Tuesday, June 28, 2011


The Presidential Election Committee must grant a Certificate of Eligibility to a candidate before he would be able to contest the Presidential Election.

So far we know that there are 3 serious contenders. Don't forget that there's a fourth chap who has collected the papers for submission, Mr Ooi Boon Ewe. He is likely to be rejected by the Committee (as he was when he applied to contest for the 2005 Presidential Election).

I wonder if the PEC will grant the COE to all the 3 Tans. I believe that there is little doubt that the hardcore PAP supporters will go for Dr Tony Tan. I suspect that the hardcore anti-PAP voter would go for Tan Kin Lian. Dr Tan Cheng Bock is inevitably the one that could be the vote splitter. Would he split the PAP supporters or the opposition supporters? It would be interesting to see.

Given the current political climate, I believe that if it was a straight fight between Dr Tony Tan and Tan Kin Lian or Dr Tony Tan and Dr Tan Cheng Bock, Dr Tony Tan would lose. If we take the general election result as a starting point, 60% voted for the PAP and 40% against. Whilst the 40% can be trusted to cast a vote against the PAP 'approved' candidate in the Presidential election, the same cannot be said about the 60% who voted for the PAP. Many amongst the 60% already showed unhappiness but were either unconvinced by the opposition, inspired by local constituency level issues, cowed by fear or swayed by last minute apologies. I believe that, in a Presidential Election, these voters would not hesitate to vote for the candidate that presents himself as 'non-white'. This would work to the advantage of the candidate racing against Dr Tony Tan.

If the COE is granted only to Dr Tony Tan and one other candidate, I strongly believe that the other candidate would win. If the 3 Tans get the COE, Dr Tan Cheng Bock would either split the pro-PAP or the pro-opposition voters.

Would the 3 Tans qualify for the COE?

Under the constitution the following criteria needs to be met (in addition to others that I feel is not really an issue for the 3 gentlemen):

The candidate must satisfy the Presidential Elections Committee that he is a person of integrity, good character and reputation.

For not less than 3 years, he must have been either a Minister, Chief Justice, Speaker of Parliament, Attorney-General, Chairman of the Public Service Commission, Auditor-General, Accountant-General or a Permanent Secretary;
Chairman or CEO of CPF Board, HDB, JTC or MAS;
Board Chairman or CEO of a company with paid-up capital of at least $100 million

If the candidate does not meet the requirement of 3 years' experience in those positions, he can still qualify if he occupied a similar position (based on seniority & experience) in any other organisation of equivalent size/complexity in the public or private sector. The criteria here is that the PEC must form the view that the candidate's position has given him experience in adminstering and managing financial affairs so as to enable him to discharge the President's functions effectively.

Given the background of the 3 gentlemen, I believe that the PEC ought to grant the COE to all three men unless the Committee for some reason decides to question or doubt one of them on the ground of integrity, good character or reputation. This, I believe is unlikely.

In all probability we are looking at a 3 horse race.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Dr Tony Tan: The 'approved' candidate?

Dr Tony Tan is contesting in the Presidential Elections. I'm sure the Committee will approve his candidature. He fits the criteria stipulated for the Presidential Elections.

I have reservations about Dr Tony Tan. He was amongst the Plaintiffs that sued Tang Liang Hong for defamation. He is currently the Chairman of Singapore Press Holdings. The combination of these two facts hardly qualifies him as a defender of free speech. He certainly is not and I am sure he would not pretend to be one.

Freedom of Expression is one of the pet issues that I have against the present government and certainly any Presidential candidate that does not share a value system based on free expression would not get my vote.

The Online Citizen has updated on their facebook wall the following: "you have to defend your name when slandered says dr tony tan in response to what he feels about using defamation suits to quell opposition"

It indicates to me that Dr Tony Tan is essentially the same establishment man that he has always been.

Another update from the TOC FB page: "One of the area I would like to concentrate on is to rally Singaporeans to alleviate the burden of the needy, disabled and disadvantaged" - Dr Tony Tan.

