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WP chief will get longer speaking time in Parliament, govt briefings

WP chief will get longer speaking time in Parliament, govt briefings

Source: Straits Times
Article Date: 29 Jul 2020
Author: Tham Yuen-C & Rei Kurohi

As Leader of the Opposition, he will also lead and organise scrutiny of govt positions.

As the official Leader of the Opposition (LO), Workers' Party chief Pritam Singh will be given the right of first response among MPs, have more time to speak in Parliament and also get confidential briefings from the Government.

He will be paid $385,000 a year - double what other MPs get - and get allowances to hire more staff.

These are among the privileges and resources he will be accorded with the political appointment, a first for Singapore.

Along with them come duties such as leading and organising the scrutiny of the Government's positions and actions.

These details were announced yesterday afternoon in a statement issued by the offices of Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin and Leader of the House Grace Fu, after the two met Mr Singh earlier to give him a rundown of his role.

Since Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong first announced on July 11 that the Government would designate Mr Singh as the LO, there has been much public interest in what the role will entail.

The position is not provided for in either the Constitution or the Standing Orders of Parliament, said the statement, which noted that Singapore has never had formal LOs even in the 1950s and early 1960s, when there were substantial numbers of opposition legislative assemblymen. Mr Lee Kuan Yew, who led the People's Action Party as the largest opposition party between 1955 and 1959, and Dr Lee Siew Choh, who led Barisan Sosialis as the largest opposition party between 1961 and 1963, were never formally designated as the LO.

In deciding on the specifics of the office, the Government had looked to other Westminster parliamentary systems such as Australia and Britain, which have formally designated opposition, and also considered Singapore's circumstances.

Mr Singh's duties as the LO include leading the opposition in presenting alternative views in parliamentary debates on policies, Bills and motions. He will also lead and organise the scrutiny of the Government's positions and actions.

In addition, he will be consulted on the appointment of opposition MPs to Select Committees, including Standing Select Committees like the Public Accounts Committee.

"In addition to his parliamentary duties, the LO may be called upon to take on other duties such as attending official state functions and taking part in visits and meetings alongside members of the Government and the Public Service," the statement said.

To ensure he can fulfil his duties, Mr Singh will be accorded certain privileges and provided with more resources. In Parliament, he will get the right of first response among MPs, and have the right to ask the lead question to ministers on policies, Bills and motions, subject to existing speaking conventions.

He will also have more time for his speeches, equivalent to that given to political office-holders.

All MPs are allowed to speak for 20 minutes in response to questions raised, and up to 10 minutes when Parliament sits as a committee, like when deliberating on the contents of a Bill, according to the Standing Orders of Parliament. Ministers and parliamentary secretaries are entitled to speak for up to 40 minutes.

Mr Singh will also receive confidential briefings by the Government on "select matters of national security and external relations, and in the event of a national crisis or emergency", the statement said.

The content of these briefings cannot be disclosed to others, including other opposition MPs, said the Offices of the Speaker and Leader of the House when asked.

They declined to say if the LO will also get advance policy briefings.

As for staff support, he will receive additional allowance to hire up to three additional legislative assistants, on top of the allowance all MPs receive to hire one legislative assistant and a secretarial assistant.

He will also be provided a secretary to support him administratively with parliamentary business.

The secretary and assistants will not be employed as public officers, said the Offices of the Speaker and Leader of the House.

Mr Singh will have an office and the use of a meeting room in Parliament House as well.

Noting PM Lee's acknowledgement that the recent election results showed a strong desire among Singaporeans for a greater diversity of views in politics, and that this trend is here to stay, the statement said: "Designating a Leader of Opposition will recognise this desire while enabling our political system to evolve in a way that maintains our sense of national purpose."

It added that as with any new political appointment, the role of the LO will evolve as Singapore's political system evolves. "We look forward to working with the LO to create a robust but stable political system serving the interests of Singapore and Singaporeans."

Ms Fu will deliver a statement in Parliament to formally set out the terms of the LO.

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.


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