Workers' Party is 'pointing at shadows' over Town Councils Act: Desmond Lee

Nicholas Yong
Senior Correspondent
(L-R) Sylvia Lim, Desmond Lee and Pritam Singh. Yahoo Singapore file photo

The Workers’ Party’s concerns over the proposed amendments to the Town Councils Act (TCA) amount to little more than “pointing at shadows” and “claiming conspiracies”, said Senior Minister of State for National Development Desmond Lee.

Speaking in Parliament on Friday (10 March) during the debate over the changes to the TCA, Lee addressed Aljunied GRC Members of Parliament Sylvia Lim and Pritam Singh’s comments that the new provisions were open to abuse by the government.

“These are serious allegations, quite unwarranted and perhaps are indicative of the worldview from which the Workers’ Party comes from – that when a political entity and a politician gets into power, there is no trust in his integrity, there is no trust in the voter,” said Lee.

Among other changes, the amendments give the government more oversight and powers to investigate irregularities at town councils. For example, the Ministry of National Development (MND) will be able to take the “necessary investigative and enforcement actions” to address potential regulatory breaches or systemic weaknesses in a town council.

The amendments to the Act were approved by the House on Friday, with all six opposition MPs voting against them.

Lee, an MP for Jurong GRC, noted that Lim had expressed concerns about the appropriateness of the MND as a regulator. Its enforcement powers might be wielded as a political tool as the head of the ministry is a political office holder, she had said.

“(The Town Councils Act has) to be applied across all town councils regardless of political affiliation,” said Lee, noting the recent case of the Ang Mo Kio Town Council general manager who is currently being investigated by the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau.

“Is there an allegation or claim that the officers of the CPIB will fear investigating Ang Mo Kio Town Council (as it is the Prime Minister’s ward)? Are they timorous souls? I fear that allegation goes a bit too far.”

Lee stressed that the amendments do not fundamentally alter the character of town councils or their roles or functions. “Town councils will continue to enjoy broad autonomy and be empowered to run their estates as they have been for the past 28 years. The bill simply provides clarity on some of the existing boundaries within which town councils operate,” said Lee.

“Autonomy does not give anyone a blank cheque to run down the town council or the estate, misuse funds, mismanage system or break clearly established rules. The bill also puts in place safeguards and compliance mechanisms to enable MND as a regulator – as it has always been – to exercise more effective oversight of town councils on residents’ behalf.”