Elected non-PAP MPs are also part of government

Posted: September 2, 2011 in Politics
Tags: , ,

A letter by Ooi Hui Mei, director of corporate and marketing communications, from the People’s Association about why elected members of parliament who are not from the ruling People’s Action Party are not allowed to become advisors to the PA’s grassroots organisations has generated an online firestorm.

The full letter, available from the Straits Times website, is republished below:

WE REFER to Mr Muhammad Yusuf Osman’s letter yesterday (‘Advisers to grassroots bodies should be elected MPs’).

The mission of the People’s Association (PA) and its grassroots organisations (GROs) is to bond the community and connect people with the Government. PA and its GROs serve all residents regardless of their political affiliations in fulfilling their role.

Grassroots advisers are appointed by PA, a statutory board. Besides connecting people to people, grassroots advisers are required to help the Government connect with people and help promote government policies and programmes such as anti-dengue and active ageing.

Hence, the Government has to appoint grassroots advisers who support its programmes and can play this role well. Opposition MPs cannot be expected to do this and thus cannot become advisers to GROs.

Ooi Hui Mei (Ms)
Director
Corporate and Marketing Communications
For Chief Executive Director
People’s Association

Many commentators have taken issue with the PA’s supposedly partisan stance in favour of the PAP, but there appears to be a much more fundamentally disturbing idea in the reply, which is that the PA does not appear to consider elected non-PAP members of Parliament part of the government.

Under Singapore’s parliamentary system of democracy, the legislature — the Parliament — is supreme. The executive, known as the Cabinet, is drawn from Parliament and the ministers which form the Cabinet have to answer to the members of parliament when parliament is in session. That the executive draws its power from the Parliament clearly shows that the powers of the Singapore government is vested in Parliament.

PA, as a statutory board, reports to the Ministry of Community, Youth and Sports, which is headed by a minister that has to report to Parliament. For the PA to suggest that “Opposition MPs cannot be expected to do this (the supporting of government policies)” is akin to implying that these non-PAP MPs do not support the very institution they are a part of, which appears to be bordering on alleging treason.

The PA ought to clarify whether it considers non-PAP MPs as part of the government. If the PA indeed does consider non-PAP members of Parliament as part of government, then a better explanation of why non-PAP MPs are not allowed to be grassroots advisors is in order. If the PA is unable to give a satisfactory answer, then it should accord elected non-PAP MPs the same respect as elected PAP MPs, for both have been given the mandate of the people they represent.

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Comments
  1. Wang says:

    Aaron

    Playing with semantics?

    The government of the day is the party in power as you in communications and politics will be aware of.
    The parliament acts as the legislature or law making body which is separate from the executive body which is the government who enforces and executes.
    As professional courtesy, the PA should invite the elected members from time to time but PA is legally correct in all instances in this reply.

    regards

    • Aaron Ng says:

      The party that has the majority controls the direction of the government but the party is not the ‘government of the day’. I am not invoking semantics; I am clarifying the relstionship between our legislature and executive.

      I don’t understand how you can claim the executive is totally separate from the legislature if you followed my post completely. I hope you are not trying to invoke Lee Kuan Yew’s assertion a couple of decades back that the government is the PAP and vice-versa.

      Finally, I am pretty confident of my position; your resort to ad hominem tactics shows you are not that confident of yours.

  2. Wang says:

    Aaron

    I did not resort to any ad hominem tactics

    Would point out your answer is incorrect

    You seem not to distinguish the government from the parliament (legislative body) and i am certain of my position having experienced various legislative parliamentary systems

    Quote the following:”-

    “The British Government is answerable to the House of Commons. However, neither the Prime Minister nor members of the Government are elected by the House of Commons. Instead, the Queen requests the person most likely to command the support of a majority in the House, normally the leader of the largest party in the House of Commons, to form a government. So that they may be accountable to the Lower House, the Prime Minister and most members of the Cabinet are, by convention, members of the House of Commons. The last Prime Minister to be a member of the House of Lords was Alec Douglas-Home, 14th Earl of Home, who became Prime Minister in 1963. To adhere to the convention under which he was responsible to the Lower House, he disclaimed his peerage and procured election to the House of Commons within days of becoming Prime Minister.

