Pork-Barrel Politics in Singapore?

According to Wikipedia, Pork barrel is a derogatory term referring to appropriation of government spending for localized projects secured solely or primarily to bring money to a representative’s district. The term pork barrel politics usually refers to spending that is intended to benefit constituents of a politician in return (and since Singapore is so small, the city is the country itself) for their political support, either in the form of campaign contributions.

Going by that definition, the following should be considered instances of Pork Barrel Politics:

  • Budget goodies like the Growth dividends and CPF top-ups, as well as the first Workfare Special Bonus for low-wage workers just before the 2011 election;
  • Linking the support of HDB upgrade to the election and allows the priority based on whether it is a PAP or Opposition ward rather than based on needs and age of the estate. “Five years down the road, assuming Chiam do win, there will be no upgrading. After that, we got to ask ourselves whether the estate is worthwhile upgrading” – SM Goh
  • A slew of announcements this year in preparation for the election:
    -Sembawang Town Council to spend $570m on renewal plan (Apr 24 2011) .
    -Jalan Besar Town Council unveils $517m estate upgrading plan
    -Sembawang Town Council to spend $570m on renewal plan
    -East Coast Town launches S$500m makeover programme
    -Hong Kah to get $452m upgrading (Apr 17, 2011)
  • growth and cash packageIn GE 2006, the Government dished out its “Progress Package” – money in cash worth a total S$2.6 billion – deposited into Singaporeans’ bank accounts just a week (on 1st May, Labour Day) before Polling Day on 6 May (Source: TOC).

Growth and Share Package

According to the The Sunday Times (1 May 2011), 4 in 5 of the 2.4 million adults (voters) will receive $600 to $800. The remainings will receive between $100-300. The cash payouts are “to help Singaporeans to deal with higher costs of living”. The intention may be sincere and noble but the timing is questionable. The nomination day for the election was 27 Apr 2011 and the voting day is 7 May 2011. The cash was deposited by 1 May 2011. A coincidence or vote buying tactics?

Thankfully, the upgrading incentive, in its various guises ranging from being an explicit electoral threat to carrot to a subtle promise of change, has not worked at all as shown in the electoral results of Hougang SMC, Aljunied GRC and to a certain extend Potong Pasir SMC. Instead, it offends the sense of fairness and equity, and this has worked to the detriment of the ruling party.

See also

“Singaporeans will recall that on the eve of the polling day in 1997, then-Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong warned voters that opposition estates risked becoming “slums” if they continued voting out the PAP. Thus started a pattern of Third World pork barrel politics of the ruling PAP, which culminated in the 2006 election when PAP candidates Eric Low and Sitoh Yih Pin boasted that caretaker National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan had promised the two wards a total of $180 million for upgrading if residents voted for the PAP.”  – Sammyboy.com

“The HDB should stop letting itself become a political tool of the ruling PAP. This is not the way a taxpayer funded statutory board should operate. Residents of non-PAP wards pay their income taxes and GST, and do their national service just like the rest of us. They should not be discriminated against.” – Sammyboy.com 


Two different official letters

Source: ST Forums, May 5, 2011

THE Government has been accused, sometimes unfairly, of giving ‘election year goodies’ with the right hand before the elections, and taking back with the left hand after the polls [Askmelah’s Note: see an example of how furious forumers are with such tactics here].

I received my Grow and Share package of a few hundred dollars a few days ago, only to then open another letter from the Comptroller of Property Tax. It informed me that the annual value of my property has increased from $19,800 to a whopping $30,000. This will result in $272 in incremental property tax, which just about offsets my Grow and Share dividends.

The timing and the magnitude of the increase, and naturally the comparisons to the Grow and Share dividends, which could very possibly be coincidental, will not help allay such public perceptions.

Samuel Owen