This article was first published in The Straits Times print edition on April 8, 2011.
The sight of elderly residents sitting outside their one-room rental flats, which were in total darkness, left an indelible mark on Mr David Ong.
“Some were having their dinner, some were reading, some were sewing. They said they did not turn on their lights to save money,” he said.
It was back in 1999 and Mr Ong was a grassroots leader in the Kreta Ayer-Kim Seng ward in Jalan Besar GRC where he would visit residents monthly to find out how they were doing.
Though he grew up in a two-room HDB flat, the dark scene of poverty moved him: “There and then I realised that much needs to be done on the ground and someone has to do it.”
Another encounter that influenced the 49-year-old businessman’s decision to be a politician was a meeting with an elderly man struggling to care for his wife, who became immobile after a stroke in 2009.
He and fellow grassroots leaders coaxed a voluntary welfare group to provide home therapy to the couple, and eight months later, they were “greeted by an immensely happy and grateful man”.
His wife was walking.
Now chairman of People’s Association’s Active Ageing Council, this new People’s Action Party (PAP) election candidate has high on his agenda the goal of bringing some glow into the dark days of the poor and elderly sick.
They have a special spot in the heart of Mr Ong, whose father was a policeman and mother, a domestic helper, and whose growing-up years were a struggle.
Mr Ong, the oldest new PAP face unveiled so far, tackles varied issues, including his age.
What is your view of the opposition’s call for MPs to do it full-time?
Being an MP is not about how much time we clock in as an MP. It’s about the quality and intensity of work that you devote to your residents. You have to measure an MP by how effective he is.
Do you see a conflict of interest in owning a publishing company when publications are also produced at the grassroots level?
I don’t see any conflict because we don’t publish grassroots magazines.
We have no contracts from any Government body. What we publish for the tourism industry is almost free, and revenue comes from advertisers.
As grassroots leaders or MPs, we have to make sure we run our business properly. Ethics and integrity are important.
At age 49, are you not too old to be entering politics?
I turn 50 next month. But age is just a number. We should measure youthfulness by one’s zest for life, the energy, the passion and the compassion that one has for our fellow men.
That measures one’s true age.
What will you do to champion active ageing?
I want to start looking at communal spaces at Residents’ Committee (RC) centres.
To look at how we can get people to come together and have fun in places that are not too far from their homes.
It could be RCs, football fields or void decks. Let’s maximise the space and have more localised interaction.
Do you take your sons with you when you do grassroots work?
They accompany me occasionally to community events. I will want to show them what life is like for residents in one-room flats, and I will find a time for that.
Name: David Ong Kim Huat
Occupation: Managing director of RedDot Publishing, which produces publications for the tourism industry
Marital status: Married to a housewife, 43, with three sons aged 12, 14 and 16
Highest educational qualification: Bachelor of Science in business administration from the University of Oregon in the United States
Languages/dialects spoken: English, Mandarin, Hokkien
Likely to be fielded in: Jurong GRC