MARUAH: Replace CDCs with elected non-partisan councils

maruah mayor paper
Local human rights non-government organisation (NGO) MARUAH, in its 4th position paper of their ongoing project “Defending the Legitimacy of Singapore Elections”, called for existing Community Development Councils (CDCs) to be replaced with councils led by citizen-elected non-partisan mayors, and for such councils to be funded by the government.

MARUAH member, Mr Kao Zi Jian presented the NGO’s position paper on how CDCs, unlike the Town Councils which deal with estate management, are appointed by the People’s Association (PA), an executive arm of the government. The non-electability of the CDC head, or Mayor, contravenes Article 25 of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) adopted by the United Nations General Assembly.

“Every citizen shall have the right and the opportunity…to take part in the conduct of public affairs, directly or through freely chosen representatives”.

Such representatives are to be chosen through elections in which “real popular input [is] institutionally accommodated (Comment 79, UN Human Rights and Elections Handbook)”.

The NGO pointed out that restrictions to the provision of real choice thus constitute a violation of the peoples’ political rights. This because the Mayor is first elected through partisan political processes and then appointed to the position of Mayor by the ruling party.

The non-elected nature of the CDCs and Mayors means that Singaporeans are deprived of their right to have a say in how their CDC is run and do not have the full range of feedback, including the right to vote out non-performing representatives, on the services and programmes provided by their CDC.

As the programme agenda and terms of engagement are pre-defined by the CDC management, this can be alienating to Singaporeans who would like to get involved in grassroots activities without getting into partisan politics and work alongside a Mayor who has been elected and not selected through a political election.

This prove to be troublesome especially if the CDC is within an opposition ward.

For instance, the North East Community Development Council could have members of the Workers’ Party to be the Mayor or even serving as advisors. Instead, only members from the ruling party are present in the council.

Mr Kao noted that the performance of the CDCs in relation to their objectives – social cohesion and social assistance – has not been particularly effective, and that the programmes by the CDCs appear to be a considerable duplication of the efforts of other government bodies.

With the government has introducing the Social Service Offices to handle welfare programmes, the CDCs are even less relevant in this role.

MARUAH argue that with councils led by popularly-elected non-partisan mayors, accountability can be greatly improved. The citizens will have a better sense of political ownership, and such a system will foster greater political maturity.

MARUAH’s position paper on the Role of the Community Development Councils (CDCs) and Local Government in Singapore is available online.

Editor’s note: The PA received an adverse report for their financial reports for more than 10 years because its financial statements did not include the statements of its related organisations, such as community clubs and community centres. The Online Citizen has reported on this incident in an earlier article.