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Posts Tagged ‘WP’

Caught in the middle: Residents in AHPETC

In News Reports, Politics on May 5, 2015 at 8:14 am

What do you think?

Can you live with the consequences of your vote? So if your town council runs out of money, you will just have to suffer lift breakdowns and dirty corridors until the next general election? That’s the Workers’ Party position. How it operates is something between the party and the voters – not for the G nor the courts to intervene in, it said.

It’s so interesting. The WP lawyer in court even backed it up with past ministerial exhortations about the consequences of the vote. Residents shouldn’t expect to be bailed out if they voted in people who can’t manage the estate.

Anyway, some background:

The G wants the court to let it appoint independent auditors to go over the WP town council’s books and reclaim funds that have been wrongly disbursed. It will only release $14 million in grants to the town council, if the independent auditor is in to see that the money is managed properly. For example, if the WP wants to spend $20,000 or more, the independent auditor has to sign off on it.

Things are getting critical because there’s only enough money to sustain the Aljunied, Punggol East and Hougang estates till June. And that’s because it hasn’t made two sinking fund payments for cyclical works, according to the G.

The WP looks to be trying to head off the installation of an independent auditor (if the court says okay) by having its own external accountants and a financial consultant. But the G has dissed its efforts as “lukewarm assurances’’ citing the lack of experience of at least one of them.

What a state of affairs!

What’s interesting is that the WP is throwing back to the PAP its own argument about voting the “wrong’’ people. It’s the PAP G which said residents are responsible for their vote, so why is the G turning to the courts to intervene? In fact, it is up to the G to decide how to disburse the funds and it has already said it would review the Town Council Act. So why doesn’t it just do so and make the system more robust?

Another argument: Only the Housing Board and residents can go to the courts for redress.

Hmm. Quite smart.

The G wants to deal with this as a “legal problem’’ which needs the court’s adjudication while the WP wants to portray it as a “political dispute’’ that shouldn’t be any business of the court.

The problem with long sagas is that most people have short memories. So did the WP do any wrong that required such action by the G? Here’s what people reading about the court saga will remember: There was something about arrears, its managing agents having conflict of interest and some unaccounted money somewhere. Oh. And the Auditor-General’s report which said that there were plenty of “lapses’’ but didn’t say anything about a crime being committed.

They might remember the WP saying how no one wanted the job of managing agent and how it had just 90 days to sort the groundwork for the enlarged town council – and wasn’t this a bit tough on them? And the WP said it would fix its internal problems by itself while the G said it would fix the Town Council Act.

I am going to say it again: This is all sooooo interesting. It’s like the days of the late Ong Teng Cheong who wanted to test the elected president’s powers vis-à-vis the G. That took place in the courts too. Now we have another unique experiment in Singapore taking the same route.

I wonder what the residents in the opposition ward think? The elected presidency challenge was more hypothetical. This case, however, affects the lives of people living in one GRC and two single-seat wards. There hasn’t been much of a ruckus raised by residents, not even after the PAP put out fliers asking them to take the WP to task – or at least get answers from the party. Nor has any noise been heard about a petition that was initiated. The community groups in the area haven’t said a thing either.

Actually, I was thinking that if the WP had a case and the court agrees that the G shouldn’t bring the issue to court, what if a resident did so instead? Remember how a resident went to court to try and force a by-election in Hougang?

It would be good to know the mood of these hundreds of thousands of people in the opposition wards. How would they react to their own MPs’ position: You voted for me, so you have to live with me until the next GE when you have to decide whether you should keep me or throw me out. You know that don’t you?

Some possible answers:

  1. Yes, I always knew the consequences of my vote and thought the WP would do a good job. It hasn’t, so I have to live with it. Never mind rubbish piled up to the nth floor.
  2. Yes, I always knew the consequences of my vote and thought the WP would do a good job. Even if the WP doesn’t, I reckoned that the G wouldn’t just let things be because we’re all taxpayers aren’t we? And that grant is really taxpayers’ money.
  3. Yes, I always knew the consequences of my vote and thought the WP would do a good job. But it’s been hobbled so much that it can’t perform and now it’s being bullied and we, the residents, have to suffer. If the PAP didn’t try to “fix’’ the party, we’d all be okay.
  4. Yes, I always knew the consequences of my vote but it didn’t matter to me whether the WP did a good job of running the town council or not. I voted them to speak up for me in Parliament. The estate is a bit smelly and dirty but that’s the price you pay for exercising your vote.
  5. Yes, I always knew the consequences of my vote which was why I DIDN’T vote the WP. So why are PAP voters being penalized? Should I move out?
  6. Yes, I always knew the consequences of my vote but I thought all those other checks by grassroots organisations which purport to represent us would keep the town council in line.
  7. Yes, I always knew the consequences of my vote but this is too high-level for me to intervene. How can I make a difference? I am powerless – and that’s why the G should intervene to protect me. It’s no longer a party thing, but a national issue.
  8. Yes, I always knew the consequences of my vote and I also know that at the very last minute, the G will still rescue us because it risks looking heartless if it doesn’t.

Anyway, it’s in court now. Even if the residents decide to band together and say something, would it be subjudice? I don’t even know what subjudice is anymore.

The Chee-Chan show

In News Reports, Politics on January 17, 2015 at 10:37 am

Laaaaaaadies and geeeentlemen! For the first time ever, we bring together two of Singapore’s greatest showmen! One has been presenting his shows in Korea, United States and assorted other democracy forums! He has fought in several wars, known as elections. And lost every battle. The other has been preparing for a war all his life, but never fought one. This time, they will do battle, like gladiators of old! May the best man win! Gentlemen! Unsheath your swords!  Unpack your bag of words! Get ready to answer the following questions!

BH: Minister Chan, why do you hate the Huffington Post so much?

Chan: What? I don’t hate it. I’ve never read it until that man showed up in it. I like the Huffington Post – it’s an example of a free media that we don’t have. Oops! Sorry, sorry. I like the HuffPost but in this instance, it’s gone berserk, giving that man so much space.

