Monday, 24 October 2011

Ruling party not claiming a 'monopoly on wisdom'

Idea of a parliamentary debate must be that Opposition puts forward constructive suggestions, says Shanmugam
by Teo Xuanwei, TODAY, Oct 24, 2011

Coming off a week of intense debate in a House with an unprecedented number of Opposition Members of Parliament (MPs), Foreign Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam acknowledged their role in finding improvements to government policies and programmes.

And to achieve this - which he highlighted as the purpose of parliamentary debates, in general - it is important that "constructive suggestions" are put forward.

"So all good ideas, we must take," he said, given that all elected MPs are representatives of the electorate's views and aspirations and with the ruling party not claiming a "monopoly on wisdom".

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had outlined on Thursday his administration's three broad goals over the next five years: An inclusive society where no Singaporean is left behind, a vibrant economy where growth benefits everyone and constructive politics that puts Singapore first.

Mr Shanmugam told reporters yesterday: "The Government has put forward its views, and the idea of a debate must be that the Opposition puts forward constructive suggestions on how the Government's agenda and policies and programmes can be improved."

He added: "We're facing headwinds around the world. How do we go together forward ... how do we make sure that everyone benefits from the growth, how can we increase real wages for people who have seen some stagnation in their wages?

"These are all issues, and the purpose of the whole debate is to try and bring forward constructive suggestions on how this can be done."

Speaking on the sidelines of the opening of the revamped Chinese Development Assistance Council (CDAC) centre in Yishun, Mr Shanmugam noted that there is a section of the population who are not getting the full benefits of Singapore's sterling growth in recent years and who feel they are being left behind.

"We must acknowledge that as a genuine, legitimate feeling, and we must say, 'what can we do to try and help?'," he said.

Another group to focus on: Middle-income earners, who have found improvements to their standard of living "more and more difficult" to come by in recent years because of international competition.

Mr Shanmugam said: "A large section of the population can be doing well, but if a small section isn't doing well, then you're not getting inclusive growth."

One way the Government has tried to help, he cited, is through CDAC centres, which had retuned its key objectives two years ago to include strengthening social mobility.

Once primarily student service centres, CDAC centres have now expanded their programmes and services to help workers and needy families, too.

"If you look at a centre like the CDAC, it's reaching out to the lower income. By giving them the skills, by levelling them up, by helping them compete, in the heartlands, everywhere in society, that's how you bring people up," he said.

Mr Shanmugam also touched on the June incident in which two Singaporean women alleged that they were made to do squats in the nude at the Johor immigrations complex after they entered Malaysia without getting their passports stamped.

In reply to reporters' questions, he reiterated that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had written to its counterparts after Malaysian Home Affairs Minister Hishammuddin Tun Hussein gave a report in Parliament earlier this month.

Stressing that MFA is "very concerned" about the matter, he said the Malaysian authorities have promised to do a thorough investigation and give Singapore a report when it is finalised.

He said: "They know that we're very keen and that we're very concerned, and that has been communicated. At the same time, we have to understand that what we can ask for is that the matter be dealt with properly and in accordance with Malaysian law."

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