Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean has thrown down the gauntlet to the Workers’ Party (WP), asking the Opposition party to prove that it is “at least able to run a town council”, in a sharp reference to the ongoing court case faced by the WP-run Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council. He also questioned WP’s motives in eyeing the neighbouring constituencies such as Fengshan SMC.
“When elected you have two responsibilities: One is contribute to national policy-making, one is to manage your town council well,” Mr Teo said on Friday (Aug 14).
Mr Teo – MP for Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC – gave the example of how Punggol East SMC, which used to be managed under the same town council as his constituency but broke away when the WP wrested control of the ward in a 2013 by-election, went from being in a town council with a surplus to one with a deficit.
“Essentially what happened was this: Hougang town council was running a deficit, they took over Aljunied, a town council which was in surplus (following the 2011 General Election). They took over Punggol East from Pasir Ris-Punggol town council which was also in surplus. Now the whole Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council is in deficit,” he said.
“How did that happen, how did a large surplus turn into deficit? Where did the money go?
“Residents of Punggol East used to be part of my town council. I was very sorry to hand them over. But we handed it over in good order, with surpluses, to WP. Now they’re part of a town council that is in deficit. I feel quite bad about that too.”
Mr Teo said he wondered if other constituencies eyed by the WP at the coming General Election – the party has indicated it will field 28 candidates, spanning five GRCs and five SMCs – would face the same issues.
Referring to a post by WP chairman Sylvia Lim on her recently-started Instagram account, the Deputy Prime Minister said: “Now we see the chairman of the town council saying that Fengshan SMC looks quite delicious. What’s going to happen? You’re going to swallow up Fengshan? For what purpose? To serve the residents of Fengshan? Or is Fengshan delicious because you want to add it to the pot? And help the town council with the deficit?”
In her first post on Instagram On Tuesday, Ms Lim posted a picture of herself at Fengshan hawker centre with the caption, “The taste of Fengshan — heavenly!” The post was accompanied by the hashtag #reasonstowin.
On Aljunied – where a team helmed by former Foreign Affairs Minister George Yeo was defeated by a team led by WP Secretary-Chairman Low Thia Khiang in 2011 – Mr Teo said that the People’s Action Party wanted the chance to “sort out the mess” that the town council is in.
“For the 45 per cent who voted for the PAP in Aljunied the last time round, I’d like to say sorry that we were not able to serve them. Our focus would be to go in and sort out the mess that is the town council. We would like to have a team that can help sort out these issues before the hole becomes bigger – before you come into difficulties that will be very hard to recover from.”
He added: “You must be able to at least run a town council. I don’t think that’s a very high expectation. There are very capable people in the WP. Lawyers, people well trained in international finance. But what has happened?
“I think its important we resolve this issue. It’s not something we like to bring up, but something I think is important to bring up.”
“So when exercising our vote, be sure. There will be enough people voting for the Opposition. Make sure you vote for a candidate and a party whom you really want to place your future in the hands of. Make sure they’re the ones you want to manage your money and your town council.”
Mr Teo also took aim at the Workers’ Party’s track record in Parliament, saying their silence on some issues stood in contrast to their boisterous rallies.
“Some people come alive during an election. Some campaign very well. Wonderful rallies getting people worked up. It’s easier to get people riled up and unhappy. Even I know how to do that. It’s much harder to get people to work together on a difficult project – to make trade-offs, strike balances, then unite and work together. That’s much more difficult.
“During the elections you can have a party that does all kinds of rabble-rousing, inflaming emotions, influencing the way people vote. But when they get elected into Parliament, these fierce issues which they talk about during elections … they’re silent, even when they can engage the Parliament directly.”
The Deputy Prime Minister also fired a salvo at WP chief Low Thia Khiang, who on Wednesday said he was “disappointed” that Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew, whom he called “a hardworking minister”, would not be running for Parliament in the coming elections.
Said Mr Teo: “I think those are really crocodile tears. I think it’s very characteristic of Mr Low to squeeze the most political mileage out of anything. Mr Low was about to field a team to contest Mr Lui, and I’m sure if his party has contested where Mr Lui stood, he wouldn’t be saying nice things about him. I’m sure they’re crocodile tears.”