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BASIC IDEA #3: Ban Political Parties From Commercial Activities

Basic Idea #3 is in response to the AIM-the-PAP-S$2 co saga.

When it first caught the public attention late 2012, I was just starting out in social media. Amid the flurry of discussions, what piqued my interest was what Singapore’s laws have to say about the relationship between political parties and their legal commercial, for-profit entities.

My interest centred specifically on the messages and comparisons that Lee Kuan Yew made on several occasions (unfortunately, I do not have the links). I recalled that he spoke about political parties in Asia that own huge commercial interests (e.g. prominent multi-storey buildings among other possessions). His PAP government sought to differentiate SG by framing laws that, for e.g., limit the amount of money donated by individuals, no donations from foreign parties/individuals, limit to the amount spent per voter in the constituency contest etc. For e.g., currently, the Election Dept specifies The maximum amount a candidate can spend on election expenses is:

  1. in the case of a GRC, an amount equal to $3.50 for each elector divided by the number of candidates in the group; or
  2. in the case of an SMC, an amount equal to $3.50 for each elector.

These and other measures are meant to minimise the use and need for money to fight and win an election. The aim being to win on the force of one’s arguments (and, perhaps, personality) instead of relying mainly on money to gain the upper hand…hmm, maybe that sounds good if you have been the dominant political party for a long time. Regardless, on the face of it, as a fair-minded person and one who believes in the evils of money politics and money or the lack thereof crowding out would-be candidates (like the insane US$1bil that Obama & Romney spent in 2012), I was proud of our election laws in this regard.

My exploration of the Societies Act and the Registry of Societies yielded no clarity whether political parties are legally allowed to own commercial, for-profit businesses. Via email inquiry, the reply I got was in 2013 was, “The Societies Act does not prohibit a registered society to set up a company to carry out its commercial activities.  With regard to the ownership of a company, you may wish to contact the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA) at 6248 6028 or visit their website at http://www.acra.gov.sg.”

The discomforts and even objections of Singaporeans in general to S$2-AIM’s specific involvement in the purchase of Town Council software are the right response. But could we be missing the woods for the trees? What is the bigger, potentially graver issue here? I submit that all Singaporeans ought to be even more concerned, that without any legal impediments to owning commercial entities and as the cost of electioneering will continue to increase, the day when Singapore politics go the way of our neighbours’ in which political parties own outright or via proxies mainstream media, cable networks, properties and many other industrial and commercial interests cannot be too far away.

In practical terms, political parties will take a leaf from PAP-dummy (pardon the jab, it comes naturally the more I read what he writes and reasons) Calvin Cheng’s initiative, and will be paying Facebook, Google, Youtube etc serious money such that their election messages appear at the top of any search by voters. This will unfairly influence voting patterns. Likewise, serious money for MSM advertisements etc. Do we want that in Singapore?

It is a real pity that LKY is not around to enlighten us why, despite all his overt words, moves and grooves to differentiate our political electioneering from our neighbour and the world at large, he had not said anything given that AIM was already established on 21 July 1991 when he was still PAP Sec-Gen. What was he thinking? ‘What’s wrong with collecting a little more money?’. Perhaps. Therefore, other than allowing each political party to legally own its own premises (reasonable size fit-for-purpose and not a grandiose #1 Raffles Place equivalent), we must elect MPs who will support Basic Idea #3 i.e. a change in the Societies Act to immediately disallow all political parties from owning commercial for-profit entities.

Oh, I almost forget the PAP Community Foundation (PCF) is ostentatiously a foundation supposedly, by definition, ‘given to rendering financial aid to colleges, schools, hospitals, and charities and generally supported by gifts for such purposes.’ Well, the question to whether not-for-profit organizations (such as the PCF) should be included is, ‘With the PAP govt’s newfound, increased largesse to ‘subsidize preschool and senior care services’ (2 of PCF’s core activities) with taxpayers’ money, should we not be better off taking Deep Throat’s advice to ‘follow the money’ to find out which pockets all the subsidies are going into and then make the decision to, perhaps, ‘nationalize’ PCF?