Legitimacy of An Opposition MP and abuse of civil services for political mileage – The PA Saga (Part 2)

People’s Association (PA) should be apolitical and non-partisan, period!

See also: Legitimacy of An Opposition MP?

“It is important to build trust between the people and the national institutions … including the civil service, the judiciary, and the mainstream media. They have to … not only act fairly but to be seen to act fairly … I think it is important for the future of Singapore … Any politicisation of these institutions to gain political advantage, to me, is against the national interest.”Low Thia Khiang (2015)

“I can only conclude that the PA is partisan.” – Hougang Opposition MP Yeow Shin Leong

“The government has to appoint grassroots advisers (Askmelah: defeated PAP MPs) who support its programmes and can play this role well… Opposition MPs cannot be expected to do this and thus cannot become advisers to GROs.” – PA’s Ooi Hui Mei

“IT WOULD be futile for the People’s Association (PA) to continue denying that it is not neutral when it continues the practice of appointing defeated People’s Action Party candidates as grassroots advisers in opposition wards” – Soh Ah Yuen

“The fundamental point remains that People’s Action Party MPs form more than half of the PA’s board of management, with no other political party represented. This, in itself, suggests that the statutory board is partisan, compounded by the PA’s track record of appointing only PAP MPs as advisers to grassroots organisations (GROs), even in constituencies where the public has voted in an MP from another political party.” – Shanta Danielle Arul

“A common lament is that opposition candidates appear in a constituency only just before the campaign period. This may not necessarily be a fair comment, given the entrenched networks of grassroots organisations which have been perceived to be advantageous to PAP candidates.”Kwan Jin Yao

Askmelah’s Note:

PA is dead wrong about the definition of grassroots leaders:

Grassroots leaders ≠ Ruling party MPs

or for that matters opposition MPs, it should appoint well respected elders or outstanding individuals in that community who cares, contributes and well-regarded. More importantly, they should be seen as non-partisan.

Newly elected President Dr Tony Tan has pledged to work with all Singaporeans and said his work to unify Singaporeans would begin right away. “The president is a president for all Singaporeans. Not only for those who have voted for me, but even for those who have not voted for me….” Here is one instance where the President should stand up and tell the Government that they are wrong in dividing the nation with unfair policy such as this instance.

[Updated 23 Sep 2011] The Straits Times has published a rather daring and neutral commentary titled “should opposition MPs be grassroots advisers?” which detailed the controversy surrounding this issue. The noteworthy quotes come from former deputy chairman od PA Mr Lee Khoon Choy:

  • Speaking to Insight this week, Mr Lee Khoon Choy regrets how the PA and its organisations came to be embroiled in political controversy. ‘The PA should concentrate not on politics, but on culture, and how to bring the people together,’ he says. His views have not changed from 1981: ‘The PA is for everybody,’ he says. That includes the opposition, he adds later.
  • Today, an alternative grassroots body has been set up in Aljunied GRC, which is held by the Workers’ Party. Some have suggested that this duplication is unnecessary, and a result of the exclusion of opposition MPs from grassroots bodies. ‘It’s unnecessary and a waste of energy,’ says Mr Lee Khoon Choy, who thinks the Workers’ Party MPs should be involved in the PA organisations. He adds that ‘our society needs more harmony’.

As members of the opposition – and of the public – continue asking these questions, the three-decade-old response might eventually have to be reconsidered.

[Added 14 Apr 16]

PA is not partisan

Source: http://seijieiga.blogspot.sg/2016/04/pa-is-not-partisan.html

Chan Chun Sing said that PA is not partisan

Opposition question PA stance on grassroots advisers

Source: Yahoo News!   Sep 1, 2011

Two opposition parties have criticised a recent letter by the People’s Association (PA) on why opposition Members of Parliament (MPs) cannot be advisers to grassroots organisations (GROs).

“I can only conclude that the PA is partisan,” said Hougang SMC MP Yaw Shin Leong, pointing out that organisation seemed to be equating the government with the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) in its forum letter.

“The government and the said political party needs to be separated in terms of identity,” Yaw said. “Over the decades, however, the two seem to have been increasingly seen as the same.”

