Calling Attention Away from Budget Day 2015

Sylvia Lim
Will WP's Sylvia Lim be left all wet by the parliamentary debate on the Town Councils Act?
After many months of waiting, the Auditor General's report on the Workers' Party Town Council has finally been released by the Auditor General's Office. Was the AGO able to find the answers to the question of how the WP TC had gone from an operating surplus to a deficit?
The answer was a resounding no.
Even worse, the AGO's report ends up leaving the public with more questions than answers. The AGO is unable to tell us anything conclusive because even the AGO and it's auditors were unable to discern anything conclusive based on the information that it had gleaned from the WP TC's records. (For those interested you can read the AGO's report in full here.
In fact the AGO had to say about the state of the WP TC's book keeping:
Unless the weaknesses are addressed, there can be no assurance that AHPETC’s financial statements are accurate and reliable and that public funds are properly spent, accounted for and managed.’’
In other words the AGO was basically saying that the WP's books are a complete mess.
The WP has come out to defend itself by doubling down and insisting that even the AGO's auditors have not been able to find "any criminal or dishonest activity" within the TC's accounts. The AGO countered this claim by saying that the TC's "broad conclusion cannot be derived" from its audit.
The WP went on to publicly thank the AGO and its audit for providing the WP with more information from the relevant G agencies, which the WP said has also benefitted the country's other town councils.
So what's the direct consequence of the AGO's report then?
Well for one thing, the Minister for National Development, Mr. Khaw Boon Wan, will be moving a motion in the February 12th 2015 sitting of parliament to talk about upholding the standards of governance of town councils. One has to wonder if this motion is also being tabled because the G is looking to tighten up the Town Council Act and retool how and more importantly, when can MND intervene with a "badly managed" TC.
But why the need to tighten up the Town Council Act?
The Town Council Act was basically created to hold town councils directly accountable to their residents. Town councils were set up to decentralize housing estate management and create a link between the residents' vote to the ability of the MP running the estate.
If you're thinking that this basically turned the town council into a political animal, you are right. That's why the PAP has previously repeatedly said in previous election campaign seasons that voters will "repent" if they chose poorly at the polls.
Past reporting by ST has stated that the National Development Minister can directly intervene in a failing TC "only when a certain threshold is crossed" under the Town Councils Act. The problem is ST didn't say what that certain threshold is.
To make matters even worse, there is nothing within the Town Councils Act that allows the relevant G agencies to compel non compliant town councils to submit relevant sought after information. That’s why the WP Town Council was able to stay mum about its arrears rate until the matter was brought to light by Minister of State for National Development Mr. Desmond Lee.
Now remember, the AGO has stated for the record that it hasn't uncovered anything dishonest or criminal behavior on the part of the WP TC. That's why we haven't heard about any news about the CPIB or CAD investigating the WP TC.
It's also why the AGO keeps telling the WP that the AGO cannot ascertain anything shady going on in the WP TC through its audit. Which is why even the AGO has been unable to answer how the WP TC went from an operating surplus of $3.3 million in 2010 to an operating deficit of $734,000 within the span of two years.
But the AGO does point out that the WP TC's shoddy book keeping does open up the opportunity of dishonesty or loss of funds through negligence. Don't expect any answers to come out of this political tag of war because there won't be any. The ultimate losers over the WP TC mess are the forgotten residents of AHPETC.
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