Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Advisers to grassroots bodies should be elected MPs

MANAGING the spat between the People's Association (PA) and the Aljunied-Hougang Town Council over the use of sites for community activities requires concrete and real effort from the Government, which has to be clear and consistent in applying its rules to all constituencies regardless of their local governance ('Curbs lifted on events at PA sites'; last Wednesday).

In the latest dispute, the PA and Ministry of National Development (MND) do not seem to see the issue as one of politicking, but rather as one of practicality as they want to facilitate the organisation of community events within the neighbourhood.

However, the PA as an institution is itself political. In a joint statement, the PA and MND stated that the former had no difficulty getting access to sites managed by the People's Action Party (PAP) town councils. They had omitted the fact that in all PAP town councils, the party's MPs are the advisers to the grassroots organisations. This arrangement is not found in opposition-held wards, where the defeated PAP candidates are the grassroots advisers. This results in the PA being seen as an arm of the PAP, when it is supposed to be a statutory board funded by taxpayers.

As a government body, the PA should serve all residents regardless of their political affiliations.

The perception that the PA is equated with the PAP is inevitable as long as the current practice of appointing PAP MPs and defeated candidates as grassroots advisers is continued.

Hougang grassroots adviser Desmond Choo is wrong when he argued that the PA's arrangement does not put the Workers' Party at a disadvantage politically ('PAP's Desmond Choo asks PA to lease six sites'; last Wednesday).

While Mr Choo and other defeated PAP candidates have the platform to negotiate with the Housing Board and do more for the residents, thus earning political mileage, the opposition candidates cannot do the same in wards where they were defeated.

I hope the PA will stick to its aims of bringing people together based on national rather than partisan interest. Advisers to grassroots organisations should be elected MPs because they have the mandate of the residents to govern their constituencies.

Muhammad Yusuf Osman