To celebrate the People’s Action Party’s (PAP) 65th anniversary, we interviewed several retired Members of Parliament (MPs) for their insights.
Here’s the fifth part of our series. Former MP for Tampines GRC Sin Boon Ann shares the challenges he faced as an MP.
Sin Boon Ann, 61MP for Tampines GRC (1997 – 2011)
1. Can you share some of the challenges you faced as an MP?
Sin Boon Ann: The challenges have always been to try and solve the people’s problems. Every time I go to my Meet the People (MPS) session, there will always be issues that linger in my mind after the MPS. Some of the residents have rather complex problems that require more than just a letter to the ministries to resolve. I will always be thinking of how to solve their problems and make life easier for them.
I was an MP, I kept a full time job. I was also wearing different hats. I had to be a lawyer to my clients, a husband to my wife, a father to my children, at the same time discharge my duty as a parliamentarian. I only had 24 hours a day, so I was practically running from pillars to posts. It was a general sense of being stretched and physically tired at times.
(How did you overcome the challenge then?) Well, you just have to make sure that you use your time effectively – you plan your day ahead, you do not waste time, you focus on what you have to do, and you get things done.
2. What was the most rewarding aspect of being an MP?
Sin Boon Ann: Being an MP is a privilege. To be able to serve is an honour.
There were many things that I was thankful for. I was able to help residents – the MPS is not a perfunctory exercise to just write letters, but to be empathetic, to try and resolve their problems and see what other programmes can be done at the constituency level to provide relief. It was fulfilling when you were able to provide intervention.
The other rewarding aspect is being able to participate in the debate in Parliament. It is a privilege to represent the voice of the people. It is not a duty you take lightly. I treasure that tremendously when I was an MP.
3. What was the most memorable moment of your political career?
Sin Boon Ann: There were many memorable moments. One of them was building the Tampines Central Community Centre, which was originally located at Tampines Avenue 5 before being relocated to Our Tampines Hub in 2018.
To me, community identity is very important, and a community requires a town hall where people can focus their energy and attention.
We started off without a community centre. I asked around and the response I got was – I did not qualify because there was an existing community centre nearby. However, I am not a person who takes ‘no’ for an answer and I lobbied for a community club.
Finally, I got the approval to build a community club. With the collective efforts of my grassroot leaders and kind sponsors, we were able to work with the People’s Association to build a community club.
In 2005, when we had our grand opening of the community club, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was the guest-of-honour. It was a rare occasion then in Tampines where we had fireworks.
It was certainly very memorable because the building of the club was a combination of years of effort and you could see that the residents were very happy with the facilities that the community club provided.
4. As an MP, who was the most interesting person you have met?
Sin Boon Ann: The most interesting person I have ever met was a resident, a young man in his 30s, whom I met during my MPS in 2004. He had proposed to build a new kingdom comprising China, Taiwan and Singapore, and he even drafted a Constitution for the new kingdom.
When I met him, he told me that he was an agent sent by the Chinese Government to set up a new kingdom called “Tang Dynasty”. In the kingdom, our founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew would be the emperor while his children – PM Lee Hsien Loong, Lee Hsien Yang and Dr Lee Wei Ling would be his “Imperial Successors”. He even assured me that I would have a place in the kingdom if I were to co-operate with him.
Although I knew the man was unwell, I went along with him in case he needed medical help. He saw me once or twice and never came back. He left me a copy of the Constitution, written in good English, as keepsake.
5. As an MP, what was the most interesting place that you have been to?
Sin Boon Ann: The most interesting place that I have visited as an MP was to Cuba representing Singapore in an Inter-Parliamentary Union conference. It is a place you probably not go to as a regular tourist from this part of the world because it is quite inaccessible.
Cuba is a charming country. It was like time travel – being transported back to the fifties and sixties where you see old cars made of chrome and steel. We also visited a cigar factory. A lady had an enormous cigar stuck in her mouth as she tried to smoke into it. I was told that every worker was entitled to one cigar a day. You roll your own cigar using tobacco leaves. Since the factory did not specify the size of the cigar, she rolled a large one for herself. That part was very interesting.
6. What is your advice to new candidates who would like to join politics or volunteers who want to join the Party?
Sin Boon Ann: You do not need to be an MP to make a difference.
Whether or not you become an MP, it should not define how you want to contribute to the society.
But if you are fortunate ad privileged to be asked to serve as an MP, my advice is to be true to yourself, remember your roots, and be a servant to the people and a leader to your grassroots leaders.
You must also pace yourself. It is important because you are in for the long haul. I was an MP for 15 years. Having understanding family members is important too.
7. Tell us one thing that people may not know about being an MP.
Sin Boon Ann: One thing that people may not know is: MPs do not draw their allowance directly from the Government. They are paid through the Party and there are deductibles like common party expenses. Hence, MPs do not lay full claim to their allowances.
An advantage is that the Party does not have to rely on donors to raise money. It is not beholden to any person whereas in other countries, you need to go and raise funds. This is also how we keep ourselves corruption free.
8. As PAP celebrates its 65th birthday, what is your wish for the Party?
Sin Boon Ann: My wish for the party is that it will continue to remain true to its ideals and vision – to build a democratic society based on justice and equality, to be a multiracial, multireligious and multilingual society that allows everybody equal opportunity to fulfill their destiny; never to lose sight of those ideals and to continue to be incorruptible.