Andrew Loh

When one reads what Members of Parliament (MPs) are saying about their performance in the Town Council Management Report (TCMR), it is quite obvious where they stand. “We are not responsible for the low scores.” The Ministry of National Development (MND) points its fingers at the town councils. MPs pointing fingers at the MND. MPs pointing fingers at each other. Ultimately, MPs point their fingers at residents. And residents stand bewildered, wondering what the whole fiasco is all about.

Many reasons have been offered by MPs – excuses about why they are not responsible for the low scores they may have received in the TCMR. MND provides more funding to PAP town councils, says opposition MP Low Thia Khiang. It’s not a ranking exercise anyway, says Senior Minister of State for National Development, Ms Grace Fu. They’re trying to thump me down, says Mr Chiam See Tong. We are going to make more inspections and introduce more programmes, including lucky draws and road shows, to get residents to keep estates clean, say PAP MPs. And for good measure, consider paying more if you want cleaner towns, says Ms Fu.

In short, since the TCMR report was released, it has become a finger-pointing farce.

In the 19 June edition of the Straits Times, this comedy was taken to a new level by PAP MPs, in particular Mr Masagos Zulkifli [picture, right] and Mr Lim Biow Chuan.

“We want residents to go around looking for defects, like inspectors,” said Mr Masagos, chairman of the Tampines GRC Town Council. Yes, he wants residents to do the job which he was elected, paid and expected to do, which seems to have been totally lost on him.

For Mr Lim, chairman of the Marine Parade GRC Town Council, the fault lies squarely with residents too. “Why are we getting Level 3 for maintenance?” he asks, referring to the ranking in the TCMR. “Fifty per cent of it is due to obstruction, like clutter and clothes racks along corridors. These are caused by residents, so they must do their part.”

Mr Lim forgets that it is his job to go round, like an inspector, to resolve these problems.

In November 2006, Mr Lim [picture, right] whined about how Singapore “is fast becoming a nation of complainers.” It is thus ironic that it is Mr Lim who is now complaining about residents and forgetting that as MP it is his job to see to municipal issues.

In the circus which has so far ensued, one thing seems to have been forgotten, which is pointed out by blogger Lucky Tan:

“Lets get this very clear – your PAP MP is not the person running your estate,” Lucky Tan says. “Most PAP MPs have full time jobs and their MP role is only a part time job. While he chairs the town council, the actual running of the estate is done by professionals.”

To be clear, MPs are of course ultimately responsible for the state of the estate. But the actual on-the-ground, daily maintenance and inspections are carried out by the town managers hired by the town councils.

This means a report such as the TCMR is rather irrelevant as a gauge on MPs’ performance and, in Lucky Tan’s words, “a waste of taxpayers’ money.”

I concur.

Perhaps the more important issue here is whether we should have full-time MPs, instead of part-time ones. The reason is very simple: with more upgrading being done to housing estates, more maintenance will be needed to be done. This was the view of Ms Fu as well, in her rebuttal to Mr Low’s questions about funds handed out to PAP-run wards. Couple this with the increase in the number of residents (new citizens and Permanent Residents) and one would see that an MP’s burden is increased.

It is only logical that if what Ms Fu said were true, then MPs would have to spend more time overseeing these, on top of their other responsibilities such as conducting Meet-The-People sessions and attending various functions.

Add to this, MPs too have full-time occupations – being lawyers, doctors, businessmen, etc – and also holding directorships in various companies. In the past some PAP MPs held as many as 11 directorships.

Certainly, all of these require much time and effort on the MPs’ part.

Yet, if we are to pay them a whopping S$14,000 a month to be MP, which is a part-time job, and have them delegate the running of the towns to professionals, and then to lay blame on residents if they achieved low scores in the TCMR, is it not more responsible for MPs to be full-timers instead?

As some have said, at the moment being an MP is the best-paid part-time job in Singapore!

You get to be paid handsomely while not having to work full-time and yet be able to lay blame on others when things go wrong!

But of course, besides Mr Chiam See Tong of the opposition Singapore People’s Party, no MPs have volunteered to be full-timers.

Perhaps in this whole TCMR fiasco, instead of finger-pointing, our MPs should consider if it is time for them to put in more time and effort running the towns, rather than looking for convenient scapegoats to lay blame on.

Yes, service comes with sacrifice – but at $14,000 a month, an MP can live a relatively comfortable life.

So the question is: Why are our MPs so reluctant to devote all their time to being an MP? Why do they still hang on to their daytime jobs? How committed are they, really, to serving the people?

As for the TCMR itself, Singaporeans do not need a report to tell us if the towns we live in are clean or liveable. We live in them. We know if they are being taken care of. If they are, MPs get our votes. If they’re not, we will vote them out – as Singaporeans have done in the past.

Our MPs should stop trying to shirk responsibility for the state of the towns. For if they are seen to do so, they too may be voted out – whether there is a TCMR or not.

The (farcical) buck must stop at their feet.

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