Was Straits Times right to publish letter from PAP MP that disregarded WP’s clarification in Parliament and in public?

Was Straits Times right to publish letter from PAP MP that disregarded WP’s clarification in Parliament and in public?

I have noticed that Mr Henry Kwek, People’s Action Party’s Member of Parliament for Kebun Baru SMC, has written a letter to the Straits Times forum on 14 February in response to the Workers’ Party’s criticism of the government’s public housing management.

During a parliamentary debate on two motions filed on the public housing policy in Singapore, the Workers’ Party Secretary-General Pritam Singh called for more proactive building of Build-To-Order (BTO) flats ahead of demand.

Mr Kwek stated that the demand for HDB flats can change quickly and unpredictably and highlighted the need for the government to be more flexible in its planning. He also criticized the WP politicians for taking populist stances that ignore difficult realities and undermine trust in Parliament.

In his letter, Mr Kwek noted that the Workers’ Party had previously advised the government not to build more BTO flats in its 2019 Housing Policy Paper, “Counting Down to Zero: Are There Alternatives to Vers?“, despite the soft HDB resale market at the time.

He highlighted that the government was building 15,000 to 17,000 flats annually, while the Workers’ Party paper recommended no more than 9,000 flats. Mr Kwek emphasized that it was fortunate that the government did not follow the Workers’ Party’s advice.

On 16 February, The Workers’ Party (WP) responded to Mr Kwek’s letter via the ST forum.

The WP noted that its 2019 Housing Paper was a response to the government’s newly announced Voluntary Early Redevelopment Scheme (VERS) and focused on a longer-term approach to housing.

It also noted that the WP’s Sengkang GRC MP Louis Chua had already stood up in Parliament on 7 February to put into context the assumptions behind the WP’s 2019 Housing Paper and the figures cited by Mr Kwek in his letter.

WP said it had attempted to amend the PAP’s motion on affordable and accessible housing during the parliamentary debate, but the amendment was rejected.

The party maintained that there is still much work to be done to improve the accessibility and affordability of HDB flats and will continue to advocate for its points, including the basis for pricing public and private land and how the resale levy is determined.

It also noted that the call to build HDB flats ahead of demand did not only come from the WP but from some of Mr Kwek’s fellow PAP backbenchers as well.

It is puzzling why Mr Kwek wrote the letter to the ST forum on 14 February when WP had already made an earlier statement on 11 February in response to the social media posts made by People’s Action Party’s social media channels over its 2019 Housing Paper.

In that statement, WP criticized the PAP’s social media channels for taking one paragraph out of context and narrowly interpreting it as a call to build fewer BTO flats — which Mr Kwek appears to be also guilty of.

It clarified that their proposal was a supplement to BTO flats, not a replacement.

Equally puzzling why the Straits Times deemed it fit and proper to have published Mr Kwek’s letter when it was alleging something that has already been addressed in parliament and public forums which is not mentioned in his letter, especially if the letter from Mr Kwek was sent prior to WP’s clarification statement on 11 February.

It is unclear if ST would have allowed a member of the public to write something in the same manner about the PAP.

It is worth noting that ST is a publication under the SPH Media Trust (SMT) which will be funded up to S$900 million by the Government over a period of five years. This decision was reaffirmed by Mrs Josephine Teo, Minister for Communication and Information, in Parliament despite the SMT scandal, where its circulation figures were found to be fabricated.

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