WP rapped for fiduciary breaches, opposition close ranks

The key features of any democracy is electoral accountability and building consensus. The voters are the final arbiter.

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Sylvia Lim, Low Thia Khiang & Pritam Singh

By Kumaran Pillai

In a strange twist of fate, the independent panel appointed by Workers’ Party is charging WP councillors, Low Thia Khiang, Sylvia Lim and Pritam Singh for fiduciary breaches. “It is a grave setback for the opposition movement, we need to close ranks and support each other in a time like this,” said former presidential candidate Tan Jee Say.

In a rare show of solidarity in the otherwise fragmented opposition, Jeanette Chong Aruldoss former sec-gen of National Solidarity Party, commenting in her personal capacity, said Philip Jeyaretnam is conflicted for being a member of the Independent Panel. Posting on her Facebook, she said,

“It is a well-documented fact that JBJ, WP’s long-standing secretary-general quit the party in 2001 after a serious falling out with its leaders, in particular, Low Thia Khiang, who replaced him as secretary-general. Given this factual backdrop, isn’t there an appearance of a conflict of interest for the son of JBJ to chair the panel investigating the actions taken by the present WP party leaders? Won’t it have been more ideal for the panel not to comprise anyone personally related to a past or present WP office-bearer?”

Former treasurer of WP, Mr Eric Tan said that Mr Jeyaretnam would have discharged his duties impartially and it is unlikely that he would have taken sides.
Was this an own goal?

Leong Hze Hian, president of Maruah, said he is puzzled and confused and asked, “Did my town council ownself appoint own panel to sue ownself using ownself money for the legal costs?”

Pritam coined the phrase “Ownself Check Ownself” to drive home the point about lack of transparency in the PAP government.

Sounds odd, but it does seem that WP might have made a tactical error in appointing an independent panel.

However, some believe that this is an opportunity for WP to put their side of the story to the public. But this is not just a public opinion battle. If charges of breaches hold, the implications for the three office bearers is grave and it may be difficult for them to exonerate themselves from this saga.

More worrisome is the fact that it may set the beleaguered opposition further behind. A bad outcome for those who believe in WP’s “First World Parliament” and their call for greater transparency and accountability from the ruling party.

“Were they tripped up by others who oversaw the management of the town council?” asked one of our regular commentator. “It doesn’t augur well for the party,” said another.

Ex GIC chief, Yeoh Lam Keong, made a rather pedantic observation on Facebook that there needs to be a separation of roles – i.e. between being a parliamentarian and an estate manager. Eric Tan said that opposition members have been making this point all along and there is nothing new or novel about it.

Double Standards?

Remember AIM? That $2 company held by former NTUC chairman Chandra Das, providing IT systems to PAP town councils in Singapore. The government was quick to wash its hands from it by appointing another vendor. Some pertinent questions need to be asked – why didn’t the auditor general or HDB raise any issues with the lapses in fiduciary duties all these years? Why are they let off the hook?

Famous elections slogan in GE2011. But, the driver is not taking it lying down!

And there are numerous other instances where it was okay to appoint people connected to the PAP in key positions in government and business. So, why is it a problem now?

Need to be whiter than white?

Some personalities like Goh Meng Seng, former WP candidate in 2006, argue that opposition needs to be whiter than white to earn the respect and confidence of the electorate. While others say that the likes of GMS are just a bunch of purist and not aligned to the norms of our society.

We need to look at this issue not just plainly from whether the “rules” were breached but also need to bear in mind how organisations, both commercial and pollical, operate.
Leong Hze Hian argues that perhaps having a more diverse panel, comprising not just lawyers and accountants, would have yielded a different result because it would have a broader and different perspective.

Democracies thrive on clientelism

It is normal even in mature democracies, like in the USA, for people to be appointed along party lines but, the key to this is transparency and accountability. One way to do this is for parties contesting in the elections to be upfront about the executives and managers that they’ll be appointing and declaring any conflict of interest that they have.

While some hold the view that separation of roles and powers is ideal, we can also argue that managing town councils is also a good exercise for the opposition parties, in this case, the Workers’ Party to build essential capabilities in administration.

They now have the capacity to hire and train their own team. Separating the function of law-making and governance, while it’s idealistic, will preclude the opposition from all forms of administration. The outcome of this separation of roles, one can argue, will only tilt in PAP’s favour.

The other suggestion by Eric Tan was to have a separate municipality election. We need to bear in mind that this will add another layer of administration and cost to the governance of this tiny city-state. And lawmakers will lose their essential feedback channels and touch points with the grassroots organisations or worse there will be duplication of efforts.

They are all good suggestions, I must say, but it needs to be thoroughly debated in the public sphere, which is sorely lacking in Singapore.

Finally, it’s all about electoral accountability

Let’s not forget that one of the key features of democracy is electoral accountability. Those in power are ultimately accountable to the electorate. We, the people, have the ultimate power to dictate the social norms through the electoral process.

In the same vein, the Workers’ Party is ultimately responsible and accountable to the constituents of Hougang and Aljunied, and not be judged by a select group of individuals or panel. If the three councillors survive this, they still need to account to the electorate and that would be their biggest test in the next general election. Only time will tell!

Kumaran Pillai is the publisher and edior-in-chief of this publication

33 COMMENTS

  1. You will not get into trouble if you know when to keep your big mouth shut. Why say things like: ownself check ownself. Now you are the biggest joke. Now the talk is : ownself sue ownself. Use your bloody brains n shut your mouth WP.

  2. Timely uptodate fact: Yes, must not be judged by a select group of individuals or panel but, but but the panel was installed by them and the independent auditors KPMG also appointed by them. Ownself sue ownself until the pants and panties dropped?

  3. This is the method that PAP played to get rid of the opposition especially WP, PAP have no strong candidates to take back the Ajunie GRC after they lost in 2 elections, only way to take it back is to make them bankrupt and cannot contest in the next election, frankly the PAP cannot get good and capable peoples to come forward, look at those in the last few elections especially, they said of Ministers quality, speak without using their brain.

  4. Interesting article, let dissect it.
    1. Leong Hze Hian, president of Maruah, said he is puzzled and confused, “why ownself sue ownself” (paraphrase a bit). We all know what will happen if government appoints some agencies to investigate AHTC – anti-PAP will howl and whine political persecution. When AHTC appoints their independent panel, did anyone cries foul? None as far as I know.
    2. When Mr Philip Jeyaretnam was appointed in the panel, did anyone contest that there is conflict of interest? None. In fact, I heard people feel happy that an opposition member is appointed in the panel so that he can moderate the panel’s actions.
    3. On Double Standards: AIM is a recurring theme use by anti-PAP. A bit like Dr Mathadir hounding on the crooked bridge (*grin*). Did Mr Chandra Das made out work orders himself, certified himself and made cheque to his own company himself? AHPETC shenaningans were not known (at least publicly) to the government until they failed to submit timely financial report. They were finally haul up because “Ownself pay Ownself” without proper check and balance which is against financial rules and showed signs of systemic failures.
    4. Need to be whiter than white? I agree. However, opposition MPs should be Whiter than PAP MPs because they supposed to replace PAP MPs so as opposition they must be better in everything that the PAP MP can do. Unfortunately, the key Aljunied councillors have shown only bad examples to the point where they earned a damning remarks by Jugde Quentin Loh “”if AHPETC was managing corporation subject to the Building Maintenance & Strata Management Act it will be exposed to criminal liability”. Unquote.
    Having said all these, I think in Singapore, the opposition are well treated by the ruling party as they are not denied of a chance to voice what they wanted in parliament, fairly treated in the rule of laws, there is fair election, practise democracy and citizens’ rights are not denied. Look around this region and compare. Like the Chinese saying: 活在福中不知福.

  5. This is a golden opportunity for the Workers’ Party to vigorously defend themselves in court with all the documents laid out and all the facts verified or debunked. It is NOT for the constituents to decide the honesty or otherwise of MPs Low Thia Kiang, Sylvia Lim and Pritam Singh. Similarly, the government must answer for AIM and give a definitive answer to the fraud on our CPF. It is FRAUD when the government withhold our money which they have NO right to and NOT telling us what is happening! Yes, we can have another adjective but fraud is apt. This same PRINCIPLE of equal justice under The Rule of Law must apply to PM LHL and the government. Please. We cannot have Double standards! PM LHL will go to jail if he is found guilty of corruption or any crime committed. Yes, I’d admit to the crime and serve the time myself if I am TRULY guilty! My point: NO exception!

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