Monday 28 November 2011

PAP Convention 2011 - Speeches

'Fight on... even when the person you are trying to help curses you'
By Rachel Chang, The Straits Times, 28 Nov 2011

TO BUILD a 'First World Country' and not just a 'First World Parliament', members of the People's Action Party (PAP) must 'push the boundaries' no matter how low they are in the pecking order - and effect change from within.

PAP backbench star Denise Phua delivered this rousing message at the ruling party's annual convention yesterday, its first since the bruising May General Election.

To illustrate her point, she cited her own experiences of getting existing policies changed - from traffic congestion in the Bencoolen area in her constituency to improving state care for the special-needs community.

Change took time and effort, but 'these positive experiences reaffirmed my hunch that there is merit to joining the ruling party and changing things from within, and we should encourage others to join our party as change can be influenced from within', she said.

In fact, Ms Phua was later highlighted by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong as an example par excellence of the ground-up initiative that must be embraced by the 'new PAP'.

'MPs and backbenchers too need to play bigger roles stepping up, speaking up, reaching out,' said the PAP's secretary-general. 'You may ask, how many will do that? I give you one example of an MP who does that actively, and that is Denise Phua.'

The mention, and the enthusiastic applause that greeted it, capped a slow and steady rise to prominence for Ms Phua as one of the party's most highly regarded backbenchers.

Her advocacy work since she entered politics in 2006 has earned her plaudits even from critics of the ruling party; her popularity within the party saw her elected to its central executive committee last month.

Yesterday, she did not disappoint, delivering a speech that visibly raised the morale of the thousand-plus cadres in the audience.

After speeches from party chairman Khaw Boon Wan and veteran MP Inderjit Singh diagnosing what went wrong for the PAP at the May polls, Ms Phua sought to remind activists of what the party still does right.

'Besides discovering what the gaps are, let us rediscover what the PAP's strengths are,' she said. 'There is something that pulls people to serve for so long and so hard, something that stops most of us from abandoning the ship and walking away when there is a setback.'

The PAP activist is not the person who says the river is dirty, but the one who starts to clean it, she declared.

Flashing a group picture of her Kampong Glam activists after a Meet-the-People session, a clock in the background showing the time as five past midnight, she lauded the sincerity, loyalty and diligence of PAP activists.

Her dream, she said, was for the PAP to 'help build a country of people who care and are involved not only for their own survival and success, but also those of others'.

She quoted former United States president Theodore Roosevelt's famous 1910 Sorbonne speech, The Man In The Arena:

'It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, not the man who points out where the doer of deeds could have done them better...

'The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly... the man who does actually try to do the deed.'

Rallying her fellow party members, she declared: 'Credit goes to those of us who stay on to fight; who actually do the deed; and who walk the extra mile even when the person you are trying to help curses you.'

Lack of political judgment in policymaking: MP Inderjit Singh
By Rachel Chang, The Straits Times, 28 Nov 2011

IN A fiery speech that lamented a lack of political judgment in the ruling party's policymaking, fourth-term MP Inderjit Singh yesterday called for its MPs and activists to be allowed a greater say in governance.

The People's Action Party (PAP) 'got carried away' in the last few years with policies that, while well-intentioned, did not improve the lives of Singaporeans 'as much as we thought they did', he said.

Worse, PAP politicians did not accurately understand the ground sentiment regarding policies on housing and foreign talent, resulting in a 'misjudged' call for elections at a time when many Singaporeans were unhappy with certain policies, and the ground was not 'sweet'.

He lamented in particular the way that two policies - housing and economic growth - were mishandled.

In showing statistic after statistic to prove that housing was affordable and sufficient, the Government came off as being 'in a state of denial' because this did not square with the experiences of many on the ground, he said.

What he termed the 'growth-at-all-costs' policy was also lacking in political judgment, he added. The PAP Government expected that if the economy grew, then all Singaporeans would also benefit indirectly over a period of time - but it did not work that way.

'We need to better align policies with the interests of Singaporeans, not just for a better life in the future, but on how they are impacted in the short term too,' he said.

He called for greater political judgment to be injected into policymaking, which he said was currently driven by civil servants. He deplored that legislative Bills are at present brought to Parliament 'fully cooked', with limited possibility of changes by MPs.

He argued that PAP's policy forums should also be more about how to improve policy, rather than to explain completed policies to the audience. 'Involve people at the beginning of the policy formulation process and not at the end of it,' he urged.

Speaking next, Education Minister Heng Swee Keat also emphasised the importance of ground-up initiative.

While firm, resolute action must still be taken by the Government, the PAP must be open to ideas from people both at the national and local levels, because many have good and constructive suggestions, he said.

