TODAY: WP chairman Lim is playing by the book

TEO HWEE NAK
DEPUTY NEWS EDITOR
hweenak@newstoday.com.sg


WEE TECK HIAN
PREPARING FOR THE ELECTION: WP’s Sylvia Lim

THE irony of her party’s manifesto becoming such a compelling subject of debate does not escape Ms Sylvia Lim.

Soon after Manpower Minister Ng Eng Hen labelled suggestions in the Workers’ Party manifesto as “time bombs”, the phone started ringing and she started to receive emails by the dozen.

The manifesto had been launched more than a week earlier, but media coverage of it ended in a day. The criticism by Dr Ng, who is also the People’s Action Party’s (PAP) organising secretary for special duties, changed everything.

“There is now intense interest in this booklet,” said Workers’ Party chairman Lim in an hour-long interview at her Bukit Batok apartment. “I think it’s very healthy that people want to read it and decide for themselves whether the picture the PAP is trying to paint is true or not,” she said.

Despite having her grip on ground realities questioned by the minister, and despite her party’s stand having been dubbed “poison”, the 40-year-old Temasek Polytechnic lecturer is neither defensive nor angry.

Instead, talking to Today, she leaned forward and said in her low voice: “I feel it’s rather strange that the ruling party is trying to tell us how to write our manifesto. If you don’t agree with us on the issues, then you come out with your own manifesto! Being the Opposition, we don’t expect them to agree with us, and neither should they presume that we should share their views.

“I guess they are trying to vilify us and set the election agenda. Let that be. We will just take it as background and we will still set our own election agenda.”

She said her party has been working on the 52-page manifesto since 2002, when it started public consultation and formed a six-member manifesto committee, led by WP secretary-general and MP for Hougang Low Thia Khiang.

After a first draft was produced last year, the party embarked on a second round of consultation. Then, over October and November, every sentence was scrutinised in meetings that Ms Lim revealed sometimes ended at 1am.

This is how serious the party is about its manifesto, she stressed. “The PAP does not have a monopoly on ideas and they should not think that knowing the ground is the territory only of the ruling party,” she said.

“We have our own views on how things should be run or done. While certain things may coincide with the ruling party’s point of view, some may not. We let people decide what makes sense.”

She said the manifesto would be put up online over the next few days. As she prepares for the electoral battle that will follow, the woman, accused of being a political newbie, felt she has garnered a lot of experience in the past four years, meeting people – to whom she hands out namecards with her picture and mobile number printed on them – on weeknights and Sunday mornings.

And no, she doesn’t think Singaporeans are apathetic. Ms Lim chuckled as she recalled a woman in her 60s she met during one of her walkabouts.

This ah sim (old lady) had political advice to dish out to WP.

“Don’t make wild allegations during the elections. Don’t talk about loans to Indonesia – you have no proof! Just look at the plight of the people and whether the Government is doing its job,” the old woman told them.

Having seen how politics can turn personal, are there any skeletons in her closet that Ms Lim wants to declare now?

The former lawyer laughed.

“I don’t know what people consider skeletons. I’ve been in civil service for most of my life – I was in the police force, and now I’m teaching in a polytechnic – so if they find that I’m unfit, what does it say?

“I’m not too concerned,” she said.

Finally, to rumours that she will be contesting in Aljunied GRC in the elections, she would only say: “I’ve been seen there, I’ve been doing some work there. Possibly … but things may change.”

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Straits Times: WP leader tackles ‘time bomb’ criticisms

INSIGHT FRIDAY
PEOPLE & POLITICS

In the war of words this week between the People’s Action Party and the Workers’ Party, Ms Sylvia Lim has been accused of just “fronting” the WP. She tells Aaron Low and Lydia Lim where she stands


PHOTOS: ALBERT SIM
NOT “FRONTING” FOR ANYBODY: Ms Lim points out that she and Mr Low are on the same wavelength politically, even though their backgrounds may differ.

WHEN the General Election is called, one of the first things Workers’ Party (WP) chairman Sylvia Lim will do is quit her law lecturer job at Temasek Polytechnic.

The reason? Government employees cannot hold political office.

“I knew that and I was prepared,” says the 40-year-old chairman of the Workers’ Party.

