October 22, 2004, Time 1030 am
Place: The Parliament
Well, the day arrived and I got to the location in good time – just 10 minutes before the allocated time.
I was greeted at the door of the front gate of the parliament by the usual security folks who peeped under my car for you-know-what and asked for my photo ID. Handing it over, they handed me a visitor’s pass and asked me to proceed through the gates and to park just outside the main driveway.
After parking the car, I walked over to the entrance doors and was asked to go through a metal detector. Wow, nothing is left to chance.
With the all clear, the Sergeant-in-Arms escorted me to the holding room and said that someone will come and bring me to the interview room.
At the holding room, I met another interview candidate, Mr Lim Yeow Khee from the SIA Engineering Company awaiting his turn. He is the representative of the Institute of Aerospace Engineers. Funny, I did not know that something like that existed!
We chatted and he said that he was asked by his institute to stand the NMP position on the encouragement of the institute’s president who is serving MP.
At about 1030 or so, Viswa arrived. He was slated to be after me at 1050.
Yeow Khee was then invited to the interview room by the Asst Clerk of Parliament, Khairi.
At about 1045 or so, I was invited to the interview room.
As I entered the room, the people on the committee looked fairly friendly and I was motioned to move to the center of the table where a microphone was set up.
The committee comprised the following and viewed from my angle starting from the left:
Halimah, Low Thia Khiang, Lim Hwee Hua, Wong Kan Seng, Abdullah Tarmugi, Mah Boh Tan, Teo Ho Pin, Indranee Rajah, PO Ram, Khairi. There was also a lady to the left of Halimah, but there was no name in front of her. The room had glass windows around the left side and I could make out someone sitting in there.
As I sat down, Abdullah asked me to state my name and occupation for the record.
He then proceeded to state that he has received a proposal for consideration for appointment as Nominated MP. Following that, he opened the floor to the committee members to ask questions.
The first question was posed by Low. He referred to the essay I had to write as part of the submission. In that essay, I had mentioned the idea of doing away with electoral walkovers which was put up by the Roundtable after the last general elections in 2001. He wanted to ask what the idea was and how was it to be implemented.
I explained the idea and the rationale behind that. This idea will ensure that everyone will exercise their right to vote. It is with the exercise of voting that we will see an electorate that is engaged and responsible for their actions. The lament that has been echoed over the years that there is a very strong level of apathy and disinterest in politics and the running of the country will see some of it being abated if people actually get to vote.
[I wish I said that the tag line that “every vote counts” has no meaning if you do not even get to vote.]
I did state that while there are countries where people rejoice on getting a chance to vote, here we see a sense of relief being expressed when some people are told that their constituency has a walkover!
I cited an example at the last general election, when my wife was at a hairdresser the day before polling day. The hairdresser asked her is she had to vote the next day. She said yes, to which the hairdresser said that thankfully she does not have to because it is a walkover!! How can this be left to continue?
This example was greeted by a body language of “so what” from Kan Seng. He said that the problem of not having persons come forth to run for parliament is the real problem why walkovers happen. To which I countered that, as an engineer, it appears to me that there is a choke point somewhere. There are many possible reasons and we have to look at all of them and I think a major one is the fact that people actually do not get to cast their vote so there seems to be no need to be part of a decision making process.
Mah BT asked what would happen if the one person does not the requisite percentage. I said, that then the seat is vacant and is to be re-done. You cannot just look at elections as a expression of efficiency alone. Democracy has to be seen to be happening.
[I wanted to mention that Mah BT was, until the last election, a minister who was NEVER elected into parliament. But, I decided not to embarass him.]
The next question came from Lim HH. My essay had mentioned stuff about Open Source and XML not being used in e-government stuff. She wondered if this were issues to be considered in Parliment and whether this is best handled by ministries and other agencies. I said that these are things that I have brought up to the likes of IDA but have not seen any appropriate responses.
Low TK asked what my opinion was on the civil society space considering that I was the former president of the Roundtable. I said that the space has always been there and indeed there has been some positive movement – review of the societies act, the speaker’s corner, etc. But more needs to be done. Halimah also asked a related question on civil society.
The next set of questions were from Indranee. She wondered if I would not consider running for parliment. I said that I am already involved in other groups and I think we have to look at representing people to be beyond the need to represent a piece of land. That is why the idea of a nominated MP with it’s attend virtual constituency (in my case, I assume the IT sector with about 100K people) appeals to me. To that comment of virtual constituency, someone remarked that Steve Chia has staked out that territory. Some laughter ensued.
Wong KS then asked about my suggestion about Singapore actively participating in the International Space Station project and that we develop our space capabilities. I made reference to a report the day before about DPM Tony Tan saying that Singapore needs to look at the next big thing after the last two – manufacturing and biotech. Perhaps, space is it. I stated that I would certainly want to go to the moon and I am sure Singapore can do that if it wanted to.
The final question was from Low TK. He asked if I would consider an offer to run under the PAP ticket at the next election. I said that the answer is a clear no. Just then Mah BT, asked if instead, I would consider running under the WP ticket. Again a no. I explained the reason for that: I think the idea of a party whip goes against my personal belief as it makes a mockery of all the debates and arguments made for and against a proposal in parliament when in the end, inspite of your convictions, you have to vote the party line. That is being untruthful to oneself and the constituency you represent. Unfortunately both the parties, PAP and WP, follow the whip and so is not of interest to me. If they get rid of that, then I might consider.
At that point, Abdullah aked if there were any more questions, and there being no more, thanked me for the time. I thanked them for the opportunity and stood up to leave.
As I was leaving, I was escorted out by the Asst Clerk who said that my ideas were very fresh and exciting. Hmm. Someone liked it. Maybe I stand a chance.