Charles Chong: Financial health of Punggol East a very pressing concern

Charles Chong: Financial health of Punggol East a very pressing concern
Veteran PAP MP Charles Chong, who is contesting in Punggol East, is seen here on a morning walkabout at Rivervale Crescent.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

Mr Charles Chong, the veteran People's Action Party candidate for opposition-held Punggol East SMC said he would need to analyse its financial position, and put its accounts in order so that he would be able to do upgrading works if elected.

The former MP for Joo Chiat SMC before it became defunct after the recent redrawing of electoral boundaries told AsiaOne that there is a "very pressing concern on the financial health" of Punggol East.

He is worried that there may not be sufficient funds to pay for estate upgrading projects, which are necessary in two to three years. Mr Chong, 62, who is Deputy Speaker of Parliament and a six-term MP, was an MP for Pasir-Ris Punggol GRC for more than a decade.

In this General Election, he is back to his former territory, and up against Workers' Party Lee Li Lian, who wrested the single constituency from the PAP in a by-election in 2013.

Below, Mr Chong tells AsiaOne more about his views on the hot issues in this general election and key concerns that Singaporeans must be aware of in order to succeed together despite challenges facing the country.

How well have hot issues raised in the last GE been addressed and fixed in the past four years? What more could to be done?

Charles Chong: One of the main issues was cost of living and people were rightfully concerned about the increase in the price of healthcare, food, transport and other basic services. The Govt has introduced several measures to address these concerns. For healthcare there is the Pioneer Generation scheme for our pioneers, and the CHAS card which gives healthcare subsidies to lower to middle income households.

The government has also provided GST credits to help with living costs, while the various top ups to Medisave, Edusave, and other accounts do go some way in helping Singaporeans with the cost of basic services and necessities. But more can be done especially in terms of helping the needy, as well as middle income families with children as these people are the "sandwiched class".

My experience in Joo Chiat also reminded me that some older folk may be asset rich but cash poor, and may struggle with things like healthcare costs. The Pioneer Generation Package is not means tested and this means that this group of citizens will be able to benefit fully from it.

The other hot button issue was immigration.

Over the past few years the government has tightened immigration controls and the number of foreigners working and living here has declined. This goes some way in addressing the worry among Singaporeans that this country is too crowded and the fear some people have that foreigners were going to steal their jobs and so on.

However, now the government faces another challenge - businesses are asking for the controls to be relaxed as in some sectors there is a shortage of manpower as it is difficult for them to find enough Singaporeans to hire.

So it's a fine balancing act the government needs to perform - allowing for sufficient number of foreigners to enable businesses to flourish, but also to keep foreigner levels at a sensible figure, so that Singaporeans do not feel like they are foreigners in their own country.

What new issues have surfaced in this GE? How should they be addressed?

Charles Chong: This GE, the issues of accountability and responsibility have taken centrestage. Fundamentally, it's a question of character and also one of the type of leaders we want representing Singapore on the international stage.

For me in Punggol East, there is a very pressing concern on the financial health of the estate. I am genuinely concerned that when some of the major estate upgrading works are required in 2-3 years' time, that there may not be sufficient funds to pay for these.

That's why I'm trying to convince voters in Punggol East to choose me as their MP - I want to be able to analyse Punggol East's financial position, and put the accounts in order. Once I do this, we will have a better idea of the financial position in Punggol East and we can then know whether or not we will be able to carry out these upgrading works.

What gave you the most satisfaction as an MP for Joo Chiat SMC and in your recent work in Punggol East?

Charles Chong: I would say it has been building up bonds of friendship with my residents, and also watching them build up their own communities and displaying great neighbourliness, showing that regardless of their backgrounds or ethnicity, that they can look beyond all these to be great friends and neighbours.

In Punggol East, one of the things which has been very gratifying is to residents whom I haven't seen in many years, remind me that a particular issue I helped with, or a certain appeal I helped write, has helped them in a positive way. Sometimes it takes a long time and many tries before residents' problems can be addressed, but my team and I always try our best to help in whatever way we can.

What is your biggest worry for Singapore?

Charles Chong: I worry that Singapore will be divided along political, racial or religious lines. We have worked very hard over the last 50 years to unite a very diverse group of people and we have made fantastic progress in this regard. However, we need to always be mindful that this is a very fragile equilibrium, and one which can be upset very easily.

Practically speaking, this means that the bonds which unite us as Singaporeans must be far stronger than the challenges which may arise which may divide our people - there are so may examples of this around the world and in the region, and I hope we never end up in that position.

What is your vision of a perfect society for Singapore?

Charles Chong: I am a realist. I do not think there is a perfect society anywhere in the world. But that does mean that we cannot strive to become one.

There will always be challenges and changes that we will have to deal with as a country. We must have a team of honest, capable leaders in government that is able to lead Singapore both locally and internationally. Our people must continue to work hard and have the drive to succeed. Whenever there are challenges or difficulties, we must face these challenges squarely and take decisive action that is best for Singapore and Singaporeans, and we must remain united even in tough times.

chenj@sph.com.sg

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