As a statutory board, the People's Association (PA) supports the elected government of the day in implementing its policies and programmes, including explaining difficult and sometimes unpopular policies, said Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Chan Chun Sing yesterday.
"We do not presume that opposition MPs believe that they would be willing or able to execute this role for the government of the day," he added, explaining why all grassroots advisers are People's Action Party (PAP) MPs or candidates.
But he stressed that government agencies, including grassroots organisations under the PA, would work with both grassroots advisers and opposition MPs "on matters related to their respective roles".
Mr Chan, deputy chairman of PA, was responding to Workers' Party (WP) MPs Pritam Singh and Faisal Manap, both from Aljunied GRC, who raised concerns about politicisation of the grassroots due to its links with the ruling party.
During the debate on the budget of the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth, Mr Chan said grassroots advisers are appointed by the Government to guide grassroots organs in promoting social cohesion and racial harmony, and connecting the people and the Government.
Among their tasks would be to explain policies, such as the planned hike in goods and services tax (GST), which the WP is against.
Citing this, Mr Chan said asking WP MPs to work with the Ministry of Finance to explain the GST hike would "put you in a very difficult position. So we perfectly understand that. So where it's appropriate, the agencies will work to serve the community".
Mr Faisal asked if opposition wards can have grassroots advisers who are not linked to the PAP, such as retired public servants.
He said it was "not right" for a PAP candidate to take on the role, as the Meet-the-People Sessions would be held at the PAP branch, and appeal letters would also bear the party letterhead.
To this, Mr Chan said residents in opposition wards are told that they should first approach their MP. But if they still want to seek help from the PAP branch, the grassroots adviser can help them draft, sign off and send letters. Even then, said Mr Chan, "I'm sure the agencies will know who is the elected MP in that constituency".
Mr Singh asked if community development councils (CDCs), which come under the PA, would work with opposition town councils.
In response, Mr Chan said government agencies "will not do and conduct any activities with any political party for political outreach".
"The government of the day must be very careful that whenever it spends its money, whenever it does its outreach, it does not overstep its bounds to the political realm. We keep these two functions very separate," he said.
However, Mr Singh said he had seen banners put up in celebration of particular festivals which carried both the logos of a CDC and a town council, adding that this was not considered political activity.
Mr Chan, noting that government agencies have worked with opposition town councils in the past, said Mr Singh should approach the respective CDCs.
Asked by WP chief Low Thia Khiang about whether PA activities are considered political outreach, Mr Chan said there is a distinction between "political outreach" and "political impact".
"All government statutory bodies, when we execute our duties, will be serving the government of the day," he said. "Then you ask, when the statutory boards and the government agencies do their work properly and do their work well, does it have a political impact? The answer is obvious."