Friday, April 27, 2012

Has PAP really changed...for the better or worse?

I am back in Singapore to stay for a couple of weeks. So far, I have heard quite a number of people telling me that GE2011 is good for Singapore because it seems that PAP has "changed". It no longer just talks in cold logic and brushes Singaporeans aside dispassionately etc.

 I was just about to believe such talks until I met Dennis Lim, a resident of Yishun Town. The issue he brought up was supposedly a "good issue" which turned sour for him and his neighbours.

 The story is just plain simple but yet, the PAP MP Mr Faishal of his ward with his grassroot people and HDB Lift upgrading staff have made the whole issue complicated.

 The story started with a happy beginning with Dennis Lim's block being offered Lift Upgrading (LUP). So as usual, residents were told to vote for the LUP with brochures and material given out. When you buy a property, you will depend on the floor plan to make your decision. Thus, the brochures and material given out by HDB/Town Council to the residents with regards to the LUP are important documents for reference.

 The residents as a whole voted for the LUP although the cost to each household was pretty high (a few thousands) to begin with. All were well until two residents complained about the lift landing was too close to their units' gates because they have bought the corridors from HDB. According to the residents of "the other side" of the lift landing, HDB staff called them to request their consent to move the lift landing 1 foot towards their side. Since they were told it will only be 30cm difference, they agreed to it.

 However, the dispute arose when the contractor actually shifted 2 meters instead of 1 foot. To cut the story short, obviously the residents on the other side of the lift landing became very unhappy about it. It was said that the previous MP of the ward, Mr. Ong Ah Heng did a site visit and agreed with the residents that a mistake was made but he could not do anything because piling was already done.

 The lift has been built since but the residents are still unhappy about it. They just want to get to the bottom of things on why an initial agreement of 30cm shift turned into 2 meters. Instead of getting a satisfactory answer from their new MP and HDB, they ended up with doubtful replies. Now HDB claimed that they have not made any mistakes at all and the lift was built according to the "initial plan". They now deny making any calls to get residents' consent to shift 30 cm because they insist that the lift was built according to the initial plan presented during the vote.

 This has further infuriated residents there, including Dennis Lim. The anger finally befalls upon their new MP because they felt that he has sided with HDB which apparently has demonstrated integrity problems on this issue. Well, you can't blame Singaporeans to stereotyping PAP MPs as "Yes Men", can you?

 Dennis Lim and his neighbours just want to make sure that such incident will not happen again in other LUPs exercised on other HDB flats. They couldn't possibly ask HDB to demolish the whole lift and rebuild it again. They just want transparency and accountability from HDB and its contractors. Of course, it would be nice if HDB or Town Council could make some concessions to them for making such mistakes but I don't think that is what they are really after.

 This may sound "trivial" incident at first because politically speaking, these residents may constitute to about a few votes. However, if we think deeper on the implications of the whole little saga, it is not difficult to conclude that PAP and its machinery are more interested to cover their own mistakes instead of getting to the bottom of the root cause of the problems.

 Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has taken the unprecedented courage to say sorry and apologize to Singaporeans during GE2011. Although many like me would think that it is just too little too late, but it is still better than never. But in spite of what PM has promised, it seems that the whole PAP and the machinery which it leads are still reluctant to change at all. In some sense, it even gets worse because now civil servants are going all out to cover up their own mistakes by being dishonest about the whole incident. Integrity is of utmost important, regardless of whether you are the ruling or opposition party.

 This is just a small "grassroot example" I have put up to show difficult for PAP to change itself. There are other "more obvious" issues like the self-denial mode some PAP MPs and ministers adopted with regards to bigger issues of HDB prices and such. Of course, there are also "political" issue like the denial to Dr Chee Soon Juan's application to leave the country to attend international forums and talks.

 Talking about the denial of permission for Dr Chee to travel overseas, I find it quite ironic that our justice system could even allow a criminally charged FOREIGNER (for patronizing an underage prostitute) to leave the country to get marry while a Singaporean like Dr Chee is literally put under "politically country arrest" using administrative means on his "political" bankruptcy. I am sure the possibility of Dr Chee returning to Singapore would be definitely HIGHER than those Foreigners who have been criminally charged! Well, maybe PAP misses Dr Chee so much so that they couldn't bear to live without him in this country even for a single minute!

 I guess PAP still has a long way to go before it could convince anyone that they have actually changed, socially as well as politically.

 Goh Meng Seng