Denise Phua defends role of CDCs and mayors
She outlines work of five councils in assisting citizens after WP chief questioned need for full-time mayors
Central Singapore District Mayor Denise Phua yesterday rejected the suggestion by Workers' Party chief Pritam Singh that a voucher scheme in this year's Budget was aimed at making community development councils (CDCs) relevant.
"Mr Singh's accusation that the Government is trying to find some way for the CDCs to be relevant by asking them to manage the CDC voucher scheme is belittling the CDCs and our partners," she said during the debate on the Budget.
She outlined the work of the five councils in assisting citizens who need help, supporting initiatives such as lifelong learning, and mobilising resources from businesses and the community to help those in need.
Under the latest voucher scheme announced by Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat in the Budget on Feb 16, all Singaporean households will get $100 worth of CDC vouchers for use in heartland shops and hawker centres. The five CDCs are still working on the details of the $150 million scheme.
In his speech at the start of the Budget debate on Wednesday, Mr Singh, who is Leader of the Opposition, said the CDCs came under the spotlight after last July's general election, with some viewing the salaries of mayors as outrageous.
He said the need for CDCs and full-time mayors continues to be widely questioned, and that their role in the voucher scheme was "potentially superfluous".
"It would appear to me as if the Government is trying to find some way to make the CDCs relevant in view of their relative absence in the public mindshare," Mr Singh said.
In rebutting these points yesterday, Ms Phua cited how Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had, after the election, "graciously" created the role of Leader of the Opposition, to Mr Singh's surprise.
She said: "Did Mr Singh not accept the role when asked - and the office and the research assistant and the salary - and try his best to be relevant too? Singaporeans, too, ask what the role of the Leader of the Opposition in our Parliament is."
Mr Singh had suggested that citizens' consultative committees (CCCs) in the constituencies could administer the voucher scheme.
To this, Ms Phua said the CCCs do not always have market and shop representatives, whereas the CDCs tap a network that includes volunteers and national bodies such as the Federation of Merchants' Associations, Singapore and its subsidiary, the Heartland Enterprise Centre Singapore.
Replying yesterday, Mr Singh clarified that he did not harbour any personal vendetta against mayors. He was trying to ask if there is still a need for them to be full-time, given how roles they had are now done by others.
Mr Singh cited how when CDCs were first formed in 1997, mayors were part-time until after the general election in 2001. "That's because the trajectory of the government thinking at that time was that government programmes... would go through the CDCs."
"Is that the case today? A lot of roles have devolved," Mr Singh said, adding that as many functions are now not in the CDCs' hands, their budget has been reduced significantly.
"Is it still viable for mayors to be full time?" he asked.
In reply, Ms Phua said she was the only full-time mayor. "That's, I think, because the Prime Minister feels I'm running the largest district here - 23 divisions. My fellow mayors are all double-hatting or triple-hatting sometimes," she said.
"And so I don't know whether you consider them full-time mayors or not. But I do know that they only get one pay."