Chee (huffing): Who are you calling “that man’’? Just because you are a minister, you don’t think you have to be civil…

Chan (puffing): Like you were civil to Mr Goh Chok Tong when you shouted at him “Where is our money?’’ during one GE??

Chee: That was in the past. Let bygones be bygones. Everyone should get a chance to turn over a new leaf…You, you… paper general!!

Chan: You, you… political failure!

Chee: You, you… PAP running-dog… Stigmatising failure! Have you never failed before? Are you perfect?

BH: Boys, boys…give it a rest. Too much testosterone for me..Back to business. So Dr Chee, you keep insisting you have been silenced in the Singapore media. What is your evidence?

Chee: Well, I sent three op-ed pieces to The Straits Times but it declined to run them. The media has always undercovered me or put me in a bad light. And now it’s insisting that it edit my letter or it won’t get published. Thank goodness for the foreign media and social media!

BH: Oh! You must be happy then at the exposure the foreign media give you. Such prominence! So much space!

Chee: Very. The foreign media are very sympathetic to the plight of the Singapore masses, who are poor, down-trodden and have been deprived of their democratic rights, like being able to protest outside the Istana. They like what I write.

Chan: I object. As Minister for Family and Social Development, I can safely say that every family in Singapore has kueh lapis to eat. And while they might not be earning much, they still have a roof over their head which they own. Plus, there are all these schemes to help them…..(gives long list…)

BH (rubbing eyes): Thank you, Minister. That was enlightening. You may wish to put up that list on very void deck in Singapore so people will know of the G’s largesse…

Chee: What largesse…! It’s taxpayers’ money! And it’s not enough! We need minimum wages, poverty line and free health insurance for all!

Chan: You’re a fine one to talk. You say one thing to one audience and another thing to another. How come you don’t mention abolishing the ISA and why not propose some ways to protect workers’ rights? Or gay rights? All these Western liberal values… In fact, why don’t you just go to Myanmar and be with Aung San Suu Kyi?

Chee: I’ve met her already…Nice lady. Read her book. Mine will be out in April…(turns to audience)… Everyone…please buy and donate to the SDP!

Chan: I’ve met Aung San Suu Kyi. You are no Aung San Suu Kyi. And this is not a forum for you to collection donations to fund your election campaign. Remember no foreign donors allowed….

Chee: How like the PAP! Set up rules to perpetuate itself. You wait till the next election when I stand against you in Tanjong Pagar GRC. I will scream “Where is my CPF?’’ Oh…that’s Roy’s line. Sorry.

Chan (turning to audience): I would like to remind all of you here that Dr Chee is a failed politician, has been jailed and fined several times and even backstabbed that nice man who was his mentor, Mr Chiam See Tong. Remember him?

Chee: Hey, wait a minute! I’ve invited Mr Chiam to the SDP 35th anniversary dinner. You didn’t even invite Dr Tan Cheng Bock to the Istana.. Remember?

Chan: Don’t confuse the issue. You misappropriated funds from the university which hired you and made up taxi fare claims. You have been caught out as a liar time and time again!

Chee: And you got into Parliament on the coat-tails of you-know-who. Never experienced a proper electoral contest and yet you’re getting paid a million bucks…  !

Chan (getting up from seat): If you think you can do better, let’s fight to see who forms the next Government. Do you want to be Prime Minister?

Chee (getting up from seat): Why are you asking? Worried that I’ll take your future job away from you?

(The two gladiators confront each other. The crowd is cheering, baying for blood. Some are raising their hands in a keechiu sign. Others are waving their flasks of glucose-laced water…)

BH (terrified): Okay, okay. Stop it! Shut up and sit down both of you! I’m the one who’s supposed to be asking the questions…So Dr Chee, the minister has written in to say that you are sacrificing Singapore to score points abroad. How would you respond to this accusation?

Chee: I think the minister is equating Singapore with the PAP. It’s the PAP which has made Singapore what it is today….

Chan (cutting in): Thank you. I’m glad you have acknowledged that we have moved from Third World to First and that we worked to get  this little red dot into the international spotlight. We are well known the world over for our housing, transport, CPF, healthcare and other systems. Plus…

Chee (cutting in): Hey, I mean… made Singapore a place where children have to study so hard they cry, where money is made by the few and by foreigners, where income inequality is among the highest in the world…

Chan (cutting in): …and which we are addressing with our various social policies to give the lower income a better safety net, helping SMEs restructure and ensure affordable medical care for the rest of your life…

Chee: There goes the PAP… taking credit for everything. This Medishield Life scheme is actually adapted from our own health financing policy proposal…You never give others credit. Instead you persecute people, silence good people. Look at me. My academic career down the chute…my life in tatters (sheds a tear)

Chan: Again, you are playing the persecution card, pretending to be hard done by. What you want to be is to be viewed as a martyr, some kind of hero. You think just because you have the foreign media backing you and social media to broadcast your views…that Singaporeans can’t see through you?

BH (worried): This discussion is getting out of control…Relax boys…I would like to ask this of Dr Chee.  Why is your slogan Your Voice in Parliament? Sounds very Workers’ Party. Why not something more fierce? Like We stand for Free Speech, Liberty and Freedom? Like the French?

Chee: Well, first, I am not Charlie Chee. Then, I decided on Your Voice in Parliament to represent voiceless Singaporeans. We can be a First World Parliament but it’s nothing without a first-class voice. I speak well and so do several of my members. That’s why I had suggested to Mr Low Thia Kiang at the last by-election that we should join hands and contest a seat. I speak in Parliament, he runs the town council.

Chan: Hah. That shows what sort of person you are! Why not go to Workers’ Party and ask to run the town council, since it can’t seem to run it very well.

Chee: There goes the PAP again, running down other people…

BH (cutting in): Minister, the PM has said that the PAP or the G has to be careful about having to “flex its muscles’’. Are you flexing them now?

Chan (feeling his biceps): I don’t think so. I have been out of the army for so long I haven’t kept to a heavy schedule of workouts. I am still very fit though.

