Former Non-Constituency Member of Parliament Yee Jenn Jong disagrees that electoral divisions enacted in Singapore served as a stabiliser for Singapore’s socio-political landscape.
Mr Yee, a member of the Workers’ Party (WP) who contested in Marine Parade Group Representation Constituency (GRC) in GE2020, shared his argument on Facebook on Sunday (2 Aug) countering Emeritus Senior Minister (ESM) Goh Chok Tong’s comments in an interview with The Straits Times.
At one point, ESM Goh touched on the voting structure introduced in 1988 by the late founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew. According to the Elections Department (ELD), electoral divisions, or constituencies, were “established to ensure that the minority racial communities in Singapore will always be represented in Parliament”.
The Electoral Boundaries Review Committee officially drew up 13 three-member GRCs in GE1988, which made up 39 of the 81 seats in Parliament.
Therefore, it is stated in the Parliamentary Elections Act that at least one-quarter of the total number of Members of Parliament (MP) must be representatives of GRCs.
ESM Goh insisted that the GRC system and system of MPs running town councils are not to “primarily disadvantage the opposition but to prevent disruption to service”.
“Also, any opposition party that does take over will be better prepared for the job.”
GRC system can favour opposition parties too if they win, which was not the purpose of the PAP establishing the system
In response to these comments, Mr Yee first deconstructed his thoughts on the GRC system by claiming that it has backfired on the People’s Action Party (PAP) as such a system can function as a double-edged sword.
For example, one point of contention is that the GRC system favours the dominant party for that GRC in the next General Election even if it is possible for opposition parties to win it.
A report by the Straits Times in July 2014 stated that “most opposition supporters are convinced that this was the real purpose of GRCs all along”.
It may be noteworthy that the system was established after GE1984, when the PAP suffered its biggest-ever plunge in its vote share.
In GE1984 , the PAP’s share of the valid votes also dropped from 75.6 per cent in GE1980 to 62.9 per cent.
The second criticism of the GRC system was the constraining of voters’ freedom of choice. In GRCs, citizens “have to elect a group of candidates rather than a single person. Voters cannot simply pick the better ones and leave the others on the shelf. They are forced to either accept or reject the whole team”.
This will allow a disproportionate number of MPs from a political party to be elected into Parliament even if the popular vote share does not reflect that percentage of seats.
Take for example the results of GE2020. The PAP won the popular vote share by 61.2 per cent. However, it holds 83 seats out of the 93 seats in the 14th Parliament – which will officially be formed on 24 August.
Mr Yee zeroed in on this point, noting that “the GRC system has come back to haunt the PAP”.
“Once the opposition has anchored themselves in the GRC, it too can leave behind anchor members and renew with fresh blood at each GE. Then it becomes harder for the PAP to win it back. GRCs are no longer fortresses for the PAP when the opposition slate is stronger.”
Handovers of management of town councils are one of the main cruxes of a GRC system
“What upset me the most in my time in Parliament was to find (out about) the AIM deal. The key engine to running a town council, the management information system, was transferred to a PAP company just before GE 2011,” said Mr Yee.
When WP took over the Aljunied Town Council (ATC) in 2011 after winning this GRC in the General Election that year, it merged Hougang Single Member Constituency (SMC) in 2012 with the ATC and formed the Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (AHTC).
However, after the win, the AHTC was abruptly left without a Town Council Management Computer System (TCMS).
The PAP was the incumbent party for Aljunied prior to GE2011.
The previous managing agent for ATC, CPG Facilities Management, sold the TCMS to IT firm Action Information Management (AIM), which is a PAP-owned company.
After WP won, AIM terminated the financial and accounting software for ATC.
When the new AHTC migrated its computer system from Hougang for use in Aljunied, the system meant for the bandwidth of an SMC had to be upscaled to fit the GRC.
To accommodate this, WP awarded FM Solutions and Services (FMSS) with the TCMS, said Leslie Netto who was the defending lawyer for the WP MPs in this lawsuit.
Those include Low Thia Khiang, former secretary-general of WP, chairman of WP Sylvia Lim, How Weng Fan, who was both AHTC’s former deputy secretary and FMSS director and shareholder, and the late Danny Loh, who was the owner of FMSS.
Ms How is being sued along with the seven other defendants for an alleged breach of fiduciary duties, as well as “improper” payments amounting to S$33 million.
These were allegedly paid by AHTC to FMSS and other third parties between May 2011 and November 2015.
Mr Netto however pointed out that Mr Loh and Ms How and FMSS “worked tirelessly” to upscale the Hougang SMC software to suit a GRC, receiving “no remuneration” for this work.
“Despite this, AHTC was subjected to continuing audit from 2012 to 2016,” said Mr Netto.
“During the early part of this period, AHTC was still in the process of upscaling the computer system. And yet, no one, not even KPMG or PwC, mentions this withdrawal of this vital TCMS and its effects.”
On 11 October 2019, High Court judge Kannan Ramesh said that WP Members of Parliament Mr Low and Ms Lim were negligent in awarding a managing agent for AHTC without calling for a tender.
The judge also found that there was “a clear plan for FMSS to replace the incumbent managing agent CPG” after the GE2011, regardless of whether CPG wanted to withdraw or continue.
However, Ms Lim and Mr Low had argued that they were forced to hire FMSS because CPG wanted to terminate its contract with the town council.
One of the reasons Mr Low cited in favour of CPG exiting was his distrust of CPG and entities as he thought they were affiliated to the PAP.
The conflict of interest arose from the fact that FMSS was also owned by WP supporters. In February 2015, the Auditor-General’s Office (AGO) carried out an audit of AHPETC (Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council) and further discovered several issues in governance and compliance.
It was found that Mr Loh was the secretary of the town council, with the authority to co-sign cheques. Ms How was also the general manager of AHPETC. Both husband and wife were longtime WP supporters.
In a Parliamentary debate that same month, PAP leaders thus accused the WP MPs of breaching their fiduciary duties, although the opposition MPs had denied the allegations.
Judge Ramesh consequently ruled that eight defendants were liable for the misuse of tens of millions in town council funds.
On Monday (3 Aug), it was reported that lawyers representing AHTC are applying to add amendments to the claims against then town councillor Pritam Singh and four others in this verdict, namely David Chua Zhi Hon and Kenneth Foo, also town councillors during that period, and Ms How and Mr Loh, owners of FMSS.
Initially, many of AHTC’s claims against them were set on the basis that they owed fiduciary duties to AHTC.
Now, AHTC wants to add claims against Mr Singh, who is WP chief, and the four others in the case of alleged breaches of a duty to exercise due skill and care.
Addressing this AHTC saga in his post, Mr Yee said, “Exiting stakeholders cannot have the right to press any button to trigger destruction in their old organisation! Whether the old stakeholders did push the button or not is irrelevant. They should never have the right to the button.”
“If we want to truly have stabilisers for Singapore, then any handover must be totally responsible. Anyway, AIM is behind us now (and) the AHTC has developed their own system,” he relented.
In conclusion, Mr Yee revealed that he was initially a PAP supporter but some of the party’s actions eventually pushed him towards the alternative parties.
“The tipping point was upgrading for votes. This is using the people’s money to hold them hostage. Philosophically, I could not accept any party that practices unfairness to this level.”
He hopes to see a Singapore where it “belongs to Singaporeans” and not to any one political party, no matter what it has achieved in the past.
“The decision as to who Singaporeans want is based on their choice at the ballot box. Things have changed gradually, and I hope they continue to change for the better of Singapore.”