Sunday, 23 August 2015

Ways to improve Singaporeans' lives are national issues

Many issues have been debated in Parliament, including the accounting lapses at Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC) and the People's Association, the population White Paper, and others that were raised during the recent National University of Singapore Society dialogue ("Pre-GE forum offers glimpse of likely issues at poll hustings"; Wednesday).

All the aforementioned are about making the lives of Singaporeans better; they are of national interest ("Don't harp on old issues" by Mr Francis Cheng, and "Ask questions of national interest" by Mr Peter Chan ; both published yesterday).

Take the AHPETC saga, for example. Is running it well just about ensuring the estate is clean, the lifts are working and so on?

Or is there something to be said about the value of running it in a financially responsible, disciplined and transparent way that places the contributions of constituents and taxpayers at heart?

The "incorruptibility" of our system is a key strength that sets Singapore apart from many other countries in the world, and helps us attract investments and create jobs, even though we are a relatively expensive place to do business in terms of upfront costs.

Corrupt officials are put on trial as soon as they are caught; lapses are rectified immediately.

Most Singaporeans take pride in the integrity of our system. It is in our interest to protect and advance this competitive advantage.

Allowing the rot to set in will adversely affect our economy and society in the long run, including our livelihoods and well-being.

While we must encourage more alternative voices for Singapore to develop further, this does not mean compromising on the highest standards of probity and competence, especially for those who choose to represent our needs and aspirations in a First World Parliament, regardless of their party affiliations.

Part of our growth as a country is also the participation of independent-minded voters who can ask pertinent questions outside of the legislative process, as well as discern between personal, party and national interests in a fair and objective way.

Toh Cheng Seong
ST Forum, 21 Aug 2015

Don't harp on old issues

The impending election rallies should not touch on old scores and wounds to gain political capital.

The town council and People's Association (PA) fiascos have already been extensively debated in Parliament ("Town councils set to be major election issue"; Tuesday).

Voters can get tired of the same old record playing over and over, and harping on these issues can only result in endless filibustering.

For example, if the PAP reiterates that the PA lapses are within control, the Workers' Party would probably defend its turf with counterarguments as to how and why the PA lapses are identical to its own town council lapses.

Then, the PAP will defend itself in its next rally, and so will the WP. The rallies could end up becoming nothing more than boxing matches that can become personal.

We must avoid that.

What voters want to hear is how parties have made the lives of their constituents better, what they have achieved in the past and their key performance indicators for another five years if they are elected.

An election rally is not about who runs which town councils and how they do it; nor is it about the PA. It is about the people of Singapore and their problems.

A political rally speech is not a lecture, trying to point out other facts or teach the audience something new, in response to what has been said in Parliament.

If political parties piggyback on the mistakes of other candidates, this may be seen as mere bad-mouthing.

It is easy to make grand claims on the opponents' weakness, but we should avoid citing the same incident or issue over and over.

Over the years, Singapore's political system has matured gradually in moving away from the hostile and potentially slanderous landscape of the 1980s. This is the result of Singapore's open and fair system, with the responsible exercising of freedom of speech during rallies. We should keep it this way and not abuse it.

Francis Cheng
ST Forum, 20 Aug 2015

Ask questions of national interest

In the British general election campaign, the electorate did not ask the question that some Singaporeans are asking, which is "what has the opposition done in this ward over the last four years; they turn up only during elections".

The questions asked by the British electorate were mainly of national interest.

Perhaps, here lies the explanation of why many of the tactics used by the People's Action Party (PAP) in previous elections worked so well.

When an opposition candidate loses in a ward, he has no means of providing services to the residents in the constituency he contested in.

But, when a PAP candidate loses in a ward, he has the machinery of the People's Association and residents' committees at his disposal to continue serving residents in that ward.

I am not begrudging the fact that the party that forms the Government will, of course, use the public service machinery to serve its political purpose, while catering for the welfare of the nation.

Maybe the way forward for our democracy to mature is to ask questions that are more of national interests and on the longer-term development of Singapore.

We must go beyond short-term and selfish issues, such as estate upgrading. I hope the ruling party will also refrain from using the carrot-and-stick approach in the forthcoming election. This will breed a generation of voters who are preoccupied with selfish and short-term wants, always pressuring the Government to pander to their wishes.

No political party, regardless of its resolve to promote integrity, competence and transparency, dares claim impeccable records.

We also shouldn't be thinking that we have been doing so well thus far that we need no credible opposition in Parliament to raise questions and press for accountability.

Part of our well-being and growth as a democratic country is the opening up of our political arena for alternative voices.

Peter Chan
ST Forum, 20 Aug 2015

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