After I delivered my maiden speech in Parliament on 18 October 2011, several PAP MPs rose to rebut some of the points I raised. Below are excerpts of the debate extracted from the Parliamentary Hansard, which contains the transcript of all Parliament proceedings.
“(…)” denotes portions of the MPs’ speeches which I have excluded because they do not refer to me or my speech.
The Minister of State for Trade and Industry (Mr Teo Ser Luck): (…)
I think Mr Gerald Giam raised some daily issues – healthcare, transport, housing. While there could be planning and forecasting in the past, but who can predict the right number between demand and supply so accurately? And it is always a challenge to always find the optimal balance. And as the Member Mr Lee Yi Shyan has also mentioned, there are a lot of trade-offs. But, nevertheless, with the issues that we face today, there are a lot of different policy announcements that have come out after the 2011 General Elections. Most notably, one of those that really interests me is healthcare. That is because in my own constituency, I do have a polyclinic and I do understand it is crowded. But I think the Ministry of Health has also made certain announcements. There were three major ones: community health centre which actually deals with partnering the community to provide health screening efforts, Primary Care Partnership Schemes, family medicine clinics. I think all these are actually policies and measures to help bring healthcare nearer to the community to ensure that they do not crowd into a centralised area. Personally for me, within my constituency and district, we have the intent to set up community health screening centres to help our constituency out there. So, these are policies put in place to help the situation. It is not that the Government has done nothing about it. There are things being done right now. I would suggest that we be patient, and I agree with the Member, Mr Gerald Giam, that we have to be constructive and, hopefully, with all these robust debates we can come up with a good solution for all. (…)
(Debate resumed after a break)
Mr Gerald Giam Yean Song: Mr Speaker, I like to respond to a point of clarification from Mr Teo Ser Luck. He asked who can predict the right number, the right figure between supply and demand in the area of transport, healthcare and housing capacity. Did the MOM and ICA not know we were letting in this huge influx of foreigners? Did they inform MOH, MOT and MND? And was the left hand not talking to the right hand, or was it because the imperative of economic growth took precedence over the welfare and the comfort of our people?
(MCYS Minister Chan Chun Sing makes a ministerial statement)
Mr Christopher de Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah): Mr Speaker, Sir, I rise in support of the Motion and thank the President for his Address. The opening of the Twelfth Parliament portends new aspirations and challenges for Singapore as it enters her next phase of development. That part of Mr Gerald Giam’s speech, I agree with. Mr Gerald Giam says he agrees with the Government’s bold measures laid out in the President’s Address. So, he agrees they are “bold” in other words, measures of conviction, and then adds, “The Workers’ Party will hold the Government accountable to achieve these measures.” I am afraid that displays a misunderstanding of the process. The Government is not accountable to the Workers’ Party. The Government is accountable to the people of Singapore. I, as an elected Member of Parliament for Holland-Bukit Timah GRC, am accountable to all my Singaporean residents. Therefore, it is the people of Singapore to whom we are and must remain accountable as a government.
Mr Giam then talks about housing and transport, and I would like to ask him not to “throw the baby out with the bath water”. Housing in Singapore − 80% of the people are housed in public housing − good quality flats, good neighbourhoods. And a large amount of Singaporeans − about 80% or more − own their own homes. Our housing is the envy of many First World countries. Therefore, to suggest we have failed in housing, I think that is unfair. Finetune housing, yes, I think we can agree. Everybody in this House can agree. Finetuning housing, as Mr Gerald Giam, I think, intends to do, is a tacit concession that the PAP foundations in housing are correct. Finetuning is always an admission of that the foundations, to start with, were good, long lasting and should be preserved. So finetuning, together with Mr Giam, we can do.
Similarly with transport, I ask Mr Giam not to “throw the baby out with the bath water”. In major cities proximate to Singapore, like Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur, gridlock is the characteristic when you are on public roads; in Singapore, less so. So what Mr Giam is subconsciously doing is finetuning PAP policies, which is a tacit concession, that the foundations are correct.
We have scaled much altitude with this Government. The Member wants to work together to scale new apexes. I can agree with that. I think everybody in this House can agree with that. But we should not chide the foundations upon which we were built.
