SINGAPORE: National Development Minister Desmond Lee acknowledged in a recent interview that the corruption probe carried out by the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) against PAP Transport Minister S. Iswaran has indeed had a “big impact” on West Coast GRC under the PAP team.
During an interview with The Straits Times and Chinese daily Lianhe Zaobao, Mr Lee, who supervises the Boon Lay ward in West Coast GRC, expressed concern about the CPIB’s investigation into the Minister, labelling it as a “very worrying development.”
When questioned about the ongoing impact of the incident on his GRC, Mr Lee emphasized, “It has had an impact, is a big impact.”
However, he did not elaborate further on this in the interview.
Despite the ongoing situation, Mr Lee emphasized that their primary objective remains unchanged: serving the residents without any disruption to the essential services they rely on.
“But that has not distracted us from the important mission of continuing to serve our residents and ensuring that there is no disruptive trend to service continuity, that there are people that residents will continue to look for assistance,” he said.
He said members of Parliament (MPs) in the group representation constituency are working to engage residents and tackle pressing issues such as cost of living and inequality.
Reflecting on the period since the news emerged in July, Mr Lee expressed satisfaction, stating, “Since (the news broke) in July, we have been able to hold the team together, energise them to continue serving the ground with passion and dedication.”
Commenting on the upcoming leadership handover from Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong, Mr Lee expressed optimism, “It is important for there to be leadership renewal, but (I’m) assured and confident that it will be a continuum rather than a disruption and reformation.”
On the future Cabinet’s composition, Mr Lee expressed certainty that the younger ministers will continue to benefit from the wisdom and experience of their older counterparts. These senior ministers possess the ability to make difficult decisions and effectively communicate their rationale to the people.
He expressed his hope that Singaporeans would support the leadership transition. Doing so, he believes, will provide the 4G team with the necessary mandate to navigate the nation into the future, especially during these challenging times, both for the world and for Singapore.
Iswaran under ongoing CPIB investigation since July 2023
Amidst turmoil for the PAP, Minister Iswaran faced an ongoing CPIB investigation.
In mid-July, CPIB confirmed Iswaran’s arrest on 11 July alongside billionaire businessman Ong Beng Seng in connection with a corruption probe.
Both individuals were released on bail, and Iswaran, with his passport confiscated, was directed to take a leave of absence pending the investigation conclusion.
During a Parliament session on 2 August, PM Lee disclosed that CPIB discovered information about Iswaran warranting further investigation, first notifying him on 29 May.
On 5 July, CPIB’s Director briefed the Prime Minister, stressing the necessity for a formal interview with Iswaran to progress the inquiry. PM Lee sanctioned this on 6 July.
Consequently, Iswaran was brought in by CPIB on 11 July and later released on bail.
PM Lee confirmed that the ministerial pay of Minister Iswaran had been slashed to S$8,500 until further notice, following his relief from ministerial duties. He also noted that Iswaran still receives his allowance as an MP.
Notably, ministerial salaries have not seen adjustments since 2012. The benchmark ministerial monthly salary is set at S$55,000, equating to an annual income of S$1,100,000. Of this sum, S$715,000 is fixed, while the remaining portion is variable.
Minister Iswaran is expected to remain in Singapore amidst the investigation and will be denied access to official resources and government buildings.
The ST reported that when reached for comment, the CPIB refused to offer any updates regarding the ongoing investigation, leaving Singaporeans awaiting the truth since the allegation surfaced six months ago.
PAP narrowly secured West Coast GRC during the GE2020
During GE 2020, under the leadership of S. Iswaran and Desmond Lee, the PAP team narrowly clinched victory with 51.69 per cent of the votes, securing the seat against the Progress Singapore Party (PSP) led by veteran politician Dr Tan Cheng Bock.
This marked a notable decline of 26 percentage points in the PAP’s vote share from the 2015 election, where they garnered a commanding 78.57 per cent against the Reform Party (RP).
The PSP secured 48.31 per cent of the vote, accumulating 138,416 valid votes out of 146,251 cast.
Since its establishment in 1997, the West Coast GRC has previously experienced two walkovers and faced challenges from the Workers’ Party and the Reform Party.
However, until this recent election, the PAP had never secured less than 66.6 per cent of the votes in the region.
Dr Tan, a former PAP backbencher, founded the alternative party PSP in March 2019.
During the GE2020, the PSP fielded candidates across nine constituencies, vying for a total of 24 seats. Dr Tan himself contested in the West Coast GRC.
On 27 May 2023, Dr Tan stated his readiness to run in the upcoming election, as he never shies away from a fight.
Speculation suggests that in the aftermath of an extramarital affair scandal involving former Parliamentary Speaker Tan Chuan-Jin and former Tampines MP Cheng Li Hui, the ongoing investigation against Minister Iswaran and the Ridout Road controversy involving Ministers K Shanmugam and Vivian Balakrishnan, alternative parties might have an increased likelihood of challenging PAP strongholds.
Of notable importance is the prevailing group sentiment regarding concerns about the cost of living, inflation, housing, and job insecurity, which significantly influences the ground-level support for the ruling party.
On 20 August last year, PM Lee revealed intentions to step down in favour of Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong, potentially around the PAP’s 70th anniversary on 21 November 2024, although an exact timeline was not disclosed.
Despite the absence of a clear timeline, PM Lee’s announcement suggests a likelihood of the General Election occurring in 2024, possibly before the party’s anniversary in November.
In response to the PAP’s dominant 2/3 majority in Parliament, Singapore’s political landscape has witnessed increased manoeuvring, intensifying grassroots outreach efforts, and witnessing alternative parties forming political alliances — both formal and informal — to contest in the upcoming GE.
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