PARLIAMENT: Committee of Supply debate: Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth

PA works for the govt but is non-partisan: Chun Sing

The People's Association (PA) plans to upgrade 24 community clubs to cater to the needs of the increasingly sophisticated population but it remains a non-partisan organisation.

Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Chan Chun Sing said this in reply to Ms Sylvia Lim (Aljunied GRC), who questioned the "ever-increasing" budget and asked if the PA had "deviated from its mandate" of fostering social stability.

Ms Lim, the Workers' Party (WP) chairman, said during the debate on the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth's spending plans on Wednesday that some PA activists may have felt that their role included "advancing the ruling party politically and undermining the work of opposition MPs".

She cited PA activists being mobilised to campaign for People's Action Party candidates during elections as an example.

Responding yesterday, Mr Chan, the PA deputy chairman, said its mission is to strengthen the social fabric through community events, communicating government policies and residents' feedback.

As a statutory board, the PA executes the directions from the government of the day. But it does not allow any political activity or canvassing on its premises, or in its activities, he told her.

"The PA does not check on the political allegiance of the participants of our activities, nor do I or anyone know their voting preferences. It is not relevant to our work," he said.

"When I see my own residents, participants of my PA activities, supporting the opposition, I can only ask myself how I can work harder to win them over... We certainly do not mobilise anyone for any political party.

"If Ms Lim has any such evidence of wrongdoing, you can let me know and I guarantee you I will follow up. I will be the last person to ever allow the PA to be politicised."

Ms Lim complained that government agencies recognised only PA-related organisations and not the MP as "proper channels"on matters such as infrastructural projects in constituencies.

Mr Chan, who said he has heard "both sides accusing each other of being uncooperative", urged them to put residents' interests first.

"When things get done, there's never a shortage of people who will claim credit. When things are not done, there's always a shortage of people who will claim responsibility. This is not the way we want to go. This is bad politics and this is not leadership," he said.

As for her questioning if the PA's $900 million budget for the 2016 financial year was justified, he said it was actually about 5 per cent lower than in the previous financial year.

The bump last year was not, as Ms Lim suggested, due to the Golden Jubilee celebrations, which cost an extra $4 million. Rather, most of the PA's budget was to set up the Pioneer Generation Office and build Tampines Hub and Wisma Geylang Serai Civic Centre.

This year's budget is intended to cover plans to upgrade 24 community clubs.

Ms Lim "might ask" if this is the right time, he said, but explained that there is a schedule for upgrading and that the PA weighs factors including opportunities during a slowdown "to lock in good prices" for its projects.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 15, 2016, with the headline 'PA works for the govt but is non-partisan: Chun Sing'. Print Edition | Subscribe