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At S$3,300 for each billboard, are town councils spending unnecessarily?

Celebrate National Day – but is this necessary?

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Billboards and banners at various parts of S'pore last year

Andrew Loh

It is that time of year again, as National Day approaches, when our Members of Parliament show their patriotism. To do so, billboards and bannerettes are springing up all over the island, as they did in previous years. They are huge, colourful and according to some, an eyesore. Also, they cost quite a bit of money.

In a time of Singapore’s worse recession in its history, where thousands are out of job and struggling to survive, one would have to question if such ostentatious show of patriotism is necessary.

In a Straits Times report on 29 June 2009, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that “low-income families approaching the CDCs have increased by about 40 per cent” and, in another report on the same day, the Finance Ministry revealed that “more than 780,000 HDB households will receive $60 million of utility rebates in July.”

Clearly, Singaporeans are finding it tough to cope with living costs.

It was not too long ago that PAP-run town councils were found to have invested in toxic financial products and had lost S$16 million in the process. In a bid to dismiss the losses as small or insignificant, the government revealed that the PAP-run town councils have accumulated, over the last 20 years, S$2 billion worth of reserves in their sinking funds. (Channel NewsAsia)

This writer wrote to the Ang Mo Kio – Yio Chu Kang Town Council last year to ask about the cost of the billboards and the bannerettes. The reply from the town council was that “the total cost of each billboard is $3,300”. The town council said it paid for one billboard “per division/SMC and the rest are borne by the respective CCC through their own fund raising.” The cost of electricity for the spotlights which lights up the boards at night costs S$100 (for two months) for each billboard. The town council had put up 7 billboards in the AMK-YCK constituency but said that “for the rest, we leave it to the CCCs to install at their own costs.” It had also installed 1,336 bannerettes in the area.

While we may understand that MPs would like to celebrate National Day and show their patriotism and solidarity with the nation, we should also question if such spending is necessary, especially in these uncertain times.

In Aljunied GRC constituency, the town council has even introduced electronic LCD screens on its notice boards at the void decks. (See picture, below). Is this necessary?

LCD at an Aljunied void deck notice board

Would it not be more prudent and helpful for the town councils to use the funds spent on these billboards to help families which are struggling with utilities bills and service and conservancy charges instead?

In an interview with the Straits Times two days ago, on 27 June 2009, Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong lamented that residents still do not feel they have a stake in the governance of their estates and that there was a "missing link" in the relationship between the town councils and residents. Indeed, his fellow PAP member, Mr Lim Boon Heng, felt that “we have not yet imbued the sense of personal and collective responsibility in the residents.” (Straits Times)

One would, instead, question the sense of responsibility of the town councils in how they are spending funds collected from residents.

Finally, commenting on the town councils’ investments in December last year, Minister of Health, Mr Khaw Boon Wan also defended the town councils from accusations of being non-transparent in how they spent their funds.  “It's absolutely transparent,” he said, “because this is not a secret society activity where there is secrecy and so on.” (AsiaOne)

The Online Citizen would thus like to encourage our readers and all Singaporeans to write to their respective MPs and ask about the costs of putting up the billboards and bannerettes (and for Aljunied residents, the cost and necessity of the LCDs).

Also, we welcome our readers to take pictures of these and send them to us at [email protected] and the replies they may receive from their town councils.

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