A 13-year-old student from Raffles Girls’ Secondary School (RGSS) stole the limelight from the centrepiece at the launch of a new book titled The Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP) Scheme on Friday (9 Sep).
Prisha Agarwal, who presented both sides of the argument on whether unelected voices are still necessary in Parliament, impressed Emeritus Senior Minister (ESM) Goh Chok Tong so much that he even “chope” (Singlish for reserve) her as a future candidate of the People’s Action Party (PAP).
Prisha was in one of the finalist teams at an inter-primary school debate when she was studying at Henry Park Primary School last year and did not flinch even when her team mates fell away from Friday’s event to school obligations and Covid-19 infection.
Her team had debated on a topic similar to the title of the book: The Nominated Member Of Parliament Scheme: Are Unelected Voices Still Necessary In Parliament?”.
ESM Goh was in Parliament House to launch the book, a compilation of essays written by 20 current and former NMPs. It is the first book dedicated to the NMP scheme and the brainchild of former NMP Anthea Ong, who also edited the content.
“We all sincerely wish for the book to be a catalyst for conversations among Singaporeans to discuss our political future, for deeper political and civic education to be had by students in schools… And for it to inspire new possibilities beyond the certainty of history and binary of ruling and opposition parties,” Ms Ong said in her speech.
The NMP scheme: To add colour, depth and breadth to parliamentary debates
It was in November 1989 when ESM Goh, who was then the Deputy Prime Minister (DPM), told Parliament the aim of the NMP scheme was to offer “Singaporeans more opportunities for political participation and to evolve a more consensual style of government where alternative views are heard and constructive dissent accommodated”.
“We can improve the present system simply by Parliament itself, that is, we, the elected representatives, nominating a number of politically non-partisan Singaporeans who can contribute to good government as MPs,” then DPM Goh added.
NMPs are appointed by the President for a term of two and a half years on the recommendation of a special parliamentary committee and Singaporeans are invited to submit names of citizens to this committee, which will then nominate up to nine suitable candidates to the President for appointment as NMPs.
At that point in time when the NMP scheme was being debated in Parliament, there was only one elected MP from the opposition camp , namely, Mr Chiam See Tong from the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), and two Non-Constituency MPs (NCMPs) from the Workers’ Party (WP).
EMS Goh, in his speech at the launch on Friday, said that in the 32 years, the NMPs have “added colour, depth and breadth to parliamentary debates”. “I see the NMP scheme as having strengthened our democracy,” he said, adding that it has also made Parliament more inclusive by representing various sectors.
Logging history down in this 368-page book
Work on the book, that was published by World Scientific, began 15 months ago and the idea for the book came from how she felt like there was not much understanding about the NMP scheme.
Speaking to an audience of about 100 current and former NMPs, academics, diplomats, business leaders and the media, Ms Ong said, “Ninety-seven Singaporeans have been appointed NMPs since 1990. 2,000 speeches have been made, 3,000 questions have been asked by them and yet, the scheme is no closer to being understood by all Singaporeans.”.
So who is more appropriate to have penned pages in the book than 20 current and former NMPs themselves. Their differing experiences, anecdotes and little known facts about their stints make good reading for the book.
One of which was that of Viswa Sadasivan, whose maiden speech in 2009 on the National Pledge was rebutted by then Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew.
As for the eloquent Prisha, she told TheHomeGround Asia later that she actually has her sights set on a career in law.
The book on the NMP scheme is available at major bookshops in Singapore and for purchase worldwide online, at World Scientific’s website.