The Singapore People’s Party echoed this view.

“By choosing not to work with duly elected Opposition MPs, the PA is confirming that it is working for the interest of the PAP, not Singapore,” the party’s central executive committee said in a statement.

In a forum letter to The Straits Times published on Wednesday, PA’s director for corporate and marketing communications Ooi Hui Mei said that opposition MPs cannot be advisers to GROs because they “cannot be expected” to promote government activities.

“The government has to appoint grassroots advisers who support its programmes and can play this role well… Opposition MPs cannot be expected to do this and thus cannot become advisers to GROs,” wrote Ooi.

She further explained that “besides connecting people to people, grassroots advisers are required to help the government connect with people and help promote government policies and programmes such as anti-dengue and active ageing.”

Ooi was responding to a reader who felt grassroots advisers, who are appointed by the PA, should be elected MPs.

Yaw told Yahoo! Singapore that he found it strange for the PA to comment that an elected opposition MP, being one himself, is unable to fulfill the role of connecting with people and promoting programmes such as anti-dengue and active ageing.

When contacted, Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC and PAP MP Janil Puthucheary defended the PA’s policy.

Dr Puthucheary, who sits on the PA’s board of management, said that as a statutory board, the PA is “linked to government policy” and the grassroots adviser has to believe in the overall thrust of the government’s approach.

“People who implement and operationalise these policies cannot oppose them. You simply can’t have a situation where the adviser does not support the implementation of these policies,” he noted.

Opposition MPs fundamentally oppose the government and so would not always be in support of its policies and programmes, he said.

“Even if they did support policies such as anti-dengue and active ageing programmes, it is possible that they could oppose methods of implementation of these policies,” he added.

However, political observer Tan Ern Ser said that the PA’s actions may erode the moral ground of the PAP and dilute its political capital.

While the PA is able to defend its practice of appointing PAP members as grassroots advisers on “logical grounds”, the associate professor of sociology at the National University of Singapore suggested that Opposition MPs take matters into their own hands.

“I would argue on practical grounds that the WP may want to consider setting up its own grassroots organisations, since the ones set up by PA may not take to them as advisers in any case,” he said.

The debate over the politicisation of the PA started when Workers’ Party (WP) Aljunied GRC MP Chen Show Mao was uninvited from a Hungry Ghosts’ Festival dinner organised by Hougang residents because they were told that approval for the venue would be withdrawn by the PA if they invited Chen.

It later emerged that 26 commonly-used spaces in the constituency had been leased to the PA by the Housing and Development Board in June. Following a public outcry, the PA revised its policy and relaxed its restrictions on event guest lists.

Chen Show Mao barred from events in Paya Lebar?

Source: Yahoo News!   Aug 20, 2011

Member of Parliament for Aljunied GRC, Chen Show Mao, has revealed that invitations for him to attend events at the Paya Lebar division of the GRC have lately been withdrawn by organisers who were concerned they would not get venue approval from the People’s Association (PA).

In a Facebook post on Saturday, Workers’ Party’s Chen recounted that he had been scheduled to attend a Seventh Month dinner in the Paya Lebar ward last week but organisers had called him a few weeks earlier to inform him that they could no longer invite him.

“The organisers as in previous years had planned to hold the festivities on a hard court in the HDB estate, but this year were told by the Paya Lebar CCC (Citizens’ Consultative Committee under the People’s Association) that, as a condition for receiving CCC approval to use the venue, they may no longer invite their MP to the event,” Chen wrote.

Future approvals would be withheld from errant organisers, he said, adding that the organisers were profusely apologetic.

“It pains me that they felt so embarrassed to pass me the news. Regrettably, this is not the first time it has happened since I was elected,” Chen said.

He pointed out that August is a month of festivities, including that of National Day, a “day of our progressive nationhood.”

Many residents have talked to him about the events they are organising in the neighbourhood, and some of them wish to invite him, while others do not see the need to, he shared.

“That is all fine by me… there is really no call to force our residents into a quandary over whom they may invite as guests to their own events,” he concluded.

