Vivian Balakrishnan apologises to Leong Mun Wai after ‘illiterate’ comment in Parliament goes viral
SINGAPORE — Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said on Wednesday (Sept 15) that he has called Mr Leong Mun Wai, the Progress Singapore Party (PSP) Non-Constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP), to apologise for “private comments to a colleague” in Parliament on Tuesday.
SINGAPORE — Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said on Wednesday (Sept 15) that he has called Mr Leong Mun Wai, the Progress Singapore Party (PSP) Non-constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP), to apologise for “private comments to a colleague” in Parliament on Tuesday.
Dr Balakrishnan said on Facebook: “I disagree with him on the issue, but I should not have said what I said. Mr Leong has accepted my apology.”
Mr Leong was involved in exchanges with several government ministers during a parliamentary session on Tuesday.
Finance Minister Lawrence Wong had tabled a motion on securing Singaporeans’ jobs and livelihoods, in response to PSP’s motion on Singapore's foreign talent policy that was filed by Mr Leong.
At one point during the marathon debate that lasted 11 hours and ended at 12.30am on Wednesday, Mr Leong tried to clarify some statistics that Manpower Minister Tan See Leng had referenced in his speech.
Just before he persisted in seeking clarifications, the microphone that Dr Tan was using captured a distant voice in the background that said: “He is illiterate.”
Later, the same voice was heard saying, “Seriously, how did he get into RI (Raffles Institution)?”, before continuing to say, “Must have been a lousy school”.
The mic, which parliamentarians usually mute after speaking, also picked up what sounded like Dr Tan’s response to it: “I am from Monk’s Hill (Secondary School).”
At the time, Dr Tan had just returned to his seat – next to Dr Balakrishnan and Mr Wong – after addressing Mr Leong.
The exchange, although brief, was streamed live on the Ministry of Communications and Information’s YouTube channel, and snippets later made the rounds on social media on Wednesday, with some commenters identifying the first voice to be Dr Balakrishnan’s.
Mr Leong told TODAY that Dr Balakrishnan had indeed called to convey his apology for what was said on a “hot mic”, adding: “I accepted his apology. Let’s put our time to better use for Singapore and Singaporeans.”
He, however, said that he is curious as to who the other persons in the conversation are, and wants to know why they held the educational institution that he had attended “in contempt”.
PSP secretary-general Francis Yuen made a veiled reference to the incident on Wednesday evening in a Facebook post on PSP’s maiden parliamentary motion.
“Yes, (the motion) may have been rejected by Parliament. But we believe the public knows and understands why we had to table the motion and get this debate going,” Mr Yuen said.
"Unlike some quarters who may find dissenting voices illiterate, we have confidence that our fellow Singaporeans are enlightened and educated, and will not miss the woods for the trees.”
PSP chairman Tan Cheng Bock also weighed in on the matter in another Facebook post.
“Our two NCMPs fought hard. Despite difficult odds, they endured relentless attacks and even disrespectful insults from PAP (People’s Action Party) MPs. Yet with great courage and tenacity, they persevered — and I am very proud of them,” Dr Tan wrote.