WP: Unproductive to continue arguing

SINGAPORE - Workers' Party chief Low Thia Khiang sought to draw a line under the long-running hawker centre cleaning saga on Saturday, saying it was unproductive for his party and the PAP to continue arguing over it.

"We have made our position known both inside and outside Parliament and the relevant documents are already in the public domain, so the public can make its own judgment on the matter," the WP secretary-general said in a media statement.

His MPs' consciences are clear, he added, and allegations against their integrity in a statement by the Prime Minister on Friday were "fully responded to and rejected" both inside and out of Parliament.

"We do not find it productive to continue debating and arguing with the ruling party over this issue," he said.

His remarks come a day after PM Lee Hsien Loong said Mr Low could not leave "grave doubts" over the integrity of his fellow WP MPs unresolved.

On Tuesday, Aljunied GRC MPs Sylvia Lim and Pritam Singh had been accused by Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan of being "false and untruthful" over whether a WP-run town council had asked hawkers to pay extra for cleaning high areas in their hawker centres.

Such costs are normally borne by the town councils.

The minister, speaking in Parliament, produced a dossier of what he called "incontrovertible evidence" pointing to a WP-run town council property manager Tai Vie Shun asking the hawkers to pay extra.

Ms Lim and Mr Singh had denied this happened throughout the saga, which has hogged headlines since a Sunday Times report in April.

Ms Lim, the chairman of WP and the Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC), continued to insist in Parliament that her staff did not ask hawkers to pay extra.

Dr Balakrishnan also withdrew his parliamentary privilege, signalling his readiness to be sued by the pair if he had defamed them.

In the House, Mr Low said he would find out who had actually asked the contractor to give a quotation for the cleaning.

But a day later, he told reporters there was no need for this as an earlier WP investigation had proven the claims to be baseless.

In his statement on Saturday, Mr Low said the WP has "put forth the facts as we have found them, based on our own earlier investigations".

"We defended our position in Parliament on July 9 with a clear conscience," he added.

The WP's case is that the issue is a misunderstanding that arose from a "misleading" e-mail sent to the town council by the National Environment Agency on Feb 7, and from confusion over whether the discussions were about annual or quarterly cleaning.

High areas do not have to be cleaned in the latter case.

On Friday, in an oblique reference to the WP's slogan in the last general election, Mr Lee had also said of the unresolved hawker issue: "This is not how members of a First World Parliament should conduct themselves. Neither is this the sort of politics Singapore needs."

Responding to this, Mr Low said the concept of a First World Parliament is not about the PAP or the WP, "but about what Singaporeans want for our country and what they believe is necessary to secure our country's future".

Mr Low's remarks drew a swift response from Mr Lee's press secretary. Calling the response a "non-statement", Ms Chang Li Lin said that it did not address the "serious charges" of the two WP MPs' making false and untruthful statements and trying to cover up the town council's wrongdoing.

These charges, laid out by Mr Lee and Dr Balakrishnan, therefore "stand unrebutted", she added.

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