Singapore minister apologises for 'private comments' in parliament to opposition MP

Leong Mun Wai, a Singaporean Chinese in a multi-racial Singapore society, was involved in exchanges with several ministers during a parliamentary session on Tuesday.

Published: 16th September 2021 09:46 AM  |   Last Updated: 16th September 2021 09:46 AM   |  A+A-

Singapore Minister of Foreign Affairs, Vivian Balakrishnan

Singapore Minister of Foreign Affairs, Vivian Balakrishnan (Photo | AP)


SINGAPORE: Singapore Indian-origin Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan apologised for making "private comments" to a colleague from the opposition political party, who was involved in a 10-hour marathon debate on foreigners taking Singaporean jobs.

Balakrishnan said he called Progress Singapore Party's (PSP) Non-Constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP) Leong Mun Wai to apologise for his "private comments".

"I disagree with him on the issue, but I should not have said what I said," Balakrishnan wrote in a Facebook post.

"Mr Leong has accepted my apology," TODAY newspaper quoted the minister as saying in the post.

Leong, a Singaporean Chinese in a multi-racial Singapore society, was involved in exchanges with several ministers during a parliamentary session on Tuesday.

Finance Minister Lawrence Wong had tabled a motion on securing Singaporeans' jobs and livelihoods, in response to PSP's motion on Singapore's foreign talent policy that was filed by Leong.

At one point during the marathon debate, Leong tried to clarify some statistics that Manpower Minister Tan See Leng had referenced in his speech.

Just before he persisted in seeking clarifications, the microphone that Tan was using captured a distant voice in the background that said: "He is illiterate."

Later, the same voice was heard saying, "Seriously, how did he get into RI (Raffles Institution - one of the prestigious schools)?", before continuing to say: "Must have been a lousy school".

The mic, which parliamentarians usually mute after speaking, also picked up what sounded like Tan's response to it, "I am from Monk's Hill (Secondary School)," according to media reports here.

At the time, Tan had just returned to his seat, next to Balakrishnan and Wong, after addressing Leong.

The exchange was streamed live on the Ministry of Communications and Information's YouTube channel, and snippets later made the rounds on social media on Wednesday, with some commenters identifying the first voice to be Balakrishnan's.

Leong told the newspaper that Balakrishnan had indeed called to convey his apology for what was said on a "hot mic", adding, "I accepted his apology. Let's put our time to better use for Singapore and Singaporeans."

PSP secretary-general Francis Yuen made a veiled reference to the incident on Wednesday evening in a Facebook post on PSP's maiden parliamentary motion.

"Yes, (the motion) may have been rejected by Parliament. But we believe the public knows and understands why we had to table the motion and get this debate going," Francis said.

"Unlike some quarters who may find dissenting voices illiterate, we have confidence that our fellow Singaporeans are enlightened and educated, and will not miss the woods for the trees," he said.

Early Wednesday morning, Parliament passed a motion by Finance Minister Wong on securing Singaporeans' jobs and livelihoods.

Parliament also rejected a competing motion by Leong, who called on the government to "take urgent and concrete action to address widespread anxiety among Singaporeans on jobs and livelihoods caused by the foreign talent policy".

The opposition political parties have been raising concern and questions in parliament over jobs going to an increasing number of foreigners that otherwise would have been taken by Singaporeans.


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