On 29 July, Workers’ Party MP Pritam Singh highlighted a recent interaction on Facebook between a grassroots organisation his constituency in Eunos and a resident and noted that the ethos of community service in Singapore through the PA remains in need of a revamp
The interaction in question started with a Facebook post from a grassroots organisation in Eunos called Simply Eunos in which they said that two of their grassroots leaders “attended to a fire incident at Blk 602 Bedok Reservoir Road, as alerted Singapore Civil Defence Force myResponder app.”
The post said the fire was put out before the Singapore Civil Defence Force arrived and reminded residents to not dispose unextinguished items into the bin chute.
However, a resident commented on the post to note that the fire was put out by a couple of cleaners and that no one else had ‘attended’ to the fire. The commenter, Ms Rosalind Lee, said the post by Simply Eunos was misleading as is “giving credit to the grassroots leaders for the purpose of putting PAP in a good light”.
The original Eunos post was later updated to note that it was the cleaners who had put out the fire. Clearly, they had no idea who actually attended to the flames until after Ms Lee commented on their post.
In his own Facebook post, Mr Singh first described his gratefulness for the PA grassroots volunteer in his constituency of Eunos in Aljunied GRC. He said, “I am grateful for the part they play in the community. Some are incredibly fair-minded, independent and work with the Aljunied-Hougang Town Council, and are cautious about associating themselves with the PAP or WP.”
However, there were other Residents’ Committee (RC) or Citizens Consultative Committee (CCC) chairpersons or members who are ‘PAP cadre members’, there simply to “do a hit job on the opposition” and “stirring the ground with half-truths”, says Mr Singh.
The WP MP also pointed out how “a fair number” of grassroots leaders would work as PAP polling agents on polling day which leads to residents making a connection that the help they’ve received came from PA volunteers who are volunteering for PAP. “One can imagine the political influence a PA grassroots leader and an unelected PA Grassroots Adviser can wield during elections,” wrote Mr Singh.
He then quoted an article by Straits Times published in 1992:
“Several grassroots leaders and advisers say that when they organize activities for residents, they also hope to win political mileage for the MP, and by extension, for the PAP. In those days, opposition MP Mr Chiam See Tong accused the CCC of serving the PAP and not the people.
What happened was that the Potong Pasir CCC suspected that some of its CCC members were actually supporters of Mr Chiam’s party because they were seen at community functions organized by Mr Chiam. In response to this, the 1991 PAP candidate for Potong Pasir, Andy Gan was quoted as saying, “we will ask them to leave if they are opposition supporters.””
Mr Singh then highlighted his party’s proposal of doing away with the current structure of grassroots organisations and unifying the PA under the leadership of a non-political institution such as the President instead of the Prime Minister as it is now. This was outlined in the Workers’ Party’s 2015 manifesto.
He added, “The outcome of such a review should substantively align the grassroots with the values enshrined in our flag and represented by the stars therein, particularly values like justice, equality, democracy.”
“It will be an uphill task,” he adds, “because the status quo as it stands wholly benefits the PAP”.
Mr Singh cautions that it will require an enlightened leadership to prioritise the country and its parliamentary democracy and to create a more caring, gracious and cohesive community.