This letter was first published at TODAYonline.
I refer to media reports that town councils face Service and Conservancy Charges (S&CC) arrears of between 3 to 9 per cent of households in Housing and Development Board (HDB) estates run by PAP town councils.
As there are about 885,140 HDB flats, does it mean that about 53,108 HDB households (average of six per cent of the total number of flats) may be in arrears of over three months?
Although Dr Teo Ho Pin, coordinating chairman of PAP-run councils, declined to give statistics on the total number in arrears, I think that this is a very important statistic that should be made public, as it would give an indication of how many may still be financially stressed in the current economic downturn.
With 27,000 needy families receiving financial assistance under Comcare, and HDB making 60,000 visits last year to HDB households that had difficulty paying for their HDB flats, the S&CC arrears statistics breaking down the numbers by HDB flat type, may help policymakers to better review and provide targeted assistance to the households affected.
In this regard, interestingly, the only two councils which revealed their arrears percentage, were both at only three percent.
As S&CC ranges from $18 to $85 depending on the type of flat, and the late payment interest charge is two per cent per month, the legal letter fee is $20, and persistent arrears households are charged in court, fined, and jailed if they cannot pay the fine, why are there so many still in arrears?
Using S&CC arrears as one of the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for town councils, may not be appropriate, as it may force councils to be more harsh in chasing residents for the arrears.
In fact, a poor grade in this aspect, may actually indicate that the council concerned may be more compassionate, or simply that there are more poorer residents in the constituency.
KPIs should motivate councils to serve residents better, instead of making life more difficult for financially stressed residents.
After all, the total arrears of about $15 million, is only about 0.75 per cent of total town councils' funds of about $2 billion.