~by: Shanta Arul~
I refer to the letter written to the Straits Times by Ms Ooi Hui Mei, Director of Corporate Communications of the People’s Association (PA), on behalf of Deputy Chairman Mr Yam Ah Mee, titled “PA explains rationale for choosing advisers” (see HERE).
This is her second letter to the Forum, explaining the rationale behind the PA’s appointment of grassroots organisations (GRO) advisors.
Firstly, Ms Ooi states that the PA does not take part in para-political activities. However, the fundamental point remains that People’s Action Party (PAP) Members of Parliament represent more than half of the management board of the PA, with no other political party representation. This in itself suggests the statutory board is partisan, compounded by the PA track record of only appointing PAP members as Grassroots Organisations (GRO) advisors, even in constituencies where the public voted in another political party.
Ms Ooi also states that Opposition Members of Parliament (MP) cannot help the government to explain, implement or improve government policies. This suggests that they oppose policies for the sake of opposing, which oversimplifies what Opposition MPs do.
Criticising policies and offering alternatives, as has often been done in Parliament, ensure broader and robust policy debates which can help improve government policies. MPs, whether from the PAP or from an Opposition party, work with their constituents at the grassroots level, and are in the best position to understand their needs and suggest policy improvements.
Opposition MPs may oppose certain government policies in Parliament and as is prescribed by their party manifestos, but this does not give them the liberty to go against existing policies at the grassroots level. In practice, MPs are unable to go against policies simply because they come from opposition parties.
Referring to Ms Ooi’s specific examples, Opposition MPs are not able to relieve their constituents of paying Goods and Services Tax, and neither would they be able to offer alternative forms of welfare to divert from ComCare initiatives, if they do not exist in policy. (Ms Ooi suggests it, but I believe no political party in Singapore has proposed unlimited welfare.) It is therefore conjecture to assert that Opposition MPs cannot be effective GRO advisers.
The role of the MP is to be the bridge between the community and the Government by hearing the concerns of their constituents and representing them in Parliament. Overall, Ms Ooi seems to suggest that MPs cannot conduct their duties if they come from a party outside of the PAP. If this is the case, it is the electorate who should be the judge, not the PA.
Finally, it is worth addressing the involvement of the PA in government policies. Referring to Section 8 of the People’s Association Act, the objects of the Association are listed as follows
8. The objects of the Association are —
(a) the organisation and the promotion of group participation in social, cultural, educational and athletic activities for the people of Singapore in order that they may realise that they belong to a multiracial community, the interests of which transcend sectional loyalties;
(b) the establishment of such institutions as may be necessary for the purpose of leadership training in order to instil in leaders a sense of national identity and a spirit of dedicated service to a multiracial community;
(c) the fostering of community bonding and strengthening of social cohesion amongst the people of Singapore;
(d) the performance of such other functions as may be conferred upon the Association by any written law; and
(e) the carrying out of such activities as appear to the Board to be advantageous towards, or necessary or convenient for, the furtherance of the objects of the Association as set out in paragraphs (a) to (d).
It is quite clear that the mandate of the PA is to help build a more cohesive and engaged society. The PA’s role is not to explain or implement government policies. That role is clearly for the civil service, which the PA is not part of.
Therefore, the concerns the PA has about whether the appointed GRO advisor will be able to effective explain, implement or improve government policies are not within the scope of the PA’s duties and are therefore invalid.
The PA is funded by taxpayers and is thus obliged to serve public not party interests. The PA is justifying actions that disadvantage a set of elected leaders, which in turn disadvantages the constituents whose interests these leaders represent. In openly justifying the exclusion of elected Opposition MPs and appointing the losing election candidates, the PA disrespects the election and the electorate. This goes against the code of ethics and conduct of public service.
It is disappointing that the PA is intent on perpetuating divisions based on party lines, in a manner contrary to its own mission statement, “to Build and to Bridge communities in achieving One People, One Singapore”.