During a recent house visit in Tampines, for example, a resident presented him three options for improving the safety of pedestrians and cyclists around her block, complete with cost-benefit analysis. One of her ideas has since been implemented.

'As a party, we must be prepared to question our own assumptions, harness good ideas from all sources, and push for change where it is needed,' he said.

First-term MP Intan Azura Mokhtar's speech emphasised the need to communicate with residents effectively, while being aware that one's ideas are fallible.

Two qualities, respect and empathy, guided her in interactions with residents, she said.

'Respect is necessary in treading through diverse views and beliefs, while empathy is required to show care and understanding of different backgrounds and circumstances.'

Education Minister Heng Swee Keat speaks at the Party Convention 2011 on 27 November 2011 at NUS Cultural Centre.

MP Sitoh Yih Pin speaks at the Party Convention 2011 on 27 November 2011 at NUS Cultural Centre.

MPs back call for more active policy role for PAP members
They say input can be sought at earlier stages and will allow more Singaporeans to take ownership
By Janice Heng, The Straits Times, 2 Dec 2011

MINISTER of State Lawrence Wong supports a call by an MP for People's Action Party (PAP) activists to be more involved in forming government policies.

Mr Wong, whose portfolios are Education and Defence, wants the party's policy wing to go beyond its perceived role in recent years as simply a platform for feedback on policies.

He said that while feedback is important, he would 'certainly support the PPF (PAP Policy Forum) moving towards more active engagement with the Government and party members, to help develop and shape policies'.

Mr Wong, as well as Education Minister Heng Swee Keat, are advisers to the PAP Policy Forum, set up for party members to participate more in discussing government policies.

Mr Wong gave his support for the PPF's increased role in an e-mail reply to The Straits Times yesterday, when asked to comment on MP Inderjit Singh's call at a party convention on Sunday for activists to be involved in policy making at an earlier stage.

Mr Wong acknowledged that some policies, such as those on security and foreign matters, may not be suitable for public consultation.

'But where there is scope for consultation, I think we can do more through the PPF, to tap on the ideas and perspectives of PAP members...

'In the process, we will also get more Singaporeans to take ownership of issues that matter to them, to understand the trade-offs inherent in these policy issues and to help forge consensus on the way forward for the nation,' he said.

The call by MP Singh resonated as well with 10 MPs and activists interviewed by The Straits Times.

PPF chairman Satwant Singh hopes activists can have a hand in crafting policies on critical issues such as immigration and housing.

He suggested that when considering a policy, ministers could give a broad outline to the PPF, which can then make recommendations for possible inclusion before the policy is finalised.

Agreeing, MP Indranee Rajah noted that currently, feedback is usually sought after a policy is rolled out.

Instead, she said, input could be sought at three stages, not just one: Before formulating policy, after a policy is formed and after implementation.

PPF assistant secretary Malminderjit Singh suggested other routes for involvement. For instance, activists could be represented on Government Parliamentary Committees, which scrutinise policy and are now made up of MPs.

Besides activists, MPs, too, are hoping for a bigger role. On Sunday, MP Singh called for MPs' contributions to be incorporated into legislation more often.

When would-be laws arrive at Parliament today, 'they are already fully 'cooked', with no intent for further changes', he said.

Bills are introduced and read once without debate. At the second reading, usually a month later, MPs debate the Bill.

MPs can suggest changes between the second and third readings. After the third reading, the Bill is passed.

Instead of completing both the second and third readings in one day, as is the norm now, MPs could form committees to scrutinise Bills between the two readings and suggest changes, said MP Singh.

He noted that the last time such a committee was formed was in 2004, and before that, in 1998.

MP Zaqy Mohamad, who made a similar proposal in October in Parliament, observed that even when MPs raise important points during the debate, almost all Bills are passed without change on the same day.

'By having the third reading approved at the same sitting, what you are essentially saying is that there is not much room to manoeuvre,' he told The Straits Times.

This might give the public 'the impression that by the time the MPs debate a Bill, it is already cast in stone', he added.

Dr Ng Eng Hen, who is Defence Minister as well as Leader of the House, however, believes MPs have sufficient opportunities to suggest changes.

Replying to The Straits Times, he said: 'There is a sufficient period between the introduction of the Bill andthe second and third readings for members to study the details of the Bill and move for amendments, if they wish.'

MPs argued that even if changes were proposed, there is no time to consider them if second and third readings take place on the same day.

While policymaking may take longer with the involvement of MPs and activists, Mr Zaqy pointed out that most Bills are not so time-sensitive that an extra month would make a difference.

Said MP Seah Kian Peng, who is on the PAP's central executive committee: 'If feedback triggers a rethink of policy... if it means having to take a longer time to 'cook' the policy, then that is that.'

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