Thursday 7 September 2017

Tan Chuan-Jin to be Speaker of Parliament from 11 Sep 2017

Tan Chuan-Jin elected as Singapore's 10th Speaker of Parliament

Tan Chuan-Jin to become new Speaker of Parliament, Desmond Lee to helm Ministry of Social and Family Development
By Toh Yong Chuan, Manpower Correspondent, The Straits Times, 6 Sep 2017

A member at the core of the fourth-generation political leadership, Mr Tan Chuan-Jin, 48, will be the new Speaker of Parliament.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong will nominate him for the post when the House sits on Monday (11 Sep).

The decision, PM Lee said yesterday in a Facebook post, was a very difficult one as it meant "losing an effective and activist minister".

But he said Mr Tan stood out as the best choice for the post vacated by Madam Halimah Yacob, 63, who resigned on Aug 7 to contest this month's presidential election.

"It was not easy to find a suitable replacement," PM Lee said. "As Speaker, Chuan-Jin will have to preside over parliamentary debates and ensure fair and full discussion of national issues. Chuan-Jin has the temperament and personality for this role." He added: "Chuan-Jin remains an important member of my team, though in a different role."

The Prime Minister's Office (PMO) said in a statement: "PM Lee has briefed PAP MPs on his nomination and received their full support."

Many Singaporeans were surprised by the move, and Dr Gillian Koh of the Institute of Policy Studies noted that many expected a senior backbencher to fill the post.

Mr Tan will resign as Minister for Social and Family Development, as the Speaker cannot be elected from among MPs who are office holders.

Taking over the ministry's helm from Monday is Mr Desmond Lee, 41, who will remain Second Minister for National Development.

Mr Tan said he was glad to accept PM Lee's nomination and hoped fellow MPs would support it. He said: "Good ideas can come from both sides of the House, as does good intent. In fact, they abound throughout the length and breadth of our society. Our duty must be to harness these for the common good."

PM Lee also singled out Mr Tan's deep interest in social issues and helping the disadvantaged. He will continue to oversee SG Cares, the movement to build a caring society.

Mr Lee said Mr Tan has left him "very big shoes to fill". Mr Lee will no longer be Minister in the PMO and Second Minister for Home Affairs.

Minister in the PMO Josephine Teo, 49, will take over as Second Minister for Home Affairs. She will remain Second Manpower Minister, but will no longer be Second Minister for Foreign Affairs.

Tan Chuan-Jin 'always had a heart for the less privileged'
By Priscilla Goy, The Straits Times, 6 Sep 2017

Ask observers what Mr Tan Chuan-Jin has achieved as Minister for Social and Family Development in the past two years, and the replies come thick and fast.

He started KidStart to help children from disadvantaged families level up. He helped push for unwed mothers to get 16 weeks of paid maternity leave, like married mothers, instead of eight weeks. He also worked to raise the profile of pre-school teachers.

Mr Seah Kian Peng, who chairs the Government Parliamentary Committee for Social and Family Development, said: "He is very passionate about social causes. It will be a waste if that passion and conviction cannot be put to good use.

"Chuan-Jin has always had a heart for the less privileged, which includes the poor and elderly, but also people from broken families and single mothers."

Yesterday's announcement that Mr Tan would resign from his ministerial post took observers in the social service sector by surprise, but they said they were glad he would still be involved in the sector in other ways. Mr Tan, 48, will be nominated as Speaker of Parliament by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong when the House sits on Monday.

But he will continue to oversee SG Cares, a national movement that encourages volunteerism, and be appointed adviser to the National Council of Social Service, where he is currently its patron. He will also continue to lead Marine Parade GRC.

Chiltern House principal Iris Lim said she appreciated Mr Tan's efforts to raise the profile of pre- school teachers. For instance, from this year, childcare centres could close for an extra half-day. Last week, he joined pre-schoolers in performing the song, You Are My Sunshine, to pay tribute to pre-school teachers. The video was posted on his Facebook page on Teachers' Day.

Ms Lim said: "I think that allowed teachers to know that he appreciates all of them, and it narrowed the distance between the teachers and the Government. He is quite a down-to-earth person."

Other people in the social service sector also said he was approachable, and has engaged the community.

Mr Keh Eng Song, former chief executive of the Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore, said Mr Tan's Facebook posts can attest to how well he engages the public. "Detractors aside, it does come across that he continues to engage regardless," said Mr Keh.

Mr Tan has written on Facebook on topics ranging from the cinnamon buns his daughter baked to why some working adults still need financial aid.

Disabled People's Association president Nicholas Aw said: "Mr Tan shared with me his experience of trying to navigate pavements using a wheelchair. His frank sharing about how difficult it is in some areas showed me that he is willing to admit when there is more work to be done."

Despite the progress, some work remains to be done, said others.

Mr Desmond Lee, 41, now Second Minister for National Development, will take over from Mr Tan at the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF).

Ms Jolene Tan, the Association of Women for Action and Research's head of advocacy and research, said: "Mr Tan's tenure at MSF saw important movement towards achieving inclusion for single-parent families.

"We hope Mr Lee will build on this to tackle the challenge of housing for single-parent families, which he is well placed to do given his experience in the Ministry of National Development."

