Unfinished business for the 13th Parliament

Jan 14, 2016 11.00AM |

by Bertha Henson

SO WHAT should be in the Presidential Address on Friday and what will Members of Parliament (MPs) talk about? Two weeks ago, The Sunday Times canvassed MPs for their views – and it’s all too predictable. It’s about economic growth, meeting the aspirations of young people and dealing with the needs of the old. These are evergreen issues and you can bet that whether it is the new 13th or the next 14th Parliament, they will crop up again.

Perhaps, the MPs are saving their best bullets for their responses to the Address the following week but it seems same old, same old.

The difference between this Parliament and the last one is really this: the People’s Action Party (PAP)’s near 70 per cent vote. It behooves the G to do better and the MPs to hold the office holders to greater account. The Government Parliamentary Committees should do a better job of scrutinising the ministries under their charge because it is beginning to look like that’s more the job of the Auditor-General or the Accountant-General. Parliamentary committees, such as the Public Accounts and Estimates committees, shouldn’t be coy about chairing press conferences and taking questions either.

There is actually plenty of unfinished business from the last Parliament which should be carried over to this year.

Firstly, it’s the review of the Town Council Act so that we don’t have a repeat of the Workers’ Party and the PAP or G crossing swords over town council accounts. It’s safe to say that people are tired of the court appearances over who is responsible for what aspect of town council management or audit of accounts. People went to the polls in September last year without a clear idea of how their money will be managed at the town council level, especially if there is a change of political party.

Secondly, it’s the review of the Broadcasting Act, which seems to have been on the backburner for so long that MPs have forgotten about it. None of the MPs who spoke of the need for greater consultation referred to this legislation, which is a couple of years late. Yet the use of media, old and new, must be part and parcel of fostering consultation and yes, forging bonds between the governed and the government.

Then there are the fairly new “issues’’ that should be put on the agenda. It appears that everyone is applauding the post-GE2011 move to the left, but is it not also time to take stock of how far “left’’ the country should move and whether the dollops of money expended by the treasury are being poured down a black hole or producing some results – whether it is pulling up the lower income families, prodding small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to become more productive or pay-offs in the investment in research and development?  Very simply, it is easy – and popular – to say “not enough’’ in such matters, rather than it’s “too much’’.

Then there is the matter of how we should dispense grants and subsidies. Much was said during the GE2015 campaign about how the Pioneer Generation Package was well-liked because it was egalitarian. Rich or poor, you get the same amount of money. It is the same for hospitalisation – rich or poor, you get the same subsidies depending on ward type.

And now there is SkillsFuture Credit, where it is the same amount of money for everyone regardless of whether they can afford to pay the training fees. A more recent example of largesse is that Edusave bursaries, which used to be for primary and secondary schools, have now been extended to polytechnic and Institute of Technical Education students. What’s the bet that junior college students will get them soon?

Should we continue on this route or should we have a consensus on how to dispense State money and the use of that unpopular measure called means testing because the money pit isn’t a bottomless one. (By the way, politicians should really stop saying things like the G will foot the bill and so forth, as though it is doing the people a favour. It only encourages people to ask the G for more, forgetting whose money it really is).

The other issue worth discussing is the new shift in thinking of education as a continuing journey which does not just end with a university degree; and looking at every job or career or profession as skill-based rather than degree-oriented. The SkillsFuture programme empowers the adult individual, a shift from letting corporations decide what training courses to go. But this requires plenty of buy-in and maturity from the people, who should not just see it as a way to start a new hobby.

Here’s hoping for fresh views from the new Parliament – from both the PAP and the opposition MPs.


Featured image by Chong Yew. 

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