Monday, 14 September 2015

Town Council issue a top priority: Punggol East MP Charles Chong

Mr Charles Chong from the People’s Action Party, who won the Punggol East SMC seat at the 2015 General Election, says he will attend a briefing by Pasir Ris-Punggol Town Council on Monday morning before approaching Punggol East’s current town council and arrange for its handover.
By Elizabeth Goh, Channel NewsAsia, 13 Sep 2015

MP Charles Chong won back Punggol East SMC for the People's Action Party (PAP) following the 2015 General Election, and his first order of business is the town council issue.

Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of a walkabout in the SMC on Sunday (Sep 13), Mr Chong said: "We're taking them out of one town council, possibly merging it with the former town council which they were in - Pasir Ris-Punggol Town Council."

"We need to have a clean set of accounts first before we can merge. But if necessary, maybe we will hold separate accounts until we resolve all these issues," Mr Chong said.

Punggol East SMC is currently under the Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council, which is managed by the Workers' Party.

When asked what the estimated timeline would be for the handover as well as for obtaining funding from the Ministry of National Development (MND), Mr Chong said: "I think MND has made it clear that they require a clean set of accounts before they resume funding, so we intend to get that as soon as possible. Once we have those clean set of accounts, there's no reason for MND to withhold funding from Punggol East, and with that I think we can do so much more."

He also noted the benefits of merging the town councils. "I think if you look at Pasir Ris-Punggol Town Council - I was the Chairman years ago for a long period of time - it has never been in deficit. Accounts are in order, things are run smoothly also. So it's better to be with a town council which everything is in order, accounts are also reliable, and then we can continue restoring services like what it was before."

Mr Chong added that from experience, the handover of town councils will take about three months. "We'll try to do it as quick as possible. If we can do it in a shorter period, so much the better."

Mr Chong also said he would be briefed by Pasir Ris-Punggol Town Council on Monday morning. "After which, we will then approach the current town council and arrange for its handover, but we want to do it as soon as we can."

"I think Ms Lee Li Lian has already told the media she will work towards a smooth handover. I look forward to a smooth handover also," he said.


Mr Chong also laid out some specific plans for the area, saying that residents should not get service standards below what they used to have before the by-elections.

"Many of them told me compared to the situation before the by-elections, there appears to be some deterioration. Whatever it is, it should not be less than what they had before and I would definitely try to make it even better," he said, adding that estate cleanliness and maintenance would be an area of focus.

"Also for town improvement projects - many have asked for special corners, senior citizens' corners, covered linkways and so on. All these would require some co-funding, usually (the) Government funds between 70 to 90 per cent and town councils are required to come up with the residual amount. So before we do that, we need to know how much surpluses we have so that we can embark on those projects," he said.

"When I was here years ago, Block 124 where we held Meet the People sessions (MPS) was the centre of the boundaries, but Punggol East has expanded, so this may not be the exact centre anymore," he added. "So we'll have to see which area residents most in need come from, and if necessary open another centre closer to them, so that they don't have to travel so far."


When asked about his strategy that led the PAP to win back Punggol East from the Workers' Party, Mr Chong said his priority is not to speculate on how he won, but to "get the job done".

“My main priority is to get down to work and the fact that residents have voted me in shows that they have high expectations and I don’t intend to disappoint them. After the elections I will reach out to all – whether they voted for me or did not vote for me, because voting is secret really,” he said. "I think speculating on what has happened is really unproductive.”

"With every electoral battle - whether it’s a close fight or not-so-close fight - I think you have to do your best. You have to convince your voters, your residents of your sincerity. At the end of the day, you have to deliver on their expectations. Ultimately, they are the ones that decide – not you, what you tell them – they decide whether you’ve done a good job or not a good job; whether you deserve their vote or not. So we never take it for granted, we always fight for every vote," said Mr Chong.

"I personally take every term as my last term, because that puts some time pressure on you to get as much done as possible. Rather than leave things undone or incomplete, you try and get everything done, so that there will be minimum handover. I find that with that sort of attitude, chances are you get most things done before your term is over," he added.

Mr Chong also said he felt "humbled and apprehensive" after gaining the seat in the SMC. "Humbled in that sense, residents are putting their expectations on you to deliver the job. Apprehension because I know there's a lot to be done."

While Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had said early on Saturday morning that PAP's win in Punggol East SMC was "particularly satisfying", Mr Chong said: "He was satisfied but I was apprehensive, because there are so much more things to be done."

Mr Chong added that MPS starts on Monday. "We are expecting a big number because during our campaign period, many residents pointed out their problems had not been resolved and so on, and we invited them to come down."

