Jun 17, 2014

    NMP scheme has outlived purpose

    PUBLIC engagement has become increasingly open and direct in today's wired Singapore.

    With multiple platforms for an increasingly vocal electorate to raise issues, offer alternative views and engage directly with politicians, I wonder if there is still a need for the Nominated MP (NMP) scheme, which was launched in 1990 to inject alternative voices in Parliament.

    This is a relevant question to ask as a new batch of nine NMPs is expected to be sworn in, come August.

    Back in 1990, there were only two elected opposition MPs in the House. Today, there are seven, plus three non-constituency MPs who are also from the opposition ranks.

    In the 1990s, NMPs, who were experts in various fields including business, law and civil society, added diversity to parliamentary debates.

    But today, alongside greater opposition representation, the wireless sphere has permanently altered ways in which alternative views, or for that matter any kind of view, can be shared between the public and the country's leaders.

    Social media platforms such as Facebook, for example, have allowed politicians to take debates from Parliament into the public sphere.

    The recent debate on the President's Address saw many MPs sharing texts and videos of the more fiery and robust debates on Facebook.

    The exchange between Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Workers' Party chief Low Thia Khiang over constructive politics, for example, galvanised citizens, who took to the Net to express their views.

    Online platforms have allowed politicians to take on "alternative" causes that lie outside their official portfolios. Law and Foreign Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam has become known for being a sympathiser of animal rights after he spoke out on Facebook last year when a pup was euthanised by its owners.

    His comments online are a sign of changing times, where politicians pick up on and engage with varied views shared by the public.

    Opposition members too have made use of the Web to offer suggestions and say why they disagree with various government policies.

    As a young voter and digital native, I keenly track these developments. They give me better insight into the views of politicians I have elected to Parliament, and the candidates I am looking out for at the next polls.

    But where then does that leave NMPs? They may be tasked by Parliament to speak up on behalf of various groups in the nation's highest law-making body, but that is of little value to me because their powers in the august chambers have always been limited.

    They cannot vote on constitutional amendments, supply and money Bills, a motion of no confidence, or a motion to remove the President.

    And while they have raised the level of debate in the House on many occasions, they are ultimately answerable to no one, chosen only by a Special Select Committee of Parliament.

    They cannot be voted in or out, nor effect legislative change in ways elected MPs can. This makes me question if my causes and concerns can be properly represented by them in the House.

    The basic element of a democracy consists of the people electing representatives who must be able to reflect their views and fight for better policies to make our country better. They are accountable to the public who elected them.

    Some have argued that in this increasingly charged political climate, the non-partisan voice is ever more critical. This does not ring true to me.

    These supposedly non-partisan NMPs themselves each represent sectoral interests, such as the arts, education and the unions, and, more often than not, they rise to speak in Parliament only along these lines. They too are partisan, though not necessarily along political party lines.

    Further, with increased political competition, every elected seat in the House is fought for, and it seems unfair and unnecessary to let NMPs enter through a "back door".

    The NMP scheme appears to me to have outlived its purpose.