PAP-AIM-AHTC Episode: Exposing the Rifts Among Singaporeans

The ongoing PAP-Aim-AHTC debate has largely been framed from two opposing perspectives. If an outsider were to look in, what would he see?

  1. Continuity and Sustainability. There are some questions that we need to ask the management of the town councils. When the Worker’s Party (WP) first took over AHTC, why did they have to recreate the IT system? Does this mean that every time an opposition party takes over a constituency and it’s town council that they have to overhaul the IT system? The question we have to ask is – why did they do it? We don’t expect both the WP and PAP to answer because the question is obvious – it’s politics. And WP obviously doesn’t trust PAP. Then the question we need to ask is – as Singaporeans, do we want to be held ransom by the political parties and by the political changes in our neighbourhoods? In the longer term as Singapore matures politically, it would be quite insensible to have town councils overhaul themselves constantly, simply because our political parties are playing politics, and do not trust each other, and we, as the people, have to endure the games that they play. Perhaps it’s time we ask if the town councils should exist independently of the government and political parties, so that we do not have to keep changing with their tides. Then, you would ask me – c’mon, how ridiculous is it to think that we can have an independent agency in Singapore, that’s not in some way linked to the government or political parties? Then, perhaps we need to revisit this question again. We are no longer in a situation where Singapore is managed by only one party, or at least, this will be how things will be in time to come. With the political evolution of our landscape, what is an objective and sustainable way of managing the system, that does not cripple the system when there are a change of hands?

  2. Financial Accountability. To be fair, right until this point, we still do not have a complete picture as to why the PAP and WP had made the decisions they did – why PAP had decided to sell off their software system to Aim or why WP had decided to set up their own system. We continue to think that there are financial irregularities in how the whole episode is handled – what are the full financial statements of Aim and did they profit? On the other hand, did the WP call for a tender for their IT system? Again, whatever answer they give won’t be satisfactory because again, we know they are playing politics. Then, what’s new? We would never know the answer and we would have to keep second-guessing won’t we? Well, what is the problem is this – if the political parties want to play politics, fine – but why drag the whole of Singapore and Singaporeans into the fray? This episode has clearly pulled Singaporeans apart. The rifts were already there and forming but this only further solidify the rifts that have been forming. Is this a Singapore that we want? PAP and WP are both playing politics because they both want to protect their political durability – they both want to protect themselves. Well, fine, but at what costs? While they bicker and drag Singaporeans into the fray, they’ve inadvertently created Singaporeans who have become biased to the political parties’ causes. A responsible government should be one which continues to upkeep the unity of Singaporeans, don’t you think? If they allow Singaporeans to be torn apart by a petty argument which they refuse to fully own up to, what does it say on the importance they accord to ensuring stability in Singapore? What does it say to their respect of the very people they are supposed to serve? It is our interest that we have a government which is willing to work together, regardless of which political parties form the government. As Singapore moves towards a new political dynamism, this is more of what we should expect from our political leaders, or servants. If they are indeed our servants, shouldn’t we start putting them in their places? Why are they setting the discourse?

  3. Transparency and Openness. I would very much prefer if the parties talk it out or detail their exact conversations to us and to reveal their full financial statements. Right now, we are receiving piecemeal information and forming assumptions based on them. And with these assumptions, we start to formulate firm stands and pitch our arguments against either side, based on ‘logical’ arguments we’ve formed, but which are based on our assumptions. This is ridiculous. I would appreciate if our political servants would, on both sides, come clean with the facts, and have a decent, conversation with each other. If they want to play games, they can feel free to – but when Singaporeans are being torn apart by their petty politics? Playing politics is an enduring feature of people who want power and want to stay in power – we see this in everyday life. We can choose to play it, be unhappy with it or ignore it, but when our political servants play it, even as the people learn to distrust one another, then our political servants are being quite selfish. What happens to serving the people and ensuring the interests of Singapore and Singaporeans?

