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Benjamin Cheah / Andrew Loh
Each town council has the duty to explain to its residents how it invests its funds, what is its philosophy, what are the risks it takes.
– Mr. Mah Bow Tan, Minister for National Development.(Straits Times)
Mr Mah added:
And demonstrate that it has made those decisions in a manner which is fair, reasonable and which residents would agree with.
Senior Minister of State for National Development, Grace Fu, made similar remarks when she was asked about town councils’ investments:
We should ask the town councils and it is something the residents should pose to their respective town councils. (Today)
The Online Citizen (TOC) decided to put the ministers’ words to the test.
On November 25th, TOC urged readers to write in to the town councils’ chairpersons, using a template letter, to enquire about the town councils’ investments. It has been a week since and twenty-two such letters have been sent out via e-mail to 13 of the 14 PAP town councils. (No letter was sent to East Coast GRC town council.)
Of these, a grand total of three replies were received (as at 2300 hours, Monday, Dec 1).
Below, quoted in full, are the replies we have received thus far. The first is from Mdm Cynthia Phua, Member of Parliament for Aljunied Group Representative Constituency.
Thank you for your interest on Aljunied Town Council. I have noted that you are a private estate resident. The Aljunied Town Council manages only HDB estates. We noted that the questions that you are asking are similar questions circulated to all the Town Councils. You may wish to access to [sic] www.Aljuniedgrc.sg for some of the information.
The second is from Mr. Inderjit Singh from Ang Mo Kio GRC, quoted here ad verbatim:
We have full transparency of all town council accounts. We publish and annual report which is submitted to parliament and is easily available for public to see. Also, we put up details on our TC notice boards. All the other questions can be easily answered by looking at he town council act which show who are qualified and who is responsible for managing things.
I am sure you will get all the answers you need from the above.
The third reply is from the Public Relations Officer of Hong Kah GRC:
We have redirected your query to the attention of our Finance Department. They will look into your query and give you a reply as soon as possible.
The first reply is disingenuous; it answers nothing. The second is remarkably incomplete. The third well, is “re-directed” to the finance department.
Mr. Singh says that the Town Council’s accounts are fully transparent, and the annual reports are available for all to see. But TOC cannot even find the words ‘Lehman Brothers’ in these reports. Of the Town Councils Act, the only useful titbit was that Town Councils may invest their funds “in accordance with the standard investment power of statutory bodies”.
Mr. Mah has charged the Town Councils with a duty to explain how they have invested their funds. The two replies from the MPs, mentioned above, are not explanations; they are, instead, excuses for excuses in lieu of answers.
But at least Aljunied, Ang Mo Kio and Hong Kah town councils have replied to the queries. What about the other town councils?
One of those who wrote to question his town council had been doing so since 29 October. It was only after four weeks, four emails (including three reminders to the town council) that he received a reply. And what was the reply?
The Town Council has uploaded our latest Annual Report, a copy of our reply to the forum page as well as FAQs on the Town Council Investments on our website…
The letter writer was so furious that he wrote back, “This is, by any standards, a very low level of service response. I have yet to require any other form of assistance from the Town Council, but if this is a gauge,” he said, “then I dread the time when I would need to rely on your services.”
Right to answers
Elected representatives are answerable to their constituents. Elections are not meant for people to choose their own dictators or for their elected representatives to behave like one. We have chosen our Members of Parliament, and as they are not answering our queries about such an important matter in which millions of tax-payers’ dollars are at stake, they have shown that they are not doing the jobs we have chosen them to do, even though they have signalled their willingness to do so by joining a political party and running for elections.
It is our right to expect, and demand, answers from the people we have chosen to lead our communities and represent our interests. It is nothing less than their duty.
But so far, our MPs have not done their jobs.
The next step
The continued non-answer replies from both the co-ordinating chairman of the 14 PAP town councils and from the PAP MPs themselves are making a mockery of our two ministers who, effectively, have openly and publicly called for the town councils to explain to residents their investments.
So far, reporters, residents and netizens have asked Dr Teo Ho Pin, co-ordinating chairman of the PAP town councils, and the PAP MPs to account for their investments’ losses or profits.
None have provided any meaningful or substantive answers.
Even Straits Times forum letter-writers are not fooled by Dr Teo’s beat-about-the-bush antics.
… no mention was made of how town councils intend to make good on the loss and avoid repeating this anomaly. If it cannot be recovered, do we write off the millions as extraordinary expenses like a business concern? Whether town councils are to be treated as non-profit or business entities, Dr Teo should be more open with HDB home owners who, as stakeholders of estate funds, have the right to know.
It seems that even ministers’ words mean nothing to PAP MPs, and ministers’ public statements are not taken seriously. In the end, our ministers are made to look like fools – by their own MPs.
Please continue to e-mail your TCs and demand answers. Please cc a copy of any and all replies to us, to enable us to keep track of responses. Singaporeans deserve accountability from our constituency managers – and not be brushed aside.
And Members of Parliament should be more forthcoming in being transparent and accountable to those who voted them into Parliament. This is the very same thing which Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong urged residents in Hougang to do with the Hougang Town Council run by the Workers’ Party MP, Mr Low Thia Kiang:
In Hougang, let us keep Mr Low Thia Khiang on his toes. He is responsible for running the Hougang Town council. But unlike Parliament, town councils do not have open meetings where members from other political parties can question their performance. So, in Hougang, you have to be creative to be an effective opposition. Amongst the things you can do, I suggest you study the annual accounts of the town council to ensure that the funds are properly used. (Sprinter)
Why then are SM Goh’s own party colleagues keeping mum about their town councils’ investments?
In the next article, TOC does what the Town Councils have advised – to take a look at their annual reports.