That is pretty much the way that the present government orientates itself. "rallying singaporeans to alleviate the burden of the needy" means Singaporeans have to help themselves through private self-help groups. Don't expect handouts. The same PAP mantra that we have heard all the time. When it comes to social assistance, they are true-blue free market economists. When it comes to social freedoms, they want to control and micromanage as much as they can.

From TOC FB update: "Dr Tony Tan: There is only one power centre in Singapore and that is the elected government of the day. The Elected President is not a rival power centre."

I do not disagree with Dr Tony Tan on this issue of the 'power centre', although I have blogged earlier about an enhanced vocal role for the President. However, the lingo that he has used is the same rehashed official phraseaology. This is just more evidence that Dr Tony Tan is the 'PAP endorsed' candidate for the upcoming elections unless Mr Nathan decides that he wants to go for re-election.

Another issue I have with Dr Tan's candidature is the fact that he was a Cabinet Minister at the time of the infamous Marxist Conspiracy detentions under Operation Spectrum back in 1987.

Certainly not the liberal Presidential Candidate that I am looking out for.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Black Sunday: A New Dawn?: A test for the post GE 2011 government

Under Section 5 of the Public Order Act 2009, a public assembly shall not take place unless notice of it has been given to the Commissioner under Section 6 and a permit has been granted under Section 7.

Effectively, any public assembly without a permit would constitute an offence.

So, what constitutes a public assembly? The Public Order Act 2009 makes the assembly of a single individual an offence. Although linguistically it seems impossible to evisage the assembly of one, the law can get away with the creation of fiction for convenience.

Section 1 of the Public Order Act spells out the definition of an 'assembly':

"assembly" means a gathering or meeting (whether or not comprising any lecture, talk, address, debate or discussion) of persons the purpose (or one of the purposes) of which is —
(a) to demonstrate support for or opposition to the views or actions of any person, group of persons or any government;
(b) to publicise a cause or campaign; or
(c) to mark or commemorate any event,
and includes a demonstration by a person alone for any such purpose referred to in paragraph (a), (b) or (c);

If a group of friends decide (let's say) to commemorate the death anniversary of JBJ by gathering at a public place, an offence would be committed. In fact, if I 'gathered' alone at a public place to commemorate an event, that would also constitute an assembly under the Act.

The definition is broad enough to cover any kind of 'protest', 'demonstration' or public display of views.

Into this restrictively drawn statutory arrangement waltzes 'Mandy Mary'.

I first came across this person via a facebook group. I was aware that 'she' was organising (or at least appeared via facebook to be a prime mover) the Black Sunday event. A successful Black Sunday event took place to register disapproval of MP Tin Pei Ling. This took place at the Starbucks outlet at Parkway Parade on 29th May 2011. I became aware of this event the day after it took place via some discussion with facebook friends. And then another Mandy Mary inspired Black Sunday event cropped up. This time it was at Wisma Atria at a Starbucks outlet on 12th June 2011.

By now, Mandy Mary had become emboldened enough to turn this into a 'movement'. There is a facebook page for 'Black Sunday Movement' now.

What do I think of these events? Do they fall foul of the law? Are the organizers and participants taking too much of a risk?

Two crucial issues:
1.Were they gathered for one of the stated purposes in the statute under the definition section of the Public Order Act as set out above?
2.Would a cafe constitute a public place for the purpose of the Public Order Act?

Under Section 1 of the Act 'public place' is defined as follows:

"public place" means —
(a) any place (open to the air or otherwise) to which members of the public have access as of right or by virtue of express or implied permission, whether or not on payment of a fee, whether or not access to the place may be restricted at particular times or for particular purposes, and whether or not it is an “approved place” within the meaning of the Public Entertainments and Meetings Act (Cap. 257); or
(b) a part of a place that the occupier of the place allows members of the public to enter, but only while the place is ordinarily open to members of the public;

This definition is broad enough to cover a restaurant or cafe where the owner of the premises grants an express/implied permission to the customer to have access to the premises.

