In this post, I deal with the Bedok hawker centre sagas and an interesting phrase that Dr. Vivian Balakrishnan used in Parliament earlier today – “clean politics”. I explore that in the later part of this ramble.
It is a rare sight to see the people’s darling, the Workers’ Party, being thoroughly questioned in Parliament. It is indeed much rarer to see them being interrogated and put on the defensive. Today was one of the rare occasions.
To begin, it is important to point this out: it is one thing for the WP to say that a “misunderstanding” regarding “spring cleaning” and “annual cleaning” arose from an email. It is completely another to ask the hawkers to pay more for services that are the legal responsibilities of the Town Council.
In a nutshell, a whole saga ensued when a Sunday Times article pointed out that the Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council did not carry out the scheduled cleaning services that was stipulated by law. I will not even bother going into quoting the Town Councils Act because that is publicly available on the Statutes’ website.
What’s important is this: the hawkers complained that they had to fork out money to pay for services that were the legal responsibility of the TC to provide. Not only did the AHPETC fail to clean the hawker centres at Blk 511 and 538, the hawkers had to lose five days’ worth of income and return from their absence only to find that the cleaning had not been done.
In Parliament, Dr. Balakrishnan pierced the WP’s shining armour and shattered it after repeatedly questioning whether or not did Mr. Tai Vie Shun (the Property Manager of the AHPETC) “demanded extra money from the hawkers for cleaning the high areas of hawker centres” (Source: Dr. Balakrishnan’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Vivian.Balakrishnan.Sg?fref=ts) and when the WP utterly failed to give a coherent response.
Although admirably defiant in the face of pressure, it is futile for the WP to deny the evidence produced in the dossier of email correspondence.
But that is not the main point, as Dr. Balakrishnan said earlier today (and I quote):
“All of us will make mistakes. When a mistake is made, just come clean and say so, but don’t cover up. That’s why I have not let this go, because it is not about cleanliness of the ceiling, it is about clean politics …”
Clean politics. How many of us would actually grasp the true meaning of that phrase?
In the Name of Clean Politics
Admittedly, one can argue that as long as you are in politics, you can never be clean. Do I sense an overdose of scepticism? Maybe. But all human societies are directed towards Rousseau’s idea of perfectibility – the notion that we should strive for the ideal.
The case for clean politics has never been stronger today. While the scourge of corruption thrives in other countries, Singapore has done well in keeping that vile malaise away from our fair shores. The public has done its part by placing high expectations of its elected leaders: integrity, honour, incorruptibility, honesty are the bare minimum of what is required.
Naysayers would be quick to jump the gun and accuse Dr. Balakrishnan of defaming the honour of the WP MPs by calling them “untruthful”. But the very fact that he has done so clearly implies that he is willing to stand and testify in a court of law. It’s more than just name-calling: even the Minister’s reputation is at stake. If the WP MPs find that their reputation has been sullied by the Minister’s words, they are more than welcome to file a defamation suit against him.
Clean Politics – The Role of the People
Yes, we all have a role to play in this. Individually, how can we help ensure that politics remains above-board?
For starters, stop all that name-calling online. It’s really destructive, not constructive. I say this to diehard supporters of all parties. Need I remind you of Andrew Loh’s presidential example of name-calling? There is no need to. That is the kind of name-calling that should cease. Why? I think we have forgotten something called “respect”. How can we, the people, be united if we don’t even respect each other?
Honestly, I think the lack of respect might be the root cause of all these tensions that have reared their ugly head in society recently. I don’t care if it is foreigners’ “disrespect” for our curry or our “disrespect” for their wanting to actually provide for their families by coming here to work. Take xenophobia and homophobia for examples – these two irrational fears stem from a fundamental lack of respect of the human person. Disrespect also includes hostile behaviour towards MacDonalds’ service staff just to get a Hello Kitty plush toy (which in my opinion is simply nonsensical).
This is the bottom line: we cannot engage in civil discourse without first being civil ourselves.
For far too long the WP has pranced in Parliament and asked question after question. Those scot-free and cavalier under-dog days are over. Today the WP was given a taste of its own medicine: accountability – the very same platform upon which they pledged to keep the ruling party in check. The Parliamentary proceedings are abundantly clear in showing that the WP was unable to swallow its own pill. Today was a test of accountability for the WP and they failed utterly, completely, and miserably.
Today is also the day I say no to the duplicitous double standards with which some members of the public have used to judge the WP and the PAP. For a long time, the WP has had a free pass for all that it did. Some members of the public and its sympathisers were quick to say, oh, they are a small party, let’s give them a chance when they make a tiny misstep. But when the PAP makes a wrong move, they are even quicker to pounce on the PAP and dish out their harshest criticisms.
Many have asked for an even playing field between the ruling party and the opposition. That time has come. No one should expect the ruling party to enter the boxing ring with its master arm tied to its back and only allowed to parry off the incoming blows from the opposition. The playing field is now equal.
And for those who think that the previous paragraphs contradicted the segment on clean politics – I humbly say that they do not. In fact, respect is when you accord your opponent the same rights and privileges as you give yourself. A level playing field is the place to start.