NMP scheme examined

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NMP Eugene Tan tells The Independent Singapore of his performance in Parliament and the relevance of the political experiment in today’s new normal.

How would you sum up your newbie performance as an NMP? Highlights and lowlights?

I will leave it to others to judge how I performed. I have tried my level best. Personally, I found that my term to be a meaningful and fulfilling one.

Speaking in Parliament without fear or favour has been my guiding principle. Singaporeans expect that of the MPs, whether elected or otherwise.

Some of the more memorable moments would include making impassioned speeches on the Population White Paper in Feb 2012 and the Public Order (Additional Temporary Measures) Bill [the so-called Little India law] earlier this year as well as speaking on a broad spectrum of issues.

Have any of your suggestions made as an NMP been taken up?
I don’t think any of my suggestions made have been taken up; I don’t have the resources to track them.

What’s more important is that I hope my speeches have provided food for thought for the front bench, the Public Service, fellow MPs and Singaporeans.

Judging by the government’s replies to my speeches on the 20 Bills I spoke on, the Population White Paper, and the Budget Statements, I am confident that I have had a purposeful and impactful term.

My sense is that the government finds it important to respond as best as they can to the NMPs given that NMPs are expected to be non-partisan.

When do you think this political experiment will become irrelevant?

The NMP scheme will become irrelevant – it’s not a question of whether but rather when.

For now, I believe the scheme still maintains its relevance probably more so than it has ever been.

This is because as Parliament is now more contested and the views expressed by the PAP and WP MPs are more partisan than before, the need for non-partisan views take on greater importance.

The scheme has not lived up to its full potential though.

The scheme will become irrelevant when we have either a two-party parliamentary democracy or a multiparty parliamentary democracy.

By then, Parliament should be able to be a platform for a broad swathe of society and interests. Parties in Parliament will find that they have no choice but to be universal in their representation.

For now, it’s important that we infuse as much transparency into the selection process as possible. (Tan has raised this in Parliament and the answer has been that government will stick to keeping its selection process secret)

What are the topics you will take up in the new Parliament if you are accepted as an NMP?

If I am re-appointed, I will continue to be a “generalist” speaking on a variety of issues that I believe deserves to be aired.

If you look at the questions I filed and the speeches I made in the past two years, tertiary education formed a very small portion.

If NMPs were to speak on the issues that concern their functional groups, then that would only limit the potential of the scheme and could lead to competition for various interest groups to seek an NMP position.

So instead of the “alternative views” that NMPs are to provide, we might just end up with more partisan views from MPs expected to take a non-partisan stance!

The partisanship this time is not along party/political lines but instead over sectoral interests.

That can’t be healthy for our democratic development

Do you agree with the notion that NMPs be picked to represent special interests like labour, arts, sports?

Generally, I have no strong objections to the functional groups – I see most of the functional groups as relatively broad constituencies.

For example, arts, media and sports are collectively in one functional group and business (covering SMEs, MNCs, TLCs) another.

I see the functional groups as administrative mechanisms by which nominees for NMPs are surfaced to the Special Select Committee for their consideration.

Dr Tan Cheng Bock’s concerns are valid in that NMPs can be seen to represent narrow sectoral interests. And that raises questions as to why certain interests should be privileged over others.

Hence, it’s important for NMPs to bring their expertise and experience to bear on matters affecting the functional groups they come from but they must not be seen as speaking almost exclusively for those functional groups.

I am mindful, as an NMP, that I speak for myself only. I cannot claim to represent the functional group I come from because I am not elected by them. Neither does the functional group have the authority to provide me with a mandate to speak on their behalf.