Straits Times: My role that of watchdog: WP chief

MP Low says he does not hesitate to point out shortcomings and makes no apologies if they embarrass Govt

BY KOR KIAN BENG


“Since the Government has been elected to do a job and to deliver its promises to the people, it should be given the opportunity to perform and to prove its worth. I play the role of a watchdog to check whether the Government has delivered its promises or has short-changed the people.”
WP CHIEF LOW THIA KHIANG

OPPOSITION MP Low Thia Khiang sees his role as that of a watchdog, checking on whether the Government has delivered on its promises to Singaporeans or if it has short-changed them.

He said the majority of Singaporeans decided at the 2006 General Election that they wanted the People’s Action Party (PAP) to dominate Parliament and rule the country.

And having been elected to do the job, it should have the opportunity “to perform and to prove its worth”, the Workers’ Party (WP) chief said in an e-mail to The Straits Times.

“I play the role of a watchdog,” Mr Low said, adding that this means checking on whether the Government has done due diligence in its policy formulation and responded to the people’s needs when economic circumstances change.

The Straits Times had asked the WP secretary-general for his comments on Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s recent interview with Chinese language daily Lianhe Zaobao.

In it, Mr Lee spoke about the standard of debate in Parliament, among other things, and commented on the performance of the PAP, the opposition and Nominated MPs.

He said opposition MPs seldom debate in direct opposition to the Government.

Potong Pasir MP Chiam See Tong does not speak as much now and Non-Constituency MP Sylvia Lim, who is WP chairman, speaks carefully and seems restrained, Mr Lee said in the interview.

Of Mr Low, he said the Hougang MP seldom debates on the core substance of policies and seems more keen on catching the Government on its shortcomings, “so as to embarrass it”.

Mr Low’s attitude is that his responsibility is just to criticise government policies and not to propose alternatives, the Prime Minister added.

Mr Low countered that the WP did offer alternatives, such as in its manifesto during the 2006 General Election, but added that the party lacks resources.

And unlike the Government, it does not have the “luxury” of “full-time highly paid administrative officers” to draw up alternative policies.

“Please note that the PM said that even PAP MPs and journalists will fail in a test on policy details,” said Mr Low.

In his role as watchdog, Mr Low said he remains “objective and fair”.

However, he does not hesitate to point out shortcomings and faults and makes no apologies if they embarrass the Government, he said.

“Please do better the next time so that I do not have such opportunity to do so. This is a way to keep the Government on its toes and make it more careful in policy consideration and implementation,” he said, adding that this is his contribution to good governance.

Ms Lim also responded and agreed she has been careful with her words: “As for being restrained, I agree if he means that I do not make extravagant statements. I believe in responsible engagement.”

But she said she has confronted the Government on issues and has also proposed policy changes. One such suggestion, on amendments to the Penal Code last October, was adopted by the Home Affairs Ministry, she said.

Her suggestion was to expand the scope of the legal defence of “duress” to include the threat of instant death to persons other than the person himself.

Mr Chiam could not be reached for comment on PM Lee’s remarks.

But he is expected to be in Parliament when it sits on Monday as he has tabled a question on Jemaah Islamiah leader Mas Selamat Kastari’s escape from detention.

On Nominated MPs, Mr Lee had said in the interview that some of them have “generated much buzz with their controversial views”.

While the Government may not agree with them, he said it was good that they speak their minds freely in Parliament: “By doing so, we have reached our objective of setting up the NMP system.”

kianbeng@sph.com.sg

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