ST Forum Jun 16, 2006: Strong case to upgrade opposition wards

I AM surprised at the change of tone by the Government regarding estate upgrading, as communicated by National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan (‘Upgrading for all wards, but PAP ones first’; ST, June 11).

This policy is divisive and short-sighted. After a surprising change of tone by Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong that the Government could consider if a request for funds was submitted by Hougang MP-elect Low Thia Khiang, it is now back to the usual tack of PAP wards first.

Mr Mah stated that all wards will be upgraded by 2015. The next General Election is probably in 2010 or 2011 and the one after that will likely be after 2015.

What started off as a brilliant strategy in the 1997 GE is now starting to work against the ruling party. Already in this year’s GE, upgrading has proven to be not an important issue, as evidenced by the results in Hougang and Potong Pasir. Ground feedback seems to show that it is costing the PAP votes, even in other constituencies, as it is seen as unfair use of the nation’s resources.

If all wards must be upgraded by 2015, the Government might as well start to do it fairly across all constituencies now, rather than be seen as a sore loser.

By the next GE, most PAP wards would have been upgraded. Does it mean that the people can start to vote in the opposition once they have obtained their lift upgrading? And by then, even if the opposition wards do not vote in the PAP, they would have to wait just a few more years.

Really, there is limited scope to use upgrading as a reward anymore, if the intention is to gain votes.

As upgrading must eventually be done and soon, the Government would do better by being more generous and embracing the opposition wards. The chances of success for the PAP in the next GE would then be better.

Yee Jenn Jong

—————– reply —————

ST Forum Jun 17, 2006:

Upgrading is a unique programme by Government

I REFER to the commentary by Ms Chua Mui Hoong and the letters from Mr Basant Kapur, Ms Sylvia Lim and Mr Yee Jenn Jong on the upgrading programme for public-housing estates (ST, June 13 and 16).

The writers argued that the Government has a fiduciary obligation to act on behalf of all Singaporeans who pay taxes and serve national service. I agree. Indeed, the Government has provided all Singaporeans with good and affordable health care, subsidised public housing, equal opportunity to receive a good education, and much more.

However, the upgrading of our older public-housing estates is over and above these basic obligations of the Government. It is funded out of Budget surpluses generated by the PAP Government. No other government in the world has anything similar, in terms of scale and commitment.

The PAP presented upgrading as one of its key programmes during the election. It asked for the people’s support in order to carry out these programmes. Having received a clear mandate, the Government will now fulfil its promise to the people.

Upgrading is a national programme that will be implemented in all constituencies. But we cannot avoid prioritising upgrading, due to limited resources. It is not a question of generosity or otherwise by the Government, as Mr Yee suggested. Between PAP and opposition constituencies, other things being equal, PAP constituencies will go first, as the Government had made clear before the election. Ms Lim herself noted that no one living in an opposition ward expects special treatment, i.e. to jump ahead of PAP wards.

Ms Lim stated that election campaigns should be fought over long-term national policies which affect Singaporeans’ lives deeply. Again, I agree. Unfortunately, during the election Ms Lim did not ask voters to think deeply about long-term national policies and support the Workers’ Party because it offered better policies than the PAP. Instead, she told them to go ahead and vote opposition, even if they wanted a PAP Government and its policies, because they could safely assume that the PAP would win, anyway. If enough Singaporeans had taken her advice, the opposition parties would have ended up governing Singapore, even though at least two thirds of Singaporeans preferred a PAP Government.

Hence, the need for the HDB upgrading-priority policy, so that Singaporeans’ votes will make a difference to their own lives in HDB estates, as well as decide which party will govern Singapore. Only then can our system of democracy work. Only then can we stay together, and move ahead.

Mah Bow Tan
Minister for National Development


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