SINGAPORE — Senior Minister and Coordinating Minister for National Security, Mr Teo Chee Hean, was recently criticized by a parent for “hijacking” her children’s Edusave Awards ceremony, which was supposed to be a joyful event for the family.
Last Sunday (26 Feb), Mr Teo, a veteran People’s Action Party politician, apparently used the Edusave Awards Ceremony in his Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC constituency to repeat the allegation by the People’s Action Party (PAP) against Workers’ Party (WP) and its Housing Paper 2019.
The Ministry of Education’s Edusave scheme awards grants and scholarships to deserving students annually, and these awards are given out by grassroots advisors.
One of the parents who attended the ceremony alleged that Mr Teo took this opportunity to talk about HDB resale flats issues.
From the slide in the photo, it would appear that Mr Teo was repeating the mischaracterization on the Workers Party’s housing proposal — otherwise, there would be no reason for him to show the slide on the two paragraphs.
The parent shared her unpleasant experience on her Instagram story, noting that Mr Teo had “hijacked” the ceremony with slide after slide of presentations about unrelated issues.
“With all due respect, we are here to celebrate our children’s achievements. Why do you put us through this?”
She suggested that engagement could be done in other ways and requested that Mr Teo congratulate the children sincerely and hand them their well-deserved awards.
“The last time I attended this, the same thing happened. But it was not so bad. It was about the new bus service that would link Pasir Ris to Tampines more quickly. But today, it’s a little too much,” said the parent on Instagram.
She said if Mr Teo felt the need to address other topics, he should speak about the children’s dreams so that they could continue to give their best in their school work and beyond.
“You think the children and their parents want to hear about how you feel about WP? It’s tak bertempat. Tolong la. (not a suitable place for political discussions, please)”
TOC wrote to Mr Teo last Monday to seek clarification from Mr Teo regarding the matter and has yet to receive his reply.
Elected PAP Members of Parliament are appointed as grassroots advisers by default. In contrast, elected opposition MPs are deprived of such an appointment as their losing competitors are instead appointed advisors to interact with the residents in the constituency.
Recently, such questionable practice appeared to have gotten worse when one PAP candidate who is not an advisor was present at the ceremony to take photos with residents.
Workers’ Party has repeatably refuted allegations made by various PAP leaders and MPs
Henry Kwek, PAP’s Member of Parliament for Kebun Baru SMC, wrote a letter to the Straits Times forum on 14 February in response to the WP’s criticism of the government’s public housing management.
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.
Mr Kwek pointed out that the WPs 2019 Housing Policy Paper recommended building no more than 9,000 Build-To-Order (BTO) flats despite the soft HDB resale market at the time, while the government was building 15,000 to 17,000 flats annually.
He stated that it was fortunate that the government did not follow WP’s advice.
On 16 February, 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 contextualise the assumptions behind the WP’s 2019 Housing Paper and the figures cited by Mr Kwek in his letter.
The 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.
Desmond Lee, citing the WP’s housing paper, claimed that WP was recommending that HDB should only build around 9,000 dwelling units in 2019, and added that if the Government had followed the recommendations by WP and its experts, Singapore would be facing a greater shortage of housing today.
After Mr Lee’s closing speech, Mr Chua clarified that the context of the paragraph cited by Mr Lee was really in the context of urban renewal, and WP had clearly stated that the BTO project should continue, but it would be supplemented by the supply of flats acquired under the Universal Sale and Lease Back (USB) scheme.
Under the WP proposal, the USB will be made available to any flat with 30 years of lease remaining, provided that no more than 20 per cent of the home loan is outstanding, and the flat owner does not have other properties.
“So in the context of the supply of public housing that would be from BTO projects as one source and also from the USB as another source,” said Mr Chua.
PAP’s social media channels spread out of context narrative on WP’s 2019 Housing Paper
Even after the end of the housing motion debate on 7 February, social media channels, such as the Fabrication about PAP and Singapore Matters, have been repeating the claims made by Mr Desmond Lee without referencing Mr Chua’s clarification made in Parliament.
A Facebook page, Critical Spectator, run by a Polish blogger, also chimed in on the matter, attacking WP without giving a full picture of the exchange on 7 February.
WP issued a statement on 11 February in response to the social media posts made by these pro- PAP social media channels.
WP fight back on mischaracterization of its housing paper by DPM Lawrence Wong
During the Budget 2023 debate in Parliament on 24 February, Lawrence Wong also made several attacks on the opposition parties and their proposed policies.
He claimed that WP’s 2019 proposal had called for cutting back the annual BTO to just 9,000 flats to prevent an overhang of flats, noting that HDB did not take that advice.
Mr Wong explained that the pandemic disrupted Singapore’s BTO building program and led to increased demand for resale flats, resulting in the current supply-demand imbalance.
He said, “Indeed, if we had adopted the WP proposal…and the subsequent proposal to allow singles aged below 35 to buy new flats, we would be facing a much bigger supply-demand imbalance today.”
In response to Wong’s statements, Pritam Singh criticized the PAP for omitting the broader context in which the Workers Party’s working paper was written.
The paper looked at longer-term forecasts of the housing sector and was released in response to the Voluntary Early Redevelopment Scheme (VERS) which the Government rolled out to address the concerns of voters on the value of their HDB flats due to the declining lease.
Pritam Singh: WP’s Housing Proposal looks at a longer-range forecast which none of any PAP MPs speak about
Mr Pritam Singh who is also the Leader of the Opposition, said, “The paper was about looking at longer-term dynamics in the housing sector, and a section of the paper did refer to the number of BTO flats that HDB should build. ”
“Naturally, the housing paper looks at a longer-range forecast of the housing sector and that was the context which I have not heard any PAP MPs speak about. In fact, they seem to be quite silent about it,” he said.
“On this note, of course, I have to, then, come to the irresistible conclusion that it is a convenient distraction because if indeed the point that was raised in the housing paper was critical, then the PAP would have raised it last year when the WP called for more HDB housing for singles,” he added.
Given the high likelihood that an election is happening this year, attacks by PAP on their strongest political opponent are likely to increase as WP gains in popularity and credibility while PAP faces criticism for its lack of solutions to arrest the rising cost of living for citizens in the country.