Workers' Party chief Pritam Singh has been engaged in an ongoing conversation regarding the Barrier-Free-Access ramp in his estate that took seven years to complete.
In the latest development, he recently responded to an opinion piece by a Lianhe Zaobao reporter on the issue.
The translated version of the opinion piece, originally written in Chinese by Ng Wai Mun, has been published by The Straits Times on Oct. 31.
Zaobao opinion piece
In the piece, Ng said that for voters, the logic is this: if grassroots politics affect the construction of a ramp that benefits citizens, it is "unacceptable to sacrifice the interests of citizens".
She stated that the opposition can sway swing voters by depicting an "imbalance between the ruling party and the opposition" by playing up the upgrading issue.
However, she also claimed that "most voters do not fully understand or care about the delicate coexistence between opposition town councils and the PA".
Pritam: Writer "missed larger point"
"PA" refers to the People's Association, which Pritam wrote exerts a far larger influence in opposition wards, as it "cannot only be confined to the narrow remit of an indifferent attitude in constructing barrier-free ramps".
Town councils allow power to be transferred from HDB to elected MPs, but "more crucially, grassroots leaders as well", Pritam wrote.
He also pointed out that it is problematic for losing PAP candidates, who are grassroots advisers, to appoint grassroots leaders in opposition wards.
This is so as Pritam further said that "opposition volunteers are not accorded the status of grassroots by the PAP".
He questioned: "Shouldn't a civil servant under the fiat of the President or a non-political individual at the very least preside over such ceremonies?"
Funding of improvement projects
In Pritam's initial Facebook post on the access ramp on Oct. 15, he cited "political double standards" and stated that losing PAP candidates are embedded as leaders in various grassroots organisations, and approve the disbursement of community upgrading funds.
In his latest Facebook post on Oct. 31, Pritam further explained that opposition town councils have to rely on their own surpluses to fund improvement projects without PA-approved funding.
Such a practice naturally draws down the accumulated purses in opposition town councils.
He concluded his post by asking: "Shouldn't constructive politics be about fairness?"
This is his full Facebook post:
________________________There was an interesting opinion piece published in the Straits Times today, originally written by a Lianhe Zaobao reporter on 26 Oct. Amongst others, this perspective in particular stood out:
"Judging from ongoing public discussions about this issue, most voters do not fully understand or care much about the delicate coexistence between opposition town councils and the PA.
The logic of voters is simple: The construction of a barrier-free access ramp to benefit the elderly and disabled was delayed, and if it involves grassroots politics, then it must be a violation of fair play, and it is unacceptable to sacrifice the interests of citizens in the process."
In making the first claim, the writer seems to have missed or ignored the larger point on how the appointment of losing PAP candidates as P.A. Grassroots Advisers compromises our democracy. In making the second point on fairness, it follows that the position of the P.A. in opposition wards cannot only be confined to the narrow remit of an indifferent attitude in constructing barrier-free ramps.
It is no secret that losing PAP Grassroots Advisers do not just hold sway over taxpayer dollars for upgrading. Their real power and influence is far more fundamental, and political. In fact, it goes to the substance of what it means to have "free and fair elections".
1. Losing PAP candidates are appointed by the PAP Government to preside over citizenship ceremonies for new voters in their capacity as Grassroots Advisers. In opposition wards, one of the first experiences of new Singaporeans citizens in our politics is to receive their pink ICs from losing PAP candidates. Shouldn't a civil servant under the fiat of the President or a non-political individual at the very least preside over such ceremonies?
2. Town Councils are meant to stand on two legs. The first leg is represented by the elected MPs, and second represented by grassroots leaders. When Town Councils were raised, it was not only for the purpose of transferring power from HDB to elected MPs, but crucially, to grassroots leaders as well. The PAP government does not recognise any grassroots representatives unless they come under the P.A. umbrella. Opposition volunteers are not accorded the status of grassroots by the PAP. So in opposition wards, there are no grassroots representatives on the Town Council. That more than a few opposition TCs have ploughed on in such a political environment speaks for itself. And in opposition wards, grassroots leaders come under the control of Grassroots Advisers and are appointed by losing PAP candidates.
3. In the absence of P.A. approved CIPC funding, opposition Town Councils have to rely on their own surpluses to fund improvement projects for residents, like AHTC has done this year. Doing so invariably eats into TC surpluses that can be used for other needs/purposes, while PAP Town Councils can rely on CIPC funding and/or keep their surpluses intact or tap on a lesser amount compared to opposition wards. In the court of public opinion, this matters, because when AHTC ran deficits in the years after 2011, the question even the Straits Times asked was - what happened to the $3m surplus from the previous Aljunied Town Council?
Does the PAP use the P.A. to put its political interests ahead of the interests of Singaporeans? The answer is as clear as day, and I hope more journalists and political observers look beyond Singapore's most famous ramp and analyse the political system that delayed its construction. Because as the "logic of the voters" dictates, shouldn't constructive politics be about fairness?
Top photo composite image: Photo by Sulaiman Daud, FB/Pritam Singh