Singapore's future, which is at stake at the coming polls, is not about the ability of the Workers' Party (WP) to run town councils, but about getting the country's politics right, its leaders said at WP's first rally for the Sept 11 General Election.
Voting more opposition MPs into Parliament will mean that the People's Action Party (PAP) cannot hobble opposition-run town councils with double standards and unfair business practices, said Hougang MP Png Eng Huat and Aljunied GRC MP Pritam Singh.
Both are vice-chairmen of the Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC), which has been at the centre of a dispute between the WP and the PAP since 2013 over its accounting and financial situation and governance.
"The future of Singapore is at stake. The future is not about running town councils. We can run a town council, as proven by our audit report. In fact, many managing agents can run town councils as well," said Mr Png.
"The future of Singapore is about getting our politics right. The future is about empowering ourselves to do what is right and do it for the country. What we have seen and witnessed from the PAP so far is not good for the country."
TAKING AIM AT PAP...
The PAP is using the town council saga to say the WP cannot manage town councils and that we
were losing money. But they forgot that the PAP-run town councils used the S&CC (service and
conservancy charges) from the people to invest... $16 million!... The people should be
asking the PAP for their money. How could the PAP criticise others and not themselves? I tell
you, I have tolerated them for a long time. ''
WORKERS' PARTY CHIEF LOW THIA KHIANG, speaking in Teo chew and citing how eight town councils
run by the People's Action Party had invested $16 million in 2008 in troubled structured products linked to now- defunct United States investment bank Lehman Brothers
Mr Png said the AHPETC had similar financial management lapses as agencies such as the People's Association (PA). Yet, government grants were withheld only from the opposition-run town council.
"In the beginning, they said we must have unqualified accounts before they release the grant, but did they apply the same standard to their own people?" Mr Png said.
He added AHPETC had two years of qualified accounts and its grants were immediately withheld, but the PA had six years of accounts rated "adverse" and its grants were never stopped and even went up.
"They say three strikes and you're out but when the PA received the third adverse opinion, the government grant went up by almost $38 million," he said.
WP chief Low Thia Khiang, speaking in Teochew yesterday, also cited the PA example as a case of double standards by the PAP.
"The PAP is not like the PAP of the past. After 50 years in government, its words now are 'bu san bu si'. Vote for the Workers' Party to empower your future," he said, using a Teochew phrase that means one is neither here nor there as well as alluding to the WP's election slogan.
Mr Png also said that after the WP won Aljunied GRC in 2011, the PAP-owned company AIM withdrew its computer software system from the town council, giving only one month's notice.
It was a point also made by Mr Singh, who called AIM "a beautiful metaphor for the politics that takes place in Singapore".
This is because residents paid for a computer system that was then sold to a PAP-owned company. But when the town council changes hands to the opposition, the software is taken away.
"The new town council would then have to go and purchase a new system, effectively causing residents to pay twice for the same service," Mr Singh said.
He added that "the HDB should take back the running of town councils because the provision of services and amenities to residents should not be politicised".
He also said town councils were conceived in 1988 to discourage support for the opposition and that "today, it is being used again in a big way to arrest the support for a more plural and democratic Singapore".
Mr Singh said major companies dealing with town council management refused to tender for contracts with AHPETC, chaired by WP chairman Sylvia Lim.
In particular, EM Services, which Mr Singh said is 75 per cent owned by HDB, manages nine out of 15 town councils but would have nothing to do with AHPETC.
He said the odds are already stacked against opposition town councils, what more when such a major player decides not to tender for managing agent contracts in the opposition town councils.
Yesterday's rally near Block 837 in Hougang Central was attended by a large crowd that spilled out of the open field where it was held.
•Additional reporting by Danson Cheong