On 25 May, I posted a simple question on my Facebook page.
I posed the question after the government’s decision to charge teachers for parking in school premises, and remarks from Education minister Ong Ye Kung supporting the ban on free parking for teachers.
Mr Ong explained the move on his Facebook page which, incidentally, came after almost one week and as a response to MP Seah Kian Peng’s speech in Parliament lamenting the move.
Honestly, Mr Ong’s explanation is laughable, claiming that the move was because of some “internal self-discipline” which, ironically, came about only after the Auditor General’s Office (AGO) had found that some schools were giving teachers free parking. The AGO said this amounted to hidden perks which should not be so, and ran counter to the government’s “clean wage” policy.
Hence, Mr Ong said, MOE had to decree a stop to such practices.
Mr Seah, on his part, said that the government should not always see things in such stark dollars and cents perspectives, devoid of humanity and more compassionate considerations. Apparently, his words have fallen on deaf ears.
Which brings me to the point of this article and the question I posed – what about the government itself? Do they receive (give themselves) free parking at work, the very same thing which they have now barred teachers from doing so?
Well, it seems they do – and don’t.
Straits Times’ Opinion Editor Chua Mui Hoong – perhaps having seen my Facebook question and those of others – consulted the Clerk of Parliament before writing her article on 3 June. She asked the Clerk if MPs receive free parking when parking in Parliament House.
The answer? I’ll let Ms Chua tell you.
“Intringued, I asked the Clerk of Parliament. Answer: Yes.”
And she continued:
“MPs park for free,” Ms Chua wrote, and then quoted (apparently) the Clerk who had (I presume) replied to her (emphasis mine):
“Members of Parliament do not have offices in Parliament House and do not require full-time parking here. As authorised persons to Parliament House on sitting days or when they are here for meetings to perform their official duties, MPs park their vehicles at the restricted carpark at no charge.”
“At no charge”.
That is as clear as anyone could be with an answer.
But apparently, it is not so.
Later on the same day that Ms Chua’s article was published, on 3 June, a response was published, and it came from the Leader of the House, Ms Grace Fu.
Ms Fu accused Ms Chua of “[creating] the impression that MPs get free parking at Parliament House.”
See here: https://www.straitstimes.com/forum/letters-on-the-web/elected-mps-pay-for-annual-parking-permit
In that letter, Ms Fu explained:
It is interesting to me that she used the phrase “deemed to cover”, instead of just coming out and say it plainly and outright – that MPs pay for their parking at Parliament House, and then tell us what the schedule of charges are.
I mean, at HDB car parks, we know exactly what the charges are. It should be no different for car parks at Parliament House.
And Ms Fu also said:
“Political office holders, like civil servants, also pay for parking at their ministries and agencies. This payment generally covers the occasions when they visit other ministries and agencies on official busines; and if they have to pay for public or commercial carparks in the vicinity, they are reimbursed.”
Hmm… so it means MPs get free parking when visiting other ministries/govt agencies, but these are then offset from the payment which MPs make for their parkings at HDB car parks?
Not surprisingly, Ms Fu’s explanation drew incredulous reactions from some online, and threw up even more questions to what is a very simple matter of whether MPs get free parking at Parliament House when they attend to parliamentary business.
Here is what we can ascertain from Ms Fu’s and the Clerk’s remarks:
- MPs do park for free in Parliament House – except that they do not.
- MPs park for free in Parliament House, but they pay for it through deductions made for their parking charges at HDB car parks. (Yes, it is confusing.) (MPs get free parking when attending to constituency matters, and Parliament deduct such charges from their MP allowances, or honorariums.)
- MPs also get free parking when they park at other ministries or govt agencies’ premises. And if they can’t park there, and park in commercial carparks, they are reimbursed. (This effectively mean they get free parking at other ministries and agencies in such instances when they can’t find parking lots in the ministries and agencies’ premises, but then these charges are offset through their payment for their parking at HDB car parks – “deemed to cover”.)
In the end, it is a mess. We do not know for certain what the truth is – do MPs get free parking in Parliament House or not? We don’t know. Do MPs get free parking elsewhere? We also do not know for sure.
And this is why it is utterly hypocritical for the government to be so calculative towards teachers – that they are so certain and so determined to rein in that little bit of perk for teachers, and yet they are blinded to their own culpability in getting free parking for themselves.
Teachers give of themselves in so many ways, they give time, effort and a whole lot more to their charges (students) and do not ask for anything back, or for any incentives. Yet, here we have the government telling them that they should absolutely be calculative right down to the last cent.
Notice that Mr Ong’s reply to Mr Seah said nothing of these sacrifices which teachers make and whether, in light of his insistence on the policy of “clean wage”, that teachers should in fact stop paying for things which they purchase for their students, or the extra time (after school hours) which teachers often put in to guide and help their students.
And mind you, teachers are no longer just teachers assigned to the classroom. They are in fact administrators, planners, counsellors, trip advisers, chaperones, cashiers, and a whole lot more.
So please. Your policies must be based on humaneness, just as Mr Seah argued for. Your policies cannot be based on dollars and cents alone, which is the case here.
And above all, your policies must apply fairly to all, including and especially to yourselves!
You cannot bar everyone else from free parking while you give yourself free parking!
This is even more so when our MPs are handsomely paid – as Ms Chua revealed, to the tune of $210,000 per year. Considering that an MP’s term of service is 5 years (per electoral term), that comes to a whopping more than $1,000,000.
Enough to pay for any kind of parking.
So, why do MPs get free parking when they go to work (in Parliament), while teachers do not? Why do MPs get free parking when those in Mindef do not?
Why do MPs, as Ms Fu revealed, get free parking in Parliament when their free parking privileges extend only to HDB car parks and only when they are attending to constituency matters?
Is Parliament under the aegis of the HDB?
At the moment, it seems to me that neither the Clerk of Parliament nor Ms Fu (or the govt) knows exactly if MPs get free parking, actually.
Clerk says yes, Fu says no. They can’t both be correct. Or can they? I don’t know.
What I do know is that a simple matter has evolved into something unwieldy and murky, with hints of hidden perks for some and not for others.
All this, ironically, betrays the “internal self-discipline” which Mr Ong boasted about.
If there is “internal self-discipline”, why has no MP spoken up about their own free parking perks for so long, until the AGO highlighted it?
Looks to me this “internal self-discipline” does not work very well.
As is often said, you cannot #OwnselfCheckOwnself .
Now, please tell Singaporeans if MPs get free parking when they attend parliamentary sittings at Parliament House.
Surely, this is a very simple question.
Just answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’.
And then you can explain.
MPs did receive free parking, until at least 1985. Apparently, “internal self-discipline” didn’t kick in til much later.