By Andrew Loh

Dr Teo Ho Pin, Coordinating chairman of the 15 PAP Town Councils, hinted on Sunday (3 Nov) that service and conservancy charges (S&CC) might be “revised” in the not too distant future.

“Definitely, when we improve our services to better serve our residents,” he said, “the cost of maintenance will increase. So, at some point in time we will need to revise the S&C charges.”

The rise in fees is also meant to fund the increase in the salaries of conservancy workers, he said.

Under the progressive wage model salary structure, the salary of cleaners will start from S$1,200 a month, up from an average of S$1,000 currently.

The possible rise in S&CC has raised, as it did in previous years, howls of protest from the public, especially online. (See here and here.)

Dr Teo’s remarks come on the wake of the PAP town councils’ fiasco with regards to its contract with its own company, Action Information Management (AIM), which was in the news earlier this year. The public also still remember the councils’ financial losses incurred in 2008 investing in toxic financial products. Dr Teo’s own Holland-Bukit Panjang was reported to have invested $8 million in these products at the time. (See here.)

It was also in 2008, during the controversy of the councils losing millions in investments, that the then-first organising secretaryof the ruling People’s Action Party, Khaw Boon Wan, revealed that the 14 PAP town councils had a total of S$2 billion in their sinking funds – a revelation which surprised many.

In the Town Councils Act, the town councils are required to set aside 30% to 35% of the monthly S&CC collections and government grant in the sinking funds. This is to enable the town councils to engage in major maintenance works in the estates. These works include cyclical repainting and repairs, rewiring, replacement of lifts, pumps, water tanks, water supply systems etc.

Here’s a chart of the amount of government grants given to each town councils. (Source: Straits Times.)

town councils grants

“The balance of between 65% and 70% of the S&CC collection and grant is used for the routine maintenance of the common properties such as cleaning works, maintenance and repairs of building and its supporting M&E services such as lifts, pumps and lights, horticulture maintenance, utilities charges, provision of 24-hour essential maintenance and lift rescue services.” (See here.)

Be that as it may, Dr Teo’s hint at further increases in S&CC follows recent increases implemented by several PAP-run town councils.

In March 2010, the news reported that the town councils of Aljunied GRC (which was under the PAP at the time), and Jurong GRC “will raise their Service and Conservancy Charges (S&CC) next month.” (See here.)

“[The] hike per month will range between 50 Singapore cents for a one-room flat and S$4.50 for a five-room flat.”

The reasons given were escalating costs, such as electricity and cleaning services.

Two years later, in September 2012, S&C charges were upped by seven PAP town councils. These were: Bishan-Toa Payoh, Chua Chu Kang, EastCoast, Tanjong Pagar, Tampines, West Coast and Holland-Bukit Panjang.

This time, the increases ranged from between 50 cents and $6.50 a month, depending on flat type – for the first phase. In the second phase, the hike ‘fees will go up further by between 50 cents and $5.50 a month, one year later.” (See here.)

“One year later” would be July 2013 – that is, about 3 months ago.

It is unclear if the second phase of the planned hike has been implemented.

Will these 7 PAP-run town councils increase their charges further, in view of what Dr Teo said on Sunday?

Should Singaporeans, and in particular the residents of the 9 PAP town councils which have seen increases in 2010 and 2012/13, bear an increased cost of maintaining the estate through increased S&CC?

Town councils already receive government grants – which are ultimately taxpayers’ money. Should they be required to fund the running of estates further?

Before the 15 PAP-run town councils raise S&CC, they should perhaps provide an explanation on why despite collecting S&CC, be given government grants, and receiving income from investments, that they are still unable to meet the rising costs.

Singaporeans, and residents, deserve a clearer explanation and accounting than the simplistic one of “we need to raise workers’ salaries.”

Singaporeans would be happy to accept any hike, provided that they are justified. At the moment, Dr Teo’s vague claims need to be substantiated.

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