The ongoing saga of Chinese national and Singapore permanent resident, Yang Yin, seems to throw up more surprises as each day passes.
It would seem that Mr Yang has lied, falsified or faked all that he has said and done – from his educational degree to his dance studio, from his application for permanent residency, to his claims to be the “grandson” of 87-year Chung Khin Chun, from being a “director” of a chamber of commerce to having business dealings with several tour agencies.
Mr Yang is also being investigated for criminal breach of trust, and is said to have emptied out one room full of Mdm Chung’s art works and valuables, along with her bank account as well.
All to the tune of several million dollars, according to news reports.
Mr Yang is also in the thick of a court application brought by the niece of Mdm Chung asking the court to revoke his Lasting Power of Attorney (LPG) which Mdm Chung had granted him in 2012.
It does look like Mr Yang has some rather very serious matters to account for, and is possibly looking at a lengthy jail sentence, if further charges are brought against him.
Be that as it may, one of the issues which the entire sage – which has been in the spotlight for more than a month – has raised is how Mr Yang became a “grassroots leader” with the Jalan Kayu precinct in Ang Mo Kio group representation constituency (GRC).
The GRC is under the charge of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong [who also happens to be the chairman of the People's Association, the umbrella for the grassroots organisations], but the precinct is under the wings of Member of Parliament Intan Azura Mokhtar.
As far as is known, Mr Yang arrived in Singapore in 2009, and became a PR “sometime after 2011”.
When did he become involved in grassroots work?
According to this photo on the Jalan Kayu Integration and Naturalisation Champions (INC) Facebook page, apparently Mr Yang was involved in the grassroots by February 2013.
This leaked document (below) showed that Mr Yang had attended a INC meeting as a member of the committee in June 2013.
One could reasonably surmise then that Mr Yang became a “grassroots leader” within about 2 years after receiving his permanent residency.
It made him one of more than 30,000 grassroots leaders in Singapore among the 1,800 grassroots organisations (GROs) under the aegis of the People’s Association (PA).
Incidentally, only Singapore citizens and permanent residents can be nominated or appointed grassroots leaders.
Ms Intan had told the media that Mr Yang, while being involved with the grassroots, did not hold any “key position” in them.
According to PA rules, permanent residents can only make up a maximum of 15 per cent of grassroots leaders in each GRO. The cap can only be lifted by the PA itself.
People’s Action Party (PAP) MPs, incidentally, act as advisers to these GROs.
Opposition MPs are barred from being so.
When Mr Yang’s story first appeared in the news, Ms Intan was reported to have said, "The grassroots leaders... a lot of them are doing very good work but they don't get time in the media," she said. "But because of one incident, (they) get highlighted.”
To view criticisms or concerns from members of the public with such apparent disdain is misguided, because there is genuine concern of how the GROs are run, and how grassroots leaders are chosen.
This is especially important given the role of the PA itself – which is to establish communication channels between the government and the people, basically. Therefore, those who work or volunteer with the PA should be people of credit, whom Singaporeans can trust.
And to be sure, we should not let one Yang Yin tar the good name and the good work of grassroots volunteers and other grassroots leaders.
That would not only be unfortunate, it would also be misplaced.
Nonetheless, given that there has been a steady increase in the number of PRs who have joined the grassroots, it is indeed timely for the PA to review its criterias and see if these can be tightened or improved on.
In 2010, it was reported that there were some 1,400 PRs and 4,625 new citizens who were appointed grassroots leaders.
This is 25 per cent (1 in 4) of the 24,000 grassroots leaders then.
It is unclear what the current numbers are.
Given the situation, and apparent loopholes highlighted by Mr Yang’s case, the PA perhaps should have further rules.
One which it might want to consider is having a waiting period before a new PR can become a grassroots leader, as opposed to being a grassroots volunteer.
This would not be new, as the Housing and Development Board (HDB) had introduced something similar last year. New PRs now have to wait a 3-year period before they will be allowed to purchase a HDB flat in the resale market.
The Minister for National Development (MND), Khaw Boon Wan, described the waiting period as “fair” then, and that this will “further distinguish between citizens and non-citizens.”
There does not seem to be any similar rules when it comes to the grassroots.
This is the PA application form to apply to be a volunteer with the grassroots:
You notice it does not ask how long one has been a PR.
It might be good for the PA to have a minimum waiting period rule for PRs who are to be appointed grassroots leaders. This is to prevent those like Mr Yang from gaming the system for their own selfish benefits.
Of course, there is no full proof solution to those who would abuse the system, but a waiting period does allow new PRs to settle in and be familiar with Singapore before they take leadership roles in the grassroots.
They can always start out as grassroots volunteers first – for a few years.
This will also allow the MPs and other senior grassroots leaders more time to assess if these new PRs are able to fit into leadership roles, and whether they have the dedication to serve the community, rather than themselves.
After all, if one is genuine about serving the community, having to wait a few years before being appointed to higher positions should not be a matter of concern.
This article was first published on Fresh Grads.