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Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin took a few minutes during the Committee of Supply (COS) debates on Monday (Mar. 7) to remind Members of Parliament (MPs) on the parliamentary rules and processes when asking questions and seeking clarifications.
Tan said that as the Speaker, he would usually speak when the COS debates are over, but had to "make an exception" in that moment.
He said: "I'm sure Members are all very passionate about the respective topics, a lot of clarifications to ask. But I'm sure that many Members would also understand how the process works."
A Point of Order was called
Tan cited an earlier incident where Non-Constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP) Leong Mun Wai of the Progress Singapore Party (PSP) called for a Point of Order during the Ministry of Manpower's presentation.
Tan also noted that there had been discussions about tea break and guillotine times in Parliament the previous week.
Facebook posted by Leong Mun Wai
He then quoted a Mar. 6 Facebook post uploaded by Leong:
"I was made aware that Mr Leong Mun Wai had also posted on Facebook. I won't repeat everything but he made a comment... 'I have a number of clarifications to make but the Speaker didn't even give me the chance.'
And also he added, 'Completely ridiculous.'"
In a subsequent comment made on Mar. 7, Leong clarified that what he had said was "not personal" and that he was "fighting for Singaporeans".
The rules and processes
Tan went on to say:
"I'm sure Members understand how the process works. I'm not here to speculate the intents and purpose of various Members' postings. But I thought it was opportune for me to refresh everyone's memories about how this ought to work and why.
Now, Members are aware that all of you would submit cuts, and the formula as to how it works is this: 40 per cent of the time comprises your cuts, 50 per cent of the time would comprise the response time from the ministries, and 10 per cent of the time allocated for clarifications.
All of you are aware of that. I believe we also do have reminders sent out to all of you."
The COS debates allow parliamentarians to examine each ministry’s plans for the year. MPs file “cuts” to speak on issues.
Tan subsequently read out the reminders that parliamentarians were given regarding the parliamentary process prior to the COS debates.
He explained further:
"Essentially, we have a time allocated for clarifications. And there's a guillotine time, we work that out on a scheduled basis. We would update that on a daily basis, and you're made aware of that time so that we can continue to proceed with other orders of business.
I think it's important for us to understand that, especially for the public, as to how this works. And if there are further queries... I know many of you would like to ask clarifications and we are not always able to accommodate. In fact, many of you text me grumbling about why... how come you got an important question to ask, but you can't ask. I hope that you bear with me for that."
Guillotine is an order made by the Speaker in fixing the time allowed for debates on a particular matter.
“Guillotine times” figure prominently during COS debates. They are strictly enforced in order that the House may complete the debate on the estimates of expenditure within a stipulated number of days.
Tan also stated that he keeps track of all the parliamentarians he has called and writes their names on a piece of paper to ensure they are each allocated a fair amount of time to seek qualifications and ask questions.
"I would like to give opportunities for various Members from various parties to be able to speak," he added.
He subsequently listed out names of the parliamentarians he had called in the earlier debate, which included Desmond Choo, Yip Hon Weng, Patrick Tay, Louis Chua, Liang Eng Hwa, Gerald Giam, Abdul Samad, Jamus Lim, Leader of Opposition Pritam Singh, and Sharael Taha.
In total, Tan has called on 5 PAP MPs, 4 WP MPs and 1 nominated MP.
He also read out some names of parliamentarians, including Leong, who had wanted to speak but was not allowed to do so as they had reached the guillotine time.
He did not call upon 4 PAP MPs, 1 WP MP, 1 NCMP and 1 NMP.
"I thought that as a matter of record, it would be useful to just state this. I would not pretend nor do I wish to speculate as to why comments are made, but I thought this might be useful to remind all Members of how the process works."
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