinking about forming NGOs to look at arts advocacy work,” he said.
Besides Mr Kok, other nominees not selected included Singapore Kindness Movement secretary-general William Wan, Paralympian William Tan and blogger Roy Ngerng.
Meanwhile, other NMPs appointed outlined issues they would raise. Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry president Thomas Chua, 60, said he would voice the concerns of businesses, in particular SMEs. Veteran unionist and National Trades Union Congress vice-president K Karthikeyan said workers’ welfare and cost-of-living issues the “sandwich” class faced would be his areas of concern. These are also issues close to the heart of banker Mohd Ismail Hussein, who is director of the Association of Muslim Professionals.
SIM University associate professor Randolph Tan said education training and economic productivity would be on his agenda, while Changi Sports Medicine Centre senior consultant Benedict Tan said he would focus on sports “to ensure our society fully leverages on benefits of sports, exercise and physical activity as a whole”.
The other two appointed NMPs, architect Rita Soh and historian Tan Tai Yong, could not be reached for comment at press time.
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