Tan Chuan-Jin well qualified for Speaker role, say colleagues
Tan Chuan-Jin has right temperament and instincts: Chan Chun Sing
By Charissa Yong and Toh Yong Chuan, Manpower Correspondent, The Straits Times, 6 Sep 2017

Minister Chan Chun Sing yesterday said outgoing Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin has the qualities to be the new Speaker of Parliament.

"The Speaker's role is a critical one. Going forward, we have many complex challenges to overcome as a nation. We expect more vigorous debate in a House with more diverse views. We need someone with the stature, temperament and the right instincts to conduct parliamentary proceedings," Mr Chan said in a Facebook post.

He also wrote: "I have known Chuan-Jin for over 30 years. We were schoolmates, army mates and then Cabinet colleagues. I know his temperament well and I am confident he will do his best as Speaker."

Mr Chan is the Government Whip in Parliament and Minister in the Prime Minister's Office.

Both he and Mr Tan are among the next generation of core leaders.

As the Speaker would not have a direct role in policymaking, Mr Chan was asked whether Mr Tan's appointment was a step down.

His reply: "We have never considered it in that perspective. We have always considered ourselves as a team, and each of us has different strengths and weaknesses, and each of us will be required to play different roles at different stages of our development."

Mr Chan was also asked if the move meant Mr Tan was no longer part of the next generation of core leaders. He said: "All of us in Government do different things, perform different roles, each according to our strengths.

"Regardless of our position, our common aim is to serve Singapore to the best of our abilities. From what I know of Chuan-Jin... he will continue to serve to the best of his abilities."

Mr Tan stressed similar points when asked the same questions at a community event last night. He said: "There are many different roles and many different pathways that we all have to take. (But) I would say we are all running in the same race. And the end outcome we are all working towards is... you have to make things better for Singaporeans."

Later, he added in an e-mail to The Straits Times: "I have always taken the approach that any job or responsibility is meaningful. It is how we approach it and how we make the most of it.

"Throughout my life, I have never bargained or negotiated on where I get posted to. I embrace the opportunities and put in my very best."

Mr Tan is the second Cabinet minister to be nominated Speaker.

In March 2002, Mr Abdullah Tarmugi resigned as Minister for Community Development and Sports to be nominated to the post. He was then 57 years old and had been a minister for nine years.

He was Speaker for nine years until he retired from politics in 2011.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday lauded Mr Tan's contributions at the ministries he helmed.

He pinpointed Mr Tan's deep interest in social issues, like helping the needy and disadvantaged families, when he led the Ministry of Social and Family Development, and championing the cause of low-income workers while at the Manpower Ministry.

At the Ministry of National Development (MND), "Chuan-Jin built good rapport with the heritage, nature, environmental and animal welfare groups", said PM Lee.

"I am glad he has agreed to continue advising MND on these issues, and to oversee SG Cares, after he becomes Speaker," he added.

Mr Tan is also president of the Singapore National Olympic Council.

This is an elected post, not a government appointment, PM Lee added, and expressed the hope that "he will keep on leading and inspiring our sporting fraternity, as he did recently at the SEA Games".

Shuffles towards Singapore's fourth prime minister
By Gillian Koh, Published The Straits Times, 7 Sep 2017

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced a Cabinet reshuffle. This is the third since the start of this parliamentary term in January last year.

The first was in October last year when the notable shifts were the promotion of Mr Ong Ye Kung and Mr Ng Chee Meng to full ministers.

The second, at the end of April, or four months ago, saw Mrs Josephine Teo and Mr Desmond Lee become full ministers and Dr Lam Pin Min, Dr Janil Puthucheary, Dr Koh Poh Koon and Mr Chee Hong Tat promoted to senior ministers of state. Mr Teo Ser Luck, a mayor and senior minister of state, it was announced, would step out of public office.

What we have just learnt is that PM Lee has nominated Mr Tan Chuan-Jin to be the next Speaker of Parliament. Replacing him at the helm of the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) will be Mr Desmond Lee.

In explaining his decision, PM Lee emphasised that Mr Tan remains an "important member" of his team though in a different role, which means that the switch-out is intentional, rather than one of expediency - it is not to fill a gap temporarily.

In fact, PM Lee's statement that Mr Tan has the "temperament and personality" for the role of Speaker strengthened the impression that his decision was very much based on considerations of Mr Tan's intrinsic qualities. Mr Tan was acknowledged for having strong networks in the social and sports sectors that remain valuable to that governing team.

Those who have been studying the process of leadership renewal will conclude that Mr Tan is out of the running to be Singapore's fourth prime minister, leaving the main contenders to be Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Chan Chun Sing, Mr Ong and Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat. While the role of Speaker is an important institutional and ceremonial one, it does not involve taking the lead in giving strategic input on policymaking in government.

Many would have thought that the position of Speaker, vacated now by Madam Halimah Yacob stepping down to make a bid for the presidency, would be filled by a senior backbencher, so this is indeed a surprising move.

This is the second such surprising move with regard to those who have been identified as candidates for the position of Singapore's fourth prime minister - those who are in their 40s and were pulled out of leadership positions elsewhere and quickly placed into ministerial positions soon after a general election.