With the Black Sunday Movement promoting a cause and the event being held in arguably 'a public place', (The Public Order Act definition is arguably broader than the reference to a 'public place' in the Public Entertainments and Meetings Act), I wouldn't be surprised if the authorities decide to charge the individuals involved.

But, I am surprised. Pleasantly as well.
I am surprised because no action has been taken. Nobody has been called up for investigation. Yes, some men in blue were seen at the location of the second event but apart from a photographer who was asked for his ID, nobody appears to have been troubled.

In my heart, I quietly hope and pray that this is the new dawn. Quietly, and without fanfare, freedom awakens in our land.

If our Prime Minister had truly taken to heart the voice of the people during the election campaign this year, he would have realised that the change that needs to be instituted is not going to be merely cosmetic. It would not do for him or his party to pay lip service to change. It would not do for him or his party to merely manage public perception through information management. He would have realised that the citizens of this country have reached a level of political maturity that demands that the tight-fisted approach of years gone by cannot work any more.

Politics in this country has changed at a fundamental level this May. The more you seek to control, the more you lose electoral control.

If this has dawned on our PM and his party colleagues, we might be witnessing the beginning of a new reality. Events like Black Sunday are pretty harmless. All they do is publicise a cause. No rebel-rousing speeches. No spirited chanting. Not even any placards. A silent and nuisance-free way of expressing dissent. I am sure the individuals composing the present Cabinet can live with this and tolerate its existence. After all, they are now living with and tolerating so much of dissent online. Whilst doing that, I am sure they are beginning to realise how harmless this kind of dissent really is.

The key for the PAP government is to battle dissent with clear, cogent and rational argument. They can't get away with killing dissent with a sledgehammer. Those days are gone. People have finally felt the sense of empowerment that their vote is capable of giving them. Silencing regular dissent would translate into more votes lost for the PAP. Engaging dissent constructively may in fact win back some votes for them. For the hardcore opposition supporter this might not sound like a good thing. In fact, one might even secretly wish that the PAP would not change its ways. If they don't change their ways, they would lose more votes.

But, PM Lee might have already made the prudent calculation that some level of restraint in the use of the law and a greater level of engagement in honest debate with the public would actually be the win-win solution for the PAP as well as for the people. More easing of control might actually result in more electoral clout for the PAP. This could be his opportunity to script a future for our country truly with the people as co-authors. Public assembly could be a start. There are so many other areas where control could be eased.

I am speculating. Who knows what the future holds?

But, these are interesting times in our nation's history.

The Black Sunday Movement could be the sign of a new dawn for us all.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

We the people can make our President speak

The debate on the President's powers is taking a healthy turn. I'm glad that netizens are weighing in with good arguments one way or the other. A truly heartening aspect of this discussion is that most views are expressed within the ambit of the current constitutional framework as set out in our written Constitution. Nobody has illusions about the powers that are provided for.

The Ministry of Law's press statement is an accurate rendition of the relevant constitutional provisions. For those readers that don't plan to labour over the Constitution, I would recommend the MinLaw statement for a useful guide.
We can potentially debate about whether the Constitution itself ought to be amended to give the President express powers in additional areas or to remove the constraints placed by the Cabinet's advice in the exercise of certain powers (e.g. Clemency). But, that would be a different kind of debate.

The present debate, as it is shaping up, is about whether the next President should speak up on policy issues or not. Traditionally, the head of state in a commonwealth country has been fashioned after the British monarch. There is no historical controversy in the assertion that our first President was in many ways a replica of the British monarch. His power was essentially more ceremonial than actual. As with the Queen, our unelected President lacked the constitutional legitimacy to speak up.

Singaporeans had never debated about the extent to which a President should exercise his powers because we never really saw him as having any legitimacy to wield any power.
Two things have changed from the 1990s onwards - today's President is elected and today's President earns an obscenely high salary. There is, therefore, a popular perception that the will of the people must be voiced in some way by the President and the President must be worth the money that he is being paid.

