How can we ensure accountability

I am disappointed with the exchange that took place in Parliament on the nature of town councils and the issue of the contract awarded to Action Information Management, a company owned by the People's Action Party (PAP).

I have worked in the private sector for more than 25 years, and never has there been an instance where employees were allowed to put themselves in a position of conflict of interest with regard to the awarding of contracts to third parties.

On the other hand, this appears to be acceptable with regard to the running of town councils and the use of public money.

One would have thought that one of the key points of the debate would be greater accountability and corporate governance to ensure:

? that the use of public funds is governed by clear rules and regulations for political parties to avoid conflict-of-interest situations.

? that the public interest is protected when there are political changes.

However, much to my dismay, the debate seems to have concluded with the Government taking the stand that political parties whose MPs run the town councils enjoy a certain "latitude".

National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan was quoted as saying that his ministry took no issue with deals of the Workers' Party (WP).

The ministry accepted, "consistent with this approach to allow all town councils the same latitude with regard to party affiliation... And I think that should be the same, fair, consistent approach that we apply to all parties, whether it's PAP, WP or Singapore People's Party."

Effectively, is the Minister saying that the PAP and WP have free rein to go to their party members and supporters for these transactions?

This raises more questions. What controls are there on such transactions? Where is the corporate governance to ensure there is no conflict of interest? How is accountability ensured?

This must be addressed or else there is the risk that both parties will take the view that just because one side did it, the other side can do it too.

Or worse, that blaming one side for doing it creates a justification for the other side to do it too. The worst-case scenario would be for both sides to agree that "it's okay if we both do it".

The Ministry of National Development has some serious issues to ponder with regard to corporate governance and accountability, not just with regard to town councils, but in the broader scope of the use of public funds in all tenders and contracts.

 Samuel Owen

Get The New Paper for more stories.