Members of Parliament: Responsibilities, Expectations, and the Tin Pei Ling Case

When reports of MP Tin Pei Ling having joined Grab as Director of Public Affairs and Policy were first announced in early February, public reaction was far from uniformly positive. Questions were raised by the public and by commentators about conflicts of interest, and the roles of MPs in Singapore.

While the legality of this is not in question – several MPs hold other positions and Tin Pei Ling has also worked in other organisations, the nature of this job has sparked heated responses. Ms. Tin’s role would have involved interacting with local government bodies on behalf of Grab. Further, the nature of Grab’s presence in Singapore as a large organization that will inevitably be impacted by local legislation and regulations further entangled the two positions of lawmaker and director.

Beyond Ms. Tin, broader questions about MPs holding other jobs have been raised – namely, questioning why they are allowed to do so. One commonly raised point is how other groups of civil servants are not allowed to “moonlight” and that MPs should be held to the same standards for them to best carry out their duties. Others have asked how the public can hold MPs accountable and what system of checks are in place to regulate MP’s personal corporate endeavors.

Following the public response, Ms. Tin and Grab have since announced her shift to a “corporate development role,” which they say will involve “no public affairs or policy work in Singapore.” However, questions prompted by this case are bigger than a single incident. We asked the Black Dot Research Panel how they view the role of MP, and if this case has changed how they feel. How do Singaporeans feel about MPs holding dual roles, and what expectations they have for MPs when it comes to transparency and public interest?

(note: this survey was conducted before news about Ms. Tin switching roles at Grab was released)

A majority of 69% were concerned about potential conflict of interest. When shown an excerpt of Ms. Tin’s initial statement, only 4% found their concerns completely resolved, while a majority of 65% did not find their concerns resolved at all.

While some public responses demonstrated surprise that MPs were able to hold secondary employment in the first place, a majority of 74% in this survey knew of this possibility prior to this case. However, this split was less obvious when respondents were categorised according to age group, with the under-35 range less likely to have known compared to the 35-65 age range.

We asked respondents if they felt MPs should be able to hold secondary employment, and if this case changed their opinion.

The question of whether MPs should be able to hold secondary employment received split responses, with 49% answering no, 35% answering yes, and 16% being unsure. This specific case also influenced some answers, with 56% of those who felt MPs should not be able to hold secondary employment saying their opinion changed after hearing about it.

However, while some respondents were concerned over conflict of interest in Tin Pei Ling’s case, they still felt that MPs should be able to hold separate positions.

When asked about official ways to check or regulate MP’s secondary employment, a significant majority of respondents either agreed or strongly agreed that either legal regulation or public disclosures and registers should be implemented.

This includes respondents who feel that MPs should be able to hold secondary employment, with 68% either agreeing or strongly agreeing.

The responses from our panel suggest that Singaporeans do not view the issue in black and white and have varied, nuanced opinions when it comes to MPs. However, while this case may not have pushed Singaporeans to extreme opinions, results do reveal a desire for change and accountability.

One reason for this could be the different roles which MPs are expected to fulfil. While the Tin Pei Ling case involved questions about both conflict of interest and her dual roles impacting her duties as MP, focus has landed more heavily on the former. We therefore asked respondents to rank the following MP responsibilities in order of importance to them.

These results suggest that MPs are viewed more as direct advocates for their constituents and constituencies, rather than for their other official responsibilities such as participating in government committees, grassroots groups or even engaging in parliament outside of their constituent’s issues. Rather than secondary employment being more about potential conflicts of interest, Singaporeans could also be worried that MPs would not be able to carry out those more important roles satisfactorily if juggling more than one job.

When asked if holding secondary positions would affect an MP’s ability to fulfil their responsibilities, a majority of 61% thought it would, while 23% answered no. 16% were unsure.

By gaining a better understanding of what the public desires from elected politicians, it is possible discuss issues such as MP employment and expectations with more nuance and depth. The results from this short survey offer an insight into how our panel of Singapore residents view their MPs. They suggest a desire for more official regulation when it comes to their secondary employment and that, to an extent, cases such Tin Pei Ling’s can serve as an impetus for opinions to form or change, and push issues into the public consciousness.


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