PA explains why opposition MPs cannot be grassroots advisers

The PA headquarters in King George's Avenue. (Yahoo! photo/Alicia Wong)
The PA headquarters in King George's Avenue. (Yahoo! photo/Alicia Wong)

Opposition Members of Parliament (MPs) cannot be advisers to grassroots organisations (GROs) because they cannot be expected to promote government activities, says the People's Association (PA).

In a forum letter to The Straits Times, published on Wednesday, the PA's director for corporate and marketing communications Ooi Hui Mei said one of the missions for the statutory board is to "connect people with the government'.

"Besides connecting people to people, grassroots advisers are required to help the government connect with people and help promote government policies and programmes such as anti-dengue and active ageing," she said.

Ooi was responding to a letter by Muhamad Yusuf Osman who felt grassroots advisers, who are appointed by the PA, should be elected MPs.

"The government has to appoint grassroots advisers who support its programmes and can play this role well," said Ooi. "Opposition MPs cannot be expected to do this and thus cannot become advisors to GROs."

Opposition MPs and party leaders, however, have told Yahoo! Singapore this showed the PA's political leanings even as the PA has said it is non-partisan.

"I can only conclude that the PA is partisan," said Hougang SMC MP Yaw Shin Leong, pointing out that organisation seemed to be equating the government with the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) in its forum letter.

"The government and a political party needs to be separated in terms of identity," Yaw said. "Over the decades, however, the two seem to have been increasingly seen as the same thing."

The Singapore People's Party echoed this view. "By choosing not to work with duly elected Opposition MPs, the PA is confirming that it is working for the interest of the PAP, not Singapore," the party's central executive committee said in a statement.

The debate over the politicisation of the PA started when Workers' Party (WP) MP in Aljunied GRC Chen Show Mao was uninvited from a Hungry Ghosts' Festival dinner organised by Hougang residents because they were told that approval for the venue would be withdrawn by the PA if they invited Chen.

It later emerged that 26 commonly-used spaces in the constituency had been leased to the PA by the Housing and Development Board in June. Following a public outcry, the PA revised its policy and relaxed its restrictions on event guest lists.

When contacted, MP Janil Puthucheary, who sits on the PA's board of management, said that as a statutory board, the PA is "linked to government policy" and the grassroots adviser has to believe in the overall thrust of the government's approach.

"People who implement and operationalise these policies cannot oppose them. You simply can't have a situation where the adviser does not support the implementation of these policies," he noted.

Opposition MPs fundamentally oppose the government and so would not always be in support of its policies and programmes, said the MP for Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC.

"Even if they did support policies such as anti-dengue and active ageing programmes, it is possible that they could oppose methods of implementation of these policies," he said.

But while the PA is able to defend its practice of appointing PAP members as grassroots advisers on "logical grounds", political observer Tan Ern Ser said its actions may erode the moral ground of the PAP and dilute its political capital.

The associate professor of sociology at NUS suggested that opposition MPs take matters into their own hands.

"I would argue on practical grounds that the WP may want to consider setting up its own grassroots organisations, since the ones set up by PA may not take to them as advisers in any case," he said.