To some, we would continue to blame one or the other – it is WP’s fault! It is PAP’s fault. We can keep pointing fingers at each other but what will the solution be? On both sides, we think we are making logical arguments and we think the other side is ‘twisting’ the fact? Who is right? Well, both is both right and both wrong. If you stand on either side, you will agree with where you stand. But yet, what we are really doing is that we are both going on a witch hunt, on each other. To be sure, this episode only revealed the on-ground sentiments that Singaporeans are facing – the anger and resentment that people are feeling. It is by no means, a unique development in relation to the Aim episode. Now that this has come to the surface, it means that we can take an honest look at things and try to come to a resolution, and face up to our deep-seated feelings. 

At the rate the rifts are developing, Singapore will become like the United States, where the people are split down the middle. But Singapore is not as big as the United States. We cannot simply move from the north to the south, or we cannot move from the east to the west – well, not yet anyway. Or, if you are unhappy with PAP, you cannot all move into Aljunied GRC and Hougang SMC. And if Singapore gets torn apart, then what? – Aljunied GRC and Hougang SMC can form a country by themselves?

We have to take a strong, hard look at ourselves. We’ve allowed the deep seated resentment that we have been feeling from the effects of ‘suppression’ that we feel, and for others, a fear of the erosion of what we’ve built of, to consume us. Here is the consistent thread – we are all holding on to our own fears and repressive anger. And it’s finally boiling over with this episode. To be clear, if this episode doesn’t get resolved with transparency, more episodes will follow and even more rifts will occur among Singaporeans. This is unnecessary.

For Singaporeans on all sides, initially, what we had wanted was the truth. But as this episode progresses, what we want is to feel vindicated. Why? Because we feel cheated by the lack of facts? Because we fear that we will lose our autonomy or our rights to know, which we feel that we’ve already lost and are trying to fight back? For the political parties, they just hope that this whole episode will blow over, because if it keeps going, it will uncover more dirty secrets and Singaporeans will only become more and more aware of the underhanded means and dishonesty that our political parties take, just to come to where they are.

Well, our government should not be above the law. Our political parties should not be above the law. In fact, they are our servants. The question we need to ask is, is it sufficient that we have a government, but yet which is unable to resolve issues within itself amicably? Do they not know how to coexist? If our political leaders do not know how to come together to discuss like mature adults, then perhaps it’s time we need to relook the system. In some governments in our countries, different parties coexist within the system and they’ve learnt to make decisions collectively, for the good of the people – because they remember they serve the people, and do not lord over the people. If our system has become dysfunctional, or has a very clear potential to be politically dysfunction because of our servants’ attitudes, then we need to keep them in check.

In yesterday’s The Sunday Times, Tommy Koh had said that, “Our adherence to international law is based upon utility and not morality. Small states are better off in a world ruled by law than in a lawless world. Small states benefit from world order in which interactions between states are based upon international law and not power. It levels the playing field. It holds all states accountable by some rules. This is also the reason why Singapore is a strong believer in referring disputes, which cannot be resolved by negotiations, to international modalities of dispute settlement, such as conciliation, mediation, arbitration and adjudication. Small states have a bigger chance of winning a dispute with a bigger state in a court of law than in a contest of strength.

I hope you can read between the lines as to what I am trying to say. Note also that nowhere did Tommy Koh mention the use of defamation lawsuits, but diplomacy. Can the government believe in using diplomacy against bigger states but use a different set of rules for its people? If the Singapore government has learnt to refer disputes to an external party, then for our government  – our servants – if they are not in the best position and do not have the capacity to resolve issues within themselves amicably, perhaps they would need to refer their dispute to an external party – and perhaps Singaporeans, we need to rise up to take matters back into our hands and learn how to take a fair, equal and diverse perspective, and not be like our government. Singaporeans should be the one making the decision as to what needs to be known, and to ensure and enforce that our government responds accordingly and adequately. We need to form ourselves together and become a force to be reckoned with. The question is – what form will this take? 

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