Mr Gerald Giam Yean Song: Mr Speaker, Sir, I would like to clarify some points that Mr Christopher de Souza made. Mr de Souza said that the Government is not accountable to MPs. Parliament’s role is to keep the Executive Government −
Mr Christopher de Souza: That is not what I said, Mr Speaker.
Mr Gerald Giam Yean Song: Mr Speaker, Mr Christopher de Souza said that the Government is not accountable to the Workers’ Party MPs. Mr Speaker, Parliament’s role is to keep the Executive Government −
Mr Christopher De Souza: Mr Speaker, that is not what I said.
Mr Speaker: Mr Giam, I think the point was he said that the Government is not accountable to the Workers’ Party.
Mr Gerald Giam Yean Song: But Parliament’s role is to keep the Executive Government accountable under the adoption of separation of powers. Sir, I would like to ask Mr de Souza, does he accept this constitutional principle? Secondly, he pointed out that I was throwing the baby out of the bath water. I did not say that the PAP had got everything wrong or that we had failed in housing. He had put those words in my mouth. What I did say is that there are many things that need to be corrected in housing, transport and healthcare. Some of them may be finetuning; some of them may amount to rather large overhauls of the system. And it does not mean that because we are overhauling the system, it means that we are throwing the baby out of the bath water.
Mr Christopher de Souza: Mr Speaker, Sir, I did not say that the government of the day is not accountable to MPs. I did not say that the government of the day is not accountable to the Workers’ Party MPs. The government of the day is not accountable to the People’s Action Party. In the same vein, the government of the day is accountable to the people of Singapore and, therefore, that is a cornerstone, a hallmark of our democratic process. On his point about throwing the baby out with the bath water: it is not throwing out the baby out of the bath water. There were tacit remarks about how the PAP Government had failed the people, especially in the last few years where housing is concerned, because the supply of housing had not met with the demand which the Member attributes to the high number of foreigners and the left hand not talking to the right hand – MOT not talking to MOM, MOM not talking to ICA, and so on. While we can agree that these policies need finetuning, what I cannot agree with the Member is that the foundations of the policy are incorrect because however you skin the cat, however you look at it, 80% of Singaporeans live in public housing and 80% of Singaporeans own their own homes. So, I beg to differ. I think I was correct to say that we should be very careful not to throw the baby out with the bath water, given the sturdy foundations.
Mr Gerald Giam Yean Song: Mr Speaker, unless I read my text wrongly, I said that these are bold goals which my colleagues and I in the Workers’ Party will hold the Government accountable over the next five years. By that, I mean my colleagues and I in the Workers’ Party in Parliament. So I did mean the Workers’ Party MPs. Secondly, I thank him for correcting my English. I must have been nervous when I spoke about the “bath water”. I did mean throwing the baby out with the bath water.
Mr Speaker: Gentlemen, I think the point has been made. Mr Low, unless you have another point of clarification.
Mr Low Thia Khiang (Aljunied): Mr Speaker, the Member said that the Government is not accountable to the PAP. I do not know whether I heard him wrongly. If I did not, then perhaps he may want to explain who goes into election: the Government or the PAP?
Mr Christopher de Souza: Thank you, Mr Speaker, for allowing me to clarify. When we take our oath, when we affirm or we swear, our duties and responsibilities focus on the people of Singapore. That relationship between the people of Singapore and an elected Member of Parliament is proximate [Interruptions] −
Mr Speaker: Mr Low, let the Member finish.
Mr Christopher de Souza: The responsibility between an elected Member of Parliament and people whom he represents, that is the nexus, that is the relationship, and that relationship bridges the accountability mechanism, and that is something that I think cannot be diluted. Does Mr Low disagree with that?
Mr Speaker: Gentlemen, I think the point has been made. Assoc Prof Fatimah Lateef.
(Debate resumes with several more speakers.)
