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Bertha HarianBertha Harian

News Reports

It’s so interestingly irritating

All this batting to and fro between the PAP and the WP is interesting, in an irritating way. Interesting because controversies always are; but irritating because it is no longer entertainment to spectators. The game doesn’t seem to be ending. I need a loo break. I need to eat. I need to sleep. Yet I am stuck in the stadium with no idea how the game will end. What’s funnier is how the debate is now about whether the WP has been keeping “silent’’. Who says, WP says. We’ve been saying we’ll tell all in due course. Yet the G is making charges that there’s more going on, “bigger problems’’, in the WP town council. The G should keep quiet and just let the Auditor-General do its job. After which, the G is sure to let it all hang out.

WP’s Sylvia Lim says the PAP’s investigating arms would be the first to hold WP to account, so what’s the problem? MOS Desmond Lee says this shows the WP is asking the G to act as a check. Methinks it’s more like Ms Lim saying “if you’ve got anything on us, show your hand’’.

Actually, I think the same too. If the G has more info, come out with it. All this “you first’’ is quite annoying. After all, its  Auditor-General is already on the job. Has been since March in fact. If you’re wondering why I keep pushing this point, it’s because it’s time the AGO say something. The WP says it is waiting for the AGO before talking (although this is not the sole reason for the “delay’’, Ms Lim maintains) The G has said NOTHING about the delay (?) on the AGO front. In the meantime, everyone is looking forward to a non-partisan account from the bean counters that will tell us whether

  1. The WP is terribly incompetent in managing finances
  2. The WP has been doing something underhand with the money. Is using the WP’s “new’’ Aljunied TC money to plug the gap in the old Hougang TC hole something okay to do?
  3. The WP has been, I’ll say it, siphoning residents’ money into some other pocket.
  4. The WP has actually done very well/at least in managing its finances. It couldn’t submit its financial statements because its paperwork is bad but that’s sorted out now.

The WP hasn’t come out very well in this battle thus far, not with Mr Lee’s latest riposte.

So the WP hasn’t submitted its service and conservancy collection forms to MND since April 2013. Ms Lim countered that it did not give the S&C fees because the MND wanted the forms in a certain format which its computer software couldn’t generate. But it seems those forms haven’t changed since whenever. Nor does the de-activation of the PAP-owned AIM from the WP TC have anything to do with the inability of the software to generate those “forms’’. WP had been submitting forms after the break up. (In fact, why the need for the WP to bring AIM in?). Nor was it “no time and no energy’’ to submit forms because it was serving the AGO’s needs. The AGO entered the picture several months after the WP.

So the implication is that the April 2013 figures were so alarming that the WP decided to “hide’’ everything after that date. The April 2013 rate was 29.4 per cent, which meant that 39,000 households in AHPETC were effectively subsidising 16,000 households who did not pay their fees. MND said the town council past submissions showed that 10,000 (63 per cent) out of the 16,000 households only started owing arrears in the last two years. The arrears rate for hawkers was 8.2 per cent while that for commercial tenants was 50.2 per cent.

(Sheesh. I wonder if the other half of the tenants submitted their fees in kind, since it didn’t in cash! When the town council raised its S&C fees in April this year, it didn’t say anything about arrears but told residents in its mailer about higher electricity and cleaning costs)

As for whether the town council can be compelled to submit its arrears, MND says that the Town Councils Act doesn’t allow this. “MND has no power to compel TCs to submit information to MND, and there is no penalty under the TCs Act if the TC does not do so. There are currently only three offences that attract fines – these relate to the misuse of TCs’ funds, contravention of TC-Lift Upgrading Programme (LUP) rules and the wilful withholding of information required by an auditor without reasonable cause. This is because the TCs are supposed to be directly accountable to their residents.’’

This is so odd. So there is less oversight because “TCs are supposed to be directly accountable to their residents’’ – who can only exercise their oversight and hold TCs to account once every four or five years. I wish the MND would just say it overlooked this aspect when the legislation was framed, which is why in the next breath, it talks about reviewing the Act to strengthen regulatory oversight.

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I am learning a lot of words from the G, like obfuscation. When it comes to slamming, the PAP is pretty good. But I didn’t think much of this line from MOS Lee last month : “Instead, we have seen a coordinated online campaign to distract the public, using falsehoods, half-truths and speculations, by friends, sympathisers and proxies of the Workers’ Party (WP).  The aim is to confuse the public and distract them from the real issues.  MND has addressed these untruths.  This is what the WP often does when caught under the spotlight – raise a flurry of red herrings in the hope that people forget that they have not come clean.’’

A coordinated online campaign? What evidence does the G/PAP have of this? Or is it lumping anyone and everyone who has something to say as “friends, sympathisers and proxies’’ of the WP? This isn’t fair to those who raise legitimate questions and want to know more about this black box called town council financing. Not everyone who raises questions are being deliberately misleading, they could be well-meaning but ignorant. If so, it is the duty of the more knowledgeable to put things right – rather than read motives and agendas behind what they say.

I’m glad that MND explained, in light of the supposed campaign filled with red herrings, how G grants are given out to town councils, the difference between operating surplus and accumulated surplus and how the sinking fund gets money. We come away better educated.

Today, Ms Lim has a riposte to Mr Lee’s riposte:

After accusing the Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC) and the Workers’ Party (WP) of not being accountable and transparent on the issue of S&CC arrears, MOS Lee now does not deny that the accusation was a non-starter.

“We had pointed out that the public could expect that the PAP would be the first to hold WP to account; that the PAP government had all investigative arms at its disposal to hold WP to account for any matter under the sun, and that AHPETC was facilitating the audit of its accounts and systems by the Auditor-General’s Office and that, like all other Town Councils, its annual audited accounts would be published.

“MOS Lee has now shifted his position to say that “WP is relying on the government to check them, instead of taking responsibility themselves for accounting to the public what they have done or have not done.”

“We have said many times that we will account to the public in due course, and we will.

“It is instructive to note the various positions taken by the PAP. When we said that we would explain to the public the S&CC arrears in due course, this was sarcastically labelled “the sound of silence”.  When we explained to the public the circumstances why AHPETC was unable to submit the S&CC arrears report in the format demanded and that MND had refused to accept our S&CC arrears submission in our own data format, this was labelled as making excuses.

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“Seeing such responses from the government is regrettable.  We will leave it to the public to make its own judgment.’’

So what’s going to happen now? A riposte from Mr Lee?

I need a loo break.

Written By

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

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