Choo Zheng Xi / Editor-in-Chief
Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong recently addressed grassroots leaders at a National Day event in Hougang. In his address, he gave Hougang grassroots leaders an idea of how to play the role of an effective “opposition” in the ward. He suggested that they:
“Study the annual accounts of the town council to ensure that the funds are properly used. Check whether the arrears for S&C (service and conservancy) charges are piling up, and eating into their reserves. Make sure that enough money is put aside for cyclical maintenance.”
Whether wittingly or not, Mr Goh unveiled the blatantly political purpose of grassroots organizations. It is also doubly unfortunate that he chose a National Day event to openly encourage this politicization: surely Singapore is larger than the People’s Action Party (PAP) and its supporters?
For Party or Community?
The People’s Association (PA) is the umbrella organization that funds all grassroots organizations. The PA website states that its mission is to “bring people together to take ownership of and contribute to community well-being” and strengthen racial harmony ties. Nowhere in its mission statement do we see Mr Goh’s goal of keeping the PAP in power.
The ideal of community bonding at the grassroots level is a noble one: a strong community spirit facilitates mutual assistance. The value of this mutual assistance should not be underestimated in our densely populated living environment. Strong community bonding can make our spatially challenged habitats not just tolerable, but enjoyable.
One of the touching examples of community spirit is the Seletar Chronice (http://seletarchronicle.com/), a newsletter set up by the residents of Seletar to highlight community events and news. This is done completely on the resident’s initiative, without prompting by a PA sponsored Resident’s Committee (RC). Some posts highlight the wildlife treks around the area, and one post nostalgically reminicises about old friends who grew up in the area but who have since moved away:
“All say that living in Seletar were among the sweetest days of their lives for the nature and the community, and the sense of historical continuity. They have settled elsewhere and made other lives, but Seletar still holds that special place for them”.
How much of such genuine community building spirit is lost when the energies of RCs are spent doing dirt-digging on the political opposition? Good Singaporeans who are passionate about creating activities for the benefit of their communities, but who do not want to involve themselves in partisan politics, will naturally be put off grassroots work. This is a pity.
Nation before Party
Mr Goh was, in my opinion, right in his criticism of Mr Low for not providing Singaporeans with an alternative to the PAP system of government, and too narrowly defining his role as that of a watchdog.
Still, frustration with the opposition aside, Mr Goh was speaking to the wrong audience at the wrong event. He was not speaking to PAP cadres at a party strategy planning forum. He was speaking at a National Day event, and Singapore consists of more than the 66.6% of the population that voted for the PAP.
One can’t help feeling there is something self-serving behind the PAP’s consistent blurring of the lines between State and Party. Lampposts are festooned with National Day banners bearing the faces of PAP Members of Parliament (MP).
While I understand that these people are faces of the elected government of The Republic of Singapore, surely there is much that Singaporeans identify more with than MPs they hardly know the names of.
On a practical level, we must question where the funds to print such banners comes from. Does it come from a general pool of money that has been set aside for National Day celebrations? If so, why are there no banners provided for opposition wards Hougang and Potong Pasir? Why are such funds being utilized to finance a subliminal annual election campaign?
This self-serving tendency needs to be controlled. There are more appropriate platforms for electioneering than our Nation’s birthday. National Day electioneering emotionally disenfranchises the 33.3% of Singaporeans that voted against the PAP, and the hundreds of thousands of other voters who would have if their electoral wards were not walkovers.
Regardless of how viscerally we dislike the PAP, there is much to love about our country and the communities we live in. I wish people like SM Goh would make it easier for people who dislike the PAP to identify with and love our country without having to associate it with partisan politics.
Read also: "Why so silent, PAP Town Councils?" by Andrew Loh.