The first was when it was announced that Mr Chan would move from being minister at the MSF to become deputy secretary-general at the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) and a Minister without portfolio in the Prime Minister's Office in January 2015.

However the difference is that at the same time that Mr Chan became secretary-general , his predecessor, Mr Lim Swee Say, moved from NTUC to head up a "mainboard" ministry - the Ministry of Manpower, thereby setting the precedent for the reverse move.

Does anyone think that the same reverse move could happen to Mr Tan - from Speaker back to Cabinet?

Another key development from yesterday's announcement was that Mr Desmond Lee and Mrs Josephine Teo have been firmly installed among the corps of fourth generation (4G) Cabinet leaders.

These moves signal progress in the leadership renewal process. Some personalities move up, others move out.

These whet public appetite for further clarity on who will be the next premier - the hot topic at many a lunch and dinner conversation since the General Election in 2011, the first election when it was declared that the hunt was on for the 4G leaders.

Indeed, bigger moves are due - the serious candidates for premiership are likely to be shifted into the position of deputy prime minister by the end of this parliamentary term.

However, these conversations tend to revolve around who "they" will choose, as if no one else has a say in the matter apart from the tightest inner circle of leaders of the ruling People's Action Party. Is that true? What might be the considerations that feed into that choice, and who decides?

In this age of great uncertainty where the consensus on how the global economy, international governance and geostrategic politics should work is fraying, the notions of who is a good leader for a small state like Singapore are also being redefined. Our leaders' steady and skilful management of Singapore's relationships with key powers will become increasingly critical.

While it is often said that all politics is local, in recent months, from discussions on Singapore-China relations, we know that that dictum may not be quite so true in Singapore. Singaporeans are judging our leaders, fairly or unfairly, by how they think our government handles that.

While the Cabinet is always a team and therefore a composite of different strengths and qualities, the question is who will be that leader of leaders. That will be defined by what are the present and future challenges we face as a country, and who can win the confidence of Singaporeans to lead us through to that future - this is where the public comes in.

Will Singaporeans prioritise our external interactions and prefer someone with strategic acuity and international standing or is a visionary innovator and risk-taker who leads the country in new directions?

Or will they prioritise a domestic focus and prefer someone who is more deeply embedded in local networks, delivers excellent public services and empowers Singaporean changemakers in industry and society to be the world-beaters?

A frequently asked question is: Will it matter what race this person is? Who can forget that our founding prime minister, the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew, said that he set aside his preferred successor because of his race? And we will be reminded that the current Prime Minister justified the upcoming reserved presidential election by saying that politics in Singapore is not post-racial. This, too, is an issue that lies at the doorstep of ordinary Singaporeans to resolve.

Our conceptions of governance and political leadership shape the decision on who that fourth PM will be. We cannot dodge that responsibility. But if we recognise it, it also means we have that further responsibility of seeking to grasp what our national interests are before we judge who best represents those and who we can have confidence in.

In October last year, PM Lee said that building a leadership team is one of his top priorities. To what extent will those choices be just his; his potential successors'; or ours as ordinary Singaporeans?

The writer is deputy director (research) at the Institute of Policy Studies, National University of Singapore.


Chuan-Jin's fairness and compassion will serve him well: MPs
By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, The Straits Times, 12 Sep 2017

Former army general with gravitas and a heart of gold. Jogging partner. Champion of fair play.

As Mr Tan Chuan-Jin took the Speaker's chair yesterday, six MPs recounted their experiences working alongside the newly elected head of Parliament.

They lauded the fairness and compassion he displayed in his constituency and at the ministries of National Development, Manpower, and Social and Family Development - values they felt would continue to serve him well.

Leader of the House Grace Fu said that members would miss Mr Tan's contributions in Government. She added that they had full confidence in his ability to conduct parliamentary debate and proceedings with fairness.

"Everyone who has interacted with you can attest to your patience and willingness to listen to both sides of a debate," she said.

"In the years ahead, the many complex and multifaceted challenges facing Singapore will need fair, frank and honest debate."

Over the years, Ms Fu added, Mr Tan's sincerity and affable demeanour have helped him connect with people, from foreign worker advocates to those in social service organisations. His ability to earn the trust of people with different views and to encourage civil dialogue will be "central in ensuring we continue to have productive and healthy debates in this House".

His exposure to a range of issues will also stand him in good stead as he oversees debates on a wide array of legislation and policies, she said.

And, quipped Ms Fu, she had a personal request to make of Mr Tan, her jogging partner.

"Now that you are leading this institution, and have an office here, I hope we will have more opportunities to run together, and look forward to a refreshed gym in Parliament," she said to laughter.

Mr Christopher de Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) hoped Mr Tan would give room for "independent thought and innovative suggestions" to flourish during debates.

MPs also mined their experiences working with Mr Tan.

His former colleague at the Ministry of Social and Family Development, Senior Parliamentary Secretary Faishal Ibrahim, called him a "champion of fair play" who would bring impartiality and boundless energy to the role.

Ms Tin Pei Ling (MacPherson) spoke fondly of Mr Tan's "heart of gold" in ensuring that no one is left behind, his ability to manage issues in a balanced manner, and his gravitas. These qualities make him best-placed to be Speaker, she said.

