The Workers’ Party (WP) on Wednesday (Sep 2) used its first rally of the election season to defend their management of the Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC), an issue that has resurfaced in recent days.
Party Chairman Sylvia Lim, who dedicated her entire speech at the Hougang rally site to addressing the matter, rejected the notion that the WP used the AHPETC to “reserve contracts for friends”.
She said: “In 2012, we advertised (for tenders for a managing agent, or MA) as required by the Town Council financial rules. We called open tenders for these contracts again in 2014 and 2015. Anyone can submit a bid for a public tender and AHPETC does not and cannot reserve contracts for friends.”
She also refuted suggestions that the party over paid former managing agent FM Solutions & Services (FMSS). The Ministry of National Development (MND) last Saturday released a statement accusing FMSS of “grossly profiteering” off the town council, citing a review done by the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority.
“Our tender exercise was reviewed by three different auditors, our own consultants, AGO, PWC. Nobody made any findings that we did not exercise due diligence in assessing the tender price,” said Ms Lim, who is also the AHPETC Chairman.
“How much profit is too much? We don’t know how much the MAs in PAP town councils are making. Is MND saying that all town councils are supposed to check on their contractors’ profitability before confirming the contract price? Does MND do that to their own contractors?”
Ms Lim conceded that “financial management” was an area the AHPETC had some difficulties in, but added that the town council “has managed to turn things around”, due to lower administrative expenditure, and using contestable energy and increases in revenue.
“If you look at our latest audited accounts for FY2014/2015, the town council has an operating deficit but this is because MND still owes us our annual operating grant of S$7.2 million. When the grant is finally received the town council will show surplus for the year of S$1.7 million,” she said.
“Going forward, we are confident that the financial position of our town council will continue to improve.”
She questioned the Government’s motives in bringing up the matter.
“The PAP is trying to make it painful for other political parties to succeed in town management so that the public will be afraid of voting for other parties. Is this the behaviour we expect of a first-world government?” she said.
“The Town Council Act came into operation in 1988. Those of you who remember will recall the 1980s as the time when the opposition started to grow firmer roots in Singapore – and when WP nearly broke through Eunos GRC, narrowly losing with about 49 per cent of the vote,” he said.
“It is my opinion that the purpose of designing the town council system was for it to be turned into a political tool to arrest any wave of support for the opposition. Today it is being used again in a big way to arrest a more plural and democratic Singapore.
“Make no mistake about it, the town council structure is not as innocent as it looks.”