Minister of Law and Home Affairs slaps himself and party with comments about AMKTC and AHTC

Minister for Law and Minister for Home Affairs K Shanmugam slaps himself with comments made about the Ang Mo Kio Town Council (AMKTC) and former Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol-East Town Council (AHPETC) on Friday.

Mr K Shanmugam was quoted by the media that the best way to deal with investigations such as the one involving AMKTC General Manager to “let the law take its course” and that the AMKTC case shows “the essence of the way this Government operates”.

“Regardless of who he is, if there’s an allegation, he will be investigated. No town council is exempted; nothing will be swept under the carpet. That’s why Singapore is successful – because we take these things seriously,” he said.

Although Mr Wong had been asked to go on leave following a complaint against him in September and subsequently investigated by Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB), however, the story was only reported by Straits Times in December. The Minister did not make any comment in regards to the three months delay in the news being released to the public.

Who exactly went on and on appealing?

Channel News Asia wrote, “Mr Shanmugam contrasted the approach being taken in this case with the then-Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council, which has been under scrunity for its relationship between its former managing agent FM Solutions and Services (FMSS) and Essential Maintenance Service Unit (EMSU) contractor FM Solutions and Integrated Services (FMSI).”

“In Aljunied, it’s court of appeal after court of appeal. You call that good behaviour with public funds? Now even after the final court of appeal, investigations are ongoing because you have a further set of accountants looking at more information. Eventually, it will come full circle after the auditors are finished. There is more to come,” Mr Shanmugam said.

“But this is not the way to do things. The way is to be open and let the law take its course and not hide every step of the way.”

Rather than the town council making appeals after appeals, it seems to be the case of the Ministry of National Development (MND) or the PAP administration that is making appeals after appeals.

Well for the benefit of the minister, here is a brief recap on how the saga at the Workers’ Party run town council began.

It first started off by the MND headed by PAP MP Khaw Boon Wan, highlighting that there were accounting issues with AHPETC in 2012.

But the attempt backfired when it was revealed that a company owned by the Peoples’ Action Party was the one holding on to the rights of the accounting software for the town councils. PAP backed off, having to defend its conflict of interest in Parliament for having the town councils to sell public property to a company that it own.

Subsequently, the Auditor-General Office was called in by the Ministry of Finance at the request of MND to audit the town council in 2014, but apart from accounting disparities, no trace of corruption was found. Then MND filed a suit against AHPETC in 2015 to have the town council to open its books in order to obtain funding from the ministry, which the court dismissed the lawsuit in the end.

Eventually, MND compelled the new AHTC after the General Election 2015 to appoint KPMG as an independent auditor in order to receive money from MND for the running of the town council operations. Even so, till today, no criminal acts have been discovered.

So despite all the damning accusations that the PAP-led government had been making against the town council even during the General Election 2015, no criminal investigation was brought forth to investigate the matter.

Also, bear in mind, Ms Sylvia Lim had called upon the CPIB in 2013 to investigate the town council if there is believed to be criminal acts.

It would seem pretty clear after this incident with its general manager that CPIB had no evidence of the alleged corruption by then-AHPETC in the first place which would explain why the town council was never investigated by the agency to begin with. Because if it had moved in and found no evidence, PAP ministers would have nothing to bitch about on their Facebook pages.

“Not going to get angels in power all the time”

The Minister then responded to a query on whether PAP-led town councils should be “clean” as an example and said: “You find me a set of people in the world where nobody commits offences and everyone is clean. Since the PAP has been in charge you’ve had all kinds of corruption. You’re not going to get angels in power all the time.

“The real question is if the system and the men at the top are clean and whether the system moves quickly and forcefully regardless of who. People fall to temptation, but you must have a system which doesn’t hide.”

“In Ang Mo Kio, a complaint is made, and CPIB is in,” he said.

However, this clearly shows how a system that run by Own-Self Check Ownself fails completely. As mentioned above, the complaint was not filed by the PAP themselves and AHTC had called for CPIB to come in without any success. The minister’s comment tries to make the investigation as a trival matter but it is not.

The minister also seems to be talking about the PAP government with his comment as no one expects to have people in power to be of integrity and character, which is why citizens have been asking for more check and balance upon the authorities and not more powers given to the ministries without any shred of accountability.

As for the investigation of the general manager, the CPIB is operated under the Prime Minister Office, which is run by PM Lee. It is fair to say that no one really believes that there would be a complete investigation into the matter, unless a truly independent body is called forth to investigate the matter. Because we all have seen for ourselves how OSCO works in reality.

Media’s role in the minister’s hogwash

When the minister utters such incoherent nonsense about a matter, especially given its gravity. Members of the public would expect the media to highlight the inconsistency of the matter and not just simply report as what the minister said in response to their question.

This further extends to statements made in Parliament, where ministers abuse their Parliamentary rights and make comments that are baseless and accuse people of things when they are clearly not.

This is particularly the kind of case where the media should not report the statements without qualification.

Moving forward

While it still needs to be seen if Mr Wong is guilty of the charges put against him, shouldn’t AGO be called to investigate the town council as what the former AHPETC was put to go through, given the possibility of misusing of town council funds as the system is not robust as it would seem to be?

Or would the Housing Development Board hold off grants or subsidies to the AMKTC before an independent auditor can be called in to audit the accounts to ensure that public monies are not being jeopardised?

<Psst> Oh, you mean Singapore practices double standards? Sorry, I forgot about that.