Politics take a backseat in time of crises, the Workers' Party supported govt's fight against Covid: Pritam Singh

"We called for a unity of purpose and for politics to take a backseat."

Keyla Supharta | March 21, 2023, 05:48 PM

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The public can expect the Workers' Party (WP) to support national efforts in times of crises, leader of the opposition Pritam Singh said during the Parliament debate on the Covid-19 White Paper on Mar. 20.

Singh outlined his speech in three parts. First, WP's role as a responsible opposition during Covid-19. Second, what WP did to support national efforts. Lastly, WP's political posture in times of crises.

Playing the role of a responsible opposition during Covid-19

Firstly, WP focused on playing the role of a responsible and loyal opposition throughout Covid-19, Singh shared.

"We did not abdicate our role of holding the government to account as the design of our political system demands," he said.

Instead, WP put forth proposals to handle the Covid-19 crisis as part of their General Election manifesto, despite the lack of information available at that time, paying special attention on managing foreign workers dormitories and shifting attitudes towards these workers.

After the election, WP focused on raising Covid-19 specific matters in Parliament including:

  • Recalibration of Covid-19 controls for Singaporeans visiting their terminally-ill family members.
  • Vaccination safety protocols for children.
  • Clarifying the government’s stand on TraceTogether with regard to its applicability for criminal investigations.
  • Reasons behind the delay in letting migrant workers be reintegrated into the community.

The Fortitude Budget speech in June 2020 saw WP suggesting the appointment of a Commission of Inquiry or another independent body to review specific aspects of the government's Covid-19 response up to that time.

WP's position as a "constructive opposition" required them to express of the feelings of Singaporeans in Parliament which "necessarily includes a public expectation of government accountability".

Such doing would remind the government that Singaporeans had the right to expect a thorough review and account the government for its response towards the pandemic.

Pritam Singh asks about report prepared by Peter Ho, former Head of Civil Service

The White Paper, prepared by the Prime Minister's Office, highlights Singapore's response to Covid-19 and attempts to offer a "balanced and objective account by synthesising data, facts, and perspectives gathered".

The White Paper drew on a Covid-19 After Action Review (AAR) which was overseen by the former head of civil service, Peter Ho.

The AAR analysed the government's performance during the pandemic and included interviews with key participants in the crisis, including ministers and civil servants. It also included various reviews by government agencies and perspectives from private and public sectors.

But since the White Paper drew on the findings from AAR, it would make the report a secondary document and not an original document. Meanwhile, the AAR is not before the House.

"While the White Paper acknowledges some shortcomings in the Government response, Singaporeans do not know what has been excluded from the original reports and reviews referenced in this White Paper produced by the Prime Minister’s Office," Singh said.

He asked why the government decided against publishing the original AAR in full, and asked for it to be made public to Parliament so "MPs and Singaporeans" could better understand the breadth of perspectives, the data and facts, and "draw their own conclusions".

How WP supported the government's Covid-19 efforts

"Clearly, a unity of purpose was the need of the hour," Singh said while moving on to his second point, focusing on how WP supported the government's Covid-19 efforts.

He said in some countries, the government's approach to the pandemic were attacked by opposition parties trying to gain political mileage. However, the WP did not do this. It did not "ride on misinformation" nor contribute to misunderstandings over national policies.

The WP encouraged Singaporeans to clarify their doubts through proper channels instead.

"For example, in the middle of 2021, MP for Sengkang Jamus Lim came out to clarify that the tragic death of a young resident was not due to Covid, as was being openly propagated by some individuals online, ostensibly to sow doubts about vaccine safety," Singh said.

As the elderly were more susceptible to the virus, WP also worked closely in ensuring that senior citizens were protected against Covid-19 by getting vaccinated.

Singh thanked former WP secretary-general Low Thia Khiang for agreeing to put out a video in Mandarin and Teochew explaining his experience with vaccination and why it was important for senior citizens to get vaccinated.

Singh acknowledged and thanked other WP members and volunteers who contributed to the government's Covid-19 efforts.

For instance, WP's He Ting Ru shared that she took her vaccination while still breastfeeding to assure concerns from nursing mothers, and other WP members donated to the Courage Fund under the National Council for Social Services which sought to provide support to lower-income households affected by Covid-19.

WP’s political posture during Covid-19

Lastly, Singh shared on WP's political posture during Covid-19 and what the public can expect from them when such crises strike in the future.

"As early as February 2020, when the Unity Budget was announced, the Workers' Party made clear the tone we would take on the Covid-19 crisis.

We called for a unity of purpose and for politics to take a backseat. In June 2020 as we exited the Circuit Breaker, and a few weeks before the elections, I reiterated in my speech on the Fortitude Budget, that the Workers’ Party did not come in to publicly criticise the government on its handling of an unprecedented crisis.

We were determined to support, and not undermine the national effort."

Singh said that WP will continue to lead with this approach in times of national crisis, as a political party not in government. At the time of the pandemic, they implemented necessary protocols and did not compromise with national measures or the safety of Singaporeans.

In the event of potentially problematic rules when operationalised on the ground, WP's town council officers would submit feedback to the agencies concerned.

"We took the view that any feedback would be taken seriously by civil servants and we endeavoured to work as one Singapore. As has come to be expected of our public officers, they did not let us down," Singh said.

"In times of crisis, we will unite as a country, as a society, and as a polity."

Singh paid tribute to the workers "in the trenches" and "supporting the fight", from nurses to cleaners to doctors to delivery persons and drivers, and called them "heroes."

He also commended the public officers, such as civil servants, teachers and men and women in uniform, and said we must honour them for trying to allow Singaporeans to live their lives as normally as possible, while keeping us safe.

Singh paid tribute to those who have lost family members to Covid and people who suffered from Covid-19 or vaccine-related ailments, and hoped that the Ministry of Health will follow up on vaccine injury claims.

He also expressed appreciation to the Multi-Ministerial Task Force for their efforts in guiding Singapore through Covid-19.

"The Workers’ Party supports the motion to the extent that it expresses gratitude to all in Singapore who contributed to the nation’s fight against Covid-19 and affirms the government’s efforts to learn from lessons of the last three years," Singh said as he ended his speech.

Nominated MP Joshua Raj Thomas praised WP for not "seeking to opportunistically seek political mileage" in Parliament during his speech on March 21.

He commended Singh and WP for standing in unity and supporting the government in times of crisis, allowing the government to focus on dealing with critical and urgent issues instead of being distracted by political challenges.

"It gives me confidence, and it should give all Singaporeans confidence, that in times of crisis, we will unite as a country, as a society, and as a polity," Thomas said.

You can watch Singh's full speech here.

Top image via MCI/YouTube.