The appointment of losing People’s Action Party (PAP) candidates as People’s Association (PA) grassroots advisors brings about consequences that are “far more fundamental and political” than having control over taxpayer monies for upgrading works in HDB estates, said Workers’ Party chief Pritam Singh.
Responding to an op-ed originally written by Ng Wai Mun, a Lianhe Zaobao senior journalist, and which was published in The Straits Times on Thu (31 Oct), Mr Singh said that in claiming that “most voters do not fully understand or care much about the delicate coexistence between opposition town councils and the PA”, Ng has “missed or ignored the larger point on how the appointment of losing PAP candidates as P.A. Grassroots Advisers compromises our democracy”.
Illustrating the extent of power grassroots advisors have in HDB estates, Mr Singh described how Town Councils “are meant to stand on two legs”, namely the elected MPs and grassroots leaders.
“When Town Councils were raised, it was not only for the purpose of transferring power from HDB to elected MPs, but crucially, to grassroots leaders as well,” he said.
Mr Singh went on to highlight the crux of the issue, namely that the ruling PAP “does not recognise any grassroots representatives unless they come under the P.A. umbrella”, and that “[o]pposition volunteers are not accorded the status of grassroots by the PAP”.
“So in opposition wards, there are no grassroots representatives on the Town Council.
“That more than a few opposition TCs have ploughed on in such a political environment speaks for itself.
“And in opposition wards, grassroots leaders come under the control of Grassroots Advisers and are appointed by losing PAP candidates,” Mr Singh reiterated.
Opposition TCs have to rely on own surpluses to fund upgrading works for residents: WP chief Pritam Singh
In addition to opposition volunteers allegedly not being given the status of grassroots representatives by the ruling PAP, Mr Singh also highlighted the issue of opposition Town Councils having to “rely on their own surpluses to fund improvement projects for residents, like AHTC has done this year”.
“Doing so invariably eats into TC surpluses that can be used for other needs/purposes, while PAP Town Councils can rely on CIPC [Community Improvement Projects Committee] funding and/or keep their surpluses intact, or tap on a lesser amount compared to opposition wards,” he added.
He stressed that such a discrepancy matters “in the court of public opinion”.
“[W]hen AHTC ran deficits in the years after 2011, the question even The Straits Times asked was – what happened to the $3m surplus from the previous Aljunied Town Council?” Mr Singh charged.
PA grassroots advisors given authority to preside over citizenship ceremonies even in opposition wards: WP chief Pritam Singh
Losing PAP candidates, in their capacity as grassroots advisors, are also appointed by the PAP Government to preside over citizenship ceremonies for new voters, according to Mr Singh.
“In opposition wards, one of the first experiences of new Singapore citizens in our politics is to receive their pink ICs from losing PAP candidates.
“Shouldn’t a civil servant under the fiat of the President or a non-political individual at the very least preside over such ceremonies?” He questioned.
“Does the PAP use the P.A. to put its political interests ahead of the interests of Singaporeans? The answer is as clear as day, and I hope more journalists and political observers look beyond Singapore’s most famous ramp and analyse the political system that delayed its construction,” said Mr Singh.
Last month, Mr Singh revealed that the delay in the completion of a barrier-free-access (BFA) ramp at Blk 108 Bedok Reservoir Road was linked to the Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (AHTC) having to wait for documentation and additional pipe diversion to be completed before receiving approval to open the BFA for resident use. The BFA ramp was only opened to the public seven years after it was first proposed.
Mr Singh highlighted that the government allocates about S$40 million to all Town Councils around Singapore for community improvement projects. However, for projects to be funded, MPs have to pitch proposals for such projects to the Grassroots Advisers for consideration, which may serve as a challenge, as losing PAP candidates are appointed as Grassroots advisors in opposition wards like Aljunied and Hougang.
As such, Mr Singh alleged that the PAP is “divisive” and exercises “double standards” in terms of handling opposition party representatives in town councils.
He also pointed out that the project took years to complete when it should have only taken months.
“How many senior citizens, immobile, and yet others recovering from episodes such as debilitating strokes could have benefited from this facility earlier, but for how the PAP determines the People’s Association operates in opposition wards.
“Other proposals by opposition MPs for the community are commonly ignored by the People’s Association,” Mr Singh lamented.
PA Grassroots Adviser for Eunos Chua Eng Leong responded to Mr Singh’s claims, stating that Mr Singh’s allegations are “politically divisive and factually inaccurate”.
Mr Chua – who was part of the PAP team that lost to WP in Aljunied GRC during the 2015 General Election – stated that the BFA ramp is only one of the many community improvement projects by the PA Citizens’ Consultative Committees (CCC) in Aljunied GRC and Hougang SMC.
He added that Mr Singh’s allegation that the completion of the BFA ramp was deliberately delayed due to the project being mooted by the opposition was “unjustifiable”, as the project was also proposed by the Eunos CCC.
Dismissing Mr Singh’s claims, Mr Chua said that the BFA ramp “were completed within a reasonable period of time once the underlying issues were resolved”, after its funding was secured in 2016.
On the subject of accountability, Mr Chua also made a reference to the high-profile AHTC-PRPTC lawsuit involving the WP chief and two other WP leaders, stating that accountability is a responsibility of all parties to the people of Singapore, including those “parties (who) have been found to be in breach of their fiduciary duties”.
“Instead of engaging in an online debate, I urge everyone to remember our priority is to our fellow Singaporeans and we should focus on accountability to them and not debate on a completed BFA Ramp, which is but a mere red herring,” Mr Chua wrote.
Responding to Mr Chua’s remarks, Mr Singh said that while he now understands that the BFA ramp was “concurrently proposed”, he wondered as to “why was there a delay” in its completion, given that the funding was secured in 2016.
On top of that, Mr Singh also questioned “if a seven year wait for a proposal to come to fruition the norm in PAP wards, where taxpayers monies are also used to fund CPIC projects”, adding that the BFA ramp issue is “a very powerful metaphor for the double standards when it comes to CIPC funding in opposition wards”.