The darnest things politicians said...and did
By Sean Lim and Justin Chua
Our Parliament may be devoid of the political theatre seen in the boisterous British House of Commons, but the current 100-seat chamber does have interesting moments over the past four years. So who says Parliament is boring?
The Class Notes team dug through the parliamentary archives for you to reminisce over the good, bad, ugly and funny snippets of the 13th Parliament.
ABOUT MY PANTS
“By using family as justification, does not this show that blood is thicker than water? Own sibling cannot sue. After all, we are all brothers and sisters, but political opponents and critics, sue until your pants drop.”
Mr Low Thia Khiang (Aljunied GRC) during the debate on 38 Oxley Road on 4th July 2017, who was puzzled that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong chose not to sue his siblings on allegations made against him on abuse of powers.
ABOUT MY BROTHER
“The response by Low Thia Khiang is not unexpected. I expected that. This is what we call political sophistry. And as for Tang Liang Hong, he is not my brother.”
Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong (Marine Parade GRC) during the debate on 38 Oxley Road on 4th July 2017, in response to Mr Low Thia Khiang’s comment that he sued Mr Tang Liang Hong, a Worker’s Party candidate for the 1997 General Election, for defamation.
NOT A DOCTOR
“I am not a doctor, so I am not equipped to provide the medical reasons to answer Mr Singh's question in detail”
Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry Chee Hong Tat responding to Workers’ Party chief Prtiam Singh on 5th June 2020, when he asked for the reasons given by medical experts for the change of policy in using face shields during the Covid-19 pandemic.
LEE BEE WAH AND HER BUDGET STORYTELLING ADVENTURES
“现在我想跟大家讲一个故事。这是一位家庭主妇和她的丈夫的对话。老婆说:“老公老公，我的妈妈年纪大了，时常要看医生；我们的孩子也长大了，正在发育，我需要买多一些鱼和肉给他们吃。我需要多一些家用。”老公笑笑说，“没问题，没问题，我有一个好消息还没告诉你。上个星期六，七早八早，我在联络所看到我们的议员驾车来到联络所，还不到八点。我看了他车的号码，4188，还挺漂亮的，我买正拍反拍， 十二拍。你知道吗,第二天我中了头奖，8481!一块钱陪两千块。我现在口袋里多了好几千块”。老婆愣了，看着丈夫，然后跟她的丈夫说，“老公， 我要的家用是经常性的开支，不是一次过的。难道你不中奖，我的妈妈就不需要去看医生
吗？假如你不中奖，我们的孩子不需要吃了吗。” 老公说， “没问题，我们还可以卖屋子啊!” 这就是工人党 Mr Pritam Singh 的立场。”
Translation: “I would like to share a story with you, which is a conversation between a husband and a housewife. The wife said to the husband, "Dear, dear my mother is ageing and my mother has to visit doctors very frequently. Our children are growing up in their developing age. I need to buy more fish and meat for their development. I need to have more money from you." Husband looked at the wife with a smile and he said "No problem. Sure. I have a piece of good news to share with you. Last Saturday early in the morning, as I was at the Community Club, I met our Member of Parliament. He came to visit us before 8 o'clock. The licence plate wrote '4188'. It was quite a beautiful number. I bought the actual number, and in reverse order, and all 12 permutations (in System Entry). Did you know? The next day I struck First Prize: 8481. I felt that I had hit the jackpot.
The wife looked at the husband and she said, "Dear, what I want is the current expenses, I am not talking about a one-off type of expenses. So, are you telling me that if you do not win the lottery, my mother then does not need to see the doctor? Are you telling me that if you do not hit the jackpot, then my children do not need to eat extra protein?"
And the husband said, "That is not a problem. We still have a house, an asset we can sell." And this is the position adopted by Mr Pritam Singh of the Workers’ Party.”
An analogy by Er Dr Lee Bee Wah (Nee Soon GRC) during the 2018 Budget debate as she rebutted Workers’ Party chief Pritam Singh over his suggestion to use a portion of revenue from land sales to fund the Budget.
