Friday, 4 September 2015

GE2015 Campaign Day 3: Sparks fly as AHPETC becomes lightning rod

PAP and WP leaders exchange barbs over what has become the dominant issue so far
By Rachel Chang, Assistant Political Editor, The Straits Times, 4 Sep 2015

Round 1 of the election campaign was like a blast from the past as politicians exchanged blows over the long-running Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC) saga, which has emerged as the dominant issue of the hustings so far.

Both National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan and Foreign and Law Minister K. Shanmugam took umbrage at the way Workers' Party (WP) leaders had characterised AHPETC's lapses at their first rally on Wednesday night.

WP chief Low Thia Khiang had said that "I would be serving time if I was corrupt", while WP chairman Sylvia Lim said the town council was not in financial difficulty and had not been overcharged by its managing agent.

Speaking to the press yesterday, Mr Khaw said: "Their town council paid more than everyone else. Their managing agent made more than everyone else. Their town council lost money more than everyone else. And they say everything is OK 'because none of us are in jail'."

Mr Shanmugam said that the WP has repeatedly refused to address questions raised by the PAP about AHPETC, in Parliament or in the media, all year long.

"They chose to (talk about) it at a rally, where they don't have to answer any questions," he noted.

At the WP rally in Boon Keng last night, Ms Lim upped the ante, telling the audience: "If they can bring evidence against us, we will subject ourselves to the necessary (legal) procedures."

But she also said that the WP did not want to be bogged down by the topic in this campaign.

One of its star new faces, East Coast GRC candidate Leon Perera, said the ruling party wanted voters to think that the polls are about local issues, to avoid discussion of national topics like the plight of older citizens, the future size of the population and how trains are managed.

Unexpectedly, the PAP politician most in the WP's cross hairs, East Coast GRC anchor minister Lim Swee Say, stayed resolutely away from the topic. Mr Lim, who is fighting off a repeat WP challenge after a close win with 54.8 per cent in the 2011 General Election, told a rally audience in Bedok that he and his teammates have "never said anything about our opponents".

"Because as far as we are concerned, this GE is about we serving you, we caring for you," he said, adding that the East Coast rally would not be like "most rallies you attend, (where) you see the contesting parties, they scold each other, they shout at each other, they fire at each other".

Instead, their rally speeches last night dwelled on how they have helped residents on the municipal level in the past four years.

Mr Lim, who is Manpower Minister, also defended the Government's immigration policy, arguing that the pre-2010 influx was due to its desire to seize economic opportunities, and had benefited Singaporeans.

But it then moved to tighten the tap of foreign workers in 2010 - before the 2011 GE, he emphasised - because the ratio of Singaporeans to foreigners was falling.

Across the six rallies held last night on Day 3 of the campaign were several firsts: a maiden rally for new party Singaporeans First, the first rally in recent history by an independent candidate, blogger Han Hui Hui, and the first time in 15 years that Singapore Democratic Party chief Chee Soon Juan spoke to voters while on the hustings.

Dr Chee was previously not allowed to stand in elections as he had been bankrupted by a defamation suit. Calling the PAP out of touch with the poor and lambasting the high costs of living in Singapore, Dr Chee said that he had not given up his long political struggle because he believes in Singaporeans. "The human spirit can only be suppressed, never quashed."

The campaign is set to go wide with the weekend's arrival. Nine rallies by eight political parties are scheduled for tonight.

Scratching the surface won't solve deep issues: DPM
Getting together to rub out root of the problem is much harder task that PAP has done, says Teo Chee Hean
By Jessica Lim and Lydia Lam, The Straits Times, 4 Sep 2015

It is easy to put on an act to make someone feel better. But to get together to rub out the root of the problem, something the People's Action Party has done, is far more difficult, said Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean last night at Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC's rally.

Pretending to solve a problem was like pretending to cure an itch, he suggested.

"It's like a mosquito bite, says, 'Look, let me scratch. Does that feel better? Let me scratch some more, does that feel better?' And in the end, what happens? You get a sore forming and you become sick and ill," said the anchor minister for the six-member Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC, whose team faces one from the Singapore Democratic Alliance. "It is easy to deliberately rake up and accentuate differences to cause confrontation and disharmony, but it is not so easy... to have constructive dialogue and build consensus to bring people together, to achieve a common goal."

He held up the Our Singapore Conversation exercise as a positive example of consensus-building which resulted in new programmes and policies for Singapore.

Speaking from a stage in a field beside Buangkok MRT station, he also reminded Singaporeans not to take the nation's current state of peace, stability and harmony for granted.

