I am glad to learn that the opposition held wards of Hougang and Potong Pasir will finally be getting lift upgrading for their HDB blocks. This is a long overdue measure for the residents of the two constituencies, which have been strongholds of the opposition since 1991 and 1984 respectively.
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.
Fortunately, voters were too sophisticated and principled to fall for the PAP’s dirty tactics of using taxpayer money to advance their partisan political ends. Hougang and Potong Pasir voters proved that they could not be so easily swayed by money and election goodies by re-electing Mr Low Thia Khiang (Workers’ Party) and Mr Chiam See Tong (Singapore Democratic Alliance), the former with a record high winning margin.
Three-and-a-half years after those embarrassing defeats, the PAP has realised that such underhanded tactics don’t work. So now they’ve taken a different tack by promising lift upgrading to these wards just as the next election looms.
TODAY newspaper reported that the PAP’s losing candidate Sitoh had received an email from HDB informing him of this news. He lost no time in breaking the good news to residents through a news release. Mr Eric Low plans to announce the news today at a grassroots event. In addition, Mr Sitoh said he will be sending out a circular to residents in the selected blocks soon, presumably with his own letterhead proclaiming himself as the “adviser to the Potong Pasir grassroots organisations”.
I see no reason why the HDB should break the news to the losing PAP candidates. Does the HDB inform losing opposition candidates of impending upgrading in the wards they contested in, for example in East Coast or Tampines? Definitely not!
So why the double standard? Is it to give a chance to the PAP’s losing candidates to be like Santa Claus bearing good gifts for residents as if it came from them?
The PAP’s Eric Low claimed that the upgrading “is a result of our efforts over the years”. What utter rubbish! It was the Workers’ Party’s Low Thia Khiang who had asked in Parliament after the 2006 elections for the promised $100 million to be released to Hougang for upgrading. But the National Development Minister stoutly refused, saying that the funds were conditional on voters choosing the PAP.
Knowing full well that the PAP’s intention was to put opposition wards at the end of the upgrading queue, Hougang Town Council had previously gone ahead to upgrade the lifts at the blocks on Hougang Avenue 3 and 7 at the cost of some $400,000 to $500,000 of the Town Council’s own funds. A mere seven years later, HDB simply demolished those upgraded blocks, and refused to reimburse Hougang Town Council the costs for the unexpired cyclical period.
In fact, HDB’s informing of the PAP’s losing candidates of the upcoming upgrading is just the tip of the iceberg of the agency’s history of partisan political manoeuvring.
After winning the 1991 elections and assuming the chairmanship of Hougang Town Council, the WP’s Low was immediately served by the HDB with a notice to quit the premises at Blk 810 Hougang Central, which was then occupied by the PAP’s Hougang Town Council. HDB also served him with a notice of termination of its services as the managing agent for Hougang Town Council. Despite this, the new Town Council managed to overcome the obstacles put in its way, built a new premise within 6 weeks, and took over the management of Hougang estate from the HDB on 1st January 1992.
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.
I call on HDB chairman Koh Cher Siang, HDB CEO Tay Kim Poh, Ministry of National Development permanent secretary Tan Tee How and all the good officers working under them to exercise their rightful independence and neutrality as civil servants and resist attempts by the PAP ministers (or any future government ministers) to pressure them into executing decisions that benefit the party and not the people.