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Significant "firsts" in 2012 Budget session

Wrapping up the debate on Friday, Leader of the House, Dr Ng Eng Hen, said the main theme of an inclusive society featured large in the Budget and Committee of Supply proceedings.

Significant "firsts" in 2012 Budget session

Singapore's Parliament House. (Photo: Hester Tan)

SINGAPORE: Parliament has approved the budget estimates for Financial Year 2012 after nine days of debate.

Wrapping up the debate on Friday, Leader of the House, Dr Ng Eng Hen, said the main theme of an inclusive society featured large in the Budget and Committee of Supply proceedings.

But he added that "inclusiveness must first mean building a robust and seaworthy vessel, with strong engines of growth".

He also pointed out some significant "firsts" in this year's proceedings.

For one, it's the largest Parliament since independence, with 98 MPs compared to 94 MPs in the last term.

This resulted in 450 "cuts" being filed for the debates on the ministries' budgets - up from 411 in 2011.

This meant that Parliament had to sit longer this year - the same number of days but more hours.

And for 37 new Members of Parliament, they had to quickly learn how to "swim", especially for eight new Nominated Members of Parliament who were sworn in on 14 February, just three days before Budget Day on 17 February.

Dr Ng said there was another "first" for Singapore's Parliament but on a regrettable note, with the legislature entering into the Budget debate with one less MP who was expelled from his party.

He was referring to the expulsion of Mr Yaw Shin Leong from the Workers' Party.

Dr Ng said: "This, again, is the first-ever in our parliamentary history. I think I speak on behalf of the House with this wish that such occurrences should remain few and far between.

"And this episode reminds us, each, to uphold high standards of integrity and honesty for this office that we have been appointed and for all political parties to maintain high standards of their candidates."

"All in all, we had good sessions and outcomes. Where could we do better? The importance of improving productivity was a recurrent theme and I think one which should apply to this House too," said Dr Ng.

"For both front and back bench, let's aspire speak to less and impact more; focus more on substantive issues, debate core policies rather than numerous cuts and agenda items for each Ministry."

Dr Ng also credited the new Speaker of Parliament, Michael Palmer, for keeping the House awake during what Dr Ng called "less enthralling" moments.

On his part, Mr Palmer said: "I am heartened that the Budget contains measures to strengthen our social support and inclusiveness for all Singaporeans, especially those that are less advantaged.

"On the whole, the debate was lively and the speeches were thoughtful and high calibre and indeed that's what kept me attentive. The exchanges between the front and back benches were robust, more importantly the exchanges reflected the level of seriousness and commitment with which Members regarded their obligation to scrutinise the many different facets of this year's Budget."

He added: "Most Members kept to their allotted times while a few pushed the boundaries, which may be forgiven in view of the gravity of the issues being debated. However, some of the clarifications expressed were not as productive as they could have been and could have been more succinct. At times I felt the clarifications were almost addendums to their speeches rather than concise questions."

Parliament has adjourned to a date to be fixed.

Source: CNA/ir


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