Straits Times: Hougang residents keeping me on my toes: Low to SM Goh

OPPOSITION MP Low Thia Khiang shot back a terse response last night to recent remarks by Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong.

The Workers’ Party (WP) chief said he was already kept on his toes by the residents of Hougang. There was no need for grassroots leaders of the ruling People’s Action Party to do the same, he told reporters after his weekly Meet-the-People session.

Said the Hougang MP: “All my residents are keeping me on my toes so far. They are very kind, they give feedback and I take that as positive.”

Mr Low’s retort follows SM Goh’s call to grassroots leaders at a National Day dinner in Hougang last Saturday.

Keep the MP on his toes, he told them then. He suggested that, among other things, they scrutinise the town council’s accounts and check on the maintenance of the estate.

Last night, Mr Low was unable to resist injecting a dose of sarcasm in his reply.

“I wish to thank the residents of Hougang and also many Singaporeans who support the Workers’ Party for giving feedback constantly on the work of Hougang Town Council, without the need for the reminder from SM Goh.

“For the information of the Senior Minister, the Hougang Town Council’s accounts are on the website. He may want to take a look himself.”

Mr Low also said that SM Goh had forgotten his $100 million promise made during the 2006 general election.

Referring to Mr Goh’s presence in his ward last weekend, he said, “I thought maybe Senior Minister wanted to…provide some good news, and provide some funds after so many years. But to my disappointment he did not.”

SM Goh had promised $100 million to improve Hougang, but only if the PAP candidate Eric Low won the poll.

Last night the WP leader also defended his check-and-balance role in Parliament, a philosophy SM Goh had described as narrow.

Mr Low argued that if the PAP wanted more from the opposition, it should give them more political space.

“The PAP should allow the opposition more space in political participation, and not anyhow redraw the (electoral) boundaries,” he said.

While any political party would aspire to form the government, he said the WP is realistic. “Being in a political environment like Singapore’s, and given the party’s resource constraint…we can’t.”

He also said he was disappointed with the way the Government had moved to tear down nine blocks of flats in Hougang. He stressed he was not against development but was dismayed the residents would be moving to different parts of the island.

Also, his town council had done a lot of improvement work on the blocks, he said.

“Are they going to reimburse us? If they told us earlier, we could have saved some money.”


Straits Times: Is MHA suffering from work overload, Sylvia asks


Shanmugam replies that ministry is looking at issues of operational fatigue


IS THE Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) overstretched, as recent security lapses might suggest?

In reply to this question from Non-Constituency MP Sylvia Lim, Second Minister for Home Affairs K. Shanmugam said his ministry was conducting a “human factor” study to look into issues of operational fatigue.

The study will also look at resources and manning levels in the Home Team and “see if there are sub-optimal areas that need urgent attention”.

Mr Shanmugam did not elaborate further on the study, but said the ministry was exploring whether it could continue to operate at current manpower levels.

Contacted by The Straits Times, Mr Jay Jhaveri, Asia director for World-Check, a private-sector firm that maintains a database of high-risk persons and entities, said such a study would typically look at the issue of risk.

“In areas where risks are greater, the study could identify where more technology or human resources or a combination of the two would have to be deployed,” he added.

The study comes at a time when a number of Home Team agencies have been embarrassed by security lapses.

In February, Jemaah Islamiah (JI) detainee Mas Selamat Kastari escaped from detention. In June, two robbery suspects escaped from police custody at the Subordinate Courts but were quickly apprehended.

The same month, a 61-year-old retiree got past immigration controls at Changi Airport using his son’s passport.

Ms Lim, who is the chairman of the opposition Workers’ Party and a polytechnic lecturer, acknowledged that for each of these breaches, there were many other times “when security was successfully provided”.

“What I think is constructive…is to step back and have a thorough review of the increasing demands on the MHA, the resources needed and how to ensure that the public interest is protected,” she said.

“I am aware of how heavily deployed the Home Team has been in recent years,” she added, citing counter-terrorism activities and the strain of hosting large-scale events like international conferences.

She pointed to the growing population as another strain, as more firemen and police officers would be needed, for example.

Mr Shanmugam acknowledged that the changed security landscape since the Sept 11, 2001, terror attacks on the United States had “raised significant demands” on the Home Team.

Front-line officers had been “stretched and strained” on high alert since end-2001, he said.

That was when the authorities uncovered a plot by JI members to mount attacks in Singapore.

The total number of overtime hours clocked by Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) officers varies between 23,000 and 28,000 every month, Mr Shanmugam added.

He also noted that last year, the ICA cleared some 143 million travellers through land, sea and air checkpoints, or close to 400,000 travellers each day. Of these, an average of five people carrying the wrong passports were detected every day.

It also detected 37,800 cases of smuggling at the borders and more than 2,200 foreigners who tried to enter Singapore fraudulently.

Channel NewsAsia: Recruitment biggest challenge for Singapore’s political parties, say analysts

By Wong Siew Ying

Sylvia Lim

SINGAPORE: Political watchers have said the biggest challenge for all political parties – both ruling and opposition in Singapore – is to recruit credible members.

Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew said on Friday that the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) is trying to force the opposition to gather good candidates that will equal the PAP in integrity and competence so that if the PAP fails, there will be an alternative. He added, however, that the opposition has not been able to do so.

The opposition was out and about in the 2006 Singapore General Election. One political watcher said the parties need to keep up this visibility post elections, as well as to do more.

Eugene Tan, Assistant Professor at Singapore Management University’s School of Law, said: “They need to be able to have that brain trust to be able to comment effectively on government policies and offer quality alternative. They need to rise above themselves, go beyond just being an opposition, to be – in a way – government-in-waiting.”

