Never has the job of an Opposition Politician been easier.
Minister Chan Chun Sing, in a grandiose Parliamentary speech, argued that the PA was not partisan. He then went on to add that he would be "the last person to ever allow the PA to be politicized." He even challenged Ms Sylvia Lim of the Workers Party, who first raised the issue, to cite evidence of the PA's partisan actions, promising that he would follow up.
At that point of time, the only problem Ms Lim would have had was to decide which examples to cite from the cesspool of incriminatory evidence that lay before her. Even though the Workers Party had their fair share of run-ins with the PA's partisanship, she didn't have to look far to contradict Mr Chan's claims.
In fact, there were 3 sources of information that, when cited, would make Mr Chan to appear either extremely naive, or, like a pathological liar. Out of the three that would expose his arguments to be pure bunkum, 2 came from his own backyard.
PAP MPs claiming that the PA is Partisan
The Member of Parliament for Mounbatten SMC, Mr Lim Biow Chuan, begs to differ with Mr Chan. During the hustling of GE 2011, he even went as far as to claim ownership of the PA Volunteers in his constituency.
"She (his Opponent, Mrs Jeannette Chong-Aruldoss) is someone with no experience to manage a Town Council and with no Grassroot Leaders to help. I can do so, because I have got 300 plus Grassroot Leaders to help me to connect with the residents to serve you to work with you to make this place better. What does she have? I have a team of more than 300 Grassroot Leaders living in this area."
His opponent, Mrs Jeannette Chong-Aruldoss, also lent more weight to Mr Lim's faith in PA's partisanship in a Facebook post that read as follows
"Mr Lim made efforts to impress upon his GE 2015 Rally audience that he had visited more than 40 condos in the past 4 years. Now that is something that only PAP MPs can do and which a non-PAP MP cannot. Only PAP MPs can be Grassroot Advisers. Non-PAP MPs cannot. The PA will help PAP MPs connect with condo residents, but non-PAP MPs will have to find their own resources to connect with condo residents.
Thus, for anyone to say that the PA is not political and non-partisan, is like calling a spade a bucket."
By referring the Grassroots as a tool in the PAP's political arsenal, it's no wonder that some people mistook Mr Chan's assertion to be a belated April Fool's joke.
The Late Lee Kuan Yew admitted that PA = PAP
Mr Lee Kuan Yew himself once unabashedly admitted that the PA was not only partisan, but that it was subservient to the PAP's interests. During an interview with the Straits Times, he explained
To illustrate one lesson the Chinese Officials learnt from Singapore, he said: "They discover that the People's Action Party (PAP) has only a small office in Bedok. But everywhere they go, they see the PAP – in the RCs (residents' committees), CCCs (citizens' consultative committees), and the CCs (community clubs)."
Mr Lee pulled no punches in describing the PA as an organ that was subservient to the PAP. If so, it is pretty odd that such an organ which serves partisan politcal interests is being funded by the pockets of taxpayers. On hindsight, the majority of Opposition Politicians, Ms Lim and Mrs Jeannette included, do not have much doubts as to whether the PA served the interests of the PAP. To some extent, they even submit that it is a open secret. The real issue lies with how an ever-ballooning amount of taxpayer's money is being used to fund the PA and it's partisan political ventures.
This issue also lay at the root of what prompted Mr Chan to make a statement that reeked of naivety and blatant ignorance. He was responding to a question by Ms Lim on the justification behind the high expenditure of PA, which stood at nearly $900 million for Fiscal Year (FY) 2016. This was a significant 34% increase from it's budget in FY2014. Ms Chong Aruldoss herself, has, on more than one occasion, called on the PA's books to be audited.
The CIA's files on the People's Association
What surprised me the most was the CIA's file dedicated to describing and deconstructing the intricate inter-relationship between the PA and the PAP. This case-study was undertaken in 1993, almost 2 full decades before the time Mr Chan stepped into the Political arena. So much for being "the last person to allow the PA to be politicized" eh?
Here are some snippets from the CIA's case-study
"More than one Singaporean, drawn into daily use of his neighborhood center, is unable to tell whether he owes its presence to the ruling party, the government, or the private sector. This ambiguity is precisely what the PAP wants. To enhance the effect, moreover, the party sees to it that all possible services are dispensed by the government on the premises of the centers, so that the identification of the center with government as well as party is immeasurably increased. The reputation for responsive government thus acquired is excellent insurance against an occasional unfortunate policy or unpopular decision"
"It was partly the need for sponsorship of political activity in the centers and partly also Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew's need for a personal political organization which led to the creation of political committees throughout the city in 1964. Like so many other organizations touching on the People's Association complex, the committees pretend not to be political organizations at all. In each electoral district the members of the committee are appointed by the elected PAP representative. All appointments are then reviewed by the Prime Minister's office, and the appointees thus consider themselves to be partially responsible to the Prime Minister himself."
"Over both deputies is a director who answers to the Board of Directors of the People's Association, composed mostly of PAP ministers and supporters. Thus the public-private character of the People's Association is perpetuated."
The case-study made for very interesting reading. It would certainly be entertaining to see how Mr Chan would respond to them, in addition to the allegations made by Mr Lim and the late Mr Lee too, if he could. It would be good if he could also shed some light upon the time where he shot himself in the foot too. I opine that such an undertaking would be almost impossible. It would be as hard as spelling PAP without the PA.
Mr Chan should come to the realization, if he hasn't already done so, that defending the PA is but an exercise in futility. The man on the street would smirk if someone told him that the PA wasn't the PAP's stooge. Instead, he should open the books of the PA for an audit to come clean on how much is being spent for the interests of the community and for the interests of the powers that be, respectively. This would be in the interests of transparency and boosting public confidence in the PAP's institutions. Reluctance to do so may shed light on guilt. As an organisation that utilizes almost 1 billion in taxpayers' money yearly, it should be more accountable to the people in how it spends their money. After all, it should live up to it's name of being the People's Association.