AHTC lawsuits: Who or what is really on trial?

Sense And Nonsense by Tan Bah Bah

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Finally the AHTC trial. All the allegations, defence counter-arguments will be put on the table, laid bare in the next few weeks – not just for court judgement but also for the judgement of a concerned public, Singaporeans in general and specifically the voters of Aljunied GRC and Hougang (and Punggol East) constituencies.

As the trial takes its course, many questions would be on the minds of Singaporeans.

Will other town councils from now on be judged by the same purported standards expected of the WP? Will voters take this current case as the benchmark to force the same argued accountability in other town councils, if at all similar alleged lapses have taken place or will take place? How can voters be sure that PAP town councils themselves practise what the party itself preaches?

What will happen to Aljunied and Hougang? Will the voters turn against the WP? Would that be good or bad for the political system of Singapore, not to mention democracy and the need for a strong opposition to check the dominant PAP?

What is the future of the WP and opposition parties?

Is the playing field level for opposition parties so that the system is not so entrenched that the ruling party holds all the cards and opposition wannabes have to grope in the dark as they embark on their mission to serve their constituents should and when they get elected? Bearing in mind that state agencies, including the civil service, paid for through taxpayers’ money and not by the ruling party, must also be scrupulously neutral and objective in carrying out their own duties.

All these are legitimate concerns, forced to the surface by all the circumstances which have landed us with the AHTC trial.

What do I think of the lawsuits? Or put another way, what are the other consequences or implications?

First, opposition parties which aspire to get into Parliament must obviously gear themselves for the same sort of pressure faced by the WP. Or, if they feel the whole system is weighted unfairly in favour of the incumbent party, they must fight – go to the electorate – to try and change or modify it to throw the municipal functions of town councils back to the Housing and Development Board. MPs are elected into Parliament to represent the interests of voters and chart the overall direction of the country and not get embroiled in the running of town councils. This very important debate is far from over yet, as the country’s system evolves.

Second, voters must be sophisticated enough to separate the AHTC lawsuits from the WP itself. Former WP leader Low Thia Khiang foresaw the potential political muddying. He and Sylvia Lim have stepped aside to take pressure off the younger WP leaders.

Voters should take a cue from the Facebook appeal of one of WP’s young guns not involved in the case – Non-Constituency MP Daniel Goh. He said Low, Lim and Pritam Singh, the new secretary-general, who are on trial, “want to separate their trials and tribulations from WP, to protect WP’s mission of serving Singaporeans and Singapore.”

But it would be asking quite a lot. Can all voters separate the two?  We can expect the mainstream media to blanket its pages and screens with pictures of the defendants and AHTC logo and all the details of the trial which will go on till November 2.

So ultimately who is on trial – AHTC, WP, PAP, the system, state media or voters themselves?

What Singtel can learn from SGbonus

Anyone who has ever tried to talk to a Singtel staff over the phone to solve some problems would have a horror story to tell. I was a customer until recently. I just had enough of foreign-accented call centre staff whom I could never understand and whose ability to grasp my problem was totally non-existent. I gave up all my accounts recently and felt very good about it. I realised I was paying good money to be ignored, stonewalled or pushed from department to department. So enough.

The other day, I received a message from SGbonus about the money that I was going to get in December. As the amount did not look right, I called up the hotline number which I traced online.

Expecting to get the same buck-passing ritual usually practised by Singtel, I was pleasantly surprised. A very friendly voice came on the phone. She spoke clearly and patiently. She said she would check rightaway and find out what happened and promised that she would take up the matter further if there was any hitch.

As it turned out, there was a mistake in the SMS message.

This is the irony: Singtel which needs customers seem to be treating them as nuisance callers. They forget that we pay for their existence. And SGbonus, which was giving us money, was more interested in serving us than Singtel.

Something is seriously wrong with Singtel.

Tan Bah Bah is a former senior leader writer with The Straits Times. He was also managing editor of a local magazine publishing company.