Nominated MP Chia Yong Yong addressed talk that in moving to his new post, he had been "demoted".

She questioned whether a person's value should be limited to the position he holds and the salary he earns.

She said of public servants: "We all serve... No office can limit the passion to serve. No office can limit the talent to make an impact. And any office can be one for exemplary service."

MPs pay tribute to Halimah Yacob for being fair guiding hand
By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, The Straits Times, 12 Sep 2017

Madam Halimah Yacob spent an eventful four years as Speaker of Parliament, steering the House through a period of national mourning after the death of founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, and intense debates on public order, population policy and changes to the political system.

As Mr Tan Chuan-Jin was elected yesterday to fill the post she vacated, MPs paid tribute to Madam Halimah for being a fair guiding hand even during the most contentious of debates.

The 63-year-old, who quit her party and political posts last month to contest the presidential election, was seated with her husband Mohamed Abdullah Alhabshee in the chamber.

Ms Tin Pei Ling (MacPherson) said Madam Halimah had, during her term, ensured that the voices representing different interests and Singaporeans were heard.

Leader of the House Grace Fu, too, praised her impartiality.

"She has exemplified the principles of fairness and equality, giving everyone the opportunity to make their case to ensure a robust yet civilised debate," she said, adding: " Madam Halimah leaves behind a stronger institution."

She noted that Madam Halimah had presided over intense debates that spanned the spectrum, including those on public order and security after the Little India riot, and the controversial Population White Paper that projected Singapore's population to be between 6.5 million and 6.9 million by 2030.

Madam Halimah moved proceedings without "fear or favour", giving all members the opportunity to speak, said Ms Fu.

She also opened up Parliament House to Singaporeans from all walks of life in the days after the death of Mr Lee Kuan Yew for his lying-in-state in March 2015.

Ms Fu - who in 2015 became the country's first woman minister with her own portfolio - noted that Madam Halimah had advanced gender equality by being the first woman Speaker and was now "taking strides towards the highest office of the country".

Hours later, it emerged that Madam Halimah was the only presidential hopeful issued a certificate of eligibility, indicating that she will be declared the country's eighth president shortly after nominations close at noon tomorrow.

Some MPs, like Mr Vikram Nair (Sembawang GRC), said that while her presidential bid will be a loss to the House, "it will hopefully be a gain for Singapore".

"I look forward to having our first female head of state - a great way to mark the next 50 years of Singapore's journey."

New Speaker Tan Chuan-Jin urges lawmakers to remain accessible, relevant and real
By Tham Yuen-C, Assistant Political Editor, The Straits Times, 12 Sep 2017

Newly elected Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin yesterday called on MPs to work with him to make Parliament the institution that "reflects the voices of the people so that we can query, answer and debate in a manner that provides hope and clarity''.

He also urged them to be accessible and relevant as they play an important role in upholding parliamentary democracy.

Giving his first speech as Speaker, Mr Tan pledged that he will be impartial and fair as well as firm. "I want to facilitate good, free-flowing debate where the desired outcome is better policies and laws," he said, reminding MPs to debate vigorously and maintain mutual respect.

Mr Tan was elected Singapore's 10th Speaker, a week since his name was put forth by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong after Madam Halimah Yacob resigned to stand in the presidential election.

His first sitting as Speaker was marked by light-hearted moments that drew chuckles, such as when he gave MPs a short, 10-minute break and when Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam pleaded for more time to answer several questions.

Leader of the House Grace Fu, who nominated him, said that in his time as Manpower Minister and later, as Social and Family Development Minister, Mr Tan earned the trust of people who had different views and convictions. This quality will be valuable in ensuring productive debates in the House.

Five other MPs spoke of his fairness and sincerity, saying the traits would serve him well as Speaker.

Mr Tan, in thanking his former Cabinet colleagues and fellow MPs, noted the crucial role of Parliament in a parliamentary democracy.

He said: "The legitimacy of the laws we enact rests on the scrupulous attention we - on both sides of this House - pay to the reasoned debate which accompanies the passing of each law.

"No one doubts that our goal in these sittings must be to advance the interests of all Singaporeans."

He also said the presence of opposition colleagues in the House is "a strength and positive step towards constructive contestation of ideas".

With such contestation set to be more complex, and the proliferation of new ways for people to get across their views, MPs also need to "engage beyond this House, to tap the collective wisdom that lies without", said Mr Tan. "We need to present the voices and needs of our individual constituents, but we need also to stand for a united Singapore, to speak with one voice in a fissiparous world."

Sharing Mr Tan's speech in a Facebook post after the sitting, PM Lee said: "I am confident Chuan-Jin will be an outstanding Speaker, and more. I wish him all the best!"

Mr Tan had also addressed questions of whether or not he was "demoted" as his new position required him to resign as Minister for Social and Family Development.

He said it was "not a bad thing" that this sparked discussion, adding: "We do need fellow Singaporeans to be involved, and to gain a deeper understanding of not just the Speaker's role, but also that of Parliament, its proceedings and how all of us contribute to making Singapore a better home for our people."

