Yesterday in Parliament during the debate on the motion on AHPETC, Education Minister Heng Swee Kiat cited my encounter with one of his parliamentary colleagues during my house visits (HV) a month ago and another of my HV on the Thursday that had just passed.
It was a surprise for me to hear my name being mentioned when I was not even speaking on the motion, having left it to the good hands of my WP colleagues who run AHPETC and who had already explained the necessary details in response to the AGO report. Nevertheless, I must thank the Minister for bringing attention to my busy schedule. I had sat through parliament the entire Thursday which ended around 6.30pm, then I rushed back to change and do my weekly HV.
Both incidents that Minister Heng cited happened at Pasir Ris town, where I have been doing HV for about a year on a weekly basis. They are part of the regular two, sometimes three times a week ground activities to various parts of Singapore that I take part in, rain or shine for several years already.
I had the privilege to ‘bump’ into DPM Teo last month, who is the fellow colleague that the Minister referred to. Since DPM and Minister Heng thought it was fit to talk in parliament about that casual encounter, let me recount from what I remember.
Several WP members and I were just gathering at the void deck of a block in Pasir Ris waiting for more helpers to arrive when DPM and his grassroots leaders were about to go into a meeting in that same block. The first question the DPM asked was, “What’s happening at the Town Council”. Puzzled, I replied there was nothing much and things were as usual. DPM then asked what was with the finances of the TC? That encounter with DPM was shortly after MOS Desmond Lee and Minister Lawrence Wong had written publicly about AHPETC’s finances in the context of high S&CC arrears.
I told DPM that we will reply at a later date as stated in our press statements, which WP subsequently did with respect to the correction to the S&CC arrears. Yes, I did say that I am not in the TC committees and my colleagues, the elected MPs run the TC and they will be responding in due course when the AGO report is out. I recall the DPM asking if I was a CEC member and hence I should know.
I found that to be a strange comment because I had already said that my colleagues run the TC and that they will respond at a later date as they had said in press statements. Asking me to account to him for things in a TC which I am not involved in the operations of because I am a WP CEC member, is like me asking the DPM in front of his grassroots leaders, to account for things that happen in other PAP TCs just because DPM is a PAP CEC member, such as why rats were running wild in Bukit Batok. Of course, I didn’t think it was appropriate for me to tell him that in front of his grassroots leaders so I left our conversation as it was. I have confidence in our MPs running the TC and I still do now.
Minister Heng said I evaded a resident’s question on Thursday and walked away quickly. We had 2 groups doing HV at Pasir Ris that evening, so I had to check with everyone who were there on Thursday to find out if anyone did turn and walked away quickly when asked about AHPETC. No one had asked the other group about the TC, which was led by another WP CEC member. I had two helpers with me. I was sure I did not walk away without answering anyone on anything. Just to be very sure, I asked both of my helpers and they all were sure that I did not. Here’s the texted message from one of them, “I can’t remember the exact number of residents that asked about the AHPETC but you did not walk away nor not answer any resident.”
HV is exhausting. For evening visits, we could only do after dinner and have to end before it becomes too late that it disturbs residents’ rest. We try to visit as many as possible yet taking care to engage with residents who want to speak with us. We visit easily over 100 homes each time. Over the years of doing regular HV, I have worked out opening and closing lines based on the locations that I visit. I had applied the same opening and closing for all the homes that opened their doors to us that evening. I recall nothing special that Thursday. We moved quickly from one house to another to engage as many residents as possible before it became too late, but only after ending the conversation with an appropriate closing to make sure that it was a courteous departure.
I could only recall a middle aged man who referred to the TC debate. When I introduced myself as from WP, he said he knew as he was just at that moment watching the news covering the debate. I recall replying that 4 of our MPs had spoken to reply to the findings of the AGO and the remaining AHPE MPs will speak the next day. I had probably also said that our MPs are answering the details of the AGO report in the debate. There was nothing that was specifically asked of me about AHPETC by the resident. Without any specifics to answer, we ended the conversation in a manner as I would normally do before we moved to the next house.
Perhaps if I did unintentionally miss out on someone who had genuinely wanted to engage me, he can email me at [email protected] and I will gladly visit him during my weekly HV. Our answers were provided in detail in parliament by 7 speakers, and some further replies were given in clarifications to speeches by PAP MPs. I am satisfied with the answers that my fellow MPs gave and will give the same answers.
Yee Jenn Jong