On 25 April, the news reported an exhibition by the Jurong-Clementi Town Council held in Bukit Batok, the single-member constituency which will see a by-election come 7 May.
The exhibition presented infrastructural upgrading plans under the Housing and Development Board (HDB)’s Neighbourhood Renewal Programme (NRP) for the SMC.
The People’s Action Party (PAP) candidate for the upcoming by-election, Murali Pillai, told reporters that the upgrading plans were “a plan by the PAP Jurong-Clementi Town Council.”
Accordingly, says Murali, he and his town council “will have the mandate to carry on only if we are returned at the by-election.”
“If we don’t have the mandate, then we won’t have the ability to carry on because we will not form the town council,” he explained. “That’s the rule.”
Singaporeans are familiar with the argument, rolled out by the PAP during elections, of how they must be elected first in order for such estate improvement plans to be carried out.
Singaporeans, to their credit, have been calling for such practices – linking estate upgrading to the vote – to be stopped. However, it is evident that the pull of the bait is too enticing for the PAP to forego.
And so, here we are again – with another PAP candidate resorting to the tired and divisive rhetoric.
Be that as it may, let’s take a substantive look at Murali’s claims – that such estate improvements plans would be in jeopardy if he (and his party) did not win and thus run the town council – and see how even his own PAP minister would prove him wrong.
First, let us be clear that all town councils have access to the NRP, even opposition-run ones like the Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (AHTC).
Indeed, in 2015, the issue came up in Parliament in an exchange between the chairman of AHTC, Pritam Singh, and the Minister of State for National Development, Maliki Osman.
Mr Singh, who is also MP for the Eunos division of Aljunied GRC, had complained that the grassroots organisation – namely the Citizens Consultative Committees (CCCs) – in the area “had been slow in working with his town council to secure funding from the ministry”, as reported by the Straits Times then.
The ministry disburse Community Improvement Projects Committee (CIPC) funds through the CCCs, and town councils have to have the support of the CCCs before such funds are released to be used for the upgrading projects.
Dr Mailiki went on to rebut Mr Singh’s claims, saying that in fact the “AHPETC was given six Home Improvement Programmes and three Neighbourhood Renewal Programmes over a two-year period from 2012 to 2013.”
“This is comparable to the number of projects received by other town councils”, the minister said.
So, the point here is this: what Mr Murali said, that estate upgrading plans would be in jeopardy if he (and his PAP team) were not elected, is pure rubbish – for even opposition town councils will have access to upgrading funds to improve their estates, as is clearly stated by the Minister of State for MND himself.
Opposition town councils can and do in fact offer their own NRP plans, which could also include things like the 3-generation park which Mr Murali is offering.
There is nothing to stop the SDP from doing the same, if or when it wins Bukit Batok SMC.
And there is precedence for such a thing – that even if the opposition takes over a PAP-run town council, the opposition town council could still go ahead with NRP plans which were or had been offered by the PAP town council.
In a Facebook post on 25 April 2016, reflecting on the Bukit Batok by-election, Mr Singh revealed how “about 3-4 weeks before the General Elections [of May 2011], the then PAP-managed Aljunied Town Council carried out an exhibition for a Neighbourhood Renewal Programme (NRP) at a precinct in my ward of Eunos.”
“The timing and message of the exhibition was political by any stretch of the imagination, i.e. vote for PAP, you get upgrading,” Mr Singh wrote.
And here is the more important thing, according to Mr Singh’s post:
“After the 2011 elections, the Aljunied-Hougang Town Council checked with HDB if the NRP project at Eunos Spring (the precinct in question) could go ahead because of a change of Town Councils, and an opposition Town Council at that. The answer was YES. In addition, we were free to determine if we wanted to change the proposal of the previous PAP-run Aljunied Town Council with regard to the NRP upgrading plans – that’s the nature of the NRP and how it works.”
It is plain that such estate or neighbourhood improvement plans can go ahead even with a change of MPs or town councils.
Mr Murali’s claims are thus not quite accurate, and are clearly politically designed to scare voters into casting their votes for him.
Now, here’s the second substantive issue with Mr Murali’s claims: the so-called upgrading plans he offers, such as the new 3-generation park, may not be new at all.
In its 2013 Master Plan for Bukit Batok, the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) had already planned for such a thing, “new parks” in the area where Mr Murali’s 3-gen park would be – “west Bukit Batok”.
And if you take a look at the plan, which was for the next five years from 2013, there were several plans for parks in the report.
Murali’s 3-gen park is located in Bukit Batok West Ave 4. (Note the location: WEST.)
And in the URA Master Plan of 2013, it says that there will be “new parks” in “west Bukit Batok.”
New parks were therefore already planned way back in 2013.
Murali’s plans simply adds the “3-generation” to it, making it sound new, but it really isn’t.
So, is it really the Jurong Town Council’s plans, as Mr Murali claims, or the URA’s plans?
And if Murali is not elected, surely the URA can go ahead with the plans, right? Or is the URA also a politicised organisation, subject to the political whims and fancies of the PAP?
But as Mr Singh has explained, a new SDP-run town council could still offer the same plans, or improve on the PAP one.
The HDB, in its reply to AHPETC’s queries then, indeed said as much.
And finally, the URA Master Plan says:
“The detailed planning and implementation of plans for each town is a joint effort of many government agencies.”
Yes, commonsense would dictate so. It cannot be the work of just one town council. How could it be?? Murali or the Jurong Town Council can suddenly, out of the blue, dictate to the URA what parks they want, just like that?
If it were so, one would question the planning overview of the URA which, it seems, would be subject to political expediency at politically sensitive periods.
To sum up, Murali’s much touted “3-generation park” plans for Bukit Batok are nothing new – the URA’s 5-year plan released in 2013 for Bukit Batok had already provided for several parks in the SMC.
Mr Murali seems to have simply rehashed the URA’s plans.
At the end of the day, while Singaporeans have criticised such pork barrel politics by the PAP since 1997 (when HDB asset enhancement schemes were first introduced), the PAP and its candidates have ignored this, preferring instead to selfishly resort to such methods to win votes – even if this brought the grassroots organisations and ministries and the public service into disrepute.
What one would hope now is that agencies such as the HDB and the URA would clarify to the public how estate upgrading plans are decided on, and to do this once and for all.
Those in positions of authority in our public service agencies should, again once and for all, stop selfish politicians from usurping their work for their own political agendas.
The HDB and the URA, and indeed the many government agencies which have worked hard to come up with master plans and then follow these up with real implementation in the various estates, on the ground, should not have to relinquish the credit due to them, to politicians who think nothing of claiming these as their own.
Mr Murali himself, as a would-be parliamentarian, should be honest enough to give credit to the many public and civil servants who are the ones who have created these estate upgrading plans and who will be on the ground to implement them.
Mr Murali should not make as if it is he or his town council alone who are entirely responsible for these very detailed estate upgrading improvement projects.
This is just not true.