The Colour of the Money Bribing You is White on White.
Last Sunday Mr Murali Pillai, the People’s Action Party (PAP) candidate for the Bukit Batok by-election, unveiled a $1.9 million value infrastructure plan for the SMC that can only be implemented if he were to be elected on May 7. The plans come under the Neighbourhood Renewal Programme (NRP) for the precinct at Blocks 140 to 149, Bukit Batok West Avenue 4.
Murali’s statements immediately kicked up a storm in the social media because of their heavy handed appearance of being an outright threat by the PAP to withhold upgrading to opposition voters. With his comments that if Bukit Batok (BB) residents do not elect him then a $1.9 million planned upgrading project would not go ahead, Pillai crossed a line and was panned for it. The reason he gave was that the project was an NRP under Jurong-Clementi Town Council which managed Jurong and BB jointly. (Interestingly Clementi itself was taken out of West Coast GRC and put in Jurong GRC in a shameless piece of gerrymandering because my team scored over 40% there in GE2011.) So should BB go to an Opposition MP, then it would no longer be managed by Jurong-Clementi Town Council and would forfeit its part in the plans.
While the form of words was ambiguous Pillai clearly intended to create the impression in voters’ minds that electing an Opposition MP would lead to discrimination against them in the form of less money for amenities. Certainly SDP’s Paul Thambyah immediately protested that this would be a breach of Section 59 of the Parliamentary Elections Act (PEA) which prohibits any person exercising undue influence over voters. Unfortunately Paul whilst on the right track has got the wrong section of the Act. “Undue influence” covers the use of force or threats to inflict harm on a person to get them to vote the way you want. Pillai is not threatening to punch anyone- not yet!
The correct section of the Act is Section 60 which covers Bribery, offering something valuable, whether it be money, employment or other valuable consideration to the voter in return for them voting the way you want. I do believe that Pillai’s statement of intent is a clear breach of Section 60.
The PAP then responded to an article in The Middle Ground, denying that Murali had threatened the residents with the loss of upgrading plans if he was not elected. This is what they said (reproduced from The Middle Ground) :
If a candidate for election as Member of Parliament is not elected, his Party’s Town Council naturally cannot be responsible for the constituency, and cannot carry out its NRP plans for that constituency.” This simple fact was what Mr Murali Pillai had stated in response to a query from the media on April 24. It will then be for the new Town Council that is formed to decide on its plans and what it should proceed with.
The Government funds NRP projects for all Town Councils. The number of NRP projects approved for each Town Council takes into account characteristics such as the age profile of the HDB units governed by each Town Council. It is the Town Council that nominates the neighbourhoods which should be prioritised for NRP, when it applies for Government funding.
This is just semantics. The PAP still want to give the impression that Opposition constituencies will enjoy a lower priority for upgrading than PAP constituencies and they will no doubt focus on spreading seeds of doubt about SDP’s ability to produce an NRP. WP have already done the PAP’s work for them in casting doubt in voters’ minds about the Oppositions ability to run a Town council.
Before you get too depressed about the PAP’s control of all the resources and ability to threaten and bribe in turn we should remember two more episodes.
The first is THAT student who stunned Lee Hsien Loong himself by answering back in a public forum when he spoke at NUS (see here):
At the Kent Ridge Ministerial Forum organised by the National University of Singapore(NUS) Students’ Political Association on Tuesday, fourth-year engineering student Seah Yin Hwa, 25, asked PM Lee why residents living in Hougang SMC are penalised for picking “a ‘Teochew nang’ (dialect for Teochew person) who doesn’t wear a white uniform.”
When asked by PM Lee on how he was penalised, Seah said, “When it comes to upgrading, what is being told to us is that we don’t have the funds to actually go ahead with lift upgrading, as well as shelters to the bus stops. When I look across the road to Aljunied GRC, they have everything.”
Paraphrasing the question posed, PM Lee said that what Mr Seah meant is why the opposition wards are not treated at least as good, or maybe even better than the PAP wards. (Although Mr Seah hadn’t asked to be treated better just for equal rights for equal tax payers)
PM Lee added, “And the answer is that there has to be a distinction. Because the PAP wards supported the Government and the policies which delivered these good things.”
“Between the people who voted and supported the programme and the government, and the people who didn’t, I think if we went and put yours before the PAP constituencies, it would be an injustice,” PM Lee told the 1,200 students at the forum.
Hitting the nail directly on its head Mr Seah shot back to ask if he could pay less tax and maybe “take one or two years off my NS?”. This drew laughter and applause from the audience but it is no laughing matter to give up 2 years of your life, pay the same tax and then have basic amenities withheld because of your political beliefs.
Rounding off his reply, PM Lee said, “But you can do something about it, you know. You don’t have to keep voting for people not in white-on-white.”
So, while it is up to the Town Council to propose upgrading projects (and Dr Chee already appears to have a capable team in place), whether the Government funds those projects depends upon whether the colour of the Town Council is white on white.
The second episode to remember and to give you hope is Anson. JBJ won the first seat at Anson in a by-election. Before the following GE Anson voters were of course treated to the same threats and bribes as described above. They seemed to take some pride in hitting back and showing that they could not be coerced, voting JBJ in again with a much larger majority. The first time JBJ won Anson by a few hundred votes but after the threats his percentage of the vote leapt to 56%.
After this by election no matter the result, we can all of us push through a legal challenge on Section 60 of the PEA. Until that time lets encourage the voters of Bukit Batok to look beyond such childish sweeteners and to show some Anson spirit to elect Chee Soon Juan on May 7th.