By Joe C.
When I read in the news recently about Minister Chan Chun Sing declaring that the People's Association (PA) is not partisan, I could only burst out laughing. It's an open secret that PA is beholden to the People's Action Party (PAP) and that PAP's grassroots leaders would be a lot less effective if not for PA's support.
Just ask any PA employee whether PA is truly non-partisan and watch the snigger on his/her face.
Many of the PA staff are biting their tongues and trying not to say too much regarding this saga because they don't want to jeopardize their government jobs, especially in the current economic climate. They rather mute their conscience and bury their heads in the sand, which is pretty sad. However, retaliation from the PAP is real as you can see how they don't even spare Amos Yee, who's still a child, Roy Ngerng, an ex-healthcare worker who used to work with HIV patients and Workers' Party (WP), which is another political party that's trying to run a town council for its residents.
This is how the PA supports the PAP:
Firstly, the PAP may have thousands of grassroots leaders. However, when they execute their activities and events, the PA is usually their hands and legs. You can almost describe the PA as a glorified event organizer for the PAP. PA provides facilities, manpower and all other kinds of logistical support.
Secondly, PA's facilities, whether Community Centres (CCs), Residents' Committee (RCs) and the many little rooms built under the HDB flats, are built using taxpayers' money, and can be used easily by the PAP's Members of Parliament (MPs). The Opposition, even if the MPs are elected, are mostly not allowed to use them to hold their own events. All kinds of hurdles and reasons are given whenever the Opposition try to do something, which naturally caused them to give up.
Thirdly, sometimes, it can be difficult to distinguish whether a particular event is by the PA or the PAP and I believe that this is deliberate. I spoke to a resident once who was surprised to find out that the usual weekend events near his block were organized by the PA and not the PAP. These outreach events are very effective in allowing the PAP to touch almost every single resident, courtesy of the PA acting as a proxy. A good example would the Pioneer Generation Package, which basically helped the PAP win the votes from the senior citizens last year.
Lastly, PA has its own in-house training institute called National Community Leadership Institute (NACLI). They conduct many free courses exclusively for PAP grassroots leaders and as you can see from their website, these courses are geared to help them win over residents. Some of these courses also include finance and auditing training, which is ironic, because PA was actually flagged by the Auditor General Office (AGO) last year for several financial lapses. This means that you actually have to give some credit to the WP, because despite their lack of resources, they still managed to run a town council without being hauled in by the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB).
What about the current case against the Aljunied Hougang Town Council (AHTC) in the newspapers? Well, just think about it. The mainstream media is controlled by the PAP. The PAP has also effectively cyberspace when they shut down The Real Singapore (TRS) and a few "balanced" socio-political sites conveniently sprang up at the same time to soak up the readers who were lost by TRS. The Opposition has lost the social media battle. The PAP's internet brigade is real and is well-organized.
Do you think you're reading the full story about the AHTC in the newspapers? They have done a very good job to discredit the WP and most Singaporeans are not aware of it.
The Opposition in Singapore has a very hard time fighting against the PAP because it controls the mainstream media, the PA juggernaut and now, the social media as well. Do most Singapore know how incredibly lopsided is our political landscape? I don't think so.
So is the PA non-partisan? Of course not.
Perhaps Minister Chan is not aware how bad the situation is on the ground. If he is really interested in fixing this, one suggestion is for him to set up some kind of email hotline for anonymous feedback. However, if what he had claimed in the papers is just mere rhetoric, then I only have this to say:
My dear comrades, I think we have gone far enough.
P.S. For obvious reasons and not to get my PA friends into trouble, I have chosen to remain anonymous.