Posts Tagged ‘People’s Action Party’

The hole is getting bigger

In News Reports, Politics on November 12, 2014 at 10:05 am

Okay, does anyone remember that there was supposed to be a review of town council legislation? It’s supposed to be led by Senior Minister of State Lee Yi Shyan who is supposed to focus on three specific areas: The councils’ duties and responsibilities in relation to HDB; the adequacy of their sinking funds and long-term financial sustainability; and the arrangements when they change hands between MPs.

That was announced in May 2013, in the aftermath of the controversy caused by the employment of a PAP company, AIM, to handle some software systems for town councils. If you recall the case, the Workers’ Party blamed the termination of AIM’s services for some of the tardiness over its town council financial reports. There was plenty of rowing over it with the PAP town councils obtaining a clean bill of health at the end. Then, the PAP start its own shooting war, accusing the WP of employing cronies and not exercising due financial diligence. Inflammatory and near defamatory words were exchanged.

Well, Mr Lee seems to be taking his time with the report even though in February this year, there was yet another kerfuffle over the WP’s accounts for the Aljunied GRC-Hougang town council. This time, its independent auditor said he couldn’t form an opinion on its accounts because there were missing pieces of information, which the WP promptly said was due to “handover’’ issues, among other things. The Auditor-General’s Office was directed to look into the accounts. He was to examine whether the town council has taken “all reasonable steps” to safeguard the collection and custody of its money, that money went to the right people and that no laws were broken.

Well, the Auditor-General doesn’t seem to have finished his report either. In fact, he’s the reason cited by the WP for its tardiness : It was too busy preparing for his audit to think about its financial statements and can only respond fully to queries about its bad report card after the audit was over.

 Maybe WP has a point. As reported by ST, according to the National Development ministry, the town council’s poor performance in corporate governance was because it has not shown that it has rectified “various legal and regulatory contraventions” reported by its independent auditors for the 2011 and 2012 financial years. Also, it has not submitted its FY13 financial statements and its self-declared corporate governance checklist. (I guess it’s waiting for directions from the AGO?)

But how does it account for its rather poor collection of service and conservancy fees which is at 29.4 per cent as end April 2013? The norm is about 3 per cent. “From May 2013, the TC stopped submitting its monthly S&CC arrears report altogether, despite repeated reminders,” said the MND.

Minister of State for MND Desmond Lee has weighed in to shed more light after WP chief Low Thia Kiang maintained that he had no cash flow problems and that poor financial management had no impact on the running of an estate (makes you wonder why anyone needs to pay S&C fees then).

Mr Lee said that Mr Low, who was in charge of Hougang town council before it merged with Aljunied GRC in the last election, also had hefty arears of about 7.8 per cent. The town council’s independent auditor had a net operating deficit of about $92,000 and an accumulated deficit of about $9,000. All of which was swept away when the two wards merged after the 2011 general election. The PAP-run Aljunied town council had an operating surplus of $3.3 million. But the merged entity had a deficit of $734,000 in the 2012 financial year.

What of 2013? Don’t know because it hasn’t submitted its latest financial statement. The bet is that the hole is bigger.

Now, the G seems to have a lot more information than anyone else (except the WP which is keeping silent). But I wonder how it has come to pass that a town council can NOT issue reports on its S&C fees to the G for more than a year without attracting sanctions. Is this part of regulations? Or a guideline that can be broken? As for its financial statements, WP chairman Sylvia Lim said she has already told MND about their status implying, I suppose, that the G shouldn’t be surprised that it didn’t get them.

Is there no “trigger’’ point for the G to act? Or was it not provided for in the town council legislation? Perhaps, the G is sticking to its position articulated by MND Minister Khaw Boon Wan, that town councils are necessarily political in nature. It’s for the MPs to manage the town councils and you, the voters who voted for them, good luck to you! Thing is, why is the review and the AGO audit taking so long? Does the G want to wait till the WP town council is bankrupt to show the voters the outcome of their vote? Are things only going to happen closer to the next GE? And what happens if the town council cannot pay its debts? Is the G going to do a bail-out and show its generous side?

I wonder what the residents in Aljunied and Hougang are saying? They don’t care so long as their rubbish is collected? They don’t believe the statistics and agree with Mr Low that all is hunky-dory? To have three in 10 households in arrears is okay? The other seven households have no problems subsidising the rest and really like the “compassionate’’ attitude the WP is showing?

Oh! Where is the Citizens’ Consultative Committee in all this? Shouldn’t it be at the forefront asking questions of WP since it’s a grassroots body with the welfare of residents at heart? The members can’t merely be signing off on licences for trade fairs right?

I see a cat-and-mouse game going on. The G wants WP to admit to some kind of financial mis-management. WP wants to see how far it can push blame to the G. So both sides aren’t saying anything much. It’s the Aljunied and Hougang residents who will ultimately suffer from the politics that is being played out at the grassroots. And maybe the rest of us taxpayers as well if the G is merely waiting for the hole to get bigger for the WP to fall in.


