TODAY: Block upgrade debate

Opposition says it’s taxpayers’ money, PAP MPs say it’s about the timing

TEO XUANWEI
xuanweit@newstoday.com.sg

EVEN as National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan has reaffirmed that the policy of upgrading the People’s Action Party’s (PAP) wards first will stay for now, discussion of the issue looks set to continue for some time yet.

Mr Mah said there are three criteria when selecting precincts for upgrading: How old the blocks were, where the blocks were – to ensure upgrading is not concentrated in a few constituencies – and support for the Government. But the Opposition feels it is unfair to place its wards at the back of the upgrading queue.

“It should not matter whether a PAP or an Opposition Member of Parliament (MP) is the incumbent,” wrote Non-constituency MP Sylvia Lim in a letter to TODAY yesterday.

“Mr Mah’s main argument was that the PAP Government had to be fair to those who had voted for the PAP on its promise to upgrade PAP wards. But the bigger question on voters’ minds is a very simple one – whether such a promise is a legitimate use of taxpayers’ monies or not,” said Ms Lim, who is chairman of the Workers’ Party.

“Everybody pays taxes whether they live in PAP or Opposition wards. There are no tax rebates for those living in Opposition wards.”

Mr Mah earlier said such a policy was “not unreasonable” because the Government had pledged to provide all HDB blocks with lifts that stop on every floor by 2015. There are also blocks in PAP wards that are as old as those in the Opposition wards of Hougang and Potong Pasir that have not been upgraded as well.

South-west District Mayor Amy Khor agreed that prioritisation is inevitable because there are limited resources.

Moreover, lift upgrading “is not a right, but done by the Government out of goodwill”, argued Dr Khor. She also agreed with Mr Mah that the surplus generated from the Government’s policies generated the funds for the costly upgrading programmes.

“The principle is that we will do lift-upgrading for all eligible blocks, regardless of whether they are PAP or non-PAP wards. But it’s just a question of timing. The Government has said that no one will be deprived of upgrading,” she said.

MP for Pasir Ris-Punggol Charles Chong added that while governments have a responsibility to take care of basic necessities such as defence and education, lift upgrading is a “non-essential item”.

He said: “It’s a question of who goes first, you can’t do it all together. The reality of the situation is that you take care of your supporters first.

“When I cast my vote, I’m casting for one programme over another, so there must be some differentiation. If not, after a while, people will say ‘no matter how I vote, life goes on and nothing changes’.”

For those who think it is unfair, they should see that the Government also has “many other policies that benefit everybody equally, regardless of whose ward they are staying in”, said Dr Khor, who is also Parliamentary Secretary for Environment and Water Resources.

Examples are the Progress Package, Workfare bonus, and policies to help the low income.

But Ms Lim said that elections should be fought over “long-term national policies that affect Singaporeans’ lives deeply”, and not over “the selective use of public funds to ensure that the PAP stays in power”.

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