Louis Ng: Speaking my mind, this is what I will do
Updated: Jun 21
MP Louis Ng stands out for his vociferous participation in Parliament and has arguably the highest profile among backbenchers in the class of GE2015. Class Notes tracked him over five months to find out what motivates the man.
Mr Louis Ng holding a meeting with his legislative assistants at the Red Box, on 15 October 2019. PHOTO: IQBAL AHMAD
By Sean Lim
When Mr Louis Ng was first announced as a People’s Action Party candidate in August 2015, many wondered if this outspoken firebrand who speaks for animal lovers would fit into the PAP mould. This is a 41-year-old whose organisation has fought for animal welfare and had run-ins with Resorts World Sentosa over captive dolphins.
Had the PAP managed to co-opt him into the so-called Establishment to rein him in? Or will he continue to make waves as a man in white?
Four years on and he remains somewhat of an enigma. He is a man in white, but with many hues. He continues to be vocal; present and speaking at 108 out of 128 sittings of the 13th Parliament. He has asked 293 parliamentary questions (PQs) of ministers — both for oral replies and in written form, raised four adjournment motions and spoke up on 139 pieces of legislation. Class Notes checks on other backbenchers turned up an average of 58 questions per MP, and 13 interventions on Bills.
Armed with a Masters in Primate Conservation from the Oxford Brookes University in the United Kingdom, Mr Ng is part of the Nee Soon Group Representation Constituency (GRC) team with four others. In his constituency, the chairman for Nee Soon Town Council can be mistaken for just another young man in a hurry when he strides past coffeeshops and provision shops. Except that he has to keep waving at and acknowledging those who greet him.
The most notable achievement of this first-term MP: a policy change effected by his constant lobbying for equal public housing rights for single parents regardless of marital status. He even submitted a public petition, a first by a PAP MP.
Said Mr Ng: “We used everything in the parliamentary arsenal — PQs, Bills, speeches, parliamentary petitions, budget cuts. You name it, we used it.”
Who is the “we’’ he was talking about? Besides himself, there were his dozen or so legislative assistants.
Single parenthood has long been a touchy political issue, usually cast as a moral lack or an aping of Western values. According to checks by Class Notes, Mr Ng spoke up three times on the subject before presenting a public petition to Parliament on 9 September 2017.
He first spoke about it during the Committee of Supply (COS) debate in 2016, when he filed a cut under the Ministry of Social and Family Development about providing support for single parents.
The following year’s COS debate was no exception. This time, Mr Ng was more specific, calling the Ministry of National Development (MND) to help single unwed parents and divorcees to find a home. He raised the issue two more times after that.
Then a policy U-turn happened on 6 March 2018, when Mr Wong announced that divorcees can now buy or own a subsidised flat immediately upon ending their marriage, without waiting for three years under previous rules. But this did not apply to unwed mothers.
So Mr Ng pushed on. He proposed in an adjournment motion speech to provide housing for single unwed parents and their children on 2 September 2019. His speech included the anguished stories of single unwed parents he met.
There was a “positive change”, as Mr Ng described it, because Senior Parliamentary Secretary for National Development Sun Xueling responded to his motion, saying that the Housing Board would state explicitly on its website that single unwed parents may approach it to apply to buy or rent a flat, instead of a flat rejection due to their marital status.
On 10 November 2019, Mr Ng celebrated these breakthroughs — for both divorcees and single unwed parents — by having a get-together with single parents and their children at Five & 2 restaurant in Punggol Park.
For more stories on bills, PQs, motions and their relevant statistics, click here:
Family issues are important to this father of three, who in March engaged in a lengthy exchange in Parliament with Minister of State for National Development Zaqy Mohamad over the lack of lactation rooms for breastfeeding mothers in the workplace. Another example of his tenacity is over paternity leave.
On 6 May 2019, he asked the Minister for Social and Family Development for each year in the past five years (a) what is the median number of days of paternity leave taken by fathers; and (b) what is the median number of days of shared parental leave taken by fathers.
