By Andrew Loh
The People’s Action Party (PAP) has been attacking the opposition town council of the Workers’ Party (WP) these past weeks and months over the latter’s alleged “30 per cent” arrears in service and conservancy charges (S&C) owed by its residents.
The WP has been accused of being inept in running the town council, allowing such a high rate of arrears in S&C charges.
Ruling party Ministers have been leading the attack for weeks now, with their accusations geared towards trying to discredit the ability of the WP town council, and by extension those who run it.
But a check with past reports reveals that the WP does not seem to be the only one, or the first one, to have been owed such high amounts of S&C charges.
Back in 1987, the chairman of the Ang Mo Kio West Town Council, Lim Boon Heng, had “expressed his concern in the amount of arrears in his council”, according to a Straits Times report then.
The newspaper reported:
“He [Mr Lim] said one in 11, or 4,000 residents, owe his council. Although the number of residents in arrears have [sic] dropped slightly, the amount owed has increased, from $246,000 in December last year to $328,000 in April.”
Mr Lim recently expressed concerns about the WP situation.
“I’m personally quite disturbed,” Mr Lim said in November of the Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council’s (AHPETC) S&C arrears. “To be in arrears by so much means that things are getting out of control. If it’s less than 10 per cent, you can probably manage. But once you go beyond that, you have to worry. And beyond 20 per cent, I think, is alarming.”
Well, perhaps Mr Lim was similarly alarmed when the town council in the PAP-run Bedok estate incurred a reported arrears sum which was 50 per cent of what it collected in a month.
The Bedok Town Council then was reported “to have the single largest figure of $500,000” owed to it in S&C arrears, The New Paper reported in October 1989.
“This figure is about half the $1.1 million collectible by the council every month,” the paper said.
It reported that “about 20 per cent of the account-holders” in Bedok were “responsible for the arrears of the council” that year.
But Bedok and Ang Mo Kio West town councils were not the only ones which had incurred such high S&C arrears.
The Bo Wen town council was also owed $397,200 in arrears in 1987, reported the Straits Times then.
In a 1989 New Paper report, several town councils were “owed $1m in charges”.
Besides Bedok Town Council with its hefty arrears, there was also Redhill Town Council, also run by the PAP.
The council then was “owed about $130,000.”
There was also the Cheng San Town Council which had “about $260,000 in arrears.”
“This is half the amount it collects every month,” The New Paper said. This is similar to the sum owed to the Bedok town council then.
Cheng San GRC then was, incidentally, led by Minister Lee Yock Suan, the father of PAP Minister of State Desmond Lee, who had been leading the attack on WP in recent weeks.
The other three PAP town councils which also had high S&C arrears were Bukit Batok (about $230,000), Tiong Bahru (about $200,000), and Ang Mo Kio West (about $175,000).
It seemed that this was the second time the Ang Mo Kio West Town Council had incurred such high S&C arrears, after the first case in 1987 as mentioned above.
Even in 2004, town councils – the majority of which were run by the PAP – were owed S&C as much as $24 million, as this report by TODAY highlighted, although it did not give the breakdown owed to individual town councils.
So, the question is: Are S&C arrears something out of the ordinary? From these past news reports, it appears that even PAP town councils had incurred rather large S&C arrears as well, with some incurring arrears rate which appears to be rather substantial amounts.
Is the PAP playing politics here, picking a fight with the WP town council over S&C arrears, while knowing full well that its own PAP town councils had also incurred rather significant amount of arrears in the past, some as high as 50 per cent of what a town council collects every month?
Read also: “PAP town council “incurred huge deficit” in 1997“.