SINGAPORE - The civil service must remain neutral even if that means voting out political leaders who have gone overboard, said Workers' Party (WP) candidates at their rally in Aljunied GRC on Tuesday night.
The objectivity of the civil service emerged as a theme at the WP rally, held at Serangoon Stadium, as candidates raised examples of what they considered partisan behaviour by civil servants and thanked those who acted impartially.
Mr Png Eng Huat, who is standing in Hougang SMC, said the Ministry of National Development had been sending letters to the WP on its town council even on weekends. It was a point made last Wednesday by WP chairman Sylvia Lim as part of the party's belief that government agencies are being politicised.
"If we do not send a strong message to PAP that enough is enough, we will lose our respect for the civil service eventually. The politics of PAP is bad for the country, so reject that politics," Mr Png said.
"I have a message for all the civil servants: You are an important pillar of our country. You must do the right thing, serve the country and not the party. No party is bigger than Singapore. If your political leaders have gone overboard, vote for change."
It was a point made too by Aljunied GRC candidate Pritam Singh, who said: "A depoliticised civil service that doesn't treat opposition wards differently from PAP wards is the future we all like to see."
But he also took a different tact, and praised "civil servants who have not engaged in politics while carrying out their duties and providing services to the community".
"Because if they did politicise what they do, it would be our destiny to be a divided society, and as a small country this is something we cannot afford," he added.
Mr Singh said he had met "very understanding civil servants" in the course of MP duties "who have exercised compassion" by issuing warnings instead of fines to Aljunied residents who have flouted rules.
"Thank you for your compassion towards our residents and we Singaporeans should be proud of our civil servants, including teachers, the police, nurses, the Singapore Armed Forces, and many others, for they are an integral pillar of a stable and secure Singapore," he said.
In a later speech, WP chief Low Thia Khiang said the PAP had a duty to ensure that should there be a change in government, Singapore can still function properly.
But the PAP currently "hoards all political resources and controls all the government machinery", and opposition MPs even had to seek permission from grassroots organisations under the PAP before holding events at certain venues, Mr Low said in Mandarin.
He also raised the MRT network as an example of what could go wrong without a contingency plan.
"For many years, the trains ran smoothly and everyone thought it was a perfect system. We started taking it for granted that it will always be working smoothly and didn't prepare for the possibility of a breakdown," he said.
Hence, when there was a major breakdown of services, train operators were caught unprepared and could not provide enough alternative means of transport in time.
Mr Low also said the issues of town councils showed the importance of "grooming other political parties". The WP had been managing Hougang Town Council ably, he said. But when taking over a GRC in 2011, the computer system was removed and the single-seat ward's software could not handle the vastly larger data of Aljunied.
"But the WP has learnt from the experience and we now have a greater ability to run a town council. And we are now confident to manage even more town councils," he said. "In the same vein, if we do not groom other political parties to ensure a system of replacements, and instead continue to rely on one party, Singapore will face a crisis in the future."
•Additional reporting by Amir Hussain