Straits Times: PAP raps WP for ill-timed silence and double-talk

Ng Eng Hen takes on Hougang MP, saying clear stand from opposition is crucial for it to be credible

BY LI XUEYING

THE People’s Action Party (PAP) has criticised the Workers’ Party (WP), saying it failed to make its stand clear on important issues at critical points.

WP secretary-general Low Thia Khiang, it added, is often “quick to criticise, yet offers no serious proposals”.

Taking aim at the WP and the MP for Hougang – in the latest issue of the PAP newsletter Petir – was Dr Ng Eng Hen, who said: “Singaporeans deserve more from Mr Low and the WP than silence at defining moments, or double-talk when pressed to state their stand.”

In an editorial entitled Credible Opposition: Taking A Clear Stand, the PAP’s organising secretary (special duties) said constructive views – even opposing ones – “help produce better government policies and enlighten public debate” on issues.

“But to simply criticise or make opportunistic snipes without offering solutions or, worse, to fudge on national issues instead of taking a clear stand, does little to raise the standard of political debate or the reputation of the Workers’ Party as a responsible opposition”.

Noting that Mr Low vowed at the last election to adopt a “watchdog” role, DrNg asked what Mr Low has achieved, and pointed to two instances.

One was the Parliament debate on the escape of terrorist Mas Selamat Kastari from detention.

Mr Low had said he could not reconcile the fact that, while ministers’ pay was pegged to that of chief executives, the ministers did not adhere to the issue of accountability practised in the private sector.

Yet Mr Low was “totally silent” when Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong asked if he thought Deputy Prime Minister and Home Affairs Minister Wong Kan Seng should quit.

Said Dr Ng: “His statement is baffling. What then was the point of his question to the Prime Minister? Was it just another political ploy?”

Another instance was the WP May Day message asking if Singaporeans “truly benefited” from job creation last year.

PAP MP Seng Han Thong, an NTUC assistant secretary-general, asked at the time if all Hougang Town Council employees were Singaporeans. The WP said they were and added that it did not object to contractors hiring foreigners.

Said Dr Ng: “This is another cop-out. If the WP truly believes that all jobs should be reserved for Singaporeans, why does it not insist that its town-council contractors hire local workers only?”

The Government, in contrast, has “a clear stand”. While foreign workers keep the economy competitive, the Government also does its utmost to raise the skills of Singaporeans, said Dr Ng, who is now Education Minister, but previously held the Manpower portfolio.

Dr Ng said Mr Low, whether in or out of Parliament, shied away from direct debate with the Government on important points.

Political leaders, whether in government or not, “need to have their own ideas, to set a direction for the country and tell Singaporeans how they intend to get there”.

“Perhaps the WP sees no need to play this role as a credible opposition.”

Mr Low is out of town. But WP chairman Sylvia Lim responded yesterday.

She said the party’s policy positions were clearly laid out in its manifesto at the 2006 General Election.

Since then, the WP took on issues such as the goods and services tax hike, ministerial pay, means testing, constitutional amendments and criminal justice.

On Mr Low’s silence in response to PM Lee, she said: “Benchmarking ministerial pay to corporate pay, but without corresponding corporate consequences, brings to the fore the contentious issue of whether ministers should be paid at top corporate rates. Is the comparison of minister to CEO valid?”

She added that the WP is not against foreign workers.

Rather, given that Singaporeans were told they had to be grateful that foreign workers saved their jobs, the WP questioned “how far Singaporeans’ social standing and prospects have been eroded… Does the PAP not know this is a real ground concern?”

xueying@sph.com.sg

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