Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth Committee of Supply 2016 – Cuts by WP MPs and NCMPs

(Delivered in Parliament on 13 April 2016)

Malay/Muslim Community Development Fund (MMCDF) – Muhamad Faisal Abdul Manap

Dalam menjawab soalan saya didewan ini, sama ada pengunaan MMCDF boleh dilanjutkan kepada institusi masjid, Menteri berkata, ini tidak dapat dilakukan kerana masjid tidak dianggap sebagai sebuah badan Melayu-Islam. Namun beliau menambah bahawa Masjid boleh meraih dari dana ini jika program-program sosial mereka dijalankan dengan kerjasama badan-badan pemerintah atau organisasi Melayu Islam yang lain.

Saya amat kagum dengan usaha kerjasama masyarakat Islam Singapura dalam pentadbiran masjid. Lembaga Pentabdiran dan warga-kerja sesebuah masjid berusaha bertungkus-lumus dalam mentadbirkan masjid manakala masyarakat Islam pula memainkan peranan kearah kestabilan masjid melalui sumbangan kewangan dan tenaga. Seperti yang diketahui, pihak masjid amat mengalu-alukan setiap sumbangan masyarakat dalam segala jenis bentuk terutamanya sumbangan kewangan. Ini adalah kerana, apa yang saya fahami, segala perbelanjaan dalam pengurusan masjid seperti perbelanjaan utiliti, pembayaran gaji bulanan dan yang lain-lain dibiayai menerusi wang sumbangan masyarakat.

Inilah Semangat Muafakat atau Kerjasama yang terlahir atas niat dan usaha yang ikhlas demi mencapai objektif bersama iaitu memajukan masjid di Singapura. Kestabilan institusi masjid yang dibina atas Semangat Muafakat atau Kerjasama ini akan menjadikan masjid antara penyumbang yang penting dan utama bukan hanya sahaja dalam pembentukan spiritual tetapi juga pembentukkan sosial masyarakat Islam kita.

Salah sebuah tema pada Belanjawan ini adalah Semangat Kerjasama. Atas Nilai Semangat Kerjasama ini, saya ingin menyarankan agar Menteri dan pihak pemerintah dapat mempertimbangkan usulan agar penggunaan dana ini dapat dilanjutkan kepada masjid agar MMCDF ini dapat mendatangkan lebih manfaat terhadap pembangunan masyarakat Melayu Islam Singapura. Ini juga memperkuatkan lagi Semangat Kerjasama antara pemerintah dan badan-badan Melayu Islam.

Saya ada 2 soalan bagi Menteri, (1) Bolehkah Menteri terangkan apakah kriteria yang diambil kira dalam mengkategorikan sesebuah institui atau badan sebagai sebuah Badan Melayu Islam (MMO) dan (2) siapakah atau pihak manakah yang menentukan kriteria yang digunakan ini.

People’s Association – Sylvia Lim

The People’s Association has evolved since its inception in 1960. Its original role was countering communist activities and fostering social stability and national security. PA has gone from community centres to community clubs, from providing simple entertainment with TV sets and simple sports facilities to holding courses and large scale activities. I am concerned with two aspects – PA’s ever-increasing budget, and whether the PA has in some respects deviated from its mandate.

First, the budget. While we understand that the FY 2015 budget was much larger than usual due to the SG50 activities and building residents’ facilities, the FY 2016 budget is still very high at nearly $900 million.  This is a significant 34% increase from FY2014.  How is the high expenditure justified?

Second, it seems to me that some PA activities have exceeded its mandate. To recap, the People’s Association Act states that the PA is incorporated for the purpose of promoting community recreation and incidental matters. Its objects are stated to relate to fostering cohesion and bonding, and to promoting group participation that transcends sectional loyalties. The PA’s role then is to unite, and it receives heavy funding from taxpayers for such.

An unhealthy culture seems to have developed within some quarters of the PA who sees its role to include advancing the ruling party politically, and undermining the work of opposition MPs.  PA activists being mobilised to campaign for PAP candidates at elections is just one aspect. As Opposition MPs, when we try to advance our residents’ welfare through infrastructure projects, we learn that the government agencies like MND and HDB will only recognise PA organisations such as CCCs and RCs as “the proper channels”. When I tried to simply get information from MND on the plans for private estate upgrading projects within Aljunied GRC, the Ministry referred me to the CCC. I then wrote several times to the CCC, but it seems that my letters do not even merit a reply.

Interpreting Singapore’s History – Low Thia Khiang

I believe that learning and understanding of Singapore history can contribute to having a stronger national identity and of being Singaporean. This is especially so when young minds in school are exposed early to the history of Singapore.

I am of the view that this can only be achieved if history is presented to encourage students to consider multiple perspectives and engage in critical thinking. This will also reduce students and parents perceptions of using history as government propaganda.

I believe the same should apply to the representations of history in exhibitions curated by the National Heritage Board. This would include exhibtions at museums such as the National Museum and interpretive centres such as the Malay Heritage Centre and Nanyang Memorial Hall.

It is time we move away from representations of a “standard” or “official” history. We should allow different interpretations of history with the goal of encouraging critical thinking and promoting citizenship education to guide NHB exhibitions.

For example, the recent Parliament in Singapore History exhibition could take on different interpretations as seen from the multiple perspectives of the pioneer statesmen, ruling party backbenchers, opposition party members, women members, minority members, and so on.

NHB now provide grants to organisations and individuals keen to conduct historical research and curate exhibitions on history.

An independent commission made up of professional historians and heritage specialists from different institutions should be set up to oversee the grants with the mission to encourage critical thinking through different interpretations of history.

An independent commission would signal to the public that the government is not here to control and censor history. The historical exhibitions will have more legitimacy with the public and therefore promote citizenship education.

Heritage Impact Assessment – Chen Show Mao

Local heritage is becoming increasingly important as Singapore matures and our national identity develops. Our heritage is key to understanding who we are and where we came from.

In the past few years, we have seen several public debates over heritage and what we should preserve. We have also seen several archaeological excavations. For example, in Fort Canning; St. Andrew’s Cathedral; Adam Park; Cathedral of the Good Shepard; the site of the National Gallery Singapore; and most recently, Empress Place.

These excavations are signs of our interest in our past and the government’s efforts to support heritage awareness.

Sir, we can do more: Strengthen the existing legal framework over Heritage Impact Assessments (HIAs) and over artefacts from archaeological excavations.

Currently, the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s (URA) Planning Act does not make it mandatory fo persons seeking to develop land to carry out HIAs. Without these assessments, we would not know if such development would put historically significant buildings, structures or artefacts at risk. We should make HIAs mandatory. These are assessments: they will help the URA or minister make better informed decisions over development.

Another crucial gap in the legal framework is the issue of ownership of artefacts that are discovered in the course of archaeological excavations.  The law is currently unclear who owns the artefacts – the land owner or the state – with different implications for their protection.

I call on the government to establish an inter-ministerial working committee to develop HIA requirements and review the current state of heritage protection, in consultation with civil society groups like Singapore Heritage Society, Nature Society and ICOMOS Singapore.