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GE2020 explainer: What is an NMP and what do they do?

GE2020 explainer: What is an NMP and what do they do?
Anthea Ong Lay Theng, corporate social responsibility consultant, Arasu Duraisamy, labour unionist, and Lim Sun Sun, communication and technology professor.
PHOTO: The Straits Times File

MP, Minister, NCMP: These are terms that you may hear tossed about during election season, or during any parliamentary session for that matter.

We understand that it can be confusing as to what is what since they do all sound pretty similar. And yes the quick answer is that not all MPs are made equal.

If you are a first-time voter or just someone who isn't all that familiar with Singapore politics, don't let all these terms tossed out scare you as we break it down and layout the deets, and help you get prepped for the impending election.

This time, we take a look at the nominated members of parliament (NMP).

What is an NMP?

A nominated member of parliament is an MP who has been appointed by the President and is not affiliated to any political party, to provide a greater diversity of views that would otherwise not get much prominence during discussions. This is unlike elected MPs and non-constituency MPs who gain their seats their elections.

Hence NMPs do not represent any constituency, and they only serve for a term of two and a half years each time, unless they are appointed for a second term.

In Parliament, they share the same rights as elected MPs and can raise questions and suggest legislation, as well as vote on all matters except for the following items: 

  • Matters concerning constitutional amendments 
  • Motions to remove the President
  • Motions of no confidence in the government 
  • Supply bills; and
  • Money bills.

How does one become an NMP?

Unlike elected MPs and NCMPs who are directly elected by the people, NMPs are, well, nominated into parliament.

The general public is invited to submit names of people to a Special Select Committee, made up of the Speaker of Parliament and seven other ministers, through selected representatives.

The committee would then review each application and interview suitable candidates. After which, they would discuss and agree on the persons to recommend to the President for appointment as an NMP.

Each term an NMP serves is two-and-a-half years, and they can serve for more than one term; they just have to be nominated again. 

TL;DR: You don't elect NMPs during a general election. It's a separate procedure altogether. NMPs do make significant contributions in Parliament though.

Are there qualifications required to become an NMP?

In order to qualify as an NMP, one needs to possess the same qualifications necessary to become an elected MP.

Additionally, they must have rendered distinguished public service, brought honour to the nation, or have distinguished themselves in a selected field.

How many NMPs are there?

The initial maximum number of NMPs were six, but a constitutional provision was made in 1997 to allow for the appointment of up to nine NMPs.

At present, all nine seats are filled.

The current NMPs are:

  • Arasu Duraisamy 
    Singapore Port Workers' Union general secretary and elected member of the NTUC Central Committee
  • Douglas Foo
    Sakae Holdings executive chairman and Singapore Manufacturing Federation president
  • Terence Ho Wee San
    Singapore Chinese Orchestra managing director
  • Lim Sun Sun
    Head of humanities, arts and social sciences at Singapore University of Technology and Design and Media Literacy Council member
  • Abbas Ali Mohamed Irshad
    Roses of Peace founder and director
  • Anthea Ong Lay Theng
    Social entrepreneur and Anagami founder
  • Irene Quay Siew Ching
    Former president of Pharmaceutical Society of Singapore 
  • Walter Theseira
    Transport economist at the Singapore University of Social Sciences
  • Yip Pin Xiu
    Paralympian swimmer

How did NMPs come about?

They were introduced in 1990 in order to provide a greater diversity of voices in the house, as well as contribute independent and non-partisan views in Parliament.

For most parts, they represent the varied interests - such as arts, environmental or social issues - that might otherwise not get as much attention within discussions.

The NMP scheme was initially met with much disagreement by both the People's Action Party and opposition MPs as they believed the scheme was undemocratic. This was as NMPs were nominated rather than elected, and that NMPs did not represent anyone but themselves.

There were also concerns that NMPs could run for elections after their term, thus undermining their credibility as a non-partisan member of parliament.

The scheme however has proven its worth over the years as NMPs have managed to contribute actively to parliament discussion.

Speaking to CNA, Singapore Institute of Management Global Education associate lecturer Felix Tan said: "By and large, the NMP scheme has been useful and has brought the debates to a higher level of substance. It has a neutrality that is sometimes needed in the midst of a very touchy and controversial policy discussion."

How much is an NMP paid?

Unlike elected MPs who play both a community role on top of a legislative one, NMPs play a legislative role (and a reduced one on top of that). As such, their annual allowance is pegged to 15 per cent of an MP's and is currently $28,900.

How has the NMP scheme changed over the years?

Apart from increasing the maximum number of NMPs, there were two main changes to the NMP scheme.

An NMP's term of office, initially two years, was extended to two and a half years to avoid the need to select NMPs three times in a full five-year term.

NMPs were also made a permanent feature of Parliament in 2010, rather than have the Parliament decide after every election whether or not to appoint them.

During a speech in Parliament in May 2009, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said: "The scheme has worked well. The NMPs represent non-partisan alternative views in Parliament, and the NMPs have made effective contributions and raised the quality of debate in Parliament. Sometimes, if I may say so, they may have outshone even the Opposition MPs. This NMP scheme should be a permanent part of our political system."

What are some significant contributions NMPs have made?

From offering alternative bills, raising and opposing motions, and even passing a bill as public law, NMPs have done it all in Parliament and here are some noteworthy ones. 

1. Maintenance of Parents Bill

In 1994, then-NMP Walter Woon proposed a Maintenance of Parents Bill in Parliament, citing the need to provide a safety net for neglected parents, especially in the face of an increasingly ageing population.

Under the bill, parents above the age of 60 who are unable to maintain themselves are entitled to claim maintenance from their children.

The bill was passed in Parliament in 1995, a year later, and is the first bill proposed by a non-party member to become a public law.

2. Motion for commitment to the national plege

In 2015, then-NMP Viswa Sadasivan proposed a motion in Parliament to call for the House to reaffirm their commitment to the national pledge - instead of sending out mixed signals with regards to racial matters.

Though then-Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew rebutted his motion, it was ultimately adopted with two amendments.

More recently, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong took to Facebook in 2018 to highlight a motion that NMPs had initiated regarding Singapore's education system, calling it a "good and lively debate" and that the ideas proposed were things that the Ministry of Education would consider seriously.

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