Leong Sze Hian –
In the Town Council Management Report released by the Ministry for National Development, Hougang and Potong Pasir both scored the lowest in the category for Service and Conservancy Charges (S&CC) Arrears Management.
Does this mean that the two opposition-held councils are the most compassionate when it comes to seeking payment from residents?
The fact that all the other town councils (TCs) scored either level 1 or 2 in this category may be quite telling. For example, were these town councils more fervent in bringing residents to the courts to recover arrears owed?
What are the percentages of residents who are served with legal letters of demand and charged in court for S & CC arrears?
This information should be made transparent and broken down, so that residents can discern for
themselves the real differences between town councils, instead of a summary report from the Ministry of National Development, which itself throws up more questions about the report’s objectivity.
According to the article, "Councils face S&C arrears" (ST, Sep 25), it was reported that: "3% to 9% of households in HDB estates run by PAP councils have payments outstanding.”
The report, which referred to Dr Teo Ho Pin, the coordinating chairman of the 14 PAP town councils, went on:
"Dr Teo on Thursday declined to identify the estates or specify how many councils have trouble getting residents to settle the arrears. He would only say that the proportion of households with overdue S&C charge payments ranges from 3 per cent to 9 per cent".
So, how is it that almost by some magical means, in the midst of Singapore's worst recession, all PAP TCs were able to achieve level 1 (7 TCs) and level 2 (7 TCs) in the S&CC Arrears Management category for the period October 2009 to March 2010?
To put it briefly, in September 2009, all PAP TCs had 3 to 9 per cent of households in arrears over 3 months.
In the MND’s TCMR report, these improved markedly to 7 TCs with less than 3 per cent and 7 TCs with less than 4 per cent of its residents in arrears.
The TC which had a 9 per cent arrears rate must have worked really hard to get their residents to pay up!
How many residents in total in Singapore are unable to pay their S&CC? 30,000? 40,000?
I find the figures for the "proportion of S&CC amount overdue for 3 months or more” to be quite alarming, as both Hougang and Potong Pasir at level 5 means that the total amount overdue for 3 months or more would be more than 60 per cent of the total monthly S&CC collectible.
So, does this mean that many more people who live in Hougang and Potong Pasir were in greater financial difficulties than those who live in the PAP TCs?
While only two PAP TCs were at level 2, the proportion of arrears was still a significant 30 to less than 40 per cent.
The twelve PAP TCs at level 1 means that up to 30 per cent are in arrears.
Why are there so many residents who are unable to pay so much of their S&CC?
Since 13 out of the 14 PAP-run TCs have so many maintenance issues average per block, almost all HDB estates are poorly maintained, and not just Hougang and Potong Pasir, as the report indicated.
Since I understand that these issues refer generally to broken or defective wall tiles, benches, staircase railings, electrical fittings and playground equipment, does the report indicate that all HDB estates are generally poorly maintained?
And this is despite the TCs being given advance notice of six months, so that one would have thought that they would have already done what they could to spruce up their estates.
Is it not somewhat ironic that the report urged "[residents] in genuine financial hardship and face difficulty” in paying their S&CC arrears should approach their town councils which will better understand their financial situation” while the assessment on S&CC arrears is based on how well TCs are able to reduce the number of households in arrears and the amount of arrears?
So, the less understanding and compassionate the TCs, the better will be their score?
Perhaps the number of people in S&CC arrears should be of more concern than a questionable TCMR report.
Finally, what steps does the MND plan to take to help town councils to improve on their management performance?
Read also: $2 billion in town councils' sinking funds.