I’ve voted in the Singapore Medical Council (SMC) 2013 elections as required under Section 6 of the Medical Registration Act (Cap. 174) – “Failure to vote without a valid reason will result in a penalty which is a fine of $500”. I have better ways to spend $500 than to hand the money to the SMC.
However, it was bizarre voting. All registered doctors are mandated to vote under threat of penalty but all we have to rely on in casting our votes are just brief bio-sketches of the candidates that were included in the notice of election.
All the bio-sketches follow the same format:
- Registered Professional Qualifications
- Registered Specialty
- Field of Practice
- Place of Practice and Contact Number
- Professional/ Academic Appointments
- Office held in professional organizations
- Office held in other organizations
- Honors and Awards
- Names of Proposer and Seconder
I mean, do I really care whether a candidate won a book prize in medical school 20 years ago? Or that another has published over 20 papers? Will these make them better members of the SMC and better able to represent the profession?
And the specific sections on ‘Professional/ Academic Appointments’ and ‘Honors and Awards’ really emphasize to me so many things that I would love to see change in Singapore, like judging people pretty much only by their achievements and ‘traditional’ recognitions by agencies and organizations that themselves may not be in touch with what society wants or needs. What about why they are standing for election? What drives them? Any passion for any particular issue?
For future years’ elections, I hope the SMC will give more opportunities for us as voters to get to know the candidates, why they are standing for election, what do they like and dislike about the status quo, if elected, what would they focus their energies on and so on.
After all, the SMC does shoulder some heavy responsibilities. Section 5 of the Medical Registration Act reads:
The functions of the Medical Council are —
(a) to keep and maintain registers of registered medical practitioners;
(b) to approve or reject applications for registration under this Act or to approve any such application subject to such restrictions as it may think fit;
(c) to issue practising certificates to registered medical practitioners;
(d) to make recommendations to the appropriate authorities on the courses of instructions and examinations leading to the Singapore degree;
(e) to make recommendations to the appropriate authorities for the training and education of registered medical practitioners;
(f) to determine and regulate the conduct and ethics of registered medical practitioners; and
(fa) to determine and regulate standards of practice and the competence of registered medical practitioners within the medical profession;
(fb) to provide administrative services to other bodies (whether corporate or unincorporate) responsible for the regulation of healthcare professionals; and
(g) generally to do all such acts and matters and things as are necessary to be carried out under this Act. (Emphasis added)
Perhaps the nonchalance in the election of the ‘elected’ members may be because the majority of the SMC members are appointed. Under the Act, 12 members are elected by the body of registered medical practitioners and the Minister appoints the other 15 (1 Director Medical Services, 2 representatives from each medical school (Yong Loo Lin, Duke-NUS and Lee Kong Chian), i.e. 6 members, and 8 appointed persons).
Whatever the case, the composition of the SMC should matter even if their workings are behind closed doors and we the voting registered medical practitioners have little insights into how decisions are made, why they are made and the relative roles of appointed versus elected members. Many years ago, I was quite alarmed by a conversation I had with an appointed SMC member in which he said with all sincerity that he was surprised Dr. ABC was making such a big fuss about an issue. “After all”, he said, “He’s just an elected member.” (!!!)
What would I love to see? At a minimum, an election ‘speech’ included with the bio-sketches (which perhaps candidates should be free to organize as they deem most appropriate) so that we can ‘hear’ from the candidates themselves. If memory serves, this used to be done.
For those voters wanting to know more, it would be wonderful to know how we can find out more. Should there be pages on the SMC website where candidates have free reign of content for the 18 days of voting?
Bottom-line, as a voter, assuming our votes matter because elected members can and do shape decisions taken by the SMC, I want to know more about the candidates who will sit on the Council that has a key role in tasks like “determine and regulate the conduct and ethics of registered medical practitioners” and “determine and regulate standards of practice and the competence of registered medical practitioners”.