Opining on the disclaimer of opinion

In News Reports on February 15, 2014 at 4:24 am

I think a lot of people learnt a new phrase this week: disclaimer of opinion. It refers to how there’s not enough information or evidence for an opinion to be formed. Odd. I would have thought the absence or lack of such info or proof would be enough for anyone to form an opinion which will be : How can leh?

Question: Is a “qualified’’ auditor’s report that has a disclaimer of opinion consider better or worse than an “adverse’’ report?

I am no accountant or auditor so I guess I’ll have to speculate on why there are missing pieces in the Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East financial report that defied the auditor’s ability to give a view.

  1. The dog ate the minutes and records that the auditors wanted
  2. They were destroyed in a flash flood or blackened by the haze
  3. Some of the missing stuff is with the previous owner/agent and they don’t want to give them to us for some reason.
  4. They contained some embarrassing stuff so they were hidden from sight.
  5. We misplaced all the receipts or threw them down the rubbish chute or recycled them.
  6. So long as residents don’t complain, why do we need to keep complicated accounts that will take time away from doing what the residents really want?
  7. The more info we give, the more fault people will find with us.
  8. Hmm… what are receivables anyway?

All is guesswork and as such, cannot form the basis of an opinion by the way.

Anyway, the battle is afoot! There goes the G in the form of the National Development ministry making hay of the independent auditor’s report on the Workers’ Party’s past work. Snipe! Counter-snipe! Snipe! Counter-snipe! You can expect the People’s Action Party to add to the exchange of fire, to rock the confidence of voters in their elected members’ ability to manage their housing estate in a financially prudent and competent manner.

The WP is feeling pretty aggrieved at what it called insinuations in the media that it had not been aboveboard in its town council dealings. There have been hints of dishonesty or favouritism, yes. If so, the WP should the right thing: sue the offending parties for libel. Or the MND as regulator should take the town council to task in some way under the powers accorded to it.

Yet, there seems to be stalemate. One which started ever since Aljunied GRC came under the WP.  To be sure, it has been entertaining. The PAP seems to be hitting back after the WP exposed the existence of a PAP company which managed its information systems. Tables have been turned and the WP looks to be on the defensive. The opposition seems to be digging in, or is it digging a hole for itself?

Efficiency and effectiveness have been a hallmark of PAP governance and when the town councils were instituted years ago, it was to impress that fact into voters. They were told their votes would have immediate consequences on their living environment as the elected political party would be running their neighbourhoods. Sure, Potong Pasir and Hougang, small, single-member constituencies were wrested from the PAP and they too had some teething problems, including the fact that the grassroots structure is entirely in the G’s hands. But over the years, residents reckoned that they were still good enough to run their estates, thereby voting the opposition in again and again. (Until the last GE when Potong Pasir went back into PAP hands)

It was a different ball game when a whole GRC was lost. It represented an opportunity for the WP to tackle bigger game. If it does well, then the PAP would have lost a key card: that only the PAP can manage estates in such a way that rubbish doesn’t pile up storeys high in the chutes. (Remember?) If it doesn’t, then the PAP can crow that it is right. If an opposition party cannot manage a GRC, would voters in GRC keep them or would those elsewhere vote them in? And how could it manage even bigger game, like the government of a country?

The problem, however, is that residents-cum-voters have never quite been inducted into town council work. All they care about are clean corridors, working lifts and low service and conservancy charges. How all three components come together, and are linked, are like alchemy to most people who are too busy making a living. And what role does the G, or the HDB, or the National Environment Agency or the People’s Association or the town council, or the Community Development Council or the political party branch play in the neighbourhood?

To residents, the work of the town council had seemed no different from pre-town council days. Talk of engaging residents in estate maintenance appear to be confined to getting them to vote on whether to get their blocks upgraded or a new colour scheme or fancy name for the neighbourhood. Perhaps, there was a jolt during the Lehman Brothers crisis when it appeared that town councils had lost money in investments. Maybe that year, more residents bothered to look up their TCs’ financial reports.

In any case, the PAP TCs seemed to be working like a collective most of the time although there are variations in the amount of S&C charges among the town councils and estate maintenance levels.

In recent time, I daresay residents have been getting an education in grassroot politics and financial management. Parochial matters like who pays for hawker centre cleanings, who gives out licences and the political connections of a managing agent would never have made big news in the past. Nor would the role of the Citizens Consultative Committee – and its advisers – be questioned as much as now.  Even the cancelled invite of Dr Tan Cheng Bock to an Istana party threw some light on grassroots politics.

You almost wished the HDB was back in charge so that residents can just go on living quietly without needing to get grimy.

The WP has been having a hard time of it.

It has had to face an entrenched grassroots system with significant financial muscle and oversight over some areas in the estate, and which has a member of the ruling party as its adviser. The system comes under the purview of the People’s Association headed by a minister. It is common to find key grassroots leaders wearing both the party and community hats.  

From four instances in its annual report that independent auditors queried in the WP’s first year as a mega-TC,  the number has now grown to 13. It seemed that the four instances which refer to the “handover’’ of Aljunied GRC from the PAP to the WP have still not been resolved. In a interesting riposte, the WP suggested that MND help it get the information from the previous auditors and other parties:  “Unless those agencies with the required information furnish them to the Town Council, it is likely that information gaps will remain and the accounts will continue to be qualified every year…In this regard, we note that the MND could well be the best party to assist the Town Council to resolve some of the key information gaps.”

