SINGAPORE: The Non-Constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP) from Progress Singapore Party (PSP), Mr Leong Mun Wai, took to Facebook on Monday to state that Parliamentarians should not find it acceptable to put words in each other’s mouths.
This statement followed Speaker of Parliament Mr Seah Kean Peng’s remarks that People’s Action Party MP Mr Murali Pillai did not imply any improper motives during his speech in the Lease Agreements for Retail Premises Bill debate on 3 August.
The Speaker mentioned this while addressing Mr Leong’s complaint over Mr Murali’s assertion that Mr Leong had “advocated some form of rental control” and his refusal to withdraw the statement upon request.
In his Facebook post, Mr Leong expressed, “While I recognize Mr Speaker’s ruling and concur that irreconcilable opinions should lead us to agree to disagree, it remains my perspective that misrepresenting one’s words is not appropriate conduct. Upholding the highest standards and mutual respect in the House is paramount.”
This contention arose from Mr Murali’s claim during the debate that Mr Leong had advocated “some form of low rent control” last month. The Bill, subsequently passed, was designed to promote fair lease negotiations between landlords and retail tenants.
During the debate, Mr Leong expressed concerns about the possibility of a “rentier economy” developing in Singapore’s commercial property market. While he recognized the law’s intentions, he believed it leaned in favour of landlords.
In response, Mr Murali drew parallels between Mr Leong’s comments and the now-obsolete Rent Control Act. This act had discouraged landlords from upgrading their properties, leading to the deterioration of buildings.
When Mr Leong sought clarification, Mr Murali countered by saying that Mr Leong had merely “advocated low rents for SMEs.”
Following this, Mr Leong lodged an official complaint with the Speaker, Mr Seah Kian Peng, on 16 August.
Referring to Hansard, the official record of Parliament proceedings, Mr Leong highlighted the discrepancies in Mr Murali’s statements, suggesting that they falsely portrayed his (Mr Leong’s) stance.
Mr Leong urged the Speaker to issue a ruling on this, stating it possibly violated section 50(6) of the Standing Order of the Singapore Parliament. He requested that should Mr Murali be found in the wrong, he should retract his statements and apologize for the confusion caused.
However, the Speaker, in his ruling, emphasized that Mr Murali did not suggest any wrongful intent in his speech. He believed both MPs simply had different interpretations of the term “rent control.” The Speaker stated, “Differing opinions and such exchanges are inherent to parliamentary debates. At times, reconciling these differences might be impossible. It’s best to agree to disagree.”
While Mr Leong sought further clarification, the Speaker chose not to entertain the query, possibly evading the primary concern Mr Leong intended to address with his complaint about Mr Murali alleging statements made by him which he didn’t.
Regarding another incident from over two years ago involving Foreign Minister Mr Vivian Balakrishnan, Mr Leong sought a formal apology for an unguarded comment made by the Minister.
The Speaker ruled the matter “now closed” given the time elapsed and the subsequent apologies made.
In his Facebook post on Monday, Mr Leong noted that Minister Balakrishnan has, in substance, withdrawn his remarks about him and apologised in his letter to Mr Seah.
He also noted that the Speaker has also directed that Minister Balakrishnan’s letter be published in the Hansard.
Mr Leong acknowledged the Speaker’s efforts to maintain order in the Parliament and expressed gratitude for addressing the concerns.
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