Sam Tan joins debate over WP's record, performance

PAP's Sam Tan says the Workers' Party's refusal to account for its performance in the AHPETC saga is frustrating Singaporeans.
PAP's Sam Tan says the Workers' Party's refusal to account for its performance in the AHPETC saga is frustrating Singaporeans.

He says issue is not how many suggestions WP MPs make but the quality of those proposals

Minister of State Sam Tan has weighed in on a debate over whether opposition MPs have put forward policy alternatives and performed in Parliament.

He countered Workers' Party (WP) chief Low Thia Khiang's point that the WP had come up with 130 policy suggestions in its election manifesto, and that WP MPs had on average spoken more times than People's Action Party (PAP) MPs.

Mr Tan said in a letter published on Thursday that the issue "is not the number of suggestions or speeches the WP make, but the quality, feasibility and coherence of its proposals".

The exchange took place in Chinese daily Lianhe Zaobao's forum page this month, and has been translated on the PAP's website.

The judgment of the people is an awesome thing. After every general election, the PAP does its best to analyse the results, understand what message voters are sending, remedy shortcomings and strive to do better the next time. That is what we did after the 2011 GE, and are doing after this GE. Whether we receive 60 per cent or 70 per cent of the vote, our respect for the people's verdict cannot change. It is not my place to offer advice to a veteran politician like Mr Low, but perhaps he too should study closely the results of GE 2015, listen carefully to voters and retool his politics.

It was sparked by a commentary in the paper from National University of Singapore academic Ong Chang Woei on Oct 1. Professor Ong had analysed the view some had made, that the opposition's lack of alternative policies contributed to its setback at the Sept 11 General Election (GE), where the PAP won 69.9 per cent of the popular vote. He disagreed with this view, saying the opposition had made many detailed proposals, and suggested these might not have been effectively communicated.

He also said these alternatives would not be too different from the ruling party's, and that the only difference "is that the opposition cannot implement these policies because they are not in power".

But Prof Ong's view was dismissed by forum writer Lin Shuxian in a letter published on Oct 5. Mr Lin said many opposition policies were not feasible, and Prof Ong's line of argument "shows no respect for voters' wisdom": "It is like a salesman who cannot convince people to buy his product but blames them for not giving him a chance to show how good his product is, instead of reflecting on his ability and his sub-standard product." He also said opposition MPs had made "scant comments" in Parliament.

In response, Mr Low wrote a letter published on Oct 7 questioning the intention of Mr Lin's letter. He said the WP's policy suggestions in its manifesto for the 2011 GE and the Government's post-GE 2011 policies were "coincidentally similar".

Mr Low cited, among others, how the WP's suggestions that priority should be given to Singaporeans in hiring, and that prices of HDB flats should be pegged to median household income were adopted. He also gave examples of when the PAP vacillated on policy decisions, such as on building flats ahead of demand and adding more hospital beds.

He invited Mr Lin to check the Hansard to see how WP MPs had spoken more times than PAP MPs.

Mr Lin replied in a letter published on Oct 9 that he came to the conclusion that the WP's speeches in Parliament were "scant" after comparing their performance to comments made during GE2011.

In his letter, Mr Sam Tan said "a responsible opposition party should offer well thought out, sustainable alternative policies, or at least serious critiques of what the Government proposes". The WP has not done that; neither has it confronted unavoidable trade-offs such as on the foreign worker policy, he said.

"Mr Low and his colleagues habitually show one face during elections and another in Parliament," Mr Tan said, citing their remarks on the Budget and ministerial salaries.

He also noted that Mr Low's letter was silent on the WP's management of Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC).

AHPETC had failed to submit clean accounts for four consecutive years, and has not explained why it paid "extravagant sums" to managing agent FMSS which is owned by Mr Low's close associates, while AHPETC ran repeated deficits.

"If Mr Low is unwilling to apologise for the WP's shortcomings, he should at least have given an honest explanation to voters of why he allowed this to happen," he wrote.

This "arrogant refusal" to account for its record is why Singaporeans are frustrated with the party, said Mr Tan. "They doubt the motivation of WP candidates who look good on paper, but are prepared to identify themselves with a party which is opportunistic and unprincipled."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 18, 2015, with the headline 'Sam Tan joins debate over WP's record, performance'. Print Edition | Subscribe