SINGAPORE: Workers’ Party secretary-general Pritam Singh will take on more duties and be accorded additional privileges in his role as the Leader of the Opposition, authorities said on Tuesday (Jul 28) in a statement laying out the details of the new post. He will also receive double the allowance of an elected Member of Parliament (MP).
Similar to other Westminster parliamentary systems, the formally designated Leader of the Opposition in Singapore will lead the opposition in presenting alternative views in parliamentary debates on policies, Bills and motions, said the Office of the Speaker of Parliament and Office of the Leader of the House in a joint statement.
He will also lead and organise the scrutiny of the Government’s positions and actions in Parliament, and be consulted on the appointment of opposition members to Select Committees, such as the Public Accounts Committee.
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In addition to his parliamentary duties, Mr Singh may have to attend official state functions, and take part in visits and meetings alongside members of the Government and the public service.
To enable him to carry out his duties, Mr Singh will be given parliamentary privileges, a larger allowance and resources to hire extra staff.
In Parliament, the leader of the opposition will generally be given the right of first response among MPs and to ask the lead question to the ministers. He will also be given more time to speak, equivalent to political officeholders.
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In addition to the government data or information available to other MPs, Mr Singh will 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”.
He will be given an office, the use of a meeting room in Parliament House, and have a secretary to support him with parliamentary business. The Leader of the Opposition will be given double the allowance of an elected MP, which means Mr Singh will receive an annual package of S$385,000.
He will also receive allowances to hire up to three additional legislative assistants. This is in addition to the allowances all MPs receive for one legislative assistant and one secretarial assistant.
In response to CNA's queries, the Office of the Clerk of Parliament said that the leader of the opposition will be given an allowance to hire up to four legislative assistants and a secretarial assistant in recognition of his additional parliamentary duties.
"In Singapore, each elected MP is eligible to engage a legislative assistant and a secretarial assistant," said the office.
Legislative assistants support MPs in legislative work such as conducting research for speeches and Parliamentary debates, while secretarial assistants support MPs in their constituency work.
"The leader of the opposition will also be staffed by a secretary who will support him administratively in his Parliamentary business," said the office.
The legislative assistants and secretarial assistants of MPs, and the leader of the opposition's secretary will not be employed as public officers, it added.
Mr Singh said in response to the announcement that the broad scope of duties, privileges and remuneration extended to Singapore’s Leader of the Opposition "largely follows the spirit of the convention towards the LO (Leader of the Opposition) as practiced by the UK Parliament".
"In light of the assignment of staff and resources to support the Opposition’s efforts in Parliament, I will confer with the NCMPs (Non-Constituency MPs) of the Progress Singapore Party and extend my support, as appropriate, to them as well," he said in a Facebook post.
ROLE WILL “EVOLVE” WITH POLITICAL SYSTEM
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Jul 11 after the results of the General Election was announced, that Mr Singh will be designated the Leader of the Opposition.
The Workers’ Party had won a second GRC in Sengkang and 10 seats in Parliament, up from six in the previous election. The Progress Singapore Party will have two NCMPs in Parliament, making a total of 12 opposition members in the House.
Mr Lee said in his speech after the Cabinet was sworn in on Monday that the results of the 2020 General Election have “shown a strong desire among Singaporeans for a greater diversity of views in politics” and that this trend is here to stay.
“We have to give expression to it, and evolve our political system to accommodate it, while maintaining our cohesion and sense of national purpose,” added Mr Lee.
Singapore’s legislatures have never had formally designated leaders of the opposition, and such a position is not provided for in the Constitution or the Standing Orders of Parliament, the parliamentary offices said in its statement on Tuesday.
“Singapore’s legislatures have never had formal Leaders of the Opposition, not even in the 1950s and early 1960s, when there were substantial numbers of opposition legislative assemblymen,” the statement said.
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It added that former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew led the People’s Action Party as the largest opposition party in the Legislative Assembly between 1955 and 1959, and Dr Lee Siew Choh led the Barisan Sosialis as the largest opposition party in the Legislative Assembly between 1961 and 1963. Neither Mr Lee nor Dr Lee were formally designated Leader of the Opposition.
Singapore’s Parliament has considered other parliamentary systems that have such a position, such as Australia and the United Kingdom, in defining the role in Singapore, the statement said.
“As with any new political appointment, the role of the LO will evolve as our political system develops. We look forward to working with the LO to create a robust but stable political system serving the interests of Singapore and Singaporeans,” the statement said.
It added that these duties and privileges have been conveyed to Mr Singh, and the Leader of the House will make a statement in Parliament to formally set out these terms.
The Prime Minister said in a Facebook post on Tuesday that he hopes "to see not just more constructive debates but serious policy alternatives from the opposition".
"Through this, not only will voters better understand the issues, but policies and plans will be improved with better outcomes for all Singaporeans.
"I look forward to working with our colleagues across the aisle to build a better and stronger Singapore."
Earlier, Speaker Tan Chuan-Jin posted on Facebook that he had chatted with Mr Singh over lunch on the General Election and politics, life in general, and his role as Leader of the Opposition.
Mr Singh said that he had met with the Leader of the House of the 13th Parliament Grace Fu in the morning and separately with Mr Tan over lunch for a briefing on his appointment.
"I will speak in greater detail on the approach The Workers' Party will take in Parliament over the next term and what the public can expect, during the debate on the President’s address next month," he said.
Singapore’s 14th Parliament will have its first sitting on Aug 24.