Welfare of children as political football

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“As for childcare centres, Mr Teo said these will be difficult to facilitate as they are no longer the representatives for the area.” – Channel Newsasia, 5 February 2013.

The above comment is made by Teo Ser Luck, Minister of State, Ministry of Trade and Industry and Mayor, North East District – just as Parliament is debating the matter of our future population and how the welfare of Singaporeans are at the core of our government’s policies.

Mr Teo’s remarks also come on the same day that Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Grace Fu said “marriage and parenthood is central to maintaining a strong Singaporean core.” (See here.) One wonders why it would be “difficult to facilitate” the establishment of childcare centres in Punggol East, since the welfare and well-being of our children should not be subject to the political winds. 

As a friend posted on my Facebook page:

There are a few contentious issues here for discussion when Teo says something like that.

1) Yes PAP didn’t win the ward and thus, has no mandate to shape the childcare facilities in Punggol East. But there should be nothing obstructing WP from collaborating with private child care operators or NTUC First Campus. Yet we all know that in reality, this is not going to happen.

2) Alternatively, being appointed as Chairman of Punggol East GRO, KPK could also mobilize Sparkletots (under the umbrella of PCF) or NTUC First Campus and work with WP, the elected party, to set up the much needed childcare services as well. Saying that they are now no longer able to facilitate to do so is simply playing political tactics.

When the welfare of our children is so callously subject to the whims and fancies of politicians and political parties, it is hard to believe the affirmation these politicians make about how parenthood is central to the Singaporean core.

It was thought that the ruling party had left behind its discriminatory practices of the past, of using sticks and carrots, of using threats of withdrawal of services from opposition wards. One would have thought that the recent fiasco over the AIM saga has taught the PAP a valuable lesson.

Apparently not.

It now seems to want to withdraw establishing or at least not help to establish childcare centres in Punggol East, since the PAP’s candidate lost the by-election there.

It is such myopic, selfish and infantile attitudes and thinking which have left our politics mired in pettiness.

The PAP really needs to grow up and realise that if it continues to act in such a manner, it will be seen as a sore loser and this will further erode the support that the party has.

The PAP can be sure that behaving like this is not going to win it the support of parents who will need childcare support. Its behaviour only further gives credence to the perception that the government does not really care about Singaporeans but that it only cares about the numbers – digits – it needs to prop up GDP growth.

Indeed, such behaviour betrays all that is being said in Parliament by those such as Ms Fu.

It is a shame and a disgrace to all Singaporeans, and an affront to all parents that the PAP would treat the care and welfare of our children as a political tool to wield however it wants.

It makes a complete mockery of the government’s call for Singaporeans to have more children.

It is disgusting to exploit the burden which parents carry in providing care for their children.

Mr Teo should be ashamed of himself, and more so since he is also a minister and a mayor.

We Singaporeans should unequivocally condemn this sort of unbecoming behaviour, unworthy of those who would represent our country.

Our children – those innocent ones – certainly deserve better.

Dr Koh was portrayed as a family man, with his own children, during the by-election. He, more than anyone, should know that childcare must not be used for political purposes. One would therefore expect that he would be up in arms about this. But alas…

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Just in case you’re wondering why can’t the Workers’ Party set up its own childcare centres or kindergartens, this exchange in Parliament in 1992 between Low Thia Khiang & Chiam See Tong and the then Minister for National Development, Lim Hng Kiang, clarifies things. (See source here: Parliamentary Reports)

HOUSING AND DEVELOPMENT BOARD
(Policy on letting out void deck space as education centre)

Mr Low Thia Khiang asked the Minister for National Development if he will explain (i) the rationale of the policy of the Housing and Development Board to let out void deck space for use as education centres only to foundations which have a minimum paid-up capital of $5 million to provide educational services and (ii) on what basis the HDB decided that there is no lack of educational and community service facilities in Hougang Constituency.

Mr Lim Hng Kiang (for the Minister for National Development): Mr Speaker, Sir, at the sitting of the House on 18th March 1992, the then Minister for National Development, Mr S. Dhanabalan, explained HDB’s policy on the use of void deck space. As far as possible, void decks will be kept open so that residents can have space for social interaction as well as for other practical purposes. HDB will, however, allow a limited portion of the void deck space in each estate to be converted for use by organisations providing educational and social services needed either by the residents in the area or the community at large. As HDB wants to minimize the conversion of void deck space, HDB has set strict criteria for its allocation. Void deck space for the setting up of education centres is allocated only to approved organisations which are registered under section 29(1) of the Companies Act, and which have a paid-up capital of $5 million or more.

