In the wake of the uproar over “priority access” and alleged special privileges for grassroots volunteers and their children, some Singaporeans have noted that the popular preschool at the centre of the saga is a close partner of Singapore sovereign wealth fund Temasek.
The preschool, Mindchamps, became embroiled in controversy last week when it sent a letter to members of the community, claiming that they could receive “priority access” to become grassroots leaders if their children enrolled with the school.
The letter, dated 27 July and signed by school director Ray Ong, stated: “You, our champion parents and guardians, have been given priority access to sign up as grassroots leaders with River Valley Neighbourhood Committee (RVNC) which will allow you to receive recommendation letter for schools within our precinct, for example River Valley Primary School.”
The school added that it “already assists the [RVNC] in many activities, our parents can take the lead to organise these activities to gain active grassroots leader status,” and added, “In order to be an active grassroots leader, you will need to participate actively in their program and organise up to two activities/major events.”
Mindchamps claimed that the aim of this scheme “is to help parents ease the stress during Primary 1 enrollment exercise. At the same time, contribute back to society as well as foster greater synergy and ‘espirit de corp’ amongst Singaporeans.”
The public uproar that ensued over the alleged perks grassroots volunteers receive was so great that Mindchamps retracted the controversial letter.
RVNC also disputed the preschool’s claims that such arrangements allowing “priority access” for grassroots volunteers exist and asserted that the contents of the letter “are inaccurate and factually wrong.” RVNC added that the Liang Court branch of Mindchamps distributed the letter without its knowledge and added:
“While MindChamps did it with good intention to encourage parents to contribute to the community, unfortunately, the information cited in the letter was inappropriate and inaccurate.
“We have since communicated with MindChamps and they are apologetic in this whole incident. They have agreed to retract the letter.”
School director Ray Ong later appealed to the recipients of the letter to return the letter to the school or disregard its contents.
Interestingly, it appears that the preschool at the centre of the saga has close links to the Government. In April this year, Mindchamps entered into a partnership with national wealth fund Temasek to co-invest in a fund for international franchisees.
This fund, called the Mindchamps Preschool Global Fund, will invest funds to acquire and run schools under the Mindchamps brand. The holding company that has been set up to manage the fund is 70 per cent owned by Mindchamps and 30 per cent owned by Temasek’s Pavilion Capital Holdings’ subsidiary, Palace Investments.
It has been reported that Temasek will invest about US$50 million in the fund.
When Temasek and Mindchamps entered into the partnership, Temasek’s Pavilion Capital CEO Tow Heng Tan showered praise upon Mindchamps and said: “Preschool education is a growing sector due to rising demand from the middle-class population globally. MindChamps is an established brand in Singapore. We are pleased with the opportunity to work closely with them to internationalise through expanding their network of overseas franchisees.”
International news corporation Bloomberg reported that Tow has served as Board Director at CapitaLand Township Holdings Pte Ltd, Non-Independent & Non-Executive Director of Keppel Corporation Limited, and as Non-Executive & Independent Director of ComfortDelGro Corporation Limited in the past.
SPECIAL PRIVILEGES GRASSROOTS LEADERS RECEIVE
Under rules of the People’s Association (PA), grassroots leaders receive special privileges in certain areas, such as priority in Primary 1 registration under Phase 2B. Grassroots leaders, however, have to have “two years of continuous and active service in the GROs” before they can apply for this.
Under the Ministry of National Development (MND) Grassroots Organisation Scheme, grassroot leaders who have “three years of continuous and active service in GROs can apply for HDB BTO flats and Executive Condominiums under the Scheme.”
They also get special parking permits which allow them to carry out their community work in housing estates. The permits allow them to park for free until 11pm every day.
These special privileges for grassroot leaders have always been controversial, with some accusing the government of dishing out privileges in order to buy the loyalty of these volunteers, many of whom would also help out the ruling PAP during elections.
In March last year, Workers’ Party member Gerald Giam came across a leaflet apparently left at the door of a resident in Fengshan. The brochure urged residents to join the grassroots, and listed “some recognition” (that is, privileges) which volunteers would receive.
These included “free courses at the National Community Leadership Institute”, besides those mentioned earlier.
There are about 1,800 grassroots organisations in Singapore, with more than 30,000 grassroot leaders. They all come under the umbrella of the PA, which is headed by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, and deputy chairman, Chan Chun Sing.