No, MND did not say it would help out, but merely pointed out that the WP had pledged earlier that it would resolve them.

Question: Would the previous auditor, the CCC and the previous PAP TC please respond?

As for the other nine instances, the WP doesn’t seem to have an answer for the state of its financial accounts.

In its responses, it focused on tackling what looked like a direct contravention of TC rules, that it transfer funds into the sinking account. This was described as an oversight which had since been rectified. That is just one “save’’.

The bottomline is that more than $20million worth of funds seemed to be in question. A few instances cited refer to its employment of its managing agent FM Solutions who comprised party supporters. This is where the hints of “cronyism’’ are concentrated. The WP noted that the MND and auditors took issue with how the town council did not provide details of project management service fees paid to the agent. It said it was surprised as it was “standard practice for town councils to include project management fees in the managing agent services awarded’’.

Question: Is that true?

The WP gave an interesting piece of background on the hiring of the agent. When it opened job for tender, there were three interested parties but only one applicant, the incumbent who had ties with the party. One wonders what would have happened if no one wanted to take on the job?  Re-tender again and again? MND steps in? Or is it the responsibility of the political party to iron out that wrinkle, which means it would most probably turn to its supporters – and that’s wrong?.

But there have been other charges of over-payment and of projects awarded without tender. Allegations of impropriety. Various sums have been put out and it is likely that only close political observers would keep track, not the residents in Aljunied and Hougang.

The image painted, however, is that there is something not quite right in the town council, and that this is not in the interest of residents. What of next year’s financial statement when the TC would have to factor in the management of Punggol East?

Both the WP and the MND should stop the sniping and settle questions of illegality, irregularity or impropriety.  


Directions on Day 3

In News Reports, Politics on February 7, 2013 at 1:16 am

Two weeks ago, I was quizzed by undergraduates doing seminar series on biomedicine about the Government’s handling of the Sars crisis in 2003. Did its efforts go against the need to protect civil liberties? Did it go too far? I replied that civil liberties wasn’t much of an issue with Singaporeans who were facing the prospect of being wiped out by an infectious disease. Sure, there were quarantine orders and penalties for flouting them and plenty of rules and guidelines and tourist “suspects’’ being herded into government chalets, and I added: “You know, I don’t think we really cared.’’

I told the students that in such a crisis, the people expected leadership, strong leadership. We were grateful to be told what to do.
That was my take anyway.

I was reminded of my experience of Sars when Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong raised it in Parliament as an occasion when the government and the governed acted as one. Now, we are told that we are facing yet another crisis – a population crisis that could explode our infrastructure and implode our economy. We are looking at the figures and dissecting every paragraph – but you know what? We can’t see the crisis because it isn’t here yet.

(And it doesn’t help to have dark scary scenarios – emptied villages in Japan – painted to help us imagine the crisis. Why couldn’t Lee Yi Shyan put up positive more positive examples of villages which overcame the population dilution? Why has no one brought up examples of Canada’s population White Paper or Japan’s White Paper for reference on how other countries try to solve their demographic problems?)

The debate on the White Paper is an occasion for strong leadership, but it is also a good time for the leaders to get the followers on board because they want to, and not because they have to. It is a unique time for a broad consensus to be forged between the government and the governed – yet it looked to be in danger of being fractured because of the focus on a few things.

When old war horses get up to speak in Parliament, I always find them worth listening to (although some will say that the PAP must be desperate if old warriors had to be brought in from “semi-retirement’’.

A consistent thread in both Mr Goh and Mr Mah Bow Tan speeches seem to be: Let’s not get too fixated by that 6.9 million number and proportions of locals and foreigners. In fact, Mr Goh said he was personally not comfortable with the figure. (His predecessor, by the way, said much the same thing about a lower population number a few years ago)

Mr Goh also said: “What the optimal, stable and long-term population should be is a legitimate question, an important question. What the proportion of citizens and foreigners should be is another important question to resolve.
“But this is not the time for us to resolve this. We should debate this in the future.’’

Now, that is a very useful thing to heed. I mean, what are now discussing? Whether projected population should be 6.9m or 5.9m. Whether productivity can go beyond 2 per cent. Whether 15,000 new citizens every year is ok. Whether we can have a higher TFR. Looks like we are competing in some Mathematics Olympiad….

Mr Goh brought it back to three points:
a. Whether we can agree that we should grow slower economically. And, I suppose, to also realise what slower growth would mean in real terms after the grow at all cost stress in the past.

b. Whether we should have a calibrated slow down in the expansion of foreign workers. Which, I gather, is to see if some sort of middle ground can be found between the screaming employers and the huddled masses and to come to terms on what sort of foreign workers we should bring in.

c. Whether we should be expanding the infrastructure and housing programmes to meet needs. I think this is a no-brainer. Of course we will agree, except that we will also have to think about the loss of green spaces and how this should be financed.