Broadly speaking, to be registered under section 29(1) of the Companies Act, an organisation must be set up for charitable or related objectives which are in the general or national public interest, have the financial means to carry out its objectives and be non-profit making. The paid-up capital requirement of $5 million is used by HDB as the criterion to judge whether or not an organisation registered under section 29(1) of the Companies Act has the financial means to provide on a continuing basis educational services of the required standards.

It is a matter of judgement whether the paid-up capital requirement should be set at $5 million or some other figure. The Government is of the view that the paid-up capital requirement of $5 million is adequate but not excessive.
Organisations which are not registered under section 29(1) of the Companies Act or which do not satisfy the minimum paid-up capital can still provide educational services in HDB estates. They can rent or purchase commercial space at market rates. Planning approval will have to be sought for change of use of such premises.

Let me now turn to the specific question of the educational and community service facilities in Hougang Constituency. Hougang Constituency is a fairly mature estate with most of the flats built before 1989. In tandem with the development of the estate, a wide range of social and community-oriented facilities have been provided, not only within the constituency, but also in Hougang New Town as a whole, of which Hougang Constituency is but a part. In the constituency itself, there is a community centre, primary school and junior college. In Hougang New Town as a whole, there are nine primary schools, seven secondary schools, a polyclinic, a sports complex and a home for the aged.

In addition, HDB has allocated void deck space in Hougang Constituency for various voluntary welfare and grassroots organisations whose activities are supported by the Ministry of Community Development or other competent authorities. These community-oriented facilities include two childcare centres, one Senior Citizens’ Club, two education centres, one community hall, one police post and five Residents’ Committee centres. There is, therefore, no lack of educational and community service facilities in Hougang Constituency.

Mr Low Thia Khiang: Sir, is there a limit to the number of centres which a foundation can set up with the $5 million minimum paid-up capital requirement?

Mr Lim Hng Kiang: There is no limit.

Mr Low Thia Khiang: I believe that the PAP Community Foundation, which sets up hundreds of education centres in Singapore, would need to spread the capital over all its education centres. Does it not mean that it is not necessary to run one centre with a $5 million paid-up capital?

Mr Lim Hng Kiang: The PAP Community Foundation has many centres and the $5 million paid-up capital more than satisfies the requirement to support these centres.

Mr Low Thia Khiang: Sir, does the Minister agree that the scope of service and the number of centres provided by an organisation should correspond with its capital capacity rather than requiring the organisation to have a minimum paid-up capital of $5 million?

Mr Lim Hng Kiang: The minimum paid-up capital is required to establish that the foundation is a bona fide foundation and able to sustain itself over the long term.

Mr Low Thia Khiang: Sir, would the Minister consider working out a scale of paid-up capital required by a foundation intending to provide educational service based on the number of centres rather than a lump sum of $5 million?

Mr Lim Hng Kiang: The minimum paid-up capital is $5 million. If you want us to establish a higher paid-up capital for other centres, we will consider the suggestion.

Mr Low Thia Khiang: Sir, does the Minister agree that the HDB’s policy of requiring a minimum paid-up capital of $5 million, is designed to deny the Opposition from renting HDB premises at a nominal rate to set up educational services?

Mr Lim Hng Kiang: The criteria for any organisation registered under section 29(1) to set up education centres are not aimed at any political party – PAP or the Opposition. Any organisation that satisfies these criteria and has the objective of serving the people through the setting up of education centres and meets the requirement of $5 million would be free to apply to HDB for consideration of setting up education centres at concessionary rates.

Mr Low Thia Khiang: Sir, my question is whether the Minister of State will consider the requirement of paid-up capital by centres rather than a lump sum of $5 million because, obviously, it does not need the $5 million.

Mr Lim Hng Kiang: As I have explained earlier, $5 million is to establish the standing of the foundation.

Mr Low Thia Khiang: Sir, does the Minister agree that the conclusion arrived at by the HDB, as explained by the Minister of State just now, that there are sufficient educational and community-oriented services in Hougang Constituency is arbitrary? And is the Minister aware that there are a number of students who wish to enrol in the education centres in Hougang but they could not get in?

Mr Lim Hng Kiang: If that is the case, then other organisations can well come in and set up such educational services for those children in Hougang.

Mr Low Thia Khiang: My question is whether it is arbitrary for HDB to decide whether or not the facilities are enough.

