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Parliament sits on Monday with ministerial statement on duties of Leader of the Opposition

Parliament sits on Monday with ministerial statement on duties of Leader of the Opposition

Leader of the Opposition Pritam Singh arriving at Parliament House for the opening of Parliament on Aug 24, 2020. (Photo: Jeremy Long)

SINGAPORE: When Parliament sits on Monday (Aug 31), new Members of Parliament will get the first opportunity to lay out some of their priorities and concerns, and politicians from both sides will debate the President's Address.

It would be the first sitting since President Halimah opened Singapore's 14th Parliament on Monday when she outlined priorities for the Government as it tackles the COVID-19 health and economic crisis. 

One of the first things on Parliament's agenda will be the role of Leader of the Opposition, with plans tabled to allow Workers' Party chief Pritam Singh to speak for up to 40 minutes to any question.

This is equivalent to the speaking time allotted to office holders under the Standing Orders of Parliament. Other MPs are entitled to speak for up to 20 minutes.

Leader of the House Indranee Rajah will present in a ministerial statement on his duties and privileges.

The Office of the Speaker of Parliament and Office of the Leader of the House had said in a joint statement that Mr Singh will take on more duties and be accorded additional privileges as Leader of the Opposition.

These include the right of first response among MPs and to ask the lead question to the ministers. He will also be given an office, have a secretary to support him with parliamentary business and get double the allowance of an elected MP.

READ: Pritam Singh to be accorded additional parliamentary privileges, double allowance as Leader of the Opposition

READ: Leader of the Opposition:  A turning point but also a 'double-edged sword', say analysts

Mr Singh leads nine other opposition MPs from the Workers' Party, including four newcomers from Sengkang GRC - Ms He Tingru, Dr Jamus Lim, Mr Chua Kheng Wee and Ms Raeesah Khan. 

For three WP MPs who were previously Non-Constituency MPs (NCMPs) - Mr Dennis Tan, Mr Gerald Giam and Mr Leon Perera - they will be in the House for the first time as elected MPs.

Together with two NCMPs from the Progress Singapore Party - Mr Leong Mun Wai and Ms Hazel Poa - this will be the largest number of opposition voices in Singapore's Parliament in decades.

They were sworn in Monday along with MPs from the People's Action Party (PAP).

In all, there are 93 elected MPs, four more than in the previous term of Parliament.

READ: New office holders will bring fresh ideas and perspectives, says PM Lee at swearing-in of new Cabinet

READ: PM Lee announces new Cabinet; 6 office holders promoted, 3 retirements

Nearly a third of the PAP contingent of 83 MPs are new faces as the ruling party renews its ranks and a fourth generation of leaders move to the fore amid one of the worst crises the country has faced since independence.

The new Leader of the House - Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Indranee Rajah - took over from Minister for Sustainability and the Environment Grace Fu. Ms Indranee is Singapore's second female Leader of the House. 

Mr Tan Chuan-Jin continues for a second term as Speaker.

A key speech to watch next week will be Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's address which replaces the National Day Rally (NDR) this year. Mr Lee had said that he will make a “major speech” in Parliament instead of holding the NDR because of the COVID-19 outbreak.

New office holders will make their maiden parliamentary speeches next week, including Dr Tan See Leng, a first-term MP who has been appointed Minister in the Prime Minister's Office, Second Minister for Manpower and Second Minister for Trade and Industry.

Others include Ms Gan Siow Huang, Minister of State for Education and Manpower, and Mr Tan Kiat How, Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office and for National Development.

READ: Expect robust debate on 'emotive' issues in Parliament, but consensus remains key: Analysts on President’s Address

READ: Speaker, MPs sworn in as Parliament reopens; Tan Chuan-Jin warns against 'polarisation and division'

A number of ministers who have taken on new portfolios after the July Cabinet reshuffle are also expected to speak. Mr Lawrence Wong had moved to the Education Ministry from National Development, and Mr Ong Ye Kung, formerly Education Minister, is now Transport Minister. 

President Halimah had said in her address that she expects more differences in views and interests among Singaporeans, but that Parliament sets the tone for political discourse in Singapore - and that it should be respectful and constructive.

Source: CNA/hm(gs)

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