The expressly stated powers of the President in our Constitution do not traverse the area of his right to speak and express his views. Yes, he is not in a position to veto most bills and he is not in a position to veto policies. But, the Constitution is silent on his right to express a view. In such instances we have to resort to the political conventions surrounding the office of the President. Being a carbon copy of the British Queen, the original office of the President was governed by conventions that applied to the queen. An unelected person has no legitimacy to chide the elected leaders for their policies. Similarly an unelected person has no legitimate role in criticising the legislation passed by an elected parliament.

The conventions surrounding the British monarchy were easily transplanted into our constitutional arrangements. But, it still remains true that those were conventions and not strict provisions in our constitution.

Those of us advocating an expanded role are relying on the elastic nature of conventions. Once the Head of State is elected the game changes considerably. (In fact, one of the drawbacks of the creation of the elected presidency was the failure to appreciate the potential impact of the electoral mandate on the office itself. The complacent PAP government did not anticipate that an Elected President might one day challenge and question the PAP itself). Constitutional law does not reside in a vacuum. Political currents can be sufficiently strong to push through major shifts in the way certain officeholders may carry out their functions. This can happen without necessarily amending the Constitution and at the same time by avoiding any offence to existing constitutional provisions.

There is room to manoeuvre. We want our next President to use that room.
If ever there is to be a political moment in our nation's post-independence history where the power of the people's voice was strong enough to effect change, this is it. The push-back by the people against the PAP was loud and clear in May 2011. The PAP (to its credit) did not react with a heavy hand. It is responding through a reassessment of itself.
This displays that there is an important threshold that the PAP leaders are themselves prepared to cross. Criticism need not be crushed. It can be the basis of constructive analysis instead of building a culture of group-think.

I firmly believe that if there is sufficient public support for a vocal presidency, the winning candidate may carry with him a powerful electoral backing with which he can re-shape the office.

The current Cabinet ministers may possess sufficient wisdom to permit a slightly expanded role for the President. Who knows?

In a country where we are accustomed to the rules of the game being changed by the PAP, it is about time that the people play a part in changing the rules.

Summarising my previous blog post and the current post, my premise for an expanded role is this:
a) There are powers that the President can exercise discretion on
b) There are powers that the President is required to exercise in accordance with the advise of the Cabinet
c) There are no limitations or constraints on the President’s ability to publicly express his opinion
d) Public expression of opinion rendered in a gentlemanly fashion would at most piss off the government of the day but it would not result in a constitutional crisis
e) Dissenting views are a healthy aspect of a mature democracy (and we are on the way to maturing as a democracy)
f) By expressing his views, the President is not going to emerge as another power centre as his functions are still clearly demarcated

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Reshaping the Presidency

Prior to the creation of the Elected presidency, the President of Singapore was pretty much a carbon copy of the British monarch. His constitutional role as the Head of State was largely ceremonial.

However, the introduction of constitutional amendments in relation to the office of the President culminated in the adoption of a hybrid version of a Head of State. Is out President identical to the Head of State in the British system? My answer is: no. And of course, at the other end of the spectrum, our President is not at all like the American President whose executive powers are enormous. The Prime Minister and the Cabinet continue to be wielders of executive power in Singapore.

I was reading a couple of blog posts on the nature of the President's powers.
"Many things a President cannot do." from the blog: Thoughts of a Cynical Investor
"Will a President that speaks up cause a SIngapore Constitutional crisis?" from the blog: Thoughts of a Singapore statistician

Cynical Investor makes the assertion that the office of the President is so limited in terms of its constitutional role that there is not much that any Elected President can really do. His contention is that the President cannot, without provoking a constitutional crisis, address the many policy issues that some of us expect to be aired.

To be fair, the office of the Elected President was introduced as a safeguard primarily in relation to the reserves. So, many of the express powers given to the President involve some direct or indirect control over the use of the reserves. Cynical Investor is not off the mark when he states:

So, if for example Tan Kin Lian becomes president, he cannot speak out on of the need for a minimum wage, on the honesty and integrity of financial advisers, or whether lawyers, doctors and architects overcharge for certain services. He definitely cannot publicly ask the AG to look into prosecuting financial institutions or land bank businesses for “cheating” the public.

