Singapore’s Minister for National Development Khaw Boon Wan on Friday asked the opposition Workers’ Party (WP) to take “real, sincere” action in the face of its alleged mismanagement of the Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC).
After two days of fiery, sometimes dramatic exchanges in Parliament, all 85 members present in the house unanimously passed a motion criticising the WP’s running of the AHPETC, which arose from the Auditor-General’s Office (AGO) findings of lapses in the town council’s financial accounts.
But not before Khaw wrapped up the debate with a stinging assessment of the WP and the AHPETC’s managing agent, FM Solutions and Services (FMSS).
Khaw said he expects WP secretary-general Low Thia Khiang “to take action against FMSS for monumental incompetence”.
Drawing on the Chinese idiom 混水摸鱼, Khaw said: “Where the water is murky, it’s easier to fish. Opacity creates opportunity for crooks to make money.”
"FMSS has severely shortchanged the town council. The residents there pay more and get less,” he added, while remarking sarcastically on the “sterling service the FMSS has delivered the town council”.
Low must now “walk the talk and demonstrate his sincerity through real actions”, said Khaw, who then outlined three steps for the WP to take:
1. Concrete steps to recover the losses they have allowed to take place, make restitution to residents for the losses incurred by their town council.
2. Submit a clean set of accounts for FY2013 to Parliament by 30 June this year.
3. Submit a clean set of accounts for FY2014 on time, like all other town councils, by 31 August this year.
“These are not high hurdles. These are basic requirements,” said Khaw. “Every town council has been able to do this, including opposition MPs in the past.”
Earlier, the minister slammed WP’s responses in Parliament over the two days, saying he was “saddened listening to their speeches”.
“Initially I was cheered by (Low’s) declaration that the WP supports the motion. I thought, finally they have acknowledged the mess they’re in, and residents can look forward to eventually being out of the hole,” said Khaw. “But my optimism was short-lived.”
“(Low) went straight into a political speech, and played victim of an unfair political world created by the government… while the other MPs repeated their objections to AGO findings,” he added.
This consistent pattern of evasive behaviour gives the government reason to doubt the sincerity of the AHPETC MPs’ support for the motion, he claimed.
“I’m a forgiving man. I listened very carefully to the speeches, hoping to find some trace of sincerity and genuine remorse. Sadly, I found none,” said Khaw.
“Instead, there was a certain… disdain for having to come address this house, having to address adverse findings by AGO.”
“If there’s no remorse, then there’s no genuine acceptance that one is at fault,” he said.
‘Not about PAP vs. WP’
Khaw then moved to re-highlight the WP’s shortfalls in running the town council.
“The incompetence of the managing agent caused all these problems,” he said. “But… the primary cause was unfortunately the dereliction of duty by town councilors, condoning this; allowing it to happen; then making excuses when uncovered, instead of putting things right.”
“If they cannot run a town council, how can they be trusted to run a whole country?” Khaw asked, before saying the WP needed to “roll up their sleeves… and mount a serious forensic investigation into records and pursue all findings of the AGO report.”
He ended by reminding the house that “this motion is not about PAP versus WP”.
“This is about Singaporeans. This motion is about our residents,” Khaw concluded. “Let us do our very best to uphold high standards of governance, transparency and accountability to protect and safeguard all public monies entrusted to our town councils.”