Thank goodness for our Arts Nominated Member of Parliament Kok Heng Leun and his predecessors Janice Koh and Audrey Wong. The House is never the same when they are in it.
If you were following the Heng Leun (https://www.facebook.com/groups/ArtsNMP/) in the Budget debate recently you will see why. Ditto for Janice (2012 and 2014) and Audrey (2009 to 2011).
Their speeches and their other activities show breath, depth, honesty and integrity, originality, courage, passion, compassion, feeling. In other words: humanness.
In the first year of his appointment, Heng Leun has spoken on topics ranging from the death penalty to gender bias, marital rape, the Public Order Act. The arts is only one of the many subjects they tackle in Parliament. The Arts NMP speaks not just on the arts or for the arts community but on a host of other issues and for all Singaporeans.
The Arts NMP operates within constraints, sometimes quite forbidding, which we needn’t go into here. These limits are drawn not very far out. But as true artists they see these barriers as something to test and perhaps break and change, not to siam. No flower vases, these.
Our Arts NMP don’t just make great speeches in Parliament. That’s only the most visible aspect of their work. They meet regularly with different groups from freelancers to film makers, writers and visual artists. They make representations behind the scenes to authorities and lobby sympathetic politicians and civil servants. They sit on committees. They spread the message about the centrality of the arts to a flourishing life to schools and universities.
Hence, it is evident that Arts NMP is almost a full-time position (I don’t know about other NMPs). The NMP allowance is small. Their core constituency – the artist community – is often quarrelsome and demanding and unappreciative. Let’s not even talk about Singaporeans in general. Then there are some who don’t believe in the whole idea of Nominated Members of Parliament, and with good reason. But if we take what is on offer, then our representatives have taken it and done something brilliant with it.
So being an Arts NMP seems like a thankless job. BUT, HENG LEUN, JANICE AND AUDREY, THANK THANK THANK YOU!!!
(A shout-out also for those who stepped up for the contests and face the arts community. They include Loretta Chen, one of the two with Audrey whose names the community submitted as candidates to be the first Arts NMP in xxx after an open, democratic process. And of course to the interns, artists and other who provide support for them behind the scenes.)
The word is that after this term there will not be an Arts NMP. Let’s hope it is not true. Otherwise it would be a loss – a loss for Singapore.
P.S. Janice’s speeches are on her Facebook page (see https://www.facebook.com/296770460367988/photos/a.319066304805070.78971.296770460367988/501880413190324/?type=3 about her virtual NMP office and a nice shot of her and her interns). Both she and Audrey hope to eventually get their texts up on the Arts Engage website, which has a running update of Heng Leun’s speeches. Now the transcripts for all three are searchable on Hansard of Parliament.