SINGAPORE: People's Action Party Members of Parliament (MPs) must expect sharper questioning in Parliament now that there are more opposition MPs and a Leader of the Opposition, and be prepared to engage in robust exchange, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Saturday (Aug 1).
Mr Lee said this in a eight-page letter outlining the Rules of Prudence to PAP MPs. The letter, which was also released to the media, is traditionally sent out by the Prime Minister to PAP MPs after every general election.
Singapore's most recent polls were held on Jul 10, with the PAP securing 61.2 per cent of the votes and 83 out of 93 availabe seats in Parliament.
Singapore’s 14th Parliament will have 10 elected MPs from the Workers’ Party and two Non-Constituency MPs from the Progress Singapore Party.
WP secretary-general Pritam Singh was officially appointed Leader of the Opposition last month, a first for Singapore.
Political office holders were sworn-in on Jul 27 at the Istana and Parliament House.
"With more opposition MPs in the new Parliament, and a Leader of the Opposition formally designated, we must expect sharper questioning and debate in Parliament," said Mr Lee.
"PAP MPs should express their views frankly, whether for or against Government policies. During debates, speak freely and with conviction. Press your points vigorously, and do not shy away from robust exchange," he said.
He also said that PAP MPs should be prepared to engage the opposition, clarify their interventions and scrutinise their ideas.
"However, please exercise judgment when putting your points across, and do not get carried away playing to the gallery," he said.
The Rules of Prudence contained a new section on social media, with Mr Lee saying that MPs may use it as a platform to inform the public about their work and share their views, but that they must also be mindful of decorum and accuracy.
"Be mindful you are a public figure elected by your residents. So observe decorum, ensure factual accuracy as this is an absolute requirement for us, and remember every social media post will be permanently associated with you and the Party," said Mr Lee.
He also cautioned MPs against using social media to attack others or engage in extended engagement online.
"Be honest, empathetic, positive and affirming in all your messages. Know your audience and be sensitive to how they feel. Do not use social media to attack another person," said Mr Lee.
"While social media is another way to connect with people, do not end up in long and extended engagement online. You also need to interact with your residents and attend to their needs in person," he added.
READ: New office holders will bring fresh ideas and perspectives, says PM Lee at swearing-in of new Cabinet
Here are some of the other points PM Lee made in the letter:
UPHOLDING REPUTATION AND INTEGRITY
Mr Lee stressed the importance for every MP to uphold the rigorous standards the party has set for itself, and that they cannot be compromised.
"One vital factor that has enabled the PAP to retain the trust of Singaporeans all these years is honesty and integrity. The PAP's reputation for clean, incorruptible government is one of our most precious assets," he said.
"Never give cause for allegations that you are misusing your position, especially your access to Ministers. That would discredit both you and the Party."
SEPARATE BUSINESS AND POLITICS, DECLARE GIFTS
MPs must separate their public political position from their private, professional or business interests, said Mr Lee.
They must not exploit their position as MPs, their contacts with ministers or access to government departments and civil servants for their personal or business interest.
"Do not use Parliamentary questions as a means to lobby the Government on behalf of your business or clients," said Mr Lee.
MPs should also not accept gifts that might place them under obligations that conflict with their public duties.
Gifts that are not from close friends or relatives must be declared to the Clerk of Parliament, who will have them valued. Should an MP wish to keep the gifts, they must pay the Government for them at the valuation price.
MPs are expected to attend all sittings of Parliament and should seek permission from the Government Whip if they have to be absent," said Mr Lee.
"I have asked the Speaker to give all MPs, particularly new MPs, ample opportunity and latitude to speak in Parliament. Your first opportunity will be during the debate on the President's Address at the opening of Parliament in August 2020. Following that, at the Budget Debate, all MPs should speak up," said Mr Lee.
"Your honest, informed views are an important political input to ministers when they formulate and review policies. Ministers will accept valid, constructive suggestions, but they have to challenge inaccurate or mistaken views. Over time, the public will see that PAP backbenchers are as effective as opposition MPs, if not better, at holding ministers to account, getting issues fully debated, and influencing policies for the better," he said.
FUND-RAISING AND FINANCIAL PRUDENCE
Party branches should not raise funds on their own without permission, for example, by soliciting advertisements for a souvenir magazine or a carnival.
For constituency and grassroots organisations that need to raise funds, for example for a new community club or to sponsor community events, effort should be made to gather multiple small contributions, rather than one or two large donors.
MPs should also manage their personal finances prudently and not over-extend themselves or become financially embarrassed.
"This would be not only a potential source of personal embarrassment, but also a weakness which may expose you to pressure or blackmail," said Mr Lee.
DIRECTORSHIPS AND DECLARATION OF INCOME
While the Party allows MPs to serve on the boards of private and publicly listed companies, MPs should not solicit directorships lest they appear to be exploiting their political position for benefit.
MPs should also not accept directorships where the role is just to "dress up the board with a PAP MP or two, in order to make the company look more respectable".
"Before accepting, consider the possible impact of the directorship on your political life," said Mr Lee.
Mr Lee also told MPs to declare their business and professional interests, present employment and monthly pay, retainers and fees to him by Aug 28.
As a whole, MPs must always uphold the high standards of the Party and not have lifestyles or personal conduct that will embarrass themselves and the Party, said Mr Lee.
"Any slackening of standards, or show of arrogance or indifference, will erode confidence in the MP, and ultimately in the Party and the government," he said.
"Always conduct yourselves with modesty, decorum and dignity, particularly in the media. You must win respect, not popularity, to stay the course."