The votes have been cast and the verdict of the General Election are out. As the dust begins to settle in what was perhaps one of the hardest fought General Elections in our country so far, what comes next?
Sengkang Group Representative Constituency (GRC) was a newly created GRC for General Election 2020. It would perhaps be fair to say that no one really expected the Workers’ Party (WP) to win it. Against all expectations however, it did and for the first time since Aljunied GRC in 2011, the WP were victorious at the GRC level. The battle does not stop here. The WP will now have to run and administer the Sengkang town council as the trial involving the Aljunied Hougang Town Council (AHTC) trundles on.
Some Singaporeans are of the opinion that the AHTC debacle since 2011 was politically motivated and blown out of proportion. Now the question remains as to whether or not the WP will be able to get about their work without the shadow of AHTC’s legal troubles hanging over them? Will there be further interference? Do they constantly have to watch their backs?
Some Singaporeans are of the view that the People’s Action Party (PAP) and their political machinery will constantly be on the look out for any slip up (however minor) to catch the WP out and looking at what led up to the AHTC saga, is that view a surprise?
The whole premise behind the AHTC court case — being sued by AHTC and Pasir Ris – Punggol Town Council (PRPTC) for damages — was that management contracts of then-Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC) were granted to FM Solutions & Services (FMSS) without tender when WP first took over the town council. However, the question of whether a PAP run town council would have had such a spotlight on them had the same thing happened to one of their town councils? Just like how the AIM saga came about if not for the issues faced by AHTC when it first took over.
Let’s look at the recent example of the Surbana Jurong (SJ) and the Singapore Expo saga where SJ was granted certain contracts to transform certain public facilities to care facilities to house infected migrant workers. This triggered a wave of criticism because there appeared to have been no tender process for these transformation projects. Adding to that, Minister for Manpower Josephine Teo is also married to Tan Eng Cheong, who is the CEO of SJ. While the Ministry of Health (MOH) and the Ministry of National Development (MND) have clarified that none of the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) or Teo were involved in the process of managing the costs of the project, the fact that there appears to be no evidence of a tender remains to be true.
As of now, there are no reports of any potential legal issues where the SJ transformation contracts are concerned. Why is there an apparent discrepancy in treatment over a lack of tender?
The emergency nature of the pandemic has been cited as a reason for there being a lack of tender process. However, if there is such an emergency why did we not go DORSCON Red? And more importantly, why did we hold a General Election amidst the pandemic?
When things are looked at in isolation, we can glean some semblance of logic in the answers provided. However, when we look at things on a more holistic perspective, the answers given do not stack up, which goes back to the original question of whether or not the legal battles faced by AHTC were politically motivated?
To be clear, the WP did called for a tender process for the second round but no one bid for the tender other than the existing contractor. And we have to remember that the tender process is put in place to prevent nepotism and corruption. Where the AHTC and PRPTC were concerned, were there genuine concerns? Arguably, there are much greater concerns where the SJ and Singapore EXPO transformation projects were concerned given that it involved greater sums of money at a national level (as opposed to town council level) as well as potential conflicts of interest. While there is no suggestion that there was any corruption, it is a fact that from an “optics” point of view, it does not look good that the company granted contracts without tender happens to have the husband of a high level minister as a CEO.
Whether or not the newly formed and won Sengkang GRC will have any issues going forward remains to be seen. The public will however naturally be protective over any perceived interference and we can only hope that the WP is granted the right to do its work in peace.
While General Election 2020 has given the PAP a clear mandate, it would be fair to say that the people are more inclined to give alternative parties a chance if the PAP does not buck up.