Created on Wednesday, 08 October 2014 16:16
Written by Andrew Loh
In the last six months, Member of Parliament for Moulmein-Kallang GRC, Denise Phua, has called on the government to slay two (sacred) cows – one, the elected presidency; and two, gambling.
In May, Ms Phua, who has since been appointed Mayor of Central Singapore Community Development Council (CDC), called on the Government to scrap the elected presidency and for it to be returned to a ceremonial role for the head of state.
"If the conditions under which (the elected presidency, Non-Constituency MP and the Nominated MP schemes) have changed," Ms Phua said in Parliament then, "let us have the courage to slay these sacred cows before they become obese and unhealthy."
Ms Phua had expressed support for Workers' Party leader Low Thia Khiang (Aljunied GRC)'s reservations about the power given to the elected President.
"I long for the day of senior statesman who can represent our country as a head of state in the likes of ex-Presidents Yusof Bin Ishak and Dr Benjamin Sheares,” she said, “statesmen who need not slug through yet another political campaigning process that divides the country instead of healing and uniting the people of Singapore.”
Ms Phua, however, does not seem to have followed up on the call by way of drumming up public support or even tabling a motion for further debate in Parliament.
Six months later, on 7 October, Ms Phua has again made another important call – this time for Singapore to “wean itself off the casino industry”.
In an impassioned speech during the parliamentary debate on the second reading of the Remote Gambling Bill, Ms Phua said it was time to "take a bold step and reject gambling, whether remote or on-site.”
"Just as we are bold enough to explicitly stand by principles such as the family is the first port of call for help; that extra marital relationships are not encouraged; we need to express our stand on licensed gambling in Singapore, whether online or via brick-and-mortar casinos,” the Mayor said.
She noted that it has been 10 years since Singapore "made the fateful decision of authorising licensed casino operators for the sake of jobs in an economic recession" and that it is time for the Government to "discourage gambling as an economic or social activity.”
It is left to be seen if Ms Phua will take her call a step further and perhaps launch a public campaign to garner support to convince the Government to wean Singapore off the gambling habit.
Ms Phua will, if she chooses to extend the fight to abolish gambling eventually, face robust opposition, given that in recent months the operator of Marina Bay Sands, where one of the casino is located, has called on the Government to release more land for it to extend its operations.
Ms Phua’s two calls in six months raise the question of how far an MP should go to champion a cause.
Certainly, MPs do work behind the scenes, in quiet ways, to effect the changes they hope to see. And many do this patiently, over a period of time, away from the spotlight.
But this also opens them up to criticism that all they do is to make speeches in Parliament – even flowery or passionate ones – but do not follow through on them.
Examples of these would be Ms Phua’s colleague in the People’s Action Party (PAP), Inderjit Singh.
Mr Singh had railed against the Population White Paper in 2013. However, when it came to the parliamentary vote, he was nowhere to be found.
Similarly, MP Hri Kumar had spoken against the retention of the anti-gay law, section 377a. But when it came down to it, he – like all PAP MPs – had to toe the party whip.
“Many people come to me and say, oh but the PAP you know you have the Whip, and so all of you must vote the same way,” Mr Kumar said at a forum in April. “That’s true. That’s the system we inherited, for party discipline. But nonetheless, you still have PAP MPs giving different views in Parliament.”
That, however, is a rather fatalistic attitude, especially for an MP. In any case, giving “different views” mean nothing if not followed through on.
Thankfully, Mr Kumar’s colleague in the PAP, Christopher De Souza, is not so fatalistic.
Mr De Souza is the MP behind the new Private Member’s Bill, the Prevention of Human Trafficking Bill, which was also introduced in Parliament on Tuesday. The Bill seeks to make it a crime to traffick people, and grants the authorities various powers to deal with such situations.
Mr De Souza had consulted and worked with various groups over the course of more than a year on the Bill.
Human trafficking has always been a problem which the Government denied existing in Singapore, until recently.
Mr De Souza should be commended for going all the way to table a Bill to criminalise human trafficking, even though some may feel the Bill does not go far enough. Nonetheless, it is a start, and the MP deserves a pat on the back.
Will Ms Phua table a motion in Parliament to debate the abolition of the Elected Presidency, or introduce amendments to the Casino Control Act perhaps?
Or maybe she will or should embark on a public campaign to educate and garner support for the two issues she spoke on?
By virtue of her being a mayor – which is a political appointment – Ms Phua’s words will carry extra weight, compared to her colleagues, Mr Singh, Mr Kumar and even Mr De Souza.
Ms Phua’s public campaign, if she chooses to embark on one, will thus draw serious attention.
Otherwise, hers would be nothing more than just two impassioned speeches in Parliament – unless of course she prefers to work behind the scenes, away from the public spotlight.
Even so, she should make it known to the public who can then lend her their support. And going by public sentiments on the two issues, Ms Phua may just get the majority of Singaporeans on her side.