Saturday, 31 December 2016

AMK Town Council general manager under CPIB probe

By Danson Cheong, The Straits Times, 30 Dec 2016

The general manager and secretary of Ang Mo Kio Town Council has been removed from his duties and is under investigation by the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB).

Mr Victor Wong, who works for CPG Facilities Management, the managing agent of the town council, was asked to go on leave by his company after the town council received a complaint about him in September, town council chairman Ang Hin Kee told The Straits Times yesterday.

He added that the case had been referred to the CPIB and Mr Wong was removed from his positions at the town council last month.

An acting general manager, Mr Lim Kian Chiong, has been appointed to replace him, according to a notice published last month in the Government Gazette.

Mr Lim is also an employee of CPG Facilities Management, which is contracted to manage the estate.

Mr Ang, who is an MP for Ang Mo Kio GRC, said the town council received a complaint in September about Mr Wong concerning "the way he handles contracts and dealings in the town council".

He added that the complaint "arose out of his dealings which relates to probable behaviour needing investigation done by CPIB".

"Needless to say, the town council ourselves will render all the assistance needed to ensure zero tolerance for corruption," said Mr Ang.

"There's responsibility on the part of our contractors to do the job properly. If they do it inappropriately, then we will take follow-up actions with regard to getting them replaced (and) sending the case for investigation, making sure the necessary steps are taken."

Mr Ang declined to reveal details about the case, citing ongoing investigations, but said that the town council constantly reminded its staff to declare any interests concerning tenders that the council was awarding.

Staff from the managing agent were also reminded that "if there are declarations to be made, if there are interests to declare, the people involved (must) make those declarations", he said.

He added that the MPs of the GRC had made it a point to personally check on projects performed by its contractors, "so not 100 per cent is done by the managing agent with no oversight".

AMK Town Council is responsible for the housing estates in Ang Mo Kio GRC, which is helmed by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

Mr Ang said that activities on the ground in the town council were unaffected by the development.

"We have made sure that people on the ground - the staff and officers - continue to do their work properly supervised," he said.

Mr Wong could not be reached for comment yesterday evening.














Overlapping roles can be efficient but safeguards needed
Concern raised over having council officers who also work for estate's managing agents
By Danson Cheong, The Straits Times, 31 Dec 2016

The key officers at town councils are often also employees of the companies hired to manage the estates.

This double-hatting by the staff of the managing agent companies allows for efficient operations and is a common practice, said observers, who added that robust safeguards must be in place to prevent conflicts of interest.

They were commenting on this overlapping of roles after The Straits Times reported on Thursday that Mr Victor Wong, the general manager and secretary of Ang Mo Kio Town Council, had been removed from his duties and was being investigated by the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB).

Netizens discussing the case have drawn parallels with the governance and financial lapses at Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (AHTC), run by the Workers' Party.

Mr Wong, who is an employee of CPG Facilities Management, the town council's managing agent, was suspended after the town council received a complaint in September about "the way he handles contracts and dealings in the town council". Ang Mo Kio Town Council chairman Ang Hin Kee said on Thursday that Mr Wong had been removed from his roles last month.

The anti-corruption watchdog yesterday confirmed that it had received a report and was looking into the matter. A spokesman for CPG said Mr Wong had been "suspended from his duties, pending the outcome of the investigations".

National University of Singapore corporate governance expert Mak Yuen Teen said yesterday that the case appeared to be an isolated one so far, and did not seem to indicate a systemic failure.

"AHTC has more wide-ranging issues, while this case so far involves an individual," said Associate Professor Mak. But he noted that the current case was a criminal investigation, while the CPIB had not been involved in investigating AHTC.

In the case of AHTC, auditors found that the town council was exposed to serious conflicts of interest because the owners and shareholders of its managing agent company also held key positions in the town council.

Referring to this, Singapore Management University asssociate professor of law Eugene Tan noted yesterday that Mr Wong was a staff member of CPG and did not have an ownership stake in the firm. If he were an owner, he would have stood to gain directly through decisions made regarding tenders, for instance, said Prof Tan.

To fully eliminate conflicts of interest, said Prof Mak, town councils should not appoint employees of their managing agent companies as senior officers.

"The best safeguard is to separate the two sides and have a totally arm's length relationship," he said. But he added that this could drive up costs.

Of the 16 town councils here, 14 use managing agents. The two that do not do so now are Bishan-Toa Payoh Town Council and AHTC.

To guard against problems that could arise from double-hatting, staff are constantly reminded to declare any potential conflicts, said four chairmen of People's Action Party-run town councils - Mr Zaqy Mohamad, Mr Baey Yam Keng, Mr Lim Biow Chuan and Mr Ang Wei Neng.

Mr Lim said that tenders and bids must also always be evaluated by a group of people rather than an individual.

Ultimately, said Prof Tan, "no system is foolproof, (and) when people are involved, it is inherent in the system to have human frailties".

