Education Minister Ong Ye Kung said this week that imposing parking fees on teachers is about the Government’s “system of internal self-discipline”. His remarks come two months after news broke that teachers at all primary schools, secondary schools and junior colleges will have to start paying hundreds of dollars for parking at school premises from 1 Aug this year.
The school carpark policy review came after over a year of speculation that arose after the Auditor-General Office’s (AGO) flagged the Institute of Technical Education and two polytechnics last year for not imposing parking charges, or charging below market rate, for use of their car parks. The carpark policy review was subsequently initiated as part of a “clean wage policy” that is meant to make any hidden perks and subsidies for teachers transparent.
The initiative has received widespread criticism from those who work in the education sector and members of the public alike. Last week, Marine Parade GRC Member of Parliament Seah Kian Peng joined these voices during his speech in Parliament during the debate on the President’s Address, which quickly went viral.
Asserting that it is “laughable and an insult” to teachers to use the clean wage policy argument to justify parking charges at all schools, Seah called on the Government to move away from using economic reasoning in policymaking.
Responding to Seah’s argument, Ong said that while he agrees that the Government should not only see things from an economic perspective, he felt that imposing parking charges at schools is part of the Government’s checks and balances. In a lengthy Facebook post, the Minister argued:
“…we have to respect our internal system of checks and balances. We cannot pick and choose which finding to address or comply with – we take them all seriously. This is about upholding the value of self-discipline.
“Furthermore, the whole public service subscribes to the discipline of having a clean wage, so every public officer knows that his salary is all he gets – there are no hidden benefits. This is one of our core practices to ensure a clean government.”
It is interesting that Ong is making the argument that imposing parking charges for teachers is about “self-discipline” – especially considering that he faced widespread flak less than two years ago for parking in a reserved parking lot that was set aside for emergency vehicles at the National Library.
Facebook user Chong Sun snapped a photo of Ong’s car occupying a lot meant for emergency vehicles in September 2016 and asked, “Mr Ong Ye Kung – parked his car in the Fire Engine Access…!!!??? Please explain why our Minister are so Big Shot that they can forget about the safety access of the building..?”
The National Library was quick to jump to Ong’s defense. It claimed,“there are a total of 3 car park lots designated for invited guests. As can be seen from the photo, two of the lots were available for use by emergency vehicles, if necessary.”
A letter writer to The Independent noted: “What NLB did not say was, why the Minister cannot be dropped off at a convenient spot by his bodyguard/driver and be picked up later when the event is over.”
This is not the first time Ministers and political figures have been caught parking indiscriminately. A few months after Ong drew criticism for parking his car in the reserved lot, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu also faced similar backlash after she was caught parking her car illegally in a spot reserved for season parking holders at a busy carpark.
A year after that incident, just last December, vehicles belonging to President Halimah Yacob’s convoy were flagged for waiting along double yellow lines at Prinsep Street. An LTA enforcement officer was photographed at the scene appearing to investigate a car belonging to the convoy for flouting parking rules.
According to the Land Transport Authority (LTA), parking on unbroken double yellow lines is an “illegal parking offence” and offenders can be fined between $70 to $150 depending on the type of vehicle they drove.
Despite this rule, the LTA and the Singapore Police Force later revealed in a joint press statement that no summons were issued for vehicles belonging to President Halimah Yacob’s convoy.
In light of these incidents, netizens responding to Ong Ye Kung’s justification that charging teachers for parking is about “self-discipline” have expressed that there might be a “double standard” between rules that are imposed for political figures vs ordinary Singaporeans:
Ong remains one of the three Ministers hotly tipped to succeed Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong as Singapore’s fourth head of government, along with Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat and Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing.