04 September 2015

Should MPs Be So Busy?

Members of Parliament, especially those from the ruling People's Action Party, are very busy people.

Duties of MP
The primary duty of an MP is to represent the people in Parliament to discuss government policy, proposed legislation and current issues.

Opposition MPs have an additional duty: to examine and challenge the work of the government. While PAP MPs do speak up on some issues, it is not often that they challenge the core principles of key government policies. Opposition MPs have to deeply scrutinise government policies and because they are currently greatly outnumbered in Parliament, they cannot expect fellow opposition MPs to carry their load for them.

If any MP doesn't have enough time to perform his primary duty effectively, he has failed the people who elected him and whom he represents.

Political Office Holders
Some MPs are more busy than others because they hold political office. That's understandable, because some MPs from the ruling party are entrusted with running the country through their holding Cabinet positions.

Grassroots Organisations Advisers
PAP MPs serve as advisers to grassroots organisations ("GROs" such as Citizens Consultative Committees and Residents Committees, both of which fall under the purview of the People's Association ("PA")) within their constituencies.

The chairman of a Community Development Council for a district may be designated as a mayor of that district and he continues to serve to the end of his term or as directed by the PA even after he is no longer an MP. There are five districts altogether. To date, only PAP MPs have been designated as mayors.

PAP MPs are involved in many of the activities organised by their GROs, some of which seem to be no more than thinly veiled political events. While some MPs genuinely want establish bonds with the community, others possibly treat such occasions as opportunities for political public relations.

Opposition MPs are not given the opportunity to serve as advisers to GROs in their constituencies.

Full-Time Employed
Some MPs are busy because they hold full-time jobs and/or serve as directors, in each case in companies that are not related to the State.

It is difficult to imagine an employed person (whether as an employee or self-employed) being able to set aside enough time from their work to discharge their duty as an MP effectively.

In anticipation of her increased workload as an MP and chairman of Aljunied-Hougang Town Council, The Workers' Party Chairman Sylvia Lim resigned from her position as a lecturer at Temasek Polytechnic after being elected to represent Aljunied GRC in GE 2011. She considered it unfair to the polytechnic's management, her colleagues and her students if she continued in her teaching position.

Estate Managers
The MP or MPs for the electoral constituency comprised within a town for which the town council is established are automatically appointed as the town council's elected members. The chairman of the town council is one of its elected members.

The job of managing an HDB estate in an MP's electoral constituency is thrust upon him by virtue of the Town Councils Act; he cannot decline the appointment.

Estate management can be particularly challenging and time consuming if:

▪ None of the companies that provide managing agent services want to provide such services to a town council, as in the case of Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council and its predecessors.

▪ Anything essential for the effective running of a town council e.g., the town council management system, is withdrawn from a town council when a different political party takes control of the town council, as in the case of Aljunied Town Council.

▪ There is a change in external auditors and the immediate past auditors do not cooperate with the newly appointed auditors, as in the case of Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council and its predecessors.

Members of Parliament are elected to be Members of Parliament, not town council members.

Social Workers
MPs do have to care for their constituents who in turn want their MPs to solve their myriad of problems. However, MPs should not have to duplicate the work of the Ministry of Social and Family Development or its social service offices..

Discretionary Roles?
PAP MPs deliver goody bags e.g., SG50 fun packs to residents. (Inasmuch as this is supposed to be a PA project, it is unclear whether non-PAP MPs were similarly involved.) This is a very time consuming exercise stretching over several weeks. It is likely that many PAP MPs used the occasion to interact with their constituents in the run-up to GE 2015.

They associate themselves with new or improved facilities in their electoral constituencies, some of which they had little or no real or effective involvement with. Curiously, when something bad happens, the MP doesn't seem to have been involved at all.

They associate themselves with new or improved facilities in their electoral constituencies, some of which are insignificant e.g., increased frequency of public bus services.

They hold office in national sports associations.

They present medals to SEA Games contestants.

They travel overseas to show their presence with national sports contingents.

They present bursary awards to students.

Personal Time
MPs have to set aside time for their spouses, children and parents. And themselves.

Conclusion
Are our MPs able to devote enough time to properly carry out their primary duty as MPs?

As The Workers' Party's statistics show:


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