Upgrading Hougang

~ By Wee Nam Kee ~

Much of the hustings surrounding the Hougang by-election have recently been focused around the issue of Png Eng Huat’s NCMP seat. Indeed, this question raised by DPM Teo warrants a satisfactory answer from the WP, especially if it intends to live up to the values of accountability and transparency that it strives to uphold. However, the issue of municipal upgrading is of much greater pertinence to the residents of Hougang. Given that the PAP had labelled the by-election as a “local election”[1], it is rather appalling that they chose to nitpick over a minor, procedural issue instead of addressing the needs and wants of Hougang residents in terms of upgrading plans.

What the local media had failed to emphasise was that the WP had made several key statements regarding the issue of upgrading during its rally on Tuesday, 22 May. In Mr Png’s speech[2], he gave an outline of his plans to upgrade Hougang’s facilities, including the construction of covered walkways, drop-off points, elderly fitness centres, the rectification of leaking problems and a host of other improvements. Contrary to the PAP rhetoric that the WP was taking Hougang residents’ votes for granted, the WP has in place concrete plans to improve their well-being; and that the WP-run Hougang Town Council is indeed capable of providing much-needed upgrading works for the residents.

In contrast, Ms Sylvia Lim revealed in her speech[3] how “the PAP and its agencies had blocked improvements to Hougang Town”. According to her, the PAP-backed institutions such as the HDB and CCC had, on many occasions, refused to cooperate and prevented a number of projects such as Lift Upgrading and carpark improvement from taking place, withholding funds such as the CIPC (Community Improvement Projects Committee) fund from Hougang Town Council-initiated improvement works. All these are in addition to the fact that opposition-held wards are put at the end of the queue for national upgrading works.

While the issue of linking upgrading with votes is not a new one, it remains critical that we revisit why Hougang has been made to put up with these hardships. It is crystal clear that the PAP has engaged in politicking with necessities in order to twist the arms of Hougang residents into switching their allegiance back to the PAP, thus “fixing the opposition and buying votes”[4], as PM Lee infamously said in 2006. How ironic is it that the PAP dangles the upgrading carrot in front of Hougang voters, when that upgrading is the deserved right of residents not only of Hougang, but the entire Singapore. The image that comes to mind is of an older bully, snatching the wallet of a primary school kid and holding it up high, promising to return his wallet if only the poor kid crawls under his legs.

It is thus scurrilous for Mr Desmond Choo to claim that “an MP needs to apply pressure on the authorities to hasten certain national projects, such as the Lift Upgrading Programme” and that “if Hougang's development was ideal, he would not need to actively pressure the Ministry of National Development (MND) to move faster.”[5] The question at hand is not whether Png Eng Huat or Desmond Choo is better at pressuring the MND, but why the MND needs to be pressured. The PAP’s policy of politicking with necessities such as these is not only divisive, but also self-serving in nature. As the ruling party who aims to build an inclusive society[6], is it right for it to place the political interests of its own party ahead of the welfare of its citizens?

In this aspect, the PAP has fallen short of the moral standards expected from a political party that prioritizes the citizens ahead of its own party interests. The cruel politicisation of upgrading amenities casts doubt on the ethics and motivation of the PAP, regardless whether it is a local or national election. Sadly, the culture of pork-barrel politics seems unlikely to change in the near future, as the PAP continues to hold a vice-like grip on the civil service and other para-political institutions and organizations. However, Hougang voters can voice their disapproval at the polling station come 26th May. To bite the upgrading carrot would be equivalent to submitting to the bully tactics of the PAP of withholding from the citizens what was rightfully theirs. I salute Hougang residents for standing strong against the carrots dangled and sticks aimed at them for the past 21 years, and sincerely hope that they continue to remind the ruling party of the desired standard for clean, upright politics that puts Singapore and Singaporeans first.