At the end of the day, NMPs make the House better

The Super Passion Award goes to Ms Faizah for her focus on enviromental issues and her ability to turn any matter into one about the environment.

Yesterday was the last time most of the nine Nominated MPs will set foot in the House, with their term coming to an end this month.

The nostalgia was already sinking in for Ms Mary Liew, who was seen passing some printed photos to the other NMPs seated near her.

Some, like Ms Janice Koh, took the chance to tour the chambers one last time, posing for a picture next to a painting by artist Chua Mia Tee, which she later posted on Facebook.

The NMPs also continued to question and debate, like it was any other day of business.

During yesterday's sitting, Ms Faizah Jamal and Ms Liew asked questions on fish farm waste and on the placement fees that foreign domestic workers pay, respectively.

Singapore Management University law don Eugene Tan and private banker Tan Su Shan also joined in the debate on the new Transboundary Haze Pollution Act.

The law will give Singapore authority to target companies and other entities which either cause or condone fires that lead to haze.

From the seemingly minute and mundane to issues of national importance, the nine NMPs have demonstrated their ability to contribute to the discourse in Parliament.

Now, after they have served for 21/2 years, there will be a new slate of NMPs selected come next month. Of the nine, only businessman R. Dhinakaran and Prof Tan have opted to be considered for another term.

Coming after the hotly contested 2011 General Election, they joined the House in debating contentious issues such as the White Paper on Population and the Little India riot.

They have witnessed the Government making significant shifts in social policy such as health care and social security.

And they also celebrated former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew's 90th birthday, in a poignant moment in the House.

Having sat in the press gallery and observed them during many of these occasions in Parliament, I think it's fitting to recognise them and their speeches which have left an impression on me.

With tongue-slightly-in- cheek, here are three awards:

The Super Passion Award goes to Ms Faizah.

Since the very first day in Parliament, she was single-minded in her focus on environmental issues.

From marine life to parks to trees, the environmentalist argued impassionedly for more attention to be paid to green issues, and was able to turn any matter in Singapore into one, inevitably, about our environment.

In the opening debate after the President's Address this May, she said: "All members of this House should raise environment issues in this House because it is the right thing to do, it is the mature and wise thing to do.

It is time to take back personal responsibility."As someone who is not so environmentally conscious, I was often left feeling rather guilty about leaving the light on too long, or the many plastic bags I used, after hearing her speak.

Yesterday, on the debate over the haze Bill, she continued to strike at our collective conscience. Quoting from a billboard she saw in London, she said: "You are not stuck in traffic. You are traffic."

The next honour is the Range Far And Wide Award.

It goes to Prof Tan, the law don, for having something to say on almost everything - even the attendance of MPs.

An expert on constitutional law and administrative law, just in the last two days, he again displayed that knack, by speaking on the National Library Board's saga over homosexuality-themed children's books, the crash of MH17 in Ukraine, the haze Bill, and a more obscure Bill on additional functions of the Attorney-General.

Prof Tan also made his mark in Parliament by unfailingly calling out his fellow MPs for not being present in the House for a quorum. Under the Constitution, a quorum of one-quarter of the total number of 87 MPs, excluding the Speaker, is needed for a Bill to be passed.

Last month, in one sitting he pointed out not once, but twice, the fact that a quorum was not reached, forcing the Speaker to ring the bells summoning the MPs into the chamber.

My last award is the Mirror Award. It goes to Mr Laurence Lien.

The mild-mannered Mr Lien surprised with his hard-hitting speeches that would often ask members of the House and the Government to look in the mirror, and focus on the bigger question of "what kind of country do we want to be?"

Many of his speeches urged the remaking of the social compact between the Government and citizens, and improving trust between the two.

In his first Parliament speech, he charged that Singapore was in a social recession, and proposed a Social Review Committee "to create a new shared vision and new social compact" for Singapore.

In one of his last speeches this May, referring to an ancient Judaic tradition to celebrate a Jubilee year with rest, he said to the House ahead of Singapore's own Jubilee year: "There is something worthwhile about resting, in the sense of taking a step back to reflect and ponder: What do we wish to become? How do we want to get there?"

In all seriousness, all nine NMPs have made meaningful contributions this term.

Now in its 24th year, the NMP scheme has attracted debate over its continued relevancy.

But this batch of NMPs has proven that, despite the criticisms, with them around, the House has certainly been the better for it.

chanckr@sph.com.sg

This article was published on Aug 6 in The Straits Times.


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