Scrap town councils & revert to the HDB?

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I refer to Yeoh Lam Keong’s article in his facebook (26July) which states that “MPs running town councils is a terrible idea that largely only serves to effectively stifle opposition politics in Singapore by raising near impossible barriers to entry”.

As a resident of Aljunied, I agree with Mr Yeoh Lam Keong, and am appalled by what is arguably, yet another issue relating to my town council.

Since we have had so many controversies and problems with town councils in the last 27 years or so – why don’t we scrap town councils and just go back the days when the HDB would run all the estates?

In this connection, let’s look at some of the controversies in the history of town councils (reference: “(Town Councils) Milestones & controversies” (Sunday Times, Feb 12)).

“1990 – Amendments to the Town Councils Act give town councils powers to impose fees and penalties for late payment of service and conservancy charges” – do you know that as I understand it – your town council is empowered to sell your HDB flat to recover outstanding S & CC?

“1993 – Town councils are required to contribute more money collected from residents to sinking funds” – do you know that 30 to 35 per cent of your S & CC goes into the sinking fund? This may increase to 40 or 44 to 49 per cent because of the newly announced “life” sinking fund requirement? (“So many more “lifts” grants, but not lesser S&CC?, Jan 23)

“1996 – All 19 PAP town councils decide to pool resources and take over the provision of essential services, such as 24-hour lift rescues, from HDB. And with HDB no longer providing these services, opposition town councils now have to provide them.

The Town Councils Act is amended to require that 100 per cent of accumulated surpluses have to be set aside in the sinking fund if a new MP from another party is elected, and 80 per cent if the new MP is from the same party” – why would such an undemocratic and unfair legislation be passed in Parliament?

“2008 – Parliament hears that eight PAP town councils had a total of $16 million in toxic products linked to the failed Lehman Brothers investment bank.”

“2010 – Opposition town councils Hougang and Potong Pasir score the worst in MND’s first report card, sparking accusations of bias.”

“2012 – Changes made to the Town Council Management Report include two new indicators – corporate governance and financial adequacy.

The WP-run Aljunied-Hougang Town Council cites the termination of a contract by PAP-owned IT firm Action Information Management (AIM) as a factor for its lapses in the latest report card.”

“2013 – Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong calls for a full review on how the AIM contract was awarded “in the interest of transparency and maintaining trust in the system”. In April, MND finds that PAP town councils did not lose or misuse public funds in the sale, and that the deal was in line with regulations.

In May, Senior Minister of State Lee Yi Shyan announces a strategic review of town councils, after a heated debate between PAP and WP MPs on the running of town councils and the handover in Aljunied GRC.

“2014 – Start of WP-run Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council’s long-running disagreement with the Government; it submits financial accounts six months late.”

“2016 – Following a spate of lift breakdowns, the Government announces a modernisation programme.

Ang Mo Kio Town Council general manager and secretary Victor Wong is removed from duties after he is probed by graft investigators.”

“2017 – Town councils have to set aside more of their income for a lift replacement fund, on top of their existing contributions to sinking funds.

Two new grants totalling $63 million a year are announced to help with the lift costs.”

March 10, 2017 – “Parliament approved wide-ranging changes to the law on town councils after a three-hour debate that saw all nine Workers’ Party MPs vote against the Bill.

The amendments make it an offence for town councils to not submit audited accounts on time, and give the Government powers to appoint inspectors to investigate suspected irregularities in the town councils” (Straits Times, Mar 11).

Leong Sze Hian

About the Author

Leong
Leong Sze Hian has served as president of 4 professional bodies, honorary consul of 2 countries, an alumnus of Harvard University, authored 4 books, quoted over 1500 times in the media , has been a radio talkshow host, a newspaper daily columnist, Wharton Fellow, SEACeM Fellow, columnist for theonlinecitizen and Malaysiakini, executive producer of Ilo Ilo (40 international awards), invited to speak more than 200 times in over 30 countries, CIFA advisory board member, founding advisor to the Financial Planning Associations of Indonesia and Brunei. He has 3 Masters, 2 Bachelors degrees and 13 professional  qualifications.