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Govt spells out WP chief Pritam Singh’s duties and privileges, as Singapore’s first Leader of the Opposition

SINGAPORE — Singapore’s first Leader of the Opposition, Mr Pritam Singh, will receive confidential briefings on select matters pertaining to national security and external relations and may be called on to attend state functions, visits and meetings.

Govt spells out WP chief Pritam Singh’s duties and privileges, as Singapore’s first Leader of the Opposition

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (right) had announced on July 11, 2020 that Mr Pritam Singh (left), who leads the Workers’ Party, would be formally designated Leader of the Opposition.

  • Mr Singh will receive confidential briefings on select matters of national security and external relations
  • He will be expected to lead the Opposition in presenting alternative views in debates
  • Mr Singh will be paid about S$385,000 annually, double the allowance of an elected MP
  • He said he will consult the Progress Singapore Party on extending support to them

 

SINGAPORE — Singapore’s first Leader of the Opposition, Mr Pritam Singh, will receive confidential briefings on select matters pertaining to national security and external relations and may be called on to attend state functions, visits and meetings.

As part of his duties, he will be expected to lead the opposition in presenting alternative views in parliamentary debates. He will receive double the allowance of an elected Member of Parliament — at about S$385,000 annually — and be provided an office and the use of a meeting room in Parliament House, among other privileges.

In a statement issued on Tuesday (July 28), the Office of the Speaker of Parliament and Office of the Leader of the House outlined the duties and privileges that will be accorded in the 14th Parliament to this new role, which is not provided for in Singapore’s Constitution or the Standing Orders of Parliament.

The 14th Parliament will open on Aug 24, with President Halimah Yacob giving the opening address. This will be followed by a parliamentary debate a week after. 

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had announced in the wee hours of July 11 — following the results of the General Election held the previous day — that Mr Singh, who leads the Workers’ Party (WP), would be formally designated Leader of the Opposition, and that the Government will provide him with the appropriate staff members and resources to enable him to carry out his duties.

These duties are:

  • To lead the opposition in presenting alternative views in parliamentary debates on policies, bills and motions

  • To lead and organise the scrutiny of the Government’s positions and actions in Parliament

  • To be consulted on the appointment of opposition members to parliamentary select committees, including standing select committees such as the public accounts committee

  • To be called upon, on occasion, to take on other duties such as attending official state functions and taking part in visits and meetings alongside members of the Government and the public service.

The privileges and resources that will be accorded to the Leader of the Opposition are:

  • Parliamentary privileges: In Parliament, the Leader of the Opposition will generally be given the right of first response among Members of Parliament (MPs) and to ask the lead question to the ministers on policies, bills and motions, subject to existing speaking conventions. The Leader of the Opposition will also be given a longer speaking duration for speeches, equivalent to that given to political officeholders.

  • Briefings on issues of national interest: In addition to the government data or information available to other MPs, the Leader of the Opposition will receive confidential briefings by the Government on select matters of national security and external relations, and in the event of a national crisis or emergency.

  • Allowance: The Leader of the Opposition will receive double the allowance of an elected MP. His total norm annual package will be S$385,000, inclusive of his allowance as an MP. The most junior political officeholder, a Parliamentary Secretary, receives an annual salary of S$418,000. 

  • Manpower support: The Leader of the Opposition will be provided an office and the use of a meeting room in Parliament House. He will also receive allowances to hire up to three additional legislative assistants. This is in addition to the allowances all MPs receive for one legislative assistant and one secretarial assistant. The Leader of the Opposition will also be provided with a secretary to support him administratively with parliamentary business.

As with any new political appointment, the role of the Leader of the Opposition will evolve as Singapore’s political system develops, the Speaker and Leader of the House said in the statement.

They noted that this is an entirely new role for the country, as Singapore’s legislatures have never had formal Leaders of the Opposition, not even in the 1950s and early 1960s, when there were substantial numbers of opposition legislative assemblymen.

“Leaders of the Opposition are formally designated in other Westminster parliamentary systems, such as Australia and the United Kingdom. We considered these other parliamentary systems as well as our own circumstances in defining the duties and privileges of the Leader of the Opposition,” they said.

Mr Lee Kuan Yew led the People’s Action Party as the largest opposition party in the Legislative Assembly between 1955 and 1959, and Dr Lee Siew Choh led the Barisan Sosialis as the largest opposition party in the Legislative Assembly between 1961 and 1963. Neither Mr Lee nor Dr Lee were formally designated Leader of the Opposition, they noted.

“Nevertheless, as the Prime Minister said in his swearing-in speech on 27 July 2020, the results of the 2020 General Election have ‘shown a strong desire among Singaporeans for a greater diversity of views in politics’ and that ‘this trend is here to stay’,” they added.

“Designating a Leader of Opposition will recognise this desire while enabling our political system to evolve in a way that maintains our sense of national purpose.”

After the announcement, Mr Singh said in a Facebook post that he had met both the 13th Parliament’s Leader of the House Grace Fu and Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin earlier on Tuesday to be briefed on the formal appointment of the Leader of the Opposition.

“In light of the assignment of staff and resources to support the Opposition’s efforts in Parliament, I will confer with the NCMPs (Non-Constituency MPs) of the Progress Singapore Party (PSP) and extend my support, as appropriate, to them as well,” he wrote. 

PSP’s Hazel Poa and Leong Mun Wai will be taking up the two NCMP seats offered to the party after the election.

He noted that the Leader of the Opposition’s duties, privileges and remuneration as set out by the Speaker and Leader of the House here has largely followed the spirit of the convention as practised by the UK Parliament which, like many other Commonwealth parliaments, follow the practices set out in Erskine May’s book “Treatise on the Law, Privileges, Proceedings and Usage of Parliament”.

“I will speak in greater detail on the approach The Workers' Party will take in Parliament over the next term and what the public can expect, during the debate on the President’s address next month,” Mr Singh added.

Writing on Facebook, PM Lee noted that the 14th Parliament will have 12 Opposition members (10 elected MPs from WP and 2 NCMPs from PSP), “the largest number in recent history”.

“I hope to see not just more constructive debates, but serious policy alternatives from the opposition. Through this, not only will voters better understand the issues, but policies and plans will be improved with better outcomes for all Singaporeans,” he said. “I look forward to working with our colleagues across the aisle to build a better and stronger Singapore.” 

 

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