The HDB deems it appropriate for the grassroots advisor to announce the LUP because “the adviser gathers input from residents, thereby ensuring that the programme’s plans meet residents’ needs”. The HDB further states that the adviser can propose changes based on residents’ feedback, and seek residents’ support.
On what basis does the HDB assume that the elected Member of Parliament, who has the support of the electorate in the constituency, is unable to do the same thing and is therefore not appropriate to play the same role as the adviser?
The HDB also said that the Town Councils have an in-depth knowledge of the schedule and status of the works in the estate and can co-ordinate other projects in the estate to minimize inconvenience to residents. Why is it, then, that elected opposition members, who are also chairmen of the Town Councils, are deemed less appropriate to announce and to manage the LUP?
Moreover, Town Councils are required to co-pay for the LUP whereas grassroots organizations are not. Why is the chairman of Town Council, the elected MP statutorily responsible for the management of the Town and who must decide to pay for the LUP, deemed to be inappropriate to play a leading role either in announcing the program or in the working committee?
In the concluding paragraph, HDB stated that they understood the advisers are ”working closely with the town council chairmen, that is, the respective Members of Parliament….” In other words, the role of the elected opposition Member of Parliament in this process is relegated to one which is administrative in nature, perhaps merely to authorize payment for the LUP from the Town Council funds to the HDB.
This is the manifestation of the government’s attitude towards elected opposition Members of Parliament, which is, that they are not representative of the constituency but the grassroots advisers are, despite the fact that the grassroots advisers, who were candidates of the People’s Action Party (PAP), were rejected by the voters at elections at Potong Pasir and Hougang.
I understand the LUP is essentially the government’s program although chairmen of opposition Town Councils have to agree to co-fund the program. I suppose the ruling party, the PAP, would want their potential candidates in the next election to claim credit for the LUP, although the money does not come from either the PAP or the grassroots organization. This is playing politics.
I am open and prepared to work with anyone from the government or its appointees for the benefit of my constituents. It does not matter what role I play or that I am seen to be cooperative with the government, so long as the will of the people at the election which returned me as their representative to Parliament is respected.
I feel compelled to respond to this issue because the justification given by the HDB for the role of advisers in opposition wards in LUP touches on the fundamental issue of respecting the will of the people expressed at elections. The elected representative in opposition wards in this instance is reduced to performing a municipal function as chairmen of Town Councils. This speaks so much of the respect of the ruling party for the will of the people expressed at General Elections and how mature we are as a democracy.
Low Thia Khiang
Member of Parliament for Hougang
9 October 2009
Webmaster’s note: This is the full version of the letter appearing in the Straits Times Forum on 10 Oct 2009.
I refer to the reply from the Minister for National Development’s Press Secretary on Tuesday entitled: “Ministry: MP Low wrong on lift upgrading”. I am responding to it as Mr Low Thia Khiang is currently out of town.
MND states that HDB’s letter published last Friday “should be read in conjunction with” the Minister’s earlier explanations to the media. This impliedly acknowledges that the reason given by HDB to Mr Muhd Yusuf Osman, who had pointedly asked why protocol seemed to be ignored when HDB worked with the unelected candidates in opposition wards to announce LUP plans rather than with the elected MPs, does not stand up to scrutiny.
It is not disputed that the LUP is a government programme. After all, it is to rectify a design flaw in public housing which does not cater for an ageing society. Given this imperative, the public interest should trump politics.
Mr Low’s letter was not about wanting credit for the programme. He has stated that he is prepared to work with the government’s appointees for the benefit of his constituents, and indeed has met the grassroots advisor several times over many months to give input on the LUP plans for Hougang.
It was HDB’s unjustifiable answer to Mr Yusuf – that the grassroots advisor was more appropriate than the MP to announce the LUP plans because he was able to gather residents’ input and marshal support for the plans – which compelled Mr Low’s response. HDB should have just given the real reason in its letter and not beat around the bush.
MND’s letter goes further to state that the LUP is funded from budget surpluses which Opposition MPs are not responsible for generating. However, the budget surpluses are hardly the effort of the government alone, as they include significant contributions from the public through taxes, levies and stamp fees, which the government simply reaps.
Finally, MND also appears to interpret the General Elections as an event where the only outcome which matters is who forms the government. This shows the respect the government has for the people’s choice of Member of Parliament, who is vested with the Constitutional mandate to represent the constituency.
SYLVIA LIM (Ms)
Jacob 69er: Read also Ravi Philemon’s Revisit the Policy and Practice and Gerald Giam’s How PAP uses taxpayer-funded grassroots for political gain.