Channel NewsAsia

First-term MPs take stock of their work so far

Singapore's Parliament will reopen on May 16 after a traditional mid-term break. For the 29 first-term elected MPs, it is also their halfway mark. Channel NewsAsia speaks with three of them as they take stock of their work so far.

SINGAPORE: Singapore's Parliament will reopen on May 16 after a traditional mid-term break. For the 29 first-term elected MPs, it is also their halfway mark.

Channel NewsAsia spoke with three of them as they take stock of their work so far.

One was the youngest candidate, at 27 years of age, introduced by the ruling People's Action Party; the other is part of an opposition team that secured a historic win; and the third literally joined the fray at the 11th hour.

All three have had their challenges, but none will trade their experience so far for anything else.

Now 30, Tin Pei Ling reflected on her introduction to politics with gratitude, despite the intense scrutiny in the early days.

Ms Tin said: "That intense episode for me really helped me think through: why am I doing this? Why am I putting myself out there? Even to the extent of giving up my job -- career in that sense -- in the private sector to really focus on what I'm doing now.

“Firstly, it made me have a stronger conviction for the cause I am fighting for, about wanting to help people who are in need, those who are struggling with life, the elderly, the children from low-income families."

Three years on, there seems to be a genuine warmth between Ms Tin and her residents -- many of whom are elderly, living in the mature MacPherson estate.

She has advocated infrastructural development in her neighbourhood, such as barrier-free access for senior citizens, and has taken up their cause in Parliament.

Ms Tin said: "I have been actively voicing out issues regarding elderly, especially healthcare for elderly, and I'm really glad that in the recent Pioneer Generation Package we see a whole suite of benefits being rolled out for the pioneer generation.

"I've also spoken out on the more flexible use of MediSave.

“For the Pioneer Generation Package, I would also really love to… see that there's an option for the elderly to convert some years of the MediSave payout to... cash, so that there's some flexibility for them to decide... how they want to use this help -- in terms of healthcare, or whether there are more pressing needs in life."

On the ground, she has rolled out a number of programmes for the elderly and youth groups, like the MacPherson Care Fund which helps to defray the medical expenses of the low-income elderly.

The fund has disbursed about S$150,000 since its launch in February 2012 and has reached out to over 450 seniors.

For 37-year-old Pritam Singh, the night of May 8, 2011 is a day he will never forget. His five-member team won in Aljunied.

Mr Singh said: "The euphoria went away quite quickly. It was quickly taken over by the reality that we had to come in fast and look after our residents and be responsible towards them.

"The commitment we made to them on Nomination Day was that we would look after their interests to the best of our abilities -- so that reality quickly set in.

“I know for a lot of people, the euphoria continued for a few days after that -- particularly many residents here (in Aljunied), but for us, we were quite clear that we had (won) a GRC (Group Representation Constituency)."

He added that it was the first time an opposition party has won a GRC in Singapore's political history, "so the weight of responsibility weighed on us quite quickly".

As an opposition MP, Mr Singh was often at the forefront of the cut and thrust of Parliamentary debates, speaking up on diverse issues -- from immigration (to) healthcare costs and legal matters.

He said: "The cut and thrust of a political debate is the norm in any Parliamentary democracy. It is nothing to be unexpected.

"If you think about it, you have two parties, different philosophies, (and) different attitudes towards something as basic as how our CPF monies should be disbursed.

“So in that context, it's inevitable that there will be a difference in opinion and at times it gets loud. But ultimately, the purpose of that really is not cut and thrust for the sake of it.

“For the Workers' Party, in particular, it's not opposition for the sake of opposition. There is another opinion out there that should be aired and needs to be aired.

"And that's the purpose of putting your opinions out there and being vocal about it when you need to be and being focused on what your end objective is.

“The end objective isn't to fight with anybody but to say that ‘hey, there's a better way out of this and have we really explored those areas?’."

Mr Singh said the challenge is when issues get politicised and "gets blown out of proportion".

He elaborated: "You try not to be driven by it. You try not to operate on the basis that it could be a political backlash to something.

“I think you try and keep focus on your mission, which is to try and serve residents and to serve the people of Aljunied to the best of your ability; and what happens after that you have to take it on the chin because that's how the opposition in Singapore has always had to move forward.

"Things will be thrown at you. Brickbats will be fired at you, but you've got to move and you've got to keep moving forward."

And that is exactly what Mr Singh has done -- three years in Eunos and he is clearly a recognisable figure among residents.

Mr Singh also told Channel NewsAsia that he has started programmes like free legal clinics and organised health talks as well as recreational tours to encourage bonding among residents and MPs.

Also looking like he has settled into his role is Chia Shi-Lu. He was the PAP candidate introduced only on Nomination Day.

It was an introduction to politics he could never have expected.

Dr Chia said: "Certainly I think given the circumstances at that time, it was very tough from many angles. First of all, the state of mind was not there, even though obviously I've considered being fielded as a candidate for some months before then.

"But then you sort of know you are not going to run and... are committed to helping out in the campaign."

From the get-go, Dr Chia's main task was to get to know his grassroots and residents, and he has learnt that the most effective way is really through informal face-to-face contact.

Dr Chia said: "I think the ones… where people are most happy with are the coffee shop talks. The 'let's chat' sessions (that) we hold regularly, where it's face-to-face… (is) a very opportunistic thing which you have to do."

About 20 per cent of residents in Queenstown -- a division in Dr Chia's Tanjong Pagar GRC -- are above the age of 60.

So it was only natural that Dr Chia would raise issues related to the elderly in Parliament -- everything from healthcare financing to the importance of keeping the elderly active and employable.

The idea of "ageing in place" is something that he has championed in his own constituency.

Dr Chia said: "When you talk about the ageing population, it's always about some degree of doom. We look at it as something to be worried about.

"Of course it is of concern, but sometimes it is overplayed and it takes on this ageist agenda – ‘oh my goodness! We are all growing old! What will happen to the country?’

“So I think one of my main thrusts is not only to see how we can look after our population as they grow older, but to be able to counter some of these mindsets that when (they) are old, (they) are just a burden to society, (and) they are not able to contribute."

The three MPs also touched on the demands of the new electorate.

They said residents expect a new kind of relationship and for MPs to be seen more on the ground. This has led some to scale-back on their careers, or giving it up entirely, to focus on their constituency work full-time. 

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