MND review and by-election

TOC Editorial

One day after Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong asked the Ministry for National Development to review the PAP town councils’ sale of an important software to a PAP-owned company and town council governance in general, he asked the President to call for a by-election in Punggol East SMC.

A conspiracist might say that the by-election completes the PAP’s answer to the simmering AIM controversy; announce a review to assure Singaporeans that any impropriety will be surfaced and addressed, then distract Singaporeans with the spectacle of a probable multi-cornered by-election. A conspiracist might even say that would explain the PAP’s choice of an obscure colorectal surgeon as its candidate in a high-risk by-election, since he is but a sacrificial lamb, a side dish to the main course that is the distraction from AIM.

But we at The Online Citizen are not conspiracists. Instead, at heart, beneath the crusty cynicism bred by disappointment after disappointment in the PAP over the years, we are optimists.

We are optimists who believe that we can be the change we want to see for Singapore. We are optimists who think that our collective voices can make Singapore a better place for all. We are optimists who hope, nay believe, that the PAP government fundamentally want the best for Singapore and Singaporeans, even if it sometimes employs disagreeable methods that diminish us all.

The PM has asked the MND to review the AIM contract. Many have pointed out that the potential lack of independence in such a review, and the potential for conflicts of interest given that the MND is helmed by a PAP minister. Ironic, given that that is precisely the problem with the AIM contract.

In the spirit of optimism, and in keeping with the stated goals of ensuring transparency and maintaining trust in the system, we call for the Auditor-General’s Office to participate in, if not to take over leadership of, the review.

We call on the review team to publish its findings and report to the Permanent Secretary of MND, immediately upon submission and without any edits. And we also call on MND to publish all relevant documents in question, from the town council minutes documenting the discussions and decisions made, to the tender document itself, to the proposal by AIM and the contract signed with AIM.

These measures will allow Singaporeans to assure themselves that no stone was left unturned, and no questions left unasked and unanswered; that there was neither fear nor favour in the questioning and the findings; and that there has been no political interference in a probe of the politicians themselves.

In short, we call on the Prime Minister, Minister Khaw Boon Wan, the MND Permanent Secretary and everyone else involved, to do what is in their power to ensure that the review is independent and transparent. After all, if the ultimate objective is to maintain trust in the system, then the worst thing that can happen is for the MND review to be seen as a white-wash – because then the cynicism and distrust will spread from the PAP town councils, to the civil service itself.

But that is not all.

The Prime Minister has rightly ordered a review of the AIM contract, and a fundamental reconsideration of the nature and role of town councils; timely, in light of some of the more curious assertions made by PAP MPs such as Mr Baey Yam Keng. But the Prime Minister, Secretary-General of the PAP, has said nothing about the companies owned by the PAP itself and any business dealings between PAP-owned or controlled companies and PAP town councils other than this AIM contract from 2010.

If Singaporeans are to trust in the system, we have to know the full extent of these dealings. Reviewing this AIM contract alone will not be enough to build oor restore trust. Not when we now know, from AIM chairman Chandra Das himself, that AIM had dealings with PAP town councils even earlier. Not when the PAP, alone of all the political parties interviewed by TODAY, declined to disclose how many companies it owned (the other parties all did not own any). Not when it is this very conflict of interest that the MND probe is supposed to investigate.

So TOC also calls on the PAP to clearly spell out to Singaporeans, in full detail, how many companies it controls or owns today and that it has controlled or owned in the past, what these companies did, who benefited from their operations, and what business dealings they have and previously had with PAP town councils and government agencies.

The famous American jurist Louis D. Brandeis said: “Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.” It is only by shining a great big spotlight into every single aspect of the tender process that led to the contract with AIM, and into the business dealings of PAP-owned or controlled companies; by over-disclosing to the public instead of under-disclosing; by showing that there is nothing hidden and nothing to hide, that Singaporeans can once again believe in the integrity of the system and trust the system.

The Government and the PAP must do all these things. Because the alternative would cause a corrosive erosion of trust and a rising tide of anger, which would certainly not be in the best interests of Singaporeans.

We want to believe; help us believe.