He received the statistics but said he was dissatisfied with the response because the ministry excluded providing data on fathers who did not take up the leave. So he followed up, three months later, and asked how many fathers did not take up paternity or shared parental leaves. The response: more than 50 per cent of fathers did not take up government-paid paternity leave and more than 90 per cent for shared parental leave, since their introduction in 2013.
Mr Ng followed up with more questions in three consecutive parliamentary sittings in March this year.
On March 2, he asked the Prime Minister whether the Government has studied why fathers were not taking paternity leaves and whether it is considering to do so if no such study was done.
The next day, Mr Ng asked the Minister for Social and Family Development whether the ministry will consider allowing fathers to take the Government-Paid Paternity Leave (GPPL) in shorter durations.
The day after, Mr Ng asked the Prime Minister’s Office, whether the Government will consider incentivising fathers to take the GPPL by providing additional leave to couples — which can be used by either the mother or father — when the father has used them all up.
He gets top marks for tenacity. Manpower Minister Josephine Teo once remarked on his doggedness in raising the same question in so many different ways, despite always getting the same answer.
His outspokenness did earn him a slap on the wrist when he said during the 2018 Budget debate that public officers dare not speak up for fear of getting into trouble.
That earned him a sharp rebuke from then-Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung, who said in Parliament: “When generalisations that tar the entire service with the same brush are made in public and worse, further spread through the media, it does not do justice to our officers and it discourages and undermines improvement efforts.”
Asked about it, he said: “It is a fair game — I criticised the public service and the minister criticised my speech. I am not a little kid that needs to cry after being criticised.”
Whatever views he may express, he said he will always vote along party lines because that’s the agreement all PAP MPs take on. Mr Ng said: “We respect the party whip. The rules are there and don’t just apply to Singapore. Every (political) party in the world has a party whip.”
Truth be told, the party did not figure much in his interviews with Class Notes. He was fixated instead on his constituency and the plight of the marginalised, like the busking community.
“There are only 300 buskers in Singapore, why speak up? But it matters for them, and although it is only 300, there is a larger impact when now society realises that this group of marginalised people exists,” he said.
In his adjournment motion on 5 August 2019, Mr Ng told Parliament about his meeting with local busker Tong Yek Suan who shared her concerns about the busking scene and suggestions for improvement. The buskers were worried about being seen as beggars.
He said he told Ms Tong he would arrange another meeting about raising the matter in Parliament, but she died two days later and that meeting never transpired. To keep to his promise, he addressed Parliament on behalf of the busking community.
That scored him some points among the busking community. Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Culture, Community and Youth Baey Yam Keng announced in March this year that buskers at the Singapore River and Ang Mo Kio areas will soon be able to move between different locations within these zones, instead of just performing in one spot. More busking zones will also be introduced in time to come.
Within the PAP, Mr Ng is the only MP who has not held office to ditch his day job to become a full-time politician, with a monthly allowance of $16,041. Although he remains the chief executive of Animal Concerns Research and Education Society Singapore, he has delegated operations to his deputies.
No wonder he has the time to prepare all his parliamentary questions...
Asked what a typical schedule is like for him, Mr Ng said: “Really, every day is different. There is no fixed schedule.”
On a Monday in November last year, before we met for this interview, Mr Ng had a morning meeting with his town council colleagues. In the afternoon, he spent time with his children — Ella, 6, and twins Katie and Poppy, both aged 3.
Almost every hour, he logs on Facebook to respond to comments on his posts; when asked, he said he had no administrator running his account. Like 22 other non-cabinet PAP MPs, Mr Ng had both a Facebook and an Instagram account. On Facebook, he was busy soliciting views on legislation this year: the Healthcare Services Bill and Banking (Amendment) Bill, which has since been passed on 6 January 2020.