“我想以一个故事来总结这次的财政预算。我家隔壁有个男孩，他的名字叫阿成。他有一个非常爱他的阿公，阿公总是省吃俭用，衣服破了总是补了又补，把每一分钱都储蓄起来。每三五年，阿公都会拿出一笔钱给他心爱的阿成，比如说，阿成进大学的时候，阿公给他一笔钱；阿成要出国参加 immersion programme 的时候，阿成也给他一笔钱；阿成要结婚娶老婆的时候，阿公也给他一笔钱。阿成和他的朋友要出来做小生意的时候，阿公也给他一笔钱。有一天，阿成问阿公, “阿公阿公，你为什么三五年才给我一笔钱；你为什么不每年都给我钱？“ 这时候阿公听了，非常伤心，也非常生气，阿公用他的方言福建话破口大骂， “你这个si gwee kia (死鬼仔)，你这个败家子。你有一个很好的阿公，你还不知死。阿公省吃省穿，完全是为了你。别人的阿公有这么好吗？””
Translation: “I would like to conclude with a story. I have a neighbour called Ah Seng, he has a grandfather who loves him very much. His grandfather scrimps and saves, always mending his clothes over and over, trying to save every penny he could. Every three to five years, Ah Seng’s grandfather would give a sum of money to his grandson. For example, when Ah Seng went to university, he would give him some money. When Ah Seng went overseas to attend immersion programmes, he would also give him some money. When Ah Seng got married, he also gave him some money. When Ah Seng and his friends wanted to start a business, his grandfather also gave him some money.
One day, Ah Seng asked his grandfather, "Ah Gong, why do you give me money every three to five years, why don’t you give me money every year? After his grandfather heard this, he was very angry. He burst out in Hokkien, "You si gwee kia (terrible child)! You prodigal son! You have such a great grandfather and you don’t know it. I scrimped and saved all because of you. Are all the other grandfathers as good as I am?””
An analogy by Er Dr Lee Bee Wah (Nee Soon GRC) during the 2019 Budget debate as she praised the Government for being prudent and hence able to have a budget surplus to create various fiscal packages, but at the same time criticising naysayers as ingrates for saying that the Government did not provide enough.
“No one knows how severe it would pan out. Even as we gather here today to debate, the virus is rearing its ugly head in many places worldwide. I think it is very fitting that we assure the Deputy Prime Minister that we stand behind him and he is not alone. Perhaps my thoughts would be best expressed by quoting the lyrics from the Liverpool FC song: "When you are walking through a storm, hold your head up high. Don't be afraid of the dark because at the end of the storm, there's a golden sky.” Mr Speaker, I would not sing, I cannot and I do not want to! And I do not want to empty this House. But I will say this to the Deputy Prime Minister: Walk on, walk on, With hope in your heart, And you'll never walk alone, You'll never walk alone.”
Er Dr Lee Bee Wah (Nee Soon GRC) reciting the lyrics of the Liverpool Fan Club theme song during the Budget debate this year as she expressed her solidarity behind the Government in its fight against the coronavirus.
MINISTERS ARE HUMAN BEINGS TOO
“Mr Speaker, words are not sufficient for us to express our appreciation for all of those who are…”
National Development Minister Lawrence Wong as he updated the House on the Government’s efforts to tackle Covid-19 on 25th March 2020. He is the co-chair of the Multi-Ministry Taskforce on the coronavirus.
House Leader Grace Fu kindly provided Mr Wong with a tissue.
Later on, Mr Wong rephrased what he said.
“Words are not sufficient to express our appreciation for so many Singaporeans going all out to fight the virus. I just want to say a big thank you to everyone who is doing their part.”
Mr Wong was not the only minister who shed a tear in Parliament while giving a speech.
“She had financial problems. *rubs eyes* Tough.”
Then Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say had an emotional moment while giving his speech during the Committee of Supply debate for the Manpower Ministry in 2017. He was explaining how a 50-year old acquired a job under the Adapt and Grow initiative.
Mr Lim took a while to calm down. As he explained his speech, he got emotional again.
“She has financial problems… Argh. Can someone make me laugh? *laughter* thank you very much, haha, yeah okay I laugh okay.”
“So she has financial support, so we help her with her transport cost…”
CRYSTAL BALL IN HIS HANDS
“Mdm President, I think today is not the occasion for us to go through this again. I think we can all check the Hansard as to what was said between you and the rest of the debate. Today, we are here to put in place the nuts and bolts on how we can get an Elected President, see it working.”
“Mdm President, I was about to — *Laughter* Mdm Speaker, Mdm Speaker. Sorry, my bad.”
Then Minister in Prime Minister’s Office Chan Chun Sing making two freudian slips at the second reading debate of the Presidential Elections (Amendment) Bill on 6th February 2017, accidentally addressing Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob as President — giving rise to speculations that she might be the government-endorsed candidate for the election that year.
According to political scientist Bilveer Singh from the National University of Singapore, Mr Chan's "freudian-slip" occurred 220 days before Mdm Halimah won the Presidency.
MAI COW PEH LAH (OR, THE STEAKS ARE HIGH)
“In this COS, the well-being of one particular animal was at stake. Many supported the slaughtering of this particular sacred cow, including, surprisingly, Mr Louis Ng.”
“While every cow is a good cow, no cow is perfect”
“So, over the years, as he has shared, we have sought to trim the cow, adjust its diet, sliced off its rump, have a little barbeque, its flanks, and finally, we lay it to rest.”
Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin as he wrapped up the 2019 Budget debate, where he weighed in on the removal of academic streaming in secondary schools (deemed as a “sacred cow”), which was announced in the budget that year.
NOT JUST GREAT HOKKIEN BUT TAMIL TOO
“Finally…I get to speak! This is my once-a-year occasion. Some of you think that the biggest challenge being up here is how one manages to stay awake, or how we answer the calls of nature. Well, that will remain a trade secret.”
We remember Senior Minister of State Chee Hong Tat who, "spoiled market", oh, sorry, who raised the bar by speaking in Tamil not once, but twice. So, the arms race has begun. "இது ஒரு பலமொழி நாடாளுமன்றம். என்னாலும் தமிழில் பேச முடியும்" This is a multi-lingual Parliament. I can also speak in Tamil!”
Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin as he wrapped up the 2018 Budget debate for the first time as Speaker.
DON'T YOU DARE TAKE AWAY MY TEA BREAK!
“I wonder whether we are suitably inspired by MOH to skip tea-break, eat less and be healthier? So, I will pose the question to you. The question is, we are inspired by MOH to skip tea-break, eat less, be healthier and happier. As many as are that opinion say aye. To the contrary say no. (A loud resounding “No!” from the MPs)
I think the noes have it, the noes have it. I propose to take a break now.”
A cheeky, light-hearted moment from Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin as he asked the House if they wanted to suspend the sitting for tea-break, during the Committee of Supply debate on 5th March 2020.
PRO-FAMILY SCHEMES AS A FORETHOUGHT BEFORE COITUS?
“I doubt this will be a deterrence, unless, just before they have sex, they think about the Parenthood Tax Rebate and Working Mother's Child Relief, which we know, will not happen.”
Mr Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC) during the Committee of Supply debate for the Finance Ministry on 28th Feburary 2020, when he argued that the Parenthood Tax Rebate and Working Mother's Child Relief should be provided to all parents, including the single unwed, and that there should not be any discrimination.
OI, ANSWER ME PLEASE!
“The Minister did not answer any of my four questions when I asked them in Chinese. Now, I would like to ask them again in English. Does the Minister need me to ask in English or he will answer them?”
Er Dr Lee Bee Wah (Nee Soon GRC) when Health Minister Gan Kim Yong did not directly answer her four supplementary questions during the second update on the Whole-of-Government response to Covid-19 on 4th May 2020.
QUIK MATH FROM THE MINISTER
“I hope Members remember what prime numbers are. A prime number is one that is not divisible by any other number. Today, teachers typically explain the process to identify prime numbers as follows: for a set of numbers, say one to 100, cross out one, then the teacher will say, "Then, all the higher multiples of 2, cancel off; then all the higher multiples of 3, cancel off; we skip 4 because it is divisible by 2; and then we go to 5, you skip 6 and go 7 and, finally, what you are left with are prime numbers." All of us went through that, right?”
Education Minister Ong Ye Kung at the Committee of Supply debate for the Education Ministry on 4th March 2020. He was speaking about developing computational thinking among students.
"With slower manpower growth into the future, we need to maximise the potential of our two-thirds local and our one-third foreign so that together, we can maximise the potential of our Total Singapore Workforce. We must strive for two-thirds plus one-third, is not just equal to one, but greater than one."