Yahoo! Singapore is awaiting a response from PA after contacting them on Saturday evening to comment on the incident.

The PA was established as a statutory board on 1 July 1960 to promote racial harmony and social cohesion in Singapore. It has a network of 1,800 grassroots organisations.

Why opposition MPs should be advisers to grassroots bodies

Source: The Straits TImes  7 Sep 2011

LAST Saturday’s letter by Ms Ooi Hui Mei of the People’s Association stated that the PA does not take part in party-political activities (‘PA explains rationale for choosing advisers’).

However, the fundamental point remains that People’s Action Party MPs form more than half of the PA’s board of management, with no other political party represented. This, in itself, suggests that the statutory board is partisan, compounded by the PA’s track record of appointing only PAP MPs as advisers to grassroots organisations (GROs), even in constituencies where the public has voted in an MP from another political party.

Ms Ooi also states that opposition MPs cannot help the Government to explain, implement or improve government policies. This suggests that they oppose policies for the sake of opposing, which oversimplifies what opposition MPs do.

Criticising policies and offering alternatives, as has often been done in Parliament, ensure broader and robust policy debates, which can help improve government policies. MPs, whether from the PAP or from an opposition party, work with their constituents at the grassroots level, and are in the best position to understand their needs and suggest policy improvements.

Opposition MPs may oppose certain government policies in Parliament as per their party manifestos, but that does not mean they are at liberty to go against existing policies at the grassroots level. In practice, MPs are unable to go against policies even if they are from opposition parties.

For example, referring to Ms Ooi’s specific examples, opposition MPs cannot relieve their constituents of paying the goods and services tax, nor would they be able to offer alternative forms of welfare to divert their constituents from ComCare initiatives, even if they oppose these particular measures.

It is therefore conjecture to assert that opposition MPs cannot be effective GRO advisers.

The role of the MP is to be a bridge between the community and the Government by hearing the concerns of their constituents and representing them in Parliament. Ms Ooi seems to suggest that MPs cannot conduct their duties if they come from a party other than the PAP. If this is the case, it is the electorate who should be the judge, not the PA.

Shanta Danielle Arul (Miss)

How PA can show it’s non-partisan

Source: The Straits TImes  7 Sep 2011

IT WOULD be futile for the People’s Association (PA) to continue denying that it is not neutral when it continues the practice of appointing defeated People’s Action Party candidates as grassroots advisers in opposition wards (‘PA explains rationale for choosing advisers’; last Saturday).

To prevent the public from continuing to lambaste the PA as being partisan, I would suggest that it does the following:

– Use its own officers as grassroots advisers in opposition wards;

– Second officers from other government departments to be grassroots advisers if PA is short of suitable officers; and

– Recruit and train officers to work as grassroots advisers.

The political landscape in Singapore has changed since the May General Election. Come what may, having some wards in the hands of the opposition will be a permanent feature and these officers will always find work to do in future.

Unless the PA is going to sweep all the present disquiet under the carpet, it would be worthwhile for it to review its practice of appointing grassroots advisers.

PA can then hold its head high and say that it is non-partisan.

Soh Ah Yuen


PA’s stand counterproductive

Source: The Straits TImes  7 Sep 2011

I REFER to last Saturday’s letter from the People’s Association (‘PA explains rationale for choosing advisers’).

In promoting racial harmony and social cohesion, the PA can do its job better by receiving input from diverse sources, including all parliamentarians, irrespective of their political persuasions.

By excluding MPs who are not from the ruling party, the PA is shutting out views that represent a large section of people represented by these MPs.

This won’t promote harmony, which the PA is meant to do.

Henry Tan

‘PA grassroots adviser works with the Govt’

Source: The Sunday Times  Sep 11, 2011

Appointees help the Government achieve its goals on the ground, says PM Lee

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday defended the practice of appointing candidates from the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) as grassroots advisers for local People’s Association (PA) organisations.

Like ministries, the PA’s grassroots organisations are part of the Government, said Mr Lee, who is the chairman of PA.

They therefore require guidance from ‘somebody who is working on behalf of the Government’.

