Why not apply ‘town council logic’ to worker wages?

By Gangasudhan

This morning a TODAY report (No hike, say some town councils) proclaims that “(r)esidents in at least seven People’s Action Party (PAP) town councils can breathe a sigh of relief for the time being”. Never mind that the article is celebrating a non-issue – the Service and Conservancy Charges (S&CC) WILL be raised and it is just a matter of time – and distracts from the more pertinent question of how the residents affected by Aljunied and Jurong town councils’ decision to raise their S&CC fees will cope.

Never mind too that this feel-good article of no tangible newsworthy value is incomplete – apparently, “Hong Kah, Marine Parade, Pasir Ris-Punggol, Tanjong Pagar and West Coast – did not reply to MediaCorp queries by press time” and “Hougang and Potong Pasir town councils, which are under the purview of the Workers’ Party and Singapore People’s Party respectively, also did not respond by press time” (i.e. only 7 out of the 14 town councils who have not mentioned a raise in the fees were contacted).

Glaring Distastefulness

And whilst this latest report takes pains to remind us that Hougang and Potong Pasir town councils increased their S&CC fees in 2007 from “$2 to $9 and $2.50 to $8 per month, respectively”, it makes no mention whatsoever of the impending increase of 50 cents to $4.50 that happens within a matter of days in April 2010.

In spite of all these shortcomings though, two points in this article particularly stand out. Firstly, why are town councils being labelled according to the political party that manages them? Town Councils are agencies of the government and whether a member of the PAP manages one or even if an NMP manages one is just a matter of fact, not of consequence. To deliberately demarcate them throughout the article as ‘PAP town council’ or ‘SDA town council’ serves no purpose other than to create misunderstanding.

Do you see the terms PAP, SPP, or WP here?

It would be akin to a news report that keeps highlighting that the victim is of one race and the perpetrator is of another when the ethnicity has no impact on the crime itself. If the media itself is going to use this sort of ‘PAP=government; government=PAP’ rhetoric in its news reporting, then when will the masses get around to making that distinction?

The Amazing Mind of Politicians

The second issue in this article that hits you squarely in the face is MP Halimah Yacob’s observations that “costs incurred over the last few years mean that if we don’t increase the fees … our service quality will be affected”. The irony of this comment can be contrasted against our ‘consummate joker‘, NTUC chairman Lim Swee Say’s comment in parliament that “the cheaper are getting better, and the better are getting cheaper … the only option is to grow cheaper, better, faster“. If everything is getting cheaper and better, then why are costs going up then? Why is the CBF concept to ‘do more with the same people‘ not being applied to the town councils such that the residents benefit (where the real impact will be felt – with gratitude to boot)?

It is mind-boggling how the same well-paid and talented (or so we are told) people who can point out that “profiles and needs vary, and they will have different cost structures as well” – MP Hawazi Daipi (right), chairman of Sembawang Town Council and Senior Parliamentary Secretary at the Ministry of Manpower, can fail to to extrapolate this simple and straightforward logic to the issue of workers’ wages. Just as the costs for town councils will vary according to factors such as age, location and background, so too will the Singaporean with a family of 4 to feed need a higher wage as compared to a young unmarried foreigner living alone here – immaterial of the ease or difficulty of the job concerned.

And just as the town councils headed by the very people who decide on policies in parliament do not write off or begrudge a mature estate that requires higher maintenance, so too should this same logic be applied to Singaporeans who have larger responsibilities and higher financial commitments as compared to cheap foreign labour.


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