Singapore 2025

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Straits Times: Sniffing out the grassroots divide in Aljunied

This article in today’s Straits Times raises a number of interesting questions – these questions are by no means new. Nonetheless, Wan Gek ended her article well. “….a review of how grassroots groups are organised would not be out of place, for the sake of better resource allocation and community unity in opposition-held wards.”

In the minds of many fair-minded Singaporeans, on the surface at least, the role of the entire gamut of People’s Association grassroots organisations – i.e. RCs, CCs, CCMCs etc., is not controversial. Singaporeans agree it is good to have grassroots entities that serve citizens regardless of political affiliation. The problem is the perception of an unhealthy connection between P.A. grassroots organisations and the ruling PAP. One RC Chairman in Eunos I understand was crying uncontrollably when the PAP team lost in Aljunied.

The political choices of public servants must necessarily be private. All citizens are free to support their political party of choice. But as a grassroots leader, the call of public service demands political neutrality.

In the Eunos ward, whenever I meet RC members, I have openly told them that the WP MPs will treat them like any other Singaporean, and we are here to serve them too. While the majority were polite, the body language of some told a different story. Yet, there are other RC members who are openly welcoming, and are able to clearly distinguish that the entire P.A. ecosystem is to serve Singaporeans, not the PAP or the WP or any other political party – this attitude ought to be commended.

Clearly, the Aljunied Constituency Committee ( ) (AJCC) is a WP grassroots response to the denial of many elements of the P.A. nomenclature/ecosystem to elected WP MPs. As Wan Gek’s story factually reveals, “The situation in PAP wards is different. There, the grassroots groups work with the elected PAP MPs in their capacity as government-appointed grassroots advisers.”

Fair-minded Singaporeans I have spoken with want a truly depoliticised grassroots network. I also think citizen-state relations in Singapore will be far better off with a politically neutral People’s Association. If elected PAP MPs can officiate at constituency events, why not WP MPs – are they not Singaporeans? Elected MPs must not be penalised because of their desire to serve all Singaporeans.

The WP has no power to change the current status quo which is clearly in favour of the PAP. But we can do this – make the AJCC substantively neutral. And do that we will.

The AJCC welcomes all, and it is not a trojan horse for Workers’ Party membership (and God forbid, contracts/job opportunities/preferential placements for Primary 1 admission etc.). Joining any political party is a purely personal choice. You are not going to see us handing out WP membership forms at AJCC events!

The AJCC wants Aljunied residents to get to know your neighbours, and for all of us to take care of our neighbourhood. Share your dreams and worries. Speak freely about the problems in your neighbourhood and how best we can work together to resolve them. The elections are over. Lets move forward as one people.



Sniffing out the grassroots divide in Aljunied

2375 words

24 June 2011

Straits Times



(c) 2011 Singapore Press Holdings Limited

The Workers’ Party has set up its own grassroots network in Aljunied, the first GRC to fall to the opposition. Meanwhile, it’s business as usual for the People’s Association grassroots organisations there. Teo Wan Gek reports on what impact this split at the grassroots level has on residents.

JULY is a favourite month for trips up north to visit durian plantations and sample their delights.

This year, residents of Aljunied GRC will have their pick of durian tours. Those who live in the Eunos ward can opt for a two-day trip to Malacca leaving on July 16, to be led by former MP and Eunos grassroots adviser Zainul Abidin Rasheed.

The trip, an annual staple of the ward’s Citizens Consultative Committee (CCC), includes a visit to a durian plantation, shopping at Yong Peng and a night’s stay in Malacca’s Renaissance Hotel. The cost is $170 an adult.

Or they can plump for a new offering of the Workers’ Party’s grassroots startup – the Aljunied Constituency Committee or AJCC, set up last Sunday.

Its two day trips are on July 10 and 17. They will be led by the five Aljunied GRC MPs – Mr Low Thia Khiang, Ms Sylvia Lim, Mr Chen Show Mao, Mr Pritam Singh and Mr Muhamad Faisal Abdul Manap – and include an all-you-can-eat durian buffet at a plantation in Tangkak, and visits to a Siam temple and brown rice factory. The price: $58 an adult.

Eunos Community Club Youth Executive Committee chairman Sear Hock Rong knows of at least one person who is a regular on tours led by Mr Zainul, who has this year opted for the WP tour instead.

‘It’s something new in town. I can understand why she would want to go,’ Mr Sear said of the resident.

Why a split at the grassroots?

