Consider a Second House?

The following illustration reflect the kind of Singapore a person experiences, at each stage of the nation’s progress:

The environment, beliefs, experiences, expectations of a person evolve with each decade. Consider a person in his/her 50s. Then, there was little public infrastructure, people communicated differently, businesses were much simpler and aspirations were a little different.

From time to time, I try to imagine how corporate life feels working without a laptop, email and a mobile phone. Perhaps a person in their 20s would find it unimaginable to keep track/stock of their friends without social media, blogs and real-time internet messaging.

I was born in a time when Singapore did not have an SMRT system, I traveled from Bedok to Jurong by (non-airconditioned) bus each week. This is in contrast to my father, whom was born in a time when he had to chase a bus in order to board it by jumping on.

The clock keeps moving – aspirations, wants, ideals and political beliefs all continue to change. I once had a discussion with a director (of a very famous property developer) about non-profit welfare movements. He shared, and I quote: “…you young people, so ready to do all these things. Once upon a time, we believed more in taking care about our own lives first and only when we’re very established, do we think about helping others”. Today, we want more participation… and not just passive agreement.

We want Action not Talk
It is reported that MPs and Ministers know that “young people want their voices heard and be part of nation building”. I beg for correction: young people not only want their voices heard, they want their ideas put into action and maybe even take responsibility themselves.

We are still a new nation. Like a new tree sprouting from the earth, it is very vulnerable to damage: wind, floods, predators, malnutrition, sabotage… it doesn’t take very much to kill this new plant. Culturally, economically and in many other ways, our roots have still yet to establish a firm grip. Now, I am by no means suggesting that by having any other party running this government would result in damage. Rather, I am suggesting that improper governance will result in irreversible damage to this country.

I am concerned at the proliferation of opposition parties and the candidates they are fielding. In today’s climate of “protest votes”, chances are high that a candidate of poor caliber gets voted into power. This is horrifying prospect. If we may paint an illustration; running a country is in many ways similar to running a business: you raise capital, you preserve capital, you look after people’s lives, you help meet everyone’s aspirations. But in the event of failure, the consequences are vastly different. You cannot just wind up a country, declare bankruptcy and look for a job. You will have lives and blood on your hands. Worse if you sour up international diplomatic relationships.

It is not going to be easy to tell a young, hopeful, ambitious opposition candidate all this. In this person is a bundle of energy eager to be released. I do not believe that we should kill this energy. Rather, in tandem with the Government’s position that we should engage the young, I believe that there is room in Parliament for such a person. I am talking about a Second Chamber.

The Second Chamber
In the Westminster model of Parliament, there is a House of Lords. Although they do not have real power over the moving of Bills, the House of Lords can delay the passing of new laws if there is strong disagreement. There is an increase of politically savvy individuals in Singapore and the Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP) program has saw many vocal, strong and well spoken individuals come in to speak on behalf of society. I disagree with the Worker’s Party and former PAP MP Mr. Tan Cheng Bock that the NMP program is “undemocratic”, far from that I believe it furthers democracy. Democracy is not just about being able to vote your leaders, it is also about a balance of powers.

Expanding on the existing NMP program could give rise to a new Second House – this could even be a means to further the training of good opposition, and this could be a platform where a “third opposition” can veto the movement of bills for reconsideration. Whether or not this Second Chamber has membership by voting or nomination, is another matter of discussion.

The modern legislative burden is immense. The number, size and complexity of Bills has increased enormously. Ideally, there should be a two-stage legislative process where Bills are examined by individuals representing different levels of society – even the ordinary clerk and hawker. A second chamber not only provides a longer process of scrutiny of legislation, it also allows Bills to be examined from a different point of view from people with different backgrounds, experiences and talents.

This proposal also relieves political pressure from the Government bench. Today, everything that goes wrong in this country is blamed on the PAP. This makes it very difficult for this Party to attract new talents and finding legitimacy in governing. The participation of the Second House provides the Government with a real sense of participation in Parliamentary proceedings.

There are many ways in which this can be implemented of course. Many technical details, amendments and modifications to this model. But the underlying reason for it’s construction, is to provide a platform for Singaporeans to engage in policy making. Because like it or not, sooner or later, the PAP will not be in control of this country and now is the time to start establishing new pockets of power to keep this country checking itself.

This is, another step towards *ahem* a first world Parliament.

 

About the author

Benjamin Chiang

Benjamin Chiang is an enthusiast of good advertising, deep thinking, labour issues and chocolate. He writes also at www.rangosteen.com and occasionally on Yahoo!

The views expressed are his own.

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1 Comment

  • it is not the business of the electorate to ensure the survival of any political parties… if anyone cant stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen… 2-way street… only the strongest will survive…. dont hate the player, hate the game..

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