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Written by Ng E-Jay
17 December 2012
The uncomfortable truth that Singaporeans have to confront is that the People’s Association is literally in bed with the PAP. This is not an idle or flippant comment. A supposedly non-partisan statutory board whose professed aim is to build social cohesion and represent the interests of all Singaporeans is nothing but an extension of the ruling party, both in spirit and in substance.
For instance, in every ward that has ever been won by the opposition, the leader of the grassroots organisations, also known as the grassroots adviser, is not the elected Member of Parliament, but the PAP candidate who lost the election. Contrast this with all PAP wards, where it is the MP who serves as the grassroots adviser.
It is the grassroots adviser who gets prominence in all activities and events organized by the official grassroots organisations, namely, the Citizens’ Consultative Committees (CCC), the Community Club Management Committees (CCMC), the Residents’ Committees (RC), the Neighbourhood Committees (NC), and the Community Development Councils (CDC).
The grassroots adviser also has full access to all grassroots resources. In opposition wards therefore, the opposition MP is effectively denied access to grassroots resources and is denied prominence in grassroots activities and events.
This is only one example, though a very important one, of how the government effectively co-opts grassroots bodies to serve its political interests using taxpayer dollars, and denies the opposition resources that it fairly deserves to have access to.
Before I go on further, however, photographs have recently surfaced showing People’s Association members, who are most likely also PAP members, campaigning for the PAP during the 2011 General Elections.
Notice how all the ladies are dressed in white, carrying PAP campaign materials. One of them (in the first photograph) is even shown wearing the PAP logo. How do we know these are People’s Association members, and not just ordinary PAP members who were assisting the PAP 2011 campaign? Well, Ms Laura Ong and her sister are in the photographs. Enough said.
The origin and workings of the People’s Association, and its undemocratic nature
On 01 July 1960, the People’s Association was officially formed with the expressed aim of fostering racial harmony and social cohesion, as a basis for nation building. This happened in the wake of the well-known racial and communal riots that dotted our political and civic landscape in that era, and wrecked many families and lives.
Unofficially, the PA was also charged with edging out the communist and communalist factions that had usurped grassroots organizations in an attempt at spreading their ideology to the common folk. With the help of enlisted Nantah graduates, the PA was successful in capturing mind-share from the Chinese educated, who were the main target of the communist propaganda machinery. That was the role of the PA in the early years of self-government.
Today, the Chairman of the People’s Association is by default the Prime Minister and the Deputy Chairman is a PAP cabinet minister.
Like all other statutory boards in Singapore, the PA receives a yearly grant from the government to run its programmes and cover operational costs.
However, the PA is the only statutory board in Singapore with the unique arrangement of having its Board of Directors composed overwhelmingly of PAP ministers, PAP MPs, and people with strong and obvious links to the establishment. It is clear in whose hands the PA belongs.
In 1993, RC and CCC management were transferred from the Prime Ministers’ Office to the People’s Association, completing its transition to a full-fledged extension of the PAP that is supported by taxpayer dollars.
Grassroots organizations are the recruiting ground for the PAP during the general elections. Many grassroots volunteers are also members of the PAP who participate in PAP election campaigns and serve in many roles, as supporters, counting agents and election agents. This is what those four pictures of ladies in white are all about.
All these grassroots resources come at zero cost to the PAP, since grassroots organizations are funded using taxpayer dollars.
Opposition parties on the other hand are denied these resources, and have to rely solely on internal party resources for their election campaigns and outreach programmes.
Such is the undemocratic nature of the People’s Association and its oversight of the various grassroots organizations which have all been co-opted to serve the PAP’s interests rather than the national interest.