From the Chair | Debates in Parliament Chamber
04 May 2018
I am looking forward to President Halimah Yacob’s first President’s Address on 7 May, when the second session of the 13th Parliament begins. It will also be the first President’s Address drafted by the fourth-generation (4G) leadership, whose vision and ideas for Singapore will shape the Government’s priorities, policies and programmes moving forward.
As the infographic below shows, Members of the House will subsequently debate the President’s Address (formally called the “Debate on the Motion of Thanks to the President”). This will also be after the Ministers and other office holders, a few of whom are newly appointed to their roles, will unveil their respective Ministries’ Addendum to the Address – or simply put, their policy plans in response to the goals of Government outlined in President Halimah’s speech. On a personal note, I am excited as it will be my first time presiding over this debate as the Speaker of Parliament. Going by how vigorous and robust the recent Committee of Supply debates were, I would say that Singaporeans are expecting nothing less this time round.
As Speaker, I will continue to be impartial, neutral and objective in seeing how best to facilitate the flow of such debates according to the rules of parliamentary business. Robust debates are only natural for issues that have a lot of public interest, or which some Members of the House themselves may be particularly passionate about. I may therefore occasionally allow more leeway for further discussion if it is indeed a material point to clarify or where a deeper explanation will be useful. After all, by debating differences of opinions, there can be greater clarity in the positions put forth and the trade-offs being considered. Having a heated exchange can be a good thing. What remains key is that Members still maintain the decorum of the House even in the thrust and parry of their debates.
Ultimately, let’s remember that robust debates in the Chamber must crystallise conviction for better policies, better Government programmes, and a better life for citizens. This is how we know we have a functioning democracy.
The other key component of an effective democracy is an informed and engaged citizenry. To this end, Parliament has been stepping up our engagement and educational efforts, including this blog that I am fronting. And since going “live” in January 2018, we have continued to push out informative content on our Parliament Facebook Page which has now amassed over 4,000 followers. To complement this and further expand our outreach to all Singaporeans be it here or abroad, we launched the Parliament Instagram in April 2018. As a photo-based platform, it will feature more light-hearted, bite-sized content such as “Did You Know?” and “On This Day” series of factoids, as well as exclusive behind-the-scenes peeks at Parliament events. To date, I am happy to see that we already have over 1,000 followers for this Instagram page. To me, such positive responses to our efforts are indicative of how Singaporeans are indeed curious and have an appetite for what goes on in Parliament. Keep giving us your support and feedback so that we can evolve in meeting your informational needs.
Some may continue to wonder why Parliament is taking it upon ourselves to interest Singaporeans in what we do. The answer is simple: Whatever happens in Parliament affects Singaporeans and Singapore. By staying connected to citizens through various platforms and proactively sharing pertinent background and facts, we hope to bridge knowledge gaps and combat misinformation for a more informed and constructive public discourse on Parliament matters. In turn, every Singaporean will hopefully be inspired to engage at a deeper and more involved level. Perhaps by actively participating in public consultations for Bills, for instance, so that they can have their say before these Bills are eventually tabled and debated in Parliament. I firmly believe that given our greater appetite for self-information in this digital age, we can nudge greater citizen participation by offering official channels they can trust.
On that note, do stay tuned to this blog and our other platforms for the latest news and updates, beginning with the upcoming opening of the second session of the 13th Parliament. And as always, do send us any questions or feedback you may have on Parliamentary matters at email@example.com as your views are important to us.
As President Yusof Ishak said in the first-ever President’s Address for independent Singapore in December 1965, “Our independence was the result of the determination and spiritedness of the people of Singapore and their leaders”. Let us emulate this gumption and can-do verve as we navigate the less predictable way forward towards SG100; with the confidence that together, we will surmount any challenge and add another illustrious chapter to our nation’s proud history of happiness, prosperity and progress for all citizens regardless of race, language or religion.