Singaporeans, he said, need not look very far to find "unhappy examples" of race and religion sparking riots and killings in neighbouring countries and terrorist attacks in the region.

Referring to the recent violence in the region - like the unfolding terrorist plot in Bangkok, the Bersih 4.0 rallies in Malaysia, Occupy Central in Hong Kong and the student occupation of Parliament House in Taiwan that brought "chaos and paralysis" to the country - he asked: "Is that the kind of democracy and freedom that we want? The democracy and freedom to bring a country into stoppage and unable to progress?"

He also reminded Singaporeans that almost exactly 51 years ago, racial riots broke out here, a bomb went off in Orchard Road at MacDonald House and the Singapore economy was cut off from Indonesia and then from Malaysia too after separation.

Back then, he said, Singaporeans feared for the value of the Singapore dollar.

"I still remember they preferred to keep the ringgit because we had no tin, we had no rubber to keep the Singdollar strong. What a tremendous change 50 years has brought us. Today, the Singdollar is worth three ringgit," he said, to cheers in the audience.

"We have achieved much together but we must never take what we have for granted," he added.

His Pasir Ris-Punggol teammate, new candidate and former defence force chief Ng Chee Meng, described Singapore as "a small red dot in a turbulent sea".

"Good leaders are needed to ensure that we have a strong economy, so that Singaporeans can have good jobs, and make a living for ourselves and for our families," he said, citing the party's proven record over the past 50 years. He also pointed to future plans in store for the area.

Among the projects that are under way are the widening of Loyang Avenue, the doubling of the LRT's capacity, a new polyclinic and the ramping up of childcare facilities.

His GRC teammate Sun Xueling, also a new candidate, said that Singapore's journey was "not one paved by talkers or the critics or the man who just points out how the strong man stumbles".

Describing the path travelled thus far as long and rugged, the investment director at Temasek Holdings said: "As long as we stay together, we will be able to overcome all challenges... I hope you remember one word, cherish."

PAP East Coast GRC team stays cool in 'hot seat'
By Wong Siew Ying, The Straits Times, 4 Sep 2015

For a constituency being talked about as a "hot seat" in this general election, there was not a lot of heat at the People's Action Party's East Coast GRC rally last night.

And that is how Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say wants it to be as he leads his four-member team in battle against the Workers' Party.

"In most rallies you attend, you see the contesting parties, they scold each other, they shout at each other, they fire at each other, not in East Coast," he said at the Bedok Stadium.

Instead, he and his teammates zeroed in on local issues and how PAP MPs had helped the residents over the past four years.

"We never said anything about our opponents, because as far as we are concerned, this General Election is about us serving you, us caring for you," he added, to cheers from the gathered crowd.

The last of several speakers, Mr Lim shared how initiatives such as MediShield Life and the Pioneer Generation Package helped ease residents' concerns over healthcare costs. He also spoke about the issue of foreign workers and preserving jobs for Singaporeans.

His teammates are Senior Minister of State Lee Yi Shyan, Minister of State Mohamad Maliki Osman and two-term MP Jessica Tan.

Mr Lee spent a good part of his speech talking about infrastructure improvements in his Kampong Chai Chee ward. The most significant change, he said, was in Bedok Central.

"It is the integration of Bedok bus interchange, Bedok MRT and the hawker centre with the shopping mall; with these projects nearing completion, 40,000 of residents, day in day out, enjoy a better commute experience and lifestyle," he said.

Another mega project to be completed in 2017, dubbed the Bedok Integrated Complex, will provide more facilities, including a swimming pool, library and polyclinic.

Taking in residents' feedback, he said more projects such as childcare and elderly care centres, and bicycle lanes are coming up, too.

Ms Tan said Changi-Simei residents asked for a bank branch at Eastpoint Mall. She engaged the management of POSB and the mall, and the bank will be setting up a branch there. "We believe in not just taking care of today, but also providing for tomorrow," said Ms Tan, as she announced plans to further improve the estate, including lift replacement, rewiring, re-roofing, and refuse-flushing systems for public housing.

"So with strong financial management, we have been able to invest a further $50 million for the next five years, and this will come from our sinking fund," she added.

Dr Maliki spoke about caring for the elderly and low-income families, including helping those in rental flats to get their own homes.

"We will hold the hand of those who are slower and lagging behind, but we will never leave them behind," he said.

Lim Swee Say defends Govt's track record on foreign workers
By Janice Heng, The Straits Times, 4 Sep 2015

Manpower Minister and former labour chief Lim Swee Say defended the PAP Government's track record on foreign labour at last night's East Coast GRC rally, citing figures to show that local workers have benefited.

Immigration and foreign labour have been hot topics, cropping up in all the opposition parties' party political broadcasts last night.