THERE are grassroots groups active in all constituencies but in an opposition ward like Aljunied GRC, these groups do not work with the elected MPs.

The established grassroots groups, namely the CCCs, Community Club Management Committees (CCMCs), Residents’ Committees (RCs) and Neighbourhood Committees (NCs), come under the People’s Association or PA, a statutory board.

The PA’s policy is that its grassroots groups have to remain non-partisan. That means opposition MPs are not invited to RC-organised block parties, or CCC-organised National Day dinners.

The situation in PAP wards is different. There, the grassroots groups work with the elected PAP MPs in their capacity as government-appointed grassroots advisers.

In Aljunied GRC, the four former PAP MPs and a first-time PAP candidate, who lost to the WP team at the May 7 polls, remain as grassroots advisers.

That is why the Workers’ Party set up the AJCC, which is staffed by WP members and volunteers, and co-chaired by Mr Low and Ms Lim.

It is modelled after a similar grassroots organisation Mr Low set up in Hougang after he won the single-seat ward in 1991.

The AJCC’s role, Mr Low said a day after its launch last Sunday, is to ‘assist the MP in organising community activities and to gather feedback from residents about their needs’.

He maintained that it is not a WP political network.

Of the two grassroots networks, he said: ‘Theirs is a national grassroots network funded by the Government. Ours is basically a committee under the WP to assist the MP in the constituency. So it’s entirely different and I don’t think they are comparable in that way.’

But with both grassroots entities going all out to woo residents for similar events, one would be hard-pressed not to make comparisons.

Besides durian tours, Aljunied GRC residents will also have their pick of National Day dinners as both sides will organise similar bashes come August.

The CCCs in the five Aljunied wards will each host a dinner. These are large-scale events involving 500 to 1,500 guests.

Eunos CCC chairman Sim Wai Chin said: ‘It’s business as usual for us. We will go ahead and organise our own dinner. This is a big annual affair for us.’

Mr Png Eng Huat, deputy treasurer of the AJCC, is not perturbed by the duplication.

‘I think if the community at large benefits from such an anomaly, it should be fine. If the events are held at different corners of each constituency, more residents will get to celebrate our festivities as a community.’

Mr Sear joked: ‘It may even evoke a price war as each side tries to go lower.’

Beyond events, volunteers who want to serve in the grassroots will also have to choose which side to align themselves with.

But Mr Png, for one, believes that the pool of volunteers in Singapore is large enough.

‘There is no battle with PA to recruit volunteers,’ he said.

‘Our volunteers come to us on their own initiative.’

In some ways, that stand seems at odds with WP chief Low’s call, during the recent General Election campaign, for the PA to be scrapped because it gives the ruling party an unfair advantage in securing support from voters.

He also said that grassroots leaders and advisers should be elected, rather than appointed, as is currently the case, and not be affiliated to political parties.

But some PA grassroots leaders are not as sanguine as Mr Png about the current situation in Aljunied.

One grassroots leader, who is also a PAP member, said the duplication leads to a waste of resources and manpower. The veteran volunteer, who asked not to be named, believes more could be achieved if the PA and the WP pooled their resources.

‘But that is something only PA can change from the top. We can’t do anything on our own if the rules are not changed,’ he said.

He hopes that the PA will evolve to operate more like a non-governmental organisation.

‘Instead of appointing the MP as the adviser, it could be a senior grassroots leader instead. At the end of the day, residents can be assured that he is not an election candidate canvassing for votes,’ he said.

Other PA grassroots leaders in Aljunied are uncomfortable that a grassroots group has been set up under a political party.

Serangoon CCC secretary Poon Mun Wai is of the view that such a grassroots network would be ‘politically motivated, which would defeat the purpose of serving the residents, as it will divide them’.

Mr Fong Yoong Kheong, a Eunos CCC member, shares Mr Poon’s concern.

‘The Aljunied GRC residents have become more politicised after the election results. It is more obvious now,’ he said.

Having said that, quite a number of PA grassroots leaders are members of the PAP. However, one such leader drew a fine distinction between his situation and that of the WP grassroots volunteers. Unlike them, he said, he had served in the grassroots for many years before joining the ruling party.

There may be a new kid at the grassroots, but the PA’s established network in Aljunied is going about its business as usual.

Mr Wong Hao, vice-chairman of the community centre management committee in Bedok Reservoir-Punggol, said: ‘Community activities such as bursary award ceremonies, tours and sports will go on ahead as usual.’