If she does get elected, the single woman intends to be a full-time MP.

But yes, that is racing ahead of the game. Right now she is focused on making sure she can stand her ground – fending off charges the People’s Action Party has levelled at her and winning over constituents she meets during her weekly house-to-house visits.

Ms Lim is caught in a maelstrom that began unexpectedly last Saturday. Dr Ng Eng Hen, PAP organising secretary (special duties), lambasted the WP for its manifesto that had four proposals – to scrap grassroots organisations, ethnic integration policies and the elected presidency, and to raise subsidies – he deemed as “dangerous and wrong”.

He urged the WP to reconsider these “time bombs” that could tear apart Singapore’s multiracial society.

The WP refused to yield. Ms Lim signed a two-page statement a day later saying essentially, thanks, but no thanks.

On Monday, Dr Ng fired back, again urging the WP to rethink its position. When The Straits Times met WP secretary-general Low Thia Khiang and Ms Lim that night, she was subdued, letting him take charge.

But Dr Ng had singled her out, asking Ms Lim if hers was a “carefully thought out and sincerely held position”. Or was she “just regurgitating ill-conceived positions and fronting for the party”?

If she is rattled, Ms Lim is not about to show it. She is clear about this: No light can come between her and the party’s stand.

So, on the WP’s calls to do away with both the ethnic quota for housing and group representation constituencies (GRCs), she says she believes Singapore society has matured and does not need such policies.

The different races have “integrated naturally”, she says, by going to the same schools and doing national service, for example.

The party wants the ethnic quota for housing scrapped because it makes it difficult for some Singaporeans to sell their HDB flats. It is unfair, plain and simple, she says.

The PAP has maintained that the policy, even if painful to some, is crucial to ensure there is racial mixing in housing estates.

As for GRCs, she says they skew elections in favour of larger political parties, increase the likelihood of walkovers by the PAP and frustrate the desire of citizens to exercise their vote.

What about the PAP’s argument that GRCs help ensure minorities are represented in Parliament?

“If there is a need to ensure minority representation, there are other ways. If the Government says only GRCs can assure it, you know that’s wrong,” she says.

On the WP’s proposal to abolish the office of the Elected President (EP), Ms Lim sees it this way: “It’s clear the EP is meant to jam up a non-PAP government in its first term. If people want a change and elect a new government, then why should it be subject to all these?”

Dr Ng also accused the WP of calling for higher subsidies for a whole range of public goods and services without explaining how it planned to pay for this “expensive shopping trip”.

The WP has proposed subsidies in a number of areas. They include a proposal for the Government to co-pay the premiums for a basic hospitalisation insurance scheme.

But Ms Lim denies the WP will binge-spend.

“We respect the fact that we should be fiscally prudent,” she says.

She says what the WP objects to is the PAP Government’s position of only helping the needy when there are Budget surpluses.

“If you are saying you will only help the less fortunate in good times, then I think it’s not the correct principle.”

On scrapping of grassroots organisations, Ms Lim says she is an advocate of non-political groups: “We encourage the community to vote for their own leaders and have their MP just as an adviser.”

Throughout the interview, Ms Lim takes pains to point out that she and Mr Low are on the same wavelength politically, even though their backgrounds may differ.

She is English-educated, a one-time police officer and trained as a lawyer. He is Chinese-educated, a one-time teacher and now a businessman.

She is taking Mandarin lessons, but adds: “If you look at the WP Central Executive Council now, many more people are English-educated. In a way, we are reflecting changes in the population.”

“And Mr Low is also quite interesting… He now sounds quite English-educated because of some of the jokes he cracks. So I think there is some kind of mutual influence.”

So, she says, she does not understand what Dr Ng means about her just “fronting” the party.

Even if she and Mr Low are different, she knows well the value of party discipline.

Hence she gives away little. She is non-committal when asked if the WP will fight the election on these four “time-bomb” issues, as Dr Ng has challenged it to.

“We have other things in the manifesto which we think are important, and when the election is called, we will make them known,” she says.

These and other issues are more “time critical” and the party could lose the advantage if it reveals them too early.

For now, she is just trying to get a lead on the ground. She spends weekends and sometimes weekday nights on house-to-house visits in Aljunied GRC, she says to accusations by Dr Ng that she is out of touch with the ground.

Throughout the interview at her Toh Tuck condominium, Ms Lim is cool and collected. She parlays political quips readily, like when she finds out that two press people are Catholic. She is one too, and referring to the arrests in 1987 of a group of Catholics, she says: “Oh, two more and we’ll have a Marxist conspiracy.”

It is no surprise she can recall such events easily. After all, growing up, current affairs took up dinner conversations in her family of two younger siblings, mother and lawyer father.

Still, she admits she was taken aback by the PAP this week.

“I mean, to have a few different ministers coming out… it was quite interesting to see that.”


Sylvia Lim on ties with Low Thia Khiang, Workers’ Party plans for upcoming election

>> Dr Ng Eng Hen accused you of being a front for the rest of the party. What do you have to say to that?

What I can tell you is that because I was involved in the drafting and discussion for this manifesto from day one, I’m comfortable with what we have done and I will defend it. I stand by it, definitely. This is part of collective responsibility, isn’t it? And I’ve been elected as chairman of the party so that’s the party position.

>> Of the four “time bombs”, one of the most controversial is race relations. If race relations are as healthy as you say they are, why don’t you ask for other policies besides the ethnic quota on housing to be abolished?

You mean like the Internal Security Act and all?

>> Yes.

But that’s very different from allowing people to live where they want to live. It’s quite a different thing.

>> But there are a whole range of policies that exist to ensure racial harmony.

You may be right but I don’t know which laws specifically you are referring to. Now just allowing people to choose where they want to live is definitely on a different scale and we have seen people suffer under the policy. If they want to move, if they can’t find someone of the same race, they are stuck there. And then whatever price they get offered by an eligible buyer, they should think about it seriously. So the question is about fairness.

>> With the focus now on the four “time bombs”, do you think you’ve lost the initiative to set the agenda?

It’s quite funny because we’ve had a lot of calls and e-mails. Some people called up to say, keep your cool, don’t get dragged in, that sort of stuff. But of course there are also people who come in to voice their views on the four issues. Right now we have put the manifesto online so people can read for themselves what we have said and take things in the proper context.

As for losing initiative, someone told me Singaporeans will be able to see whether they are “time bombs” or not. So let’s leave it at that.

>> Dr Ng also kept asking you and other members to speak out if you felt uncomfortable with the proposals. Does he know something about the unity of your party that we don’t?

I don’t know where he got that from, so you have to ask him. It’s quite interesting for us to hear that too.

>> So what is your relationship like with Mr Low Thia Khiang?

We get along very well, I would say. It’s quite interesting because in some ways, people think our backgrounds are very different, which is true. But I think we have quite a good mutual understanding.

>> What are some of the things you have in common?

Fundamentally, we have the same view of the role of the Workers’ Party and we believe in being careful in the things we do and say in public. We believe in being constructive and we don’t believe in reflexive reactions, in that sense. Also, we know what we are doing in the WP is for Singapore and it may not happen, you never have successes overnight. So we are prepared to take the long view and do things carefully.

>> Have you ever disagreed with him?

We have different views on certain things but of course, after we have had a discussion and a decision is made, then if we present it to the public, we will defend it.

>> That sounds a lot like what the PAP does. Disagree in private, but stay united in public.

I think that’s the way we should all work.

>> So how are you preparing for the general election?

On the general level, I think it has already been quite well reported that we have been working, we have not been sleeping, doing a fair amount of groundwork, whether it is through selling our party papers or doing home visits and all that.

>> How many blocks have you visited?

A lot, lah. I don’t want to disclose those things. But I’ve been doing it for quite a while already.

>> The last time Mr Low was asked where the WP will contest, he said four GRCs.

He said we are eyeing those four areas, but whether we actually contest in them is not confirmed.

>> Where will you contest? Aljunied GRC?

Possibly, yes of course. (laughs) It is likely I will be in a GRC, because currently there are only nine single member constituencies and there are quite a few other parties in Singapore. Also there is an understanding that certain parties have closer ties with different areas and we tend to defer to that.

So right now, we are looking at three of the single seats, Hougang, Nee Soon East and Joo Chiat. Because of this, the rest of us have to contest in GRCs.

