Public's interests must come first

Public's interests must come first
While the ruling party has no obligation to make things easy for the opposition, both sides should above all protect the interests of the people.

Ritual suicide, political intrigue and a hint of corruption made yesterday's Parliament sitting one of the most exciting in months.

Ministers from the People's Action Party (PAP) faced off against the leaders of the opposition Workers' Party (WP), as the latter came under fire for mismanaging their town council accounts.

National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan kicked off the four-hour parliamentary battle by underlining the seriousness of the accounting lapses by the Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC), suggesting that "in the good old days", some Japanese executives might have committed harakiri (ritual suicide) over such lapses.

In response, WP chief Low Thia Khiang laid some blame for his party's financial errors on the "political" nature of town councils, saying it seemed no managing agent that served the PAP wanted to work with the WP after it won Aljunied GRC.

But it was Law and Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam who stole the show.

Displaying a killer instinct honed over his years as a top litigator, he told the WP MPs to "stop playing the victim" and accused them of taking "money from the man in the street to give to their friends".

The packed House responded well to the showdown, with Cabinet ministers and WP supporters in the public gallery alike thumping their armrests to show support for their respective speakers.

Several MPs, including Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, were moved at times to interject from their seats, offering supporting points.

Drama aside, the debate threw up some serious questions.

While the WP put up a spirited showing, it failed to respond to the key issues of why it did not put on the record that its managing agent - FM Solutions and Services (FMSS) - was owned by some AHPETC senior managers, and why it paid the company unusually high managing agent fees.

Some lapses in the town council system as a whole also came into focus. One is the weakness of the Town Councils Act, which neither provides strict rules for town councils' financial accounting nor lays out clear penalties to deal with possible infractions.

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