June 28, 2017

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Infrastructure

by Bertha Henson

IT DIDN’T escape notice that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong wasn’t at the biggest diplomatic event held in China over the weekend. The guest list was filled with luminaries including his counterparts in the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia. There were in all 29 heads of state or government. Singapore was represented instead by Minister Lawrence Wong.

Asked why the PM Lee wasn’t there, he said that the invitation was decided by the Chinese.

So on Sunday, PM Lee was giving out flowers to his Ang Mo Kio constituents on the occasion of Mother’s Day, rather than hobnobbing with other leaders over what seemed to be the most ambitious economic project in recent time.

His absence in Beijing is intriguing and only serves to raise questions about whether Singapore and China had papered over their differences since the seizure of Singapore Armed Forces vehicles by Hong Kong authorities in November last year. Or are the Chinese still pissed off at Singapore’s lack of empathy over its position on the South China Sea?

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You wonder if the invitation was extended to a Deputy Prime Minister or a senior co-ordinating minister like Mr Khaw Boon Wan. After all, Mr Wong, in charge of national development, told the media himself that Singapore didn’t have any infrastructure projects under the One Belt, One Road initiative. In fact, he spoke more about “brokering’’ opportunities for Singapore banking and city planners.

Even as it seemed that the PM had been snubbed by the Chinese, we’re told that a Chinese delegation is in Singapore to discuss leadership development. The Singapore side was led by Mr Teo Chee Hean, who is also Coordinating Minister for National Security and Minister-in-charge of the Civil Service. The Chinese were headed by Mr Zhao Leji, Communist Party of China (CPC) Politburo member and Central Committee Organisation Department Minister.

Is this a meeting of political equals? Or should we be glad that a Chinese delegation has deigned to visit Singapore even as China chose not to invite its PM over for its biggest shindig? And we’ve been asserting that Singapore is its “all-weather friend’’ – who also wants to be a friend to all. In other words, we don’t want to take sides. The question then is the definition of an “all-weather friend’’.

All this illustrates the rather prickly situation of the little red dot. Obviously, the Chinese want Singapore firmly in its camp, and might even be wondering why a Chinese majority country isn’t behaving like Muslim-dominated Malaysia and Indonesia or a Catholic country like the Philippines.

Education Minister Ong Ye Kung tried to explain this in TODAY : “In Singapore, we have a majority Chinese population. But other than the Chinese traditional culture, what is very deeply rooted in Singapore is a collective awareness that there is also the tradition and wisdom of the Malay and Indian cultures. We are small, and we are open. We have been very much affected by Western cultures, but basically, we are still an Oriental* society.” Presumably he means Oriental as Asian opposed to Occidental or Western, rather than the perception that Oriental means Chinese.

To business people here, the chief concern is probably whether the political atmosphere would affect the economic environment and their chance of exploiting the massive One Belt, One Road project.

It doesn’t help to read about the deals inked by Asean counterparts with China, even though most of them are for infrastructural projects which aren’t relevant to Singapore.

Is the initiative a boon or a bane for Singapore?

There is the question of whether the plans for rail links cutting through Europe, Asia and Africa would affect Singapore’s premier port status. Maybe not, as the One Belt initiative includes a maritime route which cuts through Singapore and it’s still cheaper to go by sea.

Then again, there is the other question of whether ships will skip Singapore since the Chinese are helping different countries build their ports and industrial parks along the route. “With the Belt and Road (initiative), new infrastructure will be built all around us… Trade routes will be adjusted as these new roads and ports get built and developed,” noted Mr Wong.

That’s why Singapore is going full-speed to expand its port and airport facilities to gear up for the competition, he said.

The competition looks daunting. We’ll need to make and save money, if we don’t want to ask for Chinese money. And even if we do, there will be an insistence that significant projects must remain in Singapore hands rather than those of foreign (Chinese) companies.

It’s interesting that after Chinese leader Mr Zhao met PM Lee at the Istana, a statement was released which affirmed the “strong and substantial relationship’’ between the two countries. (Of course, nothing was said about the snub)

The statement also harked back to the old days: “The two leaders noted that bilateral relations dated back to 1976, when then-Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew first visited China, and 1978, when then-PRC (People’s Republic of China) Vice-Premier Deng Xiaoping visited Singapore. Mr Lee and Mr Deng provided a strong foundation for the friendship and cooperation that the two countries now enjoy.’’

That was a long, long time ago. Circumstances are different now and China is a mighty power with the ability to project its military and economic might. Singapore is its biggest investor and it is Singapore’s biggest trading partner. How do we proceed from here and on what basis so as to secure our own independence and prosperity? Despite exhortations about strong ties, everything still looks pretty murky.

*According to the Mandarin speech delivered by Mr Ong, the appropriate word is Asian.

 

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Last Call02! (Feature Image)

HURRY hurry!

Ladies and gentlemen, booking for your favourite Bukit Batok tour guides will close in two days’ time. Which tour guide will you choose? The People’s Action Party’s (PAP) Murali Pillai or Singapore Democratic Party’s (SDP) Chee Soon Juan?