Mr Lim Hng Kiang: HDB does not decide on the number of applicants for the facilities. HDB receives the applications and if they establish that the organisations are bona fide and the requirements are genuine and meet the needs of the residents, HDB will approve the applications. HDB does not, as a planning norm, determine how many educational places must be provided in each constituency or each new town.

Mr Low Thia Khiang: Sir, is the Minister of State aware that I wrote to the HDB requesting for community or rented premises to be set up, but the reply by the HDB was that there were sufficient premises and facilities in Hougang.

Mr Lim Hng Kiang: If the Member feels that there are insufficient kindergarten places in his constituency, he can always set up a foundation and establish an education centre. If you meet the criteria, you get concession rates. If you do not meet the criteria, you rent the premises at market rate. That is what the other education centres in Singapore are doing.

Mr Low Thia Khiang: If the Minister of State agrees to reduce the paid-up capital requirement, then I will try.

Mr Chiam See Tong: I just want to take up one remark made by the Minister.

Mr Speaker: Are you asking a question?

Mr Chiam See Tong: Yes. If $5 million is sufficient to sustain itself on a long-term basis, it will appear that the PAP Community Foundation, with its $5 million paid-up capital, has got not enough funds because it has got grants from the Government.

Mr Lim Hng Kiang: That is not true. If you have got any specific questions on the PCF, please address to the appropriate authority.

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27 thoughts on “Welfare of children as political football

  1. Reblogged this on Jentrified Citizen and commented:
    Jentrified – The PAP-government shows its claws again and this time they are directed at children and parents. That they would “punish” residents in Punggol East for not voting for them by not providing childcare centres simply reinforces the people’s thinking that they were right not to vote for such a party that places its own survival ahead of the people. How does PAP expect to gain respect and the people’s trust when it continues to behave like despicable dictators and bullies?

  2. Thank you for your views. We have pushed for childcare centres and it is only right for the new MP to continue the effort. Ms Lee has plans for new childcare centres. She was voted in as the MP. Have to respect her as the MP to plan and set the direction ahead in this area. Sorry that I can’t have MPS for the residents of Punggol East but for programmes where I can roll out I would do so. We will continue to help families n individuals in need or under the comcare programme.

    1. Thank you, Mr Teo, for the clarification. The issue is perhaps why it should be “difficult [for you] to facilitate” the setting up of more childcare centres in Punggol East just because Mr Koh is no longer the MP there. You seem to be saying that you indeed want to help facilitate more childcare centres but it would be “difficult” for you to do so. Perhaps you could tell us why it would be “difficult”, if that is the case. Thank you.

      1. Andrew, maybe you are not sure how a centre can come about. Think about it. Ms Lee and I have also discussed this before. She will discuss with the Ministry about the new centers and where it should be. Once they firm up, PCF and others will tender for the centre. that’s what an MP would do that’s to decide with the ministry what is most suitable, where and how. It is what I do as an MP in my constituency as well. As the MP, you represent the people to disucss with the Ministry on the needs and issues of the consituency. We are not the MPs in PE and do not have the position to represent PE in this. You can’t represent the PE residents anymore. The voters have decided and supported her plans. By stepping aside and let her set the direction and decide, is this wrong ? Maybe it should be by stepping aside, we help facilitate her to set the direction and decide ? That doesn’t sound right either as she has a plan that she can execute. How, Andrew ?

      2. Mr Teo,

        You said: “She will discuss with the Ministry about the new centers and where it should be. Once they firm up, PCF and others will tender for the centre.”

        Is this what you and Ms Lee have arranged to do? This was not reported anywhere in the news, as far as I know. Be great if you could confirm. Thanks.

      3. She will discuss with Ministry…..You said “Is this what you and Ms Lee have arranged to do?” – We discussed and i have written it. Up to you to verify. Let me just bring you back to my question if letting Ms Lee set direction and decide for Punggol East is appropriate ? Hope you could let me know. Thank you. Happy Chinese New Year ! Good health n year ahead !

      4. I see. So, I presume that if Ms Lee comes to an arrangement with the Ministry, you will help facilitate the setting up of the childcare centres through the PCF. Thank you for the clarification. This only reinforces my point – why should it be “difficult” for you to facilitate the setting up of these centres, as you said earlier? All you need to do, it seems, is to work with Ms Lee, as others do. I am also sure Ms Lee would be happy to discuss such things with you – as indeed she is, according to what you yourself said.

        Setting the direction: of course, as MP it is her prerogative and rightly so. However, it doesn’t mean there is no room for collaboration, or cooperation. Ironically, you yourself have shown how this can be achieved. Instead, what you seemed to say was that since Ms Lee is now the MP, that she has to do everything and that facilitating amenities will be “difficult”.