‘It’s like having a Ministry of Education. The civil servants are impartial, are neutral, but the minister is a government minister. Or the Minister for Health, or, for that matter, the CDC mayor – he is a government person,’ he said, referring to the community development council. (Askmelah’s Note: the reasoning is flawed, the Ministers are elected via MPship, but some “advisors” are not, so it can not be part of the Government.)

‘And so, the grassroots adviser has to be somebody who can work with the Government and help the Government to achieve its goals on the ground. I think that’s necessary.’

Speaking on the sidelines of a ceremony to appoint district councillors under the Central Singapore CDC, Mr Lee was responding to media queries on the recent spat between PA and Workers’ Party MPs over land use in Hougang and Aljunied GRC.

It focused public attention on the PAP Government’s longstanding practice of appointing its candidates as PA grassroots advisers in all constituencies, including the ones in which the PAP lost elections.

The PA later sent two letters to the media explaining its stance. It stated that ‘it is not possible’ to appoint opposition MPs as advisers, because it cannot ask opposition MPs to help the Government connect better with the people, or be expected to help it explain, implement or improve its policies.

Said Mr Lee yesterday: ‘I cleared those letters so I think that is the position.’

Reiterating that the work of PA was non-political, he said the grassroots advisers administer government programmes such as ComCare but also, at times, had to ‘do some things which are not always nice things’. For instance, if the Government has to carry out public works, such as an MRT project, residents in the area are affected.

‘Then it falls to the grassroots to be the interface, to work with the people to try and help to minimise the impact but at the same time, ultimately, what has to be done has to be done,’ he said.

‘So these are really government functions.’

He also noted that the MP has a separate role to play – that of running the town council. The Government would ‘bring him into the picture’ on issues such as bursary payouts and town council rebates.

‘So between the MP and the adviser, if they are different people, the residents will be properly served. I think it has to work like that,’ he said.

lee hsien loong on PA


PA: We don’t get involved in party politics

Source: Yahoo! News  4 Jan 2012

We don’t get involved in party politics.

Such was the People’s Association‘s response to media queries about its decision to appoint veteran grassroots leader Anthony Loh, 73, to take over ex-minister George Yeo as an adviser to grassroots organisations in opposition-held Aljunied.

Loh, who has worked the ground in Bedok Reservoir-Punggol and Kampong Kembangan over the past 22 years, is currently honorary chairman of the Bedok Reservoir-Punggol Citizens’ Consultative Committee.

Responding to queries, PA told Yahoo! Singapore that Loh was chosen “for his close familiarity with the community, built out of years of service as a grassroots leader. He is eminently suited to lead and guide the GROs in their role and to better serve the residents of Bedok Reservoir-Punggol.” [Askmelah’s Note: if that argument is sound and sincere, PA should appoint other honorary chairmans for other PAP wards as well especially those new PAP MPs, if not that argument is nothing but self serving baloney.]

When asked if Loh might be a potential PAP candidate in the future, PA said the issue “was not even a consideration in appointing Loh because PA does not get involved in party politics”.

The appointment, which was announced on Tuesday, is rare because Loh will be advising grassroots organizations in an opposition-held ward after the Workers’ Party team led by Low Thia Kiang ousted George Yeo’s People’s Action Party (PAP) team in the May elections last year.

In the past, grassroots advisers were either elected MPs or potential candidates from the ruling PAP who will be fielded in upcoming elections.

With Yeo stepping down, the remaining members of his Aljunied team — Lim Hwee Hua, Zainul Abidin Rasheed, Cynthia Phua and Ong Ye Kung — remain as grassroots advisers for Aljunied.

The Workers’ Party have yet to comment on the appointment.

Last September, PA came under the media spotlight after a dinner invitation sent to Aljunied GRC MP Chen Show Mao from the Workers’ Party (WP) to attend a grassroots Hungry Ghosts’ Festival event by Aljunied residents was withdrawn.

He was told that approval of the event venue would be withdrawn by the PA is he was invited. After that incident, PA revised its policy and relaxed restrictions on event guest lists.