The Invisible Pillar of Strength of the PAP Government & Electoral Ingenuity
Many people are unaware of this invisible pillar of strength for the PAP government: The Grassroots Organizations. So what are the grassroots organizations? They are actually all around you and your constituency but you may not sense it or take notice of it. Ever wondered how the Community Clubs are ran or decision process of upgrading projects, behind the doors of the Residents’ Committees and how grassroots and PAP is so intertwined by yet separated? Hopefully this article provides some form of inside of one of the main foundation of PAP strength and support.
First and foremost, the grassroots organizations are voluntary bodies comprising of residents and citizens to implement government policies, to “feel the ground”, to organize activities and to “mobilize” the residents in times of need and emergency. The most common and visible structures of grassroots are the Community Clubs and the Residents Committees. The basic structure and hierarchy of the grassroots is shown below:
At the pinnacle of the grassroots for each constituency is the Citizen’s Consultative Committee (CCC). In actual fact, CCCs was formed in 1965 to counter and establish a strong network against the Communist and, later, against the racial riots. Their mission is to explain government policies to the people, to gather feedback and voice the people’s concerns to the political leaders. Thus, for all constituencies, the Member of Parliament for that constituency will be the Adviser for the CCC and seats in the meeting each month. Regardless if they are Ministers or just MPs, they are all obligated to attend these CCC meetings, if their schedule permits, as they are valuable source of information and implementation of the policies and feelings of the residents. In short, they are the MPs’ and Minister’s ears and eyes on the ground.
In today’s context, CCCs have a variety of functions ranging from upgrading projects, building of carparks, overhead bridges, to matters relating to the area’s HDB, Town Council, Environment (NEA) and Neighbourhood Police. Thus, at every meeting, representatives from the area’s HDB, Town Council, Neighbourhood Police and NEA will update the Chairman and Adviser on the happenings within the constituency each month. All of the members seating in the CCC are volunteers who has vast experiences in grassroots matters or prolific contributors to society (usually rich businessmen). They are appointed biennially by the Chairman and subject to approval from the Adviser (MPs).
The People’s Association (PA) runs the day-to-day work at the community clubs/centres and provides administrative and secretariat support to the grassroots organizations. They are fully-paid staffs and will not participate in the decision making process of the grassroots. For each community clubs, they are headed by the Senior Constituency Managers (SCMs) who will oversea the PA staffs.
So Why Are Grassroots The Pillar of PAP?
At present, there around 1,800 grassroots organizations in Singapore’s 84 constituencies (84 CCCs + RCs, YECs, and other grassroots organizations). That works out to around 30,000 to 40,000 grassroots volunteers (or otherwise known as Grassroots Leaders) in the whole Singapore area. Membership in terms of card holding members (discount card to Community Clubs) should exceed 120,000 members. The numbers compared to Singapore’s population may not be much, but considerable number of grassroots leaders provides a solid base of support and “foot soldiers” for the government in carrying out their initiatives.
Constitutionally, the Community Clubs and Grassroots are non-partisan and non-political entities. They are not allowed to jointly organize events or activities with any political parties, even the PAP. But PAP, being as smart as they are, setup the PAP Community Foundation (PCF) in 1989 as a non-political, charitable organization associated with the Party which aims to run social, educational and welfare activities for the community (taken from context via the PCF website). So my question is how different if PCF’s functions from the Community Clubs (Grassroots) functions? None! With PCF, both grassroots and community clubs can organize events together and provide some form of community involvement and publicity for the MPs to the residents. Singapore has probably the most number of “Guest-of-Honour” events and activities for the politicians than anywhere else on this planet. Both the grassroots and PCF provides a platform to publicize and bring the MPs (from PAP) closer to the people. This is their main drive and stage to show that they are serving the people and organizing events to cater to their interest
Many of the CCC members are also involved in the constituency’s PAP branch committee as well. As for the percentage, I doubt anyone has got the number (other than PAP themselves) but I would reckon it to be quite high. Some of the more prolific grassroots leaders are Kua Hong Pak, who is the Managing Director and Group Chief Executive Officer of ComfortDelgro, and Kwek Leng Joo, Managing Director of City Developments Limited. In particular, Kua Hong Pak has been in grassroots for many years and serves in Teck Ghee constituency (PM Lee’s ward). He received his Public Service Medal (PBM) in 1991 and Public Service Star (BBM) in 1996 by the President of the Republic of Singapore and appointed a Justice of the Peace (JP) in 2000. In addition, Mr Kua also serves on the boards of Temasek Holdings (Private) Limited, Overseas Union Enterprise Limited, PSA International Pte Ltd, PSA Corporation Limited, StarHub Ltd and Ringier Print (HK) Limited. He is also an Honorary Citizen of Shenyang City, People’s Republic of China. Maybe you might see some link of him in PM Lee’s ward, but I’m not implying anything. Nonetheless, I heard he is very active in grassroots and community activities so his awards should be out of his own merits and credits. Maybe you can reach to your own conclusion.
When election comes, party members and people wearing the party insignia are not allowed into the polling stations (which are the community clubs). The Singapore Democratic Party suggested that PAP bend some election rules as mentioned in http://www.singaporedemocrat.org/elections.html. Anyway, the point which I wanted to raise is that how do you differentiate a community club grassroots leaders (which is non-political) and a party member (which is political) when they are the same person? Simple, just wear a “different hat” on different days. Take off the badge, change your white pants into black, and now you are a grassroots leader helping the election process.
The tricky part is when you have an opposition member who won the elections (Low Thia Khiang and Chiam See Tong) and shouldn’t they technically be the Adviser of the grassroots organizations in that area? But why is Eric Low (Hougang) and Sitoh Yih Pin (Potong Pasir) being the Adviser for the grassroots when they lost the elections? When you are the Adviser, you hold the cards for Upgrading Projects, Covered Walkways, Lift to Every Floors and even MRT or NEL beside your block. This is too important of a position to cite to the opposition. Without the grassroots, the elected opposition effectively has less opportunity to tap on non-partisan methods of meeting and serving the residents. Thus, at many times, Low Thia Khiang and Chiam have to use their direct political parties name to organize events. Organizing any large scale events under the banner of political polities is likely to require notification and permission of the police. They will run the risk of being holding a political event or campaigning without license if they do not apply. See the beauty and importance of the grassroots now?
In general, I think many people underestimated the shrewdness and ingenuity of PAP in utilizing the grassroots. Block parties, residents’ meetings, community projects and involvements provide a good and indirect exposure for the MP to the residents. Don’t get me wrong, I also think that the grassroots have done a wonderful job in doing some good community works in their area but I also think it is a “one stone kills two bird” kind of strategy. Grassroots will remain as the pillar of strength for the PAP and with incentives of National Day Awards (eg: PBM, BBM, BBM(L)), priority for primary school registration, carparking subsidies and other perks, people will continue flock to join the grassroots. Some for the wrong reasons (for the perks) and some for the right reasons (to serve the needy and community) but the ultimate beneficiary will still be…you know the answer yourself!