“The pity is that most past NMPs (there have been 65 alumni since 1990) are distinguished less by their public persona than their anonymity. Why are their voices so rarely heard in public debates on matters of consequence?” (Speaking Up, After Being An NMP, The Straits Times Editorial).
“Why are their voices so rarely heard in public debates on matters of consequence?”, an editorial from The Straits Times (ST, Aug. 20) has questioned the lack of involvement in socio-political conversations by former Nominated Members of Parliament (NMPs). While the generalised assessment seems harsh, since a number of them pen regular commentaries or are involved in civil society and non-government organisations, perhaps it is true that others have instead chosen to concentrate on their careers and businesses after stints in Parliament.
But this apparent silence could be an indictment of the selections made by the parliamentary committees.
It would appear probable that some former NMPs – hailing from functional groups which are already well represented by elected parliamentarians or even government agencies – might not be able to contribute further to existing discourse. In this vein the selection of the NMPs comes under question. If the intent of the NMP scheme is to introduce independent and non-partisan voices in Parliament so as to broaden the scope of discussion, and yet if the profiles and discrete perspectives of the NMPs approximate closely to what is already out there, then it would follow that fresh insights would be rare. Some have therefore questioned the need to represent the labour unions and the banking or commerce industries through the NMP scheme.
Following the nomination of the nine NMPs this year, the Speaker of the House Mdm. Halimah Yacob explained that they were brought in for “their specialised knowledge to add to the depth and breadth of the debates in Parliament”. The Leader of the House Dr. Ng Eng Hen corroborated, saying that the new NMPs could “add to the discussions of issues facing Singapore in this term”. If so, their involvement in public debates should be sustained.
There is room for greater diversity, without compromising the quality of debates. Not only will the diversity attract participative slates of NMPs, it will also speak well of Parliament – and beyond.
A version of this article was published in The Straits Times.