Interview with the Speaker of Parliament: Will MPs heed Tan Chuan-Jin's call for better debate?
New Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin plans to let MPs probe ministers further, especially on issues that many feel strongly about. He tells Insight about his move to facilitate more vigorous debate.
By Toh Yong Chuan, Manpower Correspondent, The Sunday Times, 15 Oct 2017

He is one of the most prominent Singapore politicians on Facebook.

With more than 90,000 followers and about the same number of people "liking" him, Mr Tan Chuan-Jin has more than the typical 40,000 followers that younger ministers draw.

It is even more than veteran ministers, including deputy prime ministers Teo Chee Hean and Tharman Shanmugaratnam.

Only Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam and Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan are more popular online than the boyish-faced Mr Tan, 48.

His Facebook fans reacted with shock when news broke early last month that he was resigning from Cabinet as Minister for Social and Family Development to take up the post of Speaker of Parliament.

One month into the new job, Mr Tan speaks to Insight in his first exclusive media interview at his new office on the second storey of Parliament House, with a sweeping view of the Singapore River.


Mr Tan walked into a small storm that had started even before his first session of Parliament as Speaker on Sept 11.

Workers' Party (WP) chairman Sylvia Lim wanted to speak on the elected presidency that day.

Two People's Action Party (PAP) members also wanted to speak on other issues: Bukit Batok MP Murali Pillai on community sentencing and Sembawang GRC MP Vikram Nair on national service.

But each Parliament sitting can accommodate only one adjournment motion where an MP speaks for 20 minutes on a topic of urgent public importance.

A ballot - which involves drawing lots - was held and Ms Lim lost.

She made a second bid to speak on the same topic at the following Parliament sitting on Oct 2.

She lost the ballot again to Ang Mo Kio GRC MP Intan Azura Mokhtar, who spoke on preserving green space and heritage in her Jalan Kayu ward.

Mr Tan jokingly suggested to Ms Lim that they broadcast the balloting live on Facebook. However, they both agreed they should not go overboard on this.

Accusations of filibustering flew that the PAP MPs had filed their proposals to speak to block the WP MP, some charged. This drew a sharp rebuttal from Mr Nair, who said he had filed his proposal to speak as far back as July.

WP made a third attempt to speak on the topic on Oct 3.

The WP won the ballot and got 20 minutes' airtime in the House to speak on the elected presidency.

Referring to his earlier offer to broadcast the balloting process, Mr Tan says transmitting it live on Facebook can help the public understand how Parliament works.

"I see the Speaker's role really as bridging Parliament and the public as well, and helping to create that accessibility," he adds.

"Clearly from the things that were being exchanged online, people didn't quite understand what it meant when you say you have a ballot," he notes.

Some thought that because the PAP dominated Parliament, it was able to pick the adjournment motions tabled by its own MPs, thus shutting out the WP.

"We are basically drawing lots from the adjournment motions that were filed," he stresses.


Mr Tan is aware that he presides over a House dominated by the PAP and the perceptions associated with it.

"Having a Parliament where you have the ruling party as the dominant party, you do need to be impartial and fair," he says, adding, "and you do need to quite deliberately make an effort to do that."

He points out to Insight that although the WP has nine seats - six elected MPs and three Non-Constituency MPs - in the 100-member House, its MPs have filed about one-third of the oral parliamentary questions.

"The process has been quite fair (to the WP)," he says.

In his inaugural speech as Speaker on Sept 11, Mr Tan said he wanted to facilitate robust debate in the House.

"I want to facilitate good, free-flowing debate where the desired outcome is better policies and laws. I will be impartial and fair, but I will also be firm," he said in the speech.

He tells Insight that facilitating a robust debate means exercising some flexibility during Parliament sittings.

The debates in Parliament are already robust, he notes. But there can be situations where more time can be allocated to discuss issues.

These can be "issues that are contentious, issues that clearly individual MPs are passionate about or which the public has a deep interest in", he says.

In these cases, even though the debate time limit may have been exceeded, Mr Tan says he is prepared to let it "run for a little more".

He points out that he is also prepared to give MPs more leeway in probing ministers during parliamentary questions if the ministers "haven't quite answered particular angles".

"I've been on the receiving end before as well, and some of the MPs are quite insistent," he says with a laugh.

But he adds: "If I feel the answer has been given and they are still pursuing along the same lines, then I'll say that 'I think the question has been answered, let's move on.' "

The key to having a robust debate in Parliament is MPs keeping to the rules of debate and maintaining decorum, Mr Tan says.

"You've seen how robust debates can degenerate into heated and unruly debates in other Houses of Parliament," he notes.

He did not cite any examples. However, MPs brawling in Parliaments overseas make the news from time to time.

For example, fights are known to happen in a number of legislatures in Asia, including in Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.

"We want to maintain the decorum of the House and I think we can do so without necessarily compromising the space afforded them to carry out their debate," he says of Singapore's MPs.

The decorum also extends to how MPs behave in the House during sittings, even if they are not participating in debates.

Two weeks ago, socio-political commentator Bertha Henson wrote on online site The Middle Ground that some office-holders were not paying attention to the debate in Parliament on Oct 3, but were "plainly doing non-parliamentary work" on their laptops instead.

Wi-Fi access was granted to MPs in the chambers in August last year.