There is however, one area where the split at the grassroots level may have a more serious impact on residents’ lives. It concerns government funds given to the CCCs to disburse to residents in need of financial aid.

What happens to such funds in an opposition-held constituency like Aljunied GRC?

Help for the needy

EVERY year, the Government sets aside about $7 million to be disbursed by CCCs to residents in need.

The money comes from the Community Care Endowment Fund (ComCare), which funds a range of schemes to help the needy become self-reliant.

Grassroots leaders can tap the Comcare funds entrusted to them to provide immediate help to residents, while the Community Development Councils (CDCs) process their applications to get them into national ComCare help schemes.

So what happens when an Aljunied resident in need of aid asks his MP for help at the weekly Meet-The-People session?

In response to a query from Insight, WP chairman Sylvia Lim said: ‘The CCCs are structured under the People’s Association. Since the General Election, our MPs have written to the CDCs for assistance for residents in need. In our past experience, the CDCs would refer some cases to the CCCs for ComCare.’

She has also advised some residents to approach the CCCs themselves as the PA grassroots groups entertain direct requests.

Mr Poon, secretary of the Serangoon CCC, made the same point.

He said: ‘The residents can approach the community centre for help, who will refer them to the CCC welfare committee or CDC.’

When notified of a case, the CCC’s welfare committee members will meet the resident to assess his situation and dole out assistance from the ComCare fund.

But Mr Poon said the Serangoon CCC has not received any applications for assistance from the WP MPs so far.

When asked if the committee will follow up on requests from the MPs, he said: ‘Definitely, we evaluate based on the merit of the case, not by political affiliations.’

On her part, Ms Lim said the WP MPs are also working with some voluntary welfare organisations (VWOs) and generous donors to provide some financial aid to residents while their applications for government aid are being processed – or if, for some reason, they fail to meet the criteria or need additional help.

She declined to reveal how much money the WP has managed to raise from private donors.

In Hougang, a single-seat ward which the WP has held since 1991, the party raised funds and set up the Hougang Constituency Education Trust close to 20 years ago. It provides bursaries to needy students there.

Ms Lim also makes it a point to assure needy Aljunied GRC residents that the Government has the primary duty to provide a good social safety net for them during this transition period, as the WP MPs take over the running of the GRC.

The Northeast Community Development Council, under whose care Aljunied residents come, said it stations staff at the community centres and sends them to visit homes in the district, as part of efforts to bring services and assistance to the community.

There are also several VWOs that are present and active in Aljunied GRC. These include the Covenant Family Service Centre, Chinese Development Assistance Council (CDAC) @Punggol and the Lions Club. They have a long history of working with the grassroots organisations in the area.

Mr Low said he and his party ‘are prepared to work with any organisation, VWO, PA or whoever’.

However, his sense is that most of the time, volunteer groups are more prepared to work with the established PA grassroots organisations ‘than with us’, he said.

One self-help group which has come forward to express its willingness to work with the WP MPs is CDAC@Punggol.

Its chairman, Dr Euan Murugasu, said the self-help group is open to working with ‘anyone and everyone’.

The group provides an array of programmes and assistance schemes to students, workers and families.

Said Dr Euan: ‘We have case referrals from many sources, it could be via word of mouth, the MPs or from the grassroots leaders.’

But he said he has yet to receive referrals from the WP MPs.

‘Let’s give them some time to settle down,’ he said. ‘Then we will try to establish contact with them from our end.’

He added: ‘I’m sure they will want to work with us, given our resources and manpower. I hope they will support us.’

But for now, with both grassroots bodies actively doling out assistance and highlighting cases, there seems to be no fear that the needy residents may fall through the cracks during the transition period.

Mr Png said since the WP MPs launched their Meet-The-People sessions five weeks ago, a number of residents have asked for help to find jobs.

At least two residents have since done so, after they were referred to the CDC by the MPs.

Indeed, some residents may actually be taking advantage of the situation and getting help from both the WP and the PA grassroots groups.

Mr Low acknowledged that residents in opposition wards have more help options available to them.

‘They have more options to pick from. Maybe they seek help from us, or they could also seek help from the grassroots organisations under PA. That’s what happened in Hougang,’ he said.

While the situation at the grassroots in Aljunied GRC may not be ideal, for now, the political differences on the ground do not seem to be hurting residents.

Still, a review of how grassroots groups are organised would not be out of place, for the sake of better resource allocation and community unity in opposition-held wards.

Singapore Press Holdings Limited

Written by singapore 2025

24/06/2011 at 8:33 am

Posted in Public Service

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