THE opposition Workers’ Party (WP) is standing firmly by its manifesto despite the strong criticism it has received from the Government, including Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong himself.
In a one-page statement released to the media yesterday evening, WP chairman Sylvia Lim responded to each of the four “time bombs” highlighted by Manpower Minister Dr Ng Eng Hen on Saturday, which includes removing the quota for public housing and the elected presidency.
In its 52-page manifesto released on Jan 14, the WP had also proposed that Residents’ Committees (RC) and Citizens’ Consultative Committees (CCC) be abolished, but in response, Dr Ng said these grassroots organisations were necessary to bring racial and religious communities together.
Ms Lim, however, challenged his remarks: “To say that (RCs and CCCs) are the only ones who can play a role in the community and serve a useful role during crises such as Sars is to underestimate the community’s ability to respond to such crises.”
She added that the Government seemed to perceive Singaporeans as a “docile lot with no initiative” who need to depend on RCs and CCCs, “which is an insult to Singaporeans.”
To which MP Charles Chong (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC) wondered: “Have they got a better alternative to put forward? I’m willing to listen to it if they do.” Mr Chong said this particular proposal was an “irresponsible” one.
“Are they saying everybody should be left alone and just fend for themselves, survival of the fittest? To suggest we just dismantle existing organisations is not practical and reasonable. There will always be a need for citizens to go above and beyond just taking care of themselves,” he told TODAY.
Most of those involved in RCs and CCCs are “unpaid volunteers that come forward to articulate the concerns of the people”, so he urged the WP to “look at the bigger picture” instead.
Bedok CCC secretary Patrick Tay said the importance of the groups was to serve as a “bridge between the people and the Government,” but stressed this was just one of their many roles in the community.
“We are here to provide an additional channel for residents to give feedback. That’s how we can improve the neighbourhood. I see us as one big family working together,” he said.
In the statement by the WP, Ms Lim said one reason why her party had strongly recommended that the ethnic quota for housing be scrapped was that it imposed “hardship on people wanting to buy and sell homes”.
Having this quota helps ensure an even spread of races in public estates by restricting the proportion of flats that can be owned by different races in a single neighbourhood or block. Chinese residents, for instance, can comprise no more than 84 per cent of units in a neighbourhood and Malays, 22 per cent.
Mr Chong said having such a criteria was “a small price to pay” if Singapore were to avoid reverting back to the ethnic enclaves of yesteryear.
The WP also continued its push for more subsidies to be given to the elderly and unemployed for areas such as education and healthcare.
Dr Ng responded by acknowledging that it was the Government’s duty to help the less fortunate, but only out of Budget surpluses.
Ms Lim shot back that the Government should help the lower-income group at all times and not only address their concerns when such surpluses arose.
Like Dr Ng and Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan before him, PM Lee urged the WP and its chief Low Thia Khiang to revise their manifesto, saying that their proposals destroyed the fundamental principles Singapore had built and thrived on.
Speaking at a community event yesterday, Mr Lee said: “Where do they stand? Either you rethink your position and publish a revised manifesto – version 1.2, there is still time – or if they want to stand by that, explain what they mean, justify, defend and we will join issues and fight the elections on these issues.”
In a comment directed at Mr Low: “This is not just a matter of you talking casually at the coffee shop after drinks. It’s a manifesto for the General Election and he is offering himself as an alternative, (so) it has to be scrutinised.”
THE FOUR POINTS
• WP wants to abolish RCs and CCCs: Dr Ng says these groups help foster close community links and play crucial roles in times of crises.
Ms Lim says the Government seems to perceive Singaporeans as a “docile lot” that cannot take care of themselves.
• WP wants to remove ethnic quota for housing: Dr Ng says this quota fosters multi-racial public housing estates.
Ms Lim says a certain level of integration has already been achieved and the quota imposes hardship on home buyers and sellers.
• WP wants to abolish Elected Presidency: Dr Ng says the Elected President is to prevent having a corrupt Government and to protect reserves from being squandered. Ms Lim says the WP has maintained its position for this proposal since 1988.
• WP wants more subsidies for lower-income groups: Dr Ng says the Government will provide when there are Budget surpluses. Ms Lim says the needs of the less fortunate should be addressed at all times and not just when there are such surpluses.