Pritam Singh’s Rally Speech, Hougang Rally, 2 Sep


Dear voters and all Singaporeans,

Thank you for your attendance at today’s rally and for your continued belief in a more inclusive Singapore, defined by political checks and balances.

The Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council has turned an important corner. The Workers’ Party MPs squarely addressed the issues identified by the AGO in Parliament, taking responsibility for them, and having no compulsion about supporting a motion that criticized us.

My fellow Singaporeans, it is worthwhile repeating a fact you don’t hear very often from the PAP leadership. And that is – all Town Councils run operating deficits, if not for the grants received from the Ministry of National Development.

Our latest accounts were audited by an auditor who’s appointment was approved by the Ministry of National Development. The latest accounts show that had AHPETC received the outstanding grants currently withheld by the Government, the Town Council would have recorded a surplus of $1.6m. This in addition to a small accumulated surplus cancelling out all the accumulated deficits from previous years. It has been quite an achievement, even as there remains more to do.

In spite of a more than 10-month AGO audit which did not expose anything criminal on part of the Town Council, the PAP have worked overtime to ensure that a Singapore of political checks and balances does not occur or make progress.

Mr Goh Chok Tong himself famously said the PAP exist in a political system where I quote “they are their own check”. Is this the future we want for Singapore and our children in the next 50 years? (Ownself check ownself?)

I think it is important for all Singaporeans to reflect on what actually happens on the ground in Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East TC. Earlier in April this year, the Minister of Social and Family Development made a ministerial visit to Aljunied GRC. This is what he said and I quote, “There are, of course, usual local issues, some are municipal issues, which I guess is something the town council needs to settle, but nothing peculiar… I get that in my own ward as well.” (unquote)

My fellow Singaporeans, the Workers’ Party will be the first to admit that running the Town Council has not been without its challenges. Some residents have suggested that the HDB should take back the running of the Town Councils because the provision of amenities and services to residents should not be politicized. There is some merit to this, a point came across during the AIM saga where 41 out of 50 Singaporeans polled to say that looking after Town Councils should not be politicized, and Town Councils should instead returned to the HDB.

Do you remember the AIM? Like the adverse financial report the People’s Association or PA previously received from their accountants in 2007, and which the PA gave themselves six years to clean up, the PAP do not like to talk much about AIM.

But lets think about it, because AIM is a beautiful metaphor for the politics that takes place in our Town Councils, PAP-style.

Residents first pay for a computer system, which is then sold to a PAP-owned company. But when the Town Council changes hands because residents have voted another party in, the PAP-owned company withdraws the computer system from the Town Council, leaving residents and voters in the lurch. The new Town Council would then have to go out and purchase a new system, effectively causing residents to pay twice for the same service. And the PAP will then ask, how come the new opposition Town Council’s financial situation has deteriorated? How was the AIM structure ever in the interests of Singapore? The PAP would say they have investigated this and debated it – but is that good enough?

The AIM episode showed Singaporeans that the Town Council framework as it exists, can be structured to damage our political process and democracy. The Town Councils Act came into operation in 1988. Those of you who remember will recall the 1980s as the time when the opposition started to grow firmer roots in Singapore, and when the Workers’ Party nearly broke through Eunos GRC narrowly losing with 49% of the vote.

It is my opinion that part of the purpose of designing the Town Council system was for it to be turned into a political tool that could arrest any wave of support for the opposition. Today, it is being used again, in a very big way, to arrest support for a more plural and democratic Singapore. Make no mistake about it – the Town Council structure is not as innocent as it looks. Could it also have been structured with a dual-purpose to teach Singaporeans a lesson, and to punish them for exercising their democratic right when they vote for the opposition? Maybe that is why the PAP Chairman has not been able to amend the Town Council Act, two years after he planned to do so because the current structure is politically advantageous to the PAP.

Some of you remember distinctly how no managing agent wanted to tender for the managing agent contract since the WP took over Aljunied in 2011. Please, do ask yourself why, because this is a very fundamental question that we often overlook when we discuss Town Council matters.

The Town Council Managing Agent business in Singapore is a very small one. The biggest player is EM Services, a private company which ironically is 75% owned by the Government, and specifically HDB. EM Services manages nine out of the 15 town councils in Singapore. The landlord of the Town Council common properties in Singapore is the HDB. Think about that for a minute – 9 out of 15 Town Councils are managed by a HDB-owned company. The odds are already stacked against opposition Town Councils, should a company 75% owned by the Government decide not to tender for Managing Agent contracts in opposition Town Councils.

50 years of PAP dominance has led to this state of affairs and we need to reverse it, and to prevent the PAP from further entrenching a political system that skews our politics in any one party’s favour, not just the PAP. The only reason the PAP have been able to create such a political system is because of their parliamentary super-majority. My fellow Singaporeans, we simply have to cut it down.

Ladies and gentlemen, this brings us to the matter of why it is so important to empower our future in the context our one-party dominant political system because that is what is so fundamental to many Singaporeans. Even though 40% of Singaporeans have made their desire known for a more balanced political system in the last elections, the PAP continues to retain about 90% of the seats in parliament.

My fellow Singaporeans, like the Town Council structure, the current political system is structurally flawed, and it will not bring us the inclusive Singapore that we Singaporeans genuinely want. An inclusive Singapore will only take form when the values enshrined in our state flag, especially those of justice, equality and democracy are genuinely instituted in our political system. You made a momentous breakthrough in 2011. Let it not be a false dawn.

While we saw the government finally responding to the people’s voice, there are many more miles to go. There is a lot more to do to improve our national institutions and structures, as we have outlined in our manifesto. To all voters and fellow Singaporeans, we cannot afford to slide back to a one party dominant state and parliament.

Empower your Future, vote for the Workers’ Party.