I think the three points is a good way to get our minds off specific numbers. It will lead to an agreement on principles and strategy rather than a quarrel over tactics. (I wonder though why he didn’t raise a fourth: Do we agree that every effort must be made to get Singaporeans to reproduce themselves.)

Mr Mah, on the other hand, injected a dose of realism into the debate. Face it, not many of us like this idea that we are just inputs for a GDP growth figure, but the money must come from somewhere to finance our standard of living.
From three days of debate, it seems that MPs want to see something done now to fix the problems we have now, before the people would put their faith in the G for the future.

You know, maybe the G shouldn’t have released the report and just quietly ramp up the infrastructure…That population target/projection can be classified as an official secret. We go with central planning. No discussion.

I say this in full expectation of being flamed and derided: Let’s not be too hard on the G.

Detractors on Day 2

In News Reports, Politics on February 6, 2013 at 1:22 am

I wish The Straits Times had excerpted Inderjit Singh’s speech. It’s amazing how he swung both ways – hit the G and hit the Workers’ Party. But his words resonated with me although I wonder quite a bit about his call for a “breather’’ on growing the population.

He said that we should stop getting in new citizens and PRs for a while and get going on correcting the mistakes of the past, that is, ramp up the infrastructure. So let Singapore be like Dubai for a while, with transient workers. Sounds interesting. But this still doesn’t mean Singapore won’t be crowded, however transient those workers are. I am not sure whether Singapore is more worried about the rising number of foreign-born new citizens and PRs, or the absolute number of people crowding this space.

The New Paper had a lot more detail on his speech and in fact, focused parliamentary coverage on the veteran MP who has been known for speaking his mind and speaking up for small businesses. It seems like he wants some measures to make sure that PRs and new citizens are “committed’’ to the country. So much so that he actually suggested jailing PR boys who don’t do national service. He also wants a $50,000 levy on PRs who buy HDB flats on the open market and to sell them to Singaporeans only if they moved. Also, to tighten rules on the number of dependents a new citizen or PR can bring into the country.

You know, this is going to make Singapore pretty unattractive to foreigners who want to set down roots here – or maybe it will drive them to think harder about committing to Singapore. This isn’t just a place you can make money, you have to pay an admission price too.

Business Times chose to highlight MPs who like Mr Singh talked about fixing the current problems first. This was one way to gain Singaporeans’ trust that the G put the people first, they said. Some might say that this was refreshing, and even a little sad, to have even PAP MPs say that the G should do more about tearing down the cynicism gap. I find it tragic that ministers have to keep reiterating that the White Paper is for the benefit of Singaporeans. Call me naïve (okay, I am) but why would any elected G dependent on votes do things to earn the ire, rather the fury, of its voters? Unless there is a view that the G somehow aggrandises itself in the process…you know, infrastructure brings in big bucks… Now, whatever one might say about the PAP G, I don’t think it’s “like that’’.

I wouldn’t question the motives of the G at all, but I would question its methods. In this regard, I wondered at the way the PAP tackled the WP on its own proposals. It’s the usual strategy: Don’t talk so big; show me “how’’. I hope I don’t have to hear Mr Low Thia Khiang say, as he had before, that the WP’s role is to check the G, not to propose policy alternatives since it doesn’t have the resources at its disposal and is not ready to form the next G for some time…

But I think some of questions posed to the WP can be posed to the PAP too. I still have no clue how some of those projections are made. If labour force growth and productivity growth is so low, doesn’t it mean that it hasn’t done enough or the measures to raise both don’t work or won’t make much of an impact? How did it come to such conclusions? After a year of work, there must be some “numbers’’.
By the way, there was a bid to amend the motion on endorsing the White Paper yesterday to delete the words “population policy roadmap’’ so that the White Paper wouldn’t look like a population target but a land use plan to meet population projections. It’s a simple change and some would say even just cosmetic, but no harm done if the G is intent on “clarifying’’ that 6.9m number as something we all hope will not be reached.

So how should the debate proceed after Day 2? There is a letter in the ST Forum Page today that’s pretty useful methinks. Let’s put those big population figures out of the way on focus on just a few things – the low fertility, aging population, reliance on foreign labour, depletion of local workforce. That 6.9m number is too distracting, said the writer.

I agree.

Deciphering Day 1

In News Reports, Politics on February 5, 2013 at 12:32 am

OKAY, I am asking this question again. What happens after five days of Parliamentary debate on the White Paper? Doubtless, the paper will be endorsed given the People’s Action Party’s majority in Parliament. And then what? Will it be revised in any way to take into account comments and views made by the PAP MPs and Opposition MPs? Will we see the revised version? Or is this a done deal?

I agree with an MP who talked about the haste with which this White Paper seemed to be proceeding. ST commentator Chua Mui Hoong said the PAP was doing business-as-usual and tried to make the point that this debate was NOT usual. She stopped short though of saying anything more beyond giving reasons for the difference between this debate and others.

So we have DPM Teo Chee Hean sketching out the plan, arguing that the G was not pro-foreigner but intent on keeping the Singapore “core’’. I don’t think his points in Parliament went very much beyond what the White Paper said. I guess he’s saving some bullets when he has to round up the debate. Oh my, the dozens of civil servants who must be taking notes….

