SINGAPORE: The People Action Party’s Grace Fu doubts the ability of the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), and its secretary general Chee Soon Juan in particular, to run a Town Council, should he be elected in Bukit Batok.
She pointed to the opposition party’s misunderstanding of the role of Town Councils in the Neighbourhood Renewal Programme (NRP); the difficulty of setting up one from scratch; and the fact that Dr Chee had not held a job in many years.
Speaking at the PAP’s first rally for the Bukit Batok by-election on Friday (Apr 29), Ms Fu, who is Minister for Culture, Community and Youth as well as Leader of the House, referred first to the debate over the NRP plan for a Bukit Batok precinct proposed by the PAP’s Jurong-Clementi Town Council.
“While the Government provides funds, the conceptualisation, the design, the ideas, what to put where, where the elderly exercise … what do our children like, what kind of play stations they like, where do people rest … All these ideas are proposed not by the URA, it’s by the town council,” she said.
“So this is not a URA plan or a HDB plan. The funds come from the Government, but the plans, the ideas, come from the Town Council. If SDP does not even understand this, something as basic as the role of the Town Council, I think the learning curve for them will be very, very steep.
“When they say they are ready to take over the town council, I have my doubts and I worry for them,” added Ms Fu.
‘NOT EASY TO START A TOWN COUNCIL’
She also noted that if Mr Murali was elected, the Jurong-Clementi Town Council would function for the single-seat ward “from Day One” without disruption or need to set up a new system.
While the SDP has formed a Town Council Transition Committee, Ms Fu questioned whether they had experienced people on board.
She noted that town council staff the party worked with in the past had disbanded in 1997, after the SDP lost their two seats of Bukit Gombak and Nee Soon Central, and Mr Chiam See Tong, then MP for Potong Pasir, left the party.
“So where are the people who ran the town council in Gombak? Are they in the town council transition team that SDP introduced recently?
“If they have experienced people, why do they offer to let the Workers’ Party manage the Town Council while they retain chairmanship?” said Ms Fu, referring to the collaboration proposed by the SDP during the Punggol East by-election in 2013.
“So it's really not easy to start a town council. While I do not doubt the credentials of the transition team, I worry that SDP does not fully understand the complexity of the task. In some other constituencies, the task of setting up a Town Council has consumed management attention for many years,” she added.
CHEE’S LACK OF WORK EXPERIENCE IS ‘RELEVANT’
Ms Fu also spoke about Dr Chee's plans to be a full-time MP and to make the ward his priority if elected - a point he played up in the SDP’s rally also held on Friday night.
But Ms Fu highlighted the fact that as far as she knew, he had not “held a steady job for many years”.
“Let me be clear - I'm not criticising his decision to not hold a full-time job for so long. No, that is his personal choice. But the work experience, or the lack of it, is a relevant fact when we consider the credentials of the candidate,” she said.
She likened choosing between two candidates for a job. “You look at their work experience - what have they done, is the experience relevant to the job. You also seek references from people who have worked with them - their colleagues, their bosses.”
She added that it would “be very interesting” to see if there would be a referral letter from Mr Chiam See Tong, who had recruited Dr Chee into SDP years ago. Last week, Mrs Lina Chiam had said in a Facebook post that her husband had not given his endorsement to any candidate in the by-election.
So who would be a better candidate for MP, asked Ms Fu: “Who has shown consistency and stability in life that will give you the confidence to entrust Bukit Batok with him?"
This election was important to Bukit Batok voters, she said, because as the economy slows, “we need a pair of known and trusted hands who can be effective on the ground immediately”.
“Your neighbours, or maybe your relatives who need to help to get a job, cannot afford to be left in the lurch or live on empty promises. The kids in the rental flats need many agencies to come together ... They need it quick, so that their lives can be back on normal track,” she added.
“We need someone with real ground knowledge and the ability to bring all resources to bear.”