The secret of PAP's longevity in government
By Goh Chin Lian, Correspondent
VETERAN People's Action Party (PAP) activist Koh Poh Kwang, 63, used to be a permanent fixture in the Kallang area, spending six nights a week in the party branch office or the community centre.
While it helped him keep in close touch with residents, it also meant he bore the brunt of their anger when the PAP Government made unpopular moves.
He recalled that the strongest protests were in 1984, when a report by the late minister Howe Yoon Chong proposed delaying the withdrawal age for Central Provident Fund balances from age 55 to 60.
For three weeks, residents turned up at Mr Koh's regular spot to voice their frustration.
He said: 'They were saying it's their hard-earned money, but I explained that policies are always drawn up with long-term benefits in mind.'
Like other activists, Mr Koh reported the unhappiness to his then-MP, Mr S. Dhanabalan. The withdrawal age proposal was eventually shelved.
Mr Koh, who continued with his grassroots work later at the Whampoa branch, received a commendation medal on Saturday night to recognise his 35 years of service to the party.
At an awards ceremony ahead of today's PAP convention, party chairman Lim Boon Heng noted that activists play a key role in keeping the party in touch with the people.
'The longevity of our party in government depends on us remaining close to the ground, and being able to act quickly whenever issues appear,' he said.
The party has been in government since 1959 because of good leadership and good ground support by the PAP branches and unions affiliated to the National Trades Union Congress, he added.
Activists have given timely ground feedback, he said, on issues like the income divide and health-care costs.
And the Government has acted on it since last year's general election, he said.
He urged activists to tell low-income workers about the Government's move to top up their wagesthrough the Workfare Income Supplement scheme and to 'do more' in working with grassroots organisations to help older Singaporeans find jobs.
Improvements to healthcare policies and the public transport system will also be made 'step by step', he added.
Mr Lim noted that activists have in recent weeks sounded out leaders about rising food prices, which are caused by drought and rising energy prices.
'These are factors beyond our control, but the Government will see how the impact can be mitigated,' he said.
He reminded them to keep explaining policies to people: 'Sometimes policy changes come with some pain. We need to explain to the people why the policies are right and will be good for the community. You have done so in the past, and you will need to continue to do so.'
During the event at the University Cultural Centre yesterday, Mr Lim handed out 331 awards, mostly for long service.