    Governments have a tendency to dominate the legislative functions of Parliament, by using their in-built majority in the House of Commons, and sometimes using their patronage power to appoint supportive peers in the Lords.[dubious – discuss] In practice, governments can pass any legislation (within reason) in the Commons they wish, unless there is major dissent by MPs in the governing party.[dubious – discuss] But even in these situations, it is highly unlikely a bill will be defeated, though dissenting MPs may be able to extract concessions from the government. In 1976, Lord Hailsham created a now widely used name for this behaviour, in an academic paper called “elective dictatorship”.

    Parliament controls the executive by passing or rejecting its Bills and by forcing Ministers of the Crown to answer for their actions, either at “Question Time” or during meetings of the parliamentary committees. In both cases, Ministers are asked questions by members of their Houses, and are obliged to answer.

    Hence you are in error, the Government refers to the executive body in parliamentary terms.

    This is also seen in as follows in Singapore constituition quote as follows:-

    Appointment of Prime Minister and Ministers
    25. —(1) The President shall appoint as Prime Minister a Member of Parliament who in his judgment is likely to command the confidence of the majority of the Members of Parliament, and shall, acting in accordance with the advice of the Prime Minister, appoint other Ministers from among the Members of Parliament:

    Provided that, if an appointment is made while Parliament is dissolved, a person who was a Member of the last Parliament may be appointed but shall not continue to hold office after the first sitting of the next Parliament unless he is a Member thereof.

    (2) Appointments under this Article shall be made by the President by instrument under the public seal.

    Regards

  3. Jonathan says:

    Just thought to point out the Constitution states that the Government of Singapore is made up of the President and the Executive (i.e. Cabinet ministers and PM).

    http://statutes.agc.gov.sg/non_version/cgi-bin/cgi_retrieve.pl?actno=REVED-CONST&doctitle=CONSTITUTION%20OF%20THE%20REPUBLIC%20OF%20SINGAPORE&date=latest&method=part&sl=1

    That is to say, not even Parliament or the civil service is considered as part of the Government of Singapore. I think the issue here is how most Singaporeans and even the civil servants are unable to draw this line leading to a long-standing misconception that the Government of Singapore consists of the legislature and civil service.

    Therefore, according to PA’s reply, their stance is that it is their job to help the Government – i.e. Cabinet ministers – ” connect with people and help promote government policies and programmes such as anti-dengue and active ageing.”

    This is problematic because PA’s mission “To Build and to Bridge communities in achieving One People, One Singapore” makes no mention of aiding the Government. PA’s original goal during its formation was to curb racial riots and political strife. In fact it is a challenge to find mention of the word “Government” at PA’s “About Us” page – http://www.pa.gov.sg/about-us.html

    So one can question why the PA does not want to seek to work with Parliament and stated that its mission is to “bond the community and connect people with the Government” instead.

    Food for thought.

  4. Political Writings says:

    There is a difference between Parliament and Govt. MP’s are not part of Govt, unless they are in Cabinet.

  5. Bryan Ti says:

    Aaron, you are the one who is sounding pretty defensive.

    Wang is right – you are very mixed up between the definitions of government and legislative body (ie. parliament).

    Wang was not ad hominem. But you might want to consider why your reaction was so adverse, and also why, if you can’t take feedback and rebuttal from others, you bother to blog.

    If you only want to believe in your own ideas, then you should keep it as such.

  6. Dennis says:

    What has been stated by the PA so far is not supported by the People’s Association Act. A stat board like the PA must peform in accordance with the legislative powers granted to it.

  7. Aaron Ng says:

    The words “Government” and “government” are two different things. “Government” refers to the PAP’s manifestation of political power, not the political entity that serves people in general.

    Simply put, the PA should not serve government with a capital “g”; it should serve the government without the capital “g”. Only then can the PA claim that it, along with its associated GROs, truly serve people regardless of political affiliations.

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