l don’t usually write about politics in my blog, unless it is something really significant. And this time it is because l want to state for the record that I am unsupporting the Workers’ Party.
Those readers who have been following my blog since the beginning would know that I supported them during the last General Election. I went to their rally at Bedok Stadium, bought their merchandise, and of course voted for them. That night, during the announcement of the results, I was there at Hougang stadium to show my support. It was an amazing experience; there was a feeling of patriotism that I never felt before, and most present would swear that we were all unified as Singaporeans then, something that not even the National Day Parade could invoke in me.
I had a lot of hope for WP, especially for Chen Show Mao, one of the elected Members of Parliament for the Aljunied GRC. His credentials are impeccable; better than most cabinet ministers of the ruling government, including the PM. When he gave his maiden speech in Parliament, I was even more impressed and was expecting to see credible challenges to the ruling party. I thought Mao would be able to form think tanks to provide alternative government policies, and that he would be able to attract talents of similar caliber to join WP to set up a shadow government. Once that happened, WP would be able to form a cabinet team if they took over power. Yes, I held the naive hope that the opposition party would take over the rein from the ruling PAP in the next election, or the one after. Very naive, but I guess I got emotional over the wrong policies that the government has been implementing for the past 10 years, and wasn’t rational in my thinking. All I was concerned then was that we needed a change in government, without thoughts of the consequences.
Today there are still a number of opposition supporters who are calling for a change in government in the next GE supposedly in 2016. But not me. It’s not that I have switched support to the ruling party because I’m still not going to, but I will not support WP if they contest again in my constituency which is very likely. I’ve been disappointed with the WP’s performance in Parliament for some time. Mao hasn’t said anything significant since that first speech. The other WP MPs are even worse. There have not been a single alternative policy paper presented; and when important issues are discussed in Parliament, other than superficial differences, the WP MPs mostly agreed with the PAP proposals. Case in point, the ministerial compensation. In fact the quality of political discourse in Parliament is appalling.
During these past two years since 7 WP MPs were elected into parliament and 2 non-elected MPs joined them, there have been a number of faux pas and scandals, but like other supporters I had excused them because they were newbies (except for the Secretary-General, Low Thia Khiang), booby traps laid by PAP, and tried to rationalize that such problems are inevitable. And I made the mistake of thinking that since PAP has problems and scandals, we shouldn’t get too hanged up over those from WP. But I have since realized that I had allowed emotion to cloud my judgements; and I meant the emotion of disliking the PAP to the extend of not thinking clearly. Why should we attack the ruling party viciously whenever there are any lapses or problems, and yet excuse those from WP? Are we settling for an opposition party without regards to the competency of the leadership team because we hate the PAP? Should we have a lower expectations of the opposition? Isn’t this a case of having double standards? Seriously if WP is going to be PAP-like, why should we accept an unproven wannabe?
Also during these two years since the last election, the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) has been publishing alternative policy papers on health care and housing. A number of people dismissed them, including the WP supporters, calling them useless since nobody reads them. Well, at least SDP has a think tank of professionals to propose alternative ideas, as a counter to those from PAP. This is what an opposition party should do, not just being a highly paid town councillors, which is what WP MPs seem to be. And the same goes for most of the PAP MPs as well. Without such alternatives I don’t know whether WP has credible proposals, or even know what their views on the current economic structure are. People may not agree with the SDP papers but at least they are worth a debate.
The last straw from WP is the recent audit report on its combined town council of Aljunied, Hougang and Punggol East, when its appointed auditors expressed a disclaimer of opinion on the financial statement and refused to sign off on it completely because of lack of information. There are 13 issues raised in the report, such as the town council didn’t provide details to the auditors of the project management service fee paid to related party, the inability to determine the accuracy and validity of various items in the accounts, the unexplained differences of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) payable of more than S$500,000, and the Town Council didn’t deposit monies into the Sinking Fund, etc.
This is the second year the auditor has issued the disclaimer. For the first year, I guess I can still excuse the Town Council since there would be lots of mess after taking over from the ruling party. But you would think the WP MPs have learned since, and able to better prepare for the audit the following year. Yet, this is not the case. The Chairman of the party, Sylvia Lim, who is also one of the MPs, claimed that the issues raised by the auditors were due to handover problems. But not depositing monies into the Sinking Fund, as required by law, has nothing to do with handover issue. Now these monies are conservancy charges paid by the residents in the constituencies under WP, as well as grants given by Ministry of National Development, basically taxpayers’ money, and used for capital investment within the constituencies. Hence the stringent audit and requirements.
