By Andrew Loh
When the Citizens’ Consultative Committees (CCCs) were set up in the 1960s, it was with noble intentions – first “to rally support among the people for merger with the Federation of Malaya”, and later “to fight against Communism, and facilitate communication between the people and the government.”
In its current form, CCCs (said to be the "apex body of all grassroots organisations") have more civic roles.
According to the People’s Association’s “Rules and Regulations” for CCCs, it is stated:
The functions of the Committee are:
(a) to promote good citizenship among residents in the Constituency;
(b) to disseminate information and channel feedback on government policies and actions from residents in the Constituency;
(c) to lead and co-ordinate projects and activities at the constituency and national levels; and
(d) to recommend to the Community Improvement Projects Committee (CIPC) to provide amenities and facilities in the Constituency.
There are several things you notice about these rules and regulation, in the context of what has transpired between the National Environment Agency (NEA), the Bedok Reservoir-Punggol CCC, and the opposition Workers’ Party (WP) town council, Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC) in recent months.
The first thing is that there is no mention of the term “town council” at all in the set of rules and regulations pertaining to the CCCs.
The second thing you notice is that the functions and purpose of the CCCs are civic in nature, rather than political, unlike its purpose in the 1960s.
Now, take a look at the roles and functions of town councils, as laid out in the Town Council website:
“Town Councils were formed in 1989 to empower local elected representatives and residents to run their own estates. With the formation of Town Councils:
“Residents can participate in decision-making and local estate management (e.g. by joining the Grassroots Organisations, giving feedback on estate matters).”
“Elected Members of Parliament (MPs) are empowered to lead Town Councils and decide on local estate management matters.”
So, it would thus seem that the two – the CCCs and the town councils – have markedly differently roles and purposes.
However, with the victorious win of the WP in Aljunied GRC, Hougang SMC and Punggol East SMC, the role of the grassroots, including the CCCs, seem to have been politicised by the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) Government.
The current legal battle between the NEA and the WP is but only the latest skirmish which has thrown light on this – with the NEA prescribing that AHPETC must obtain the support of the chairman of the Bedok Reservoir-Punggol CCC as one of the mandatory conditions in considering AHPETC’s application for a permit to hold a community event.
And the AHPETC has to do this even though the event would be held within the public area which it is empowered to manage by the Town Councils Act.
Despite repeated attempts by the lawyer for the WP in court to seek the reasons why this was necessary, the answer has not been forthcoming from the NEA.
Further, the mysterious removal of the term “town councils” from the application form as one of the entities authorised to hold such community events only adds to the accusation that the Government is playing dirty.
Again, attempts to seek answers to why the term was removed have been met with stonewalling by the NEA lawyer.
To add credence to the accusation (or to not unjustified rumours) that the particular CCC in this case is “playing politics” is the fact that the chairman of the CCC is a PAP branch chairman, Victor Lye.
Mr Lye thus wears two hats – chairman of the CCC and chairman of the political party’s branch in the area.
Can one reasonably expect him not to see things through politicised lenses?
Mr Lye wrote: "There were no barriers or signs to indicate that someone was looking into it. Am told the Town Council is responsible for such works. Perhaps some signage to explain the works will go some way to allay residents' concerns."
Many members of the public pointed out to him that there have also been similar incidents in PAP-run areas, and that the blame for this particular incident should not be placed on the WP town council because it was obviously a HDB workmanship issue.
These postings, however, seem to have been deleted on his page, and only one photo remains. (See here.)
What is noteworthy, nonetheless, is how Mr Lye had – together with his companions – posed in front of the exposed wall for a group photo, with even one of them smiling.
It does make you wonder why Mr Lye would do this – if he was truly concerned, would he not quickly contact the HDB and the town council and get the necessary done, for the sake of residents’ safety, instead of posing for a group photo and then apparently use it to score political points?
What is also curious is whether Mr Lye was acting as the chairman of the CCC or as chairman of the PAP branch.
From the photo, Mr Lye seems to be wearing a PAP t-shirt.
But that is exactly the point – when does one act as a grassroots chairman and when does one act as a PAP branch chairman?
How does anyone distinguish the two?
But the issue is this: the grassroots, through such shenanigans by the ruling party is in serious danger of losing the trust of the people.
From its noble beginnings to bring the government and the people closer, it is now being used for selfish political reasons and exploitation.
It is not only undesirable and regrettable, more importantly, it diminishes the work of those who have genuinely stepped forward to serve and who give of their time selflessly to the community.
Singaporeans – and grassroots volunteers themselves - need to demand that the ruling PAP government stop making use of the grassroots organisations for political ends.
The CCCs were never set up to oversee what town councils, which are run by elected Members of Parliament (MP), do.
The grassroots organisations, run by unelected volunteers, are supposed to complement the work of elected officials, and not to stymie them.
Nowhere in the People’s Association’s own Rules and Regulations is it stated that the CCCs are supposed to be the watchdogs for the town councils, let alone be given powers to approve or “support” town councils’ community events.
By what authority are CCCs given such powers?
One minister just days ago urged Singaporeans to embrace "a democracy of integrity and deeds."
Indeed, let those who have been elected by the people be respected, and not be subjected to unfair and dishonest political manoeuvring.
The CCCs’ purpose is a noble one.
Please do not let them be used for selfish, partisan, and short-term political goals, and in the process tarnish the good work of many hundreds and thousands of volunteers.
It will serve no one.