I disagree with Mr Augustine Low's commentary on how the Opposition have had its wind knocked out through the AHTC trial. It should instead serve as lessons from which the Opposition can learn from. I have distilled four lessons for Opposition candidates to mull over as the next General Election comes into view.
Lesson 1: Opposition wards should be under Direct Management
It is clear from Mr Low Thia Khiang’s Affidavit that he thought in the aftermath of 2011 a Managing Agent (MA) can help to alleviate the management burden of the elected Members of Parliament in running town councils, having been exposed to the concerns of running a town council directly for 20 years. One would be inclined to agree, as PAP Town Councils are all run by MAs, freeing up the MPs to focus on their grassroots work.
However, AHTC reverted to Direct Management after 4 years. Clearly, the political cost to having a MA is not worth the trouble. Therefore, any opposition candidate should be prepared to run a town themselves directly.
Lesson 2: Opposition candidates need to present a solid plan on TC takeover
With the potential pitfalls laid to bare by the AHTC takeover, a solid takeover plan can be developed by any opposition candidate, and presented beforehand to ensure that this is not going to be an issue.
This would be crucial, as the PAP have used the Town Council as a cudgel against the Opposition. In the last by-election in Bukit Batok SMC, the PAP has roundly criticised the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) and Dr Chee Soon Juan for their perceived incapability to run a Town Council. WP had seen its town council governance efforts roundly criticised every step of the way. Having a plan would go a long way in assuaging residents and deflect the attacks by the incumbent.
Lesson 3: Put in place a strong control environment
While the MPs themselves have not gained any material benefits and followed past precedence in their dealings, the scrutiny on any Opposition ward means that any non-compliance of the Town Councils Act (TCA) and Town Councils Financial Rules (TCFR )will be looked over carefully.
Opposition candidates and potential MPs must learn to dot the I’s and cross the t’s in all of its transactions. Indeed, placing strong control environments above and beyond what is prescribed in TCA and TCFR will be important so that transactions have a proper paper trail for work done, and residents can be assured of the work done and payments made is dutifully scrutinised.
Lesson 4: Disclose any potential conflict of interest with any parties, and to recluse oneself
A sticking point of the AHTC trial was how conflict of interests were not disclosed at the point FMSS was invited to be the MA for AHTC. Ms Sylvia Lim noted herself in court that she may have been careless in not presenting the ACRA search for FMSS during the meeting to introduce FMSS.
It would be necessary to disclose all conflicts of interest for any party involved in any material transactions, and to recluse oneself if potential conflicts of interest happen.
Conclusion: Lessons to be learnt and taken to heart
The AHTC trial presents many lessons to be learnt by Opposition candidates seeking to be MPs. It may not seem easy, but the WP MPs, having experienced the trial by fire, persist on. After all, WP Sec-Gen Pritam Singh said recently in a Facebook post that Singapore and Singaporeans are worth the effort. It is my hope that Singaporeans will respond in kind, through their support in the MPs’ private fundraising initiative, and through their vote at the ballot box.