So, the WP opposes the plan. Of course it does. So do the National Solidarity Party and the Reform Party. The NSP wants a referendum while the Reform Party went into full scale attack mode on almost every point.
The WP thinks the upward boundary could be 5.9 million, if we squeezed the retirees, housewives etc back into the workforce and thought harder about getting more Singaporeans to have babies.

Actually, this is one point that the PAP should explain – its “resigned’’ attitude towards future TFR, as WP’s Sylvia Lim put it. How did it come to conclude that its marriage and parenthood package would only raise TFR to 1.6, from the current 1.2? Do we need more radical thinking?

Also, the policy changes to get Singaporeans back to work or to work longer – they have just started. So it doesn’t have much faith in them either? There’s the Special Employment Credit which encourages hiring of older workers, re-employment legislation which just kicked in last year. The latest labour force statistics comparing last year and 2011 showed that the employment rate of women aged 25-54 is up (from 73.0% to 74.0%) and the employment rate for older residents aged 55-64 is up from 61.2% to 64.0%. Is this not a helpful sign? Or still not enough?

I wish the White Paper gave more insight into how the planners do projections. I mean, the sort of statistics that would explain how the big numbers that so plague us come about. Economist Donald Low has pointed out that the White Paper seemed to lack research. I agree – or maybe the planners think most of us wouldn’t be able to understand the research anyway? That this is a paper that’s pitched to the general population? If so, shame on them. For a paper as important as this, it should justify all its numbers.
Instead, we are supposed to take the big numbers at face value, trusting that the planners have worked through the numbers? But the same question can be thrown at the opposition as well. How did it come to 5.9 million as the upper limit? It’s not enough to say “our projections show’’…Hmm. What underlying numbers are we talking about?

Also, did the planners look at how other countries do it? Did they remove the bias against welfarism, as MP Seah Kian Peng put it, and keep an open mind about the practices that can be adopted/adapted from, say, the Nordic countries? Because you know what…without such references, the planners looked like they were planning Singapore’s future in an ivory tower. Someone, somewhere must have done something right that we can copy – no need for a uniquely Singaporean solution right?

As for the White Paper’s productivity targets – well, the employers seem to agree that they can’t achieve productivity by much and that’s why they need more foreign labour. Looks like all employers, big and small, are united on that front. No ifs and buts. This is going to be interesting….Which MP is going to speak for them in Parliament? Speaking for business will go against the grain so to speak. It will be highly unpopular to the people at large who want fewer foreigners in future. I suppose Nominated MPs – not accountable to the electorate – can play the role…

By the way, I like what Mr Seah said as reported in ST:

The Government does not always know best, he acknowledged. “It may only know what is efficient, what is rational, what costs the most, or the least.”
Sometimes, he pointed out, it is right to do what the people want. “Not because we think it is right, but because they do.”
The Government must resist the “self-righteous, sanctimonious chant that ‘We do what is right, rather than what is popular'”, he said.

Hmm. I think PAP Ministers should take heed and think hard about how they come across to people especially on this topic. Win their hearts first, then their mind.
In this case, I don’t think ST did the PAP a service. Its coverage seemed focused on giving Mr Teo the stage, to the extent of excerpting his speech. It’s way too much. All it does is make him come across as defensive.


Shy MPs

In News Reports, Politics on January 28, 2013 at 1:14 am

So Ms Lee Bee Wah screamed and the contractors got cracking. It got the stalled lift upgrading going and ready in two weeks in her Nee Soon ward. Her residents are surely grateful to their MP. Ms Lee isn’t worried about putting her name to her blasting. Now would she have been okay with having her name published on something about the by-election, especially if it’s not complimentary of the PAP?

I ask this because I can’t help but notice that yet another PAP has spoken to the media “on condition of anonymity’’ in ST. The first anonymous PAP MP had spoken about the innocuous subject of the choice of Speaker last month. This time, this anonymous MP indicated that the party was beguiled into thinking that it would win Punggol East, because grassroot activists reported that residents were receptive when they knocked on doors on Wednesday, the last night of the WP rally. Then he/she added: “But of course only the PAP supporters were at home, the rest were at the rally.’’

I suppose he didn’t want to be named because it wouldn’t look good on him or the party. And it’s a coup for ST to get an MP to admit to something like this. Then I think he/she should just shut up then. Has it come to this that even MPs won’t even put their name to what they say? And they are supposed to speak for me in Parliament?

AFTERNOTE: The MP concerned is Teo Ser Luck

A post-BE conversation

In News Reports, Politics, Society, Writing on January 28, 2013 at 12:01 am

A post-BE conversation among Punggol East residents, members of the sandwiched middle class, and fed-up with the lack of facilities in the ward.

Mr Lim, married, no children, in his early 30s, lives with his parents, runs a small agency
Mrs Ho, 33, working mother of two, wants to have three
Mr Ali, 40, married with one child in primary school
Mr Fernandez, 25, single

Mr Lim: So what you think will happen now? Our rubbish will still be collected, right? My parents worried.

