~with: Ravi Philemon~
PM Lee’s recent defence of the practice of appointing members of the People’s Action Party (PAP) as advisers to the People’s Association’s (PA) some 1,800 grassroots organisations seems to indicate some confusion between the concept of government and the PAP as a political party. This blurring of lines between the PAP and the government of Singapore appears to occur both at the governing level and at the general public level.
PM Lee said that “the grassroots adviser has to be somebody who can work with the government and help the government to achieve its goals on the ground. ” This statement is correct in itself but it is how the term government is understood that needs to be clarified. The PAP has been in power for so long that the public (and indeed even members of the government) tend to view the PAP as the government and vice versa. In practice, that may be the case but theoretically, there is an important distinction between the concept of government and the PAP.
Elected Members of Parliament (MPs) form Parliament and Parliament elects a Prime Minister to be the head of government. Parliament is currently predominantly made up of PAP MPs and PM Lee, being the leader of the PAP, is the current head of government. That is not to say that this will always be the case because theoretically, non PAP members can be voted into Parliament in such a way that they outnumber PAP members. It is therefore important to distinguish between the notion of the government and the PAP.
The government will always be there. Its members however, change depending on election results. So while the PAP forms the current government, it is not the government. Using this analogy, the People’s Association (PA) is there to serve the needs of the government and not the agendas of the PAP. So, when there is a conflict between the needs of the government and the needs of the PAP, the needs of the government must trump.
The elected government’s priority is always to look after the interests of the people. In this case, the public have been vocal and made clear that they would like the PA and PA sponsored events to be more inclusive and involve both PAP and non-PAP members. In the face of such strong public sentiment, it is clearly in the people’s interests for the PA to change its stance.
- The PAP is a political party. It is not the government. It, being the winning party based on GE 2011’s results, forms the government and is currently the majority party in government.
- The PA is formed to serve the government and not the PAP.
- When governmental interests and PAP interests conflict, the PA must prioritise the interests of government.
- The government’s overriding concern must be the welfare of the public.
- The public have indicated that it is in their welfare for the PA to change its stance.
In this instance, the desired approach is abundantly clear. Perhaps the PA and PM Lee, should look into how the PA can be reformed to be more inclusive.
If the PA is indeed impartial and is just working on behalf of the government; and if the government feels that opposition MPs cannot support of promote its programmes, wouldn’t it then be better for a civil servant to be appointed as grassroots advisers in opposition-held constituencies?
This would certainly be seen as a better proposition than appointing advisers exclusively from the PAP, and this would also give the perception that there is no conflict of interest.
Because not just fairness, but the perception of being fair is also important.