Former GIC chief economist Yeoh Lam Keong criticised the government in a thorough Facebook post today for stifling opposition politics, using estate management as a political tool and taking citizens’ life savings “hostage,” and for short-changing citizens by combining the role of an MP with the role of a public housing manager.
His post is in response to news that broke yesterday that an independent panel acting on behalf of Aljunied-Hougang Town Council is taking chief members of the Workers’ Party (WP) to court over alleged governance lapses in running the town council.
Allegations of mismanagement of the town council have bogged the opposition members of parliament from Aljunied GRC from the time they were voted into office in 2011.
Yeoh criticised the government for creating a political system that even they would not be able to breach if they are an opposition party in the future. He also asserted that it is the citizens who are ultimately disadvantaged by the current political system that “breaches citizens rights” because their access to their savings and their homes are tied to voting since government institutions are tied to one party.
We republish his statement in full here:
MPs running town councils is a terrible idea that largely only serves to effectively stifle opposition politics in Singapore by raising near impossible barriers to entry.
The skill set of a good town council manager is entirely different from that of an MP. The council manager is a real estate manager of a massive public cum private housing estate and infrastructure. This requires specialist skills and experience and is rightfully the work of a well resourced public stat board like the HDB who used to manage all estates before MPs ran town councils or mayoralties.
Singapore HDB and housing residents deserve the expertise and economies of scale possessed by HDB in running their precincts rather than have such management and investment in needed infrastructure improvements be held hostage to shorter term political manoevering.
An MPs job on the other hand is to primarily question policies and legislation in parliament on behalf of the electorate. This requires a total different skill set and the substantial time and resources needed to do this effectively.
He or she also to see that the needs of his constituents are met efficiently and adequately by relevant agencies not to be bogged down by the Augean task of managing it him or herself. Especially if they have to duplicate management systems that previous incumbents refuse to share. Not to mention the duplication of administrative resources by different electoral precincts.
Finally and equally importantly, the provision of estate management services and allocation infrastructure is a public good and should never be used as a political tool.
The bulk of most citizens net worth or life savings is in their home. To have its value held hostage to voting in a powerful incumbent government that controls the agencies responsible for such activities is both a breach of citizens rights as well as a recipe for authoritarian rule.
And to make relatively inexperienced opposition MPs financially liable for any mismanagement in spite of best intentions is to effectively raise the bar for an opposition politician that would otherwise be effective in questioning policies way too high to be of any real benefit to citizens.
The public is thus short changed both ways in terms of optimal public housing management as well as political representation.
Please note that all this cuts institutionally both ways. If the PAP ever found itself in minority opposition again , it may never be able to return from the political wilderness beyond the impregnable walls of their own creation.
Yeoh previously made headlines in 2015 for criticising the government’s Workfare and Silver Support Schemes as “sadly inadequate” before calling for greater transparency on Singapore’s fiscal resources. He also said that taxes for middle-income groups can be avoided even if the expenditure for Workfare and Silver Support Schemes is tripled.
This was in response to his former classmate, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam’s 2015 general election rally speech at Bukit Panjang.
Earlier this year in June, he also called out the Singapore Police Force for “inadequate community policing.”
Yeoh Lam Keong is currently employed at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy. The senior economist is also a board member of SMU’s School of Economics Advisory Board, besides directing several investment firms.
MPs running town councils is a terrible idea that largely only serves to effectively stifle opposition politics in…
UPDATE: Yeoh has since responded to this article, taking issue with how his post has been interpreted in spite of the fact that his post was republished in full. Interpretations vary and we stand by our interpretation of his message.