Rules of Prudence for Workers' Party MPs

 
WP MPs.jpg

Introduction

  1. Congratulations on your election as a Member of Parliament (MP).

  2. I thought it appropriate to write to you at this juncture, after you had taken your oath of Parliament and for some of you, after having better familiarized yourselves with the duties and responsibilities of being an elected town councilor.

  3. The contents of this letter were drafted with a view to motivate excellence in all the tasks you undertake as a MP. Please keep them close to your heart. Constantly reflect on your public service journey as a privilege that is open to the very few, particularly for those of us who stand with the opposition. I trust you will make the best use of your office and plan assiduously to look back with a sense of achievement and pride years down the road. You will very quickly come to realize, if you have not already, that hard work and self-discipline will be critical to a strong term in office.

    A Self-Respecting MP

  4. A Workers’ Party MP is a leader and key representative of the Workers’ Party. You must never forget this. Always remember, you are not voted as an independent MP but a flag bearer of the Workers’ Party.

  5. When you decided to stand as a candidate for the Party, you signed a declaration. One of its clauses resolved that if you were elected to Parliament, you would place your political work and service to your constituents as a priority. This is a straightforward clause, but your commitment to it will shape your success or failure in your constituency and the Town Council. At the national level, a MP’s Parliamentary oath, found in the Constitution, imposes similar duties and expectations.

  6. The truest reflection of your commitment and attitude as a Workers’ Party MP is not found in the number of likes, shares or positive feedback you receive online, but on what you do on the ground and say in Parliament. The Party has established a weekly baseline standard in so far as the minimum ground outreach that is expected of WP MPs including weekly house-visits and separately, walkabouts in your constituency. If you are a first-term MP and seek to anchor the Party’s presence in your constituency, this will have to be supplemented by other constituency-specific work. Much of your efforts come down to your personal commitment and willingness to become a “ground MP” and to reflect the aspirations and apprehensions of your constituents and fellow Singaporeans.

  7. A desire to be professional in all your dealings and a willingness to accept scrutiny from the public are critical if you want to make your term in office inspire your best efforts. You will not have the benefit of a grassroots organization funded to the tune of a billion dollars to support your work. Do not be overly burdened by this so much so that you are paralyzed into inaction or worse, underestimate the power of your personal involvement and attention to the constituency. Work the ground with your volunteers. Regularly conduct house visits and walk the shops in your constituency personally. Get to know residents, hawkers and commercial operators. Your constituents do not deserve any less. Most importantly, pay close attention to how you communicate the work of your Town Council to your residents. Do not fall into the trap of passivity, indifference or inertia, or you risk looking back at your term/s as an MP with regret and personal disappointment.

  8. In your capacity as a Town Councilor, you are a custodian of public funds. Take great caution and care in this regard and ensure that expenditures incurred are underwritten by proper approval processes and controls, and in compliance with the Town Council Financial Rules. As a ground MP, you will be expected to communicate regularly with Town Council management and staff and, from time to time, with the Town Council’s contractors. Set high standards in your Town Council along with your fellow town councilors. Do be very mindful about the laws covering corruption and do not allow yourself to come under undue influence of any contractor.

    Parliament

  9. The purpose of a backbencher, regardless of party, is to check the Government of the day.

  10. The ruling party will not take defeat lying down as they have made clear they contest elections to win every seat. Their MPs will also be free to scrutinize your position and views in the course of parliamentary debate, as they are entitled to. Expect robust questioning with multiple PAP MPs coming at you with different angles of attack or lines of questioning. A Parliamentary democracy is adversarial by design and you should not expect anything less. In view of the overwhelming numerical superiority of the PAP, expect to have your every word uttered in Parliament scrutinized and cross-referenced with what you or the Party has previously said.

  11. Read the Standing Orders of Parliament carefully to determine what sort of questions are permitted. For example, should your opponents’ exhibit a poor understanding of the Standing Orders, do not hesitate to seek the Speaker’s ruling on a point of order. Of course, you can only do this if you are familiar with the Standing Orders in the first place. Question your own motivations as you draft your parliamentary questions and speeches or when you rise to seek clarifications in Parliament. If it is to advance the interest and welfare of Singapore and Singaporeans, proceed fearlessly.

  12. Your term in office is a marathon. Consistent performance will count in the final reckoning. Always remember that our political opponents will marshal every resource at their disposal to defeat you at the next elections, or lower your esteem in the public eye at any opportunity, including on social media either directly, or through proxies.

