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83 PAP MPs passed a new law that allows the PAP-dominated Ministry of National Development (MND) the right to conduct periodic reviews on the opposition-controlled Town Council, without the permission of the independent Auditor-General’s Office. In essence, the ruling party PAP Minister now has the right to be a town council inspector and demand “remedial actions” as he deems fit.

All 9 Workers’ Party MPs voiced in protest against the new legislation as the ruling party now have the right to force the opposition town council to take “remedial actions” as they see fit. WP MP Pritam Singh said in Parliament yesterday (Mar 10):

“The new powers of oversight have the potential for abuse and would not necessarily ensure good outcomes for Singapore, but rather politically good outcomes for the ruling party.”

WP MP Sylvia Lim pointed out that the MND Minister is a ruling party political appointment and will likely abuse his power to cause problems for the opposition town council:

“Corporate governance experts have noted that having town councils report to the MND is problematic, as the Minister and his deputies are also involved in running town councils. Is the Minister a suitable gatekeeper, with these massive conflicts of interest? Is it tenable for public servants to be inspectors of town councils run by, say, the Minister for National Development or the Prime Minister.”

The WP proposed that the inspection be done by independent agencies like the Auditor-General’s Office and an independent housing tribunal chaired by a judge. The proposal is however rejected on the spot without discussion.

A number of PAP MPs then stood up and fired at the WP.

PAP MP Chia Shi-Lu said in Parliament telling the WP to stop playing victim:

“The WP should not keep playing the persecution card.”

PAP MP Charles Chong joined in the chorus:

“The amendments were not targeting non-PAP town councils, only improper management of town councils.”

PAP Senior Minister for National Development Desmond Lee said the opposition should trust the PAP government because they are “public servants”:

“Ms Lim’s allegations about public servants went a bit too far… While town councils continue to have broad autonomy and latitude in deciding how best to manage the estates under their charge, the Government also has the responsibility to put in place a framework of good governance and accountability and to request for information, investigate and intervene, when the trust is breached or when things go wrong.”

Minister Desmond Lee then claimed that the new act is to for the “residents” sake and that the opposition town council should not be given a “blank cheque”:

“The amendments put in place safeguards to enable the MND as regulator to exercise more effective oversight of town councils on residents’ behalf. Autonomy does not give you a blank cheque to run down the town council or the estate, misuse funds, mismanage the system, or break clearly established rules.

The extra powers for the MND granted by the changes arise from the “unspoken compact” — which began when town councils were formed in 1989 — being “broken”, he said. It was that town councillors and elected MPs would proactively fix problems that arise or report suspected misdeeds to the police or Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau. But in AHPETC’s case, the town council did not take decisive steps to rectify financial management lapses despite findings from its external auditor, the Auditor-General’s Office, the High Court and the Court of Appeal, among others.”

The new act was passed in a landslide of 83 yes to 9 nays.