This allowed MPs to have speedier access to their parliamentary materials, Mr Tan tells Insight.

But he notes that the Standing Orders that govern parliamentary proceedings require House members to pay attention to what goes on and not be distracted by laptops and mobile phones.

"Parliament is a place where important issues, issues of national significance, are discussed, and I trust that members act accordingly," he says. "I have informed the Leader and Whip to remind the MPs of this."


Political observer and former Nominated MP Eugene Tan says the new Speaker is heading in the right direction.

"Flexibility is necessary to ensure issues are given adequate airing and robustly debated in the House," says the associate professor of law at Singapore Management University.

"On key issues, it is important that they are thoroughly aired and that the Government's position prevails, not because of its dominance, but rather the strength of its ideas, the deliberative process that helps engender buy-in, and the persuasive force of its position within our system of government," he adds.

But he notes that the MPs themselves have to play their part too.

"MPs need to come prepared and be committed to participate in the debates without fear or favour.

"They should always be mindful that in Parliament, they are first and foremost representatives of their constituents with their role as party member playing a subordinate role," Professor Tan says.

The new Speaker himself agrees, saying: "I can't dictate what they say if they choose not to be robust. There's not much I can do about it."

Trend emerges of MPs surfacing issues for debate
By Toh Yong Chuan, Manpower Correspondent, The Sunday Times, 15 Oct 2017

Increasingly, MPs are turning to some infrequently used tools to get their voices heard and have pet topics debated in the House.

The total number of adjournment and private member's motions filed by MPs for debates in the House in the past two years has exceeded the total for the preceding four years (see table).

Between last and this year, MPs have debated 14 adjournment motions on issues ranging from extending parental leave to the types of lights used at Housing Board estates. In the same period, there were also debates on four private member's motions on issues such as combating drugs and helping Singapore women achieve their aspirations.

Between 2012 and 2015, there were 14 adjournment motions but no private member's motions.

In a private member's motion, several MPs can speak on the issue.

In an adjournment motion, however, only the MP who files the motion gets to speak on it for 20 minutes, and the minister has 10 minutes to give a reply. It is usually held just before the sitting ends for the day, or when Parliament adjourns - hence the name.

The adjournment motion in parliamentary procedure came under the spotlight just last month, when one of the first tasks newly appointed Speaker Tan Chuan-Jin had to handle was the unsuccessful attempts by the Workers' Party (WP) to file a motion to debate the issue of how the counting of terms for the reserved presidential election was decided.

The WP succeeded on its third try after losing the ballot - which involves drawing lots - twice to People's Action Party (PAP) MPs who wanted to file motions on other topics.

Nee Soon GRC MP Louis Ng, who spoke in an adjournment motion in August on extending parental leave for parents with premature babies and multiple births, says the format allows an issue to be debated at greater depth compared with parliamentary questions. "It moves away from the 'question, reply, move on' format of parliamentary questions," he says. "It also allows an MP to set the agenda of the sitting."

MacPherson MP Tin Pei Ling agrees. "The private member's motion allows an issue to be debated in depth. MPs can deliver full speeches and ministers can reply. The debate can also stretch to more than one day," she says. She initiated a private member's motion to debate the aspirations of Singapore women in April.

The trend of MPs using these motions to air their views is set to continue. Sembawang GRC MP Vikram Nair has been trying to speak on national service since August, and at least one PAP MP has told Insight that several PAP House members are mulling over a private member's motion on a topic to be disclosed later.

Tan Chuan-Jin intends to continue speaking up for social causes
By Toh Yong Chuan, Manpower Correspondent, The Sunday Times, 15 Oct 2017

Championing social causes is not a role associated with the Speaker of Parliament, says Mr Tan Chuan-Jin. But he intends to use his new appointment to continue championing the social causes that he was involved in before.

These include coaxing companies to donate to charity and persuading individuals to volunteer to help needy families.

Whether he is successful in this role, he says, will depend on both "the weight of the office" of the Speaker and how much regard people have for him as a person. It comes down to "whether there is a certain level of respect, not just about the role (of the Speaker) but you as a person", Mr Tan notes in a matter-of-fact tone.

He tells Insight that he sees the Speaker as wearing three hats.

The first is the parliamentary business of passing laws that have an impact on people.

Then there is the diplomatic function, such as meeting foreign dignitaries. "I hosted a visit from a Malaysian parliamentarian," Mr Tan says by way of example.

The third role - championing social causes - is "not traditionally associated with Speaker", he says, adding that he plans to continue the causes he started when he was the Minister for Manpower and Minister for Social and Family Development.

Announcing last month that he had nominated Mr Tan as the new Speaker, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong singled out his deep interest in social issues and helping the disadvantaged. He added that the new Speaker would continue to oversee SG Cares, the national movement to build a caring society.

Mr Tan tells Insight: "The causes I believe in don't stop just because my job has changed. The terms of reference (of the Speaker's Office) do not provide for it, but it's something that I feel passionately about."

He intends to tackle the social causes from three fronts.

The first is schools.

"I am reaching out to the schools, I'm going to talk to them," he says. "The vision ought to be this - that every child, every young person leaves school and tertiary institutions with a very deep passion and desire to care for others and to want to make a difference."

