Town councils "financially secure", says Dr Teo.

Town councils’ funds – Teo Ho Pin responds

TOC Note: 14 of our readers have sent emails, since Tuesday, to query their town councils on their investments. None of the town councils have replied so far. We’d like to urge more of our readers to do the same. Please click here to copy and paste the email to your town councils. Thanks.

The following is by Dr Teo Ho Pin, co-ordinating chairman of the 14 PAP town councils . From TODAY.

We would like to take this opportunity to clarify the recent commentaries and queries from your readers on Town Councils’ investments.

Why is there a need for Town Councils to accumulate sinking funds?

Town Councils are required to maintain sinking funds to finance the longer-term and expensive works such as replacement of lifts and water supply systems as well as repainting, re-roofing and electrical re-wiring works.

In addition, the Town Councils use sinking funds to co-pay for lift upgrading so that residents pay a smaller portion of the total cost.

By accumulating sinking funds over time, HDB residents do not have to pay an additional lump sum each time one of these major works needs to be done. For example, lift replacements are carried out every 28 years on average.

The 14 PAP Town Councils manage about 900,000 HDB flats or 9,000 HDB blocks in Singapore.

After almost two decades of accumulation, our sinking funds amount to under $2 billion or just over $200,000 per HDB block. This is not excessive as the overhaul cost of just one lift for a 12-storey block can cost about $100,000.

Some readers may have the impression that we are investing with short-term operating funds from S&CC collected. We would like to clarify that the investments are made with Sinking Funds and accumulated surpluses, which are meant for long-term use.

How are our sinking funds managed?

The PAP Town Councils are guided in their investment decisions by guidelines set by the Ministry of National Development and approved financial advisors and/or professional fund managers.

We are mindful that overly conservative investments generate a low rate of return and do not sufficiently protect the funds against inflation, thereby building up pressure to increase service and conservancy charges (S&CC).

We take a prudent stance by spreading our investments over a mix of deposits, securities and other financial products, within the approved investment framework.

Our aim is to generate higher returns during the good years to offset lower or even negative returns during the bad years, so that we can still achieve a healthy average return over the medium term.

We take a longer-term view of Town Council sinking funds, in line with the funds’ long-term objectives.

We recognise that the amount invested in Lehman Brothers’ related products is not a small sum in absolute terms ($16 million), even though it is only 0.8 per cent of the funds.

These losses arise from the unprecedented situation facing financial markets around the world, which saw the failure of an “A” rated bank and the near failure of other financial institutions that had received similarly good rating. Institutions and investments that were considered safe by most have failed and are now deemed high-risk on hindsight.

Out of the eight Town Councils that have been exposed to Lehman Brothers either directly or indirectly, six of them had their investments made by their fund managers.

The Town Councils invest our funds prudently as we understand our responsibility to our residents. We have not done poorly or mismanaged the funds.

Over the last 6 years, we have achieved an average rate of return on investments of over 3 per cent per annum. This is more than three times the average interest of about 0.9 per cent per annum earned on Fixed Deposits, and greater than the2.9 per cent from SGS 10-Year Bonds over the same period.

We wish to reassure our residents that we are financially secure. Estate maintenance and improvement plans will not be affected.

How will the PAP Town Councils make sure that their residents are kept informed of their Town Councils’ finances?

Our financial statements, including our statements on our sinking fund and disclosure on the fair value of our investments, are audited and published annually. They are prepared in accordance with the Financial Reporting Standards.

The residents can access our financial statements and annual reports via the Town Councils’ websites or from our Town Council offices.

As our investments and circumstances differ, the PAP Town Councils will reach out to their respective residents directly to address their queries and receive feedback through channels such as newsletters, town hall dialogues and websites.

We will continue to explore ways to better communicate with our residents and keep them informed of our finances.

In conclusion, we will continue to manage our Town Council funds in a prudent and pragmatic manner.

We wish to reassure our residents that their estate will be well-looked after and that there are sufficient funds for the proper maintenance of their town, both now and in the longer-term.