GE2015: Government should give Workers' Party more liberty to run town council, says Png Eng Huat

WP's Hougang SMC candidate Png Eng Huat (second from right) shaking hands with a resident at Changi Village on Sept 5, 2015.
WP's Hougang SMC candidate Png Eng Huat (second from right) shaking hands with a resident at Changi Village on Sept 5, 2015. ST PHOTO: NEO XIAOBIN
WP's candidates for East Coast GRC Gerald Giam (second from right) and Hougang SMC candidate Png Eng Huat (centre), meeting residents at Changi Village on Sept 5, 2015.
WP's candidates for East Coast GRC Gerald Giam (second from right) and Hougang SMC candidate Png Eng Huat (centre), meeting residents at Changi Village on Sept 5, 2015. PHOTO: NEO XIAOBIN
Workers' Party (WP)'s candidate Png Eng Huat (centre) greeting residents of Hougang on Sept 2, 2015.
Workers' Party (WP)'s candidate Png Eng Huat (centre) greeting residents of Hougang on Sept 2, 2015.ST PHOTO: WONG KWAI CHOW

SINGAPORE - The Government should give the Workers' Party (WP) town council more leeway, if the town council system was truly set up as a training ground for political parties, WP's Hougang MP Png Eng Huat said on Saturday (Sept 5).

But instead, it has put in place restrictive rules and regulations, he added during a walkabout with his party's candidates for East Coast GRC in Changi Village.

Mr Png, who is the vice-chairman of the Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC), was responding to comments by Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong.

Mr Goh said on Friday that the town council system is not meant to hobble the opposition, as the WP had claimed at its rally on Wednesday. Instead, it is meant to be the avenue for political parties to prove to voters that they can manage multiple constituencies and eventually even the country.

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Asked by reporters to comment, Mr Png said: "If ESM Goh says so, they should give us more liberty to run our town, manage our common areas."

He added, in a reference to his town council's legal troubles over unlicensed trade fairs: "You don't have to impose rules and regulations on why we can't hold trade fair here, why we can't hold trade fair there."

Both the WP and the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) have spent time at their election rallies in the past few days talking about the WP town council's financial and governance lapses.

The WP has accused the PAP of using the issue to smear the opposition party, and said the election should not be focused on municipal issues. Meanwhile, the PAP said the WP has not come clean about its town council's lapses, adding that the issue is about the values and integrity that underpin governance, and is a national concern.

On Saturday, Mr Png said no fraud had been discovered at AHPETC, reiterating his party's stance that if there had been evidence of wrongdoing, legal action would have been taken against the WP leaders.

A day earlier, Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say recounted a conversation in which a resident had said the same thing.

Mr Lim told reporters that he used an analogy to explain to the resident there is a "difference between right and wrong versus legal and illegal".

To this, Mr Png said that "Lim Swee Say has a lot of sayings... he always likes to say 'same, same, but different'."

He added that a lot of things that had happened at AHPETC had also happened at some ministries, and said: "Why are we treated differently?"

The WP also had to defended itself on Saturday against criticisms that its minimum wage proposal, listed in its manifesto, would lead to job losses.

WP Non-Constituency MP Gerald Giam said that his party had recommended setting the minimum wage at 27 per cent of the median wage. Based on research, he said, this is way below the amount that would lead to job losses.

He also said a national minimum wage scheme would cover more workers than the current Progressive Wage Model, which sets a minimum wage for only specific industries.

Mr Giam estimates that the Progressive Wage Model leaves out some 30,000 low-wage workers.

He added that a national minimum wage scheme would complement the current Workfare scheme, which supplements the income of low-wage workers.

"Workfare is a wage supplement. So the Government will help to supplement the wages of the low-wage workers, but at the same time, the minimum wage also puts the onus on the employers to play their part to uplift the incomes of our low-wage workers," he said.