Teacher who allegedly pays $700 for parking in school sparks renewed uproar over school carpark policy

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Prominent socio-political activist and opposition politician Teo Soh Lung recently revealed that a teacher who declined to be named claimed that she pays a hefty $700 to park on school premises, after the Ministry of Education recently imposed new parking charges on teachers at all primary schools, secondary schools and junior colleges who drive.

The initiative received widespread criticism from those who work in the education sector and members of the public alike when it was first revealed. The uproar over the exorbitant charges teachers who drive have to face has continued unabated and Teo’s post sparked renewed criticism over the new school carpark policy.

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.

In commenting on the implementation of the carpark policy review – which was initiated as park of a “clean wage policy” that is meant to make any hidden perks and subsidies for teachers transparent – Minister for Education Ong Ye Kung said last month that imposing parking fees on teachers is about the Government’s “system of internal self-discipline”.

Responding to Marine Parade GRC Member of Parliament Seah Kian Peng’s assertion that it is “laughable and an insult” to teachers to use the clean wage policy argument to justify parking charges at all schools, Ong said 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.”

Commenting on the absurdity of imposing hefty parking charges on teachers, Teo wrote on Facebook that the most worrying aspect of this matter is the silence from the teachers themselves:

“What is very puzzling and worrying for Singapore is the complete silence of the teachers in this parking fee business. Is there a teachers’ union in Singapore?
“When I asked a couple of teachers about the matter and enquired why they didn’t protest, they just grumbled. They are helpless.
“One teacher told my friend that she paid $700 for parking. When asked for permission to disclose this, she said don’t mention school or name!
“If teachers who teach our children cannot speak for themselves, what is the future for this country? We cannot expect them to speak for others not even the children under their care. Just take the case of Benjamin Lim. Why do teachers have so much reverence or deference for the police? Why did they trust them with the child without accompanying him to the station?
“We need to examine our heads thoroughly. How did we reach this state?”

Several netizens felt that the reasons why teachers do not speak up is because they are muzzled by the Ministry of Education or because they fear being blacklisted:

Meanwhile, the uproar over the low $365 annual permits elected MPs pay to park at HDB carparks and at Parliament House has drawn comparisons to the hefty parking charges teachers are saddled with.

PAP politican Grace Fu asserted earlier this month that the same principle that requires teachers to pay for parking at schools applies to MPs who pay to park in their constituencies.

Not revealing the disparity between what teachers have to pay and what elected MPs have to pay, the leader of the House said:

Elected MPs who drive pay for an annual permit that allows them to park in Housing Board carparks, in order to do their constituency work…This payment generally covers the occasions when they visit other ministries and agencies on official business; and if they have to pay for public or commercial carparks in the vicinity, they are reimbursed.
“Applying the same principle, teachers now pay to park at their primary places of duty. But no one is suggesting they pay again when they visit other schools to attend meetings.”

In the meantime, netizens are recalling Education Minister Ong’s comments about how teachers paying for parking is about “self-discipline” and have asked tongue-in-cheek about whether “self-discipline” also applies to elected MPs with memes such as this, that are going viral online: