Outlining the Constraints MPs Face during Parliamentary Debates

I am very happy to see the outpouring of interest that Singaporeans from all walks of life have shown in the upcoming July parliamentary sitting. It is heartening to see our people take an active interest in the governance of our country.

However, I have noticed that some people are under the impression that the #PSPJobsDebate will take place this coming Tuesday (6 July). The #PSPJobsDebate refers to the Motion that the PSP intends to table in a future parliamentary sitting.

I would like to definitively state that the debate itself will NOT be happening on 6 July.

What we can expect, as revealed by Minister for Health Ong Ye Kung, is that the Government will be delivering two Ministerial Statements to answer the parliamentary questions filed by PSP in preparation for the parliamentary Motion on Foreign PMET Policy (FPP) and Free Trade Agreements (FTAs).

While it is good that we will be hearing two Ministerial Statements, these statements are no substitute for having a separate debate on FPP/FTA issues. Let me explain why.

Firstly, although Minister Ong has indicated that the Ministerial Statements will be opened for debate immediately after they have been delivered, this debate cannot be a substitute for a separate and more thorough debate. The reason for this is that parliamentarians will need time to process the content & information revealed through those Ministerial Statements.

Secondly, when a parliamentarian is responding to a Ministerial Statement, he/she can only speak once for 20 minutes and ask for clarification if called upon by the Speaker. In contrast, a Private Member’s Motion tabled by a parliamentarian will give him (or her) time to set out his case, since the mover of the Motion is allocated 40 minutes to speak both at the start and the end of the debate. In between, members will have a chance to rise to speak for or against the motion, and there will be chances to respond and clarify. Such a format will allow for a more substantive and informative debate.

A separate debate would also open up space to discuss FPP and FTA issues on a broader scale. The recent World Values Survey conducted by the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) found that more than half of the people surveyed were worried about losing or not finding a job. If our FPP/FTA strategy was that effective, then why are our people so worried about their employment prospects? These worries cannot just be attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic alone.

So the debate is not on 6 July. The PSP will decide on the timing to file the motion after receiving the relevant data from the government. The actual date of the debate will depend on other schedules of Parliament as well as the decision of the Speaker.

The #PSPJobsDebate hopes to open up an informative and substantive national discussion on how we can strengthen our people and our social fabric to face new challenges ahead. Stay tuned.

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