SINGAPORE - A barrier-free access ramp that took seven years to complete has led to Workers' Party chief Pritam Singh sparring with a People's Association (PA) grassroots adviser over what Mr Singh said are "double standards" for funding community improvement projects in opposition wards.
In a Facebook post last Tuesday (Oct 15), Mr Singh insinuated that the ramp at Block 108 Bedok Reservoir Road - first proposed in 2012 - was delayed because it was mooted by the opposition party.
This prompted the PA grassroots adviser, Mr Chua Eng Leong, to hit back last Saturday at Mr Singh's "unsubstantiated" remarks, which he also labelled as "politically divisive and factually inaccurate". Mr Chua was part of the losing People's Action Party (PAP) team that ran against the WP in Aljunied GRC during the 2015 General Election.
He described the WP chief's remarks as a "red herring", a distraction from the issue of the opposition party's accountability in the light of a recent High Court verdict, which found Mr Singh and fellow Aljunied GRC MPs Low Thia Khiang and Sylvia Lim liable for damages suffered by Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (AHTC) and Pasir Ris-Punggol Town Council.
Justice Kannan Ramesh had described what Mr Low and Ms Lim did as "inexcusable" and "egregious", and said "they were expected to not subordinate the interests of AHTC, not to mention their statutory and fiduciary duties, to their own political interests".
Mr Chua said that as a result of the recent court verdict, he has "received queries from numerous residents about what the incumbent town council has done for them over the course of these past eight years".
"Instead of engaging in an online debate, I urge everyone to remember our priority is to our fellow Singaporeans and we should focus on accountability to them and not debate on a completed barrier-free access ramp, which is but a mere red herring," he said.
The saga began when Mr Singh noted in his post last Tuesday that the Government makes available about $40 million to all town councils every year for community improvement upgrading projects.
Funding support for projects are disbursed through the Citizens' Consultative Committees (CCCs), which are grassroots organisations under the PA. All MPs must go through their grassroots advisers to raise projects for consideration.
This system makes losing PAP candidates - who are the grassroots advisers for opposition wards - "relevant for residents", Mr Singh said.
The Aljunied GRC MP added that other proposals by opposition MPs for the community are commonly ignored by the PA.
INSINUATION OF DELAY 'UNJUSTIFIABLE'
Responding to this, Mr Chua said the WP chief's allegations of a delay was "unjustifiable", as his Eunos CCC had made a concurrent proposal to build the ramp.
It was not proposed only by the Aljuined-Hougang Town Council (AHTC), he added.
"Considering this barrier-free access ramp was (also) proposed by Eunos CCC, why would Eunos CCC delay the project? Regardless of whether a project is proposed by the AHTC or the Eunos CCC, the Eunos CCC and the PA would ensure the seamless completion of the project once the necessary approvals have been granted," he said.
Mr Chua shared that funding for the ramp and other community improvement projects was secured in September 2016. Construction for the ramp began in December 2018.
He added that the projects' contractors had asked for extensions of time.
"Such extensions are part and parcel of construction works," Mr Chua said, adding that the ramp, like all other projects, were "completed within a reasonable period of time once the underlying issues were resolved".
Within hours, Mr Singh shot back to say he was "delighted to see the CCC finally engage this issue, albeit only after things have to go public".
Repeated e-mails and requests for answers have gone unanswered and ignored, over many years, he added.
He also questioned if the seven-year wait "for a proposal to come to fruition" is the norm in PAP wards.
"If funding (for the ramp) was already secured in 2016... I cannot find a substantive reason for the delay."
'NO DISTINCTION DRAWN'
Mr Chua also charged that the WP leader was being "politically mischievous" to suggest that proposals by MPs are commonly ignored.
He pointed to how Mr Singh had acknowledged in 2015 that 17 of AHTC's proposed projects were accepted.
Every proposal, whether from MPs or from the CCCs, must be scrutinised and prioritised carefully, he said.
"Regardless of whether it is the PA, the CCCs or the opposition MPs, I believe there should be no distinction drawn when serving our fellow Singaporeans."
He also cited various projects completed by the CCCs after the 2015 election, including the covered linkway for a ramp at Block 118 Hougang Avenue 1.
In response, Mr Singh said the PA did not reply to another set of proposals for community improvement projects after 2015.
He said he agreed that every project submitted to the Community Improvement Projects Committee (CIPC) must be scrutinised and prioritised.
But he also called on Mr Chua to share some numbers so "the public can understand" how much funds had been allocated to the CCCs in Aljunied GRC after the WP took over the running of the constituency, compared with the average for CCCs in other constituencies.
"If the difference is stark, maybe the Aljunied CCCs would raise their hands and acknowledge the elephant in the room?"
On the issue of accountability, Mr Singh said he had expected some reference in any reply to his original post to the ongoing court case. "As the matter remains before the courts, I am sure the public can understand why I will not be commenting on it."
The next stage of the long-running civil suit involves determining what monies the eight defendants, including the three WP MPs, owe and must pay to the two town councils.
On what the WP-run town council has done for residents, Mr Singh wrote: "I would invite Mr Chua to just walk around in Aljunied GRC, and update residents accordingly.
"He would have to concede is that it is no different living in any other constituency, and that is how it should be."
Mr Singh concluded his rejoinder by proposing that the Aljunied and Hougang CCCs as well as the elected opposition MPs "sit down together to develop a protocol on how CIPC proposals should be handled in opposition wards so as to ensure equity in disbursement of taxpayer dollars and efficient execution of CIPC projects".
Correction note: This article has been edited for clarity.