Straits Times: Opposition MPs, PAP rivals team up for estate upgrading

Hougang and Potong Pasir will use funds to go barrier-free

BY PEH SHING HUEI


IT’S FOR THE PEOPLE
“The funds are meant for the people and are not going to the WP or the PAP.”
MR ERIC LOW (in white), saying this is the first time he is offering the CIPC funds to Mr Low Thia Khiang (far left)

FOR the first time, Singapore’s two opposition MPs and their opponents from the People Action Party (PAP) have come together to work on a project to improve their estates.

After years of barbs and battles, the long-time rivals in Hougang and Potong Pasir are teaming up to create a barrier-free environment for the elderly and the disabled.

The money for the projects will come from the Community Improvement Projects Committee (CIPC) fund, the source of much frustration for the two opposition MPs who have not been able to dip into the kitty on their own previously.

The CIPC, which reports directly to the Minister of National Development, disburses funds for minor improvements to estates.

However, access to the money is possible only through a constituency’s Citizens’ Consultative Committee, a grassroots organisation whose adviser is always a PAP representative.

As a result, the two opposition MPs – Mr Low Thia Khiang in Hougang and Mr Chiam See Tong in Potong Pasir – have long complained that the CIPC discriminates against them, denying them money for improving their estates.

But in this instance, Mr Eric Low in Hougang and Mr Sitoh Yih Pin in Potong Pasir – the PAP men who had the funds – made the first move in approaching the MPs, who run the town councils.

They did so as the nationwide move to make Singapore elderly- and handicapped-friendly would require the building of ramps and handrails in public places, which come under the purview of a town council.

This tie-up is a break from the past, when Mr Sitoh, for example, had avoided the town council by leasing state land from the Government to build solar lamps and a playground in Potong Pasir.

National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan told The Straits Times last night the teaming up was a Government decision, prompted by the tight deadline to make Singapore estates barrier-free by 2011.

“We have been encouraging them to work together. Both of them have been responding,” he said, referring to the opposition MPs.

Mr Mah stressed that this project is unlike the Lift Upgrading Project (LUP), which all constituencies will get, but Hougang and Potong Pasir are at the end of the queue as they are opposition territory.

Under the LUP, almost all HDB blocks will have lifts that stop on every floor by 2014.

On whether the cooperation was a sign of things to come with more projects undertaken jointly, Mr Mah said: “If it is a project that benefits the residents, then I think both the advisers and the town councils should work together.”

Mr Eric Low said the Workers’ Party leader has accepted his offer of $100,000 for the project.

The PAP man said: “I asked him to give me the plans on where to install the ramps and handrails and he has done so.

“I should be able to approve it within the next two weeks.”

Mr Low Thia Khiang confirmed with The Straits Times that he had handed over a plan but declined to elaborate.

Mr Sitoh also said he is working with Potong Pasir’s town council and added: “This project is for the good of the residents.”

Mr Chiam welcomed the move last night, saying it is a “very sensible thing”.

“I have met residents who are in wheelchairs and they need to have barrier-free places,” said the Singapore Democratic Alliance chairman.

Mr Eric Low said the upgrading will be done across the estate where over one-quarter of the residents are approaching their 60s or older.

“Just as Mr Low said that he does not oppose for the sake of opposing, I also do not oppose for the sake of opposing,” he added.

“And don’t forget that I’m the opposition in Hougang.”

Hougang residents like retiree Chew Hiang Tiak are delighted. Said the 69-year-old: “It’s good the politicians put aside their differences to work for the residents. There are lots of old people here, so these changes will make our lives easier.”

Mr Eric Low and Mr Sitoh ran against the incumbents in the 2001 and 2006 General Elections, and lost both times.

Following their failure last year, the PAP suspended its weekly Meet-the-People sessions indefinitely in both wards.

shpeh@sph.com.sg

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY JEREMY AU YONG

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