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HDB upgrading – holding voters to ransom

Andrew Loh /

“Upgrading ‘an incentive to vote for the Govt’” – Straits Times headline, 13 April 2011.

The headline was referring to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s answer to polytechnic student Matthew Zachary Liu’s question about fairness in HDB upgrading programmes during a forum on Channel NewsAsia.

“Mr Lee replied that the programmes were national ones that applied to everyone, including those in opposition wards,” the Straits Times reports.

“However, when a choice had to be made on who would go first, and two estates were of equal merit, then the one that supported the Government at the polls would be chosen,” it reports the PM as having said.

First, the glaring mistake here: Singaporeans do not support “the Government” at the polls. They support the People’s Action Party (PAP).

Second, upgrading programmes are not funded by funds from the PAP but from revenues collected by the Government from all Singaporeans, including those in opposition wards and those who have not voted for the PAP in other constituencies.

Granted that the PAP, after having won the elections, then becomes the ruling party, the Government. However, this only means that with this elevation from political party to Government, the PAP is tasked by the people to care for all of them – everyone of all persuasions, political or otherwise.

And therein, really, lies the crux of the matter.

Should a political party such as the PAP use public funds to further its own partisan and discriminatory political agenda through prejudicial policies and practices?

The obvious answer is no, and for several reasons:

  1. Not everyone who pay taxes, where Government funds come from, support the PAP. They do so because of Singapore, the nation and country, which the Government is tasked to look after as caretaker.
  2. It is morally reprehensible that Singaporeans are discriminated against because of their political beliefs by the very Government which is supposed to be caring for them and protecting their rights to support any political party they wish.
  3. The Government should respect the people’s choice in voting for the opposition and allocate public funds fairly.

To accept and allow the Government to continue to perpetuate its selfish practices is to give it a stamp of approval on discrimination. Further, the Government could, by its same flawed reasons, extend this discriminatory practice to other areas. Perhaps it would next refuse to build car parks in opposition wards, or not to build kindergartens in non-PAP constituencies (which incidentally it had threatened to do in the past in Hougang).

Yet, in the midst of all this debate, one very important point is lost – in HDB upgrading programmes, there has to be a 75 per cent support from residents in a precint before the programme is undertaken by the HDB. A poll is conducted among residents in the area to determine the level of support. If it is less than 75 per cent, the programme will not be implemented.

If during a general election, the voters in a particular constituency vote overwhelmingly for the PAP which dangles the HDB upgrading carrot before them, residents in precints within that constituency will still need to vote in a separate poll for the upgrading. Only when 75 per cent of residents support the programme will it be implemented.

So, the question is this:

Does this mean that despite giving their votes to the PAP during a general election, voters in PAP-held areas may still not receive the promised upgrading?

Indeed, this happened in 2003 when a precint in Marine Parade voted against the main upgrading programme in the constituency in a poll after the general elections in 2001 where the PAP had a walkover win in the constituency. (See here.)

It would thus seem that the PAP’s enticement to get voters to vote for it because of the upgrading programmes during a general election is a smokescreen – it is not a guarantee that such programmes will be implemented even if voters had voted for the PAP.

And one final question which is best asked of the HDB itself:

As a Statutory Board, shouldn’t the HDB be serving all Singaporeans fairly, or should it allow itself to be used as a tool by a political party for its own political agenda?

Perhaps the HDB should clarify its role in this matter.

At the end of the day, PM Lee’s explanation leaves much to be desired, and it is hoped that Singaporeans can see through the smokescreen and more importantly, the danger of allowing one political party to hold voters to ransom.