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Bertha HarianBertha Harian

News Reports

Town councils as political organisations

Here’s an interesting twist to the AIM tale: town councils are political organisations, not public organisations. That’s Baey Yam Keng’s take on how the whole saga should be viewed. The issue has been unnecessarily politicised, he said. Town councils aren’t government agencies, not run by civil servants – which I take to mean that they shouldn’t be subject to civil service norms or expectations.

He also said in Today that the question should be whether Action Information Management failed in its commitment to town councils and whether its fees are reasonable.

His answers are in response to former PAP backbencher Tan Cheng Bock’s comments that the town councils had used public monies to develop the system, which was sold to AIM. “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 in his FB posting. “So did the town councils as public institutions do the right thing, selling to a company owned by a political party with its own agenda?”

I suppose Mr Baey’s position is rooted in the way town councils are actually forms of local government, run by politicians elected by the people living in the ward. So if the composition of the town council changes, then a political organisation – and its partners – pulling out of the management is really something to be expected.

I wonder if he realises that he’s opening up a can of worms.

You can’t help asking then if AIM is then the ONLY PAP-owned outfit that works with town councils. What if the PAP had set up a cleaning service unknown to us all? Or it went into lift repairs? The PAP isn’t saying what other companies it owns. It should. Because when I elect a representative, I want to know exactly what is on offer. I want to know how local government will change if I choose to throw out the incumbents. That it isn’t just the heads that will roll, but arms and legs will get chopped off too. Fair, no?

Just think. What if the PAP decides that its PCF kindergartens shouldn’t operate in opposition wards and closes down what it now has? I doubt it wants to antagonise residents like that but, hey, it’s a political party and if it wants to inflict pain on the people who turned their backs on it, it can.

Come to think of it. Wasn’t lift upgrading also a political issue? Go to the back of the queue if you vote opposition? And that’s not even a political party imperative but a G initiative explained away as the right of the party in power to decide who gets rewarded first. But that’s in the past.

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Back to AIM. I really think politicians should stop telling us how to think. I read on Sunday that Ms Grace Fu said that we’ve all got hold of the wrong end of the stick and should remember how the issue arose – the Workers’ Party’s Aljunied-Hougang town council’s poor showing in the corporate governance category. Focus on that, she said.

Then there was this ding-dong about who terminated the agreement first. It was like a schoolyard fight: You did it first! No, you did it! You! You! It was framed like an integrity question: who came clean, who didn’t, what’s hidden etc.
Frankly, I’m not sure I care who wins that fight.
Seems to me there are far bigger issues here that the PAP should address that goes beyond the handing over an information system to a company it owns. And Mr Baey has just started a big one: Is the town council a political organisation? If so, what does it MEAN?

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An ex-journalist who can't get enough of the news after being in the business for 26 years

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