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Budget 2022 debates saw highest participation by MPs in 5 years even though Covid-19 sidelined several

SINGAPORE — This year's Committee of Supply debates were directly affected by Covid-19, with several Members of Parliament (MPs) struck down by the coronavirus at various points.

Leader of the House Indranee Rajah speaking in Parliament on March 11, 2022.
Leader of the House Indranee Rajah speaking in Parliament on March 11, 2022.
  • This year's Committee of Supply debates in Parliament saw "the highest level of participation" in the last five years, said Leader of the House Indranee Rajah
  • This was despite the absence of Members of Parliament (MP) due to the Covid-19 pandemic
  • She said that this year's debate was also "unusual and memorable" as it took place against the backdrop of climate change and war in Europe
  • Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin reminded MPs to be mindful of facts when using stories in Parliament

SINGAPORE — This year's Committee of Supply debates were directly affected by Covid-19, with several Members of Parliament (MPs) struck down by the coronavirus at various points.

Despite that, the debates in Parliament saw the highest level of participation in the last five years with a total of 639 "cuts" filed, 73 hours of debate and 66 speakers.

MPs file “cuts” to speak on issues under the various government ministries’ purview.

About 130 parliamentary questions were also posed and answered in the past two weeks of debate, said Leader of the House Indranee Rajah.

This is the highest level of participation in the last five years, despite the reduced numbers of MPs able to attend Parliament.
Leader of the House Indranee Rajah

"This is the highest level of participation in the last five years, despite the reduced numbers of MPs able to attend Parliament,” she added, during her speech in Parliament on Friday (March 11).

The number of cuts filed this year surpassed the 569 cuts filed last year, which was the highest in the past decade. The preceding year in 2020 saw 531 cuts filed.

Last year’s debate also involved 65 speakers and totalled 71.5 hours. A total of 195 parliamentary questions were answered.

‘UNUSUAL AND MEMORABLE’ DEBATE

Delivering the customary speech by the Leader of the House at the end of the Budget process, Ms Indranee said that this year’s debate on government spending was “both unusual and memorable” for several reasons.

Firstly, although Singapore has been battling the pandemic for more than two years, this is the first time it had reached the chamber, affecting the attendance of MPs on both sides of the aisle.

Among the MPs infected with Covid-19 during the Committee of Supply debates this year were: Ms Carrie Tan of Nee Soon Group Representation Constituency (GRC), Mr Gan Thiam Poh (Ang Mo Kio GRC) and Workers’ Party (WP) MP Sylvia Lim (Aljunied GRC), who is chair of the party.

Others, such as Leader of the Opposition Pritam Singh, also had to isolate themselves after being exposed to the virus.

Ms Indranee did not disclose the number of MPs afflicted with Covid-19 or forced to isolate.

Special seating arrangements were also put in place in Parliament so that MPs “could feel at ease about attending”, said Ms Indranee.

Earlier this week, MPs who were close contacts of Covid-19 cases but tested negative on their antigen rapid test had to deliver their speeches from the galleries on the third level of Parliament, instead of on the first floor.

Secondly, this year’s Budget was developed against the backdrop of climate change “which is becoming more urgent by the day”, said the Leader of the House.

Third, the global situation changed with Russia's invasion of Ukraine just before the Committee of Supply convened to debate the Budget.

The situation was a reminder that independence, the right to self-determination and territorial sovereignty cannot be taken for granted by small countries such as Singapore, said Ms Indranee.

Against this backdrop, we debated and approved one of our most transformative Budgets to date, setting ourselves on a path towards becoming a fair, greener and more inclusive and overall more progressive Singapore.
Leader of the House Indranee Rajah

“Against this backdrop, we debated and approved one of our most transformative Budgets to date, setting ourselves on a path towards becoming a fair, greener and more inclusive and overall more progressive Singapore,” she said.

DIFFERENCES IN APPROACH TO TAX

In her speech, Ms Indranee also took the opportunity to lay out the differences between the Government and the WP on their approach to taxes so that people “can look at it and make their own judgements and determinations”.

The opposition party had objected to the Goods and Services Tax (GST) hike, saying it came at a “difficult time” for Singaporeans.

Ms Indranee said that the Government believes that the structures it has in place are “fair and progressive” as although the GST will rise, the low-income will not be hurt due to schemes such as the GST Voucher Scheme to cushion its impact.

The tax burden is manageable for all segments of society so that there is incentive for all to work hard and enjoy the benefits of their work, even as they contribute to Singapore’s revenues.

She added that the Government maintains the protection of the reserves and will use the income on the reserves equitably.

Ms Indranee said that while the WP preferred not to raise the GST, its proposal is to “tax companies more, tax the rich more or use more of the reserves”.

She said from the Government’s perspective, it is too early to adjust corporate taxes. Higher taxes for the rich could also drive away talent and wealth from Singapore, leading to higher taxes on the middle-income.

“Using more of the reserves will also mean leaving less behind for the next generation and imposing higher taxes on them,” said Ms Indranee.

She also reminded MPs to maintain decorum, both in and outside of the House, even as they have robust debate.

On Tuesday, Non-Constituency Member of Parliament Leong Mun Wai from the Progress Singapore Party had apologised for social media posts he published that was said to have “impugned” Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin and the processes of Parliament.

Ms Indranee concluded her speech by thanking everyone who had contributed to Budget 2022.

CALL FOR MPS TO BE MINDFUL OF FACTS

Following Ms Indranee, Mr Tan rose to deliver his speech wrapping up the last two weeks of debate.

The Speaker said that while it is easy to critique policies, it is much harder when one bears the responsibility of translating ideas, views and opinions in reality.

But while MPs are unable to satisfy “every need and want”, they nevertheless endeavour to do their best.

Mr Tan also reminded MPs that even as they use stories to illustrate gaps and concerns in policies, they must be mindful of the facts and contexts of the stories they use.

Do we play fast and loose with the stories we use? Do we just lift facts from chat groups or wherever it may be? Do we use anecdotes without actually checking whether it’s true? Do we verify?
Speaker Tan Chuan-Jin advising MPs to stick to the facts

He said: “Do we play fast and loose with the stories we use? Do we just lift facts from chat groups or wherever it may be? Do we use anecdotes without actually checking whether it’s true? Do we verify?

“Or is it a case of just simply because, ‘I believe it is true and therefore it is’?”

Mr Tan closed his speech by saying he was grateful to all MPs from both sides of the House who had contributed to the debates, laying a better foundation for Singapore’s future.

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