Straits Times: Why PCF’s event got permit but not WP’s

PARLIAMENT

Ho Peng Kee explains why the two events were treated differently

BY LI XUEYING

A PAP Community Foundation (PCF) event last month at which Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong cycled a short distance was “definitely not of the same order” as one the Workers’ Party (WP) tried to hold last year, Parliament heard yesterday.

The event by the PCF, which is registered as a charity, had a “family day setting” and was focused on community service, Senior Minister of State (Home Affairs) Ho Peng Kee told the House.

He said this when explaining the police’s rationale for granting a permit for the event at West Coast Park, and not for a WP mass cycling event which the opposition party wanted to hold at East Coast Park to mark its 50th anniversary.

Non-Constituency MP and WP chairman Sylvia Lim wanted an explanation, while Nominated MP Siew Kum Hong asked if there was any change to rules for outdoor events by political parties and affiliated organisations.

The perceived difference in treatment that the two events received has also been the subject of discussion in newspaper forums and on the Internet.

Associate Professor Ho said the position on outdoor political events remained unchanged.

The police will not grant permits for such events “due to the assessed potential for public disorder which politically-driven events can lead to, even when this is not intended by the organisers”.

On why a permit was granted for the Aug 31 PCF event which saw PM Lee take part in a cycling activity, he started by explaining it was “not a cycling event but a Family Day Carnival”.

“The only cycling was when the Prime Minister and the other special guests made their entrance by cycling a short distance from where the Prime Minister had alighted from his car to the stage.”

It was also “not organised by a political party but a registered charity”.

While affiliated to the People’s Action Party, “the PCF has remained completely non-political since its set-up in 1986”, he said, adding that its activities include running kindergartens and childcare centres and raising funds for charitable causes.

“The authorities considered the family day setting and community service focus of the event, as well as the status of PCF as a registered charity, and did not object to the event as the policy of disallowing outdoor political events did not apply in this situation,” he said.

Nominated MP Eunice Olsen – who asked Mr Siew’s question on his behalf as he is overseas for work – recalled that Prof Ho said last year that the reason for a ban on outdoor activities by political parties was that people may stop politicians and debate on issues with them, and this could result in problems.

“Do such risks not also apply to other events organised by the PCF, which explicitly declares it is an arm of the PAP?” she asked, noting that the PCF’s logo incorporates the PAP’s symbol.

Replied Prof Ho: “It’s quite different for a political party under its own banner to organise an event where it espouses a political cause, talking about issues that are close to the hearts. Some Singaporeans will agree, disagree.

“As we have seen in other countries, when you do this, because politics can create emotive feelings, passion…you may not intend it, but then there may be bystanders who may stir up the situation.”

But an examination of the PCF’s track record “shows very clearly it does not engage in politics, it does not discuss political issues”, he said.

Mr Low Thia Khiang (Hougang), the WP secretary-general, then rose to dispute this. He asked Prof Ho to cast his mind back to 1991, when the PCF “threatened to withdraw and close down kindergartens in opposition wards”.

“Is that not political?” he asked.

Prof Ho responded: “There’s no denying that in terms of affiliation, the PCF is affiliated to the PAP. But in terms of the focus of activities, it is non-political.

“I think it’s quite natural therefore, that in terms of services offered to the people of Hougang, which made a decision, there is a withdrawal of the services. The services themselves, surely Mr Low cannot say are political in nature.”

xueying@sph.com.sg

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