        Similarly, after the GE 2011, Joo Chiat MP Charles Chong showed how “duties” could also be shared, with the losing candidate from the other party.

        http://sg.news.yahoo.com/blogs/singaporescene/two-rivals-two-gentlemen-one-community-162521382.html

  3. Andrew, are you not aware that the void deck ruling has been changed? Why are you still quoting the history?

  4. Also, as an extension to the childcare issue, does it mean that if the WP Town Councils aren’t doing a good job, the PAP guys must go in to help out as well else it will be accused of neglecting Singaporeans?

    1. Great dodge. That’s educational. To answer your question, the PAP can simply set up $2-companies like AIM to take over the functions.

  5. there is a line between what is known as the government and the ruling party. if public services are only provided to supporters of the ruling party, it is an abuse of taxpayer’s money. along this line of reasoning, supporters of opposition parties should not be paying taxes to IRAS but the opposition party itself.
    it really speaks for itself when referring to PAP and the government is often used interchangeably among singaporeans. this is the state of our democracy. in fact, the mark of a political party having done its work, is that the country should continue to run if the party is voted out. if not, the party has most probably served itself more than the country in the years it has been ruling.

    1. I am wondering as well if public services are provided only to supporters of the ruling party. For example, the Residents Committee (RC) is obviously for supporters of PAP. Just like in Punggol 21, I wonder who is paying for the Karaoke room, the sound system, the electricity, etc. Apparently, only supporters of PAP have private access to the room. By the way, what is objective of RC?

  6. its hard to believe that these politicians are actually working for Singaporeans with mindsets like these.

    1. Let me know which part is shameful for the explanation I provided to Andrew or I have not been respectful to Ms Lee. I don’t do things that will not benefit my residents. Unless you have a good reason or facts, let me know and I can always review or improve or do better –

      Andrew, maybe you are not sure how a centre can come about. Think about it. Ms Lee and I have also discussed this before. She will discuss with the Ministry about the new centers and where it should be. Once they firm up, PCF and others will tender for the centre. that’s what an MP would do that’s to decide with the ministry what is most suitable, where and how. It is what I do as an MP in my constituency as well. As the MP, you represent the people to disucss with the Ministry on the needs and issues of the consituency. We are not the MPs in PE and do not have the position to represent PE in this. You can’t represent the PE residents anymore. The voters have decided and supported her plans. By stepping aside and let her set the direction and decide, is this wrong ? Maybe it should be by stepping aside, we help facilitate her to set the direction and decide ? That doesn’t sound right either as she has a plan that she can execute.

      1. And the PAP had in the past disabuse the opposition parties of talk only and no action – for not doing anything for the residents. By your logic, they could not represent the residents to work with the PAP government ministries right? At least they did not resort to underhanded means.

    1. Ask those questions to involved in the past. Focus on this one and let me know if it is appropriate for Ms Lee to decide n set the direction ? Gong Xi Fa Choi happy CNY

  7. andrew, thanks for this article but minor details u misquoted / wrong : Lim Hng Kiang is NOT Minister of National Development , is Minister of State for National Development. i.e. number 3 or 4 in rank or at best number 2 (if there is NOT 2nd Minister for ND and NO Senior Minister of State for ND)

  8. I am a senior citizen and do not support any particular political party but I would like to say my piece after reading all those comments against the PAP.
    In my opinion, it is not wrong for the PAP to not get involved in the residents’ affairs/problems etc after they were “booted” out by the residents themselves.
    To let the newly elected member take over EVERYTHING is common sense!
    Lastly, as a Singaporean living in an HDB flat, I am forever grateful to the PAP because without them, I do not think I can ever afford to purchase my own flat for my family.

    1. We are grateful to the people who sacrified and worked with the people and for the people. We do not ‘transfer’ gratitude to those who simply take over and claim the efforts of others for their credit. Only kings and dynasties use such logic to perpetuate their rule. By your logic, since many Singaporeans have been and are beinbg screwed by the present generation of PAP, they should be forever against the PAP.

  9. Hi Andrew. There’s an error to the comment I left in your FB post. It’s not KPK that is the GRO adviser but TSL. Kpk is appointed as chairman designate for pap punggol east branch (one of pap’s political branch offices). So kpk’s post is a political, partisan one. Tsl’s post by right shud be a non partisan one.

    Doesn’t change the fact that appointing members with partisan interests as GRO Advisers is unacceptable.

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