Handling of town council saga speaks volumes of dishonesty

Handling of town council saga speaks volumes of dishonesty

The Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC) last Saturday ("Town council saga: Workers' Party replies") took issue with my commentary ("WP town council saga: Why lapses cannot be swept under the carpet"; June 5).

But my commentary was drawn from key findings of the court. There is no reason why the AHPETC should find it "surprising and puzzling", especially since its chairman Sylvia Lim has said that it "respects the court's decision".

Indeed, AHPETC's letter further underlines the court's finding that Ms Lim had suppressed facts to leave a false impression.

First, the letter blandly asserts that AHPETC had done the necessary transfers to the sinking fund up to financial year (FY) 13/14.

This is precisely what the court took issue with: That Ms Lim had claimed in Parliament that AHPETC had made sinking fund payments for FY14/15, when, in fact, payments were outstanding.

Second, while the letter says "town councils need to have their audited reports presented to Parliament for public scrutiny", it suppresses mention that all AHPETC accounts submitted so far have been late and heavily qualified by their own auditors.

Third, AHPETC shifts the blame to the Ministry of National Development (MND) for withholding $14 million in grants.

But AHPETC is disingenuous in not admitting that it is the only town council with qualified accounts.

The Auditor-General's report found that the AHPETC's accounts cannot be relied upon, and that there can be "no assurance that... public funds are properly spent, accounted for and managed".

Under such circumstances, it would be irresponsible for MND to disburse the grants to AHPETC without safeguards.

Furthermore, as the court noted, "MND was willing to consider releasing half of the FY14/15 grants-in-aid, subject to conditions".

"However, AHPETC never accepted this offer. If AHPETC has anyone to blame for failing to make the transfers on time, it was itself."

Fourth, AHPETC's letter suggests that its officers are not guilty of any illegal acts, since no one has been charged.

But it fails to mention the court finding that if similar lapses were committed by people managing a private building or condominium, or officers running a public-listed company, there would be civil, or even criminal, action against them.

The Workers' Party's handling of this saga speaks volumes of its dishonesty. Faced with tough questions, it always ducks.

It is, therefore, no surprise that the court found Ms Lim guilty of suppressio veri, suggestio falsi, which, in legal terms, amounts to fraud.

Lawrence Wong
Minister for Culture,
Community and Youth Second Minister for Communications and Information


This article was first published on June 13, 2015.
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