Media Release on Use of Public Sites at Aljunied GRC

This release seeks to enlighten the public about what transpired in the weeks after the May General Election, which has led to the current controversy about use of public spaces by residents of Aljunied GRC to organise events.

Background Facts
On 21 June 2011, the interim Secretary of Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (AHTC) received an email from the Housing and Development Board (HDB) entitled: “Sites Excluded from the Management of Aljunied-Hougang Town Council”. The email attached a list of sites to be excluded from AHTC management, including 26 sites commonly used for community activities which had previously been managed by the former Aljunied Town Council. No background nor rationale was given for the decision.

Upon further and repeated enquiries from AHTC, HDB revealed on 13 July 2011 that these sites had been leased to the People’s Association (PA), in 2 tranches – on 27 May 2011 and 13 June 2011. The AHTC had thus been informed retrospectively of this decision, which to our knowledge has not been published anywhere.

A check on the sites, which were part of the common property managed by the former Aljunied Town Council but now leased to PA, showed that many of them are strategically located, being hard courts or amphitheatres highly suitable for organising social activities. We were puzzled about the intention behind the move, which occurred before the new management took over the estate. We are left to conclude that the decision by the HDB to shift management of these common properties from the Town Council to the PA was precipitated by the victory of the Workers’ Party in Aljunied GRC in the General Elections.

In order not to subject residents to unnecessary inconvenience and confusion, I sought a meeting with the HDB for clarification, and on 13 July 2011 conveyed to the HDB AHTC’s willingness to discuss the matter further with the PA, to explore joint use of the excluded sites. HDB then followed up with the PA. In an email to me dated 15 Aug 2011, the PA indicated that “booking by WP will not be allowed”, which we assume includes bookings for activities organised by WP MPs for residents.

Effect of HDB’s Decision as Landowner
During the weeks in July / early August leading to the lunar Seventh Month festivities, residents of Paya Lebar Division gave feedback that they were informed by the PA grassroots organisations to apply for the use of the said sites to the Paya Lebar Citizens Consultative Committee (CCC) instead of to the Town Council as was the previous practice. We also received feedback that those who had applied to the CCC for the permits were told verbally that they could not invite the elected WP MP or they would risk their applications being turned down in subsequent years.

Residents have told us that they are confused by the new requirements of the CCC and annoyed by the intense politicking by the PA grassroots organizations. They felt torn and in an emotional dilemma.

Political Implications
It appears to us that the unilateral decision by the HDB to lease these sites to the PA and to have them excluded from common property under the management of AHTC without any consultation with the AHTC or its elected members is politically motivated and an abuse of power.

First, the HDB as part of the government machinery is abusing its power as land owner of common property in HDB estates to help PA to achieve the political objectives of a) preventing elected MPs from holding activities at the excluded sites which are strategically located and convenient to residents; and b) curtailing the ground presence of the elected MPs, by warning the residents that their applications for events at those sites may not be approved in subsequent years if WP MPs were invited.

Secondly, the PA, a statutory board funded by tax payers’ money and chaired by the Prime Minister, appears to capitalize on its close connection with the government to serve the political interests of the ruling party. The PA is leveraging on HDB to enable PAP candidates who lost at the last elections to re-emerge at community events as “advisors” to PA grassroots organizations. The move to let PA control the sites previously managed by the Town Council would give PAP candidates a ground advantage and permanent presence, in advance preparation for the next elections.

The PM has just called for political harmony and national solidarity in Singapore, and said that “we must have a harmonious political system where we make important decisions in the best interests of Singapore and Singaporeans.”

Regrettably, there appears to be a dissonance between the language of national unity employed by the Prime Minister and the actions of the HDB and PA in Aljunied GRC.