Friday, April 15, 2011

Pork Barrel Politics Not Halal

Plain porridge or abalone?
SMU Law student Koh and Ngee Ann Polytechnic's Liu both raised the topic of discriminatory upgrading at Opposition wards again at the Channel NewsAsia's "live" forum. This time, albeit without the mockery of dismissive laughter, PM Lee Hsien Loong stubbornly reiterated his unwavering stand: education, healthcare and defence cover everybody. Since these national programmes are also funded from the same pool of public funds as is the upgrading programme, does it mean taxpayers resident in Opposition wards will also be allocated the bottom of the queue for education, healthcare and defence after the election is over?

Baby boomers recall it was Teh Cheang Wan who first riled Singaporeans with the threat to withdraw emergency lift services if citizens from those wards check off the wrong box in the ballot paper. Lee Kuan Yew rose to his defence in parliament, saying that the Minister may not be able to string a complete sentence in grammatical English, but he "had a good mind". That was before Teh was investigated in November 1986 by the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau for accepting two bribes of $400,000 each in 1981 and 1982. Too bad the good mind was applied to personal asset enhancement.

Then in 1996, despite being returned to power on polling day thanks to a convenient walkover, Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong threatened to turn other constituencies into slums should their votes go against the PAP. The foul was so vile, US Secretary of State Madeleine Korbel Albright sent off a note of rebuke.

When PM Lee insists that "there must be an incentive to vote for the Government", he was resorting to what is termed "pork barrel politics". It refers to spending that is intended to benefit constituents in return for their political support, either in the form of campaign contributions or votes. The principle is the same, the "pork" involves funding for government programs whose economic or service benefits are focused on a selected area but whose costs are borne by taxpayers all across the land.

In the Philippines, legislators are allocated large sums of the annual national budget in a program called the Priority Development Assistance Fund. Politicians often misuse their allocations for selfish purposes, particularly through "kickbacks" and commissions from their projects.

The Finnish politician uses siltarumpupolitiikka (culvert politics) in reference to national politicians concentrating on small local matters, such as construction of culverts and other public works (our equivalent of lift upgrading and covered walkways) at the politician's home municipality, and Romanians have "pomeni electorale" (literally, "electoral alms"), while the Polish kiełbasa wyborcza means literally "election sausage". The Czech předvolební guláš (pre-election goulash) refer to free dishes of goulash served to potential voters during election campaigns. Ah, so that's where the idea of free abalone porridge came from!

The second volume of Lee Kuan Yew's memoirs was called "From Third World To First". Maybe the next volume will be titled, "From First World To Third".


  1. PM Lee said on cost of living @ Question time forum
    "We cannot control the size of the meatballs."

    For some reasons, this meatball barrel does not sound like a very attractive election sausage. Instead, all I could think of, he was trying to tell us he can't control the size, but he can control the quantity of the meatballs..they are all coming through the immigration red carpet! So it does feel like we are back to third world, is deja vu all over again.

  2. Incidentally, our unaffordable Housing Minister is questioning WP where their Housing devt monies is going to come from when in reality he has actually cunningly avoided giving us any detailed figures of his yearly S$1 Billion HDB deficit ? Is his billion dollar deficit only in his stubborn head, cannot reveal meh ?

    Maybe it will take umpteen years for him to compute the S$1 billion deficit, why don't he just answer one simple question, what is the profit margin of his affordable HDB flats ? I'm sure that isn't too difficult, he only has to press the right button or direct HDB to print out the correct project feasibility analysis.

  3. Once again, good post, thanks!