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Pritam [Photo: Pauline Tan]

Stop politicisation of grassroots organisations, stop the bullying: WP

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Two things stood out at the Workers’ Party’s (WP) fourth rally, held at Punggol on 5 Sept: First, the bombshell dropped by WP Secretary-General Mr Low Thia Khiang regarding Punggol East SMC’s deficit in 2011, and second, the well-coordinated speeches by several candidates on the unfair politicisation of grassroots organisations, and what the WP proposes for change.

Partisan politics of the CCCs and People’s Association

Pritam [Photo: Pauline Tan]
Pritam [Photo: Pauline Tan]
The People’s Association (PA) and Citizens’ Consultative Committees (CCCs) are often seen as working for the communal good, Mr Pritam Singh said, recalling how as a boy, he once participated in an art competition “organised by either the Residents’ Committee (RC) or the CCC, both of which come under the People’s Association”.

Mr Singh also commended residents who help in the CCCs “for no political reason but simply to look out for their neighbours and friends.”

But things are not always so straight-forward - and he soon wised up to the less benign purpose of the CCCs, when he became MP for Aljunied GRC in 2011.

“The first welcome gift from the PAP was the transfer of 6 community sites where Aljunied residents gather and bond - transferred from the Town Council to the People’s Association,” he said, to boos from the crowd.

Although RC members would typically assist the MP by highlighting community problems, “the 7 RCs in Eunos received a directive from someone - I don’t know who - not to engage with the incoming Workers’ Party Town Council,” Mr Singh said. “When I asked to use a facility managed by the PA in my ward, the reply from the CCC Chairman was a polite ‘no’.”

He also told the story of an RC member who asked him why the WP did not organise more activities in the CC for residents. “When I told her that the CC is not open for opposition MPs for community purpose, and our community organisations do not receive any funding from the PA … she looked at me and said, ‘But Mr Singh, this is so unfair!’ And then she said, ‘Now I know why we need an opposition!’” he said, setting off loud cheers from the crowd.

A similar story was also shared by Ms Sylvia Lim, who described HDB’s welcome party for residents at the new Rivervale Arc. The HDB’s request for use of a void deck in Punggol East SMC was sent to AHPETC and approved by MP Lee Li Lian.

However, when the day came, Ms Lee was not invited to the party to meet the new residents. Instead, HDB had invited the PAP’s Mayor Teo Ser Luck, and Dr Koh Poh Koon, who had previously lost the election to Ms Lee.

Sylvia [Photo: Pauline Tan]
Sylvia [Photo: Pauline Tan]
“How did this happen?” Ms Lim asked. “Is HDB a government department helping PAP campaign against the Workers’ Party MP? HDB even had the cheek to ask AHPETC to standby its cleaners to clean up after the event!”

And there was another problem: Money.

“These organisations like the CCCs which use community work and communal harmony, while openly also doing the PAP’s political bidding, are funded by yours and my taxpayer money!” Mr Singh said. The crowd booed.

As revealed by Mr Png Eng Huat’s question in Parliament in 2012, this yearly funding was approximately $150,000 per CCC and $9,500 per RC, amounting to a recent budget of 1 billion dollars for the PA.

These problems were compounded by the fact that upgrading decisions are linked to the CCC.

Mr Singh elaborated that the money for upgrading is likely to come from the $40 million from MND’s Community Improvement Projects Committee (CIPC), which consists of PAP MPs and grassroots advisors. The CIPC would then disperse its funds according to the CCC’s recommendations.

“Unsurprisingly, an elected opposition MP has no say prioritising projects in the constituency,” Mr Singh said. In fact, from 2011 to 2015, only 17 out of 50 projects he proposed were approved.

“And work has not started on any of them”, he added, to loud boos. “All are very practical requests, for example, barrier-access-free ramps between blocks to serve residents on wheelchairs.”

“CIPC funding which comes from taxpayers, like the CCCs, are intentionally organised to serve as a political tool of the PAP, to make it difficult for any opposition party to make inroads into Singapore politics,” he concluded.

The WP’s proposal? To radically overhaul structures like the CCCs, RCs, and the PA. For example, the PA to be put under the President of Singapore instead of the PAP. This would unify Singapore, Mr Singh said, “and protect ourselves from any political party which uses grassroots organisations to unfairly benefit itself.”

Stop the bullying

Taking a different tack, Dr Daniel Goh spoke of his school life - but weaved it back to the same point.

When he was elected a prefect in primary school, he asked the prefect master what his role was.

“He told me, you make sure the students remain as friends, prevent fights between the students, and don’t let anyone bully anyone,” Dr Goh said.

When he was chosen as head prefect in Primary Six, he asked the prefect master the same thing.

“He said, you make sure your prefects don’t become the bullies!” he recalled.

“For a long time, the PAP used the upgrading of HDB flats and lifts as a so-called ‘carrot’ to get voters to vote for them. Wards that elected a non-PAP MP were pushed to the end of the queue.” he said. “This is like the prefects of a primary school who push those students they don’t like, who they think don’t support them, to the back of the queue during recess time. The prefects have become bullies. And if the prefects are bullies, the head prefect has failed!” he said.

Calling on Singaporeans to reject the bullying tactics of the PAP, Dr Goh concluded: “Politics to us is not about winning, bullying, claiming credit. It should be about serving all citizens. My fellow Singaporeans, stop the bullying, empower your future, vote the Workers’ Party!”