But Mr Lim said the earlier high manpower growth and recent tightening measures were for the sake of Singaporeans: "I want to assure you, we did it for you."

He noted unhappiness over "too many foreigners", with some thinking it was a mistake "to let so many in". But the high manpower growth of the past was in the context of economic instability, from the 1997 Asian financial crisis - with 29,000 workers retrenched - to the bursting of the bubble, Sept 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on America and Sars in 2003.

"We had no idea how many more ups and downs were ahead of us... We decided we must find ways to provide better protection to our Singaporean workers."

Hence the policy: "Whenever the wind blows, catch the wind."

Firms with good projects that required more workers could bring them in. And these workers were a buffer in downturns, he said, citing some "concrete outcomes".

From 2001 to 2003, the number of local workers with jobs rose by 35,000 - but the number of foreign workers fell by 70,000.

In the global financial crisis of 2008 and 2009, foreign worker numbers fell by 4,000. But local worker numbers rose by 40,000.

That policy was thus good for workers, but had to change because the ratio of Singaporeans to foreigners was falling. If it continued, "Singaporeans will wake up one day to find ourselves among the minority in the workforce".

"So, as the Government, we said 'No, that is not the way to go'."

The slowing of foreign labour inflows was announced in the 2010 Budget, he said, adding that anyone claiming the policy changed because of the outcome of the 2011 General Election should "check the record in Parliament".

He also stressed that the change has been real. For instance, annual growth of foreign professionals, managers and executives fell from 45,000 a year to 13,000 last year.

But with workforce growth slowing, this is just the beginning of Singapore's challenges, he added. To stay competitive, Singapore must create "jobs of the future" and retrain workers.

Earlier, his fellow candidate Lee Yi Shyan pledged to "champion the cause of SkillsFuture initiatives" - government moves to encourage workers to develop skills.

'Progress of Malays reflects Singapore's success'
By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, The Straits Times, 4 Sep 2015

The Malay community's tremendous progress over the years is a reflection of Singapore's success, said Minister of State for Defence and National Development Mohamad Maliki Osman.

At the People's Action Party rally for East Coast GRC last night, he said: "The Malay community now has shown results that surpass those of the previous generation. This is the story of Singapore."

The community has excelled academically, with more Malays graduating with first-class honours, for instance.

The PAP cares for the community and will ensure that the future remains rich with opportunities, he said.

Dr Maliki, who was born in 1965, looked back on his own humble beginnings, growing up in a family of 11. "I have lived through Singapore's transformation. I have had a taste of living in a kampung, seen the start of rental flats and, later, moved into a home owned by my parents," he recalled.

And the Singapore success story is most clearly illustrated in its homes, with over 90 per cent of citizens now living in homes that they own. Malays, too, have benefited from this, said Dr Maliki.

And as home ownership is critical to building resilient families, the PAP will continue to help Singaporeans own their homes.

Already, the Government has offered a hand to families living in rental flats. The Fresh Start Housing Grant will help them buy their own two-room flats.

"Is this not a situation we can be proud of? Only in Singapore can we see those living in rental flats being given the opportunity to own their flats. Only in Singapore can we make this a reality," said Dr Maliki.

Earlier, East Coast GRC resident Yusuf Ali took to the stage and urged the Malay community to stand by the PAP.

"The PAP values the contributions of the Malay/Muslim community in Singapore. They are concerned about the issues we face," he said.

"Fifty years ago, Mr Lee Kuan Yew promised our citizens that Singapore would belong to everyone, regardless of race and religion. This is a promise that the PAP will keep alive," he added.

Embattled town council 'not good for residents'
By Jessica Lim and Lydia Lam, The Straits Times, 4 Sep 2015

It is not in residents' interests to be with a town council at loggerheads with various parties, said Punggol East PAP candidate Charles Chong, referring to the Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPTEC) saga.

He is up against the Workers' Party's Ms Lee Li Lian in the 34,410-voter, single-member constituency (SMC).

Speaking at the Pasir Ris-Punggol rally yesterday night in the field next to Buangkok MRT station, the 62-year-old cautioned voters against remaining in a GRC with a town council that was "embroiled in dispute" with the Ministry of National Development (MND), the High Court, auditors and with its former managing agent.

Criticising WP's reaction to the fallout, he said: "It is also disconcerting that the key people in charge of the town council, instead of concentrating their efforts on finding solutions to their difficulties, are finding excuses about why they are unable to do a proper job."

"It is therefore timely... to get Punggol East out of AHPTEC, to get our accounts in order... and to eliminate the possibility of any of our managing agents writing 'owe money, pay money' on the wall of our town council office," he quipped.