The second front is sustaining the interest of school-leavers in volunteering when they join the workforce. Surveys showed that young people want to join companies that have strong corporate social responsibility (CSR) programmes, but not all companies offer that, Mr Tan says.

The third front is therefore coaxing companies to step up their CSR programmes, he adds.

He has had some successes so far.

Mr Tan recounts a talk he gave last month to about 150 people, including company bosses, at a seminar on corporate giving organised by Temasek Trust, the philanthropic arm of Temasek Holdings.

Such outreach can help companies look beyond using their CSR activities as branding tools to using them to meet the needs of the recipients and to make a difference to society, Mr Tan points out.

These outreach activities have taken up a fair bit of his time, he says.

When asked whether the Speaker's role, which is a part-time appointment, frees up more time for him outside his work as compared with him being a minister, Mr Tan says: "Doesn't feel like it. Doesn't feel like there is more time."


Mr Tan's involvement in championing social causes raises the question: Will he become a full-time Speaker?

He discloses that some members of the public have written to him to ask whether he is a part-time or full-time Speaker. The Speaker's role is defined as a part-time job, in the traditional duties of conducting parliamentary proceedings and diplomatic roles, and by the very pay structure, he notes.

But with the additional outreach role, "it pretty much feels quite full time, at least if the first month is anything to go by", he says with a laugh.

Is there an option of Mr Tan making the Speaker's role a full-time one, Insight asks. How do you go about doing that? Do you have to get approval from the House members?

He replies: "(I) don't know."

But it does not matter to him whether the role of championing social causes is written officially into the Speaker's duties, or whether the role is a part-time or full-time one, he says.

"I'm not too particular about it," he says. "It is something I personally feel committed to."

"I definitely intend to apply myself as fully as I can, because it's something that I believe is important".

Will you take on another job as some Speakers in the past have done, Insight probes. As Speaker, Mr Tan Soo Khoon also ran his watch business and Mr Michael Palmer continued practising law.

"Well, I'm open to seeing what develops I guess," he replies. "Right now, I guess I'm focused on really learning the ropes as to how to be a better Speaker."

'I see Speaker's role as an important role'
By Toh Yong Chuan, Manpower Correspondent, The Sunday Times, 15 Oct 2017

When it was announced early last month that Mr Tan Chuan-Jin would resign from the Cabinet to take up the Speaker of Parliament appointment, an awkward question reared its head in the minds of some people:

Was the high-flying Singapore Armed Forces overseas scholarship holder and former brigadier-general, once touted as a core member of the next-generation leadership team, demoted?

Mr Tan was not offended when Insight asked: "Were you demoted?"

He says: "It's a very fair question in people's minds. I can fully understand why people wonder about that. I guess if I were a member of the public, I would be kind of 'kaypoh' (Hokkien for busybody) to also want to know. And I've had various dialogues and you could sense the audience wanting to ask, but (were) either too polite to or not sure how to phrase it."

The Speaker is higher in protocol than a Cabinet minister, but earns less than a Cabinet minister and does not make policies.

Mr Tan acknowledges that the move can be seen as a step up or a step down. "It doesn't really matter to me how you want to see it - you could see it in both ways, but I see the role as an important role," he tells Insight.

He discloses that he had a pay cut. "The pay was adjusted," he says, without elaborating.

A minister's annual salary starts at $935,000, whereas the Speaker's annual salary is fixed at $550,000. It is also a part-time job.

"I operate on the basis that when I entered public office, it was not permanent. I don't leverage myself to the hilt, I don't change my lifestyle in very fundamental ways," Mr Tan says. "I should never be beholden to a job - I should never be beholden to (my) pay or privileges or whatever it is, because that's disastrous."

* 2018 *

Public perception should be shaped by facts: Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin
On Sept 11 last year, Tan Chuan-Jin became Speaker of Parliament, after leaving his position as minister for social and family development. On his first anniversary as Speaker, he tells The Straits Times why he has stepped up Parliament's social media outreach and how he ensures a diversity of views.
By Seow Bei Yi, The Straits Times, 17 Sep 2018

The advice was not sought but given by some to Mr Tan Chuan-Jin last year: You need to be more impartial; let the opposition speak more in Parliament.

It led him to do some fact-checking, and parliamentary records show that it is a common misperception.

Opposition MPs actually accounted for more than a third of question time allotted in Parliament, although they make up only nine out of the 100 members of the House.

He believes such information should be made public because it can help reduce such assumptions.

The reason for the impression is that with the People's Action Party (PAP) in power for almost 60 years, some people may believe the opposition MPs are given few opportunities to speak, the 49-year-old told The Straits Times in an interview ahead of his first anniversary as Speaker on Sept 11.

Yet, perception should be shaped by facts, he added.

"It's really about trusting your Parliament and institutions... When you start losing faith in your instruments of Government... you can potentially have a lot of problems."

Hence, his efforts to demystify Parliament after he took office.

Apart from hosting school visits and Model Parliament sessions, he started an official Facebook page for Parliament in January to provide updates on sittings.

In March, he launched a Speaker's blog to share his thoughts on issues and in the following month, an Instagram account featuring Parliament's own mascot - a winged lion named Parley that Mr Tan said "has been around since 2006".