  13. You are expected to attend and sit through all sessions of Parliament. You must seek permission from the Party Whip or Deputy Whip for leave in writing if you need to leave in between a parliamentary session. Separately, you must remain in the Chamber if a Bill or motion where you are speaking or have spoken on, is in progress. The Party expects its MPs to be active in Parliament, filing Parliamentary Questions regularly, in addition to speaking up on Bills. Your performance, the quality of your interventions and the regularity of your participation in Parliament will be closely scrutinized by voters.

  14. Do read the Parliament (Privileges, Powers and Immunities) Act, especially the relevant provisions on the receipt of gifts. Check with the SG or Chair if in doubt. Familiarize yourself intimately with the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore and the Prevention of Corruption Act.

  15. You may be invited to join Parliamentary trips or official trips overseas to represent the Parliament of Singapore or in other official capacities.  You are encouraged to do so. Please remember that as a small country, it is important for Singapore to speak with one voice on the international stage. Do confer with Government representatives or your parliamentary colleagues on the national position and check with the SG or Chair if in doubt, or if you are uncomfortable in supporting an official stand.

  16. As an MP, you will be invited by foreign embassies or their representatives for formal/informal meetings and discussions. You are required to inform the SG or Chair in writing of all such invitations before accepting them.

    Your signature as a WP MP

  17. Clear all public speaking and media engagements, and requests for a quote or opinion to the media - be it online or offline - with the Head of the Media Team who will then seek the SG or Chair’s clearance for your participation.

  18. Think carefully before you consider speaking in public at the invitation of any organisation or society. Should you choose to accept and the Party has approved your participation, consider your purpose and the key messages you want to leave with the audience. These must conform with the Party stance and seek to promote the Party as a rational, respectable and responsible entity in Singapore politics and reinforce the position of the Workers’ Party as a loyal opposition. Consult the Head of the Media team before accepting any invite for his/her inputs if in doubt. Ask yourself whether the signature of the organisation and/or your participation can be misconstrued, politicized or deemed to be perfunctory. If it can be, it would be politically naïve and even irresponsible to proceed.

  19. Do not take your grassroots volunteers for granted and engage with them regularly. It is a reality of politics that you will not be able to confirm the bona fides of people who join the Party’s cause at the first instance. Take guidance from the volunteer’s code of conduct, and on your part, lead by example. While volunteers are likely to be friendly and supportive, they will also look to you for leadership and watch your actions closely – are you more interested in the stature of becoming a MP and more focused on personal aggrandizement? Or are you a genuine ground MP who takes the time and effort to embed yourself in the community and respond promptly to residents’ issues while exercising initiative in addressing problems? For the avoidance of doubt, there is no place in Parliament for a Workers’ Party MP who falls in the former category.

    Meet-the-People Sessions and resident communication

  20. In the course of your work including meet-the-people sessions, you may meet individuals who highlight deficiencies in government policy. Do not jump to conclusions. You should find out as much as you can about the case in question and exercise judgment in assessing the case. For example, have you sufficiently interrogated the policy reasons behind the issue, can the policy can be improved, do extrinsic reasons explain the matter? etc. These should be some of the thoughts that cross your mind. In some cases, you should also reflect if you or your office are being manipulated as a tool to further the interests of an external cause or interest. Never forget that you serve the interests of Singapore and Singaporeans. Even so, remain open-minded even as you address the matter with empathy, as a Workers’ Party MP must be expected to. Earn the trust of your residents.

  21. You will not be able to satisfy all requests. Be straight and honest with your residents without losing your sense of empathy and compassion. If you do not have an answer for a resident, inform him/her that you will check and get back to them. Make sure that you do.

  22. In your enthusiasm and commitment to assist a resident or advance any issue, be courteous and professional in your dealings with civil servants and members of the public. You may find yourself writing to office-holders - or to MPs of other parties - to forward a case relevant to them.

    Hammer Outreach

  23. Hammer sales are a central Party activity that takes place over more than half of all Sunday mornings throughout the year. An MP is expected to participate in this activity and lead members to sell the Party newsletter to members of the public.

    Conclusion

  24. This letter has been drafted with a view to providing a basic outline that if followed, should give you the foundation for a successful and personally fulfilling term as an MP. No document will be able to capture all the do’s and don’ts of a Workers’ Party MP in a granular way. Nor can the Party provide a manual to ensure you have a successful and fruitful term of office. Your success or failure will ultimately turn on your professionalism, self-discipline and commitment towards your ground efforts and your desire to represent Singaporeans effectively in Parliament.

  25. I wish you the very best.