Town councils’ software sold for peanuts?

I refer to the report “Computer firm says town council’s claim “inaccurate”” (Channel NewsAsia, Dec 24).

Open tender?

It states that “In 2010, PAP TCs called an open tender to sell the ownership of the developed application software.

But only 1 bid?

Dr Teo said although five companies collected the tender agreement, the sole bid was submitted by AIM, a company fully owned by the PAP.

Fantastic ROI?

AIM offered to buy the software for S$140,000 and manage the system for a monthly fee of S$785 per TC, for an initial term ending 31 October 2011.”

$785 a month times 14 town councils means that the annual revenue would be $131,880.

This must arguably be the best business tender deal of the century, with 94 per cent of the investment recouped in just the first year!

Have operating costs?

Since “AIM only owns the rights to the software, so all computer hardware belong to the respective TCs and these remained with AHTC when its contract with AIM ended”, does it mean that AIM will not incur any operating costs?

If so, then this may be the best investment in the world with a return on investment of 371 per cent ($131,880 times 5 years divided by $140,000) after say five years!

Any maintenance?

Is AIM involved in any way in the maintenance of the software? Who will maintain the software?

Make documents public?

How was the open tender called and publicised? Can the tender document and all related minutes of meetings, decisions taken, etc be made public?

Who are the other four parties who collected the tender document, but did not submit a bid?

Why? Why?

The most important question in my view remains unanswered – why was the decision taken to sell the software and terminate Aljunied-Hougang town council’s use of the system?

Residents’ interests?

Were the interests of the residents considered? How can such a move be in the interest of the residents and Singaporeans? If the opposition had won more constituencies, wouldn’t there have been kaos for our citizens if the opposition town councils all had their software terminated, and couldn’t get them up and running in good time without severe interruption to services to the residents?

Who decided?

Who were involved in making this decision? – Were all the town councils’ MPs and town councilors aware of and condoned such a decision?

Can all the documents, meeting minutes, etc, relating to this be made public?

Any more “fully owned” companies?

How many companies fully owned by the PAP are there, and what else do they own?

Isn’t the above and the subject saga a clear conflict of interest?

What were the original contract terms?

As to “Coordinating Chairman of 14 PAP TCs Dr Teo Ho Pin said the TCMS owned and used by them was developed by National Computer Services Pte Ltd”, another unanswered question is how much was spent to develop the software? Were town councils’ funds and thus residents’ funds used?

Since “the TCMS owned and used by them was developed by National Computer Services Pte Ltd”, what were the original contract terms, maintenance terms, etc? Should’t these be made public now?

What a “stupid” reason?

With regard to “In a letter to the media, Action Information Management Pte Ltd (AIM) said AHTC Chairman Sylvia Lim’s allegation that a service extension with AIM had to be “fought for” was inaccurate.

AIM said two service extensions were granted – in August and September 2011 – before the contract lapsed.

AIM also said it would have agreed to a further extension if the AHTC had asked for it.

As AHTC did not do so, the contract was allowed to lapse.

Ms Lim had said they did not believe any further extension was forthcoming”, this must be the “most stupid” reason that I have ever seen – if you terminate a service, and did not tell anyone that it can be extended if only the terminated party had asked again for the third time, then how would anyone know and ask for another extension?

If AIM was prepared to keep extending, then why terminate in the first place?

Where did the $140,000 come from?

In respect of “AIM Chairman S Chandra Das said the company’s current directors, three former People’s Action Party (PAP) MPs, namely himself, Chew Heng Ching, and Lau Ping Sum do not receive directors’ fees or any other benefits”, since as I understand it AIM is a $2 company, who provided the $140,000 to buy the software?

Was the requirement of good governance and due diligence followed by the 14 town councils in deciding to accept the only tenderee under such cirscmstances?

In accordance with regulations?

As to “In a separate letter, PAP Town Councils said its Town Councils Management System (TCMS) was sold to AIM through an open tender, and their contract was in accordance with the Town Councils’ Financial Regulations”, after all the revelations that are coming out in the subject saga and with still so many unanswered questions, is there something wrong which may leave much to be desired with the way town councils award contracts “in accordance with the Town Councils’ Financial Regulations”?

Who’s doing the work?

With regard to “Dr Teo also said the handover by AIM to AHTC took place from 27 May to 9 September, and during the transition, AIM had promptly handed over all data and information to AHTC in accordance with the TC’s preferred format”, who did all these work to hand over the data and information – staff of AIM?

“Material change” ‘si simi’?

Since the software was sold with a clause that allowed for AIM to terminate the software lease with a month’s notice should there be a “material change” to the town council’s membership, was this the reason for termination? Now, this is the strange part – why would anyone sell a vital software by open tender to anyone and be arguably held to ranson, if and when there is “a “material change” to the town council’s membership” – whatever this “material change” was intended to mean?

More questions galore!

It appears that as we get more answers to Singaporeans’ questions on this continuing saga, the more questions may seem to be raised? Uniquely Singapore!

Leong Sze Hian

P.S. You may also like to read the previous article “What has Aljunied-Hougang TC’s IT system got to do with Changi airport?“, Dec 18)

About the Author

Leong Sze Hian has served as the 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), Hotel Mumbai (associate producer), invited to speak more than 200 times in about 40 countries, CIFA advisory board member, founding advisor to the Financial Planning Associations of 2 countries. He has 3 Masters, 2 Bachelors degrees and 13 professional  qualifications.