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Town Council debacle: That sinking feeling.

The following blog post was originally published on the blog, “A Singaporean At Home”.

By A Singaporean At Home

Just a quick answer to Bertha Henson's question about whether the 70% of residents in AHPETC mind paying for the rest of the 30% of residents? No.

I am not an expert where mathematical sums are concerned, but I do know that the assessment of the strength of an entity encompasses more than just looking at its surpluses and deficits. For example, some entities hoard a lot of surpluses, but this could be because they are underspending in key areas.

I think Singaporeans may want to ponder this: where Town Councils are concerned, does a high surplus indicate a well-run Town Council with satisfied residents? And what could be the causes of a Town Council falling into deficit?

Well, as the group Fabrications About the PAP has helpfully informed us, Aljunied GRC had a surplus of $3.3 million in 2011. So, if surpluses are indeed indicative of good Town Council management as the group claims, why then did the majority of its residents vote for the Workers' Party? (PAP apologists: That's because they're dumb! They don't know better! They are repenting now!) Whatever.

Similar mocking posts are available at FLOP and on Calvin Cheng's Facebook page. The blog Five Stars and a Moon, which tends to publish one-sided blog posts, has also called for the WP to be more accountable in its accounting practices.

But I must say, this is one instance where I agree with Five Stars and a Moon. Although it doesn't bother me that the WP-run Town Council has failed to collect arrears (a common problem for government agencies), when I looked through its Annual Report of 2012/2013 (cos the 2014 one isn't available), I was concerned to note the various areas where the explanations were dodgy.

I have no answer for why the report was so iffy, and since WP is characteristically keeping mum on the issue, I can only offer some ideas based on what I have read from various local sources. My tone will probably sound apologetic to some, but at least the information here is based on facts with links provided for your reference, rather than fabrications and baseless insinuations.

  1. What happened to the surplus of $3.3 million that Aljunied GRC had accumulated?

This issue could be explained by studying the amendment to the Town Council Act in 1996 that led to the creation of the sinking funds for all Town Councils. The amendment to the law was ostensibly passed to ensure that Town Councils would have to set aside a third of their surpluses every financial year, so that they could pay for future liabilities (like improvement works in the constituency). Further, it is stated in this article from the Nanyang Business School at NTU that "all accumulated surpluses be set aside in the sinking fund if a new MP from a different party were elected".

Maybe that explains why the surplus of Aljunied GRC disappeared after the General Elections of 2011? If so, then the people behind Fabrications About the PAP could be trying to mislead readers by alleging that the surplus had been misused by WP (in the post pictured: "surplus been used to fill the hole in Hougang") even though they knew that the money had to go into the sinking fund.

Or maybe the Nanyang Business School is wrong? I'll leave it to the real journalists to pore through the Constitution.

  1. Why are the Opposition Town Councils always in the red?

After adding up the electorate figures for each of the constituencies, I discovered that AHPETC is the Town Council in Singapore that's serving the most number of adult Singaporeans (202,336 of its residents are Singaporeans above 21). I couldn't find the stats on the children population and the non-Singaporean population, but the electorate stats should give us a good gauge of the enormity of the task they are facing.

The GRC with the second highest number of Singaporeans above 21 is Pasir Ris-Punggol, with 196,350 citizens.

Then, I went to have a look at the section for "government grants" in their Annual Reports. To be fair, I compared the Annual Reports of 2012/2013. Even though Pasir Ris-Punggol has already made available the 2014 version, AHPETC doesn't have it yet.

Anyway, I noticed that Pasir Ris-Punggol, despite having to serve the smaller population of adult Singaporeans, received $1.5 million more in government grants than AHPETC ($8.8 million minus $7.3 million = $1.5 million). Numbers are rounded off to the nearest ten thousand.

Maybe Pasir Ris-Punggol has more areas that need government grants...

Tanjong Pagar GRC has an electorate of 137,464. That's 64,872 fewer adult Singaporeans than AHPETC. However, it received $13.5 million in government grants in FY 2012/2013. That's $6.2 million more than the grants received by AHPETC.

Perhaps it's because Tanjong Pagar GRC has a greater need for repairs and infrastructural modifications than AHPETC. Indeed, the GRC, where I used to live, has a great need for handicap and elder-friendly facilities.

Well, I don't want to find excuses for WP, so I'll end the post here and leave you to judge for yourselves. I am simply placing this information here in the hope that the matter of AHPETC's deficits can be discussed in a rational manner, without the usual mud-slinging directed at the Opposition, egged on by deliberate misinformation from pro-PAP groups. While the final balance of accounts is important, we should also try to find out why it came to be that way.

Instead of lamenting the lack of transparency and allowing different partisan groups to hoodwink us, let's look at the information that's available. We can find out a great deal by examining them.

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Editor's note:

One of the government funds which town councils receive is called the CIPC fund, which is named after the committee which approves such funds - the Community Improvements Projects Committee.

The committee is made up of 12 members, and is headed by Minister of State, Maliki Osman.

Out of the 12 members, 10 are People's Action Party MPs.

See here: Community Improvements Projects Committee.

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Editor's note: [do note the bolded emphasis]:

Under Section 34, Sub-section 3 of the Town Councils Act, "Transfer of surpluses after Parliamentary election", it says:

(3) Where there is an election in any or every whole constituency within a Town without any prior alteration to the boundaries of such constituency, the Town Council for the Town shall, subject to subsection (7), transfer its surpluses in the following manner:

(a) if the Member or Members elected and the previous Member or Members for the constituency stood in elections for the same political party - *80% of its surpluses* relating to such area of the Town comprised in that constituency shall be transferred to the prescribed sinking funds of the Town Council relating to that area; or

(b) if the Member or Members elected and the previous Member or Members for the constituency stood in elections for different political parties - *all its surpluses* relating to such area of the Town comprised in that constituency shall be transferred to the prescribed sinking funds of the Town Council relating to that area.

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Read also: "Good counterpunches by Workers’ Party chief":

"In layman’s language: This [Ang Mo Kio-Yio Chu Kang] town council’s annual report showed “only” S$981,360 in uncollected debts because it had earlier written off S$1,601,380 ($1,357,093 + $244,287). Do note however, that the provision for impairment is cumulative over the years; it was not made entirely in Financial Year 2008/9. See the top of Page 24 of its financial statements.

"But where did they get the money to write off such a large amount? Low suggested that “perhaps they have more surpluses and are in a better financial position due to additional funding received through upgrading program?”