BH (non-plussed at reply): Hmm….Dr Chee has accused you of name-calling and character assassination…

Chan: He can sue me if he thinks I’ve defamed him. I’m sure M Ravi will help him.

Chee: I don’t intend to waste any money on a law suit. I also intend to keep out of trouble so that I can contest the election this time.

Chan: Okay, I will see you on Nomination Day. If you dare appear.

Chee: I will. Scouts’ honour.

Chan: You were a Scout? Never mind..

BH: Thank you gentlemen for being with us here today. We look forward to viewing more exchanges between you, whether in the foreign media, social media, local media…or here.

(The two men eyeball each other, and very, very tentatively, shook hands. The audience exploded into cheers and started singing the National Anthem followed by a solemn recital of the National Pledge. There were hugs. There were tears. And of course, there were fireworks.)

It’s so interestingly irritating

In News Reports, Politics on December 12, 2014 at 2:08 pm

All this batting to and fro between the PAP and the WP is interesting, in an irritating way. Interesting because controversies always are; but irritating because it is no longer entertainment to spectators. The game doesn’t seem to be ending. I need a loo break. I need to eat. I need to sleep. Yet I am stuck in the stadium with no idea how the game will end. What’s funnier is how the debate is now about whether the WP has been keeping “silent’’. Who says, WP says. We’ve been saying we’ll tell all in due course. Yet the G is making charges that there’s more going on, “bigger problems’’, in the WP town council. The G should keep quiet and just let the Auditor-General do its job. After which, the G is sure to let it all hang out.

WP’s Sylvia Lim says the PAP’s investigating arms would be the first to hold WP to account, so what’s the problem? MOS Desmond Lee says this shows the WP is asking the G to act as a check. Methinks it’s more like Ms Lim saying “if you’ve got anything on us, show your hand’’.

Actually, I think the same too. If the G has more info, come out with it. All this “you first’’ is quite annoying. After all, its  Auditor-General is already on the job. Has been since March in fact. If you’re wondering why I keep pushing this point, it’s because it’s time the AGO say something. The WP says it is waiting for the AGO before talking (although this is not the sole reason for the “delay’’, Ms Lim maintains) The G has said NOTHING about the delay (?) on the AGO front. In the meantime, everyone is looking forward to a non-partisan account from the bean counters that will tell us whether

  1. The WP is terribly incompetent in managing finances
  2. The WP has been doing something underhand with the money. Is using the WP’s “new’’ Aljunied TC money to plug the gap in the old Hougang TC hole something okay to do?
  3. The WP has been, I’ll say it, siphoning residents’ money into some other pocket.
  4. The WP has actually done very well/at least in managing its finances. It couldn’t submit its financial statements because its paperwork is bad but that’s sorted out now.

The WP hasn’t come out very well in this battle thus far, not with Mr Lee’s latest riposte.

So the WP hasn’t submitted its service and conservancy collection forms to MND since April 2013. Ms Lim countered that it did not give the S&C fees because the MND wanted the forms in a certain format which its computer software couldn’t generate. But it seems those forms haven’t changed since whenever. Nor does the de-activation of the PAP-owned AIM from the WP TC have anything to do with the inability of the software to generate those “forms’’. WP had been submitting forms after the break up. (In fact, why the need for the WP to bring AIM in?). Nor was it “no time and no energy’’ to submit forms because it was serving the AGO’s needs. The AGO entered the picture several months after the WP.

So the implication is that the April 2013 figures were so alarming that the WP decided to “hide’’ everything after that date. The April 2013 rate was 29.4 per cent, which meant that 39,000 households in AHPETC were effectively subsidising 16,000 households who did not pay their fees. MND said the town council past submissions showed that 10,000 (63 per cent) out of the 16,000 households only started owing arrears in the last two years. The arrears rate for hawkers was 8.2 per cent while that for commercial tenants was 50.2 per cent.

(Sheesh. I wonder if the other half of the tenants submitted their fees in kind, since it didn’t in cash! When the town council raised its S&C fees in April this year, it didn’t say anything about arrears but told residents in its mailer about higher electricity and cleaning costs)

As for whether the town council can be compelled to submit its arrears, MND says that the Town Councils Act doesn’t allow this. “MND has no power to compel TCs to submit information to MND, and there is no penalty under the TCs Act if the TC does not do so. There are currently only three offences that attract fines – these relate to the misuse of TCs’ funds, contravention of TC-Lift Upgrading Programme (LUP) rules and the wilful withholding of information required by an auditor without reasonable cause. This is because the TCs are supposed to be directly accountable to their residents.’’

This is so odd. So there is less oversight because “TCs are supposed to be directly accountable to their residents’’ – who can only exercise their oversight and hold TCs to account once every four or five years. I wish the MND would just say it overlooked this aspect when the legislation was framed, which is why in the next breath, it talks about reviewing the Act to strengthen regulatory oversight.

I am learning a lot of words from the G, like obfuscation. When it comes to slamming, the PAP is pretty good. But I didn’t think much of this line from MOS Lee last month : “Instead, we have seen a coordinated online campaign to distract the public, using falsehoods, half-truths and speculations, by friends, sympathisers and proxies of the Workers’ Party (WP).  The aim is to confuse the public and distract them from the real issues.  MND has addressed these untruths.  This is what the WP often does when caught under the spotlight – raise a flurry of red herrings in the hope that people forget that they have not come clean.’’

A coordinated online campaign? What evidence does the G/PAP have of this? Or is it lumping anyone and everyone who has something to say as “friends, sympathisers and proxies’’ of the WP? This isn’t fair to those who raise legitimate questions and want to know more about this black box called town council financing. Not everyone who raises questions are being deliberately misleading, they could be well-meaning but ignorant. If so, it is the duty of the more knowledgeable to put things right – rather than read motives and agendas behind what they say.

I’m glad that MND explained, in light of the supposed campaign filled with red herrings, how G grants are given out to town councils, the difference between operating surplus and accumulated surplus and how the sinking fund gets money. We come away better educated.

