I've been busy this weekend and caught the news of Mr David Ong's resignation in drips and drabs. I know the Prime Minister said he resigned for "personal reasons" and thought maybe it was about his health. Then Mr Ong himself said it was personal indiscretions and I went uh-oh.
It's odd how no one thinks that personal indiscretions could be about how he's going to be made a bankrupt because of lavish spending or that people found out that he threw his old parents out of house and hearth. Immediately, we go "ah hah, a woman''.
We haven't much experience with MPs' resignations, especially during their term of office. There is really no such thing as quitting. In the case of former Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew, he decided not to stand in the last General Election. Mr Lui seemed to have done so to save the People's Action Party some votes. (I am guessing here. There was no stated reason in his letter of resignation to PM Lee in August last year.)
Nor is there much heard about a firing or sacking. In the private sector, people get sacked all the time, such as for lousy job performance. You don't get sacked for sleeping with someone who is not your wife or husband. That's because your personal indiscretions are no business of your employer - unless they have an impact on job performance.
Instead, lackluster and incompetent MPs simply get "dropped'' in the next round by their political masters, not that we know who they are or what standards they are judged by. The biggest judgment of course is made by the electorate once every four or five years.
So Mr Ong's Bukit Batok residents who gave the single seat MP 73 per cent of the vote, are surprised at his resignation. Evidently, his extra-marital affair doesn't seem to have affected his work on the ground. That appears to be something he's very good at given his long record as a grassroots leader before entering the GE2011 contest.
As a parliamentarian, he spoke 71 times in the 12th Parliament according to our checks in August last year. Since the 13th Parliament began life on January 15, he has spoken up eight times. Now, everybody is either being self-righteous (It's right that he resigns because he is unfaithful) and indignant (The People's Action Party is not whiter than white). Some may even say he's silly to be caught out (at an F1 race for goodness sakes!).
My question is: Why did he take the step of resigning his party and his political post? In the case of Mr Yaw Shin Leong and Mr Michael Palmer, their indiscretions were "found out'' and further exposure threatened.
In fact, PM Lee Hsien Loong gave pretty much a blow-by-blow account of how Mr Palmer had come to him before the affair blew out into the open to "confess''. This time, there are no details except for what has been ferreted out by media people, such as the woman's husband complained. (As usual, the femme fatale has gone into hiding while social media is going crazy.)
You wonder if the same thing was going to happen - some expose on Mr Ong which would have embarrassed him and the party - hence the pre-emptive resignation. It cannot be that he had a sudden epiphany to return to marital fidelity.
There appears to be an invisible bar (Commandment No. 9) set on politicians. It is a moral bar and a "face'' bar. Salacious news (news not gossip) just leads to too much finger-pointing and unbearable scrutiny in a small country like Singapore. Remember how Mr Yaw had to get out of town when the news broke?
I wish that there were other KPIs for MPs to assess themselves by besides the moral one, especially those which affect their work in Parliament and their constituents.
If you're embarrassed about having an affair, you should be even more embarrassed that you haven't been able to do the work you were voted to do well.
What if someone did the numbers on how many times an MP is actually in his constituency doing his Meet-the-People sessions or conducting dialogues or walkabouts? Or how well he writes petitions for residents? What if there was a grassroots revolt because of the MP's overbearing attitude? Is that cause for an MP to quit in embarrassment?
Probably not, because that would be bad for the party which can simply, quietly drop the lazy or arrogant fellow. If it didn't, then voters would have to do the job of sacking the MP in the next election.
I can't help but think that while we are conservative on the moral front, we don't exact the same standards on other fronts. Because, seriously, I think we can suffer an adulterous MP till the end of his term if he does the job, but why should we suffer one who is lousy at the get-go - even if he is strait-laced and happily married?
Okay, I think I'm being unreasonable. Sorry.
This commentary first appeared in The Middle Ground.