Monday, July 06, 2009

CNA: Clean Slate of NMPs

A brand new slate of NMPs in the House
By Loh Chee Kong and Ong Dai Lin, TODAY | Posted: 07 July 2009 0731 hrs

SINGAPORE: It will be a slate of completely new faces in the House, all nine of them – the maximum number of Nominated Members of Parliament (NMPs) allowed by the Constitution. But you might recognise a few familiar names.

One surprise is former national swimmer and Olympian Joscelin Yeo, who makes the move from pool to politics; while ex-current affairs television presenter Viswa Sadasivan will simply be taking his long-time involvement on government panels to the next level.

On Monday evening, an email sent out by the Select Committee, tasked with whittling down the list of 46 applications, revealed the results of their deliberations.

Subject to President S R Nathan's formal approval, the nine picked to give voice to non-partisan, alternative views in Parliament comprise an entrepreneur, a decorated unionist, a top honcho at a Big Four accountancy firm, a vocal sociologist, a shipping industry leader, a communications consultant, a sportswoman, a community service veteran and an artistic director.

Former NMPs Mr Siew Kum Hong and Mr Gautam Banerjee, both of whom had sought second terms, were conspicuously absent from the list.

The newbies, who will be sworn in before Parliament sits on July 20, were selected after interviews held over three days last week.

Ms Yeo, 30, said she went for the interview without any expectation after her name was put up to the panel by the sporting fraternity. She views being an NMP as an extension of the work she is doing at the swimming school she runs with her brother and with the Youth Ministry of New Creation Church.

"Definitely, some of the things close to my heart are sports and youth," she told TODAY, on the type of issues she might raise.

Mr Viswa, 49, who has been active on national panels for years, feels "sufficiently attuned to what's happening on the ground".

"I'm at a steady state in my life where I'm able to commit the time needed ... I also feel strongly that to be able to contribute effectively (as an NMP), you need to have sufficient knowledge - and I feel today that I have enough to participate in debates on a spectrum of Bills," he said.

Foot up for civil society

One area Mr Viswa feels strongly about is the development of civil society, and he thinks the public is getting "mixed signals" from the top.

"I think the government is sincere but quite often, there appears to be a sense that it's one step forward and two steps back," he said.

Though mindful not to "overstep" his bounds as NMP, he is ready to leverage on his new role.

"I would like to form a loose resource panel of individuals with domain knowledge in specific areas like economics, social work, education, defence policies and so on ... so I'll be able to tap on their expertise which I might articulate (through) my views in Parliament," he said.

Another NMP hoping to extend her work outside of Parliament is The Substation co-artistic director Audrey Wong. Besides seeking to "give the arts a foot in the door among decision-makers", and reflecting the people's views on issues such as Internet freedom, political films and education, she plans to start a blog and run workshops for youth.

"I've discussed with The Substation what my role should be ... one is to develop a stronger education programme where we give young people insights into arts and culture, and how the arts and society are intertwined."

From bread-and-butter to identity issues

While veteran unionist Terry Lee said he would focus on workers' welfare and employability - especially with Singapore in recession - some fellow NMP-appointees want to draw attention to social and cultural issues affecting the country.

Fashion entrepreneur Calvin Cheng hopes to contribute in national debates on "cultural identity".

"With the Integrated Resorts, a window is opening which will either strengthen our cultural identity or weaken it ... At no time is having a strong, unique and proud cultural identity more important than right now, when we throw open our doors to the world," he said.

Married to an American, National University of Singapore sociologist Paulin Straughan wants to share her own experiences in drawing attention to the children of such "inter-cultural marriages".

"Each year, we lose some of these bi-cultural youth when they are forced to give up Singapore citizenship.

"As more Singaporeans marry foreigners and grow their families here, we must find an innovative way to help these children maintain their bi-cultural identity," she said.

TODAY was unable to contact the other three new NMPs. Ernst & Young Associates managing director Mildred Tan chairs the public communications sub-committee on the National Council on Problem Gambling.

Mr Teo Siong Seng, managing director of a container-ship operator, is president of both the Singapore Chinese Chamber Of Commerce & Industry and the Singapore Shipping Association.

Mr Laurence Wee is the executive director of Presbyterian Community Services.

- TODAY/so

Archiving this so I do not lose the information. As to my thoughts, those would have to come later (if at all) as I'm horrendously busy. All I can say now is that I'm miffed that they did not select Siew Kum Hong for a 2nd term.

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