To celebrate the People’s Action Party’s (PAP) 65th anniversary, we interviewed several former Members of Parliament (MPs) for their insights.
Here’s the final part of our series. Former MP for Ang Mo Kio GRC Yeo Guat Kwang shares the challenges he faced as an MP.
Yeo Guat Kwang, 58
- MP for Cheng San GRC (1997 – 2001)
- MP for Aljunied GRC (2001 -2011)
- MP for Ang Mo Kio GRC (2011 – 2015)
1. Can you share some of the challenges you faced as an MP?
Yeo Guat Kwang: I always reminded myself not to let the voters who had supported me and my team down. We were there to serve so we had to do our utmost for them.
Some of the issues that my residents faced were multi-faceted and complex. They often required a whole-of-the-system approach where we worked with multiple agencies to provide the right support.
To resolve a complex problem, the first step was to understand the root cause. For example, it is insufficient to help low-income residents by just providing financial assistance. We needed to understand why they were facing financial difficulties. It could be due to their lack of employability or them incurring medical fees. The solution would then be helping the residents to upgrade their skills so that they could look for better jobs or to activate the medical social support network to defray their medical cost.
Even if we may not be able to resolve the problems of our residents entirely, we must find the most practical way to help them. Once, a resident threw a bag of food ration that we have given to his father on to the ground. He shouted that his father did not cook his meals. In this instance, a practical solution would be to offer food vouchers instead so that his father could purchase cooked food from the coffee shops nearby. This example underlines the fact that we cannot adopt a one-size fits all mentality when we help residents. We need to understand their needs and customise our help according to their unique circumstances.
In helping residents, I go by the four-letter word “LOVE”. We look at the networks such as community groups and grassroots organisation that we can leverage to come up with a holistic solution. Next, we need to be on the ground. Also, we need to rely on volunteers to help the residents, and lastly, we need to be empathetic, putting ourselves in the shoes of the residents.
As an MP, we not only try our best to help the residents, we also need to ensure that we have good policies in place. In Parliament, we debate policies – look at their impact from the macro-level and how it affects everyone on the micro-level.
On a personal level, it was about balancing work and family. I needed to do better and not neglect my family because I was busy.
I am glad that I had a strong network of grassroots, and with the support of voluntary welfare organisations, and efficient government agencies, we strove towards a common mission of making the lives of our residents better. This in turn spurred me on. No matter what challenges I faced, with the supportive network, efficient government agencies, my family, and a strong Party behind me, we could do more and advance as one.
2. What was the most rewarding aspect of being an MP?
Yeo Guat Kwang: I am fortunate and honoured to have had the opportunity to serve as an MP.
With a transparent and efficient system in Singapore, we can raise the concerns of residents openly in Parliament. When we go about resolving an issue, be it housing or transport, we can conduct dialogues with different stakeholders and bring them together to come up with a feasible solution. Although we may not arrive at an ideal outcome, it would still be the most desirable way to improve the situation. That was what I found very rewarding.
3. What were the memorable moments of your political career?
Yeo Guat Kwang: In 1997, I represented the PAP in the General Elections for the first time to contest at Cheng San GRC. It was a tough fight and I was fortunate to go through the baptism of fire in my first election campaign.
What struck me was how religion, language, and race issues could surface and threaten the unity and harmony of the society. At the end of the day, the election results showed that Singaporeans do not endorse divisive politics and political parties that use race, language, and religion to divide people. But we cannot take things for granted and assume that race, language, and religion will not be used as election issues. We must continue to build strong core values and a strong Singapore identity that transcends these issues.
Another memorable moment was when the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act (CPFTA) was enacted in Parliament on 11 November 2003. The Act took effect on 1 March 2004 to protect consumers against unfair practices and give them additional rights in respect of goods that do not conform to contract.
Back then, the Consumers Association of Singapore (CASE) received 20,000 complaints annually. As the president of CASE, we managed to get every stakeholder to endorse the Act. Subsequently, it was extended to include the financial industry, subsidiary regulations were enacted under the amendment of CPFTA and the Lemon Law was passed.
With the Act in place, every consumer in Singapore can seek redress when they face unfair trade practices.
4. As PAP celebrates its 65th birthday, what is your wish for the Party?
Yeo Guat Kwang: One of the main reasons I decided to join politics is because I am proud to be a Singaporean. Regardless of family background, race or religion, everyone has a fair starting point and equal opportunities. Looking at the social mobility score, Singapore is one of the countries that has the highest scores. It is important for us to keep this social mobility.
The mission of the PAP is to build a fair and just society where the benefits of progress are spread widely to all. Moving forward, I hope that the Party can remain committed to its mission, continue to stay incorruptible, be people-centric and act swiftly to give everyone a better life.