Most town councils do better in report

SINGAPORE - Town councils performed better than past years in the latest management report from the Ministry of National Development (MND), with all but one receiving top scores for estate cleanliness, lift performance and corporate governance.

But the Aljunied-Hougang- Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC) run by the Workers' Party (WP) again got a "pending" grade for corporate governance, as it had not submitted its audited financial reports, said MND.

The corporate governance indicator, one of five in the annual report, measures compliance with the law in areas such as announcing and awarding tenders.

The report, released on Thursday, appraised the 15 town councils between April last year and March this year.

AHPETC chairman Sylvia Lim said it had not submitted its documents because its auditors, who were appointed this May, are still in the midst of finalising the town council's financial statements.

"We understand that the issues being addressed include complexities resulting from the handover legacy, classification and treatment issues, year-end adjustments and others," she said in a statement.

In response to queries, an MND spokesman said it had also not received the AHPETC auditor's management letter and self-declared corporate governance checklist.

This is the second time in a row that AHPETC's corporate governance grade is "pending".

Last year, Ms Lim said it failed to submit its documents on time because of a delay created by the town council's migration to new IT software. The old vendor, a company run by the People's Action Party (PAP), terminated its services when the WP took over the town council, she added.

This charge led to a protracted exchange of accusations between the PAP and the WP of conflicts of interest involving close ties that the parties have with the vendors and companies that their town councils hire.

The Town Council Management Report will now be released annually instead of half-yearly, MND said.

The report has been controversial since its inception in 2010. Meant as an accountability exercise to spur performance, the low grades of opposition-run town councils have led some to dismiss it as politically motivated.

This year, AHPETC was one of two town councils not to receive the top score of green for management of service and conservancy charges arrears. Ms Lim said it has stepped up enforcement measures including court prosecution, where other efforts have failed.

Some residents are allowed to pay their arrears in instalments, she said, adding that "improving the situation... will take time to effect".

Potong Pasir Town Council, chaired by PAP MP Sitoh Yih Pin, was the other. It received an amber grade, which connotes a medium score. He said collecting arrears from residents who are having financial difficulties is a "delicate and sensitive matter that will take time to resolve".

It is Potong Pasir's second consecutive amber grade under his watch, but he said it is not his top priority to get a green grade.

He is focused on raising funds from external sources to complete maintenance works such as re-wiring in Potong Pasir, he said.

It was in estate maintenance that the performance of town councils was the most chequered: Six scored green and the other nine, amber. The obstruction of common corridors was the most regularly spotted offence.

MND's Senior Minister of State Lee Yi Shyan urged town councils to be stricter with residents who are "persistently recalcitrant".

rchang@sph.com.sg


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