House Speaker Tan Chuan-Jin Says All Parliament Questions Are Answered Verbally Or In Writing
Most people know that national matters are officially discussed during parliamentary sessions. However, not much is known about the processes and protocols behind-the-scenes.
Speaker of Parliament Mr Tan Chuan-Jin, explains how processes in place ensure that all questions raised in Parliament are answered, in an intimate interview with Channel NewsAsia (CNA).
His response comes amidst claims by a fellow MP whose questions “have not yet been answered” in Parliament.
Wonder who could that be?
Here’s the full video of Mr Tan’s interview for your reference:
Parliamentary questions are always answered in two forms
According to Mr Tan, there are two ways in which questions raised in Parliament are addressed: orally or in writing.
If an oral response is provided by the MP to which the question is addressed, parliament may choose to talk about issues in the same “clusters of themes” as well.
In other words, questions can be addressed in conjunction with the overarching issue at hand. This provides context and allows MPs to give more comprehensive answers.
Every ministry is also given the opportunity to fully address the concerns raised to them.
Mr Tan reveals that some PAP members “grumble”, wondering why their questions weren’t answered. He suggest two possible reasons why MPs – regardless of political party – may not have their concerns addressed:
1. According to sequence of MPs speaking
The first 1 1/2 hours of parliament sessions is dedicated to “Question Time”.
Within the stipulated time-frame, questions listed in the Order Paper will be presented to the house.
But who decides what can and cannot be listed as questions on the Order Paper is still unknown.
Quite simply, if your question is the last on the list and the allocated time is insufficient, your question will not be heard in Parliament.
Nevertheless, this does not mean that the question is not addressed.
2. Issues gets “rolled over” or moved forward to the next parliamentary session
Of course, when debating on national issues, 1 1/2 hours is never enough.
Any questions that have not been raised within the time limit can be brought forward to the next sitting.
Alternatively, the questions can be resolved through written documents.
However, written parliamentary replies – such as this example – tend to be missed by the public. Simply because more effort is needed to read them, as opposed to watching Parliament Watch on Channel 5.
Addressing general comments made online
Mr Tan also recognised how netizens are concerned about queries being crowded out.
To clarify, the act of “crowding out [a] question(s)” occurs when the discussion digresses from the original topic — through the introduction of seemingly related sub-topics. As such, this may make it seem like MPs are avoiding the topic.
Mr Tan re-emphasises that all these questions will still be answered, at the very least in written form. Even though it appears that the question has been “drowned out”.
So though we may not observe the question being verbally answered, a more direct answer to the question raised will be published in a separate document.
Problem is, most people don’t actually know where to find it.
Educating citizens on parliamentary processes
Educating people on where to find such information is exactly what Mr Tan Chuan-Jin proposes.
He hopes that the initiative of informing people on parliamentary processes, will help people gain confidence in the system.
As such, people will not feel that the system is unfair, especially one that is dominated by one political party.
Commending Workers’ Party MPs on being vocal in Parliament
Having a single-party dominated parliament does give off the impression that opposition parties, would not have a loud enough voice to significantly impact government decisions.
In the eyes of Mr Tan, that is not the case.
After a compilation of 2017 parliamentary sessions, he discovered that 30% of parliamentary discussions had air time from non-PAP MPs.
As WP members only make up 9% of seats in Parliament, Mr Tan said “good for them” for staying true to their role in scrutinising laws made by the government.
As much as possible, the 49-year-old tries to provide fair airtime for all MPs to voice out concerns during parliamentary debates and questioning.
Is our parliamentary system truly fair?
At least for now, citizens will be relieved to know that – with some deeper searching – all concerns that are raised in parliament, will eventually be answered one way or the other.
All in all, it’s still unclear if these processes truly create an equal playing field in Singapore’s policy-making scene.
The fact that parliament processes remain unclear to regular citizens, is precisely why the political scene in Singapore seems unfair.
Considering how Singapore will see a transition of power soon, the time to educate – as suggested by Mr Tan himself – is more important than ever before.
Featured image from Facebook.