The Budget Awards
Updated: Mar 20
By Ethan Tay, Loraine Lee and Liang Lei
ILLUSTRATIONS: LORAINE LEE
We sat through 13 hours of 57 MPs giving their take on the Budget. Here is our selection of the most noteworthy speeches, which caught our attention for various reasons:
Dr Lee Bee Wah (Nee Soon GRC) spoiled the market by speaking in three different languages, deftly switching between English, Mandarin and Malay in her 15-minute speech and ensuring her soundbites could be picked up by the different TV channels.
In Mandarin, she recounted worries about the economic downturn amid the coronavirus outbreak and asked for two more rebates — for property rent and foreign worker levy. She then switched to Malay to share the grievances of private-hire drivers who did not meet the minimum mileage to qualify for the cash handouts and asked for more rebates in vehicle rental fees.
She put the rest of us who are barely bilingual to shame and pulled a major flex on the other MPs. She also recited the anthem of the Liverpool Football Club in support of Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat’s measures to cope with the impact of Covid-19. She didn’t sing it, much to the relief of House Speaker Tan Chuan-Jin.
Related Story: Budget 2020: A lot of praise and a few suggestions
Mr Terence Ho, a nominated MP (NMP), began his speech in English about the importance of the Arts in unifying society, especially during this coronavirus outbreak. The executive director of the Singapore Chinese Orchestra then asked for more funding for smaller arts groups.
After that, he switched to Mandarin… and repeated what he had already said.
It was as though Mr Ho had forgotten that Parliament had interpreters who translated speeches for parliamentarians and the public, including from English to Mandarin. If we had known he wasn’t going to say anything new in his mandarin speech, we could have gone for a much-desired toilet break.
MP Ang Hin Kee (Ang Mo Kio GRC) surprised us with a plywood analogy, seemingly out of nowhere, to describe how society can work together to form a whole greater than the sum of its parts. Describing the “plywood characteristic” as a mix of people that come together to form a strong plank, he emphasized the need to be like the wooden plank.
“Plywood can bear more load than individual wooden planks,” Mr Ang said in Mandarin. “Individual planks are made of different materials and have different qualities. But combined into plywood — its performance becomes spectacular.”
For the rest of the speech, the NTUC Assistant Secretary-General and executive adviser to the National Taxi Association and the National Private Hire Vehicles Association kept his speech focused on labour issues and cabbies’ woes amidst the Covid-19 outbreak.
Mr Heng Chee How (Jalan Besar GRC) dedicated his speech to the job security of older workers and asked if the government could extend SkillsFuture credits to them.
In an attempt to inspire the house to fight through the Covid-19 situation, Mr Heng ended his speech with that age-old expression “when the going gets tough….’’. You complete it.
Related story: Budget 2020: Mr Heng, more DPM than Finance minister
Mr Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC) started off with an anecdote of how his daughter taught him the importance of spending time with his loved ones. He was close to tears when he shared about how he wasn’t there with his late father when he passed away, before making suggestions to revamp parent-care leave policies.
Memorable quotes peppered his speech: “Make sure you don’t go home one day and your daughter calls you uncle”, “Spend time with those you love – one of these days you will either say I wish I had or I’m glad I did”.
If parliamentarians were not restricted to thumping their armrest, we’re sure he would have gotten a standing ovation.
NMP Lim Sun Sun is a professor of communications and technology at the Singapore University of Technology and Design. And her speech in Parliament showed.
Prof Lim spoke of the 3Ms, but not of the healthcare kind. Instead, it was the theories of mobility, maturity and mentality. Espousing the benefits of big data, artificial intelligence and data sharing for businesses and academics, she asked if the Government would relax data sharing policies for businesses and researchers.
Mr Cedric Foo (Pioneer SMC) voiced support for the Government’s fiscal prudence over the years and said the announcement to raise the GST, which he called a “progressive tax”, was done with good intentions. With his soft-spoken mannerisms, he schooled the House on why the reserves can’t be dipped into, not unlike how our parents used to nag us about leaving our ang pao money stored away in the bank.
NMP Walter Theseira highlighted in his speech that those putting themselves at risk on the frontlines battling Covid-19 are often the cleaners, security guards and nurses. He applauded organisations such as Temasek, SATS, SMRT and Capitaland for slashing senior management pay to internalize the costs incurred from the coronavirus outbreak.
That was when he broached the touchy subject of politician pay, suggesting that his fellow MPs do the same.
We thought that would trigger another hearty defence of ministerial pay from the Government. Instead, just a day later, Deputy Prime Minister Mr Heng Swee Keat announced an unprecedented one-month pay cut for ministers, MPs and the President.
Manpower Minister Josephine Teo was the only politician to make multiple speeches outside of her allotted time. After giving her speech focused on the Stabilization and Support package, she rose twice more to address issues raised by the other MPs.
The first time, she defended the effectiveness of SkillsFuture when questioned by the Workers' Party's Ms Sylvia Lim (Aljunied GRC). Calling the results “promising”, Mrs Teo called upon the need for keeping the momentum by creating good jobs, ensuring the relevance of SkillsFuture, fair employment and continuing government support for rescaling.
She took to the rostrum again after NMP Irene Quay spoke about the lack of manpower in the pharmaceuticals sector, to talk about becoming manpower-lean through automation. However, Mrs Teo's comments were cut short when the Deputy Speaker of Parliament stopped her from talking about automated hokkien noodle packaging.
Professor Yaacob Ibrahim began his speech talking about how residents stockpiling food over the past weeks could be due to a lack of trust in the government. But his speech ended with an ode to his colleagues and a reflection of his 24 years in politics, leaving us to wonder if he was going to announce his retirement from politics before the impending general election. If true, the former Communication and Information Minister’s intentions seemed to be news even to a visibly-stunned Mr Heng.