I went back to the National University of Singapore this afternoon to speak to and take questions from the undergraduate students sitting for PS2207: Government & Politics of Singapore, a course I took some 20-odd years ago!

One student intriguingly asked me about the “strange things” that happen in Parliament.

I spoke of yesterday’s Parliamentary session where many MPs wanted to ask questions about the exemptions granted by the Government, allowing the Turf Club and Pools to offer online gambling options under the Remote Gambling Act. However, Speaker had to cut this short, leaving many MPs unable to ask supplementary questions as Question and Answer time yesterday could not become another mini-debate on the Remote Gambling Bill.

In 2014, the Workers’ Party MPs who spoke on the Bill urged the Government to send the Remote Gambling Bill to a Select Committee of Parliament to scrutinise the Bill further and to address many concerns Singaporeans had over granting exemptions to permit online gambling. This was rejected by the Government.

The last time a Bill went to Select Committee was in 2004. Parliament has a system in place through the Select Committee process to look closely at any Bill. However, the Government seldom uses this channel even though it has a clear and salutary democratic purpose, to say nothing of delivering a more participatory democracy for all Singaporeans – as they can be called upon to give evidence to the Committee. The fact that both sides of the House had so many residual questions about online gambling suggests that the debate of 2014 on the Remote Gambling Bill left much to be desired.

In Parliament yesterday, the Government also tabled a Bill for debate next month that will also see a rise in the number of Non-Constituency MPs from 9 to twelve. It does make one wonder what is the purpose of adding more NCMPs to Parliament, when we do not use the current platforms Parliament offers, like Select Committees, to create a more inclusive, democratic and participatory society – to say nothing of more robust law-making so that the views of all Singaporeans are better considered.

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