Mr Lim said it was important to "make sure that the penalty for dishonesty is severe". He added: "What is clear here is there is no cover-up; whatever the degree of wrongdoing, we will take action."

The Ministry of National Development said it would "determine the appropriate action that needs to be taken when the facts have been ascertained".










Jurong-Clementi to hire managers directly
By Danson Cheong, The Straits Times, 31 Dec 2016

From February next year, the Jurong-Clementi Town Council will trial a new way of managing its housing estates.

The town council chairman, Mr Ang Wei Neng, told The Straits Times yesterday the council has directly hired eight key executives - one general manager and seven property managers, one for each ward - to oversee staff from its managing agent.

This hybrid model will give MPs in the town greater control over town operations, said Mr Ang, an MP for Jurong GRC.

Currently, the key staff at most town councils are often also employees of the managing agent.

Under the new model, staff from the managing agent will report to these eight executives, who in turn will be under the direct supervision of the Member of Parliament in the area, Mr Ang said.

These town council executives will be able to give an "unbiased evaluation" of any tender bids submitted by companies that might be linked to the managing agent, he said.

The new management system will start in February, when the current contract with the town's managing agent - Cushman & Wakefield - expires.

The Jurong-Clementi Town Council oversees housing estates in Jurong GRC, Yuhua SMC and Bukit Batok SMC.

Mr Ang said planning for the new management system started months ago.

"We have been thinking about it for quite some time. Direct staff will be more in line with the MPs' plans to implement policies as opposed to the managing agent, which has other interests to balance - whether financial or operational," he said.

Asked whether the model would be replicated elsewhere, Mr Ang said other People's Action Party town councils will be studying what happens closely.

"It's too early to say, but they are very keen to look at our model and see whether it works for the better," he said.




















* No one will be spared, nothing will be swept under the carpet: K. Shanmugam on probe of Ang Mo Kio Town Council ex-GM
Town council's response 'shows essence of how Govt works'
Shanmugam cites quick action taken by AMKTC after complaint about its former general manager
By Ng Huiwen, The Straits Times, 7 Jan 2017

The swift response by the PAP-run Ang Mo Kio Town Council (AMKTC) after a complaint against its then general manager shows the "essence of how the Government operates", Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam said yesterday.

"Regardless of who and regardless of the fact that this is the general manager of Ang Mo Kio Town Council, if there is an allegation, it will be investigated and no one will be spared," he said about Mr Victor Wong, who is under investigation by the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB).

"No town council, no one, nothing will be swept under the carpet. That is why Singapore is successful, because we take probity in public office very, very seriously."

Mr Shanmugam was responding to questions by The Straits Times about the case, after briefing the media on a review of criminal processes for young suspects.



AMKTC removed Mr Wong from his posts last November after it received a complaint concerning his handling of contracts at the town council. Mr Wong is an employee of AMKTC's managing agent, CPG Facilities Management.

AMKTC, which looks after estates in Ang Mo Kio GRC, which is helmed by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, referred the case to the CPIB. Mr Shanmugam contrasted this with the practices of the Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (AHTC), run by the Workers' Party (WP).

The owners and shareholders of AHTC's managing agent, FM Solutions and Services, had held key positions in the town council, and a report by auditor KPMG last year said it had resulted in serious conflicts of interest that exposed millions in public funds to improper use. KPMG also said the lapses, if deliberate, could amount to criminal conduct.

Mr Shanmugam compared the actions taken at AMKTC with the situation at AHTC, which he noted was "the only place where this Government is not in charge". He said of AHTC: "In that one place, first you have people appointing their cronies to run the town council. You have the town councillors being misled about the terms on which the cronies were appointed. You have Parliament being misled, and the High Court said so. You have the Court of Appeal being misled."

He noted that the auditors were still looking into AHTC's books, and said: "There is more to come, but this is not the way to do things. The way to do it is to disclose all the information, be upfront, hand it over, and then let the law take its course, not hide every step of the way."

When asked about the view that a People's Action Party-run town council should be held to higher standards, he said: "You are not going to get angels in power all the time. The real point is whether the system as a whole is clean, whether the man at the top is clean, and whether the systems move quickly and immediately and forcefully, regardless of who it is."

He added: "You look for clean people, but sometimes people fall prey to temptation. You cannot prevent that, not now, not ever."

The WP, in response, said in a statement that the law should be allowed to run its course. "Premature speculation, especially when done by influential people, may pervert the course of justice by shaping investigations," it said.

It cited as an example Mr Shanmugam's past criticism about a lapse at AHTC that involved the use of manual journal entries to record about $60 million in payments to third parties.

The WP said yesterday: "Some people jumped prematurely on the possibility of fraud and fictitious payment without waiting for the results of the audit.

"When no fraud and fictitious payments were found, the speculators kept quiet."



















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