More than two years after a review was announced in May 2013, changes to the Town Councils Act (TCA) could be delayed if the elections are called.
This was revealed by the Minister of National Development, Khaw Boon Wan, who made the remarks last Thursday to the media but which were only reported on Monday, 17 August.
“Previously, I was hoping we can amend the Act within this year,” Mr Khaw said.
“But market talk is the election is just around the corner and, if so, I would not be able to meet this particular KPI (key performance indicator),” he added. “We have to wait until the next term of government.”
Mr Khaw is also the chairman of the People’s Action Party (PAP).
The review, Mr Khaw told Parliament in 2013, would include the councils’ duties and responsibilities in relation to HDB; the adequacy of their sinking funds and long-term financial sustainability; and the arrangements when town councils are handed over between MPs.
The review committee is being headed by the Senior Minister of State for National Development and Trade and Industry, Mr Lee Yi Shyan.
The review was called after a long debate took place when the Workers’ Party (WP) revealed that the computer system used by the former PAP-run Aljunied Town Council (ATC) in Aljunied GRC had been sold to a PAP-owned company, Action Information System (AIM).
AIM, with a paid-up capital of S$2, is headed by three former PAP members of parliament as directors. It does not seem to have any other staff, or a website.
Its mailing address is the same as the PAP’s headquarters in Bedok.
The computer system, which was being used by all PAP town councils, was built at a cost of some $25 million, but later sold to AIM for $140,000.
The co-ordinating chairman of the PAP town councils, Teo Ho Pin, explained that in 2010 [the PAP] had called an open tender to which AIM submitted the sole bid though five companies had collected the tender agreement.
After the system was sold to AIM, the 14 PAP town councils then leased back the system from it.
This raised questions about the transaction, which came just months before the elections of 2011 were called.
Former PAP stalwart and presidential candidate, Tan Cheng Bock, also queried the transactions, and said that they “beg a few questions… especially when the company may not serve, ‘due to material change’, an opposition ward.
“This software is developed using public funds by town councils. Is it right for the TCs to give up ownership in this manner?” he asked.
“So did the town councils as public institutions do the right thing, selling (the system) to a company owned by a political party with its own agenda?”
AIM also withdrew its services from the then new WP town council after the WP won the Aljunied GRC in the 2011 elections.
The public outcry over the saga – which many saw as being unfair to the WP – prompted the government to call for a review of the sale of the computer system.
The task was carried out by the Ministry of National Development (MND) itself which found no impropriety with the transaction, and said that “the AIM sale complied with regulations and there was no conflict of interest.”
However, the fact that the MND was the agency which carried out the review was also criticised, since the minister of the MND was also the chairman of the PAP which owned AIM.
A Straits Times report then said:
“It gave the all-clear, but some remain unconvinced by the finding that the deal is above board, MPs and experts said.
“One point of contention is why the company, Action Information Management (AIM), would take on a loss-making venture in 2010.
“AIM had said it was to help the PAP town councils, which had no takers for a near-obsolete software programme.
“But some think “this is too good to be true”, said MP Baey Yam Keng of Tampines GRC.
“While many were not surprised by the findings, most of the 50 polled felt that having the MND do the review affected public perception of the report’s finding, even if it was wholly objective.”