The five-member Electoral Boundaries Review Committee (EBRC) has erased three constituencies from the face of the electoral map in its report which was released on Friday.
The closely fought single-member constituency (SMC) of Joo Chiat, in particular, is the most conspicuous absence from the redrawn boundaries. The other two deleted constituencies are Whampoa SMC and Moulmein-Kallang GRC.
Joo Chiat was contested between Yee Jenn Jong of the Workers’ Party and Charles Chong of the People’s Action Party (PAP). The latter won by 51 per cent of the vote, over Mr Yee’s 49 per cent.
Moulmein-Kallang GRC also saw a contest between the PAP and WP, with the PAP winning 58 per cent, while the WP took home 41 per cent.
The GRC has now been wiped off the map, with some speculating that gerrymandering was involved to remove any threats to the two incumbent ministers in the PAP team – Lui Tuck Yew and Yaacob Ibrahim – whose ministries have been in the news for all the wrong reasons in recent years.
Mr Lui, the Transport Minister, has been heavily criticised for his handling of the transport system, particularly the train system which saw record number of major delays in 2014 and the biggest MRT breakdown in the MRT’s history in June which affected some 250,000 commuters.
Dr Yaacob, the Minister of Communications and Information, has also been widely castigated for implementing stiffer curbs on freedom of speech and expression, with his ministry banning films and publications which were critical of or deemed undesirable by the Government. Only days ago, its Chief of Government Communications was again accused of interfering with a musical production.
On the changes to the electoral boundaries, the Prime Minister only revealed its formation on 13 July – 10 days ago – and only when he was asked in Parliament through a parliamentary question filed by two MPs, including Mr Yee.
The EBRC had been in deliberation for two months before Mr Lee was forced to reveal that the committee had been convened.
It is also worth noting that the Prime Minister did not reveal the identity of the committee members, except for the chairman, or indeed how many members there were.
It only later emerged that there were five members in the EBRC.
Another point worth noting is that the committee not only took a mere two months to deliberate before submitting its report to Parliament on 24 July, it has also kept a total silence over how it arrived at its report, or why certain boundaries were redrawn in such a manner, and why constituencies which incidentally (or coincidentally) saw close contests between the PAP and WP have in fact been erased entirely.
Questions have also been raised about the EBRC coming under the purview of the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), is appointed by the Prime Minister himself (who is also the secretary general of the PAP), and submits its report to the Prime Minister four days before it was made public or submitted to Parliament. (See here.)
In his parliamentary question on 13 July, Mr Yee had asked if future committees could comprise non-government members, as they were before Singapore’s independence from Malaysia.
In his reply, Mr Lee said the EBRC “has for many years comprised civil servants” and that it will remain so, even though his government would consider “outside expertise” if necessary.
The EBRC for the latest report indeed consists entirely of government-linked members:
Chairman, Mr Tan Kee Yong – Cabinet Secretary and secretary to the Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
Dr Cheong Koon Hean – Chief Executive Officer, Housing Development Board (HDB)
Mr Tan Boon Khai, – Chief Executive Officer, Singapore Land Authority (SLA)
Ms Wong Wee Kim – Chief Statistician at Singapore Statistics
Secretary, Mr Lee Seng Lup – Head of Election Department
All these questions have led to accusations of bias, gerrymandering and that the EBRC has been politically influenced in its deliberations.
Mr Yee, in his follow-up query to Mr Lee’s reply, asked if the committee would publish its deliberations.
“[The] completeness of the EBRC report seems to have been shrinking from the 1960s and the early 1970s,” Mr Yee said.
“So, will the Prime Minister direct the Committee to provide better justifications for the changes because many of these changes do not seem to make sense to political observers and to the residents?” Mr Yee asked. “Can the minutes of meetings of the EBRC be published so that they will be open for all to understand the decisions that have been made?”
Mr Lee, in response, said he did “not believe that it is helpful to have every twist and turn in the minutes reported and published.”
However, he also added that the decision to publish its deliberations would be left to the EBRC itself.
“As for the completeness of the report and of the minutes, I think I have to leave it to the Committee,” he said.
Given Mr Lee’s response and that he is not against the publication of the minutes of the EBRC’s deliberations, the committee should in fact – in the matter of public interest – publish them.
Unless there are compelling reasons not to, which the EBRC should also disclose and explain, there does not appear to be any reasons why the committee should not help the public understand better the boundary changes.
For the EBRC to hide behind a wall of silence will only add to the allegations that it is a non-independent committee, whose deliberations and decisions are shrouded in complete mystery.
Worse, it also leaves doubts about whether the civil service was drafted to help the ruling party gain an advantage in this way.
Further, keeping silent would be an insult to the 2.4 million Singaporeans who will be going to the polls to cast their votes. They should not be treated like mere sheep who are herded as and where the EBRC wants them to go, without any shred of justification whatsoever.
In a speech in January this year, the Prime Minister spoke of the importance of transparency in government, and how this is not only important in Singapore but also internationally.
The EBRC should take the Prime Minister’s words to heart and release its report in the spirit of what Mr Lee said: