Singapore’s parliament speaker this morning responded to the kerfuffle that erupted after a hot-button topic – Indonesian maid Parti Liyani – was set aside for a more mundane matter, angering those who say the body is avoiding an important yet sensitive topic.
Under fire after discussion of the criminal justice system’s failings was rejected in favor of a health topic, speaker Tan Chuan-Jin denied squelching the topic, saying it was settled by a random procedure.
“MPs are denied the chance to speak on issues of importance? Umm … Not quite …” Speaker Tan Chuan-Jin said today.
Sylvia Lim of the Workers’ Party had moved to raise the topic of the domestic helper acquitted of theft that led to a courtroom rebuke of her powerful former boss and Changi Airport chairman Liew Mun Leong, who subsequently resigned from that and other posts. On Tuesday, after a topic proposed by anti-secondhand smoking activist Louis Ng was chosen instead, Tan said it was decided by a “random ballot.”
The outcome led to calls for Ng to withdraw his application to make way for Lim’s. Both Ng and Lim were present during the ballot, which does not involve voting, Tan said Tuesday, adding that there are other methods to raise matters in the house, such as through parliament questions.
“There are various ways in which issues can be aired in Parliament. The Adjournment motion is one route. Some seem to take issue with it and the way it is managed. But from the strident calls and accusations made by some, it appears that they believe that MPs are denied the chance to air topics of importance and it is left to the vagaries of chance,” he wrote.
Adjournment motions are a chance for MPs to raise issues of concern at the end of a parliamentary sitting, but only one gets the chance at a time. When more than one MP makes such a motion, one is randomly selected. Several other topics rejected along with Lim’s may be picked for a subsequent sitting.
Tan said that he’s received a “fair number” of parliamentary questions with regard to Liyani’s case “from all sides of the house.” Even Ng said yesterday that he had raised Liyani’s case by filing questions for ministers’ response in parliament.
Despite the apparent level of interest, the topic has yet to be raised openly before the assembly.
That’s fueled accusations that lawmakers are intentionally skirting the issue, which touches on matters of power and privilege.
Activist Kokila Annamalai was among those who questioned the way topics are chosen, saying all those rejected had “more weight/urgency” than that of secondhand smoking.
“Maybe the public should get to decide? Maybe they can hear all the motions? They’re paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to deliberate and make decisions on issues of importance to our society – why can’t Parliament make the time to hear all motions?” she wrote online.
The Workers’ Party announced last month that it had filed a motion to discuss equity in the criminal justice system for a sitting yet to take place this month. That announcement came days after Progress Singapore’s Tan Cheng Bock called for a credible and independent review of Liyani’s prosecution, which revealed ties between Liew and Attorney-General Lucien Wong. Wong has denied any malfeasance in his handling of the case.
Liyani has since initiated legal action to have the prosecutors in her case investigated for misconduct.
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