Last updated on October 20th, 2015 at 08:34 pm
By Tiffany Gwee
During the Workers’ Party’s (WP) first rally last night, Chairman Sylvia Lim committed her whole rally speech to help clear up the one issue that has been on everyone’s minds – the problem within the AHPETC and its financial issues that has been constantly brought up by politicians and news sources alike as evidence for WP’s alleged incompetence in running their town councils.
Her 13-minute long rally speech was packed with many clarifications as to the allegations made against them, debunking four “myths” that the PAP or Ministry of National Development (MND) might have suggested during the course of WP’s town council operations.
AHPETC has not awarded contracts to “friends”
The first point that the party chairman touched on was the issue of the awarding of the contract to newly formed FM Solutions & Services Pte Ltd (FMSS), formed mainly by managers and staff from the former Hougang Town Council.
“After the WP took over Aljunied Town Council, it called open public tenders for the Managing Agents (MA) contract and the contract to run the Essential Maintenance Service Unit (EMSU) . These tenders were called in 2012 and were advertised in the Straits Times as required by the Town Council financial rules. We called open tenders for these contracts again in 2014 to 2015.”
She added staunchly that “AHPETC does not and cannot reserve contracts for friends”.
She did note one “exceptional situation” just after the 2011 General Elections when a tender was not called for MA services for a year. She then clearly listed down some reasons.
First, the previous MA that was assigned by the PAP did not wish to carry on under the WP. Moreover, extremely pressing work required their attention during the takeover from the PAP’s management. Ms Lim pointed out that even the software that was used to run Aljunied GRC was terminated by the software holder AIM (a PAP company).
The contract was thus awarded to FMSS without tender for a “short period” of only one year to ensure a “smooth takeover” with no interference.
After things became more anchored, public tenders were called in 2012. Ms Lim strongly rejected the idea that AHPETC breached any Town Council Financial rules by awarding the contract to FMSS. She maintained that WP acted in the residents’ interests.
WP did not overpay MA
Ms Lim stated clearly that the allegation of overpayment was not made by AGO or other auditors but is the “mantra of the PAP government” and the MND. She asked the audience to take notice of the range of different MA rates even across PAP-run towns. She cited that while there is a lower end to the average costs (Tampines GRC with $5), there is also a higher end (Potong Pasir GRC with $7.80).
“If PAP says that we overpaid based on an average, then many PAP Town Councils also overpaid, including Nee Soon Town Council and Sembawang Town Council,” she adds, alongside cheers from the crowd.
When WP took over after the previous elections, they had to factor in costs of additional requirements, such as the running of a new office in the Kaki Bukit division.
Additionally, the tender exercises were received by three different auditors and not a single one of them made any findings.
When faced with the criticism of FMSS making too much profits, Ms Lim urged residents to think about how (they) also “do not know how much the MAs in the PAP Town Councils are earning”. She addressed the issue by questioning if MND themselves check the MAs profitability before awarding contracts to their own contractors.
Managing Agents not allowed to sign cheques to themselves
Ms Lim debunked the third myth of MAs being able to write cheques for themselves by declaring distinctly that decisions made by the new Town Council will require a counter signature by herself or the party’s Vice-Chairmen (either Png Eng Huat or Pritam Singh). She made sure that claims were correctly calculated and had rejected cheques in the past due to errors and a need for supplementary clarification.
Today, WP is no longer under a Managing Agent. Instead, AHPETC is “directly managed” with in-house workers – and they are “managing fine”.
AHPETC will have a surplus of $1.7 million
The Party Chairman explained that the takeover for the first few years needed “significant but necessary costs” due to the various start-up costs incurred, as expected from a completely new party taking over a huge GRC.
This included the new IT system to replace the old one that was terminated and increased lift costs from the Lift Upgrading Programme (LUP). There was also a decision made to bring back the lifts’ original manufacturer to help service the lifts to make it safer for residents’ usage. Money was also spent on new lifts for aging blocks – with no funding from the government.
Cleaning contracts also incurred high costs due to fewer tenderers.
With the help of lower administrative spending, the use of contestable energy and increased revenue, AHPETC has “turned things around”. The Town Council is still in deficit due to the fact that MND has not given them their annual operating grant of $7.2 million. Once given, AHPETC will have a surplus of $1.7 million.
Ms Lim added with confidence that the WP is ready to take on another Town Council because they have “learnt from experience” from taking over Aljunied. They have also learnt a great deal from the auditor’s observations and had worked hard to adhere to those observations.
“No pain, no gain”
With loud cheers from the crowd during the rally last night, Ms Lim’s last part to her speech raised possible reasons as to why MND and PAP keeps harping on the AHPETC issues.
“PAP subjects WP to microscopic scrutiny and constant attacks to shake (the voter’s) confidence in (the Workers’ Party).” She proceeded to list down the exaggerated amount of attention being given to the AHPETC issue. “They are as good as a 24/7 EMSU unit,” she mentioned with cheeky nod.
The phrase “no pain, no gain” was then brought up.
“The PAP is trying to make it painful for other political parties to succeed in town council management, so that the public will be afraid of voting for other parties. Is this the behaviour we expect from a first-world government?”
A resounding “no” emerged from the rally crowd.
Ms Lim then proceeded to explain that being “carpet bombed” (by the MND and PAP) is a “necessary pain” because WP knows that if they do not try their utmost best, “only one party will manage the Town Councils at GRC level”. According to the WP chairman, this will definitely “set Singapore’s political development back”.
She ended the speech by urging the massive crowd to “embrace the future with confidence and without fear”.
Her last words, “Empower your future. Vote Workers’ Party!”, was met with electrifying cheers and support from the rally crowd.