~by: Joseph Teo~
Ever since the news broke in the middle of the presidential elections that the Citizens Consultative Committee (CCC) at Paya Lebar could not invite Mr. Chen Shao Mao of the Worker’s Party (WP) and the elected Member of Parliament (MP) for Paya Lebar to dinner, there has been much questioning of the People’s Association’s role, structure and operations.
8(a) the organization and the promotion of group participation in social cultural, educational and athletic activities for the people of Singapore in order that they may realize that they belong to a multiracial community, the interest of which transcend sectional loyalties; and
8(c) the fostering of community bonding and strengthening of social cohesion amongst the people of Singapore.
While it can be argued that the PA has served its purpose well in the past when a single party dominated the political sphere, Singapore has changed. As pointed out by President Tony Tan, there is now a “new normal”, where Singaporeans want a plurality of views.
As a result, PA is now perceived as:
1. Clearly partisan
This can be seen from:
- the incident where the elected MP of Paya Lebar was not allowed to be invited to a grassroots event;
- the fact that grassroots advisors come only from the ruling party; and
- the response of the PA when Mr. Chen Shao Mao brought the matter to the attention of the public.
In particular, the PA went on the attack and accused the WP of denying the PA of access in Hougang. When it subsequently changed its position, it said:
“It was only on Aug 19 that the chairman of Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (AHTC) stated publicly that the town council would not impose any condition on whom the organisers could invite, when using sites managed by the AHTC. PA welcomes this new position of the AHTC, and is likewise lifting its current restriction on invitees for events organised by non-GROs on sites leased by PA from HDB, as long as they are of a non-political nature.”
It lost its perspective, and failed to see that its position of “they doan let me, so I oso doan let them” is unbecoming of a statutory body that is supposed to be non-partisan. It is not a town council, and is not on par with the AHTC. An agreement that might be on equal footing might be one that, for instance, allowed the WP to hold grassroots events at venues under control of Marine Parade Town Council, and for the People’s Action Party (PAP) to hold events in venues controlled by AHTC.
2. Manifestly unfair
Because the PA is a statutory board, it receives funding from the government, paid for by taxes of all Singaporeans. However, because it is partisan, it appears that the funds are only used in ways that benefit the ruling party, and not all Singaporeans. It also appears to enjoy a special relationship with the HDB, allowing it to lease HDB-owned sites “pre-emptively”.
This is manifestly unfair to those Singaporeans who express a different view from those of the ruling party.
3. Losing sight of its objectives and reluctant to reform
The PA has lost sight of its objectives: incorrectly stating that its mission is to “bond the people with the government”, rather than to “strengthen the social cohesion amongst the people of Singapore”. It must be pointed out that:
- the “people of Singapore” also includes the 40% who did not vote for the ruling party which forms the government; and thus
- the role of the PA is to bond the 40% and the 60% of Singaporeans on both sides of the political divide, and not “bond the people with the government”.
Surely this can only be achieved by creating interactions between all parties, and not excluding by people who have a different shape, colour, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, or political views?
In addition, it has demonstrated a strong reluctance to reform, and to adapt to the new reality. Over the last few weeks it tried to defend its partisan position of allowing only ruling party MPs as advisors, rather than try to figure out how it can achieve its stated objectives of fostering community bonding and strengthening social cohesion under the “new normal”.
The current behavior of the PA seems insufficient and inadequate to address the needs of Singaporeans. I call upon President Tony Tan, whose stated priority is to be the President for all Singaporeans, to advocate the dissolution of the PA as it currently exists, and to reconstitute a non-partisan, pluralistic organization so that we may stand together as one united people.