Workers' Party supports government motion criticising AHPETC

View of the Singapore Parliament building against the nation-state's central business district skyline in February 2015. (Yahoo file photo)

Singapore’s Workers’ Party (WP) on Thursday supported a government motion in Parliament critical of the opposition party's management of the Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC).

WP secretary-general Low Thia Khiang promised that his party would address and remedy the issues raised by the Auditor-General’s Office (AGO) report, which found several lapses in AHPETC’s financial year 2012-13 accounts.

Low pointed out that the AGO report did not find the AHPETC to be engaged in corrupt practices, nor was there any money lost or misappropriated.

Other than the poor management of its service & conservancy (S&CC) charges, AHPETC’s performance was “comparable to other town councils”, he said.

Nonetheless, he said WP was “not shy” to support the motion to strengthen the legislative framework of town councils, as outlined by Minister for National Development Khaw Boon Wan earlier.

Khaw said the Ministry of National Development (MND) would follow up on the AHPETC case in three ways:

1. MND expects AHPETC to submit an unqualified set of FY2013 financial statements by 30 June 2015, and FY2014 by 31 August 2015.

2. MND to suspend FY2014’s S&CC from AHPETC. The money will be put aside in a separate deposit account and paid up after “problems are fixed.”

3. MND to amend the Town Council’s Act to address weaknesses in its current regulatory framework. It will no longer take a light-touch approach: a bill will be tabled to institute a proper system of enforcement and penalties.

[READ: 'COMMIT HARAKIRI' - MOST DRAMATIC QUOTES FROM PARLIAMENT DEBATE ON AHPETC]

 

A sign leading to the Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council office, in February 2015. (Yahoo file photo)
A sign leading to the Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council office, in February 2015. (Yahoo file photo)

‘This is not the way forward’

Later, Low acknowledged that any oversight in their running of the AHPETC would be quickly picked up by the PAP.

“We are not daunted as this is what a first-world parliament should be: keep whoever’s in charge on their toes, to do the job properly and be accountable to the people.”

But he also called for the “de-politicisation of the transitioning process… of town management”.

“Newly-elected MPs should not be tested on whether they can build up a town management system from scratch, putting residents’ interests at risk in the process,” he said.

Low bemoaned the fact that “it has been a challenge for the WP, being an opposition party, to attract managing agents.”

“Many agents serving PAP town councils are unwilling to serve as managing agents in non-PAP town councils,” he observed. “And the reasons appear to be political rather than professional.”

Low continued, saying: “Under our current system it seems to me that any opposition party which aspires to be elected in the GRC will have to build a town management team to train 100 staff officers first.”

“If an opposition party aspires to be the next government, perhaps it may need to build an army of civil servants first. This is a strange political situation for any functioning democracy to be in,” he added.

“This is not the way forward for the good of the nation.”