MPs’ Offices at Void Decks: Workers’ Party responds

Workers’ Party’s media release:

We refer to the announcement by the Ministry of National Development (MND) on 27 May 2011, that the Housing and Development Board (HDB) would henceforth permit void decks to be rented out to elected Members of Parliament for use as MPs’ offices to conduct Meet-the-People sessions (MPS) at the concessionary rates extended to non-profit organisations.

This announcement currently affects only Workers’ Party (WP) elected MPs, as PAP MPs employ PAP Branch Offices and PAP Community Foundation kindergartens for their MPS.  While the WP appreciates HDB’s gesture, it is nothing more.

In order to properly assess the option, the WP sought further details of the brief announcement from HDB, to which the HDB replied via emails dated 10 June, 16 June and 28 June 2011.

In its replies, the HDB affirmed that it would not bear the construction cost of the office.  In addition, the HDB also stated that MPs would have to pay for the reinstatement of the void deck to its original condition in the event the space was no longer required.  The tenancies would also be from month to month for the duration of the MPs’ term of office.

The draft tenancy agreement furnished by HDB provides that the premises should be used for the Meet-the-People sessions and administrative tasks associated with an MP’s duties, and not for any other purpose except with the prior written consent of the HDB.  While HDB’s email dated 28 June 2011 states that the MP may use the office for “some community activities, bearing in mind the space limitation”, there is uncertainty as to what kind of community activities would require the prior written consent of HDB, which consent can also be withdrawn at any time.

It is noteworthy that prior to 1991, all MPs were designated an office space at HDB void decks, before the HDB changed this policy.  In 1981, the HDB built the MP’s office for the WP MP for Anson, J B Jeyaretnam.  Mr Jeyaretnam initially conducted his MPS at a HDB void deck, and moved into the MP’s office built by the HDB upon its completion.

The WP has carefully considered the latest HDB’s change of policy as announced on 27 May 2011.  The Party has concluded that it would be a financial burden to build offices for its MPS sessions at HDB void decks.

The six WP MPs are currently conducting MPS at eight locations (two each for Bedok-Reservoir and Serangoon wards of Aljunied GRC) to be accessible to residents.  The construction of eight offices would be a significant expense, not to mention maintenance and other running costs.  As WP does not have access to limitless resources, prudence dictates that WP be conservative in spending.

Some individuals have encouraged us to set up kindergartens akin to those under the PAP Community Foundation (PCF), and use these charitable institutions to host our MPS sessions. Singapore has already experienced the politically debilitating effects of kindergartens divided along party lines.  This was raised by then Defence Minister Dr Goh Keng Swee on 24 Dec 1965 during the second reading of the People’s Association (Amendment) Bill.  It is the WP’s current position that the encouragement of kindergartens and other educational institutions along party lines could inadvertently encourage the political polarisation of Singapore society.

In addition, in view of the constant redrawing of electoral boundaries by the Government, the long-term viability of the construction of offices for WP MPs is open to question.  This is a serious consideration in view of the history of re-drawing of wards into and out of Aljunied GRC in 2006 and 2011 by the Electoral Boundaries Review Committee, without any explanation.  Offices built by WP MPs today may be rendered obsolete in five years.

We thank the residents of Aljunied GRC and Hougang SMC for their understanding of the situation.  We will continue to monitor closely the comfort level of the MPS at the void decks and take appropriate action if needed.

picture credit: Yawning Bread

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