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Take care of residents, depoliticise town councils: NSP to government

NSP in Tampines
Mr Tan Lam Siong (centre) (Image - NSP Facebook page)

The National Solidarity Party (NSP) has called on the government not to penalise residents Aljunied residents, tighten the framework of the Town Council Act and to depoliticise town councils so that it does not hinder the ability of MPs to serve as the people's representatives.

The remarks were made in a statement issued by NSP's new secretary-general Mr Tan Lam Siong, in the wake of the parliamentary debate on the financial audit by the Auditor-General's Office (AGO) on Aljunied Hougang Punggol East Town Council's (AHPETC) accounts.

NSP called on the government not to withhold the service and conservancy charges (S&CC) grant to AHPETC in the light of the adverse findings by AGO, but instead to continue disbursing the grants to let AHPETC pay for essential services.

"As it is, the collection of S&CC charges from residential and commercial units is insufficient to cover all town council expenses and hence a government grant is required," wrote Mr Tan. "Any withholding of the S&CC grant amounting to S$ 7 million per year will therefore affect residents if AHPETC is unable to pay for essential services."

NSP also supported the move to enforce greater standards of accountability and governance, but said that this should not lead to a penalty framework in the management of town councils that would impact on town councillors who are, first and foremost, Members of Parliament.

"A MP’s fundamental duty is to represent his constituents who elected him or her and to participate in the functions of Parliament," said Mr Tan. "This duty cannot and should never be subjugated to any other duty. By putting in place a penalty framework in relation to town councillors who are also MPs, the concern is whether such a framework would lead to their secondary role as town councillors overshadowing and undermining their primary role as MPs."

NSP also noted that the constant accusations of an un-level playing field and political bias, which opposition MPs have often raised against the government.

"NSP hopes that the government will re-examine the political wisdom of the notion that the competency of political parties aspiring to form the national government can be tested through their management of town councils," said Mr Tan. "Such a notion has no empirical basis. The ability to manage a town council and the ability to govern the country have no correlation whatsoever. Any suggestion of a correlation would imply that the best people to govern the country are town planners and estate managers, which cannot be true."

Mr Tan recalled that the first generation of government leaders were "fully capable of governing the country" although they were by no means managing town councils, and they have depended on a politically neutral civil service to fulfil that task.

"NSP urges the government to consider allowing town councils to be managed by a statutory board or a centralised agency instead," said Mr Tan, "so that residents will not only benefit from a seamless continuation of all services when there is a change of town councillors who are MPs from a different political party but also from lower S&CC charges because of economy of scale."

"Residents will be spared the vagaries of a political change in what is essentially a municipal function that can be performed by those equipped with the knowledge and skills to manage estates. If the management of town councils continues to be politically charged, public confidence in our political system will continue to be eroded."