Recent upgrades to Potong Pasir (image - Channel NewsAsia video)

Stop using the estate upgrading election carrot already

gets upgradeBy Ghui

It is understandable for any political party to profess electoral promises in order to garner support. This happens the world over and I do not begrudge Potong Pasir’s incumbent Member of Parliament, Mr Sitoh Yih Pin from doing the same to a certain extent.

But when the sweeteners are upgrading works that any other constituency would have the benefit of, this crosses the line from electoral campaigning into an unethical implied threat.

The esteemed opposition MP, Mr Chiam See Tong held the seat in Potong Pasir for 27 years. The SPP only lost the seat to Mr Sitoh as a result of Mr Chiam stepping down in favour of Mrs Chiam. Incidentally, Mrs Chiam only lost by a small margin. I am not suggesting that Mr Sitoh is an incompetent MP. Far from that – he has in fact come across as genuine and determined.

But, let’s not forget, Potong Pasir was a constituency that consistently voted for the opposition despite being denied upgrading for years. Clearly, attractive as upgrading may be, it is not the biggest goody in the candy bag. Mr Chiam had amassed a personal, almost cult-like following which was more important than any carrot the ruling party could dangle.

Why then is this infernal issue of upgrading in the limelight again? Two key things are evident from this upgrading talk.

Firstly, it signals that the PAP has not made the grassroots connection that Mr Chiam had. Mr Chiam was seen as the peoples’ man, an image that the PAP has failed to cultivate. This is no personal insult to Mr Sitoh. It is just that he is under a banner that does not afford him the opportunity to be the individual that Mr Chiam was. No matter what Sitoh does, he will always be a man in white subject to the majority party line. In this regard, he will never have the intimate relationship that Chiam had with his constituents.

Mrs Lina Chiam (image - CNA video)
Mrs Lina Chiam (image – CNA video)

The only trump card left to Mr Sitoh therefore is the perennial promises of upgrading. I am not suggesting for a second that upgrading is not important. On the contrary, it is very crucial indeed. If given a choice, anyone would prefer a spanking new estate over a dated one. But as with everything, there is a price and the people of Potong Pasir had always discerned that the price of not having Mr Chiam was too high and therefore prioritised him over upgrading works.

Now that it is Mrs Chiam that is in the picture and not Mr Chiam, the equation has shifted. In GE 2011, she was not enough of a draw. But can we surmise that upgrading won out simple because Sitoh has dangled it?

Fast forward four years and the same issue of upgrading still abounds. Is Mrs Chiam now more entrenched? Has Sitoh earned the loyalty of his voters sufficiently? Given that upgrading is still being touted, I would think that the PAP is not as confident as it would like to be.

Secondly and in fact more pertinently, why should upgrading even be a point of contention? Everyone pays tax and taxes are being used to fund upgrading. Taxes do not belong to the PAP. They belong to the state of Singapore. In theory therefore, upgrading shouldn’t even be an issue at election time!

Recent upgrades to Potong Pasir (image - Channel NewsAsia video)
Recent upgrades to Potong Pasir (image – Channel NewsAsia video)

Upgrading should be implemented on a needs basis and not on a “who you elect basis”. HDB flats are government housing and are being looked after by a statutory board. The statutory board is part of the civil service which is supposed to be apolitical. It exists and continues to run regardless of which party is in power. This is a line that both the PAP and Singaporeans in general need to recognise and respect.

While I can see that the workings of democracy are such that candidates need to win their voters over by selling their political wares, HDB upgrading should not be an election sweetener at all by virtue of the simple fact that the money being used for upgrading belongs to the state of Singapore.

Of course, it would be a different matter if opposition constituencies do not pay tax or are entitled to pay a lower tax. If that were the case, then can upgrading be used as a campaign tool?