Then Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say at the Committee of Supply debate for the Manpower Ministry on 5th March 2018. He was commenting on enhancing the productivity of the workforce.
PREMATURE ANNOUNCEMENT OF IMPENDING RETIREMENT FROM POLITICS
“I became a Member of this House on 2 January 1997. I am into my 24th year as a Member of Parliament. Perhaps, it is timely for me to thank you, your predecessors and Parliament staff, both past and present, all my colleagues in this Chamber, both past and present. It has been an opportunity of a lifetime to be able to serve the people of Singapore as an elected Member of Parliament. I will always cherish this experience for the rest of my life. So, thank you all for a wonderful experience.”
Mr Yaacob Ibrahim (Jalan Besar GRC), who is a former Cabinet Minister, wrapping up his speech during this year’s Budget debate.
A SLIGHT COMMOTION OVER A MOTION
“Ms Lim has raised issues and I would like to call for an adjournment. That is because the Member Ms Sylvia Lim has made the point that it was not proper for me to raise this. And I would like an adjournment for us to consider the matter and respond to her.”
Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat called for an adjournment during the debate on the governance of Aljunied-Hougang Town Council on 5th November 2019. Ms Sylvia Lim (Aljunied GRC) raised concerns that having a discussion in the House on that topic might prejudice the coming appeal case on the town council issue.
THE ANIMAL FARM
“This is wrong at so many levels. Even a child knows you don't ask the fox to guard the chicken coop, or a wolf to watch the sheep.”
Senior Minister of State for Law and Health Edwin Tong, during the debate on the governance of Aljunied-Hougang Town Council on 5th November 2019. He was referring to the “sanitising” of an AHTC report to ensure it passed checks by auditors, and done by the very persons whose appointment without tender the report itself was meant to recommend.
LOW THE SENIOR, RESPECTED OPPOSITION MP?
“One point which I want to commend today - I've listened to the very thoughtful speeches from Mr Low Thia Khiang, Mr Pritam Singh, and I am grateful for the bipartisan support that we have in this House. This unity of purpose is essential for us to pursue our foreign policy goals in this uncertain and volatile environment.”
Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan praised Mr Low Thia Khiang of the Workers’ Party, on 2nd March 2017. Mr Low’s spoke about the changing strategic landscape and how the challenges towards Singapore’s foreign policy during the Committee of Supply debate on the Foreign Affairs Ministry.
“Although Mr Low Thia Khiang is a member of the Opposition, he is nevertheless a fellow Singaporean and very much a part of Team Singapore. While we may not always agree with his perspectives or methods, we nevertheless appreciate his efforts to work together to build a better Singapore, as the leader of the Workers' Party. Although Mr Low may have different perspectives, but from his speeches, we can detect his pride in Singapore and his determination to defend our sovereignty. Here, we would like to thank Mr Low Thia Khiang.”
Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing during the debate on the President’s address on 14th May 2018.
EVERY QUESTION IS A VALID QUESTION
"Besides the defensive measures that we take, are there any counter-offensive measures that we can also take as part of cybersecurity strategy so that we can not only defend, but also deter such attacks."
Mr Liang Eng Hwa (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) on Cyber Attack on SingHealth's IT System in Parliament on 6th August 2018. The House was amused with his question and Communications and Information Minister S Iswaran laughed before responding to Mr Liang's question.
THANK YOU MR SCHOOLING
After moving a motion to congratulate Joseph Schooling in Parliament in August 2016, MPs gave a standing ovation to the national athlete.
HAN HUI HUI AND HER HEARING
Ms Han Hui Hui, a political activist and former Radin Mas SMC candidate for the 2015 general election, was escorted out of a hearing room by parliamentary staff during a public hearing of the Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods in March 2018.
This was after she held a print-out of a book cover, “Authoritarian Rule of Law — Legislation, Discourse and Legitimacy in Singapore”, written by Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam’s ex-wife Jothie Rajah. Mr Shanmugam was a member of the committee. Ms Han was asked to refrain from showing the paper and later asked to leave, but refused to do so.
BLOGGER XIAXUE AND HER NMP BID
Blogger Wendy Cheng, popularly known as Xiaxue, made a bid to become a Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP) on 1st April 2018 on Facebook.