A more democratic way to select our ministers

Chan Jia Hui

The Parliament of Singapore

The Parliament of Singapore

The final verdict is out. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong introduced sweeping changes to our cabinet. The changes saw the retirement of Mr Wong Kan Seng, Mr Raymond Lim and Mr Mah Bow Tan, along with Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew and Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong who have stepped down.

There were some changes in portfolios. Mr Khaw Boon Wan is now Minister for National Development and his Minister for Health post is taken over by Mr Gan Kim Yong. Mr Teo Chee Hean is made Minister for Home Affairs. Dr Vivian Balakrishnan is now Minister for Environment and Water Resources and his previous post at the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports is held by newcomer Mr Chan Chun Sing who will be Acting Minister.

The outcome of which candidates will be selected to take up various ministerial portfolios is a keenly anticipated one among political observers. In the days leading up to the announcement, speculation is rife among members of the public as to which minister is the most popular and will stay, who is likely to leave, and who will replace him.

There is however, a more feasible and democratic way to select our ministers. Have all the Members of Parliament (MPs) elect the cabinet ministers, and make this an annual affair. The reasoning and justification for this are simple. Since MPs will engage the cabinet minister in parliament on policy making and ministry specific issues, they will be in a good position to judge which parliamentarian is in the best position to lead the ministry.

The system to elect our ministers can work in a similar way as our parliamentary elections. MPs can nominate their choice of fellow MPs to ministerial positions. There will be a period of hustings in parliament when the potential ministerial candidates present their plans, proposals and policies that they feel is best for their targeted ministry to move forward. MPs can determine which candidates have the best ideas and vote accordingly.

The presented plans, proposals and policies of the various potential ministers can also be communicated to the public via the media. This will spark public interest and generate debate about the viability of various ministerial candidates’ ideas. Increasing public engagement and involvement in such debates bodes well in terms of fostering government policy awareness among Singaporeans.

Granted that it will take a longer time to determine who gets to lead various ministries, such a system of minister selection ensures the candidate with the best plans, policies and proposals will head the ministry. Even though a minister is absent during the period of “parliamentary hustings”, our civil service can still function ably.

Upon election of the minister, the latter will address the parliament on the progress of his ministry. He will also address any issues or criticisms revolving around his ministry.

Having such a system in place to elect our ministers will ensure only the most capable of individuals are selected to lead the ministries. If a particular minister is unable to deliver on his promises or does not perform to expectation, he will lose his appointment to another candidate whom fellow MPs feel can do the job better.

There is talk of moving towards a first world parliament during the elections. Surely, having a system in place requiring our ministers to be elected by MPs goes a long way towards first world parliament status. Potential ministers should be judged based on the merits of their proposals and plans for the respective ministries and this is subjected to vote. It will be a contest as such to determine who has the best ideas to take our ministries forward. Ultimately, Singaporeans will be the winners, and our parliament too.

Photo courtesy of superciliousness, Flickr Commons