Wed, Jun 17, 2009
The Straits Times
Don't take the road to less accountability

I REFER to the articles, 'Radical idea: 'Nominated' ministers' (May 27); and 'Nominated ministers: Good or bad idea?' last Saturday.

Two arguments have been put forth in support of the idea. First, MP Hri Kumar Nair contends that nominated ministers allow the prime minister to draw the best talent. Second, MP Inderjit Singh argues that nominated ministers are free from constituency work and so can focus better on policymaking.

I feel that both arguments are flawed for the following reasons.

If talent were narrowly defined as individuals with outstanding academic and career achievements, then a study of the educational qualifications of all the elected MPs shows them to be a highly qualified lot with at least 50 postgraduates. In fact, the House is 'scholar- studded' with more than 20 'scholar MPs'.

In terms of occupational background, the present batch of elected MPs is also exceptional, boasting an array of professionals, technocrats, unionists and grassroots leaders. If there is insufficient talent in this pool, then something is amiss.

A Cabinet minister who is freed from constituency work will lack empathy and not know the impact of the policy he makes. Without walking the ground, the nominated minister will not be 'freed', but handicapped in effective policymaking.

Mr Singh's argument disregards the representative role of the Cabinet and confuses a minister with a bureaucrat who is appointed to serve the Cabinet and removed from public accountability.

The People's Action Party Government has used competitive salaries and the group representation constituency (GRC) scheme to enable promising MPs with ministerial qualities to enter politics. The GRC scheme has, however, had the unintended consequence of exacerbating walkovers and inducting ministers into politics without electoral contest.

Nominated ministers will undermine the accountability, representativeness and effectiveness of the Cabinet.

Netina Tan Chiew Pheng (Ms)

This article was first published in The Straits Times.

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Don't take the road to less accountability

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