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PAP Govt takes 3.5 years to review town council laws

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By: 永久浪客/Forever Vagabond

In May 2013, the government announced that it would embark on a comprehensive review of the laws governing all town councils in Singapore (‘Govt to review town-council legislation‘). Then National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan announced that Senior Minister of State, Lee Yi Shyan, would head a review committee to do so.

The review was slated to focus on 3 areas:
• TCs’ duties and responsibilities in relation to HDB
• Adequacy of TCs’ sinking funds and long-term financial sustainability
• The arrangements when TCs change hands between MPs

Town councils became a hot topic when Aljunied Town Council under the PAP sold its management software to Action Information Management (AIM), a company set up and controlled by the PAP. The software was bought with residents’ monies and technically belonged to the town council. The sale of the software was effected by PAP prior to taking over Aljunied Town Council.

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But MND said nothing was amiss from the sale of the town council’s software to PAP. It said there was no loss or misuse of public funds resulting from the transaction, and the sale did not compromise the interest of residents.

At the time, WP chairman said in Parliament, “As custodians of public funds, all MPs must act in the best interest of residents, regardless of which political party they support.”

“At the same time, town councils unavoidably have some political elements…(but) it does not mean that MPs can use town-council assets, or can allow town-council assets to be endangered or cut off from town-council use for political reasons,” she added.

Lee Yi Shyan stepped down

Nothing was heard about the outcome of the review chaired by Lee Yi Shyan until Sep 2015.

After the 2015 GE, Lee Yi Shyan stepped down from his government position due to health reasons (‘Lee Yi Shyan stepping down due to health issues‘). However, he continues to be an MP for East Coast GRC.

He said stepping down from his government post would allow him to have more time to see to residents’ needs, “Definitely I will have more flexibility in attending to my residents’ needs but I also hope to find something to do in the daytime.”

But nothing was said about the review he was chairing.

Then yesterday morning (24 Jul), former journalist posted a message on her Facebook page (https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=675222349283218&id=100003863774512), asking when the bill to amend the Town Council Act is coming out.

Her questions came in the midst of a recent new spat between PAP and WP over the accounts of Aljunied Town Council.

She asked, “I’ve been following this from the bitter beginning and I only have one thing to ask: WHEN IS THE BILL TO AMEND TOWN COUNCIL ACT COMING OUT? It’s been YEARS. It seems that town councils can get away with some lapses etc (and I don’t just mean WP) because the legislation isn’t far-sighted enough to deal with some things that might happen with a changeover. Can MND get a move on? Or are we going to drag this out till the next GE?”

Netizens “whack” PAP

After Bertha posted her questions, other netizens also joined in to question MND on the same thread:

Haw Kuo Liang: Looking into other countries, those that win in their state ends up being able to do anything they want.

Wilson Ho: Well this hump provides for firepower to the incumbent against any oppositions, so why would they want to remove it?

Francis Lee: From May 2013 to-date, nearly three and a half years hence, nothing affirmative have emerged from the committee and he (Lee Yi Shyan) has since GE2015 retired from G because of health issues. Irrespective, the public needs to know why this effort has fallen into a void. Certainly, three and a half years is way too long a timeline allowed for a study of this nature notwithstanding any notion of “rush”. Either the current Town Council Act serves a political purpose or they have been too busy with mud-slinging.

George Ie: Even SMRT problems that affect the whole nation is not actioned upon. U want them to change the act that benefits them currently? Seriously? In the first place, HDB could have handled all TC management matters and enjoyed better economy of scale. How about abolishing the TC structure and pass all operations back to HDB?

Marcus Chen: Bloody idiots … If there is proof of crime, just arrest the Workers Party people already… Keep splashing news about possible / potential misappropriation of funds and what not but no action taken… While the EMS doing anti-competition behaviour by withholding sales of lift parts goes largely unnoticed..

Peter Tan: I got a feeling that PAP might be afraid that their own MPs and political-linked people might accidentally infringe TC Act too. Political nightmare.

Minister Lawrence Wong suddenly responded on same day

By the afternoon yesterday (24 Jul), the new National Development Minister Lawrence Wong suddenly responded. He told the media that the changes to the law on town councils can be expected by the end of the year.

The amendments to the Town Councils Act will, among other things, ensure that town councils have a “proper governance structure”, he told reporters after a ministerial visit to Kebun Baru ward in Nee Soon GRC (http://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/expect-changes-to-town-council-act-by-end-of-the-year-lawrence-wong).

Mr Wong also joined in the latest spat between PAP and WP over the auditor’s findings of accounts of Aljunied Town Council.

He said the auditor’s findings were “a very serious matter”.

Some of the lapses “pertain to the culture of management, which has to change”, he added.

“This is not the end of KPMG’s findings because there are still more studies and reviews to be done, including the issue of past payments and whether they have been made properly,” he said.

“Their work is still ongoing but clearly there are very serious lapses surfacing, and we will continue to await further recommendations from the auditor and we will monitor the matter very closely.”

WP : Don’t speculate

With regard to the onslaught of PAP’s accusations, Aljunied Town Council Chairman said that PAP’s comments were speculative (https://theindependent.sg.sg/shanmugams-claims-about-wp-run-town-council-are-speculative-pritam-singh).

Mr Singh said, “The review of Past Payments is still ongoing and KPMG expect a full report to be released to AHTC at the end of August 2016. Therefore, it is not helpful to speculate or jump the gun.”

“The public can be assured that AHTC will publish the Past Payments Report, like all previous KPMG reports for scrutiny in full, and AHTC will take any necessary action thereafter,” he added.

In 2013, WP challenged the PAP to make a report to the CPIB if it believed that the WP had mismanaged the Town Council. To date, the PAP has not taken up the opposition party’s challenge.

Regardless, assuming that the review to the laws on town councils is completed by the end of the year, it would have taken the PAP government 3.5 years to do so.
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