A Very Long Parliament Session and Intense Diplomacy

By Wong Chen

It is Saturday 2nd of December 2023 and I am resting at home. I will be taking it easy this weekend, doing a barbeque, hanging out with my son and daughter, before flying off to China for an official trip next Monday for a week of work meetings.

I have just completed a very long session of Parliament. We started on 9th October and ended last Thursday on 30th of November. This Parliament session started with a lot of hope and ended with some results and unfortunately, coming short in several reform areas too.

Top of the list of disappointments, was the fact that we did not see the tabling of the much-awaited Parliamentary Services Act (the “PSA”), despite earlier hints and indications that the bill will be tabled. Second on the list, was the Tobacco bill sans the Generational End Game component.  Nevertheless, there were also significant milestones met, such as the introduction of ministerial statements and the successful passing of the Fiscal Responsibility Act.

Parliament will re-convene next year in late February. Hopefully the big bills such as the PSA, the Political Finance bill and the Constitutional Amendments on stateless children will see the light of day then. My office has been working and championing these bills for some time now; at least in the last three to four years, of which one year was under the Unity Government. Admittedly, progress has been slow. For every bill under consideration, there is also a web of cross departmental powers that need to be addressed, as well as the tricky question of lack of budget.

As I chair a Special Select Committee as well as an All-Party Parliamentary Group, and also advises the Speaker generally on reforms, I find myself in more and more discussions, forums and dialogues. In the last sitting, I was involved in multiple official hearings including behind the scene negotiations with ministers. I have also been meeting the Prime Minister on a weekly basis in the last month of this sitting. We have been having lively private discussions on bills, foreign policy and the economy; a return to the good old days of our meetings before he became PM.

I have also been hosting a lot of constituents, representatives from chambers of commerce, civil society and international investors. I have been exceptionally active in having these meetings, averaging 4.5 meetings per Parliament day. I remember a couple of days in this sitting, where I had a record of 8 meetings. My personal assistant Ivan, my officers Dhaartshini and Iskandar, my executive interns and interns have all been worked to the max this sitting. We also got involved in two social bills that need a bit of extra push, which we are taking on at the request of our friends at the United Nations.

Official meetings with diplomats and trade representatives have also been coming thick and fast. As the Israel-Palestine war unfolded, my work increased to a new level. As Chairman of the select committee which deals with foreign affairs, my work tripled up at the first two weeks of the war. However, as the terrible humanitarian crisis unfolded in the later weeks, economic and international trade concerns also started increasing.  There was a surge in back-channel meetings to ensure that trade ties remain intact despite the strains. My main duty is to uphold our foreign policy position and at the same time ensure that there are no undue negative economic consequences resulting from our stance.

I would like to believe that this month of December will afford me a bit of to rest a bit and reflect on the year 2023. Lastly, I would also like to take this opportunity to wish all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.