FEBRUARY 12 — The phrase “conflict of interest” has been doing the rounds on Singapore’s mediasphere of late and it follows MP Tin Pei Ling’s, from the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP), disclosure earlier this month that she would be joining ride hailing and delivery giant Grab as director of Public Affairs and Policy.
Tin’s appointment raised eyebrows as the idea of public policy and government relations at a major private firm being headed by a member of the government raised valid questions about conflict of interest.
Grab is the leading ride hailing and delivery platform in Singapore. It is also one of the leading Super Apps in South-east Asia offering a range of products and services.
Thousands of Singaporeans use the app daily and the firm’s interactions with the government are extensive.
Temasek which is a Singapore government owned holding company/ fund also owns shares in Grab meaning the relationship between Grab and the Singapore government is a rather deep one.
In that context, the idea of an MP sitting on the board of Grab and dealing with the government raised the issue of whether she and those who were working with her could remain truly impartial — and separate her role as an MP from her role in Grab.
Traditionally, Singapore MPs have been permitted and even encouraged to hold jobs in the private sector or continue to engage in their professions once they are elected.
This is in line with MPs in the UK and congressmen in the United States.
Following criticism online, Grab responded by saying the firm would reassign Tin to a corporate development role — a position where she is not required to deal and liaise with government officials.
However, this specific incident aside, the reality is that the vast majority of MPs hold jobs outside of their roles as MPs.
This seems justified as it means MPs aren’t simply a ruling class separated from the real economy. It means they deal with companies, the public and the private sector every day and this should make them more effective legislators.
On the other hand, however, MPs’ businesses and professional dealings may conflict with their responsibilities as public representatives.
The key to reducing potential conflict needs to be transparency and clear guidelines. At present, the public have very little direct visibility regarding MPs’ professional lives, their earnings, shareholdings and directorships.
As a voter, I would like to know what business roles the MPs I vote for engage in.
If not specifics on income, the public should at least be able to know what jobs, directorships and major shareholdings their MPs hold and I would argue that this increased transparency might actually serve to increase public confidence and assuage fears — making the public more comfortable with MPs holding a variety of positions.
After all, perhaps having an MP advising a major company on its public affairs does make sense but to ever see that outcome without pushback, we would need more clarity.
*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.