Mr Ali: Of course lah, the PAP can’t just walk away like that. But I don’t know how the town council will work. Now we’re parked under Pasir Ris-Punggol town council. You think WP will have problems getting stuff from PAP?

Mr Fernandez: No way the PAP will give problems. WP already raised this AIM business what. The PAP can’t risk another blocking tactic. But I keep wondering about the CDC. It will still look after us right? It has ComCare to give out. And what about PCF? You think it will set up kindergartens and childcare centres?

Mr Ali: If it doesn’t, I’m sure some businessman will do. Eh, Lim, you do lah. The Government already said it will have more anchor operators. But that covered linkway that Dr Koh promised? Is this from town council money or HDB? Not so clear.

Mrs Ho: Whatever happens, that Ah Lian better fix the childcare problem. She’s a woman, I expect her to speak for mothers like me. Good to have her join that Sylvia in Parliament. Except both have no children right? I hope they don’t think like that Chua Mui Hoong and Rachel Chang in that Straits Times – these single women! Can talk about what…entitled… parents taking money from single taxpayers…! And they better tell the Government to let my family go in the front of the BTO queue. Why they only let first-time families? What about my family? Need a bigger flat!

Mr Lim: Anyway, I’m glad we have our coffeeshop back. Past week, everywhere so crowded. I bump into the Ah Lian just now and said: Huat ah! I also saw that Dr Koh. I tried to avoid him but he came to shake my hand. I told him I didn’t vote for him. Told him nothing personal, just sometimes the PAP needs to wake up its ideas. You think he will come back here next GE?

Mr Ali: Got quite a slap already, might be a bit malu… you think he want to come back here? Even the Prime Minister’s last minute speech didn’t help him. He actually seem like quite a good guy. He salah. Should have joined WP. Now I think a lot of good people will join the WP. Got chance to get into Parliament.

Mr Fernandez: And no one will want to join the PAP! Yay! I guess they will have arm twist some civil servant or army officer to join and stand next election. And make sure all civil servants and SAF guys vote for them! Haha. They should never have made Michael Palmer resign. Now Eurasians only have that De Souza lawyer. Put another Eurasian and I vote for him!

Mrs Ho: You cannot think like that lah. So racist! I never liked that Palmer. His poor wife…you think we women welcome someone like him? The PAP should have fielded a woman. Hey, you know the marriage and parenthood package? We’ll still get it right? My husband and I thinking of having another one. Not going to put us last in the queue or anything?

Mr Ali: Alamak! Two not enough ah? My one already got so many problems. I can’t even help him do his homework. So tough. And then this year Primary Six, I can’t even understand all this IP business lah, what streaming lah. Eh, I thought you complaining about how much it cost to bring up children? And how your boss never give you leave when your children sick? And how you can’t trust your maid to look after them? Better think again lah.

Mr Fernandez: Anyway, that bus service and new coffeeshop better come soon. Real fed up eating at the same place. And Rivervale Plaza. They better go bribe the contractor to get it ready by June. If not, I might move out of this place. Find a babe. Get married. Get new HDB flat. Near my parents’ place so can get the grant. And maybe one baby so can get the bonus.

Mr Lim: Lucky you! My parents want me to move out but my wife and I don’t qualify for HDB. They won’t help me with the cash downpayment for that EC. Too expensive. Jialat. Everything so expensive. Everywhere so crowded. So many cars, always traffic jam. MRT also jam-packed. My business can’t get more foreign workers. I want a new car but thinking a second hand one better. How to survive like that? Tell you, PAP better wake up its ideas! Huat ah!

Mr Ali: You been going online or not? My son asking me why everybody so against the PAP. I think whatever PAP do, sure people will have something to say. Can’t do anything right anymore. Quite kesian. Mrs Ho: Eh, eh, see who’s coming…Low Thia Khiang right?

Mr Fernandez: Rock star!

Mr Ali: Come here! Come here!

Mr Lim: Huat ah!

The effect of this by-election

In News Reports, Politics on January 26, 2013 at 4:26 pm

There are only two things that will get ordinary Singaporeans to cheer – and that’s when Singapore wins a significant soccer match and when the Opposition wins an election. And so it was… just now. And I am not even talking about those at the counting centre or those who are die-hard supporters of the hammer. I gather it was quite noisy in Hougang.

Truth to tell, I thought the PAP would win. So much had been made of local issues – and if the constituents really thought that way, they would plump for the person who had the backing of the Government. This was also not Hougang, but a PAP ward for what it seems forever and ex-MP Michael Palmer was said to have been pretty good at working the ground. But it seems the voters thought: a) The WP can do the job in the ward as well too b) The PAP deserves a “slap” c) Singapore needs a plural Government d) We remember Lee Li Lian; we don’t know Koh Poh Koon e) Those national packages will be delivered anyway however we vote.

Any one of the five or a combination?

Now I suppose much will be made of the by-election “effect”. That the people want the PAP in power, but a by-election was a good chance to put in a new voice. The WP campaigned that way although I thought that it was only at its final rally that it got its act together to push the PAP back on the defensive. I thought it should have used its First World Parliament slogan. I thought it should have taken aim at AIMgate earlier in the campaign.

