SINGAPORE: Law Minister S Shanmugam gave a masterclass performance in Parliament today when he gave a verbal lashing at the Workers Party members present on how not to run a town council.
Like a stern discipline master scolding a group of naughty boys and a girl, he said that the AHPETC’s payments were made without “transparency and accountability”, adding that there was “no discussion of conflicts of interests”.
Mr Shanmugam called Managing Agent FMSS a “convenient vehicle”, to which “millions of dollars went from the Town Council to FMSS”. He also distributed a graphic to Parliament, which depicted the payment approval process for the AHPETC, calling the process “unlawful”.
The ownership interest and control of the Managing Agent is what “distinguishes AHPETC from other Town Councils”, said the Law Minister.
“This is not just a question of negligence, or inexperience,” he added.
The Law Minister also said the payments that the Managing Agent were verifying and and approving on behalf of the Town Council “were going into their own pockets”, calling it a “real conflict” of interest.
Mr Shanmugam also distributed a table in Parliament that compared Managing Agent rates across the various Town Councils. FMSS now charges “double what everyone else” does, he said.
“The rhetoric from the WP is always about helping the poor man,” said Mr Shanmugam. “The reality is that WP took money from the man in the street and gave it to (Managing Agent) FMSS.”
The behaviour of the WP, which “claims to champion transparency and accountability”, was “shocking”, said Mr Shanmugam. “Why doesn’t the Town Council give proper answers instead of playing hide and seek?” he asked.
AHPETC’s actions were “not negligence” but an “active decision to suppress”, said Mr Shanmugam. “It raises the issue of integrity.” He added that the Town Council’s “failure to disclose the details of its contracts with FMSS” in FY2012/2013 was “in breach of the Singapore Financial Reporting Standards”.
He asked if AHPETC chairman Sylvia Lim or any Town Councillor can “honestly say that no monies have been lost” from the Town Council, asking “overpayment to related party is not loss?”
“The law takes an extremely strict view on related party transactions, on conflict of interests,” said the Law Minister. He said the money was not lost through accident, but that the structure was “approved by at least some of the Town Councillors”.
The basic point is that while the Town Council lost money, FMSS and FMSI seem to have made money,” said Mr Shanmugam.
The Law Minister called on WP chief Low to “stop playing the victim card”, and said that it was time for each Town Councillor to “come clean before this Parliament”.
He asked if Mr Chen knew about the payment structure, saying that if Mr Chen knew all the facts, he “could not have agreed to this structure”. He added that the WP’s Pritam Singh makes “fierce speeches on transparency”, but has been ” anything but transparent”, and that FMSS got the contracts because they were friends of Mr Low.
“The AGO Report makes sad reading,” said Mr Shanmugam. “Basically, the Town Council is in shambles.”
“So many things are so disastrously wrong,” he added. “There has been a complete dereliction of duties.”
“We have to ask the WP to come clean and explain yourselves to the public,” said Mr Shanmugam in closing. “Your residents deserve some real honest answers.”
In her address, Workers’ Party chairman Sylvia Lim acknowledged some lapses made in the Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council’s (AHPETC) sinking fund and related party transactions.
The MP for Aljunied GRC also said she takes personal responsibility for calculation errors on a contract awarded to FM Solutions & Services (FMSS) in 2011. The company, which handles estate maintenance services for AHPETC, was in the spotlight after it was revealed that a few of its senior management also held key positions in the town council.
She then tried to give the reasons for the lapses and to assure members that no money was lost. But as far as Singaporeans were concerned, her admission about the atrocious way the town council was run was all that mattered.