Singapore’s ‘Meet the People’ sessions can help constituents and officials alike, if they work

When a couple couldn’t get a loan from a bank, they went to their local Member of Parliament for help.

As reported by Free Malaysia Today, Member of Parliament (MP) and co-leader of the East Coast Group Representation Constituency (GRC) Mohamad Maliki Osman turned personal financial consultant for a couple in need, helping the pair navigate the complicated legal and financial waters of owning property in Singapore.

Real estate issues are so common in Singapore because most families own homes while the price of land per square meter is also one of the highest in the world. And though Osman serves as Senior Minister of State and Mayor of the South East District, to name just a few more of his responsibilities, he is very familiar with the nuances of property ownership.

After some lengthy explanation and a quick calculation, Osman tells the couple their situation is not as dire as they thought.

Unlike many Western countries, where the separation between politician and constituent can sometimes be enormous, in Singapore’s East Coast GRC Osman holds regular ‘Meet the People’ sessions(MPS), which are office hours for people to come speak to Osman about their problems, and even visits constituents door-to-door.

MPS were started by Lee Kuan Yew, the first Prime Minister of Singapore. These meetings are held weekly at the offices of local officials and are often facilitated by volunteers. Constituents explain their problems to MPs like Osman, and then the MPs contact the relevant person or institution on their behalf.

Anecdotal evidence aside, however, how well MPS work for most constituents in most situations varies. The GRC system itself, a complicated method of representation meant to curb impropriety and racial imbalance via the election of teams rather than individuals, likely wouldn’t be needed if MPS had widespread effectiveness.

Perhaps the biggest reason MPS aren’t more reliable is Singapore’s longstanding political gridlock between parties in power. If an official holding an MPS is a member of the People’s Action Party (PAP), which is the dominant party in Singapore with 83 of 89 seats in Parliament won in 2015, then contacting other PAP members or PAP run institutions is reasonably likely to get a constituent whatever help is needed.

On the other hand, if an official is a member of a minority party, such as the Workers’ Party (WP) which currently holds 9 seats in Parliament, then convincing majority party members to lend a hand can be much more difficult.

Even if the official a constituent goes to see is a member of the right party, or is able to work across party lines successfully, MPS can turn into times for constituents to complain about simple parking disputes or drainage troubles, to which help might not be forthcoming, possible, or even a good use of an official’s time.

Nonetheless, as of the night of Oct 18, Osman ran yet another MPS in the hopes of helping his constituents to the best of his ability like he did the couple.

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