When asked if he was surprised by the margin of his win, Mr Chong said: "As far as I'm concerned, whether I win or don't win - if I don't win, it's somebody else's responsibility. If I win, it's my responsibility. So by whatever margin, if I win, it's 100 per cent my responsibility. I cannot say because I won by 51 per cent, it's 51 per cent my responsibility - that's not how it works."

He added that residents want to see results, no matter which way they voted. When asked how he would convince Punggol East residents who did not vote for him, Mr Chong said: "You can try to do it, but at the end of the day they want to see results. At the end of your term, you put your accomplishments and achievements on the line for them to judge. So if you did a good job, then they’ll vote for you; if you didn’t do a good job, then you don’t deserve their vote."

'Auditor's help may be needed' in Punggol East handover
By Jalelah Abu Baker and Chong Zi Liang, The Straits Times, 15 Sep 2015

The new People's Action Party (PAP) MP for Punggol East SMC, Mr Charles Chong, and the Workers' Party (WP) said yesterday that they both want a smooth and quick handover of the assets of the constituency, which the PAP won back from the WP at the polls.

But WP chairman Sylvia Lim, who chairs the party's town council, told reporters at her Meet-the People Session in Aljunied GRC's Serangoon ward that there is still the unfinished business of the constituency's 2013 accounts.

She said the PAP has still not issued the "definitive clarification" it promised on the hustings over a disputed sum in the accounts handed over to the WP's Aljunied-Hougang Town Council after the WP won the constituency in a 2013 by-election.

In response, Mr Chong told reporters at his first Meet-the-People Session in Punggol East that the matter may need to be sorted out with help of an independent auditor.

During the election campaign, everyone took different snapshots of the annual accounts, he said. "We are convinced of our figures, they are convinced of their figures. We need independent verification."

The WP had claimed the handover accounts were in deficit to the tune of $282,000. It contradicts Mr Chong, who had said earlier the 2013 accounts had a $1.7 million surplus.

Punggol East was previously under the Pasir Ris-Punggol Town Council, but its assets were transferred to the Aljunied-Hougang Town Council after the by-election.

Last night, Ms Lim noted that Mr Chong later clarified that the surplus referred to the whole Pasir Ris- Punggol Town Council, and not Punggol East itself. She however said: "Even if we take what he says at face value, at the point of handover our town council should have had a pro-rated share of that surplus. But what we see from the accounts handed over to us at that time was that there was a deficit given to us, and we are still waiting for that definitive clarification from the PAP."

She added: "I think all these things are very important to clear up to make sure that whatever we hand back to them is correct."

Mr Chong told reporters the handover of the constituency's assets has to be done in 90 days, according to government regulations. "If this dispute goes on over the facts and figures, it might take longer," he said. He also stressed that if Punggol East is to come under Pasir Ris- Punggol Town Council again, "we must have a set of clean records".

Dear friends,Thank you for the many, many messages and good wishes sent through Facebook and email. I am encouraged by...
Posted by Charles Chong on Sunday, September 13, 2015

Veteran's work ethic, likeability won over Punggol East
By Jalelah Abu Baker, The Sunday Times, 13 Sep 2015

There was no parade the morning after for Mr Charles Chong, not even with his historic victory against the odds for Punggol East SMC on Friday night.

Said Mr Chong: "The best way to thank voters is to do a good job and help them with their problems.

"I'd rather thank them in person during house visits than from a noisy vehicle."

This forthright manner is typical of the 62-year-old veteran politician, and is probably one of the reasons he was tasked last month by the People's Action Party (PAP) with wresting the Punggol East seat back from Ms Lee Li Lian of the Workers' Party (WP).

Mr Chong is no novice to the game but few thought he could do it, such was the perceived support for the opposition.

Proving naysayers wrong, he won the seat with 51.76 per cent of 32,758 votes.

Mr Chong put it down to being in the ruling party and able to get things done. He is also no stranger to the area, having represented some of the residents while he was an MP for Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC from 2001 to 2011.

On whether he had expected to win, he would only say he never took anything for granted.

PAP activists said it was his personality and work ethic, and the use of clean tactics that secured him the single-seat ward.

Mr Chong acknowledged there were too many blocks for him to visit in such a short time, but where he did go, he made a difference.

Retiree V. Narayanasamy, 81, who went with him on walkabouts, said: "He paid a lot of attention to what residents wanted and he got down to work immediately."

One resident pointed out an uncovered manhole which he had been trying unsuccessfully to get fixed for six months.

"Mr Chong said he would look into it, and the next day when we went back, work was already in progress to have it covered," Mr Narayanasamy recalled.

Party activist Khartini Khalid, a 39-year-old lecturer, said Mr Chong was always ready to listen to residents.

"Residents had all sorts of issues to raise, like cleanliness, handrails being ripped off and rubbish collection areas being left open for weeks even after calls to the town council," she said.

