The politics of accountability

The politics of accountability
Mr Pritam Singh, MP for Aljunied GRC.

The fracas over the Workers' Party's (WP) problematic accounting of town council funds highlights Singapore's uneasy transition to greater political diversity ("WP told it must act to recover public funds"; last Saturday).

Opposition supporters regard the WP's increased presence in Parliament as a sign of greater democracy, or part of a system of increased checks and balances on the ruling party.

They also think that this presence would enhance governmental transparency.

But any genuine supporter of parliamentary democracy should be disappointed by the WP's lack of transparency and the easy path it is taking of playing the "blame game", in which one laments the need for an "army of bureaucrats", or that no one wants to work for you because you are the opposition.

Would an opposition coalition that is elected into power, or a WP government, complain for the rest of its term about how the civil service and other groups stonewall it?

If the WP expects the civil service to respond to it with alacrity, then it should set an example by not attempting a form of filibustering in refusing to act decisively in conducting a forensic examination of town council records.

Equally surprising was how the party's MP Pritam Singh said he would answer certain questions by his constituents, implying he would not give certain replies to Parliament ("Give answers to Parliament, not just residents"; last Friday). If questions are not answered in Parliament, then what is the purpose of parliamentary accountability?

In order to earn credibility as an alternative to the People's Action Party (PAP), the opposition will have to measure up to the task of getting things done and answering for lapses.

The PAP, too, must have a system that can stand up to scrutiny.

But the electorate must now ask itself if it is willing to lower standards of political integrity and accountability in the use of public monies, simply because it is the opposition that is in the dock and, therefore, needs mollycoddling.


This article was first published on February 18, 2015.
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