In the latest chapter of the long-running Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol-East Town Council (AHPETC) saga, the Workers' Party said it will comply with the Court of Appeal's instructions to make all outstanding sinking fund transfers within three months from today, as well as to appoint independent accountants.
In a media statement, Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (AHTC) chairman Pritam Singh said AHTC "fully accepts and respects" the Court of Appeal’s judgment, and will comply with "all the orders made by the court".
He said it will also work with MND to facilitate the prompt transfer of the outstanding grants to AHTC.
AHPETC was reformed into AHTC after the general election in September, when the Workers' Party lost the Punggol East single member constituency to the People's Action Party.
Pritam added, "The Town Council acknowledges its role as a guardian of public funds. We assure the Ministry of National Development (MND) that government grants or grants-in-aid are used solely for the upkeep of the town and in the interests of all residents."
Earlier today, Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, speaking on behalf of a three-judge panel, rejected the authorities' application to appoint independent accountants to the town council. CJ Menon found a “logical gap” in MND's stance that as the Minister has certain powers to regulate the affairs of Town Councils, he also has regulatory oversight of the Town Councils in general.
In this case, the court found that, according to the Town Councils Act, only HDB was entitled to seek relief where the town council had failed to perform its duties. Further, it disagreed with MND's argument that since the minister can impose conditions when disbursing grants-in-aid, it entitles him to the rights of supervision over the grants and the Town Councils that receive them.
AHTC was instead ordered to appoint independent accountants to assist in identifying any oustanding non-compliances and to advise on the steps necessary to remedy them. To ensure transparency and efficacy, these appointments will be subject to the consent of the HDB.
The court also allowed HDB to be joined as a party to the legal proceedings. Although HDB only applied to be joined as a party at the appeal stge, it found that AHPETC would suffer "no conceivable prejudice" that could not be compensated by a suitable costs order.