During his campaign trail, Mr Chong and his team saw defects such as lights hanging from ceilings on several floors in Block 182, Rivervale Crescent, said Ms Khartini.

He kept his eye on these issues, though that sometimes meant criticising the town council.

One resident, Mr Tay Jia Xin, felt this helped Mr Chong. "It was probably the right strategy to focus on town council issues, because they are the closest to residents' hearts."

Mr Chong's refusal to engage in personal attacks on Ms Lee was another factor that swung votes his way, said Punggol East Citizens' Consultative Committee chairman Raymond Lye, who has known Mr Chong since the 1990s.

Ms Lee won Punggol East in a four-way by-election fight in 2013.

Mr Lye said grassroots leaders continued to keep in touch with residents after losing the ward, which kept the relationship between the Government and the residents strong.

What clinched it for Mr Chong, according to insiders, was his good-natured personality, his patience and likeability. In the end, he may just have been the man the ruling party needed.

Calling the victory a "most satisfying" one for the PAP, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said at his press conference yesterday morning: "I've sent Charles Chong there. He did an outstanding job, as he has done more than once in his career."

* PwC calls for inquiry into payments made to former managing agent of Workers' Party town council
By Chong Zi Liang, Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 3 May 2017

The setting up and appointment of the former managing agent (MA) for the town council run by the Workers' Party (WP) has been called into question in a new report.

Their tainted circumstances "would put the propriety of all payments made under two MA contracts to FMSS (FM Solutions and Services ) into question," said the report by accounting firm PwC, which sought an inquiry into the payments.

These contracts total at least $23 million uncovered last year in an audit of Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (AHTC) by KPMG.

Now, there is another $500,000, at least, that could have been saved in Punggol East constituency - when it was run by the WP - had proper procedure been followed, PwC said.

It uncovered this new amount following a review of other contracts and tender evaluation reports.

PwC added that while its report does not look into potential criminal liability, "the circumstances may warrant further investigations by the relevant authorities as to the relevant potential offences".

PwC was appointed by the Pasir Ris-Punggol Town Council (PRPTC) to review past payments made by AHTC in relation to Punggol East, which the WP held from 2013 to 2015. During that time, AHTC was called Aljunied- Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC). PRPTC is under the People's Action Party (PAP), which won Punggol East in the 2015 General Election.

In the report, PwC said there was a lack of documentation on why contracts were sometimes awarded to those that did not submit the lowest bid.

The town council also did not make use of options in existing contracts to extend them at lower rates. Instead, it engaged the same vendors at significantly higher rates.

"The total cost savings that the town council could have saved (as well as payments made in some instances without proper supporting documents) add up to a total amount of (at least) $506,562.06."

Chiefly, PwC said the circumstances around the selection of FMSS as MA of AHTC show it was done by design, with FMSS assured of the job two months before it was formally appointed in August 2011.

FMSS had started charging AHTC for its services in June 2011, even before the previous managing agent CPG was discharged in August 2011.

PwC cited evidence suggesting FMSS owners How Weng Fan and her husband Danny Loh had been approached to set up a company to manage the new town council.

PwC said: "Apart from personal civil liability, it also appears to us that the circumstances collectively may give rise to inferences that a deliberate course of action could have been taken by some within the town council to appoint and install FMSS as the MA, and to benefit FMSS (and the conflicted persons) with such award of MA contract..."

"The conflicted persons were only able to get away with such conduct because the relevant elected town councillors had wholly failed to exercise proper due diligence and supervision in the award of the two MA Contracts to FMSS," it said.

"Accordingly, they should also bear personal responsibility for such improper payments made to FMSS," PwC added.

"A proper inquiry should be held (for instance, through legal proceedings) to determine the improper payments made to FMSS which ought to be recovered," it said.

In the report, PwC detailed how PRPTC said it was still reviewing the report but called its findings "deeply troubling". It also said it was seeking legal advice on how to proceed.

"PRPTC will also consider whether it should take steps to recover the losses suffered by Punggol East residents as a result of AHPETC's mismanagement," it said.

In a separate statement, the Ministry of National Development said the PwC report "reinforced our concerns regarding how public funds under the town council's charge had been managed".

The ministry noted that KPMG's report in October last year had raised similar questions on the propriety of payments made by AHPETC to FMSS. KPMG is the independent accountant of AHTC, as it is once again known now.

"The report also raised the possibility of civil and criminal liabilities," the ministry said.

It added that the report will be forwarded to the independent panel appointed by AHTC in February this year to look into improper payments made by the town council.

There was no comment from AHTC or KPMG on PwC's findings, the report noted. Yesterday, the WP told The Straits Times it would study the report.

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