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Sat, Aug 22, 2009
The New Paper
I feared MM was going to fire salvos at me

By Andre Yeo

PERCEIVED as roasting the Government in his maiden speech in Parliament on Tuesday, he got a roasting of his own yesterday - from one of Singapore's founding fathers, no less.

His reaction: He felt as if a noose was hanging over his head.

But, Mr Viswa Sadasivan quickly added, he thoroughly enjoyed his first session in Parliament.

The 49-year-old CEO of a training and consultancy company was speaking to The New Paper about his eventful debut as a Nominated MP (NMP).

On Tuesday, he tabled a motion that Parliament reaffirm its commitment to the nation-building tenet in the National Pledge when debating national policies, especially economic policies.

In the 50-minute speech, he called on the Government to do away with racial categorisation and suggested Singaporeans were afraid to voice their opinions, among other things.

His motion drew a slew of responses from MPs, including Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew, who yesterday said his arguments were flawed and wanted to amend the motion.

Mr Lee said he had decided to speak up because 'I think it was dangerous to allow such highfalutin ideas to go undemolished and mislead Singapore'.

Speaking to The New Paper last night, Mr Viswa said he was a little surprised by the intensity of the attention his speech had attracted from the House.

At yesterday's sitting, he had a bad feeling when MM Lee stood up.

Mr Viswa felt MM Lee looked rather unhappy.

Said Mr Viswa: 'When I saw MM come in today and he stood up to speak, I suddenly felt this noose above my head.

'You don't expect your first speech in Parliament to gain so much attention.

'I think it caught the attention of a lot of front benchers who felt the need to respond with the Government's point of view.'

Mr Viswa, who had to make a summation at the end of yesterday's session, admitted to having trouble focusing on what he wanted to say.

'Here I was trying to make notes and deciding what to highlight. And as I am doing it, I see MM standing up.

'All this fear of whether he is going to fire some salvos at you came up. And the apprehension of accurately paraphrasing what MM was about to say.

'Thank goodness it was more of a lecture on how the Pledge started.

'And I tell you, I never enjoyed feeling like a student more.'

In the end, Mr Viswa managed to find the words for his closing comments.

'Misunderstood'

He told the House some parts of his speech may have been misunderstood.

He clarified that he did not say that the democratic process was flouted by the Government, but rather that there was a perception that there wasn't a level playing field on the ground.

And, he added, he did not say self-help groups should be done away with.

On the contrary, being with the Singapore Indian Development Association for 12 years made him see how important such groups were.

Rather, he said what he meant was that the existence of such groups might somehow send a message to young Singaporeans and make them feel this contradicts multi-racialism.

Mr Viswa and eight others were sworn in as NMPs on 20 Jul to begin their 21/2-year term.

Married to freelance writer Audrey Perera, 48, they have a 10-year-old daughter, Maya.

He said that, going by media reports yesterday, he felt he had achieved his goal in getting people to discuss what he felt were important issues.

He had wanted to be an NMP for the opportunity to bring up such issues in Parliament, and he felt he was ready to make a contribution.

This was not possible some years back when he applied to be an NMP and failed. He said: 'I don't know why I did not get it. I was probably deemed not good enough.'

It was reported in November 2004 that Mr Viswa was among several others who were not selected to be an NMP.

Mr Viswa said, politically, he had always been involved on the fringes, never in the heart of it.

He was the chairman of the Feedback Unit Political Division, and was on the Economic Review Committee.

The former Feedback and Talking Point host said being an NMP now made him a part of the political process where he could influence policy-making and ministers through informal lobbying.

He could do this while not belonging to any political party, and that is the way he likes it.

'I can say what I want without having to clear it with anyone. It's a great feeling to know you are able to make a contribution, yet you are only answerable to your own self and your own conscience.'

After his maiden speech, he felt more confident that he would be able to perform his role as an NMP.

And after yesterday's baptism of fire, he said he could use a stiff drink.

Said Mr Viswa: 'We know how fiery MM can be, and this was something close to his heart.

'I was gearing myself to be marauded.'

andrey@sph.com.sg

This article was first published in The New Paper.

 
 
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