HDB UPGRADING: A POLITICAL LEVERAGE FOR PAP?More often than not, the issue of upgrading has often been a forefront of political debate in Singapore, especially during the General Elections.
It has always been the bane for constituency wards who vote for opposition parties, that, as long as they continue to continue with their staunch support of opposition parties, chances are, their chances of seeing their flats being upgraded goes up in smoke.
Given the fact that HDB housing programs are an integral part of many Singaporeans' lives, it is no surprise that HDB schemes have remained as one of the chief concerns of many a heartlander.
WHY IS UPGRADING IMPORTANT?
For the most part, the real gist behind this upgrading issue has been the property of HDB flats.
As the supposed logic goes, the prices of flats escalates when flats are upgraded, possibly because of the additional balcony and lifts added, and a better aesthetic view (important for some of the older states).
Another issue that is linked with the upgrading project has to do with the aging population: As the population ages, it becomes imperative to provide access to lifts for every floor, since HDB flats typically towers 12 storeys and above (The latter-generation flats can reach up to 20 storeys).
UPGRADING OF FLATS: A POLITICAL TOOL TO CANVASS FOR VOTES?
The unbridled truth is, Singaporeans clamour for upgrading: Since the implementation of the Main Upgrading Programme (MUP) in 1992, the upgrading issue has become the focus of PAP's election agenda.
GE 2006 was no different: The ruling incumbent's agenda dished out assurances that wards which voted for their candidates would be eligible for the latest rounds of upgrading. This would, in fact, implicate the situation in the predominantly opposition-supporting wards, particularly Chiam See Tong's Potong Pasir.
How is it that a political party has enough political clout to influence a government institute and aschew a national housing program to the party's benefit?
The answer it seems, lies in the fact that at least 80% of Singapore's population live in HDB flats, and this is a fact that has not been lost to the ruling party, as National Development Minister, Mah Bow Tan, points out:
Upgrading for all wards, but PAP ones first
NATIONAL Development Minister Mah Bow Tan has come out to clear the air on the upgrading of opposition wards, saying that their lifts will be upgraded by 2015 at the latest, but PAP wards will still get priority.
After the election results on May 7, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said the People's Action Party (PAP) would have to review its strategy in the opposition wards.
Mr Mah made it clear that this review would not affect the policy of giving lift upgrading priority to PAP wards. 'There is no change, that policy still remains. Giving PAP wards priority does not mean that the Government intends to deprive opposition wards of upgrading, he added.
The Government has pledged that by 2015, all HDB blocks, including those in opposition wards, will have lifts that stop on every floor, with the exception of a small number of blocks whose designs make such works too costly.
To select precincts for upgrading, the ministry uses three criteria: the age of the blocks, the geographical spread to ensure upgrading is not concentrated in only a few constituencies and support for the Government.
While acknowledging that many thought it unfair to link votes to upgrading, Mr Mah defended the policy as 'not unreasonable'.
He said the massive and costly upgrading programme was only possible because of the Government's policies, which generated economic growth and the Budget surpluses needed to fund it.
And these policies could only be implemented if the Government received the people's mandate.
'We really need to be fair to the people who voted for the PAP candidate. Upgrading has been a major election platform for the PAP and those who support the PAP candidate expect their MPs to deliver on their promises.'
Source: Extracted from ST 11 June 2006
Pretty heady stuff, I would say.
As Mr Mah Bow Tan pointed out, HDB upgrading for Singapore's various precincts is based on:
1. Age of the flats.
2. Even geographical spread for upgrading.
3. Support for government.
While I agree with the first two criteria, the third criteria seems pretty controversial, if not dodgy.
How does one equate "support for government" with the upgrading of flats? Would it be fair to demonize opposition wards, by saying: "Sorry folks, you didn't vote for us, so you have to wait just a while longer."?
The chief crux of this unfair policy is this: Does the HDB serve the people, or the ruling party? Perhaps I am mistaken, but if civil servants work for the HDB, shouldn't the people's interest come first, instead of the ruling parties?
After all, a civil servants are not deemed "servants" for nothing: They are servants to the civilian population, not the ruling elite. Otherwise they'd been known as government servants (or slaves, if you will).
In short, not only is a government institution bowing to every whim of a ruling party, the political party practically overlords government institutions.
It is interesting to note that, when issues of upgrading arises, we hear little, or next to nothing, from officials from the HDB itself, with regards to the upgrading issue. Which is rather strange, considering that they are supposed to be at the centre of this political maelstrom. Could it be that, the current chairwoman of the board, Aline Wong, has decided to toe the party line, given the fact that she was an ex-MP, and had held various appointments in parliament?
It is a pity that opposition wards have to wait till 2015 to get their flats upgraded. Not only is it unfair for the residents, particularly for those living in Potong Pasir (Hougang isn't so bad), it is almost a travesty to deny this privilege to the residents, who clearly do not deserve such an unbiased, cruel treatment, given the fact that Potong Pasir is an aging estate, and Hougang is not far behind.
It is improper for the HDB to act in favor of PAP wards, when its existence is to maintain and manage affordable, high-standard public housing for the masses.
Imagine what would happen then, if the Land Transport Authority decides to provide maintenance for roads that run through PAP wards alone? Or that the PUB decides to supply clean, drinkable water only to PAP wards? The end result would probably be disastrous, and anarchy will ensue.
It is high time our ruling incumbent realize that residents at opposition wards have the same fundamental right as those living in PAP-run wards: Funds and institutions meant for the upkeeping of a nation must never be manipulated for political gains and political favoritism.