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Meet-the-People Sessions (MPSes) is a series of one-to-one meetings between elected members of parliament and their constituents in Singapore. The MPS are usually held once a week at a local constituency office staffed by partisan volunteers. Constituents visit their representatice at the respective MPSes in hope of resolving their various problems encountered in daily living. The MP will write petition letters to the relevant ministry, statutory board or any concerned parties to appeal on behalf of the resident. These letters are usually accorded a higher priority by the Civil Service as they come from elected Members of Parliament, regardless even from elected Opposition MPs as the Singapore Civil Service is ought to accord MPs in equality and democratic as based and sworn by the Singapore National Pledge.
Cases deal with a wide range of issues. The list is not exhaustive such as family financial problems (e.g. health-cost issues, jobs seeking, financial assistance), CPF matters, various licenses, HDB-related problems (e.g. subsidized rental housing, obtaining a subsidized HDB flat), immigration issues, and appeals for school admissions and school fee subsidy, neighbor and any other relational disputes.
Almost all Meet-the-People sessions starts after 7pm and can routinely last past midnight based on queue, and are staffed by volunteers.
The rationale for the MPS is so that Members of Parliament can get a feel of the ground. Even cabinet Ministers are required to go to their weekly MPS, although sometimes they may seek help from another MP to cover duties when they have ministerial or other work duties to attend to.
The 1966 Wee Chong Jin Constitutional Commission had recommended an Ombudsman to deal with complaints against the bureaucracy, but Parliament rejected the recommendation and instead preferred that such cases were handled by the Members of Parliament themselves or the national Feedback Unit. This need to perform an Ombudsman function is probably another rationale for having the MPS.
The process of meeting the Members of Parliament (MPs) varies from constituency to constituency, but they follow a general pattern:
1) Registration and take queue number,
2) Constituent meets the petition writer who pens the appeal letter (either hand-written or via computer) on behalf of the MP,
3) Wait for queue to consult the MP in person,
4) Meet and consult the MP, with a personal assistant, in a separate private room, constituent narrates to the MP of his/ her problems.
5) MP needs to assure the constituent that they will provide assistance to their cases via the letters. For urgent cases, the letter will be typed out, proof-read and sign by the MP and hands it to the constituent on the spot. For typical cases, the letter will be vetted through by the MP’s or Minister’s Personal Secretary and sent out usually after three working days.
There has been criticism that MPs do not give sufficient time allowance to each individual resident. There has also been criticism that volunteers at MPS are unable to connect with residents and that the general attitude of volunteers has changed with time, to the organisations detriment. Some criticisms levelled at the MPS include using standard-issue templates for many of the petition letters which are usually repetitive at most times, an inability to accommodate residents with disabilities and a lack of empathy towards fellow Singaporeans. To counter the criticism the organisation has begun to redesign the "Meet-the-People" sessions to actually feel the ground in reality, to try and gain back the trust and support of the people that the people entrust to them.
- MP, I want help with...
- Leon Comber, Asian Studies Review, Volume 18, Issue 2 November 1994 , pages 105 - 112
- Li-ann Thio, "The Passage of a Generation" in Li-ann Thio and Kevin YL Tan Evolution of a Revolution (Oxon: Routledge-Cavendish, 2010) 7 at 38