Tuesday, 30 January 2007

My Essay

As part of the nomination process to become a NMP, I had to submit an essay together with the proposal form. My essay is reproduced below.

I must admit that the thought of being a Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP) had never crossed my mind. I simply didn’t think I could be eligible.

Looking at the Constitutional requirements for NMPs, I did not think I qualified, as I hardly see myself as having “rendered distinguished public service”, or “brought honour to the Republic”, or “distinguished” myself in the various fields cited.

But then I was asked to think about it, and to think about whether I felt I could contribute to Singapore as a NMP. And I thought long and hard about it before deciding to put myself forward for consideration by the Special Select Committee.

I suppose I was asked because of the news commentaries that I’ve written for the TODAY newspaper in the past 3 years or so. Like many Singaporeans, I have a lot of views on the world around me. Unlike most Singaporeans, I am fortunate that TODAY has offered me a platform to voice many of them.

The only way in which I feel like I could possibly have “distinguished” myself in the fields of the letters, culture, or media, is in how I have presented (or at least consistently tried to present) a fresh, independent perspective on issues of the day in a reasoned and balanced manner. I do believe that this is rare in Singapore, where the conventional wisdom is that people are, for whatever reason, reluctant to publicly speak up on issues.

While I do advocate my personal opinions in my pieces, I have always tried to ensure that they are supported by sound arguments. And I am open to alternative views held by others, provided they are logical and persuasive. If I think an argument makes sense, I am willing to pursue it and to speak my mind, even if it runs the risk of upsetting people. I am convinced that, in the long run, Singapore would be better-off if more people did the same.

I do not purport to represent any particular constituency or group. I cannot, because I have not been elected to any position by anyone. I am also not nominated by the professional groups, so I do not purport to represent the legal profession (which is, on the whole, already fairly well-represented in Parliament).

By the same token, I do not represent, and am not beholden to, any specific group. I do not have vested interests, and will not feel compelled to advance any particular agenda. Whatever I say will be what I honestly believe to be fair, reasonable, and for the good of Singapore and Singaporeans as a whole. I will not skew the debate in any particular direction.

Still, even though I do not claim to represent anyone, my views will inevitably be representative of what a young, single, 30-something Internet-savvy professional of an archetypal “elite” background (Gifted Education Programme, Raffles Institution, Raffles Junior College, National University of Singapore law school) might think. After all, that is exactly what I am.

But at the same time, my views are tempered by my upbringing. I lived in a 3-room HDB flat until I was 21, sharing a bedroom with my brother and sister. My dad had a business that failed in the aftermath of the 1985 recession, after which he worked in a SME. My mum held various blue-collar jobs, including being a factory worker and hawker. I first flew on a plane at 22. That same year, I first went overseas beyond Peninsular Malaysia. This fairly humble background informs my thoughts, beliefs and value system.

So where am I going with all this? Well, I think the above paragraphs set out what would be the essence of my contribution to Parliamentary proceedings, should I be appointed as a NMP.

It is the willingness to voice an alternative viewpoint, however unpopular that view might be; the discipline to ensure that any views espoused are backed by reasoned arguments; the open-mindedness to consider alternative arguments; the independence and neutrality of not being bound or obliged to advocate the agenda of any specific interest group; and last but not least, the ability to straddle the perceived gap between the “elite” and the “non-elite”, to see things as an upwardly-mobile professional might and yet to understand the concerns and feelings of those struggling in the face of globalisation.

Following on from the above, the issues I am most likely to address in Parliament if I am appointed as a NMP include probably one of the most pressing questions facing us today: how do we help the low-income, the disadvantaged, the less-privileged, anyone and everyone who is struggling in Singapore today?

This is an area that I have frequently touched on in TODAY. It is something I feel very strongly about, and I attribute that to my personal background. As a prosperous, developed country, we can afford to, and we should, help those amongst us who are less fortunate. It is a moral obligation for those of us who have done well.

I certainly intend to continue touching on this area, with the ultimate aim being to help create more effective policies to ameliorate the adverse effects of globalization such as stagnant wages, rising costs, and the growing income gap.
Indeed, if appointed as a NMP, I intend to volunteer for grassroots work, so as to better understand and appreciate the hopes and fears of the low-income and disadvantaged. That is the least I can do, to ensure that I am able to appropriately discharge the duties of a NMP and contribute effectively to Parliamentary debate.

Other issues I am likely to address include consumer protection, and animal welfare. These are issues that I care about, where I feel that more discussion in Parliament can help result in more effective policies.

For instance, I believe that more can and should be done to protect consumers. In many ways, Singapore is an extremely pro-business society, sometimes at the expense of consumers. It would be to the overall benefit of Singaporeans for this balance to be reviewed. The existing consumer protection legislation can and should be expanded – indeed, there is currently a group working on extending it to include financial services, and I would support such a legislative initiative.

Similarly, animal welfare issues have rarely featured in Parliament, and I think there should be more discussion. Gandhi once said, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” Unfortunately, Singapore would fall short by that measure. There would certainly be an intangible, but invaluable, benefit to society and Singaporeans, if we were to place a higher value on the welfare of animals. These issues include the illegal trade in endangered species, the regulation of pet shops and animal breeders, the effectiveness of existing policies on controlling stray cats, and a re-evaluation of the appropriate penalties for animal abuse offences.

Finally, as a lawyer by training, and in particular an intellectual property and technology lawyer, I will also touch on legal issues close to my heart. These include access to justice, intellectual property policy, privacy, media and Internet regulation and freedom of speech. These may be mostly abstract issues divorced from the bread-and-butter realities of day-to-day life, but I think they are crucial for Singapore’s long-term success.

For instance, even as Singapore loosens up in areas such as the arts and entertainment, the political arena remains tightly regulated. If we believe that Singapore’s future lies in innovation and success in the knowledge-based industries that we are targeting, then we must open up in all arenas. The distinction drawn between political and non-political spheres is artificial, and I suspect it would inhibit our success in the medium or long term.

To conclude, I will return to what I started off discussing: why I decided to put myself forward for consideration by the Special Select Committee. After I was asked, and I thought about all these things that I have written about above, it became clear to me that I could not in good faith decline.

If I have an opportunity to serve the people, then it would not be right to not even try. I felt duty-bound to put myself forward for consideration. To my mind, that is the least I could do as a citizen of Singapore. If selected as a NMP, I will serve to the best of my ability. If not, I will simply continue to contribute to Singapore however I can.

Note: The Special Select Committee should also be aware, that my employer has requested, and I have agreed, that I refrain from voting on any bills that will affect my employer as a foreign MNC operating in Singapore. This is to avoid any possible conflicts of interests. As NMPs are not permitted to vote on the Budget, I do not think that this will materially affect my ability to discharge my duties as a NMP. I have also been asked to disclose that I do from time to time, and will continue to, negotiate contracts between my employer and the Government in the course of my work.

1 comment:

Harish said...

Kum Hong -

First of all, congratulations on your appointment as a NMP. I am certain that you will do justice to this effort.

It is great that you have posted your essay online for it is my belief that this is the best way we can engender a converstation that could, some day, be echoed into the House.

I have not checked if any of the other electedMPs, NMPs, NCMPs, walkoverMPs have a blog, but I sure hope that you are not the only one.

I hope the next 2.5 years would be productive for you and Singapore!