Wednesday, 27 September 2023

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Never mind what the people think

In an article for Petir, Mr Sin Boon Ann, MP for Tampines GRC, expressed his difficulties of doing what is “right” and doing what is “popular”; to illustrate his point, Mr Sin recounted his encounters with his constituents after HDB decided to build a block of rental flats in his ward.

The Housing and Development Board announced, through a sign on a hoarding, plans for the construction of a 14-storey block of rental flats in my ward.

The announcement surprised many.

Quite naturally, residents living next to the proposed block were upset. It would seem the value of their property would be adversely affected.

The HDB tried but failed to persuade them this would not be the case.

However, what also upset the residents was the fact that I, as their MP, did not consult them ahead of the decision to build the rental block.

In the dialogue on the matter, there were howls of protest and disappointment when I revealed that I’d been aware of the plans but could not tell them in advance because of the price sensitive nature of the information. I left the meeting reflecting on my reply and my role as their MP.

Why Today chose to carry an article originally published in Petir, a PAP publication, is beyond me, but it certainly points to their willingness to be used as leverage by the PAP government to manufacture consent. If they want to be fair, why not carry articles published by opposition parties as well? This complaint, however, is not the point of this article, nor is this unexpected from our local press corps.

I believe the decision to build rental flats, in whichever estate, is the right one. What I oppose is the basis of his decision, the manner he handled and described the issue, as well as his intentional concealment of prior knowledge from his constituents.

Mr Sin, who incidentally is the Deputy Managing Director of Drew & Napier’s Corporate and Finance Department (source), has already decided before meeting any of his constituents, and worse, he decided despite saying “it is not unreasonable to have a certain expectation of consultation”, because:

such consultation is unlikely to result in a solution acceptable to all stakeholders; and if put to a vote, I am almost certain that the proposition would have been shot down faster than one could say, “Will you support the proposal?”

I think no one is under any illusion that any decision will receive unanimously favourable support; expecting that is a fool’s game. But to write off any consultation because it will not get such support is foolish, and does not make it a tough decision. It makes it an easier one, because you don’t have to face angry voters with angry questions and justify that decision to them.

Mr Sin’s decision to withhold information from his constituents is why they protested vehemently, and Mr Sin chose to see the consequence of his actions as the cause and justification for his decision. This is circular logic, stemming from the arrogance that permeates throughout the PAP government, whose policies Mr Sin would defend because they believe it is right. But this leads me to two questions:

  1. Why would his constituents complain about the rental flats affecting “the value of their property”, if these policies did not encourage them to think of HDB flats as assets to be monetised?
  2. If the free-market policy HDB persists with is causing rising demand for rental flats, would that not indicate the failure of said policy?

No one can claim to be correct on current housing policy while taking steps to remedy the same policy. Mr Sin, in his claim to have made the correct decision about the building of rental flats, just contradicted his own argument.

It is obvious that Mr Sin believes everything he and his PAP colleagues have decided are the correct decisions, and does not want to entertain an alternative where this reality may be challenged, even when the doubts raised are reasonable and reality-based. They get to decide what is good and right for Singaporeans, even if they have to redefine and make a different reality.

This quote comes readily to mind.

I am often accused of interfering in the private lives of citizens. Yes, if I did not, had I not done that, we wouldn’t be here today. And I say without the slightest remorse, that we wouldn’t be here, we would not have made economic progress, if we had not intervened on very personal matters – who your neighbour is, how you live, the noise you make, how you spit, or what language you use. We decide what is right. Never mind what the people think.

The words of MM Lee, uttered in 1987, shows how little the PAP have changed, and how little they are willing to change unless they are forced to. The price to pay for PAP to be right is borne by Singaporeans, and the cost is choking our growth as a society and as a people.

Callan Tham

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