In fact, I thought the “hammering” that the WP got, at least online and from certain opposition quarters, for being so “conciliatory” towards the G – telling people that the policies need to mature and that it sometimes works with the G behind close doors, would not do it good. I thought Ms Lee was a bit of a damp squib, who would counteract the strong support from the WP leadership. I wondered if if those jibes about the WP being “arrogant” would work.

On all fronts, I thought wrong. And I congratulate the WP.

The BE result showed that voters considered the WP the dominant opposition party. A multi-cornered fight diluting the opposition vote? Nah. The disarray among the opposition ranks turning voters to the PAP side. No too. Now, what if the Singapore Democratic Party contested? How would the vote go? I almost wish it did, just so to hear from the voters on how they rate the SDP. My heart, though, really goes out to Singapore Democratic Alliance’s Desmond Lim. Just half a per cent, even less than the 4 per cent the last time round.

So what now? DPM Teo Chee Hean, anchor minister in that part of Singapore, looked so drawn and haggard. Both he and the PM did the courteous thing, thanking supporters and congratulating the victors. The voters have made their choice, they said. I was expecting something more…”and they would have to live with it…”…But no. I don’t know how Dr Koh feels. He must have realised it was risky never mind the Punggol boy- made – good tag. And never mind what I think was a tight campaign by the PAP, with quick counters after WP rallies and no mis-thought retorts and mis-timed attacks. I say he is a brave man. The thing is, the PAP says he will be fielded in future elections. And people will remember if he is NOT fielded in Punggol East again but in a safe GRC.

The PM wants attention back on national issues. Yes. The BE is out of the way. We should get back to national issues. Now with a bigger presence in Parliament, WP will have to live up to its words and act as a check. Or show the “value of political competition”, as Sylvia Lim said. Even if the WP does not have its own transport masterplan or marriage and parenthood package, the hope is that it will critique thoroughly those policies that have been just announced. Also, that it will get to the bottom of AIMgate – which it had provoked. In my view, it should come up with its own proposal on the “fundamental nature” of town councils, which is being studied by the National Development ministry. This it should do, now that it has even more town councils under its charge.

Anyway, the WP seems to have planned ahead, announcing date and venue of Ms Lee’s first Meet-the-People session. It is looking way ahead too, introducing four new faces (almost PAP-like I must say) at its last rally. It looks good to stay ahead of the rest of the opposition pack, although I am sure there will be some debate on whether olive branches should be held out to the other political parties.

The more difficult “thinking” will have to be done within the PAP though. It cannot simply content itself that this was just a by-election, and an opposition win was to be expected. I doubt that it will be complacent. I wonder now what new strategy will be formulated, whether in Parliament or in image. Its much vaunted “new normal” after the last GE doesn’t seem to have sunk in. Will it by the next GE? Or not at all. If so, the by-election effect might well sweep the general election.

You know what? There is someone I wish we could hear from. Former PM Lee Kuan Yew. What is he thinking I wonder. That the vote of the people is a terrible thing, as he once said?

Clever tactics

In News Reports, Politics on January 23, 2013 at 12:02 am

Reading the news reports on the by-election, it seems Workers’ Party’s Low Thia Khiang is in a bit of a fix. I had wondered why he chose to “thank’’ PM Lee Hsien Loong for his comments over the weekend that the WP hadn’t been able to make much headway in Parliament with its own policy proposals.

At last night’s rally, he clarified that it was because the PM had reminded “all of us that the Workers’ Party is still not large enough to have the resources to make alternative policies’’.
“In the Westminster parliamentary system, an alternative government must be complete with a shadow cabinet and ample resources for policy research to verify and propose alternative policies. Currently, we have a small group of professionals and academics working behind the scenes to help MPs scrutinise government policies. But expecting a party with 6 elected MPs to form an alternative government is premature and unrealistic.’’

So that’s why you need one more WP member in Parliament, he reasoned. Clever twist.

The PAP seems intent on making sure everyone knows that the WP “got no ideas’’, much less the ability to form a government. But the second part about being in Parliament is about raising relevant questions. Mr Low cited his MPs who spoke up and on what issues. But in this instance, the WP will be better off giving statistics of PAP MPs who did not speak or made only minimal contributions in Parliament in the check-and-balance role. And the proportion (not number) of questions and interventions WP made in Parliament compared to the much more sizeable PAP.

If there is someone Mr Low should thank, methinks its SDA’s Desmond Lim who elevated WP to a “dominant’’ party in his self-styled online rally. He spoke about how there were only “two’’ voices in Parliament. (Gosh! I would have thought that in a shouting match, the WP would be drowned out by the PAP chorus). Of course, Mr Lim didn’t mean it to be complimentary. It was more like the WP was singing at the same pitch as the PAP (that’s my interpretation, btw) and not performing the “checking’’ function.

Seems a lot of firepower is being directed at the WP. Ex-members are speaking up online about past squabbles etc. Mr Low has had to go on the defensive and rebut charges of being “arrogant’’. Odd, I thought that was a label more commonly attached to the PAP.

