Let’s ask… what happens in a “Meet The People Session”
For obvious reasons, I will not be quoting real names, branches and MPs when I quote MPS cases in this article.
Most of us have heard of the Meet-The-People’s sessions. Some of us have benefited from MP assistance. Some say “No use one lah…go also no use”, however many have also experienced real help delivered by the political parties – even in “impossible” situations.
Here are some examples:
“David” had problems paying his parking fines which amounted to the tens of thousands of dollars. He had requested to have his parents (below 50 years) CPF released to assist him to pay. Appeal was successful.
“Siti” required assistance to have her daughter get placement into a secondary school nearer to her home. She currently has to send her daughter too far away to attend her studies. Appeal was successful.
“Sohail” had been trying to get a BTO. He already is married, has children and currently living with 5 other family members in a cramped apartment. but was not successful in his first attempt. He managed to get it on the second attempt, but was not sure if it was because of his appeal that got him a better chance.
“Tan” is a taxi driver, he already has very few points and recently run a red light, causing him to lose all his driving license. He says that driving is his only rice bowl and appeals for help. His appeal was not successful.
What is an MPS?
In Singapore, every elected Member of Parliament is required by protocol to attend a weekly “Meet The Peoples” session. Residents of a constituency (or constituents) can meet up with the MP and writers will draft a petition letter on their behalf. These are then sent to Government bodies, corporations or registered groups. The only caveat is that no MP is supposed to write directly to the Court or any Judge – this is because our system of justice cannot be subject to “influence” (You can however, ask for an appeal to the prosecutor).
The PAP requires all their MPs to attend the MPS (schedule willing). This program helps them to interact with the bottom 20% of society, understand their hardships and when crafting their policies, have these people in mind. They are required to stay late into the night if necessary (it is not uncommon that MPs, and their writers) work into the wee hours, even as late as 3am.
Key appointment holders such as the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, Senior Minister, Mr. Lee Kuan Yew and (we cannot confirm) ESM Goh Chock Tong, usually appoint a “Second Adviser”. The reason for this is that letters sent out from their constituency will not carry special privileges for the resident or add extra pressure to the receiver. This prevents the Government, it’s civil servants or even private companies to act contrary to usual practice or legal ways just because they receive a letter by a very heavyweight personality.
What happens during MPS?
Each MP will conduct his/her session differently. Some will have their appeal heard first by a writer, before meeting the MP. Some MPs will go from table to table to attend to each resident and writer. Smaller sessions will see the residents meeting the MP directly.
Here’s an overview of the process:
1) Resident will register and take a queue number
2) Resident will meet with petition writer who will take the case
3) Resident will then proceed to meet the MP to discuss problems
4) MP will then assist the resident to make an appeal via the petition letter. Urgent cases will be faxed out the next day, otherwise all letters will be mailed
5.) After the appeal, give about two weeks for a reply
What is the Success Rate?
Many factors. Genuine cases of financial hardship, bread and butter issues, maybe even cut utility bills arising from monetary difficulties can have high chances. (However, it is difficult to assess if a resident is genuinely needs help…it is not up to the MP or writer to judge. These cases are often referred to the Community Development Council (CDC) for evaluation). If they are found to be in trouble, financial assistance, emergency utility reinstatement funds and ComCare funds, free healthcare from government clinics etc can be rendered immediately by the CDC (not the MPS). Some branches practice temporary relief through Fairprice vouchers/ EZ Link cards. There are limited numbers of vouchers/cards available and the MP would issue them at his/her discretion
Then there are immigration cases. Oftentimes, these are from Singaporeans who marry foreign spouses. ICA never tells you the reason for rejection (this is because if they put something in black and white, chances are you can find loopholes and work around it). It is hard to tell the success rate of these – especially with anti-forigner sentiment so high in the country.
There is also appeal for reduction/waiver in traffic fines. Usually the resident will already know in his/her heart what the chances are. However, for any court cases concerning traffic (or any other criminal offense actually), no political party including the PAP, has the right to write to the Judge or the Court. Thus, MPS session will not accept any court cases. For help in this area, there are legal clinics (available in some constituencies) and they can refer you to Legal Aid if you are in financial difficulty. As mentioned earlier, the MP can also appeal to the Prosecutor (TP, LTA etc) not to pursue the case and for leniency.
What happens after appeal?
All letters (including opposition MPs) written in to Government departments, Ministries and Stat Boards require a reply: even it if is merely a “yes, we have received your letter and are considering the case”.
Private companies (banks, telcos etc), are not obliged to respond to MP letters. Theirs is a private agenda and sometimes they do reply and assist out of courtesy, but they are not compelled to take any action. But you never know, it depends also on the personal relationships that the politicians have with these private companies… it is after all humans that respond to letters.
Here is some practical advice you can use:
If you have matters that are very urgent or you know will result in a court case, utility termination or overstay in the country, please, please, please do not wait until the last minute. Prepare well in advance, months in advance if possible
Be prepared to wait at least 2 weeks or more: you’ll be writing to bureaucracy and your appeal will have to pass many eyes to be properly considered
You can meet the MP for any problem. Job placement, appeal for getting HDB, financial hardship, defects in your HDB property, crime (although i’d advice you to go to the police first), NS deferment, highlight your views on inflation, COE, foreigners etc, all sorts of private problems. All of these problems are then documented for later study
If there are problems in your estate; upgrades, defects, crime etc, you are encouraged to bring these up to the MP and their team of writers. As the Town Council is run by the MP of the area, he or she would have direct interest in getting these local problems fixed promptly
MPS is not a government department
There is no law that prevents opposition parties in running their own form of MPS or to build an office at the void deck to conduct their businesses
Petition writers are volunteers and almost always a Party activist
In a nutshell: MPS is a political tool for both the residents and their parties to use. It is a regular avenue for residents to reach their MPs easily for assistance and/or communication