On Friday, 14 August, the People’s Action Party (PAP) introduced a set of candidates for the upcoming electoral contest in Sembawang GRC.
The venue of its press conference for that purpose was the Sunshine Welfare Action Mission (SWAMI) located at 5, Sembawang Walk.
The organisation is a charity and a voluntary welfare organisation (VWO) and “cares for its elderly residents, provides dementia day care for the elderly, and medical, nursing and other support services to the elderly or sick elderly living at home.”
It is also a recipient of government funds.
According to its latest annual report, it received between S$6 million to more than S$8.5 million in government grants each year from 2011 to 2014.
All this is well and good and the home should be commended for its work in providing care for the vulnerable elderly in our society.
It is thus the more puzzling why it has allowed its premises to be used for a political event by the PAP.
The Government has always frowned on and disapproved the use of such groups – VWOs, or charities or non-governmental organisations (NGOs) – which receives government fundings, for political purposes.
This was clearly spelt out in 2013, when a board member of the Association of Muslim Professional (AMP), Nizam Ismail, was accused of making use of his position in the VWO to “promote” himself and his “political agenda”.
Mr Nizam had, at the time, participated in two events or activities – one organised by activists against the Population White Paper, and the other a public forum organised by the Youth Wing of the Workers’ Party.
Shortly after, the government allegedly made contact with the AMP and, according to Mr Nizam, applied “pressure” on it to force him to resign from the organisation, a charge which the AMP and the government later denied.
Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, the Minister in Charge of Muslim Affairs, made it clear why the government disapproved of Mr Nizam’s involvement in political activities while being a board member of AMP.
Dr Yaacob said:
"Money which is given by the Government to Malay-Muslim organisations must be for the purpose of voluntary work that will help the community move forward. It is not for the purpose of creating a platform for people to be involved in partisan politics." [Emphasis added.]
His point was reinforced by the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY), which later issued a reply to a letter by Ms Braema Mathi, president of NGO Maruah, who had asked for clarification.
Mr Ho Ka Wei, Director of Corporate Communications, Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth, said in his letter to the Straits Times Forum page [emphasis added]:
“[Ms Braema] further asks if the rules are the same for government MPs and for people associated with opposition politics - like Mr Nizam Ismail who recently resigned from the Association of Muslim Professionals.
“The rules are indeed the same for all. The Government supports many NGOs and VWOs. Government MPs who serve with them, as well as everybody else, must be clear that their role is to help achieve the particular social, cultural or educational goals of these bodies, and not to exploit these bodies for their own political ends.”
It is worth repeating the last sentence above:
“Government MPs who serve with them, as well as everybody else,... must be clear that their role is... not to exploit these bodies for their own political ends.”
So, why are Mr Khaw Boon Wan, PAP chairman and Minister of National Development, and his PAP MPs exploiting the SWAMI home for political purposes, and even posing for photo-ops in its premises?
Mr Ravi Philemon, former executive director of a VWO for the disabled, said in his article on The Online Citizen (TOC):
“I know that most VWOs’ constitutions specify that such organisations shall not indulge in any political activity or allow its funds and/or premises to be used for political purposes.
“Is this clause also specified in SWAMI Home’s Constitution? If so, did SWAMI Home contravene its own Constitution by allowing its premises to be used for political purposes?
“The introduction of PAP candidates who will contest in Sembawang GRC in the next General Election is clearly a political activity.”
Also, why has the PAP government adopted an apparent double-standards when it come to this – threatening to withdraw fundings from AMP because of Mr Nizam’s alleged "political agenda" and activities, while it now engages in the very same thing which it had accused Mr Nizam of?
There is a clear case here for the Registrar of Society to conduct an investigation into the matter, and perhaps also for the Commissioner of Charities to look into it.
Who allowed the PAP to make use of the SWAMI home for a political purpose?
Isn’t this exactly what the PAP was and has been railing against?