The Minister of State for Defence and Education (Mr Lawrence Wong): (…)
Mr Speaker, Sir, I have taken some time to go through the details of what happened to the last decade because, listening to some of the points that were made earlier by Members, I do not think a full picture was given to Members and to Singaporeans. Earlier, Mr Gerald Giam and Mr Chen Show Mao spoke about the value of diversity, about different views and about constructive debate in the House, and not scoring political points. I fully agree with them and I share these views. I hope therefore that Members of the Workers’ Party will look at the data and the facts of what happened over the past decade, to appreciate the hard trade-offs that we faced and to understand the basis of the decisions that were made. Perhaps if Mr Giam does that, then I hope he will be persuaded that what happened in the last 10 years was not the PAP’s biggest policy failure, as he put it, but the PAP’s success in steering Singapore through difficult times and doing good for our people.
(Gerald’s note: I did not respond to this. It is best left to Singaporeans to decide whom they agree with.)
Dr Janil Puthucheary (Pasir Ris-Punggol): Mr Speaker, Sir, I am privileged to rise in support of the Motion of thanks to the President for his Address. I had intended to demonstrate some diversity in highlighting two Government policies that I would like to criticise, but I feel I must digress a little regarding the points that Mr Gerald Giam made about the healthcare system. Sir, I realise that this is not an academic convention or a scientific meeting. It is a political debate and one may argue about the balance between fact and opinion, perspective and data. It is my humble opinion that the data Mr Giam quoted is based on flawed study, and not generalisable to our situation in healthcare regardless of whoever endorsed it at that time it was done.
Sir, given my constituency’s location, I would also whole-heartedly endorse the bringing forward of the timeframe for the building of healthcare facilities in Sengkang. Although Mr Giam highlighted the issue of total hospital bed capacity, he failed to highlight the fact that the real issue is one of a balance between acute hospital bed capacity and chronic and convalesce in care, which is the largest burden on our relatively excellent healthcare system, and that this was debated extensively in previous parliaments, and that the need for a shift in funding towards community care was already established by the previous Government.
Mr Gerald Giam Yean Song: Mr Speaker, a point of clarification in response to Dr Janil Puthucheary. He said my data and my speech were based on flawed study. Now, let me quote from the Department of Statistics’ Yearbook of Statistics Singapore 2011.
He said that the figures I gave were based on “Acute Care”. That is incorrect. It was based on “Overall Hospital Beds” in Singapore. The Member was suggesting that there are actually more beds in the “Extended Care” sector because of our ageing population. That is actually not true because in 2000, there were 4,007 Extended Care beds but in 2010, there were 3,172 which is a 20% overall drop. In the public sector Extended Care alone, there is a 39% drop from 3,292 to 2,010. And the only saving grace actually is in the private sector which saw an increase from 715 in 2000 to 1,162, that is a 447-bed increase. But I note that in the footnote it says that with effect from 2002, the management of Ang Mo Kio-Thye Hua Kwan Hospital has been handed over to Thye Hua Kwan Moral Society. So, that probably accounts for the figure in 2005 jumping to 1,302. But from 2005 to 2010, it has actually dropped off again to 1,162.
Dr Janil Puthucheary: Mr Speaker, Sir, the study that was flawed was not the one quoting our hospital statistics. Perhaps I did not make myself entirely clear. It was the study he quoted regarding the Royal College from the United Kingdom about the linking between capacity and excessive infections which has been debated extensively in the scientific literature. I do not take issue with his facts quoting the number of hospital beds. What I was suggesting was that the improvement in total bed capacity that is going to occur over the next few years was a result of far-sighted policy put in place over the last two Parliament sessions.
Mr Gerald Giam Yean Song: Mr Speaker, maybe the Member would like to clarify which part of the study was flawed because that was not just one study which I looked up, there were other studies as well that did mention about the link between overcrowding and infections in hospitals.
Dr Janil Puthucheary: Mr Speaker, I will try to be brief and not get into the technicalities of microbiology nor epidemiology. There is a link perhaps between what happens in a hospital and the infection rate. I was merely pointing out that the specific study he chose to quote which was endorsed by the Royal College was based on flawed data. In my opinion, I do not think the technicalities of my professional opinion and his reading of that is perhaps best debated in this House. I am willing to proceed with that if there was a request but I do not think it is appropriate, Sir.
Mr Speaker: Gentlemen, I think we will leave it there. Dr Lim Wee Kiak.