The Workers’ Party organised a Deepavali celebration for residents in their Aljunied GRC, over the weekend. The event, which took place at the Serangoon division of Aljunied GRC on Saturday (16 Nov), was hosted by Low Thia Khiang, Sylvia Lim, Pritam Singh, Faisal Manap and Chen Show Mao and saw the MPs light up the traditional lamp, enjoy stage performances with their residents and partake in a delicious feast.
The next day, WP secretary-general Pritam Singh shared on Facebook that organsing such community events are important to the WP but made challenging since the opposition party does not have access to facilities like Community Clubs (CCs).
CCs, which were set up to foster a sense of community among Singaporeans, run social, cultural, educational, sports and recreational activities for residents in the neighbourhood of the CC and maintains facilities that it uses for community events. Run by a group of volunteers who form the CC Management Committee, CCs also serve as a channel of communications between residents and the Government.
CCs are under the purview of the People’s Association (PA) – a Government statutory board under the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY) which is chaired by the Prime Minister. Like other PA organisations, CCs are commonly run by grassroots leaders, many of whom are members of the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP).
CC facilities are commonly used to host community events organised by PAP politicians but the same benefit is apparently unavailable for opposition MPs, according to Mr Pritam. Revealing that the WP has to find alternate venues to host community events as they do not have access to CC facilities, the WP chief said:
“Organising such important celebrations for community events is more challenging without access to community facilities like Community Clubs. As a result, amongst other things, ticket prices to such activities are usually higher than those charged by the People’s Association for similar events.
“But such community celebrations remain important markers for the multi-racial society The Workers’ Party and all Singaporeans believe in.”
There have been concerns over whether the management of the PA should be less politicised. The PAP has fielded candidates who were active grassroots leaders in PA organisations in past elections and there are allegations that Residents’ Committees and Community Clubs have encouraged the public to support PAP candidates at rallies and electoral events.
Further, opposition MPs are not allowed to be advisors to government-run grassroots bodies since grassroots advisers who are appointed by the Government are expected to support and execute the Government’s programmes and the opposition MPs are not expected to do so.
Shortly after the Workers’ Party (WP) won Aljunied GRC in the 2011 General Election, party chairman Sylvia Lim revealed that the WP was informed that 26 public sites, including fields and hard courts, had been leased by the Housing Development Board (HDB) to the PA and that the PA has informed them that “booking by WP will not be allowed”.
Veteran WP leader Low Thia Khiang also noted that temples were allowed to hold activities in his constituency only if they have supporting letters from the grassroots organisations, and not from him as the elected MP.
More recently, WP secretary-general Pritam Singh decried the Government’s practice of installing defeated PAP candidates as grassroots advisers in opposition wards and said that this makes defeated ruling party members “relevant for residents” and allows them to “campaign for votes well before the General Elections” since their appointments as grassroots leaders gives them the authority to dispense “large sums of taxpayer dollars.”
The Government, however, has held that the PA and its grassroots organisations are not politicised. Heavyweight 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.”