But it is quite exciting. It raises the stakes in a contest for a GRC.

It is quite nice to know that because in a GRC, the population can range between 90,000 and 180,000. All these people get to vote. So it is quite meaningful.


About the WP manifesto…


COMMUNITY BUILDING: Ms Lim with (from left) friend and supporter John Law, and WP members Joseph Teo and Ismail Salleh during a walkabout in Aljunied GRC on Wednesday night.

THE first line of the Workers’ Party’s 2006 manifesto states:

“As a political party, the long-term goal of the Workers’ Party (WP) is to be an alternative government.”

As befits an opposition party which has set its sights on being an alternative to the People’s Action Party (PAP), the WP’s 52-page, 14-chapter manifesto is entitled You Have A Choice.

It is a document that includes proposals on many aspects of government policy. These range from government and civil liberties to law and order, labour policies, economics, education, public housing, health care, transport and society.

Launched by the WP on Jan 14, the manifesto has attracted criticism on two fronts.

First, that it contains four “time bombs” that threaten Singapore society.

Second, that it contains other ideas the WP “copied” from the PAP.

Party chairman Sylvia Lim brushes off the second charge.

“We do our own research and we write what we believe in. Whether the PAP happens to believe in the same things or not, that’s coincidental to us,” she says.

She points out that her party started work on its manifesto way back in 2002. It held forums to consult the public on issues such as the “new poor”, public housing and transport.

Its six-member manifesto committee then split up the work of drafting the 14 chapters, with each person taking charge of a few chapters. The team comprised WP secretary-general Low Thia Khiang, Ms Lim, executive council members Poh Lee Guan, James Gomez, Tan Wui-Hua and one other person who preferred not to be named.

Ms Lim refused to identify the chapters each of them was responsible for.

Last year, they met over two months for intensive discussions that often stretched past midnight, “to ensure we were comfortable with all the paragraphs in there”, she says.

At the same time, she admits the party chose to unveil the manifesto as soon as it was ready because some of its proposals were already implemented by the Government.

“If we wait, more and more of the things we are proposing are going to be implemented. We don’t want to be in that position,” she says.

What does the manifesto contain that is new or different from what the PAP Government is already doing?

For starters, it calls for increased spending and other changes to improve the lot of groups the WP regards as needy and vulnerable. This includes workers, the low-income, elderly and disabled.

The introduction to the manifesto sets out in broad terms why the party thinks many policies need to be adjusted.

“Those with economic power tend to congregate with those with political power, resulting in a power elite network. The consequence of such a structure is imbalance in policy formulation,” it says.

Many of its proposals flow from this starting point.

The chapter on health, for instance, quotes the refrain of many heartlanders that they “can die but cannot afford to be sick”.

It calls for the Government to raise spending on health care and proposes it co-pay the premiums of a basic hospitalisation insurance scheme for all.

On education, the WP wants more funding and support for neighbourhood schools.

The chapter on labour policy says the WP believes unions should be independent and empowered to protect the rights of workers. It also wants to amend the Employment Act to ensure more protection for workers in areas such as retrenchment benefits and overtime pay.

Several ideas will entail much higher spending by the Government, none more so than the proposals in the chapter on public housing.

The WP wants cash grants for all first-time flat buyers equivalent to 10 per cent of the average selling price of a four-room resale flat. Second-time buyers should get a subsidy equivalent to 5 per cent, it says.

It does not make clear whether these grants should be in addition to or in place of current grants the Housing Board gives to first-time buyers who purchase from the open market.

The WP also wants a second cash grant to help Singaporeans plan for their retirement needs, so they do not have to downgrade to smaller flats for cash.

The rationale for all this extra spending? The manifesto recounts how many people rushed to buy bigger flats at the height of the property boom because they “believed in the PAP’s propaganda of enhancing of their assets”. They were hit hard when property prices crashed.

It also notes the way the Government is “limiting” its role in public housing and says “more resources could be focused on achieving home ownership”.

This chapter is also where the proposal to scrap the ethnic quota on housing appears.

The manifesto says the policy is no longer needed because “society has now attained a level of multiracial integration” and Singaporeans should have “equal freedom of choice of home locations”.

Another important plank in the manifesto is political participation and competition.

That is why the WP wants GRCs and the office of Elected President abolished.

The presidency should revert to a ceremonial post, it says, because “the power of Parliament as the people’s representative should be unfettered”.

As for GRCs, they “dilute the individual voters’ voice”.

“Instead, elections should be run on single seats,” the WP says.

What the manifesto does not explain is how the party will ensure minorities are represented in Parliament, once the GRCs are dismantled.

It throws up an alternative system of proportional representation that New Zealand uses to “handle Maori seats”, without giving a clear sense of how this can be applied to Singapore.

The call to scrap GRCs also appears in another chapter entitled Society, which focuses to a large extent on community building.

It also calls for doing away with GRCs so as to “revert to constituencies based on geographical areas”.

The chapter also contains the proposal to abolish grassroots network of residents’ committees (RCs) and citizens’ consultative committees (CCCs).

These groups serve as “eyes and ears of the Government” and “cripple the growth of natural community leadership”.

It suggests they be replaced by a revamped system of community centre management committees, whose members are elected by the community through local polls.

Straits Times: No slur on community leaders, says WP

FORUM

I REFER to the letter, “Grassroots leader takes issue with Workers’ Party” (ST, Jan 24), from Mr Paul Wee, chairman of the Cantonment Towers Residents’ Committee.

I wish to clarify that WP has no intention to belittle the contribution and serving spirit of community leaders. I have come across community leaders who serve selflessly.

We proposed abolishing the current structure of grassroots organisations (GROs) exactly because we feel that injustice has been done to the dedicated community leaders Mr Wee mentioned, especially those with no political affiliation or ambition but just a simple desire to do their small part for the community.

WP believes that community service should not be politicised and there is a need to develop a more comprehensive community network to root the people in order to build a more cohesive society.

Voluntary community-based organisations should be allowed to grow. The Government should facilitate and support this bottom-up initiative instead of having the People’s Association operate a network of GROs top-down.

Members of residents’ committees and citizens’ consultative committees are appointed by “government” Members of Parliament (MPs). Why should respectable community leaders be appointed by MPs, whether government or not? At best, the MP should only be adviser to the community organisations.

Moreover, many MPs do not live in the constituencies to which they are elected. This is why in the WP manifesto we proposed that members of community-club management committees be elected in a local election and the elected MP serve as adviser.

It was also pointed out in the letter that many grassroots leaders have been “covertly ostracised” for being too vocal in their criticism. Why should this be the case? Is this situation helpful for both the people and the Government? Therein lies a question as to whether the current GROs are structured to serve as a political mechanism to manage public opinion on the ground and to allow the People’s Action Party to gain an unfair advantage in getting political support by using the big word “community”.

For Singapore to thrive as a country and for us to build a vibrant society, it is time that the spirit of serving and sacrifice be liberated from political control.

Low Thia Khiang
Secretary-General
Workers’ Party

Channel NewsAsia: Workers’ Party stands by manifesto

By Farah Abdul Rahim

SINGAPORE: The Workers’ Party is still standing by its manifesto, even after the People’s Action Party fired salvos at it over the past few days, saying it will tear Singapore’s society apart.

Meanwhile, political watchers say the ongoing debate between the parties has fuelled even more election speculation.

A week after the release of the Workers’ Party’s manifesto, the People’s Action Party urged it to rethink its position on what the ruling party has called its “four time bombs.”

These are proposals to do away with grassroots commmittees; dropping the ethnic quota policy for public housing and the Group Representative Constituency Scheme; doing away with the Elected Presidency; and a call for more subsidies for the poor, without indicating where the money for this was coming from.

And it is not just the party bigwigs but also PAP MPs who have voiced disappointment over these proposals.

Said Halimah Yacob, MP for Jurong GRC, “It is quite irresponsible the way that they have proposed certain things, like for instance, dismantling certain structures, the RCs — criticising the RCs and certain other structures that we have put in place in order to promote a strong multi-racial society, ethnic integration.

“I don’t think we should take these things lightly. And on this goal, I think I’m a bit disappointed that this is the way that they have approached some of these issues.”

But the Workers’ Party has defended the proposals in its manifesto, which it says is the result of two years of hard work.

