Singapore GE2020: PAP held accountable by elections, no 'blank cheque' to do as it wishes, says Ong Ye Kung

Education Minister Ong Ye Kung during a walkabout in Kampung Admiralty on July 5, 2020. ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

SINGAPORE - The PAP will not have a "blank cheque" to do as it wishes, as voters will make the ruling party pay at the next election if it does not perform well, said Education Minister Ong Ye Kung.

Mr Ong, who helms the People's Action Party team for Sembawang GRC, said Singaporean voters are rational and educated, and will not issue a blank cheque to any party on a whim.

"They have high expectations - if you are given a chance to enter Parliament, and if you don't perform well, you will have to pay the price at the next election," he told reporters during a walkabout in Kampung Admiralty on Sunday (July 5).

The minister was responding to remarks by Workers' Party (WP) candidate Jamus Lim, who urged Singaporeans to vote for the WP and deny the PAP "a blank cheque" during a televised debate last week.

Because of the level of accountability that the PAP is held up to, the ruling party has not let up on its work in serving Singaporeans over the past few decades, said Mr Ong.

"We've continued to work hard, and we will not make empty promises. And because of this, we have built Singapore up together with our citizens."

He also disagreed with the WP's assertion that PAP MPs shy away from questioning the Government on certain issues in Parliament, and that only opposition MPs do so.

In a televised party political broadcast last Thursday, WP chief Pritam Singh said that a vote for WP will help it raise issues that the PAP MPs "cannot or will not raise".

Mr Singh noted, for instance, that not a single PAP MP filed a parliamentary question on the corruption disclosures at Keppel Offshore and Marine, and that only WP MPs did so.

Mr Ong said many PAP MPs have raised questions on a range of topics and issues, and as Education Minister, he has also been drawn into debates and exchanges with MPs in Parliament.

Manpower Minister Josephine Teo made similar points to reporters at a walkabout near Whampoa Market on Sunday.

Manpower Minister Josephine Teo with her PAP team of Jalan Besar GRC candidates during a walkabout at Whampoa Market on July 5, 2020. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

She said: "A lot of PAP MPs themselves have a lot of topics they are passionate about, and have the space to air them - they are more willing to air these views."

In fact, some of the sharpest questions in Parliament have come from PAP MPs, she added.

And while speaking up is important, Mrs Teo said taking action is also key.

"We are the People's Action Party, not the people's speaking party," she said.

For those who are still concerned about the lack of opposition voices in Parliament, Mr Ong said changes to the Non-Constituency MP (NCMP) scheme made in 2016 will guarantee the presence of at least 12 opposition MPs - including NCMPs - in Parliament, up from nine currently.

He said: "Some party candidates feel the need to become an elected MP. But if you think about it, both elected MPs and NCMPs have an equal right to speak out in Parliament.

"If your mission is to serve as a check and balance on the Government, then you are able to fulfil your mission in either capacity."

He also said many Singaporeans are already serving as representatives of the community or particular sectors or groups, even without being elected as MPs.

"I know many people in ordinary groups, organisations and jobs, who understand the concerns of others in the group, and who can voice out on behalf of them... As an (elected MP), your only additional responsibility is to govern the town council well, and understand problems facing the town," he said.

Asked how many seats the PAP will need to win in order to secure a strong mandate from the people, Mr Ong said the key question to ask is what residents need.

He called on those standing in this election to focus on how they can serve residents' needs, and for them to explain to residents their plans for riding out the Covid-19 crisis with them.

"In this situation, Singapore is like a small boat facing a huge storm," said Mr Ong. "(Residents are concerned about) how the crisis will be managed, whether society will be safe, can the economy recover, will I still have a job, whether their children will still have a future... I think we need to discuss the issues that residents are most preoccupied with."

Asked to comment on the National Solidarity Party, which is also contesting Sembawang, Mr Ong said it has been a "gentlemanly contest" so far.

"May the best team win," he added.

Mr Ong and the rest of the PAP team contesting Sembawang GRC also held an e-rally on Sunday, which was aired on Facebook. The team, which includes Mr Vikram Nair, Dr Lim Wee Kiak, and new faces Poh Li San and Mariam Jaafar, said they will continue to work to improve amenities for residents in the area if elected, including expanding transport links and starting more projects to bring communities together.

Mr Ong assured residents that even as new facilities are set up, special care will be taken to preserve the rustic and tranquil atmosphere of the area, which includes the towns of Sembawang, Admiralty and Woodlands.

Citing the Bukit Canberra project as an example, Mr Ong said plans for the upcoming sports and community hub, which will be located about five minutes away from the Sembawang MRT station, were reconceptualised to ensure that the facilities in the hub will not displace the surrounding greenery.

The former Admiralty House, a historic monument that used to accommodate key British military commanders based in Singapore, will also be converted into a public library, known as the Canberra House library, which will be managed by the National Parks Board, he said.

It was announced in 2018 that Bukit Canberra will open in phases. Though phase one was initially expected to be fully operational by September 2021, there is expected to be a delay in the completion of the project due to the Covid-19 situation, because of which most construction work had to be suspended for at least two months. The authorities have not yet given an update on its expected completion date.

Additional reporting by Irshath Mohamed

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