A letter to Mr Sitoh Yihpin

Sophia Tsang /

First my congratulations at winning the recent elections. It was a photo-finish, but a win nonetheless. Winning the elections however, is not the same as winning the hearts and confidence of the people you represent.

I am a resident of Potong Pasir. I love this estate and the residents. Some people called my estate a slum during the election period. Say what they like, there is so much charm in this estate – maybe precisely because we had not much money, and so we relied on the charm of the natural green trees, the meandering river and the kampong spirit.

Let me tell you about the kampong spirit. My house is in the middle of a block. My windows are constantly open. To some, it means a lack of privacy – but to me, it gives me great opportunity to see my neighbours go by – to have a chat, if they have time, to complain about the weather, to share the excitement of the rallies, or simply just to wave and smile. When my husband and I spent extended time overseas, they could be relied on to help my children in emergencies. When we bake, or cook, we would just pass some on. Sometimes the ladies would just gather for tea, or sing karaoke at one of our homes.

Recently, when the PA organized a trip to Marina Bay Sands, neighbours gathered later to share photos and have a drink. But do you know what is amazing about all this? The number who are pro-Chiam vs pro-PAP – that is, you – is about even. That is to say, in the households on my side of the lift, on my floor, we are split 50-50 in political allegiance. Yet, we do not fight or argue. We are friends and neighbours, and in the spirit of democracy, we understand the choice is a personal one.

This is true not just of my group of friends. This is true of Potong Pasir. Mr Chiam has won many elections, but the last few fights were pretty close. If you were to go to the coffee shops, I bet even on the same table, the votes are split. That we enjoy so much camaraderie – just go to the coffee shops, and see neighbours having coffee, looking after grandchildren and simply having a blast – is testament to mutual respect, and in a way shows a respect for Mr Chiam and his work.

Hence for those who are strongly pro oppositon/Chiam, I feel that what is in order is to thank the pro-PAP residents for their many years of tolerance, and to thank the Chiams, who by their very gentle and compassionate nature, have helped built this sweet harmony that is the essence of the kampong spirit.

But coming back to you, Mr Sitoh. Yes, many residents are looking forward to upgrading and new facilities. Especially those who are old and find it difficult to climb steps or stairs. I hope that you will do something quickly to help them. However, it is not a matter of sticks and stones, mortar and cement. To win the people’s hearts, you have to show you care, to show you hear.

Hence I want to bring your attention to the latest spat you are having with the Singapore People’s Party (SPP) regarding the 16 former Town Council workers. Let it not descend to a “I said”/“You said” situation. I was not there when the entire conversation between you and Lina took place. Unless someone had a recording, it is still a matter of my words against yours. That however is not the real issue.

The issue is to do the right thing by the people. It is not about simply recommending them jobs, if you feel bound by EM Services’ rules to terminate their employment. Did you take time to hear them out? Did you ask them how they might feel regarding working in a totally different environment, with new colleagues? Did you check what their financial situations are? Are the terms offered by EM Services acceptable, given that they do have relevant experience? Is there more that can be done for them? We are not talking legalities – we are talking about the human touch. Please note – I am not saying you did not – I am asking if you did.

The human touch is what makes Potong Pasir so different from many other communities. While some are looking forward to the physical improvement of the estate, many others will be looking at how you treat your staff. If it is perceived that you cannot treat 16 people with compassion, how can the almost 50 per cent who voted for Lina trust you to have compassion for their struggles or to be their voice in parliament?

Perceptions and impressions, once formed, are very difficult to change. I hope you will start right – or else I am afraid, the bickering may well descend to neighbours and friends, each taking sides.

May our kampong spirit remain.


Picture from Alvinology.

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