In the statement issued by Sylvia Lim, she admitted to the lapse and claimed that the issue had since been rectified and no monies were lost. Whether the monies were lost is a different matter. What is more important is why were the monies not deposited in the first place. It’s not as if WP didn’t know when the audit would be conducted. It’s amazing that the supporters take Sylvia Lim’s words for it and don’t think there is anything wrong. They don’t realize that the lapse is like a company President not transferring the sale proceeds into the bank account. And only after auditors flagged the problem did the President then issued a statement that monies have since been deposited. But what happened to those monies in the first place? And even if they were sitting in some safe somewhere, something is wrong with the accounting/financial process. WP has many years of experience managing the Hougang constituency and so should be aware of the Sinking Fund. If they had hired an idiotic finance person, then it also points to poor leadership. It just doesn’t reflect well on the party.
I am also disappointed with the WP supporters, who don’t seem to be any different from the PAP ones. Both sides are hurling vitriol at each others, and bringing up the failings of the other party as if they justify the problems or mistakes made within their own. (Though for the PAP, it’s really about the problems or lapses with the government/public service, and not so much the party.) The blind faith in their political masters is scary, everything is accepted at face value. The supporters don’t even question the validity of the statements made or even look deeply into the issues raised. Sylvia Lim insinuated in her statement that the qualified opinion of the WP audit was better than the adverse opinion given for the audit on the financial statement of a government’s organization, People’s Association (PA). (To me this smacks of throwing a red herring out as a distraction.) Firstly the PA report was signed off by the auditor but they gave it an adverse opinion because PA didn’t provide financial information on its operating companies, which is like General Electric company not providing financial statement on its subsidiary, GE Healthcare, to its auditors. (BTW, GE doesn’t have to do it since the subsidiary is not listed, and in fact many conglomerates provide a consolidated statement.) From what I understand, these operating companies of PA are self sustainable and don’t receive grants from the government. In view of this, the Ministry of Finance exempted them from having to provide financial statements to the auditors, though you can obtain them from ACCRA, the business/company registry board, for a fee. But since it’s stated in the auditing procedure to provide the information, the auditors are basically following the books. So in the case of PA, the auditors are clear what the issue is and hence they are able to sign off the report. But for the town council of WP, the auditors don’t even have the full picture of the accounts and naturally refuse to sign off. If the town council is a listed company, it’s shares would be suspended from trading, and shareholders would demand to know what the hell is going on. Well, the Ministry of Finance has instructed the Auditor-General to investigate the accounts, so let’s see.
What I hope to see in a political party is one where it’s leadership is above board and set an example of being transparent and ethical. I don’t see this in WP. By the way it’s ridiculous to issue a challenge to the corrupt investigation bureau or police to investigate the WP. There are actions which may not be illegal, but are unethical.
(Updated on 26 Feb)
I didn’t explain earlier why I don’t see the possibility of a change in government or hope to see one happening in the near future. There are many opposition supporters who are calling for this without really understanding what they wish for. They reason that with the current inadequacy and incompetency of the incumbent government, we should give the other guys a chance. After all the PAP leaders were given a chance in the 1960s and they did a good job. Well, you are dead wrong with this thinking. Yes the pioneer leaders did well, but Singapore economy then was much less complex. Now, you can describe the economy as a finely – tuned F1 car. Yes Singapore is very small In size, but its economy is very complex. Any change to one policy like housing will affect the others because they are all interlinked. In fact any changes have to be enacted in a calibrated manner and in parallel.
So do you think any Ah Beng or Ah Seng can drive an F1 car? If we want to kick out the PAP, we’ve better find a Sebastian Vettel to take over the driver seat, and not just having him alone, we need the entire Renault F1 team. Are there people of such caliber ready to take over? If we disregard this criteria, we would end up with a situation of either the car won’t start or it would crash in one nanosecond. Honestly, we have to ask ourselves, can we take this risk. I’m not happy with the PAP government too, and I’m pissed with their dictatorial rein that crushes any political opponents whom they regard as threats. The current lack of an alternative is due in a large part to them, though Singaporeans are also to blame for not standing up in the early days for their political rights. But I guess, most Singaporeans then were lowly educated and had no idea they needed to have a strong voice in politics. So we should be careful what we wish for. But it is not too late now for the people to find their voices and to demand for policies that would benefit the people in the sustainable manner. We just have to do it in a rational way.