Fellow rally speaker Lam Pin Min, Sengkang West SMC's PAP candidate, who is up against the Workers' Party's Mr Koh Choong Yong, rebutted claims that his party members were not good listeners.

"People say the PAP does not listen. Who says so? Do you think the columbarium issue was solved by itself?" he asked, adding that a dialogue session was swiftly held with residents after the news broke.

Last December, home buyers had objected to a columbarium being located next to a build-to-order residential project.

In January, the Government rejected plans by funeral services firm Eternal Pure Land to build the commercial columbarium. A second tender was then called.

The Minister of State for Health took a swipe at his opponent, suggesting that Mr Koh may not be aware the PAP had listened to residents' feedback since he had "disappeared for the past four years".

Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC candidate Zainal Sapari likened the opposition to magicians that appear only during elections. He also rebutted the opposition's minimum wage proposal. This would do little to improve the lives of low-income workers, he said.

"(Many firms) will not increase your salary because they have already paid the minimum," he said, adding that the older and physically-challenged workers might also lose their jobs due to the higher costs of employing them.

And what, asked the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) assistant secretary-general, has the opposition done for low-wage workers?

"Zero, nothing," he said.

Dawn-to-dusk campaign for PM Lee
He joins other PAP ministers and candidates to meet voters on the ground
By Karamjit Kaur, Aviation Correspondent, The Straits Times, 4 Sep 2015

Commuters at Ang Mo Kio MRT station during the morning rush hour yesterday were greeted by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, as People's Action Party (PAP) candidates and supporters pounded the streets across the island.

Accompanied by his wife Ho Ching and fellow Ang Mo Kio GRC candidates, Mr Lee set off at about 7.30am, distributing fliers and posing for pictures with office executives and students, as well as others who were out and about.

Campaigning at AMK MRT Station
Campaigning this morning at AMK MRT Station. - LHL (Hyperlapse video by Ho Ching)#GE2015
Posted by Ang Mo Kio GRC on Wednesday, September 2, 2015

His presence created quite a sensation and as the crowd swelled, SMRT staff had to ask Public Transport Security Command officers to help manage the build-up.

At one point, as many as 20 people were waiting in line to meet him. Several also asked for his autograph. Housewife Ang Min Kee, 76, said in Malay: "Must take photo. Rare chance."

As campaigning entered the third of nine days, Mr Lee told The Straits Times after an hour-long morning walkabout: "The candidates are all working hard on the ground. Ours are and I think the opposition ones are active too. We continue to work. It's still early days yet."

As they thanked voters for their support so far and appealed for their continued backing, candidates who hit the ground yesterday pledged to do even more. Parliament Speaker Halimah Yacob, who is standing in the new Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC, said that if she is re-elected, she hopes to focus on the elderly and on young children, and rope in private companies to do more to help her residents.

"We have our own programmes in place, but it's always great to have more hands on deck to provide more support. We do need a lot more partners from the private sector to come in to work with us."

Yesterday, she visited two rental units with volunteers from offshore company Swiber, who plan to spruce up the flats of 50 needy families around the island. Madam Chan Wai Ping, 75, who lives alone in a one-room flat, broke down as she told Madam Halimah in Malay: "I'm so happy that you want to help me."

In Jalan Besar GRC, Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim and team-mates Heng Chee How, Lily Neo and Denise Phua started their day meeting residents at the Geylang Bahru market and food centre, before fanning out for door-to-door visits.

Tanjong Pagar GRC candidates Chan Chun Sing, who is labour chief, Indranee Rajah, Chia Shi-Lu, Melvin Yong and Joan Pereira were at the Pek Kio market and food centre when Ms Indranee spotted white canvas shoes with red-and-blue stripes - the PAP's colours - at a small shop.

The team left with six pairs of shoes, at $11 a pair, after which Ms Indranee wrote on her Facebook page: "Now we're even better equipped to walk the ground!"

Candidates say they have long been gearing up for these intense days of campaigning. For Madam Halimah, who runs 3km on the treadmill or cycles on her stationary bike for at least half an hour several times a week, exercise is key.

"It builds up my stamina lah," she said with a laugh. "Otherwise, I will not be able to do it (walkabouts)."

Candidates continued walkabouts in the evening. In Chua Chu Kang GRC, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong greeted residents outside the MRT station, distributing leaflets and tissue packs with the slogan "Together, a better home."

PM Lee continued campaigning into the evening, visiting Hougang Point's festive market and Sheng Siong supermarket in Jalan Kayu.

Additional reporting by Toh Yong Chuan, Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh and Linette Lai

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