Monday, 16 March 2015

DRUMS: Is the PAP too smart for its own good?

In case anyone is interested, I have posted below photos of the flyer distributed to AHPETC residents over the past few days. They appeared on people's doorsteps after midnight. Of course there was a lot of criticism from the pro-Oppo camp on the Internet, with some even querying the legality of the act. Some avid PAP enthusiasts, however, have defended the distribution of the flyers citing the fact that the opposition parties have also been reaching out to the public by selling or distributing newsletters.

No doubt that is true. But it leaves one question unanswered. The opposition parties, such as the Workers' Party, sell their newsletters to raise funds in the daytime. They actually meet the residents face-to-face and they do not force the newsletters on people who are uninterested to buy from them. These PAP flyers, however, were distributed late at night when residents have no opportunity to decline them, or to question the distributors about the reason for their act. The time of distribution (from 12am to after 1 am) appears to have been deliberately chosen so that all residents would have no choice but to receive the flyers, whether they like it or not. That's PAP efficiency for you. They have certainly achieved their aim of catching the public's attention. But in a word of fairness to them, as the branch chairman of PAP Paya Lebar has quipped, "Residents are free to make up their own mind as to what they wish to do after reading the flyers."

Although in principle, there's nothing wrong with the PAP distributing such flyers to nudge residents to be more critical towards the Opposition, what is perturbing is that these flyers do not contain factually accurate information. Although the PAP has called this an "activist" effort as a shield to absolve itself from having to take responsibility for what was published, in such a tightly controlled party, I highly doubt that any PAP member will dare to boldly drop flyers at Singaporeans' doors without being given the green light by the party leadership.

If indeed the PAP Ministers and top leaders were the ones who permitted the distribution of this flyer, I am sorry to say that I am disappointed. The contents of the flyer are things that I would expect to read on Fabrications about the PAP or some other pro-PAP websites and blogs - half-truths and simplistic points made with the motive to turn voters away from the Opposition, but that contribute little to our understanding of the issues. I presume that the person leading the distribution of the flyers, Victor Lye, is going to be one of the PAP candidates for Aljunied GRC in the next elections. He is the chairman of the Citizens' Consultative Committee of Bedok Reservoir and Punggol, a position typically filled by PAP candidates who have lost to opposition parties in elections. If so, why does the party let a potential election candidate distribute flyers containing the DRUMS (Distortions, Rumours, Untruths, Misinformation and Smears) that it is trying to dissociate itself from?

The flyer is trying to create the impression that the WP has yet to reply to any of the questions raised by the AGO. However, the claim that WP has been remaining "silent" is misleading to residents who are not in the know and annoying to those who know. In fact, there was a much-publicised debate in Parliament in mid-February, where Sylvia Lim gave a long speech explaining the operations of AHPETC and FMSS.

Just to take an example. Point 1 "Improper Governance" charged that the husband and wife who owned FMSS "certify their own work and pay themselves, with little checks". This point was already clarified by Sylvia Lim in her speech. I have excerpted the relevant portion below. If the authorisation of the TC Chairman isn't enough of a check, the author of the flyer should've stated this and elaborate on what type of check is needed.

From the Workers' Party website.

To take another example. The graph comparing MA rates refers to AHPETC's existence since 2011. This is wrong. Punggol East was only incorporated after the by-election in 2013, brought about by PAP MP Michael Palmer's resignation to atone for his extra-marital affair.

The issue of overpaying rendered in bold also brings to mind a debate I had once with former NMP Calvin Cheng and several pro-PAP people about the Susan Lim vs Brunei royal family case. They had argued then that the issue of "overpaying" was subjective. According to them, there was no such thing as a seller or service provider "overcharging" for a deal if the customer was willing and able to pay for it. The PAP activists' charge against WP also brings to mind the subsequent twist in the Susan Lim case, where PAP MP Alvin Yeo was one of those involved in overcharging her.

