Taking the easy way out?

Leong Sze Hian & Andrew Loh

All 14 town councils run by the People’s Action Party (PAP) will not be increasing their Service and Conservancy (S&C) charges this year.

– Channel NewsAsia, “PAP town councils to freeze S&C charges this year” (February 28, 2008)

Barely two and a half months later, on May 5 2008, this is what ‘officials’ at the PAP-run Aljunied Town Council (TC) said:

Officials also said they will consider raising the conservancy charges for the dirtiest precincts to cover the extra work that goes into maintaining them …

– “Aljunied trash index aims to wipe out litterbugs.” (Straits Times, May 5, 2008)

The Finance Minister had called for all town councils to freeze their fees during the recent Budget debate in Parliament when he announced the extension of a one-year freeze on fee increases for government-provided services till the end of 2008.

And indeed, as the Channel NewsAsia report said, all 14 PAP TCs declared that they will not increase S&CC for 2008.

However, it seems that PAP town councils, and Aljunied GRC TC in particular, are already looking for ways to increase S&C charges next year – Aljunied TC citing “hardcore litterbugs” in the “dirtiest precincts” as its reason for doing so.

With inflation hitting 26-year highs, isn’t this proposed increase in fees for “the dirtiest precincts” a breach of the PAP town councils’ promise to Singaporeans?

Aljunied GRC Town Council

The fact of the matter is that Aljunied TC, along with all PAP-run TCs, have enough funds to address the “hardcore litterbugs” problem. (Read here for TOC’s earlier article on town councils’ funds.)

According to Aljunied Town Council’s Annual Reports, it had $84 million in its Sinking Fund, an increase of 5 per cent over it’s $80 million in 2005/2006.

Its accumulated surpluses as at 31 March 2007 was $5 million.

Its funds invested with fund managers was $44 million, an increase of about 33 per cent over the $30 million in 2005/2006.

In an earlier article, TOC reported:

According to the Straits Times’ report of March 25, 2006, “The gathering storm”:

Taking into account all the grants from the Government, the Aljunied Town Council, for example, gets $560 per household for the financial year ending March 2005.

The grants include funds from the Community Improvement Projects Committee (CIPC), which is controlled by the Ministry of National Development.

In contrast, government grants came up to just $113 per household in Potong Pasir.

In another report on the same day, “Hougang’s Low may be ‘heart’ to beat”, the Straits Times reported:

Government grants came up to about $111 per household in Hougang in 2004-05. By contrast, neighbouring Aljunied Town Council, which has access to funds such as the government-controlled Community Improvement Projects Committee (CIPC), got $560 per household for the same period.

One therefore will have to question why the Aljunied Town Council charges more for S&CC than Potong Pasir and Hougang, across the board – from 2 rooms to executive flats – when the Aljunied TC is getting more government grants than the two opposition wards.

In one instant, a one-roomer’s S&CC in Aljunied Crescent rose from $3.50 to $18.50 from 1994 to 2005 – an increase of about 428 per cent.

Raising fees, penalties, legal cost, jail, lose your home!

Instead of charging more, how about reducing S & CC for the cleaner precincts instead?

Instead of using penalties almost all the time, how about incentives to motivate people, for a change?

By the way, we understand that if you couldn’t pay your S & CC, the penalty used to be just 50 cents or a dollar or so.

Now, we believe it is 2 per cent per month of the amount owed or a fixed penalty of a few dollars, whichever is the higher.

2 per cent is the highest charge for all financial transactions allowed in Singapore, and only credit cards charge such a high rate.

If you can’t pay your S & CC, you are slapped with penalties. If you still can’t pay, you get a legal letter for which you have to pay the legal cost. As it’s a standard letter for which thousands are sent every month, why charge $20 as the legal fee for such a letter?

If you still can’t pay, you are charged in court, and slapped with a fine.

Well, here’s the paradox – if you can’t pay for your S & CC, how can you afford to pay the fine?

If you can’t pay the fine, you may end up in jail.

By the way, how many people in Singapore have been to jail?

The Town Council Act also empowers the Town Council to sell your HDB flat to recover unpaid S & CC.

A billion dollars in funds, yet…

In the spirit of keeping one’s promise, this new idea to increase S & CC should be nipped in the bud, before we waste anymore taxpayers’ money and time to figure out how to implement it.

Perhaps our MPs may have rather short memories, as the promise was made just about 2 months ago.

By the way, with more than a billion dollars in PAP town councils’ sinking funds, as well as operating surpluses – does Aljunied Town Council still need to charge more “to cover the extra work that goes into maintaining them”, as officials at the TC claimed?

It is high time that PAP-run Town Councils stop taking the easy way out.

Click to enlarge.

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