WP silence on arrears issue 'could suggest bigger problems'

WP silence on arrears issue 'could suggest bigger problems'
Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong

The Workers' Party's (WP) continuing silence on its town council's poor performance rating and finances suggests there may be bigger problems lurking, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong has said.

In an opinion article in The Straits Times today, he said there has been "a disturbingly familiar pattern" in the WP's response when questions are raised about its conduct. He wrote: "It's happened again and again - cleaning hawker centres, running illegal trade fairs and, now, managing service and conservancy charge (S&CC) arrears.

"First, its leaders say it is not a big deal. Then, when they can no longer pretend it is not a big deal, they blame someone else - the National Environment Agency, the People's Action Party, even the Auditor-General's Office (AGO). Then, when their excuses are exposed one by one, they say 'we are looking into the matter', or things will be explained - in 'due time'. And then, more silence."

The WP-run Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC) had stopped sending monthly S&CC arrears reports since May last year. It did not fare well in an annual town council management report released last month, scoring "red" for S&CC arrears and corporate governance.

Mr Wong, whose ministry's responsibilities include regulating charities, said he has learnt that wanting to do good is not enough.

"When you are responsible for public monies, whether donations or fees, good intentions are not enough to prevent bad outcomes. From time to time, some charities get into trouble because of the mismanagement of funds and poor governance.

"The dishonest ones would choose to stay silent, hoping that it would go unnoticed. But, eventually, questions grow too loud, and the issues burst into the open, as they rightly should."

Noting the spike in S&CC arrears reported by AHPETC in its April report last year and the absence of monthly reports since then, he wrote: "Something is seriously wrong."

WP chairman and Aljunied GRC MP Sylvia Lim, the town council chairman, said there was a delay because the finance team was busy with the AGO audit. But Mr Wong said the town council stopped sending S&CC reports 10 months before the audit began.

AHPETC collects $3 million in S&CC a month, he said, and residents and shopkeepers "deserve to know that their money is being properly managed and spent by the town council... But unless AHPETC starts being transparent and accountable and answers questions, the residents may never know the truth".


This article was first published on December 10, 2014.
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