Singapore — A new call to depoliticise the People’s Association (PA) has gained traction, perhaps because it has originated from pro-establishment figure Calvin Cheng.
The former Nominated Member of Parliament, in a Facebook post published on Thursday (July 23), said that there are questions over whether the PA is the grassroots arm of the government or the People’s Action Party (PAP).
There have been growing concerns over the years about whether the management of the PA should be less politicised.
The PA is a statutory board under the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY). Its Chairman is the Prime Minister and its organisations are commonly run by grassroots leaders, many of whom are members of the PAP.
The PAP has fielded candidates who were active grassroots leaders in PA organisations in past elections and there are allegations that these organisations have encouraged the public to support PAP candidates at rallies and electoral events.
One of the PAP’s fresh faces in the recent General Election was the former Chief Executive Director of the PA, Mr Desmond Tan Kok Ming. He had resigned from his post mere days before the elections were called. Mr Tan coasted to Parliament as part of the team in Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC led by Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean.
PA facilities are also commonly used to host community events organised by PAP politicians but the same benefit is unavailable for opposition MPs, according to Workers’ Party (WP) chief Pritam Singh. Additionally, opposition MPs are not allowed to be advisers to government-run grassroots bodies.
Shortly after the WP won Aljunied GRC in the 2011 General Election, party Chairman Sylvia Lim said the WP was informed that 26 public sites, including fields and hard courts, had been leased by the Housing and Development Board (HDB) to the PA and that the PA had informed them that “booking by WP will not be allowed”.
Long-time WP MP Low Thia Khiang, who has since left electoral politics but is still active in the WP, had also noted that temples were allowed to hold activities in his constituency only if they had supporting letters from the grassroots organisations, and not from him as the elected MP.
The Government, however, has held that the PA and its grassroots organisations are not politicised. PAP minister Chan Chun Sing said in 2016 that the PA “executes the directions for the Government of the day, as per any statutory board. The PA does not allow any political activity or canvassing on our premises or in our activities. And we certainly do not mobilise anyone for any political party”.
Acknowledging that the PA was formed to support the Government of the day, Mr Cheng pointed out that the lines are blurred since the government has remained the same since Independence.
In a post that has garnered more than 1,400 likes, he has asserted that there is a difference between being the grassroots arm of the government and that of the ruling party.
Mr Cheng said: “It is thus high-time to depoliticise the PA. The Government must treat the PA like any other statutory board.”
Suggesting that the PA should be no different than other statutory boards that are led by civil servants and are not influenced by unelected PAP politicians, he said:
“We don’t have unelected PAP politicians getting involved with the EDB, STB, URA, HDB etc. These statutory boards are all helmed by professional civil servants. They report to Ministers as professionals. But MPs who are not political office holders have to deal with them at arms-length.
“And non-elected PAP politicians, especially losing candidates, have ZERO role to play dealing with other statutory boards. So why should the PA be any different?”
Calling on the PAP to immediately remove all non-elected PAP politicians from the PA, Mr Cheng said that the statutory board should not be led by members of any political party, especially losing candidates and even elected MPs.
“The PA should be a neutral, statutory board helmed and managed by civil servants. It needs to be completely depoliticised.
“Technology might have made feedback easier, but it is still necessary to bring the people together for community events as Singaporeans. The People’s Association needs to be independent and non-partisan in order to achieve this aim.”
Read his post in full here:
DEPOLITICISING THE PEOPLE'S ASSOCIATIONThe People's Association was formed in 1960 for a very noble purpose.Firstly,…