Of helipads, candidates and mongrels

Of helipads, candidates and mongrels
Mr K. Shanmugam and his wife with Zorro, a mongrel they later adopted in 2012.

After nearly 30 years, tales of woe, triumph, joy and loss have formed a mental library of memories. Some of them remain vivid.

In one of his first few Meet-the-People Sessions as a Member of Parliament for Sembawang GRC, a resident wanted Mr K. Shanmugam to build helipads on top of HDB blocks for medical evacuation, the Minister recalled with a laugh.

Since he was elected in the 1988 General Election, Mr Shanmugam has been serving the Chong Pang ward and attending weekly Meet-the-People Sessions.

The area, which consists of about 40,000 residents, is now part of the five-member Nee Soon GRC which Mr Shanmugam leads. The other MPs in Nee Soon are Dr Lee Bee Wah, Dr Lim Wee Kiak, Associate Professor Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim and Mr Patrick Tay.

Of the resident who requested helipads, he said: "(The man went to the session) simply to give trouble to an MP. He wasn't mentally unsound. He was all together. He knew what he was doing. But he just wanted to make unreasonable demands."

There is a small number of people who are like that, Mr Shanmugam added, whose unreasonable demands stop him from attending to the more genuine cases.

Mr Shanmugam tried to reason with the man but "he wasn't listening, he wasn't interested in my answer".

Asked about his fondest memories from being an MP, he smiled and said: "That's a very difficult question."


"(There are) so many different moments. In the end, it's people reaching out to you, forming the networks, forming the community support groups and helping people," he said.

"There are countless stories of people helping each other, people helping me and me helping people."

Calling Chong Pang an area where there is a strong "kampung spirit", he said the residents do not go to him just to get help but also to help one another.

The minister cited a case of an elderly woman selling vegetables at a bus stop in the area.

"(She was a) very warm, very friendly, very old lady. She didn't want to take any kind of assistance and wanted to earn her own living," he said.

But residents had complained about her causing a mess and as a result, the National Environmental Agency (NEA) told her to stop selling vegetables there.

Other residents found out about it and alerted Mr Shanmugam, who wrote to NEA to appeal on her behalf.

"NEA was good enough to give her a licence," he said.

There is also a case from 15 years ago that still stands out for him.

A young, pregnant woman was about to go to jail for hiring illegal workers in her father's laundry business.

Not wanting her child to be born in jail, she was going to terminate the pregnancy and Mr Shanmugam found out about it.

He advised her not to abort the baby and sent appeals to the Attorney-General's Chambers and the Ministry of Home Affairs on her behalf.

At that time, he was still a practising lawyer and would ask his colleagues to attend the woman's court hearings to keep him updated.

The woman was eventually let off with a fine and her daughter is now 14 years old.

When it was mentioned that it was cases like these that endeared him to residents, he let out a rare smile and said: "I hope so."

This article was first published on July 4 2015.
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