Be vigilant in personal conduct, serve the people of S’pore: Newly elected Speaker Seah Kian Peng
Recent events are a reminder to members of the House of their own mortality and fragility. They have shown that members are “all too human”, with not only physical but also spiritual and moral weaknesses, said newly elected Speaker Seah Kian Peng on Wednesday.
“I say this not to join with the chorus of sanctimony, but to reflect first on the need for us all to be vigilant in our personal conduct,” he said in Parliament.
He added that members should be vigilant with themselves first, but also with colleagues, to hold one another to account without fear and to tell truth to power.
“I say this to point to the rules and codes of conduct which govern us all, as members of the highest rulemaking body in the land, and equally, as members of political parties,” the 61-year-old added.
The role of Speaker had been left vacant following Mr Tan Chuan-Jin’s resignation on July 17 over an extramarital affair with former Tampines GRC MP Cheng Li Hui, who has also resigned. Mr Tan, 54, had also used “unparliamentary language” in the House following a speech by Workers’ Party MP Jamus Lim.
Mr Seah is the 11th Speaker to preside over the sittings of the House. His proposer was Leader of the House Ms Indranee Rajah, and his seconder Ms Denise Phua (Jalan Besar GRC).
On Wednesday, Mr Seah reminded members that their words and work live far beyond them: “We must therefore remember and bear the weight of our office with dignity and a constant sense of duty.”
He said he looked forward with cautious optimism that even during spirited debates, members would maintain the highest standards of decorum and conduct befitting the esteemed House.
While they should debate with conviction and passion, they need to uphold the rules as parliamentarians, he added.
He noted that some of his residents are concerned about his ability to raise issues affecting ordinary Singaporeans, while serving as the Speaker. He has been a Member of Parliament for Marine Parade GRC since 2006, when he was first elected.
“The paradox in Parliament is that the Speaker himself or herself often does not speak,” he said.
Although his role requires him to abstain from participating in debates, he assured his residents that he will continue to advocate their concerns, and express his views on matters impacting the lives of Singaporeans and their family through alternative channels.
“I pledge to discharge my duties impartially, firmly and fairly, ensuring the orderly conduct of parliamentary business. We all share a common goal – that is, to serve the people of Singapore, and I am committed to giving my best to achieve it,” he said.
He noted that in his first Parliamentary session in 2006, the Speaker then was Mr Abdullah Tarmugi, who was unanimously elected.
“Rising to speak on the occasion, (Workers’ Party MP) Mr Low Thia Khiang reminded the Speaker of the need for fairness. He said: “Sir, you have been re-elected again and I believe that in your past years as Speaker of the House, your eyesight has been trained to be as sharp as a razor and to be swift as lightning, and I think we can all expect that whoever wishes to speak will catch your eye.”
“So, my first point is this: I wish to assure Members on both sides of the House that I intend for my eyes to be easily caught too.”
Mr Seah previously served as Deputy Speaker between 2011 and 2016.
He is also the Group CEO of NTUC Enterprise, which includes social enterprises like supermarket chain NTUC FairPrice, NTUC LearningHub and Kopitiam. He is making plans to step down from his current job within this year, said Ms Indranee on Wednesday.
According to the Parliament website, the Speaker presides over the sittings of the House, and enforces the rules prescribed in the Standing Orders of Parliament for the orderly conduct of parliamentary business.
The Speaker is overall in charge of the administration of Parliament and its Secretariat.
He also acts as the representative of the House in its relations with other Parliaments and outside bodies. He welcomes visiting dignitaries, and represents Parliament at national events and during official visits abroad.