By Andrew Loh
The statement and remarks by the Ministry of National Development (MND), in response to the audit report of the Workers’ Party (WP) town council, have raised an important issue with regards to the MND’s fairness in dealing with town councils.
The news first broke on Thursday that the auditors, Foo Kon Tan Grant Thornton, had found that it was unable to “obtain sufficient audit evidence” from the WP-run Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol-East Town Council (AHPETC), to “determine the accuracy and validity of several items in the accounts.”
The WP’s chairman, Sylvia Lim, issued a statement the next day to explain why some things were not verifiable.
Addressing the issues raised by the MND, Ms Lim said:
“We do understand the auditors’ plight, as there were information gaps that existed at the handover after the General Election 2011 which to date are still not filled. “
“At FY 2011, the auditors had tried to request information from former auditors, unsuccessfully. Repeated attempts by the Town Council (TC) to obtain information from the former Managing Agent (MA) and government authorities, such as asking MND / the Housing and Development Board regarding $1.12 million which the PAP-run Aljunied TC had recorded as receivables from the Citizens Consultative Committees (CCCs) for Town Improvement Projects, did not yield answers.
“Attempts in FY 2012 to get the information were also unsuccessful.
“Unless those agencies with the required information furnish them to the TC, it is likely that information gaps will remain and the accounts will continue to be qualified every year. In this regard, we note that MND could well be the best party to assist the TC to resolve some of the key information gaps.”
Ms Lim’s statement reveals one important thing – that the former auditors and Managing Agent of the former PAP-led Aljunied Town Council have, apparently, not provided the information sought by the WP town council in order for it to rationalise or reconcile the accounts.
Further, Ms Lim’s statement also reveals the role the MND and HDB played in this latest saga – that either or both of them have failed to assist in the matter in any meaningful way.
Indeed, Ms Lim called for the ministry to help resolve the matter.
“As MND has expressed its concerns over our accounts, we seek its assistance in resolving the issues raised by our auditor, by helping us verify and confirm the various opening figures handed over from the former Aljunied TC. We also welcome any audit by MND which it deems necessary.”
The ball is now in the MND’s court.
This latest development between the authorities and the WP is disappointing because of the way the PAP Government has chosen to politicise the matter, instead of helping to resolve the issue for the sake of residents.
The government-controlled media too are not helping by making repeated “insinuations of impropriety” on the part of the AHPETC.
After what was a bitterly-fought contest during General Election 2011, where the WP team dislodged the PAP team from Aljunied GRC, former PAP MP Cynthia Phua promised a “smooth handover” of the town council to the WP.
‘’We will do a proper handover,” she said, a week after Polling Day. “We will ensure that all the existing contracts that we have are handed over to the new management properly.”
She even dismissed fears that the PAP may sabotage the incoming WP team.
“The PAP is not that way,” Ms Phua said then. “It has always been a fair and responsible party. We are direct and transparent in our actions.”
“Have faith in us. It’s our responsibility to the residents of Aljunied GRC to ensure a smooth handover.”
But it has thus far been anything but a “smooth handover”, with disputes between the WP town council arising not only with the former PAP town council, but also with the People’s Association (PA), the constituency’s grassroots organisations and merchants associations – which are all headed by or involve PAP members – and even with the Housing and Development Board, shortly after the elections when the HDB leased out some 26 plots of land in Aljunied GRC to the PA.
In 2012/2013, there was also the saga involving the termination of computer system service by the PAP-owned company, Action Information Management (AIM). It was then revealed that AIM was a company fully owned by 3 former PAP MPs, and which had provided the accounting system to all PAP town councils.
The issue raised a huge controversy, with many Singaporeans questioning the relationship between the PAP town councils and AIM. It resulted in Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who is also the secretary general of the PAP and the chairman of the PA, calling for a review of the transaction between the PAP town councils and AIM.
Eventually, the review found that there were no improprieties. PM Lee then subsequently appointed Minister Lee Yi Shyan to conduct another review of the “nature of the town councils” altogether.
Mr Lee Yi Shyan’s report is expected to be released this year.
With regards to the audit issue of the Workers’ Party town council, the WP would have to furnish its explanation on the outstanding matters. At the same time too the MND should be fair and hold to account the former PAP-led ATC as well, and perhaps instruct the Managing Agent of that town council – which is believed to be CPG Facilities Management – to cooperate and handover the relevant information required by the present town council.
Why has not the MND asked the director of CPG, Jeffrey Chua, who also happened to be the town council’s general manager then, to provide the necessary information to the WP town council?
Surely, the resolution of such issues does not require so much back and forth, and loudhailing over the media.
Aljunied residents, and Singaporeans in general, deserve much better than this constant fault-finding by the PAP.
Let’s focus on more important things, shall we?
Here is the Straits Times report in May 2011 in which Ms Cynthia Phua promised a “smooth handover” to the WP.
Cynthia Phua promises proper handover
Teo Wan Gek
12 May 2011
ALJUNIED Town Council chairman Cynthia Phua yesterday said the People’s Action Party (PAP) team will ensure there is ample time for the Workers’ Party (WP) to take over the town council so there will be a smooth transition.
‘We will do a proper handover. We will ensure that all the existing contracts that we have are handed over to the new management properly,’ she said.
She is in the process of compiling a list of current contracts between the town council and service providers. She will ask them if they wish to continue the contracts with the new town council team, to be led by Mr Low Thia Khiang and the four other newly elected MPs.
Should contractors wish to terminate their contracts, she will alert the WP team at first notice, to give them sufficient time to find new contractors and ensure there is no lapse in the provision of services, she said.
‘We will take care of residents’ interests,’ she added.
Madam Phua was an MP for Aljunied GRC from 2001 until the recent polls, and has chaired the town council since 2003.
Yesterday, she also rubbished a complaint that has surfaced online that the town council seems to have stopped removing rubbish, at least from a particular block in the estate.
‘There has been no termination of contracts,’ she said. ‘The contracts are all existing and still under the current management. If the contractors are not performing, they should be reported to the town council staff.’
She added: ‘It’s only been four days since Polling Day. What changes could possibly have been made?
‘Have faith in us. It’s our responsibility to the residents of Aljunied GRC to ensure a smooth handover.’
On concerns the PAP may sabotage the incoming WP team, Madam Phua said: ‘The PAP is not that way. It has always been a fair and responsible party. We are direct and transparent in our actions.’
Aljunied Town Council is now managed by CPG Facilities Management, with whom the town council signed a three-year contract last year.
CPG managing director Jeffrey Chua is the town council’s general manager. As the town council managing agent, CPG engages the services of other companies for services such as cleaning, maintenance and lift rescue.
Most of the PAP town councils are managed by one of three companies: CPG, EM Services and Esmaco Township Management.
The Straits Times understands that the Hougang Town Council is managed by staff directly hired by the town council, which Mr Low has chaired since 1991.
The WP team could decide to merge the Aljunied and Hougang town councils, since the two constituencies are located next to each other.
Yesterday, Mr Low said in an e-mail reply that he and his team had met HDB’s town council secretariat to discuss and seek advice on the handover.
Mr Low said they had not met the town council secretary, who is Mr Chua, the general manager.
Mr Low also confirmed that the WP team plans to ask for a renewal of the tenancy agreement with HDB for the three town council offices.
Meetings and talks with existing employees of the town council ‘will be done in due course’, he added.
Under the Town Councils Act, ‘new Towns need to be gazetted after the 14th day from the publication of the General Election results’. The law requires a constituency’s new management to take over a town council within 45 days.