But, a small correction is in order... Article 22G of the Constitution provides for the President to direct the CPIB to carry out investigations despite the refusal of the Prime Minister. This can, turn out, in appropriate circumstances to be a potent power.

22G. Notwithstanding that the Prime Minister has refused to give his consent to the Director of the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau to make any inquiries or to carry out any investigations into any information received by the Director touching upon the conduct of any person or any allegation or complaint made against any person, the Director may make such inquiries or carry out investigations into such information, allegation or complaint if the President, acting in his discretion, concurs therewith.

Singapore Statistician contends that there is Constitutional space for the President to be independent and vocal despite the appearance of a limited function under the Constitution.

I shall now throw my 2 cents' worth into this conversation.

Firstly, what exactly does the Constitution provide? What can the President do? And what are the things that he cannot do?

The COnstitution provides for certain powers that are discretionary and others that the President exercises on the advise of the Cabinet. Many of us would remember the arguments in the Yong Vui Kong case as to the power of the President to grant clemency. The judiciary has interpreted that the President ought to act on the advise of the Cabinet and not exercise his discretion as he deems fit. In my view, this was not a clear-cut issue as some commentators had made it out to be. It was always open to interpretation and Yong Vui kong's case now settles the interpretation (at least for the time being). (I had expressed my view on this issue here: )

Let's leave the non-discretionary powers of the President aside. There would be something of a constitutional 'crisis' if the President acts against the advise of the Cabinet in relation to, for example, clemency.

If we focus on the areas of Presidential discretion we would notice that there is plenty of room for an individual President to stamp his personal style in the decision-making process. There is nothing preventing a President from expressing his views on policy and legislation in a firm, vocal and open manner.

Let's consider the granting of the Presidential Assent in relation to certain Bills passed by Parliament. I want to draw a quick comparison with the British monarch. She has legal power based on her Royal Prerogative to refuse to grant the Royal Assent. Yet, by convention (political practice) she always grants the Royal Assent. Our President has, under the Constitution an effective veto against certain Bills. Is there any political rule or practise that is capable of restraining our President from exercising his discretion? The British monarch is an unelected person and a hereditary title holder. She and her predecessors had for a long time acknowledged the superiority of the Parliamentary will. Today, we speak of the will of Parliament as the will of the electorate. Therefore, in the context of the UK the unelected monarch must give way (for want of political legitimacy) to the will of Parliament (the Lower House being an elected body).

In Singapore, the position of our President is constitutionaly different. Considering only the discretionary powers of the President, we can make out a cogent case for a vocal Presidency. This case is based solely on the enhanced legitimacy of our Head of State as an elected individual. Where both parliament and the President are elected, both can claim legitimacy by virtue of an electoral mandate. The constitutional provisions envisage the possibility that the President in the exercise of his discretion may pave the way for a deadlock. Any potential constitutional deadlock is untangled through a number of procedures one of which is a 2/3 majority resolution by Parliament.

When the President either grants or refuses to grant the Assent, there is a strong case for the contention that the President ought to make his reasoned arguments available for Public scrutiny.

It is a facet of (and even a strong expection in) modern governance, that laws ought to be made publicly and debated and reasoned out in an open manner. Our Parliament has been doing this from its inception. The Elected President is, arguably, in a position of political accountability towards the electorate. Therefore, apart from those occasions where he is exercising a discretion, it would be constitutionally useful for an assertive President to explain the reasons for his actions or even to express his disagreement even though a constitutional provision may provide him with no discretion.

Moving forward, a future elected President can choose to make his decisions and the attendant reasons public so that the process of law-making or executive decision-making is entirely transparent. Presidential candidates in this election can propose this as a change in the Presidential style. Note that this would not merely be a change in style but one with real substance.