You have got to admire the PAP in this regard. Unless it had all its MPs sign some binding non-disclosure contract, its ex-MPs generally stay silent – and even run PAP companies. They help out in party HQ or in other ways on the ground. They don’t deride the party. If they do, they go the whole hog – and run for President!!! (Sorry, Dr Tan Cheng Bock, couldn’t resist it)

The PAP also seems to have a “tighter’’ campaign, going with “the man with a plan’’ when it comments on the BE. It’s letting its “national’’ campaign be represented in the announcements on train expansion, property and baby boosters . Clever people.

Partying in Punggol East

In News Reports, Politics on January 21, 2013 at 4:18 am

It’s been a busy political weekend. Hands have been shaken. Fliers distributed. Speeches made. Now, what can anyone make of this? Has there been a “joining of issues’’? Are there new promises/pledges? Is this a national or a local election?

It’s local.

That’s because every candidate is talking about making Punggol East a better place to live in. So, more childcare places, more bus services, one more coffeeshop, quicker completion of Rivervale Plaza. PAP’s Koh Poh Koon has also thrown in facilities for the elderly and a covered linkway. You would think those 30,000 voters are living in slums the way physical upgrading is being promised…

If the constituents really want those things, I guess they should vote for the person whose party is in power. Really. Let’s be frank. It’s the PAP which can get stuff done faster, simply because it holds the reins on everything and has the pushing power. Not to mention a grassroots network which remains intact whichever party represents the ward. This is the problem – or advantage – of BIG government.

The opposition has offered some carrots too, along the same lines as the PAP. But you know what? Quite a lot would depend on whether the G machinery would crank along with their wish list.

On the local front, what REALLY can the opposition promise? I suppose it will have to do with town council operations then. The Workers’ Party can at least say that it has the experience. So far, the Reform Party and SDA seems to be offering a portion of their MP allowance! But what can an opposition-run town council do that a PAP-run town council can’t or won’t? How different is the WP town council from the PAP town council – besides being behind in the collection of arrears? By the way, this “defect’’ can be viewed as being compassionate/kind or tardy/inefficient. I am not even touching AIM – in fact, no one is!

I suppose it’s tough now to assess how the PAP runs the Punggol East ward per se, since the town council covers a far bigger area than just Punggol East. But it would be good to know that the opposition has looked over its books and can offer some concrete suggestions knowing what sort of money or manpower the town council has.

Hmm…lower service and conservancy fees? More frequent cleaning of open spaces? More hiring of those within the constituency? Price checks on products/food being sold in the area? A subsidy for the elderly who cannot afford basic products? Tie-ups with NGOs and charities? Because the opposition is by definition not the Government, it should have on its side a whole bunch of supporting characters/organisations who are willing to lend a hand on the local front. I haven’t heard of any.

As an aside, this whole “who will harder for you’’ is getting quite funny. So the PAP wants the vote so the WP will work harder; and vice versa. Then there is the “we will work hard for you anyway, regardless of…’’ sort of campaign theme. I have got to say that on this “work harder’’ front, Education Minister Heng Swee Keat should know that you always need competition to spur you to do better. Ask any student.

Likewise, PM Lee Hsien Loong speaking about the by-election effect, talks about how constituents shouldn’t have this idea that they would have BOTH the PAP and an opposition politician working the ward if they went for the opposition. I suppose that was one of the original attractions of the by-election effect.

But I doubt that voters are thinking in those terms – of having two nannies. It’s more of having their cake and eating it – PAP in power, opposition in Parliament. Now, whether those 30,000 voters feel this way would depend on whether they think their ward would suffer “physically’’ if they went for the opposition. I haven’t heard any threats yet from the PAP about withdrawing services (Let me reiterate, I am not talking about AIM here)

Therefore, it’s also national.

And it’s getting pretty strange. You can see how far the Workers’ Party have come from the JBJ days. The Reform Party, helmed by JBJ’s son, is actually the old Workers’ Party. You have Low Thia Khiang practically speaking on the PAP Government’s behalf – exhorting the people to give the G time for policies to change and bear fruit, even as the WP keeps a close watch on it. I gather die-hard opposition supporters aren’t too happy with it. What WP thinks is a moderate, conciliatory stand is being taken as, well, “PAP lite’’.

Again, as I said in an earlier post, I wish the opposition would give its parliamentary record to the people. I am not even asking for a restatement of policy positions, but what it did in its “watcher’’ role. We need to know if they are effective watchdogs or just there to sit pretty. We’re not forgetting those former Singapore Democratic Party MPs of the past, who said nary a word and if they did, didn’t make much sense.

Anyway, the G has been rolling out stuff pretty quickly. Like an expanded rail network for which it hasn’t done any engineering studies – and therefore cannot tell you what it will cost. Then so many flats are coming up to woo people who want to own one plus cooling measures that no one is sure will work or not.

In the meantime, things are breaking down – the NEL stoppage on Nomination Day, the M1 cellphone system conking out… Not the G’s fault, but contributing to a certain sourness on the ground. Plus, the price of fish maw and abalone is ridiculous! How to celebrate Chinese New Year like that?

Anyway, Polling Day is Jan 26.

A lot can happen between now and then.