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MPs debate President's power over government

MP for Moulmein-Kallang GRC Denise Phua calls for a review of the elected presidency scheme and for the public service to improve the way it selects and develops its leaders.

SINGAPORE: As Members of Parliament debated the President's address for a second day, MP for Moulmein-Kallang GRC, Ms Denise Phua raised concerns about the powers given to the Elected President. Singaporeans could vote for their President after amendments to the constitution were made in 1991.

Ms Phua noted that the amendments gave the Elected President reserve powers over government expenditure of financial reserves and key public office appointments. The President also holds the executive right to block attempts by the government of the day to draw down reserves that it did not accumulate.

"I long for the day of a senior statesman who can represent our country as a head of state in the like of ex-Presidents Yusof bin Ishak and Dr Benjamin Sheares; statesmen who need not be slugged through yet another political campaigning process that divides the country instead of healing and uniting the people of Singapore," said Ms Phua.

She also said the way the public service is operated should be upgraded. For instance, through the way it selects and develops its leaders. It should also look at how to more proactively identify issues that matter on the ground.

Nominated Member of Parliament Laurence Lien stressed that the relationship between the government and the people needs to be improved, and called for a strengthening of civil society for Singapore's long-term interest.

"There seems to be some breakdown in mutual trust not just between government and the people, but also among the populace itself,” said Mr Lien.

“Increasingly, politics is also about engendering co-ownerships, so that the creativities of people are harnessed, even if they have a few sharp edges."

MPs also responded to the President's call for constructive politics.

Non-constituency MP Gerald Giam said robust debates that focus on the issues can help shape better policies. However, this should not come at the expense of quality.

"We must not presume that vigorous and passionate debates would lead to gridlock and paralysis. We should not sacrifice quality for efficiency,” said Mr Giam.

“As the wise adage goes, ‘legislate in haste, repent at leisure’. It is unproductive to rush into policies, only to have it cause pain and unhappiness to the people and have to reverse it later."

MP Zainudin Nordin cautioned that while it is good to have debates, there is a risk of society falling apart if the debates get out of hand.

He said: “Some people have gone about questioning government policies by running so-called exposés and articles. There are more bizarre allegations that are made online.

“It all makes for very interesting reading, but if you ask me, it belongs in the realm of pulp fiction novels, rather than for any serious consideration. It is time that the government made efforts in explaining its policies and mount a robust challenge to dispel these insidious untruths.

“Even as we strive to make personal aspirations and achievements, we must not ignore the well-being of the people around us.”

Parliament sits again on Wednesday. 

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