Observers said another challenge for the opposition is to translate the good turnouts at the rallies to actual votes in the ballot boxes.

Workers’ Party chairman Sylvia Lim is clearly aware of this. Her focus is to get enough credible people into Parliament. She admitted her party is far from being able to form a ‘shadow Cabinet’, or offer policy alternatives.

“Parliamentary presence is the first step, so we would still want to focus on getting credible people elected into Parliament,” said Sylvia Lim, who is a Non-Constituency MP (NCMP).

“We may slog, we may work towards winning election, but in the end we may lose. So there has to be that spirit of perseverance to believe in the process – and getting Singaporeans to be involved in the process is just as important, if not as important as the outcome.” She admitted, though, that recruitment is a challenge.

At a community event, MP Indranee Rajah told Channel NewsAsia that it is in the country’s interest to have a good pool of talent, be it from the PAP or the opposition.

She said: “Just because we are a small country doesn’t mean there is a lack of people to step up to the plate, if need be. As for the opposition, if they want to grow, really I think they need to identify those good candidates, they need to identify how to have a good organisation.”

PAP MP Michael Palmer feels that from the last election, younger Singaporeans seem more willing to associate with opposition parties. For him, the over-riding problem for all political parties is getting capable people with integrity into politics.

For the opposition, this could mean some time before it can be an alternative to the PAP government. – CNA/ir

Posted in 2008 07. Comments Off on Channel NewsAsia: Recruitment biggest challenge for Singapore’s political parties, say analysts

TODAY: Going green: It’s the attitude that counts


WHEN it comes to green issues, legislation can only go so far. Attitudes too are just as, if not more crucial.

Speaking at a public forum yesterday, Environment Challenge Organisation (Singapore) founder and president Wilson Ang recognised that while green policies here can be enhanced, individuals must take ownership for the environment.

Addressing a comment about the effectiveness of legislation, Mr Ang said: “Legislation is a short term solution to problems and is very top-down.”

While regulations can have an impact, any changes in political agenda, for instance, can cause momentum to flounder, he said.

“We have a National Recycling Programme, where there is one recycling bin every few blocks. Yes, it can be improved, but our attitudes are more important. We cannot rely on the Government for everything,” he said.

Similarly, “experts” are not the only ones who can make a difference in the environmental stakes.

Another speaker at the forum organised by the Workers’ Party Youth Wing said the “misconception” is that one has to be qualified or an activist to speak on the environment.

But, by speaking in accessible terms, one can bring the message across, said Mr Nathaniel Koh, 24. For example, to cut down on the use of plastic straws, he told his parents how drinks taste better without using them because the flavours come into contact with more of the taste buds.

“(One) does not need to know the intricacies of a problem (to make a difference),” said the Singapore Management University student. What it takes, he said, is to speak to people in their own terms and language.

Mr Ang told about 20 people at the forum: “It’s not about being a ‘greenie’ but to think of yourself as a global citizen – and part of an environment that supports you.” Ultimately, he said, “think of it not just as saving the environment, but saving yourself.”

Yesterday’s “YouthQuake” was the third in a series of four public forums. The final instalment will be held next month.

TODAY: ‘It’s a learning process’



THE main Opposition party in Parliament, the Workers’ Party, is turning to cyberspace’s most popular social tool to engage voters.

While its monthly walkabouts and discussion forums remain a priority, a website like Facebook provides an instant link to its supporters, WP organising secretary Yaw Shin Leong told Today. “Communication is a two-way process, and this online platform offers an opportunity for Singaporeans to contact us directly,” he said.

WP’s Facebook group of 56 members was initiated not by the WP leadership but party activists, known as E-Workers’ Party Singapore, last November.

Still, the party’s two parliamentarians have a very basic profile on the social networking site.

There are no “concrete” or “immediate” plans for WP’s online strategy moving forward, though.

“It’s all an ongoing learning process,” said Mr Yaw. “We’re planning the right ways to engage our constituents and this takes time as we’d rather not rush things just for the sake of countering the PAP (People’s Action Party).”

In 2006, it was reported that a headlong rush into online debates cost the party one of its Central Executive Committee members, Mr Goh Meng Seng, who took responsibility for creating a “bad image” for the party with his Internet postings.

Mr Yaw also drew fire from netizens in May after writing in his blog that he voted for PAP MP Teo Ho Pin in the last General Election.

Not surprisingly, he said, like any other media, “the Internet can be a double-edged sword”.

When it comes to the PAP, NMP Siew Kum Hong believes that the resources at its disposal will be a big help in taking on new online platforms and technologies.

Yet, given the current media environment, Mr Siew described Facebook as an “equaliser of sorts as it neutralises the advantages a party like the PAP has over its competition”.

According to Mr Yaw, the WP Facebook site will enable the party “to get a pulse of how people feel about the issues that affect them”.

But online mastery does not always lead to results for political parties, for whom the most important result is at the ballot box.

The Singapore Democratic Party has the most visited political party website, and its chief, Dr Chee Soon Juan, was the first politician here to utilise podcasts to reach netizens.

Yet, its performance at the polls lagged behind the other Opposition parties. The likes of the Singapore Democratic Alliance and the Reform Party, meanwhile, have no online sites, although their respective secretary-generals, Mr Chiam See Tong and Mr J B Jeyaratnam, do have pages on Facebook, supposedly started by supporters.

Mr Gerald Giam, deputy editor of website The Online Citizen, thinks it commendable that political parties are using new platforms to engage Singaporeans. But it is “too early to tell if this will garner a following” or “just fizzle out in the end”.