Said Tan Wui-Hua, president of the Workers’ Party Youth Wing and member of the WP Manifesto Committee, “They have not put down in very defined terms why the four issues are a time bomb. They are just saying it’s a time bomb and it will destroy the social fabric of the entire country.

“We genuinely feel these four issues are issues the people on the ground would like to see changed. Therefore, we speak for the people and we feel it’s good for the nation. So the truth is, now if they say it’s bad and we say it’s good, we let the voters decide.”

Political watchers say the way the debate between the two political parties has evolved has taken them by surprise.

But they also noted that the debate has stirred up interest among many Singaporeans in the Workers’ Party manifesto.

Political Science Assistant Professor Suzaina Kadir says such debates are healthy.

She said, “The opposition in Singapore needs to think strategically, have a manifesto and provide an alternative framework, and has to be debated publicly. It could certainly be the case the manifesto cannot hold and is potentially problematic but when you have a debate like that in the open, then people have a sense of not just broad motherhood statements, but concrete policies, so people can decide on a far more mature level.”

But one thing is clear — the debate, has fuelled even more election talk.

Dr Suzaina explained, “It fuels further speculation among us that elections are coming; that’s why you’re getting the kind of reactions you’re getting. I can’t say it’s a sure sign; it comes together with a lot of other signals political observers look at. I think what’s curious about this whole incident is, it has come in a matter of days after several announcements that people have taken to imply elections are coming. When these events occur one after another, it reinforces people’s beliefs that something is about to happen.”

Meanwhile, other opposition groups like the Singapore Democratic Alliance have declined to comment on this debate. – CNA /ct

Posted in 2006 01. Comments Off on Channel NewsAsia: Workers’ Party stands by manifesto

Straits Times: Revise manifesto? WP chief says no again

Workers’ Party Policy Paper

BY KEN KWEK AND AARON LOW

MR LOW Thia Khiang last night again rejected calls by the People’s Action Party (PAP) to revise his Workers’ Party (WP) manifesto and invited the ruling party instead to release its manifesto.

This time, however, the WP secretary-general also issued a point-by-point rebuttal of Manpower Minister Ng Eng Hen’s accusations that his party’s manifesto contained four ‘time bombs’ that would destroy key pillars of Singapore’s stability and success.

In an interview with The Straits Times at his party’s headquarters in Syed Alwi Road, Mr Low went on to challenge the PAP to engage the WP on other points raised in its 52-page manifesto.

‘There are many other issues that are deserving and should be looked at, besides these four points,’ he said.

The four ‘time bombs’ the PAP accused the WP of planting in its manifesto were its calls to scrap grassroots organisations, ethnic integration policies and the elected presidency, and to raise subsidies.

In the interview, with party chairman Sylvia Lim by his side, Mr Low stood by these four proposals that Dr Ng had twice urged the WP to reconsider. But throughout, he studiously refrained from using the phrase ‘time bombs’.

Mr Low explained why the WP thought the ethnic quota for housing was no longer necessary. Singapore has progressed from the situation of the 1960s when each race lived in its own enclave, he said.

People of different races have reached a better level of understanding with one another.

‘It’s a matter of confidence level. I think we have to go beyond… using policy as an instrument, to artificially make sure that there is contact between races,’ he said.

‘We should allow people to choose where they want to live. In the process of the policy, there were also cases of people being caught and not being able to sell their flats because of the racial quota. We have to look at whether it is necessary to have the policy in place to achieve the purpose,’ he said.

It was also time to move beyond grassroots organisations such as the residents’ committees and citizens’ consultative committees. While these groups had played a useful role in the past, there should now be room for more ‘spontaneous’ activities and civil society was also developing.

‘I believe that we should allow people to develop, and not to underestimate that without CCCs, we will not have activities,’ said Mr Low.

The second reason to scrap them was that they ‘serve a political purpose of the PAP’, he said.

Mr Low said he believed that even without grassroots organisations, Singaporeans would still be able to get together and deal with crises that arose.

On the elected presidency, he said there was no need for such an institution in a parliamentary democracy where the legislature should be the check on the government.

‘We are operating a parliamentary democracy system, inherited from the British, which functions very well in Britain. So what’s wrong with that?’ he said.

