Andrew Loh / Deputy Editor
In this time of record inflation, rising costs and record fuel prices, why aren’t the Town Councils, especially the PAP-run ones, doing anything to help residents cope?
The PAP town councils together have more than $1 billion in their sinking funds, with millions invested in shares and corporate bonds, as reported in the media recently.
The Hong Kah Town Council, for example, “has about $150 million in its sinking fund, with one-third invested in government bonds returning 2 to 3 per cent. Another third is in short-term fixed deposits with returns of 1.5 to 3 per cent, with the rest handled by fund managers.” (Straits Times, Dec 2, 2007)
According to Creative Technology’s (CT) annual report, Holland-Bukit Panjang Town Council (HBPTC) was listed as one of the majority shareholders with 530,000 shares currently valued at about $3.2 million. (The Online Citizen).
One then would have to ask: What are these investments and their returns or yields used for, if not to help residents in time of need? In all the reports that I have read, none have clarified what these returns are for.
Isn’t it about time that the PAP town councils do something for residents? (I refer only to PAP-run town councils as the two opposition ones do not invest their funds, as far as I am aware.)
In our earlier article on TOC, we reported that:
The Sembawang Town Council has $269 million in its funds – with $237 million going into its Sinking Fund.
Aljunied TC has $93 million – with $67m going into its Sinking Fund.
Bishan-Toa Payoh has $139m – with $96m going into its Sinking Fund.
Opposition-held Hougang Town Council has $14 million in its Sinking Fund.
The only thing which the town councils have done so far in terms of helping residents cope with rising inflation is to freeze their Service and Conservancy Charges for this year. (See here). The Government has also chipped in with ad hoc subsidies.
I think more can be done.
For a start, the town councils should reduce their penalties for late payment, at least for this year. They should also reduce the S&C amount itself. It is quite evident that the PAP town councils are in a position to do so.
The consequences of not being able to pay your S&CC can be very dire indeed.
If you can’t pay your S & CC, you are slapped with late payment charges of up to 2% per month – which is comparable to that charged by credit cards companies. Why is this so?
Next, you will get a legal letter of demand, followed by a court appearance if you still can’t pay, where you may be slapped with a fine. Reportedly, there can be hundreds in court on a single day. If you can’t pay, how can you afford to pay the fine?
Will you end up in jail?
Thus, reducing S&CC will go some way in helping Singaporeans cope with the record inflation now being experienced and ease Singaporeans’ minds. The fact that the town councils have remained prominently and conspicuously silent says a lot.
Why should town councils still be collecting so much money, stash them away in so-called investments, make reasonable yields, and not use these to help residents?
As Mr Wang said:
It’s as if the town council were a fund manager or a unit trust. Except that you as customer are never going to get a cent back. They took your cash, and used some of it to maintain the physical facilities of your neighbourhood … and the rest of your money is for the town council to go and play with, according to their own rules! And you still have to pay them. Every month.
As if these were not enough, Minister of State for National Development, Grace Fu, said in September 2007 that “according to feedback to HDB, 81 percent of residents said they were willing to pay more for service and conservancy to enjoy the new flat designs. About half of them said they were willing to pay above S$10 more than the usual rates.”
This was followed by reports in May, 2008, that Aljunied Town Council was looking to increase S&C charges for ‘the dirtiest precints’, despite the fact that residents there already pay one of the highest rates of S&CC. The town council have since clarified that they have no intention of raising the S&CC.
The PAP’s election manifesto was titled “Staying Together, Moving Ahead”. Now is the time for the PAP town councils to live up to that declaration and show Singaporeans that they mean what they said.
After all, MPs of the town councils should show not only leadership but also empathy and understanding. Continuing to collect so much from residents and then stashing the money away in ‘investments’ which returns or losses are not readily-made known only shows the insensitivity that the town councils have towards the plight of residents.
PAP town councils should go the extra step and adjust S&C charges downward.
Singaporeans are not the piggy banks with an endless supply of funds which the town councils can keep coming back to for more and more money to “invest” – especially at this time when Singaporeans are anxious about rising cost and record inflation.
Taking the easy way out? – By Leong Sze Hian & Andrew Loh
$1 billion in town council funds: What are they used for? – By Leong Sze Hian