The Straits Times carried a commentary by one of its journalists today criticizing the Government’s handling of the Town Council Management Report (TCMR). The journalist gave the Government “at best an E -” grade for “effort”. In other words, the Government failed miserably. (In the ‘O’ levels, a ‘D’ is already a failing grade.)
My 13 June blog post, Underwhelmed by town council report, was quoted in the ST article:
Workers’ Party member Gerald Giam wrote on his blog: ‘Why does the MND suddenly feel the urge to tell residents what they should think of their town councils, and by extension, their MPs?
‘Residents are personally affected by their town council’s performance. If they feel that their MPs are not performing, they would have voted them out long ago.’
— “Perception of bias dents report’s credibility”, Straits Times, 3 July 2010.
Accompanying the ST article were two charts derived from the town council annual reports and the Government Budget Book. The first one compared the government grants for all 16 town councils:
It’s a no-brainer to identify the two opposition wards, Hougang and Potong Pasir. Their grants are dwarfed by the other town councils. Even taking into account the smaller size of their wards, the opposition wards still receive far less per resident. Notice in the diagram that the two opposition wards are given no funds at all for “town improvements” via Community Improvement Programme (CIP), whereas all the PAP wards have generous amounts of CIP funds lavished on them. These are channelled through the Citizens’ Consultative Committees (CCCs), another taxpayer-funded grassroot outfit widely recognised as being aligned to the PAP.
Let’s take a look at the next table:
This is another jaw-dropper. In total since the last election in 2006, the Government has splurged almost $3 billion on various “national” upgrading programmes. As far as I am aware, none of these funds are shared with opposition wards.
This is pork barrel politics at its worst. (Wikipedia defines pork barrel politics as “spending that is intended to benefit constituents of a politician in return for their political support”.)
Where are the “slums”?
Given this obscene disparity in funding, one would expect Hougang and Potong Pasir to be real dumps compared to PAP wards. (Goh Chok Tong predicted on the eve of the 1997 polls that they would become “slums”.)
However, this is clearly not the case. Even the Straits Times, referencing the town council report, acknowledged that “the opposition councils were…on a par with their PAP peers on most other indicators, such as cleanliness and lift performance“. (Keep in mind that the town council report very conveniently excluded management of sinking funds as a measure of the town councils’ performance. This is an area that most of the PAP town councils would have fared very poorly in, but one in which opposition wards would have excelled.)
In fact, even putting aside the facts and figures, Singaporeans living in other wards should take a trip down to Potong Pasir or Hougang to see those wards for themselves. While there is an absence of outlandish sculptures or expensive artificial landmarks like those found in some PAP wards, the improvements that genuinely benefit residents have been made.
For example, in Potong Pasir, the town council headed by Chiam See Tong built a walkway linking the MRT station to the housing estate, all from its own funds. Hougang MP Low Thia Khiang used $500,000 of his town council’s funds to upgrade the lifts in several blocks on Hougang Avenue 3 and 7. This is unheard of in PAP wards. PAP town councils have to co-pay a mere fraction of the lift upgrading costs, with the bulk of it being borne by the Government. (In another sickening act, just seven years later, the HDB demolished those upgraded blocks, while refusing to reimburse Hougang Town Council the costs for the unexpired cyclical period.)
Blocks in Hougang have also been spruced up and renovated, to the extent that some of the lift lobbies look almost like those in private condos. An example is shown in this photo below that was taken from the Straits Times today.
Ultimately, the best judges of the town councils’ performance are residents themselves. Chiam See Tong has been re-elected five times and Low Thia Khiang has been re-elected three times since they first won their seats in 1984 and 1991 respectively. Chiam has been in office longer than any other PAP backbencher.
All this is proof that the two opposition town councils have done exceptionally well, even with less funding and a host of factors stacked against them. Residents in PAP wards should talk to their friends and family in Hougang and Potong Pasir and discover for themselves that decent opposition politicians can do a good job in running their wards, if given the opportunity.