Does Singapore need NMPs?

Deborah Choo

Since the People’s Action Party introduced the idea of a new kind of parliamentary member in 1989, there have been a total of 60 Nominated Members of Parliament (NMPs).

That excludes the nine individuals to be sworn in as NMPs next Tuesday.

But do people see any value in the NMP scheme, which the People’s Action Party mooted as a way to provide “consensual style of government where alternative views are heard and constructive dissent accommodated”? Can people even remember some of the NMPs that have come and gone?

Yahoo! Singapore asked readers on Facebook which three NMPs they remember the most and what they remember them for.

Based on the 38 responses, many could recall NMP Siew Kum Hong, a corporate counsel who served from January 2007 to July 2009.

User Alan Seah remembered Siew, one of the most vocal NMPs in parliament’s history, as “bravely being on the right side of history”. The former NMP advocated for the repeal of Section 377A which criminalizes consenting sexual acts between men, and also pushed for a hybrid parliamentary model that uses proportional representation.

Renowned blogger Alex Au described Siew as an “outstanding” NMP in his blog. “In the 26 months that he has been in the House, he spoke or asked questions on 134 occasions. What will strike you is that Siew ranged over different fields, while some other NMPs restricted themselves to extremely narrow topics. From a taxpayer’s perspective, Siew is value for money.”

The other popular NMP was Viswa Sadasivan. Viswa was the NMP that prompted MM Lee to speak up in a parliamentary debate in 2007. Sadasivan tabled a motion for the House to reaffirm its commitment to principles in the National Pledge. He questioned whether the government was sending out "mixed signals by emphasising racial categories". According to The Straits Times, Lee rebutted by saying that the assumption of equal treatment for all races is “false and flawed” and “completely untrue”.

Former NMP Eunice Olsen, who is a TV host and actress, was also cited by readers. The former Miss Singapore Universe entered politics at the highlight of her fame. Facebook user Desmond Charles Perry-Wong remembered her for “bringing social work and causes to the forefront while looking so glam”.

The NMP that some users expressed a dislike for was Thio Li-Ann, who defended the repeal of Section 377A. In a parliamentary debate in October 2007, she defined homosexuality as a “gender identity disorder” and likened anal sex to "shoving a straw up your nose to drink”.

Unlike Non-Constituency Members of Parliament (NCMPs), NMPs don’t belong to any political party but represent a particular field of expertise. When the NMP scheme was proposed, then-deputy Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong said the opposition at that time was more focused on discrediting the government than providing constructive criticisms and that the presumably unbiased NMPs could fill in that gap.

Calvin Cheng, former NMP of the 11th Parliament, said that the role of NMPs is especially important now that there is a bloc of opposition in parliament.

Speaking on the upcoming entry of the nine NMPs, he said, “As long as their role is defined thus, they will add a vibrant alternative voice on alternative issues in the Parliament that will hopefully rise above the inevitable political bickering amongst the PAP and WP MPs, as evidenced in the recent debate on Ministerial Wages.”

While he reminded Singaporeans that NMPs are not politicians and should not be seen as “a shadow opposition,” he too urged NMPs to take a stand on dividing issues like the former.

“It is pointless sitting on the fence on such divisive issues…. In a vote, they will also have to take sides – abstaining is a cowardly option,” he added.

Media consultant P N Balji, however, said that the “only concrete example of the effectiveness of the NMP scheme” was proved by one of the pioneer NMPs, former Attorney General Walter Woon.

“Many of your readers have forgotten the mark left behind by Walter Woon. As NMP, he conceived of a Bill to open an avenue for parents to claim maintenance from children who neglect them. He took it to Parliament and convinced members to sign that into law.”

So, do you think NMPs still have a place in Parliament? What do you think they can bring to the table?