By reshaping the Presidency into an office that explains its actions, the future President can use the opportunity to express his disagreement. Whether the Cabinet, Parliament or the President presents the clearer moral argument for a particular matter can ultimately be judged by the people. Of course, the reality is that whoever becomes the President and however much he may shout at the top of his voice and exercise his discretion, the current government can override the President's views and actions.

Realistically speaking, given the current composition of Parliament, there may be nothing concrete that can be accomplished by the President.

But, I firmly believe that what we are setting out to do now as a nation is to lay the foundation for a different kind of Presidency. The trend has to be set for future Presidents. Apart from exercising the Constitutionally prescribed function, the President can legitimately seek to be another voice against any potential abuse by the executive.

How far are the candidates willing to go to commit themselves to reshaping the Presidency? I am not calling for them to act unconstitutionally. But, working within the ambit of the Constitution, a President can actively and vocally exercise his discretion (sometimes agreeing, sometimes disagreeing) in a transparent fashion and give life to the potent power invested in him by the electorate.

I do not believe that an Elected President should wait for marching orders from the Constitution to open his mouth and speak up on policy issues. There is, after all, no gagging order imposed upon the President.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Who wants to be a millionaire? oops, President

Mr Ooi Boon Ewe, Dr Tan Cheng Bock, Mr Tan Kin Lian, Mr Geoarge Yeo.

The line-up is not quite set. Mr Ooi and Dr Tan have collected the application form. Mr Tan Kin Lian's friend has collected his application form for him although it appears that Mr Tan is undecided due to concerns that his wife has about him running for President. (Maybe, he should remind her that she might get to have her photograph hung on the wall of every government office/building. :-) )
George Yeo is mulling over contesting.

Mr Ooi would almost certainly be rejected as not qualifying under the stringent requirements set for the candidacy as President. Dr Tan, Mr Tan and Mr George Yeo may be the only serious contenders if all of them throw in their applications.

So far, the only thing that seems certain is that Dr Tan will be submitting his application.

Where is the PAP-'approved' candidate? This is surely what all of us are wondering. It shouldn't be the case that we are expecting an officially sanctioned pro-ruling party candidate for the Presidential election. But, given the history of the office, Singaporeans have come to expect that there will be an officially approved candidate.

Just before the General Elections, many of us expected that Abdullah Tarmugi may be presenting himself as a Presidential candidate. He stepped down as the Speaker of Parliament. Right now, there is no indication that he might put himself forward as a candidate.

Maybe, just maybe, the PM and the Cabinet have decided that we really need a revolutionary change in our politics. Maybe, they decided that this time around no officially 'approved' candidate would be put forward. Maybe, just maybe, we might be in for a Presidential Election involving truly independent candidates.


But, of course, many would question how independent would George Yeo or Dr Tan Cheng Bock be considering their long track record as PAP men. Perhaps Dr Tan might fit the bill of a free spirit. He was willing to publicly lock horns with the PAP leaders.

Whether the President is going to be a free spirit or a yes man is the difference between whether he is going to cut the budget or just cut ribbons.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

The Potong Pasir Town Council Saga & the broader issue of transparency

The following article appeared in Channelnewsasia today:

It appears that the SPP has alleged that the newly elected PAP MP for Potong Pasir had promised to retain the services of all 16 employees of the Potong Pasir Town Council.

It appears that only 3 employees were retained at Potong Pasir TC and the remaining staff have been served with termination notices with an offer of re-employment with EM Services.

EM Services is the newly appointed managing agent of the Potong Pasir Town Council. I find the following aspect of the news report disturbing:

When contacted on Wednesday, Mr Sitoh refuted SPP's claims.

"At that time, I didn't know the inside workings of the town council and how many staff there were, so my exact words to her, "Since you asked, I'll try my best to see what I can do"," he said.

"And I think I've kept to my word: I negotiated with EM Services and I must give credit to EM Services. They said, "Don't worry, we'll take the staff"."

As for his decision not to keep most of the town council employees at Potong Pasir, Mr Sitoh said he could not keep everybody, as he has to abide by EM Services' regulations.