Today, Ms Lim has a riposte to Mr Lee’s riposte:

After accusing the Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC) and the Workers’ Party (WP) of not being accountable and transparent on the issue of S&CC arrears, MOS Lee now does not deny that the accusation was a non-starter.

“We had pointed out that the public could expect that the PAP would be the first to hold WP to account; that the PAP government had all investigative arms at its disposal to hold WP to account for any matter under the sun, and that AHPETC was facilitating the audit of its accounts and systems by the Auditor-General’s Office and that, like all other Town Councils, its annual audited accounts would be published.

“MOS Lee has now shifted his position to say that “WP is relying on the government to check them, instead of taking responsibility themselves for accounting to the public what they have done or have not done.”

“We have said many times that we will account to the public in due course, and we will.

“It is instructive to note the various positions taken by the PAP. When we said that we would explain to the public the S&CC arrears in due course, this was sarcastically labelled “the sound of silence”.  When we explained to the public the circumstances why AHPETC was unable to submit the S&CC arrears report in the format demanded and that MND had refused to accept our S&CC arrears submission in our own data format, this was labelled as making excuses.

“Seeing such responses from the government is regrettable.  We will leave it to the public to make its own judgment.’’

So what’s going to happen now? A riposte from Mr Lee?

I need a loo break.

Partying into the next GE

In News Reports, Politics on December 8, 2014 at 9:39 am

So the People’s Action Party has started the election ball rolling. It’s framed the terms of the contest: First World Government, not First World Parliament. I wish though the MSM would make it clear that this is not the Prime Minister addressing the nation. Mr Lee Hsien Loong was speaking as the PAP secretary-general and he was speaking to the party faithful. A quibble you say? It isn’t. Because that is the line that MSM must maintain between the G and the party. Plus, it’s the truth.

I was a little flummoxed at how what he told party activists was suddenly elevated into a national issue. Perhaps it is, or even should be. But that’s the interpretation or analysis of the facts. And putting cart before horse. So what did the party chief say? Every media angled on how he said the GE would be a “deadly serious’’ fight. Deadly serious for who? Given that he was speaking to party activists, it would be deadly serious for them especially if the PAP loses. Extrapolate further, and you could say his message could also be directed to the population at large.

If the media treated it as a party message, then it could be interpreted thus: Wake up your ideas! You think we are going to sail through the next GE like we did the past? Better buck up and don’t get complacent or you may find that we’re not just out of some wards, but out of government!

In any case, how would Mr Lee know that the PAP won’t form the G anyway? It all depends on whether the opposition parties choose to contest more than half the seats and deprive the PAP of forming the government on nomination day. But if the opposition decides to organise itself and contested just half or less, than the PAP has to worry about the by-election effect. (The PAP in power already leh, so let’s vote in a few more opposition politicians.) The PAP already knows what a by-election means. It lost both the Hougang and Punggol East by-elections. Hougang was helmed by a philanderer (from the Workers’ Party) and the voters still picked a member of the party he belonged to. Punggol East was also helmed by a philanderer (from the PAP) but voters chose to throw the party out as well.

Okay, the PAP failed to form the G on nomination day in the last two elections. Perhaps Mr Lee expects the trend to continue, especially with opposition politicians figuring that they have social media to utilise. Third time lucky/unlucky?

One political commentator noted that this was the first time the spectre of the PAP losing the GE has been raised by the PAP itself. Why did it do so? I wonder what the PAP thinks would be better for itself: form the Government on Nomination Day and never mind if people use the vote for opposition parties and lose more seats OR don’t form the G and scare everyone into voting for it so as not to get what it calls a “freak election result’’. It might actually win some lost seats in the process or at least retain its parliamentary margin. (NOTE: a freak election result is what happens when people actually want only one thing to happen, that is, more opposition members in Parliament, but get more than they bargained for: opposition forms the government. Of course, it is NOT freakish if that is what people really want. In fact, it might be the will of the people! Who can say?)

As a political strategy though, framing the contest as who forms the G is a great one. Why wait till Nomination day and find out that most of the seats are up for grabs and only then start telling people the consequences of the vote in a doomsday voice? Best to start seeding the ground early, whatever happens on Nomination Day. Unless, of the course, the G resorts to certain tools in its kit – bring back six-member jumbo GRCs, reduce the number of single-seat wards and redraw the boundaries such that those pesky opposition voting blocs are split up….

The GE has to be called by January 2017. The bet is that it will be late next year or early 2016 to take advantage of the SG50 hype and the feel-good factor. Actually, there are many issues that will be on the table next year that might well form its election platform, like Medishield Life. “If you like Medishield Life, vote for the PAP! A vote against means that you are against Medishield Life and thence, our social policies. And didn’t you want the PAP to do more on the social front anyway?’’

Then there are amendments to the Broadcasting Act (if too tough, get it done early and hope people forget since the opposition will make hay out of it). There are also changes to the CPF after the review committee does the job (it can say it is listening to feedback or the opposition can say the changes don’t go far enough). I think the Town Council Act would be up for review too to plug loopholes on financing and who can or cannot be employed in the management. (Which will not look good for one particular opposition party and make it harder for those who think running an estate is a walk in the park).

And though Mr Lee said that every seat will be a national contest, I wonder if it would actually be more advantageous for the PAP it say it will be a “local election’’, in the light of what is happening/not happening in the Workers’ Party town council. People won’t “get’’ the big picture, but they know enough about dirty corridors and lifts which don’t work. Of course, if the WP shows that there is nothing wrong with the way it runs the town council when the Auditor-General is finally done with his work, then the G would have egg on its face. In fact, it might well be that the Town Council Act was badly conceived or the “regulators’’ did not do due diligence. (Speculating here, okay…)

In any case, I think the PAP already has a very strong hand in this game. It can safely say that it has fixed most of the things it would fix after the last GE, like housing and transport and tamping down on the number of foreign workers. (The opposition can, of course, say “not good enough’’) It can cite plenty of schemes and subsidies about levelling up the population especially the lower income group. (The opposition can, of course, say “too little, too late’’) It can say that it is living up to its new, improved constitution about making Singapore a fair and inclusive society underpinned by compassionate meritocracy. (The opposition can, of course, say “that’s because we’re around to make sure the PAP changes’’.)

You know how the game is played. The PAP will ask the opposition: “What ideas do YOU have?’’ Another point which it doesn’t emphasise as much is: “Where are you going to get the money from since you can’t touch what we’ve made in the past?’’ Actually, I wonder what are the provisions made for the finances of a changed government? Is it as clumsy as the handover of a town council seems to be?

BTW, what Mr Lee said about social media is the most placatory I’ve heard from him on the issue in a long time. According to CNA, Mr Lee noted there are different and louder voices now in society, especially on social media. Some mean well, and the PAP must engage and persuade them to make common cause with the party. But, Mr Lee said there are others who will try to mislead voters, and this will lead Singapore into trouble. And the party has to counter, expose and defeat them.

This is going to be interesting. I’m not sure the PAP has really been engaging well-meaning detractors on social media, it’s more like “digging in its heels’’. As for “counter, expose and defeat’’, we have a lot of examples of that. Methinks Mr Lee should have used the words accountability and transparency as the key approach in responding to social media views. Of course, there will be those who prefer not to believe anything the PAP says whatever the facts. But my bet is that there is still a wide middle ground just waiting and watching.  Both the PAP and opposition parties must work on engaging that middle ground instead of assuming (like the PAP does) that the silent majority is on its side or (like the Opposition does) that the vocal minority is vocalising for the majority.

Some people have pointed out that the PAP (and the opposition too) shouldn’t take the view that “if you are not for us, you are against us’’. But that is surely the point of casting a vote: You make a decision on who to back. Of course, you don’t have to display any partisanship if you don’t want to. And the vote is secret.

The question is: on what basis is that decision being made? On the way political parties frame the election agenda to influence thinking? I don’t know about you, but I will make up my own checklist closer to the date.

Party news!

In News Reports, Politics on December 6, 2014 at 4:49 am

In the Workers’ Party

So no one wants the job of managing agent. The Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East town council put out a tender and there are no takers. Actually, it’s no surprise. Brave is the firm which takes on a job that will be scrutinised left and right by nosey parkers and politicians. I wonder which firms now run the People’s Action Party town councils – only Bishan-Toa Payoh is self-run. Why won’t anyone do the job? Well, if everything in the town council’s finances have yet to be cleared up, you’d be wary of bidding for the contract too. (Again, what’s taking the Auditor-General so long?!) As for established firms, there’s the worry that doing the job for the opposition party  would jeopardise any renewal of its contract with the PAP town councils. In any case, what does the Town Council Act say in the event that no one wants the job, despite repeated tenders? I suppose the Workers’ Party would have to cajole some established firm, or ask a new, nothing-to-lose firm, or ask its own partisans to form a company to do so. If the last happened, as it was with FM Solutions and its partisans, then it might open itself to charges of partisanship. I suppose the party would have to do the job itself. Maybe it should go ask the Bishan-Toa Payoh MPs for some pointers….or maybe not.

In the People’s Action Party

There’s a lot of fuss in the ST about the election of its Central Executive Committee tomorrow although I am not sure why. A short list is put up and there will be a vote for 12 members, after which the rest or most of them will be co-opted. Political observers will be reading closely to see who got elected and who got co-opted, as an indication of the person’s standing in the party ranks. But beyond that, what else? There’s no way the PAP will say who got the most votes or the least. As for who becomes office-bearers, that’s all done within the CEC itself. All very hush-hush but then again, people will see who got what post. The G might want to be transparent but the PAP certainly isn’t. Not that it has to since it is, after all, a political party which reports to its members. Sometimes though, I think of all the “leaks’’ coming out of other parties and making it into the public eye – the dissent ecetera – and I wonder if the media will go digging around the PAP like they do for the others. Actually, the PAP seems to be a pretty disciplined party, unlike other political parties which have ex- or current disgruntled members resorting to social media to grumble. Anyway, let’s see what happens tomorrow. It’s not likely to be like the UMNO general assembly that’s for sure!

In the Singapore Democratic Party

On Jan 10, the SDP will unveil its vision and direction for Singapore, its strategy and campaign activities. It’s starting early because it thinks the polls will be held by the end of next year or early 2016. Now…this is interesting! I’d love to see what it has to offer. Will it be a PAP-lite? Nah, that sounds like the WP. Will it want to overthrow the G or would it be happy to be a check and balance in Parliament? Is it think of forging an alliance with Singapore First party which is helmed by an ex-SDP member and erstwhile Presidential candidate? It has worked on several papers, on healthcare ecetera. I would love to see what it says about the coming changes to the CPF and Medishield Life as party of its strategy or vision. SDP is usually portrayed as more “western’’ oriented and liberal and, as G’s representative in Hong Kong said, “pandering’’ to western media. I wonder how it will respond to these recent charges of dishonestly portraying Singapore in the Wall Street Journal. Actually, I just want to know if it has a catchy slogan….

Oh! The unFAIRness of it all…..!

In News Reports, Politics on November 29, 2014 at 4:25 am

On Dec 24, the Workers’ Party will know how much of a fine it has to pay for not getting a permit to hold its Lunar New Year community event (WP’s definition) or trade fair (National Environment Agency’s definition). The maximum is just $1,000; the prosecution stated archly that the low quantum was probably why the WP decided to fight the case in court. For those wondering about who will pay the legal fees, the WP MPs said they would be paying out of their own pocket, and not through its controversial (my word) town council funds.

The whole exercise has been very enlightening for the way the WP tried to bring up issues surrounding the offence of not getting a permit, and for the way the prosecution tried so hard to get it to stick to the law. In fact, it had seemed obvious to me from the start that WP will lose (not because I am conspiracy-minded and think it would be “done in’’ in any case) but simply because it was required to get a permit, and it didn’t. It went ahead to hold the fair for three straight weeks although it had been warned several times to shut down. So it really looked like it was “asking for it’’.

Then I think/guess/speculate that what happened next is that WP thought it would be good to use the occasion to test the G on what sort of powers town councils really have and whether they have to comply with conditions attached by G agencies. After all, town councils have the mandate of the people to run the place – so why should so many other agencies intervene? Didn’t the G itself say as much when the town councils were proposed in 1988? Just check Hansard. The trouble is, there are laws of the land (regardless of political colouring) you have to abide by, like environmental laws, and specific laws on the power of town councils. So what does a town council’s mandate to “manage’’ the area mean? It cannot be completely unfettered, but how fettered is the question.

In any case, here’s a condensed version of what happened:

The WP wants to hold a Lunar New Year event in Hougang, organised by the town council. Then it thinks it had maybe better get some kind of permission from whoever/whatever agency. Better to steer out of trouble, it thinks. NEA obliges and gives a form that says “trade fair’’. But it’s not a “trade fair’’. WP thinks. We’re not organising a pasar malam! It’s only five stalls and there’s no cooked food and it’s going to be in an area that is managed by the town council! So it cancels the word “trade fair’’ and sticks “community event’’ and sends back the form.

Then the reply came: “Your forms are incomplete. Where is the “consensus from neighbourhood shopkeepers’’ and “letter of support from the Citizens’ Consultative Committee’’? The WP thinks: what the &&(%^$##! Why must we get the CCC to say okay? The CCC belongs to the PAP, which already lost to us in so many elections. And what is this “consensus’’ from shopkeepers. Yet another PAP satellite? Rubbish! Ignore it.

It holds the trade fair/community event and the NEA sends another letter and yet another and so forth, but the fair/event carries on for three weeks. By now the NEA is fedup that it has been so blithely ignored. Words are exchanged and the WP says “see you in court’’.

In fact, the WP thinks it’s good to go to court because you can bring up all sorts of issues and hopefully get them into the media. It is “open’’ court, after all. Plus, the maximum penalty is $1,000. For $1,000 and whatever legal fees, you can talk about how the G is over-stepping its limits, point to past legislative speeches which give town councils more powers than what the Act says and complain again about how the CCCs have too much say and should have NO say in places run by the opposition.  That is, get out of my kingdom and let me run it for the people who elected me. It’s an alluring argument, except that it runs against the hard letters of the law. So the NEA sticks to its guns and said: You know you needed a permit, you didn’t get it and you still went ahead with it despite us telling you  “Cannot’’. Other issues are irrelevant. Case closed.

The judge agreed with the prosecution. He thinks the WP went to trial really as an “afterthought’’ (It could have just paid a composition fine but didn’t want to.) I really do think it’s an open and shut case although there were reams and reams of precedents and all sorts of points of law espoused on both sides. Did the WP achieve its aim of getting a public airing? Well, only if you followed the case closely and bothered to get through all the arguments and submissions in their original form.

The WP has bigger problems on its hands and this has to do with its town council funds. It has told MOS Desmond Lee to clam up because the Auditor-General is doing the work of looking over its accounts. It will definitely say something in due course. Methinks this is a far bigger issue than whether a town council should have the ability to hold its own trade fair. When the WP is “ready’’, I hope it will be as open over its arears, deficits and handover issues as it was with its complaints about the red tape of the G. And it doesn’t have to go to court to get its side out. I think plenty of people want to hear from it.

De-constructing constructive politics

In News Reports on May 27, 2014 at 2:52 am

The trouble with constructive politics is the word “constructive’’. You can’t very well not be in favour of it. So everybody of whatever political stripe does homage to the President’s use of the phrase in his address to Parliament. But what it consists of is a different matter entirely. You see, you can put any kind of construction on what is constructive politics depending on your point of view and your agenda.

So to Workers Party, constructive politics cannot be of the “bullying’’ kind with the subtext that the PAP is a bully with unfair resources on its side. And the PAP talks about integrity because it seems to have found some kind of wrong-doing in the WP which it isn’t quite saying…Both sides are really being extremely constructive.

Now when the President spoke of constructive politics, he was talking about how we can’t let differences pull us apart such that we’d be gridlocked and paralysed. We all have plenty of differences of opinion and I’m betting that the differences will widen over time, whether of the political kind, over religion and sexual orientation or between new and old citizens. I would like to think that that’s what the President is talking about – about how the nation with so many differences will be able to say: let’s stop arguing, agree to disagree, move ahead on this – or move on to the next thing.

I was hoping to see Parliament discuss these differences and how to narrow them through informed discourse but it appears that the political parties are only vying to see which one puts Singaporeans first. They are talking to each other, not to the people.  

(I congratulate Mr Tan Jee Say for his brainwave of a name for his political party. I can’t wait to see how MPs will try NOT to use it in Parliament.)

Constructive politics means – and this is only my one cent opinion – that we can talk from different points of view in a civilised manner and still agree on the way forward. Unlike what Mr Low said, that constructive politics cannot happen “through a national conversation or public consultation’’, I happen to think they are useful tools to determine the will of the people, beyond voting every four or five years. I wish politicians and office-holders would refer more to the values and aspirations that have been distilled through the year-long Our Singapore Conversation when they make their speeches or policy pronouncements. Surely, they point to the light at the end of the tunnel and can be a basis for most conversations?

Okay, I have some personal constructions on what is constructive politics. One would be how it has to embrace an active citizenry, which includes  advocacy and not just volunteerism. I have often felt that the G would rather we shut up and just hand out face masks.  This is not constructive politics. Citizens want a say and have views too. To do this “constructively’’, they need access to information and proper responses – not cavalier descriptions of them as members of a “vocal minority’’.   

Of course, some of us put across our views in ways which are not flattering to either side of the political divide. The outer limit must, therefore, be the laws of defamation. I know this is one of “bullying’’ tactics thrown often at the PAP government but I cannot conceive of civilised discourse without some parameters. It’s hard enough to tell people that their views should be rational and based on fact not rumours. Surely, we can agree that we can do this without name-calling or disrespect.

If the powers that be resort to defamation suits too easily, then they can expect their credibility to be eroded. But if they have a case, they should take it to court. Note that smaller beings can also take the powers that be to court. It will be an expensive undertaking but it should be weighed against the worth of reputation. Then, we have to let the judiciary do its work. The day we believe or are sure that the judiciary is the Government’s play thing is the day we (at least I) should leave the country.

There is another aspect to constructive politics that doesn’t seem to have been well-enunciated – the role of the civil service. We read often now in MSM about how civil servants should have their ear to the ground and implement policies with the people in mind. I am glad that I no longer hear what used to be said in the past – that civil servants should EXPLAIN government policies. I have never thought that was the job of civil servants. Their fate should not be tied to that of their political masters. They should remain faceless, not appear on TV talkshows or give so many speeches, so that they can remain above the fray should there be a… hmmm… change at the top. We need to trust that this institution will remain rock-solid and separate – not part of the monolith that is the PAP government.  

I am going to stop here because Parliament is still debating the President’s  address. Anyway, here’s to constructive politics!

Not as a check, but for a change?

In News Reports, Politics on May 26, 2014 at 1:33 am

I met Mr Tan Jee Say many moons ago when he was still serving in the Prime Minister’s Office. Like any good reporter hoping to establish a “contact”, I invited him out to lunch. He picked a really, really expensive place, way beyond my means and I wondered if my boss would approve of me putting up the lunch tab as an expense. I am really sorry but that was my most vivid initial recollection of the man who panicked a poor rookie reporter.

Now, he’s making waves again, much to the chagrin I believe of his ex-bosses in the G. First as an opposition party candidate, then a presidential candidate – and now as head of a new political party. I wonder why anyone would be surprised by his move. He’s already a written a book and is somewhat a fixture at Hong Lim Park events. In fact, his speeches are more electioneering than discursive, calling for an overthrow of the PAP G – through the ballot box of course.

What I’ve always remembered: How he kept maintaining that it was not true that the Opposition could not put up a credible Cabinet. Seems he’s done a scan of opposition members and their credentials to assert that the Opposition was more than ready to take over. I wonder what Workers’ Party’s Low Thia Kiang has to say to this. He’s been pretty circumspect, even modest, about the abilities of his party, which has the biggest opposition presence in Parliament. The WP strategy appears to be to act as a check and veer towards the centre, hence the grumbles that WP looks like PAP-lite.

So now we have Singapore First with a logo that some people say look like an ad for Walls’ ice cream. Never mind the jibes…What does it stand for? Looking at reports of its manifesto, I think Mr Tan and his merry band have simply tapped into a wave of sentiment that is currently prevailing in the “intellectual realm”. That is, to move away from treating citizens as economic digits. Add to this complaints that we look at relationships as “market transactions” and pay ministers like CEOs, you can see where the group is coming from.

It’s a good move to put the party on some kind of “ideological” footing even though some of its “initiatives” on universal healthcare et al aren’t original and have been espoused by other political parties. You can’t, however, define the ideologies of say the SDP or Reform Party (at least I can’t) As for the WP’s First World Parliament, it might have caught on in the last election but I’m not so sure it will next time. The people might no longer just want a check, but some sort of change too.

The PAP itself knows that the “economic” narrative, out and out capitalism and raw meritocracy isn’t what people are looking for. That’s why it has been okay about going for moderate economic growth instead of growth at all cost; why it now uses the term “compassionate” meritocracy with the President making it clear that Singapore is a home, not just a “global marketplace”. (Note: he didn’t use the term “hotel” which was a fave word of the past when EMI-gration, not IMMI-gration was a troubling subject.)

It’s also why it promised a more “social” agenda, pumping more money in the second half of the Parliamentary term into preserving a good retirement for the seniors and eliminating heart attacks via medical bills.

What can Mr Tan and his team offer? Looking at their credentials, they are offering PAP-grown clones with anti-PAP brains. Just tick off the scholars etc he has… Then again, he’s got a couple of cross-overs from other parties. People ask why he doesn’t just join a political party instead so that opposition votes won’t be diluted or split. I thought the answer would be obvious: He wants to head his own party with his own platform rather than subsume himself (and his ambitions) under others. In fact, he’s pitching for a coalition, with himself (?) at the head. This is a man with big, big plans. Not as a check, but for a change.

What happens from here? Seems after the party is registered (question: why didn’t he register it first and then publicise? In case, he can’t get it registered?) various policy papers are going to be put forth. I look forward to reading them, and seeing how they compare with other papers put up by the other parties and what the G is offering.

It’s good to be offered choices. But we’ve got to do plenty of thinking before doing the picking…

Takeaways at half-time

In News Reports on April 26, 2014 at 1:56 am

At the risk of over-summarising, here’s a run-down of how a panel discussion on the G’s half-time report went. Please refer to earlier blog post on the report.

Top takeaways:

  1. The G is in a pickle, said the non-partisans on the panel. It’s got about two years to shore up its score with the people who seem to want more checks and balances but don’t seem to want the G to have more power to solve their “problems’’ which could really be unrealistic expectations.

 Quotable quotes:   

 “So the current situation looks something like this to me: A Government out of its comfort zone and unable to quite meet the expectations of Singaporeans and a citizenry demanding what the Government could not reasonably deliver considering the trade-offs, while entrusting it with less power than it used to have.’’ – sociologist Tan Ern Ser.

 “The second half of this term of Parliament is short simply because time is of the essence in wanting to try to fix the many hot button issues and put bluntly, time is running out. And in many ways like what Ern Ser says, the population may have some unrealistic expectations.’’ – NMP Eugene Tan.

 2,, Different groups of people have different expectations – and confidence – in the G’s ability to solve problems, with the most anxious being the middle-aged, sandwiched class. (Actually, methinks it’s a case of whether you see the glass as half-empty or half-full.)

Quotable quote:

“Now, look at another age category – the 35 to 44. They are less approving than the average of how government is doing now in elderly, the poor, healthcare and transport. When you ask them about the future, they are less likely to express confidence than the other groups, in the areas of the poor, health care, housing, transport as well as foreigners’’ – academic Gillian Koh.

“There is assessment of how their lives are being affected now, but there is also a realisation that not all problems can be solved straightaway and also an appreciation that things are being done that will lead to better outcomes.’’ – PAP MP Hri Kumar

 

  1. Both the People’s Action Party and the Workers’ Party members have to abide by the Whip, which holds their parliamentary votes in line. PAP MP Hri Kumar noted that WP has never uttered a contrary position to its own party line to which WP’s Sylvia Lim replied that this was because they are too small a group in Parliament and risk looking divided. Then they crossed whips…

Quotable quotes:

 “How many times have you heard a WP MP give a different view from the WP? Zero. A WP MP has never, in the time I’ve been in Parliament from 2006, stood up to say ‘I’m taking a different position from my party’. So if you think our Whip is thick, theirs is thicker and theirs is obviously more painful.”  – PAP MP Hri Kumar

“I don’t think many people would be comfortable with the fact that you have a whole House full of MPs from one party no matter how much they talk… because in the end you know that the party Whip comes in and that’s about it.” – WP MP Sylvia Lim

  1. Although immigration did not figure as the top hot button issue in the survey, it is the root of a lot of complaints about cost of living and accessibility, maintained the non-partisans. PAP’s Hri Kumar rebutted with charts on what the PAP had done to counter the impact of the foreigner influx – but which seemed to have gone un-noticed.

 Quotable quotes:

“The only question is whether it will manifest as an issue in and of itself or whether it will be fingered in a whole variety of other hot button issues, but certainly it will materially affect how Singaporeans assess the Government. And immigration is complex and it may not feature so prominently because no political party or candidate wants to be labelled as xenophobic or anti-foreigner; neither would any one party want to come across as a staunch supporter of more immigration. So you’ll see the parties continue to gingerly tread around this particular issue.’’  – NMP Eugene Tan

“There was a huge credit side which no one wants to talk about” – PAP’s Hri Kumar on the $5b Job Credit Scheme which saved jobs.

  1. Everything thing boils down to the big question. How will Singaporeans vote in the next election? Will good governance matter?

Quotable quotes:

 “There is an implied assumption in this survey that perhaps the way voters view policy progress or lack of progress will determine how they vote. While we do talk about all these policies and how they might affect the election, in the end how people really vote…could be affected by other things.” – WP’s Sylvia Lim

“There’s a very good chance that as our democracy progresses, the margins will become thinner and thinner…So it is all the more crucial that we hold the opposition’s feet to the fire because as the margins become very thin there will be a … possibility that an election will actually see a swing. And if it swings, people want to be assured that the new party coming in will have the capability to lead.” – PAP’s Hri Kumar

 “I think the Government will need all the time to the end of the point in order to get the performance up for people to really feel that the changes have mattered, they have made a difference in their lives.”  – Academic Gillian Koh

 

 

 

Overheard at the Istana dinner party

In News Reports on February 8, 2014 at 3:36 am

It’s tomorrow….and here’s a look at what they might be talking about among themselves

Table of ex-MPs

“Eh, Andy, you here also ah? How come? You step down in 2006 still got connection with PA ah?”

“Of course lah. PA invited Chiam, must invite me as well. Not bad ah? One-term MP can still come to dinner.”

“Poor thing lah that Cheng Bock. So popular in Ayer Rajah. Almost become President. But still cannot come to dinner. He’s 73 right? Cannot be considered pioneer generation ah?”

”Eh, talking about president, you think George Yeo is here? He qualifies right? 2011 then kena voted out.Was he going to run for President on our side or some other side?”

”Dunno. Bosses never say. But if we see him tonight, must ask him. But he might be too paiseh to say lah. At the end, president became Tony Tan.”

Table of military-cum-grassroot leaders

“This Tan Chuan Jin and Chan Chun Sing should have been fiercer. These generals should have whacked the Indonesians harder! Naming warships! By the way, we have similar warships or not? Bigger? Better? Faster?  

“Must ask DPM Teo and Lui Tuck Yew, former navy people. I’m waiting for Tuck Yew to talk back to the Indonesians. But he too busy with trains to talk about boats.

“Actually, our generals not even born yet during MacDonald House bombing. Who else still around at that time? Maybe should drag out Winston Choo to say something.’’

“Aiyah, we relying on our minister-generals’ guanxi with the current Indon armed forces lah. The Indon leaders also probably not even born yet.’’      

Table of conservative grassroots leaders

“What is this HPB thinking about? They keep saying family is basic unit of society but they go on and on about gay stuff. Now my son also saying he might be gay! I told him whether gay or not, make sure you do National Service and be a man!

“I think someone in HPB screwed up lah. You wait…sure backtrack.’’

“Anyway, my MP Lim Biow Chuan already filed question in Parliament. I told him he better do it because I know a lot of people not happy but don’t want to say anything.

“Wah! You told him ah…Very brave. You not scared people call you what..what…homophonic or a biggod or something?’’

Table of Aljunied grassroots leaders

“Eh, Victor, you good lah. Write letter to ST Forum page and all. Really need to whack those Workers’ Party people. How can? No licence also can hold fair. And then our own fair they come and kachou…”

”No lah. Simple thing. They didn’t answer Minister Khaw last time about contracts for their friends, so I just repeat lah. Must shut up that Pritam and Sylvia.”

“I think you better lie low lah. You also party branch chairman, not just CCC chairman. Already people saying PA cannot be PAP. You will cause us problems only…”

“Aiyah. Tell the truth lah. What to be scared of? Same complaint for so many years already. Still the same leh. I just carry on. See what those Workers Party people can do. They not here right?”

“Please lah. You think Lim Swee Say will invite them here?”     

Table of long-serving grassroots leaders

When PM going to speak leh. We all waiting for this pioneer generation package. Show me money! Huat ah!

What you think going to be inside? Sure something for health right? He said not going to be one-time right? Until the day I die right? My cholesterol very high already and they still serving this kind of rich food. Aiyoh.

You scared to die, just eat the loh hei lah. Free dinner.