When the latest town council management report was released last Thursday, one word - AIM - came to mind immediately.
The acronym for Action Information Management became the byword for a long-running saga between the People's Action Party (PAP) and the Workers' Party (WP), which flared up after the release of the last town council report in December.
The controversy revolved around the sale of town council management systems to the PAP-owned AIM, which the WP pointed to as a reason for its poor showing in the collection of service and conservancy charges (S&CCs).
In May, the row reached fever pitch when the parties exchanged harsh words in Parliament - terms such as "arrogant", "self-righteous" and "mischievous" were among those used.
WP chairman Sylvia Lim charged that the PAP was playing politics through AIM by using it to trip up opposition parties taking over PAP wards, while National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan said the WP's reading was too sinister. The PAP also put the opposition party on the defensive, by asking it to answer for its town council's dealings with a WP-affiliated company.
An unfortunate outcome of the AIM saga has meant that all such town council reports since then will have political overtones attached to them. It does not help that even before the controversy, because of the generally low grades of opposition-run town councils, there was already the perception among some that the reports were politically motivated.
This is unfortunate, for there is still a relevance for the documents, which assign a grade in five categories to each town council - estate maintenance, estate cleanliness, corporate governance, lift performance and S&CC management. Each town council is assigned a green (best), amber or red (worst) rating.
The reports remain an important tool to spur town councils to keep doing better by their residents. This is evidenced by the 15 town councils having their best showing overall in the most recent report, the fifth since its inception in 2010.
And yes, some residents in Serangoon probably care only about their backyard, and would not be too bothered by how dirty it is in Jurong, or whether the lifts in Tampines are functioning well.
But the reports' open and transparent grading criteria - keeping track of the average number of lift breakdowns for instance - help to make clear which key performance areas town councils are doing less than satisfactorily in, and put the onus on them to perform better next time.