By Kumaran Pillai
The parliament is a public institution and it is not a venue to play political hunger games. Sadly, to the disappointment of all political watchers in Singapore, our state of politics has degenerated into a sport of mudslinging and blood spills. On Monday 13th of May 2013, the Workers’ Party parliamentarians walked out with their noses bloodied, figuratively speaking, by the Minster for National Development Khaw Boon Wan.
Khaw pointed out that WP has been parceling off contracts to supporters of their own political party for a whopping figure of $25.9 million. Upon closer inspection, there appears to be lapses in governance in the way contracts were awarded.
But it was not a case of the pot calling the kettle black. Even if Khaw made any aspersions of poor governance, he was politically savvy enough to show WP a way out of their death trap. They reached a common ground; and it turns out, that it is perfectly okay for parliamentarians to do whatever they want with town councils. Khaw said, “As MPs, we are given a lot of latitude to run TCs.”
We must put our trust, wholeheartedly, in our politicians to wriggle out of a tight spot. And our parliament has become a place to cut deals, settle old political scores and forge new alliances:
“I call on all, including our WP colleagues, to work closely with my Ministry to improve our TCs, for the interests of our residents moving forward,” said Khaw.
There appears to be some kind of political brotherhood and it will be not too long before our dear beloved politicians turn our public institutions i.e TCs into their own political fortresses. At least for now, having a fortress seems like a good idea. Besides, it is a comfortable safe zone for both parties to fall back on.
WP in choppy Political Waters
WP has found itself in choppy political waters in the last two days. It has lost the moral high ground to argue that TCs are a public institution after farming out its own IT contract to a party insider.
However, according to some die hard WP supporters, it is a different kettle of fish when WP parcels out contracts to its supporters. Apparently, it is not favoritism; it is because of their distrust for anything not affiliated with WP.
Pritam Singh, at the parliamentary sitting, called for a ban of TC transactions on party-owned companies.
Khaw responding to Pritam said, “We must impose it across all TCs, and also not just narrowly for party-owned companies but companies owned by people in various forms of party affiliations, like ex-party members and party supporters and even their immediate families. If we do this, we would of course be prohibiting the appointment of FMSS by the AHTC as well.”
The slippery slope of TC contracts
TC deals are vital to the growth and survival of political parties. It provides party members with income, jobs and precious cash to organize their parties more effectively. Without these deals, parties will have to solely rely on donations and MP allowances to survive. For some, as distasteful as it seems, it is the reason why they sign up for politics in the first place.
One needs to lift the corporate veil in the case of FMSS. If the company was setup for the sole purpose of hiding the true ownership and in this case the Workers’ Party, then there is a serious lapse in governance.
While it may seem easy for Pritam to say that he can just ban all TC transactions by party-owned companies. In reality, we need to extend the notion of ownership to party-members, affiliates and supporters. In this case, WP can’t afford to throw this out of the window for practical financial reasons. In fact, they have gotten themselves into a nice little mess.
To be fair to WP, this fight was started by the bloggers. The battle lines were drawn digitally in the cloud by over-zealous supporters who thought they were doing WP a favour. But little did they know that they were doing them (WP) in, by kicking the dust on AIM.
What I fear most is the internal turmoil that WP would go through (or maybe not). So what happens to those who joined them to make a difference and those who argued for TCs to be a public institution? Where do they stand philosophically and ideologically in all these? So, what can WP offer?
It appears that a tactical withdrawal would be a nice respite for our WP warriors, especially after their passionate performances in their first world parliament.
Trust me, even if the warriors retreat, the foot soldiers will fight till the bitter end.
This article first appeared in SG Voize