Mr Low added that there was generally ‘not enough transparency’ in the present Government. ‘What is the best way to check against corruption? Put it on the website, better to have so many people checking, instead of one elected president right?’

As to Dr Ng’s suggestion that ‘maybe the WP wants to go on a spending spree itself’, Mr Low denied that his party had ever suggested throwing the country’s money away carelessly.

On the contrary, he outlined three major areas – namely employment, health care and housing – in which his party had proposed possible financial solutions.

In terms of employment, Mr Low said his party was proposing an unemployment insurance plan, to be introduced when a worker was still in employment. The premium could be covered by deducting 1 per cent of earned income, with the employer contributing another 1 per cent.

In terms of health care, the WP was proposing a basic hospitalisation insurance policy, with the Government co-paying ‘to have universal coverage’.

‘We are also not objecting to proper means testing, where we can actually target subsidies at the correct level,’ Mr Low added.

In the area of housing subsidies, Mr Low said that he was not proposing to ‘bankrupt the Government’, but that because of globalisation, there would always be people with problems.

‘As a government, it is important to commit themselves to helping these people so that they have some security.’

kenkwek@sph.com.sg
aaronl@sph.com.sg


Dr Ng to WP chairman Sylvia Lim


SERIOUS MATTER: Dr Ng questioned chairman Sylvia Lim’s understanding of political realities on the ground concerning racial harmony, among other things. — CHEW SENG KIM

Before you signed statement as chairman of WP…

‘Sylvia Lim signed the Workers’ Party statement as the chairman of WP. But does she seriously or personally believe that the multiracial and multi-religious harmony that we have achieved today is strong enough to dismantle the policies that have worked?

Has she seen the actual situation on the ground, the problems in our society, in housing estates? Is she familiar with the intense public debate over the issues? Has she read up what issues were debated over the elected presidency?

And how the Constitution was then amended? Does she know the implication of just saying ‘spend’, and ignore the question of where the money will come from? As she signed the statement, is this a carefully thought out and sincerely held position, or is she just regurgitating ill- conceived positions and fronting for the party?’


Study matter seriously, spend time on the ground.

‘I must confess that before I became an MP for Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC, I too took many things for granted. So, it’s understandable if you don’t run a constituency and see the practical problems on the ground, you may not understand the full implications of removing these four cornerstones.

I advise Ms Lim to study the matter seriously with an open mind, discuss it with others, and spend time on the ground finding out how our society works. If after that she is still convinced that the manifesto is right, well, explain – we are prepared to listen.

Or, she may conclude that the WP line is misconceived, and hopefully persuade the WP to modify its line. Surely she should at least be prepared to consider the possibility that the WP has made a mistake.’

TODAY: The Workers’ Party on those four ‘time bombs’

LEE U-WEN
u-wen@newstoday.com.sg

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.

TODAY: Workers’ Party updates its manifesto

WITH whispers of elections around the corner, the Workers’ Party (WP) launched its updated manifesto on Saturday.

The 52-page booklet outlines the party’s stand on issues and policies, covering areas from economic and judicial policies to media and sports and recreation.

On civil liberties, the party takes the stand that the Group Representation Constituency be abolished and that electoral boundaries be announced at least one year before a General Election is called, and the rationale for changes be explained.

The party has also taken up the cause for a fairer judiciary system, pointing out, among other things, that the Court of Appeal should not have the power to enhance the sentence, that an arrested person should have early access to a lawyer, and that there should be equal access to case information for the defence and prosecution.

On housing policies, it calls for a fair allocation of public housing subsidies for all citizens, including singles, as well as a second but lower cash grant for second time buyers.

On policies related to the arts and media, the WP calls for political films to be allowed under the Films Act. The manifesto, last updated in 1994, took one year to work on, said WP chief Low Thia Khiang.

“This shows that the WP is serious about politics,” said Mr Low.

It went through a more comprehensive consultation process than previous manifestos, culling feedback from members of the public as well as experts. With about 200 active members, in the coming election, the party has new candidates to pick from.

Asked how he feels about WP being the opposition party to watch, Mr Low said: “I don’t know. Better don’t watch too much. It’s better to watch the PAP to see what they’re doing.” – TEO HWEE NAK