The Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) held a press conference at its headquarters on Friday evening to introduce its proposed social programmes to be implemented at Bukit Batok Single Member Constituency.
In total, four social programmes have been proposed, should its candidate win the by-election. The four social programme are: Hearts for BB, Pathfinder, Legal Lifeline, and Dollars and Sense.
Speaking on the social programmes, SDP’s Secretary General and candidate for the by-election, Dr Chee Soon Juan, said that these programmes did not come from top down but from the residents themselves.
He said that he wants to be able to bring residents together . “Many of the families that we visited cannot even pay their constituency fees. What should we do? Leave them in the cold? Or if they get retrenched, what happens?”
Referring to an elderly woman he met during his walkabout, Dr Chee said that she works for $5 an hour, eight hours a day, six days a week. However, someone went up to her to record a video, asking her to say that she works for exercise. “Really?” retorted Dr Chee. “Eight hours a day, six days a week?” Moreover, Dr Chee asks: “Why is it that someone of her age cannot retire? At least enable her to live a meaningful life.”
He hopes the programmes will be able to ensure that elderly people have a better quality of life, and believes that sometimes it is better to give than to receive.
Dr Chee said that he does not just want to be a MP. While taking care of the constituency is hugely important, he also wants to be that spark, that catalyst that brings out the best of Bukit Batok, inspiring the residents to reach for the best and discover a new side of the Bukit Batok community. Dr Chee also says that he is hopeful that this will one day spread throughout Singapore.
“That is what we want to do, that is what we want to achieve for Bukit Batok,” said Dr Chee.
Dr Chee feels it is hard to be a part-time MP as it is impossible for an MP to work a full day elsewhere and still help the residents. “You will be spent, you cannot take a day time job, not if you want to serve the residents of Bukit Batok or anywhere in Singapore.”
“We dare to commit to this programme because I will do the work full time and give my undivided attention as MP,” said Dr Chee.
When asked where the party will get the funding for the programmes, Dr Chee replied that he will contribute part of his MP allowance to kickstart the programmes. He said that the aim of the programmes are to bring people together, to develop organic relationships, and build a bond between Singaporeans.
A reporter from the Straits Times asked Dr Chee how different the SDP’s programmes are compared to existing programmes by the People’s Association (PA).
Dr Chee replied by saying that in the short time span after the by-election was announced, he has met many individuals who are having difficulties in their life. He cited a few examples: One family had repeatedly tried to get the town council to build a ramp for their mother who is in a wheelchair; she has no help and no income, except to rent her room out. Where is she going to get her income from if the tenant moves out, asked Dr Chee. Another resident, who apparently suffered a stroke, still goes out to work as a sweeper for $500 dollars a month.
Dr Chee then cited ST’s recent article on old folks being afraid of dying alone and commented: “And you get all these old people afraid to die alone at home, despite the programmes by PA.”
Former presidential candidate in 2011, Mr Tan Kin Lian, said in the press conference that he believes that Dr Chee is passionate about serving and he has demonstrated this over the decade. Mr Tan was glad Dr Chee said that full time MPs are needed. “We cannot have MPs who have full time jobs and try to serve the residents as a part time job. We need people who are willing to serve the constituents and play their role in Parliament in an active way.”
Mr Tan also said that it is not the job of MPs to solve all the problems because the government collects taxes to serve the people. It is the job of MPs to know what the problems are and bring this up in Parliament or to the relevant agencies.
He added that Parliament has been far too inactive—many problems have not been solved and have gotten worse over the years. He said that residents need to not only elect an MP who would serve full time, but one that would also take time to get to know the residents and play an active role in Parliament.
Dr Chee assured members of the media that in terms of management of the estate, his party has already laid out the procedures required for a smooth transition to take place. The party will retain the town council staff in interests of continuity. He also noted that he has the assistance of qualified and experienced individuals who will assist him in the running of the town council. He emphasized that it is their top priority to maintain the estate.
Dr Chee will be expected to be facing Murali Pillai, the People’s Action Party’s candidate who is a long time grassroots leader at the SMC.
Instead of being restrained by the party’s whip like Mr Pillai, Dr Chee says that he is able to bring up the issues of residents in Bukit Batok and, in wider contexts, of Singaporeans.
Hearts for BB aims to create a caring community for elderly and low-income residents, where households in Bukit Batok are encouraged to adopt a needy family in the community. Givers will contribute their time and resources to the recipient-family’s well-being. This is said to bring the community closer together and forge stronger bonds between fellow residents.
SDP will set up a trust fund that will assist the elderly poor with monthly stipends or food vouchers. Activities such as sewing, bingo nights, gardening, etc will be organised by the party for the elderly so that they can lead more enriching and meaningful lives. If elected, Dr Chee will use his MP’s allowance to assist 10 low-income families and hope that residents will follow suit.
The programme will be coordinated by Wong Hwee Lin, 43, a non-SDP member who is presently a private tutor and has extensive experience in teaching. She possesses a Master of Arts in Sociocultural Anthropology and was nominated for a Teaching Award in 2009. She took up the position when she was approached by the party while volunteering.
Pathfinder aims to create an environment conducive for students to build their confidence and develop their potential. It is a place where students come together to discover themselves, explore their interests and talents, or simply find someone to listen to them. Pathfinder will also provide subsidised private tuition for students from lower-income families. This programme will be headed by Rajakumari Ashukumar (Kumari), 23, who is presently an allied educator and pursuing a degree in biomedical science.
Dollars and Sense will be a financial clinic that aims to assist residents who are facing financial difficulties and are looking for advice in resolving their financial problems. Financial experts and planners will meet with residents either individually or in small groups. This initiative will be headed by Tan Kin Lian, 68, who is currently the President of the Financial Services Consumer Association and former CEO of NTUC Income from 1977 to 2007.
Legal Lifeline is a legal clinic staffed by volunteering lawyers to provide the first step of assistance to low-income residents who are in need of legal advice. SDP states that it has at least seven lawyers who have volunteered to run the legal clinic at this point in time.