Grab’s appointment of Tin Pei Ling, a member of parliament (MP) with the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP), as director of public affairs and policy sparked a debate about conflicts of interest (which culminated in the firm shifting her into a different role). But the episode also raised a second, broader question. Should MPs hold second jobs in the private or not-for-profit sectors, or should they work as MPs full-time?

There are many politicians on both sides of the aisle with a wide variety of second jobs. This includes the PAP’s Tan Wu Meng (doctor) and Mariam Jaafar (consultant), and the WP’s Leon Perera (chairman of a research and consulting firm) and Jamus Lim (academic).

Proponents of second jobs point to the loss of direct income, the opportunity cost of working as a full-time MP, and the possible long-term impact on MPs’ career trajectories (of being out of the workforce for an extended period).

For proponents of full-time MPs, a key consideration is whether a part-time MP working a second job can juggle the various duties of an elected MP and be an effective representative of their constituents. Loss of income, they argue, isn’t a robust enough reason given how handsomely MPs are paid: an allowance of S$210,000 per annum or S$17,500 per month, over three times Singapore’s median wage.

In fact, early in her political life, Tin herself was one of the few MPs, alongside the likes of Chen Show Mao from the Workers’ Party (WP), who paused their private careers to become full-time MPs. They argued that this allowed them to dedicate more time to understanding their constituents and the various issues they face, which in turn would allow them to better voice constituents’ concerns in and out of Parliament.

Having examined all available MP CVs, there appears to be only one full-time MP today, the PAP’s Louis Ng. Would our democracy be better served with more? To answer that, we must first examine the MP’s uniquely Singaporean job scope. (Ng and Perera declined to comment for this piece.)

Singapore’s unique political system consists of a unicameral legislature with no additional scrutiny by an upper house. The government seldom forms select committees to do deep dives into proposed government bills or pertinent national issues. And there are no local government elections given the small size of our country.

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