Once a week, he conducts house visits in the constituency. Said Mr Ng: “No, I don’t have any targets to hit for house visits. I just visit as many houses as possible.”
On Monday evenings, four times a month, he holds his Meet-the-People session (MPS) at the Nee Soon East PAP Branch located at Block 227 Yishun Street 21.
Dressed casually in a Nee Soon GRC shirt and khaki pants, I watched as Mr Ng walked from table to table, addressing issues residents had with government policies and reciting helplines his residents required at the tip of his fingers.
He rattled off schemes like Workfare and Adapt & Grow when an unemployed resident sought his help. Halfway through the session, he exited the office to meet an elderly resident seated at a nearby void deck because she was too frail and could not stand the air-conditioned branch office.
More than 50 residents were there that evening to seek help, be it difficulties in paying their utility bills, asking about healthcare subsidies or getting financial aid.
Mr Ng was the bao kah liao handyman MP ready to solve the myriad problems residents presented. Younger couples lugged their toddlers along as they sought help getting a Housing Board flat, while some elderly came in looking lost, holding onto government letters which they have difficulties understanding.
He spoke to residents in English and Mandarin, in the company of his 10 or so PAP branch volunteers who typed out appeal letters to government agencies for them.
Unlike other MPs who deal only with their constituents, Mr Ng claimed to have never turned anyone away from his MPS. True to his word, I saw as Mr Ng listened to a foreign domestic worker who requested help with medical bills for an eye problem. He told her foreigners like herself do not qualify for government healthcare subsidies, but suggested referring her to non-governmental organisations such as Transient Workers Count Too, which helps low-wage migrant workers in Singapore.
On Oct 15 last year at The Red Box, a red façade building in Somerset under the National Youth Council where youths meet to gather and exchange ideas, I watched his legislative assistants time his speeches as he read them aloud. Over supermarket-bought wine and takeaway dinners, the team of about 10 also debated details of speeches, anticipating counterarguments from the Government and planning follow-up actions. His assistants were young, mostly under 30, and held jobs such as data analyst, lawyer and social activist.
It is also during these sessions that Mr Ng and his assistants decide on which PQs to file, and whether to submit them as oral or written questions. Using January’s parliamentary sitting as an example, he said the team had already drafted 12 questions, three months in advance, and decided which ones to file for the sitting. Each MP can file up to five questions per sitting, up to three of which for oral answers from ministers.
Of the 139 Bills he spoke on, he was the only speaker for at least five of them. They include esoteric subjects such as the Limited Liability Partnerships (Amendment) Bill and Stamp Duties (Amendment) Bill 2018. There were, however, bills which he did not speak on. He cited the Common Services Tunnels Bill, which was approved on 19 March 2018. Prior to that, he had an almost 100 per cent record.
Mr Ng said: “Many issues I raised did not have many others talking about it and that is the exact reason why I want to speak up on it.”
It was also for the same reason that he proposed motions to discuss what was not typically brought up by other lawmakers. He said: “By doing so, people who are marginalised are heard and I want to make sure they have a voice in Parliament”.
On March 25 this year, he saw the passage of the Wild Animals and Birds (Amendment) Bill through Parliament. It was a Private Member’s Bill which he introduced to the House on March 6 after two years of public consultation. Mr Ng is only the second PAP MP to initiate a Private Member’s Bill. MP for Holland-Bukit Timah GRC Christopher de Souza was the first, when he proposed the Prevention of Human Trafficking Act in 2013.
Mr Ng had formed a Wild Animals Legislation Review Committee for help to draft the legislation to increase penalties to those who are guilty of feeding, releasing, trapping or killing wildlife.
He is not stopping there. He told Class Notes that he will be working on his second Private Member’s Bill, which is the Good Samaritan Food Donation Bill, to encourage organisations to donate healthy food that would otherwise go to waste.
“I am here to speak up, speak my mind – this is what I will do,” he said.
He should have just said he not only speaks, but he also does.