‘No need to bang on the rostrum’: Speaker Seah Kian Peng wades into Leong Mun Wai - Murali exchange
Mr Murali Pillai (Bukit Batok) and Non-Constituency MP Leong Mun Wai had an extended exchange in Parliament on Thursday, which resulted in a rebuke from newly-minted Speaker Seah Kian Peng on upholding the rules of the House.
“By all means speak with passion, speak with conviction, please do that. But there is no need - I again remind people - there’s no need to bang on the rostrum, or things of that sort.
“So I hope people are reminded. I hate to give reminders every now and then,” said Mr Seah.
Both Mr Leong and Mr Murali had risen to speak during the debate on the Lease Agreements for Retail Premises Bill in Parliament.
The Bill, which was later passed, sets out guidelines for fairer lease negotiations between landlords and tenants of retail premises.
In his speech, Mr Leong said he has seen “the emergence of a rentier economy” in Singapore’s commercial property market.
While the new law goes some way towards righting the power balance between landlords and tenants, he said it still allows landlords to use a rent structure that is win-win for them, no matter the economic situation.
“This rent computation structure means that landlords enjoy the good times as rent increases in tandem with sales, and are still protected during bad times as tenants must continue to pay the base rent,” he said.
Mr Leong added: “We call on the Government to consider asserting its influence and encourage the fair tenancy industry committee to outlaw such rental computation structures all together in the next iteration of the code of conduct.”
In his own speech, Mr Murali referred to Mr Leong’s comments.
“Mr Leong advocated some form of low rent control, and I’ve been in legal practice long enough to remember the spectre of the Rent Control Act,” said the PAP MP.
Mr Murali noted that in the past, because of the Act, there was no incentive for landlords to improve their premises, which led to dilapidated buildings. Singapore suffered, because as a small country it requires a high utility of its land, he added. The Rent Control Act was abolished in 2001.
Mr Leong, who is from the Progress Singapore Party, then sought clarifications from Mr Murali.
He said: “If I hear correctly, he mentioned that I recommended rent control in my speech. Is that what you mean? I didn’t say that.”
Mr Murali responded that he did not assert that Mr Leong sought rent control.
“What I said in my speech was that he sought lower rents on behalf of small- and medium-sized enterprises and, as a result of that, it triggered memories of the Rent Control Act,” he said.
Mr Leong asked Mr Murali to retract what he said, asserting that Mr Murali had made a very unfair inference into his speech.
Mr Murali replied that his point was there needs to be a collaborative effort between tenants and landlords in the committee to reach an equitable outcome.
Mr Leong then said that Mr Murali’s explanation was “still not enough” and asked him to be very clear that he did not say he was advocating rent control.
Mr Murali responded that he had already, in his first clarification, said he did not say Mr Leong advocated rent control.
Following this, Mr Leong said he did not like the inference that Mr Murali had made, which was that he was trying to recommend pushing down rents “and toward the direction of rent control”.
The NCMP then said this was “the same pattern” used by the Government to label him - as xenophobic on jobs, and of trying to raid the reserves when he spoke on lowering home prices.
In making this point, Mr Leong brought his fist down to hit the rostrum.
Mr Murali then reiterated that he was not making any specific insinuation about rent control on Mr Leong.
Mr Seah then stepped in, noting that what both MPs had said would be recorded clearly in the Hansard.
Mr Leong sought another clarification, asking if Mr Murali would apologise to him if the record later confirmed that Mr Leong was not asking for lower rents. In doing so, he again struck the rostrum.
Mr Murali said he was not making any such commitment.
“Mr Leong is entitled to his views, and I hope that he respects that I’m entitled to my views as well,” he said.
Shortly after this exchange, Mr Seah gave his reminder to the House on decorum - one day after he first made the point in his maiden speech as Speaker.