Government Parliamentary Committees (GPC)

You are not to blame if you are clueless about what a Government Parliamentary Committee (GPC) is. After all, the term is seldom mentioned in the mainstream media, nor its reports available online.

So what exactly is a GPC? GPCs are meant for MPs to play the role of “internal or proxy opposition”, said former Senior Minister of State Aline Wong in an interview with The Straits Times.

It was the brainchild of then First Deputy Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong in 1987 when there was only one elected opposition MP in Parliament — Mr Chiam See Tong. To make up for the lack of opposition voices in Parliament, Mr Goh made PAP MPs play the role of an Opposition by analyzing policies and suggesting feedback.

At the start, some PAP MPs took on this opposing role seriously. When Parliament had to vote on the Budget in 1987, Mr Tang See Chim — a member of the Home Affairs GPC — cajoled fellow MPs to vote against the Government because his request to get more funding to hire full-time researchers for GPCs was rejected. Majority of MPs backed the Government.

Now with more opposition MPs in Parliament, there is less need for PAP backbenchers to be a shadow opposition.

But GPCs are still important, especially during Budget debates when MPs in each committee have many things to speak and critique on with too little time. So, they split the topics among themselves to ensure they bao kah liao (hokkien for ensuring everything is covered). During the debate, the committee chairperson traditionally starts the ball rolling on their ministry’s budget, although one cannot be sure if he speaks for himself or the GPC.

The good news is, MPs can choose which GPCs they want to be in, although the top echelon of the party makes the final call. Once formed, the members will elect a chairperson from among themselves.

The first reshuffle of the GPC after the last general election took place on 13 Nov 2015 — the National Development and Environment and Water Resources GPC was split into two, increasing the total number of committees from 11 to 12. The latest reshuffle of the GPC took place on 4 May 2018 when four backbenchers were appointed to hold office positions.

You can see the full list of current GPC members here.

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