MND rebuts WP charge that ministry misconstrued its actions

MND rebuts WP charge that ministry misconstrued its actions

THE Workers' Party (WP)-run town council yesterday accused the Ministry of National Development (MND) and Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong of misconstruing its actions and intentions.

In a media statement, WP chairman Sylvia Lim, who also heads the Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC), said MND was wrong in saying the town council wanted government grants without conditions.

MND, which is withholding $14 million in grants from the town council owing to concerns over its financial processes, had said on Thursday that AHPETC has "consistently resisted" its offer to disburse half the grants with terms attached - although it needs fresh funds urgently.

MND added that this was "presumably because (AHPETC) wants the grants, but without conditions and accountability".

Yesterday, Ms Lim said this was a "gross misrepresentation" of AHPETC's position.

In fact, she said, AHPETC had told MND it accepts that the law allows the National Development Minister to set conditions for giving grants to town councils.

She added that AHPETC "went further to agree to most of the conditions" set by MND over the disbursement of the grants.

One of the conditions is the appointment of independent accountants to the town council.

MND wanted the High Court to appoint the accountants, but the request was turned down last week. The ministry is appealing against the court decision and has applied to fast-track the appeal process.

Yesterday, Ms Lim said, in her view, only two issues remain unresolved: The identity of these accountants, and AHPETC's request that its grant for FY2014/2015 be deposited into its sinking fund, which is for long-term maintenance of the housing estate.

But in a lengthy reply last night to Ms Lim's statement, MND said it had invited AHPETC to propose names of accountant candidates and AHPETC had not responded.

MND had also told AHPETC it is prepared to consider placing the FY2014/2015 grant in its sinking fund, and asked the town council to give the reasons for its request and data on its cash flow. Again, there was no response.

"AHPETC wants the grants, but refuses to answer reasonable and legitimate questions to ensure accountability for public funds," MND said in its reply.

Separately, an AHPETC spokesman responded to Mr Wong's commentary in yesterday's The Straits Times. The minister had implied AHPETC was dishonest and irresponsible in not making transfers to its sinking fund that are required by law.

Mr Wong said Ms Lim had "effectively lied" in Parliament in February, when she said AHPETC has been making such transfers for FY2014.

While two transfers had been made, both after their due date, a third was still outstanding at the time of Ms Lim's statement.

The spokesman said Ms Lim denies lying to Parliament. "Just because AHPETC did not physically transfer monies into (its) sinking fund from its operating funds does not mean that monies are missing. Up to FY2013/2014, AHPETC has done the necessary transfers," the spokesman added.

Rebutting the spokesman, MND said Mr Wong's concerns about the finances were also made by the High Court in its judgment.

The court said AHPETC's conduct was the "height of financial irresponsibility", and "AHPETC should consider the court's findings seriously, instead of dismissing them cavalierly", MND said.

waltsim@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on June 6, 2015.
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