Grassroots leader hits back at WP MP's claims

A grassroots leader in Aljunied GRC has accused the Workers' Party-run town council vice-chairman Pritam Singh of blaming a recent slate of controversies in the ward on politics in the grassroots, to "cover up his sorry record".

Mr Victor Lye, who chairs the Bedok Reservoir-Punggol Citizens Consultative Committee (CCC), said yesterday in a forum letter to The Straits Times that Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC) "has repeatedly sacrificed the welfare of hawkers and shopkeepers in Aljunied for its selfish interests".

"It is Mr Singh and AHPETC who shirked responsibility, dismissed legitimate concerns, and blamed others," he said.

Later in further comments to The Straits Times, he added: "He (Mr Singh) is casting aspersions on the grassroots, and I argue that he is politicising it, because grassroots have always been there doing its work... and is still continuing to do what it has been doing, which is to bond the people, and engage the people."

Mr Lye, who is also the People's Action Party (PAP) branch chairman, was responding to comments by Mr Singh at a National University of Singapore Students' Political Association forum last Wednesday.

Mr Singh had said that recent disputes between AHPETC and government agencies over hawker centre cleaning and trade fairs were due to the "politicisation of grassroots".

Grassroots organisations under the People's Association (PA), such as CCCs, have a fundamental purpose to "perpetuate the one-party state", and can be "politically motivated to lower the standing of an elected MP", the MP for Aljunied GRC added.

One oft-cited reason is that PAP MPs are appointed grassroots advisers, but opposition MPs are not.

But Mr Lye countered that the incidents were instead caused by AHPETC's "actions, misactions and inactions". He urged the town council to "take responsibility", and added that Aljunied GRC grassroots leaders have been helping hawkers and local businesses seek redress for problems caused by AHPETC.

Mr Lye, who assumed the PAP branch chairmanship from former foreign affairs minister George Yeo in February 2012, also accused AHPETC of politicisation, as it gave out contracts to close supporters. After a review of town councils, it was revealed in Parliament in May last year that AHPETC awarded the managing agent contract to a firm owned by WP supporters, and that the managing agent was charging residents a higher fee than other town councils.

The town council has also given $26 million of public funds in contracts to close supporters, Mr Lye added.

Another dispute occurred after AHPETC allegedly told Kovan shopkeepers organising a trade fair with the PA that they would be fined $1,000 a day, backdated for a week for encroaching onto town council common property.

Mr Lye accused Mr Singh of later "back-pedalling" and "denying any formal notice of a fine".

In yet another incident, AHPETC was last week summoned to court by the National Environment Agency for operating a trade fair without the necessary licence last month.

Mr Lye said that he was puzzled as to why it did not apply for the licence, as AHPETC vice-chairman Png Eng Huat had approached him on Jan 9 to ask for the CCC's support, which he gave.

He said: "Why is AHPETC cutting corners, organising illegal trade fairs and levying arbitrary and exorbitant fines?"

In response, Mr Singh said that AHPETC "seeks to maintain a professional working relationship with all government and non-governmental entities".

He added that the "desire for a constructive approach towards town management in the interest of businesses and residents also extends to (Mr Lye)".

Join ST's WhatsApp Channel and get the latest news and must-reads.