"It has its own way of doing things that is developed over the years, which is why I adopt this system. My paramount interest is the Potong Pasir residents, so EM Services has to bring in its own people. I can't compromise on standards of services I deliver to residents."

He added that EM Services will probably have to train some of the Potong Pasir town council employees under its own training programme.

Town council employees whom MediaCorp spoke to expressed concern about the situation, especially after they were told that when re-employed, they would be put on a six-month probation under EM Service's terms and conditions. When asked about the probation period, Mr Sitoh said this was standard human resource policy for all EM Services staff. He added: "If they're good performers, what's the worry?"

Firstly, it appears that the appointment of EM Services was one which involved a personal choice and exercise of discretion by Mr Sitoh. The process of appointment of Managing Agents is totally unsatisfactory. In the end, these Managing Agents are going to be paid under their contract by the Town Council. The Town Council funds are coming from the residents ultimately. Where is the accountability if one person exercising his personal discretion could negotiate with and appoint EM Services as the Managing Agent. I have in an earlier blog post addressed the issue of PAP members being part of EM Services including, of course, the Chief Operating Officer of EM Services who is an ex-MP. With such close party based links, it would have been more prudent for Mr Sitoh to have taken over the Town Council and then to set out, through an open and transparent manner, to find an appropriate Managing Agent. The fact is that PAP run Town Councils have become comfortable with the delegation of estate management functions to these companies such as EM Services, Esmaco & CPG Facilities. This has led to the newly elected MP for Potong Pasir to speedily appoint EM Services without first considering if the process itself should be transparent.

In an article on Today that appeared on 30th May 2011, Mdm Halimah of Jurong Town Council noted as follows:
"We have a transparent and rigorous system in place where all tenders, including the appointment of the managing agent, are evaluated by the Tenders and Contracts Committee comprising Councillors. This committee's recommendations are then reviewed by the full Council,"

If this is in fact the practice in Jurong Town Council, it Is to be welcomed. The appointment of the managing agent itself is one that is evaluated by the Tenders and Contracts Committee.

In Potong Pasir it remains a question mark as to whether any rigorous or transparent process was followed.

Secondly, this issue of what Mr Sitoh promised should not descend into a war of words between the SPP and Mr Sitoh over who said what. But, at this point that is the way it is coming out. SPP alleges one thing and Mr Sitoh disputes it. Let’s assume for a moment that Mr Sitoh is telling the truth that he said he would try his best. His final remark in that Channelnewsasia article is not at all indicative of someone who tried his best or someone who cares.

In relation to the 6-month probation period for the terminated Town Council employees, Mr Sitoh stated “if they are good performers, what’s the worry.” This is precisely the EQ problem that we have been encountering with many PAP MPs lately. One would have thought that the chorus of discontent that grew louder and louder during the elections would have helped to soften these MPs. It doesn’t appear to have affected some of them.

You win the election. You take over the Town Council. You unceremoniously terminate the employment of Town Council employees without so much as an offer of compensation. The best you could negotiate for these employees was an offer of employment at EM Services and your response to the 6 month probation period can at best be described as scornful. I expect more than that from you Mr Sitoh.

Thirdly, what is there to stop EM Services from claiming after the end of the probation period that the staff cannot be confirmed because they were below par. With the kind of political links that EM Services has, doubts may arise as to the true reason for the termination of the employees if they get dropped after six months. Many doubts have already been cast at the termination of services encountered by an employee of Esmaco serving at Jurong Town Council. The General Manager of the town council, Mr Ho had allegedly terminated the services of one of staff that happened to take part in campaign activities in support of the National Solidarity Party. Mr Ho, as it turned out, is, apart from being a director UGL Premas (the holding company that owns Esmaco), the Branch secretary of the PAP’s Bukit Batok Branch.

The line between Town Council, Managing Agent and the political party tend to be blurred in such situations. I can only hope that things would be more transparent.

In the meantime, the SPP’s letter to Mr Sitoh is available here: