THE Aljunied GRC incumbents took the offensive in addressing the long-running town council saga at the Workers' Party's (WP) first rally on Wednesday night - and on home ground - saying that the town council has "turned the corner".
Speaking to voters who packed the Hougang field to the brim - as they did in 2011 - the WP team also hit out at the adverse audit report on the People's Association that did not result in a withholding of grants.
With nine out of 15 town councils run by a managing agent linked to the Housing and Development Board (HDB), the odds are stacked against the town council of an opposition-led ward, said Aljunied incumbent MP Pritam Singh.
A check on EM Services - the company highlighted by Mr Singh - showed that it is the largest managing agent for public housing in Singapore. HDB holds a majority stake in this unit, the HDB website showed.
Mr Singh charged that the design of town councils is a "political tool" to arrest support of the opposition, though the party would be the first to admit that running a town council is not without its challenges.
"AHPETC (Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council) has turned a corner," he told party supporters, reiterating that the town council would turn in a FY14/15 surplus position with the S$7.2 million government grant that has been withheld.
Hougang incumbent Png Eng Huat added it was "highly mischievous" for the government to suggest that a merged town council with that of Aljunied was to plug deficits in Hougang. When they were merged, Hougang's town council had a surplus, he said.
He also highlighted the adverse opinion that the People's Association's accounts received for fiscal 2012. The accounts are now clean after including grassroots organisations' accounts, it has been reported. Mr Png charged that the statutory board continued to receive government grants, despite the accounts.
Chairman of WP - and of AHPETC - Sylvia Lim highlighted points that she had earlier stressed through her letter to residents: that the former managing agent was hired though a tender; that there was no overpayment; and that the profits of the agent - FM Solutions & Services (FMSS) - is not under the town council's scrutiny. FMSS's main shareholders were Danny Loh, who died in July, and his wife, How Weng Fan. Mr Loh and Ms How were respectively the secretary and general manager of the town council.
As the last speaker, Ms Lim said residents' lives in the area have gone on normally with the switch in parties. Meanwhile, the town council has been subjected to "microscopic scrutiny". "Have you asked yourself, why is the government spending so much time on AHPETC?" she asked. "Are we ready to take on another town council? Yes."
WP honcho Low Thia Khiang also made similar points in a speech in Teochew. Earlier in the day, he responded to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's comment that the quality of opposition in Parliament matters more than the numbers.
"I was in Parliament for 20 years. I spoke on a lot of issues in the past 20 years. Nothing happened. When I moved out in 2011, and we had seven elected MPs, you see the changes," he retorted. "So let's face the fact: numbers count."
High cost of living and the elitist tone perceived to be channelled by the ruling party also got a loud airing at the rally, Many WP candidates cited suggestions out of the party manifesto that was released last Saturday.
WP candidate for East Coast group representation constituency (GRC) Gerald Giam took aim at the dismal growth in productivity levels - a key issue that the current government wants to tackle, as a means to build more sustainable economic growth in Singapore.
He said the WP wants to push for a minimum wage, and noted that the poor in Singapore are still not earning enough to meet their daily needs. "If you elect a sizeable number of candidates into Parliament, it will send a signal that all is not right with their policies," he said,
Cheryl Loh, the candidate contesting in Nee Soon, argued that leaders should not be those walking though life on "perfect paths". "Elitism cannot rule Singapore," she said.
Daniel Goh, a candidate for East Coast GRC, also urged changes to the PSLE system. "Because 12-year-olds need to be encouraged, not to be sorted like sheep and goats," said Dr Goh, adding that fear stands in the way of change. "Life is too short and special, to be kiasu, kiasi, and kia gui (afraid of ghosts)."
Yee Jenn Jong, who joins Dr Goh in contesting for Marine Parade GRC, hit out at former prime minister Goh Chok Tong's jibe that the WP has taken credit for changes undertaken by the PAP-led government. Mr Goh had said that the sun would rise regardless of the rooster.
"The rooster does not crow to make the sun rise," said Mr Yee. "It crows because it is morning and it's time to wake up."