I am curious about what those pro-PAP people would say now. Can it also be argued that FMSS did not "overcharge"? They were paid what they were worth, because they had taken on a job that no other company was willing to do - manage a Town Council that was under an opposition party. Singapore is a capitalist country, after all. If your services are in high demand, you get to ask for more money. Just like the Ministers. Is there a law in our Constitution that states that Town Councils cannot pay beyond a certain amount of money to their managing agents? If there's no such price ceiling, then there's no breach of law. Maybe the legislators should consider adding such a law.

Flyer from PAP Bedok Reservoir-Punggol Branch
The whole issue about the surplus of $3.3 million has also been explained - in fact, one of my posts on the issue was shared on The Online Citizen. The surplus was transferred to the sinking fund. By being deliberately vague, and not explicitly stating where the surplus had gone, the writer of the flyer craftily creates the impression that WP was so inept that it lost the $3.3 million, plus incurred an additional loss of $734,000.

It is my opinion that the flyer was not written by a random Residents' Committee volunteer who was critical of the WP. It was probably done up after consulting someone from the legal profession. It has been written in a deliberately vague manner, with details that have come to light omitted, so as to insinuate that there were some shady dealings going on at AHPETC. However, the sentences are also carefully worded so as to minimise the chances of them losing a defamation suit, should anyone decide to sue them.

My overall analysis of this late-night flyer distribution effort from the PAP is that they have decided that since they cannot out-talk the pro-Opposition websites and the anti-PAP cyber warriors who keep on harping on PAP failures (like the "Lehman Brothers investment losses"), they may as well join them. Much like how the party supported the creation of websites like Fabrications about the PAP, which is no different from the pro-Opposition websites in its openly biased stance, the flyer distributors also do not care that their flyers are providing the residents of AHPETC with a completely one-sided account of the debate. 

Like the articles and comments that can be found on many of the pro-Opposition websites, crucial information that would've provided more clarity to the readers is left out to sway the readers. However, in the case of the former, we must distinguish the pro-Opposition websites from the Opposition. As far as I know, the Workers' Party has not published accusatory statements against the PAP in its official capacity. Neither do its MPs write overtly critical posts about the PAP in their personal capacity on Facebook and on their blogs.

What is most unfortunate about this flyer distribution is that the person-in-charge seems to be a potential election candidate for the PAP. This lends the flyer an official air. Much as they would like to pretend that it was a grassroots effort, the political motive behind the flyer distribution is quite clear. And this is disappointing, because I had expected more from the PAP. I do not trust political parties who make sweeping or deliberately vague statements to pull the wool over the voters' eyes. In the case of this flyer, the PAP would have done better had they addressed the weaknesses of the WP's counter-arguments in Parliament. However, they chose to completely ignore what the WP had said, pretending that the Parliament debate and replies never took place. (Perhaps, like Lee Kuan Yew, they still think that the masses in Singapore are foolish and ill-informed about current affairs?) We all know that in Singapore, the media is very much state-controlled, but the national press, the Straits Times, still occasionally publishes well-balanced articles. The flyer is a different thing altogether. It's on the same level as FAP.

Yes, the flyer was kind of a smart move and it can probably reach out to those who do not use the Internet - although not those who can't read English or Mandarin, since the contents were only written in these two languages. 

The careful wording to cast doubt on the abilities of the WP was also smart. But in terms of content, it appears that the party members of our incumbent Government have stooped to the same level as the one-sided pro-Opposition websites so that they can reach out to a wider audience. 

I do not like the direction that this is going because I always feel that the members of a trustworthy political party should conduct themselves with more integrity and that even though they are politicians, they should be beyond petty politics. Perhaps that is too idealistic a view. But is it inevitable for democratic politics to go the way of mudslinging and personal attacks? If so, then our politicians would be no different from anti-PAP bloggers like Roy Ngerng and his friends. I had hoped that our politicians can also be leaders and role models instead of just politicians seeking power. As a citizen, I also hope that this trend of secretive mudslinging can cease, because it's surely going to lead us down the path of divisive politics. Unfortunately, I do not think the flyers will win the PAP more votes among the well-educated members of the electorate. 

That's why I say, too smart for its own good. 

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