Last Call02

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OKAY, so the People’s Action Party (PAP) is saying that the party can’t push forward THAT particular type of Neighbourhood Renewal Programme (NRP) for Bukit Batok if their candidate isn’t voted in. Why? Because that’s the Town Council’s job to do so.

Which means whoever’s doing the pushing has to be in charge of the Town Council. That, naturally, depends on who’s the constituency’s Member of Parliament.

In other words, what Mr Murali said was not a “threat”. He was simply stating facts, said PAP.

Anyway, here’s what the party said in its own words, in an email to us last night (April 27):

Murali did not actually say what is reported in your article, which stated:

“The only clash was over the status of infrastructure upgrading in the single-seat ward. There was some confusion over whether the PAP’s proposed $1.9m plan is under the Neighbourhood Renewal Programme (NRP) supervised by the HDB or part of a URA masterplan. Mr Murali’s statement that the programme would be realised only if he became MP and entered the town council has been met with much derision online.”

Contrary to online versions and interpretations, Murali did not issue any such threat. What Murali said, in response to a reporter’s query on Sunday, was merely that the PAP Town Council would obviously be unable to proceed with its plans if he was not elected.

His answer was similar to what the PAP put out in its response to SDP last night (below). Both he and DPM Tharman also explained likewise at his press conference yesterday.

“If a candidate for election as Member of Parliament is not elected, his Party’s Town Council naturally cannot be responsible for the constituency, and cannot carry out its NRP plans for that constituency.” This simple fact was what Mr Murali Pillai had stated in response to a query from the media on April 24. It will then be for the new Town Council that is formed to decide on its plans and what it should proceed with.

The Government funds NRP projects for all Town Councils. The number of NRP projects approved for each Town Council takes into account characteristics such as the age profile of the HDB units governed by each Town Council. It is the Town Council that nominates the neighbourhoods which should be prioritised for NRP, when it applies for Government funding.

Geddit?

 

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Chee Soon Juan and Murali during their walkabout at Bukit Batok.

by Bertha Henson

LOOKS like the People’s Action Party (PAP) is itching to start formal campaigning after nomination closes at noon tomorrow. Lawyer Murali Pillai, flanked by big guns Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam and Community, Culture and Youth Minister Grace Fu, held a press conference today to add to his infrastructural programmes announced on Sunday (April 24).

He called it his manifesto, which was focused on the needs of the elderly and the poor in his constituency. They are to complement 22 programmes already being carried out by community groups. No doubt, this was to put rival Singapore Democratic Party’s own programmes in the shade.

Singapore Democratic Party’s (SDP) four programmes include a legal clinic and a mentoring programme. Today, the PAP very handily handed out a fact-sheet of current programmes which boasted its own legal clinic by the party branch. There is also a Loving Hearts Multi-Service Centre which provides free breakfast, sports tuition and mentoring programmes for children.

The alphabet soup of grassroots groups, which range from the giant Southwest Community Development Council and the ward’s Citizens’ Consultative Committee to merchants’ association and community centre groups, also have their own programmes. They range from free hair cuts for the elderly and rice distribution to education awards for children in low income families which is named after the late MP Ong Chit Chung.

The SDP is going to be hard put to come up with a novel social programme that has not been implemented by the massive grassroots machinery already in place. Unless, of course, it can demonstrate that the programmes are not well executed or irrelevant.

There was some fuss about the PAP’s $1.9m Neighbourhood Renewal Programme (NRP) with the SDP saying that it would have consulted residents first instead of rolling out the plans so swiftly. Today, Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, who heads the neighbouring Jurong GRC, affected puzzlement.

“The SDP is not new to Bukit Batok. They’ve been walking the ground to listen to residents,” said Mr Tharman.

He added: “But if they need more time, just say so. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. But there’s no need for all this bluster. There’s no need to begrudge the PAP for having already done its work in consulting residents and making plans.”

Although it had initially appeared to be unfazed by Mr Murali’s carrot and stick approach that the plan may not come true if he was not elected, it has since taken a more antagonistic tack.

Said SDP Central Executive Committee member Paul Thambyah, in a press release a few hours after Mr Murali’s press conference: “To say that major improvements will come only if the PAP candidate is elected is unethical and could even be a contravention of the Parliamentary Elections Act (Section 59) which prohibits parties or persons from bringing undue influence on voters.’’

So it looks like it will be a terribly local election, tailored very specifically for the 25,727 voters in Bukit Batok. In other words, for those living outside Bukit Batok, it will be boring.

SDP isn’t making much of a fuss about how the seat fell vacant because of a philandering PAP MP. So unlike the last two by-elections, the issue of moral standards of parliamentary representatives and political parties isn’t going to surface much.

Nor is Dr Chee Soon Juan levelling in on human rights issues, freedom of speech and such. He has not even given his party’s position on changes to the elected presidency system.

How will things change after noon tomorrow? A straight fight between the two protagonists isn’t guaranteed as five people have taken political donation certificates. All he or she would need are for 10 persons to nominate him or her (one proposer, one seconder and 8 assentors), and a $13,500 deposit for someone to throw his or her name in the ring.

But so far, it looks like it will be a very pragmatic, very boring by-election. Maybe, that’s how a by-election should be.

Need to catch up on all that’s leading up to the Bukit Batok by-election? Here are some related articles:

 

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