By S Y Lee and Leong Sze Hian
We refer to the Ministry of National Development's release of the FY2013 Town Council Management Report (TCMR) on 4th November 2014.
AHPETC’s persistent poor performance?
The Ministry of National Development (MND) had noted that the Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHEPTC)’s “persistent poor performance” in several areas is of “grave public concern”.
On AHPETC’s performance, MND said this is the second successive report that the Workers’ Party-led town council has been banded “red” for corporate governance, and the third successive report it has been banded “red” for Service & Conservancy Charges (S&CC) arrears management.
MND also added that the sharp decline in AHPETC’s S&CC arrears management is of “grave public concern”.
The report by MND indicated that Aljunied’s S&CC arrears rose from 2.6 per cent in FY2010 to 8.4 per cent in FY2011 and FY 2012 – after Aljunied merged with Hougang – significantly above the national norm of about 3 per cent.
The MND's report added that In December 2012, the town council committed to improve its arrears situation. However, its S&CC arrears rate had further increased to 29.4 per cent as at end-April 2013. It added that the town council stopped submitting its monthly S&CC arrears report from May 2013, despite repeated reminders.
Re-visiting the history of the town councils management report?
Let’s revisit the history of the town councils management report – especially when it was first implemented – so as to have a better understanding of the issues involved.
So many were in arrears?
For example, we understand that the last reported statistics on the highest rates of S & CC arrears ever, was that three to nine per cent of households were in arrears of more than three months on their S & CC.
Back then, this was arguably a clear indication that many Singaporeans may be in financial difficulties.
When town councils started to get scores for “arrears” management?
“Potong Pasir scored Level 5 on four indicators, while Hougang scored two Level 5s and one Level 4. The People’s Action Party wards received a Level 3 or better on all indicators. Tanjong Pagar town council did best, scoring Level 1 for all indicators except one.” (“Opposition-ward town councils fare poorly“, Jun 11, 2010)
Why always only Aljunied-Hougang failed S & CC score?
“Aljunied-Hougang was (also) the only town council to get a red band for its management of residents’ arrears in their Service and Conservancy Charges.”
So, does the above mean that families that live in the opposition wards are in greater financial difficulties than the other constituencies?
According to the report by MND then – “The Town Council is banded Red for S&CC arrears management. More than 5% of their households had S&CC arrears overdue for 3 months or more. Also, more than 50% of their monthly S&CC collectible is overdue for 3 months or more.”
More compassion or better score?
Or does it mean that the opposition wards may be more compassionate towards families who are unable to pay?
So many cash-strapped families?
As S & CC are generally only around $50 a month, is it not rather alarming that more than 5% of households cannot pay for more than three months?
Why is there such a high percentage of HDB households that may be in financial difficulty?
Less cash-strapped families in all other wards?
Actually, a more interesting question may be why is it that all the other constituencies seem to have so much less cash-strapped families?
Town councils started to write-off arrears to improve scores?
Also, do town councils write-off their S & CC arrears to get a better score?
In this regard, for example, the article “Only a few arrears are written off” (Straits Times, Jun 17, 2010) said “Aljunied’s annual report shows that it wrote off only $40,000 in the last financial year, 0.12 per cent of the $32 million to be collected.”
When we looked at the annual report then of Aljunied (before it was lost to the opposition), the Conservancy and Service Receivables Provision for impairment’s balance at the beginning of the year was $2,237,334.
(The annual report for the town council is no longer available as the town council's website has been taken down after People's Action Party lost to WP in the General Elections 2011.)
Less the Provision no longer required of $885,078, the Balance at the end of year is $1,357,093.
Why was the provision for the year only $4,837, which is about 99 per cent less than the previous year’s (2007/2008) $467,922?
What does “Provision no longer required” mean? That the $885,078 have all been paid up or that this was written off?
Considering all of the above, does the good score for S&CC management then, still stand?
In the final analysis, are town councils more interested in taking care of residents’ concerns and financial difficulties, or are they more concerned about looking good in the report?” (“Town councils’ report: More cash-strapped families in opposition wards?“, Dec 15, 2012)
Fast forward to today – If you owe S & CC, the town council may refuse to allow you to renew your season parking. Leong Sze Hian met a taxi driver who was frantic over this as he said “how to I drive to earn money to feed my family, if I have no car park to park my taxi?”
AIM controversy discovered by “accident” due to AHTC S & CC arrears?
The AIM controversy surrounding the PAP owned IT company was unravelled when the then Aljunied-Hougang Town Council explained when the town council got a red grade for its S&CC arrears.
“The WP said AIM terminated its contract with Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (AHTC), which is why the council got a red grade for service and conservancy charge arrears.” (“AIM: What is it all about? “, Dec 31, 2012)
AHPETC said it expects to release a statement on Wednesday.