GE2015: Spotlight on foreign workers, AHPETC in lively political dialogue at NUS

Nicholas Yong
Assistant News Editor
Political dialogue @ NUSS: General Election 2015

The influx of foreign workers, the Aljunied Hougang Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC) saga and the ever-present transport woes were some of the key issues raised during a dialogue on the General Election attended by representatives of 10 political parties. 

The Political Dialogue@NUSS, which traditionally takes place before every GE, was held at the Kent Ridge Guild House Tuesday night (18 August). Attended by some 450 people, it was a lively, sometimes raucous, affair. 

In particular, there was a sustained exchange between Sim Ann of the People's Action Party and the Workers' Party's Gerald Giam over the AHPETC saga. In response to a question by moderator Viswa Sadasivan, the Singapore People's Party's Jeannette Chong-Aruldoss, alluded to the recent Auditor-General's Office (AGO) report on the lapses found at various government agencies.

Chong-Aruldoss said, "I don’t understand why the AGO report...has only been met with muted responses by the various ministries. 

In response, Sim pointed out the difference between the government and the WP in explaining these issues, and said the AHPETC saga would not have dragged on if the WP had been more forthcoming with answers.

"The agencies have owned up to lapses...and they have taken action very swiftly. In the case of the AHPETC I think what we've been hearing are fairly lengthy - I don't want to say excuses, that doesn't sound very nice - explanations which I also don't fully understand. If you were to ask about money then I would say in the case of the AGO audit, all the monies we've been talking about has been accounted for, and no money is lost. But in the case of AHPETC, I'm not too sure," she said. 

Giam conceded that there had been lapses in the running of the town council, but he retorted to applause: "We didn't see a need to respond every single time the government kept repeating the issues again and again. I think we have done a lot of explaining already. And just because the PAP does not want to accept our explanations, does not mean that we haven't explained. And with the coming election, I'm sure this issue will be raised up by the PAP and we will respond if we need to." 

Political dialogue @ NUSS: General Election 2015

The dialogue was also attended by party chiefs Benjamin Pwee (Democratic Progressive Party), Tan Jee Say (Singaporeans First), Kenneth Jeyaratnam (Reform Party), Goh Meng Seng (People's Power Party) and Harminder Pal Singh (Singapore Democratic Alliance). Making up the rest of the field were Steve Chia of the National Solidarity Party and Prof Paul Tambyah from the Singapore Democratic Party.

Population issues made up a large part of the discussion, with the PPP's Goh calling population growth "the mother of all problems for Singaporeans". The 2013 Population White Paper, which maps out the government's preparations for a projected 6.9 million population by 2030, was referenced several times.

SingFirst chief Tan Jee Say charged that there was a political agenda behind the influx of foreign talent, noting,"Politically, new citizens tend to vote for the government of the day".

Sim denied this, noting that born and bred Singaporeans still form the majority of the electorate and that population policies were about the betterment of Singapore. 

Sim, who previously worked in the then-National Population Secretariat, added that the number of new permanent residents and citizens had begun to be reduced by the end of 2009. 

But the population issue was clearly a source of contention for the audience. Viswa noted that there were many "people nodding" in response to Tan's remarks. "Obviously, this is an issue that is resonating, whether it is right or wrong," said Sadasivan. 

It sometimes felt like a nine-on-one affair, with Sim often asked for answers on various government policies. But the DPP's Pwee had the last word, urging Singaporeans to step forward and serve the country, no matter their political affiliation, "There are too many people standing by the sidelines, good people like you. The political crisis today is that the good people who should step forward in politics to run this country are not stepping forward."

The dialogue was organised by the National University of Singapore Society (NUSS), with the support of Inconvenient Questions. The full telecast will be available on their website on Thursday, 20 August 2015, 12 pm.