Tan Cheng Bock uninvited from Istana CNY party

From ‘PA withdraws Istana party invite to Tan Cheng Bock’, 8 Feb 2014, article by Robin Chan, ST

FORMER MP Tan Cheng Bock, who quit the People’s Action Party to contest the 2011 Presidential Election, sparked a debate yesterday about the motives of the People’s Association (PA), which had withdrawn its invitation to him to a yearly Istana party. Dr Tan, an MP from 1980 to 2006, said he had been going to the Chinese New Year party for former and current grassroots leaders since 1980.

This year’s event will be held tomorrow afternoon.It is not the same party as the one to honour the pioneer generation. Yesterday, Dr Tan wrote about the incident on Facebook, prompting PA to issue a public apology for what it said was a mistake. The error arose because an old invitation list was used instead of a new one, PA’s deputy chairman Lim Swee Say said.

Dr Tan’s post, which garnered more than a thousand likes and shares, said that he received the invitation on Dec 27 last year. Twelve days later, on Jan 8, Mr Lim, the labour chief and Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, called him to explain that a change of policy required the invitation to be withdrawn.

“He conveyed (that) to me by phone and e-mail. There was a change in ‘policy’ to invite only those ex-advisers to grassroots organisations, from the immediate past GE (2011). I did not fit into this category as I stood down in 2006,” Dr Tan wrote.

Replying, Mr Lim said in a statement that it was “most unfortunate that PA made the mistake of using the old list instead of the updated list”. The list is periodically reviewed, he added, to let a wider base of people attend. It was last reviewed “a few months ago”.

…Mr Lim took issue with Dr Tan’s post: “I was heartened that Dr Tan very graciously accepted my explanation over the phone. So I am surprised he now brings this up publicly as an issue.”

The last time a politician made a Facebook fuss over having an invite withdrawn was WP’s Chen Show Mao, who was denied attendance to a Hungry Ghost dinner back in 2011. Clearly, the PA hasn’t learned from the social media repercussions of the last high-profile ‘uninvite’, which explains Lim Swee Say being taken aback by TCB complaining about it on FB. Withdrawing an invitation is embarrassing for both parties, but more so for an organiser who should really know better, even if there’s a ‘policy’ to hide behind when telling the uninvited the bad news. As for TCB’s dismay, it’s not surprising either considering that during his presidential campaign, he suggested ousting the PM from the Istana in  ‘Queen of England‘ fashion. But speaking of hungry ghosts, where exactly has Chen Show Mao been to lately?

Not sure if TCB was given a spot on the actual pioneer party. That depends on how our PM defines ‘pioneer’, and how the hosts of the pioneer party feel about this awkward incident (They include Heng Swee Keat, Lawrence Wong and, and to no one’s surprise, Lim Swee Say).  Like the definition itself, this year’s pioneer invitees appear to be a mixed bag. They include Hooi Kok Wah of yusheng fame, opposition veteran Chiam See Tong and former MP Ong Ah Heng. Incidentally, MP Ong himself once admitted in 2010 to replacing elderly cleaners, fellow ‘pioneers’ even, with younger, fitter foreign workers upon receiving complaints by a family.

More than a decade ago, a pioneer generation was described as one who ‘grew up with Singapore’, called upon to sweat it out in factories and shipyards, or be among the first to serve the army. In 2007, PM Lee described the pioneer generation of public servants as ‘the last of the Mohicans‘. A survey on familiarity with Singapore ‘pioneers’ in 2012 included ‘founding fathers’, i.e political heavyweights like Devan Nair, LKY and Goh Keng Swee. In the Reach portal, they are those who built Singapore from her infancy, even if they’re today ‘scavenging for food to eat, tin cans and cardboard to sell’. It seems that anyone can be regarded a pioneer as long as you’re old, Singaporean, and worked almost your whole life to feed your family. If you’re an afterthought to the PM’s party, you probably haven’t contributed that much. Or contributed TOO much, stepping on the party organisers’ toes in the process, like TCB was known to do. You’re also unlikely to find billionaires in the list, because you don’t usually associate rich folk with out-in-the-sun back-breaking work that the image of a ‘pioneer’ summons, even if they’ve started out in life doing exactly that to become what they are today.

As symbolic as the 1500-strong party is supposed to be, those who believe they have served the nation beyond the call of duty but didn’t get the invite will be wondering ‘Why not me?’, just like being left out of any hip party hosted by the most popular person in school. Granted, it’s intended to span all walks in life and you can’t accommodate everyone, though by not making its criteria explicit it begs the question of how the PAP determines your pioneer value. But if you’re a true-blue pioneer, it shouldn’t matter if you’re remembered or not. And you wouldn’t complain on FB insisting that you’ve been mistakenly taken out of the invite list.


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