By Leong Sze Hian

I refer to the report “PM Lee directs MND to fully review AIM transaction” (Channel NewsAsia, Jan 8).

This is a move which I think will be much welcomed by Singaporeans.

It states that “Town Councils are autonomous bodies managed by elected Members of Parliament and governed by the Town Councils Act which the Ministry of National Development administers.”

Possible conflict of interest?

So, the MND is the body that is being given the sole task to review the town councils which are governed by the Town Councils Act which it administers? Does administering the Town Councils Act also mean that it may indirectly be concerned with administering the town councils?

Isn’t this kind of akin to letting the entity that is arguably responsible for overseeing the other entities to review itself? Wouldn’t it be likely that questions as to any possible short-comings on the part of the reviewing entity may arise? Questions as to the impartiality of the reviewing entity in its dealings with the  other entities may also arise.

Reviewers are subordinates to those who may be connected with the matter being reviewed?

As to “The Ministry of National Development said its Town Council Review Team is led by its Deputy Secretary Tay Kim Poh.

The team will report to the Ministry’s Permanent Secretary”, is not the MND’s Deputy and Permanent Secretaries subordinate to the two Senior Ministers-of-state and Minister of National Development?

So, we are asking a subordinate to report to a superior who is subordinate to the Ministers, who are also Members of Parliament (MPs) who are part of the town councils and perhaps also connected to AIM as it is a company owned by the political party which the MPs belong to?

In fact, the Minister is also the Chairman of the political party. Also, the former Senior Minister-of-state of the MND has also made remarks on the subject issue. (“Town council management is key point: Grace Fu“, Channel NewsAsia, Jan 5)

Likely perception of conflict of interest?

With regard to “In a media statement, Mr Lee said he is calling for the review in the interest of transparency and maintaining trust in the system, for MND to “satisfy itself that public funds were safeguarded and residents’ interests were not compromised”.

He said MND will take a broad-based approach, including re-examining the fundamental nature of town councils, with a view to ensuring high overall standards of their corporate governance”, may this also possibly touch on the issues on HDB upgrading, the uneven funding from MND to opposition and PAP town councils in the past, and use and transfer of public facilities after general elections?

In this connection, to reiterate, isn’t there an inherent conflict of interest or perhaps at least a perceived conflict of interest by some Singaporeans, as to the impartiality of the MND as the sole body to conduct the review?

Independent inquiry?

Like the Mas Selamat Committee of Inquiry by the Ministry of Home Affairs, which some felt should have been an independent inquiry made up of independent committee members, perhaps the better way to serve the public interest. public confidence and “in the interest of transparency and maintaining trust in the system”, may be to have an independent inquiry, instead of a review by the MND.

Having an independent inquiry may also enhance Singapore’s international standing for transparency, accountability and “high overall standards of (their) corporate governance”, in the eyes of the international community and the world at large.

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