On his own Facebook page, he posts videos of himself explaining processes, like how the balloting for an adjournment motion is done.

Such a motion allows an MP to talk on an issue for up to 20 minutes at the end of a sitting, with the minister given 10 minutes to reply. Only one MP can do this at each sitting.

Last year, some people claimed PAP MPs had filed adjournment motions to block that of Workers' Party MP Sylvia Lim on the presidential election. "There was some talk about Mr Vikram Nair and Mr Murali Pillai blocking Ms Lim. Conversely, if you use the same logic, one could argue she was blocking them," said Mr Tan.

MPs who do not want to draw lots in a ballot can opt to file a private member's motion for the issue to be debated by MPs, he added.

"When I made that point clear, of course, it didn't go viral the same way that things about it being unfair did," he said.

"But having understood some of these things, a rational individual would be like... 'All right, that's fair', and then find other things to disagree about."

This process of clarification needs to continue, he said, adding that the Government as a whole should also try to make more information available, noting it would lead to less uncertainty.

Mr Tan is, however, more circumspect about live-streaming proceedings to engender trust, saying there are various views on the matter.

While he is "agnostic" about the subject and has raised it informally with the Government, he said it is important to clarify what people are asking for when they advocate live streaming.

Already, the Hansard captures everything that is said in Parliament, and recordings of MPs' speeches are put online, he noted.

"Are we falling short in terms of making sure that people actually do know what is happening? I would say that short of a live broadcast, pretty much everything is there, and nothing is kept away from the public eye."

He added that the annual Budget statement is shown live, but viewership is "low".

"I suspect that what they want to see is what happens in between (speeches)," said Mr Tan, adding that this could include MPs speaking to one another or how many attend the scheduled sittings that are typically held once a month.

Beyond bolstering the transparency of parliamentary processes and encouraging more robust debates, the former minister of manpower and social and family development wants to lend his weight to causes close to his heart, like SG Cares: the national movement to build a caring society.

Mr Tan, an adviser to the National Council of Social Service, hopes to see a better match between volunteer activities and societal needs, saying that reaching out to care for others can be something as natural as going to a housing block near one's office every fortnight to chat with the elderly.

"The mechanism that I put in place before I left (the ministry) is very much alive. We're still talking about how to strengthen it, and allow it to go further," he said.

Speaker Tan Chuan-Jin speaks his mind on...


I'm actually quite pleased with the quality of discussion and debates. Can it be better? Of course it can, but that depends on one's expectations.

I sometimes read people saying that nothing substantive is being said, that people are not pushing the boundaries. But even for the People's Action Party (PAP), which forms the Government, many Members of Parliament (MPs) do raise issues, questions and push the boundaries.

Being the Speaker has given me the opportunity to take in all the different perspectives. The current situation is encouraging and (it is) something we should not lose.

We should strive to create a more tolerant environment, so that people feel free to articulate their views.


If we have limited time for oral answers to all the questions raised, I may want to make sure I get the opposition members and Nominated MPs to speak up.

It may mean the number of questions is not proportionate to their representation, but that is okay...At least the different groups get to air their views.

As much as possible, I make it a point to allow all MPs who raise their hands to ask their supplementary questions during question time, or allow MPs to ask for clarifications during debates on any item of business.

I believe this will allow for more critical debate of the important issues.

For example, at the May 17 sitting this year for the Ministerial Statement on National Service Training Deaths, I allowed clarification time to go on for about 40 minutes.

But I have also learnt that I must keep track of time - as it is, the number of hours that Parliament sits in a year has gone up.


As long as a question is filed, it will be answered - in oral or written form. If you want to ask the question verbally and follow up with a supplementary question, you can always roll it to the next sitting and the sitting thereafter.

I get the same complaints from PAP MPs too.

But the fact is, many different questions are tabled for the various ministries. At some point, we will come to it.

Even if we don't get it verbally discussed and debated, there will be a written response. The Government can't hide if a difficult question is filed. It has to answer.

I think the real complaint may be that MPs, whatever their affiliation, prefer their questions to be addressed orally in Parliament so that they can ask supplementary questions. I can understand that.


MPs have quite a wide latitude to say what they need to say... and I would want to encourage them to speak their minds.

I would like the debates to be passionate, especially on issues that concern Singaporeans at large, and I expect MPs to take on the frontbench on issues they are concerned about.

If you get a strong response from the frontbench, then we expect you to respond strongly as well, if you feel strongly enough about the matter. One should be mature enough to see that none of this is personal.

While one should keep within the boundaries of what is acceptable, I'd like to take a more liberal perspective and allow that debate to take place. I think we're better for it.

Even though we are a bit uncomfortable sometimes, as long as the situation doesn't get out of hand - we're nowhere near that at the moment - it is all right.


As Speaker, I am guided by precedents, standing orders and a healthy dose of judgment. But my general approach is to be expansive and permissive where I can.

I don't think we have reached a stage where people may end up trading blows. Some debates have got quite heated, but they are well within acceptable boundaries.

If it goes a bit further than where it should be, I may have a word with the respective parties' leaders or the individuals themselves. But I have not yet seen a need to do that.

############### 17 July 2023

No comments:

Post a Comment