Vivian Balakrishnan apologises to Leong Mun Wai after 'He's illiterate' comment picked up by Parliament live mic

PSP said that it is "very proud" of Leong and fellow NCMP Hazel Poa for speaking out on the plights of PMETs.

Syahindah Ishak | September 15, 2021, 07:08 PM

Editor's note: The article was updated to include NCMP Leong Mun Wai's statement to Mothership.

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Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan has apologised to Non-Constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP) Leong Mun Wai for private comments made in Parliament yesterday (Sep. 14) where he allegedly called the latter "illiterate".

Leong, who is from the Progress Singapore Party, made headlines after he got into a one-hour heated debate with Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam in Parliament on Sep. 14.

It was part of a 10-hour parliamentary debate on Singapore's foreign talent policy that included three ministers rebutting PSP's statements on Singapore's free trade agreements (FTAs).

Leong had introduced a motion on Singapore's foreign talent policy, with a particular focus on the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA), Singapore's FTA with India.

The motion stated:

"This Parliament calls upon the government to take urgent and concrete action to address the widespread anxiety among Singaporeans on jobs and livelihood caused by the Foreign Talent Policy and the 'movement of natural persons' provisions in some free trade agreements like CECA."

In his speech, Finance Minister Lawrence Wong criticised the PSP motion as having "strong racist and xenophobic undertones", and echoed what Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said previously, saying that the government is prepared to "fight any party that chooses to take a populist line and stirs racism and xenophobia".

In his exchanges with Leong, Shanmugam also noted that PSP and Leong "are doing is one of the worst types of political opportunism - using race as a bait". 

"Seriously, how did he get into RI?"

However, things took a turn towards the end of the Parliament session when criticisms about Leong were picked up by live microphones.

The voice could be heard saying:

"He's illiterate... Seriously, how did he get into RI? Must have been a lousy school."

The incident was first noticed and picked up by online forum users, and highlighted by a Reddit user.

Although it wasn't clear who made those remarks, many online commenters have since pointed out that the voice sounded like it belonged to Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, who was seated in front of the microphones.

In the clips, the microphone at the podium where Minister Tan See Leng spoke was red, indicating that it had not been switched off.

"Disappointing to hear Cabinet minister say what he said"

In response to the incident, PSP's Central Executive Committee (CEC) member Harish Pillay posted a tweet, saying that ad hominem statements are "never okay".

Harish, PSP's GE2020 candidate in Tanjong Pagar GRC, said he was disappointed to hear a "cabinet minister say what he said".

"Respect and trust takes time to build but lost in seconds," he added.

Pillay also uploaded footage of the Parliament session with time stamps of the incident.

Leong accepts apology

In a statement to Mothership, Leong said that he received a call from Minister Vivian, where he conveyed his apology.

Leong accepted Vivian's apology and urged everyone to "put our time to better use for Singapore and Singaporeans".

However, Leong expressed curiosity about the other persons involved, and "the reason why they held the institution that I attended in contempt".

Leong studied in Raffles Institution in the 1970s.

PSP "very proud" of Leong

In a Facebook post on Wednesday (Sep. 15), PSP said that it is "very proud" of Leong and fellow NCMP Hazel Poa for speaking out on the plight of PMETs.

PSP added:

"Yes, our maiden Parliamentary motion may have been rejected by Parliament. But we believe the public knows and understand why we had to table the motion and get this debate going.

Unlike some quarters who may find dissenting voices illiterate, we have confidence that our fellow Singaporeans are enlightened and educated, and will not miss the woods for the trees."

Here's the full Facebook post:

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Top image via Reddit/melancholysg29.