Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Punggol East By-election: WP Rally, 22 Jan

Not workable for Opposition to unite: Low
By Teo Xuanwei, TODAY, 23 Jan 2013

The fractious nature of Opposition politics here and the management of town councils came to the fore last night at the Workers’ Party (WP) rally, as its leaders tackled two hotly debated issues for the first time since the by-election was called in Punggol East.

Following charges of “arrogance” levelled at the WP for rejecting the overtures of other Opposition parties to negotiate a pact for the by-election, WP chief Low Thia Khiang said that, in today’s political situation, to have all Opposition parties coming together as one political force is an “unworkable concept”.

WP Chairman Sylvia Lim also brought up the People’s Action Party (PAP) town councils’ sale of computer software to Action Information Management (AIM), as she charged that since the WP took over town council management in Aljunied, she has seen that town management had become political to the point that residents may be used as “pawns for political gain”.

Speaking in Mandarin, Mr Low explained why his party decided to go its own way by pointing to how fractures in the Singapore Democratic Party in the ’90s had resulted in disarray in the Opposition camp, which, in turn, caused voters to lose confidence in opposition parties.

“The WP insists on going its own way ... not because of arrogance or lack of respect for other parties, but to prevent history from repeating itself, and from letting people down again,” he said.

Not only is the Opposition a complex camp with different personalities, leadership styles, and ideologies, Mr Low said parties would also have their own ambitions and views of doing things. “If the Opposition camp can unite, then Singapore wouldn’t have so many political parties today,” he said.

Mr Low also responded to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s criticism that the WP did not have serious views or alternative suggestions.

He said that expecting a party with six elected MPs to come up with alternative policies is “unrealistic”. Mr Low also listed issues that each of the WP MPs had raised since stepping into Parliament in 2011.

In response, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean posted on his Facebook page about two hours after the WP rally: “In his speech, (Mr Low) has listed all the subjects the eight WP MPs (including two Non-Constituency MPs) raised. But what is more important is that WP has avoided taking a stand on major issues, for example, population or foreign workers where tough trade-offs are needed.

“Have they offered credible alternatives on the best way forward? If not, having another WP MP will not help the quality of debate and decision-making for Singapore.”

At the WP rally, Ms Lim said the party’s taking over of town management in Aljunied GRC had given it access to documents to show how the PAP town council had been managing towns. Without elaborating, she said that a few contracts which the town council had signed allowed for termination of services should the town council land in Opposition hands.

Ms Lim also raised issues with the AIM transaction, for instance, how the PAP town councils deemed it fit to sell the computer software to a company with S$2 in paid-up capital.

In response to media queries, Coordinating Chairman of PAP Town Councils Dr Teo Ho Pin reiterated, among other things, that AIM — which is fully owned by the PAP — was awarded the contract after an open tender and the company “did not make any financial gains” from it.

Dr Teo also repeated that it was Aljunied-Hougang Town Council that terminated the contract with AIM, and that its high arrears had nothing to do with AIM or the changeover of the IT system. The “key issue (is) the performance of the town councils and how well they are managed by the WP”, he added.

Town councils 'used to trip up opposition'
Sylvia Lim alleges that residents may become pawns for political gain
By Andrea Ong And Tessa Wong, The Straits Times, 23 Jan 2013

WORKERS' Party (WP) chairman Sylvia Lim charged last night that town council management has become a political avenue to "trip up" the opposition, even at the expense of residents.

"It has gotten to the point that residents may become pawns for political gain or simply collateral damage," she said.

Speaking at the WP's second rally, she said she had encountered a few town council contracts that could be terminated if the composition of the council changed.

"Is the clause there - in case constituencies are lost by the PAP - to trip up the incoming opposition MPs?" asked Ms Lim, who chairs the WP-run Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (AHTC).

"And do they want to trip us up so much that they do not consider the possible disruptions and suffering inflicted on the residents?" she asked.

She raised as an example the termination of AHTC's computer software contract by IT company Action Information Management (Aim) after the 2011 General Election. Pulling the plug on AHTC's computer system was like "sending soldiers to battle but removing the ammo when they're in the field".

Operations would have ground to a halt if the WP had not drawn on its old Hougang Town Council system, she said. Aim, owned by the People's Action Party (PAP), bought the rights to the 14 PAP-run town councils' computer software in 2010.

The WP had raised the issue of the Aim sale last month to explain why it did not get a banding for corporate governance in a government report card on town councils. AHTC did not submit an auditor's report in time because it needed to change its computer system, said Ms Lim then.

She has since locked horns with Aim and the PAP town councils. They argued that extensions were readily granted to the WP who had asked for the termination in the first place - a point Ms Lim has disputed.

The saga has led to a government review of the Aim transaction as well as the "fundamental nature" of town councils.

Yesterday, Ms Lim argued the episode illustrated the importance of political competition in furthering public interest.

The Aim sale, for instance, surfaced only when AHTC took over from the PAP-run Aljunied Town Council after the WP won the GRC in 2011, she said.

Calling her AHTC experience "eye-opening", she noted that it was the first time an opposition party had been able to dig into documents showing how the PAP town councils have been managing Housing Board estates.

"While many of the systems and processes were sensible, there were other aspects that show how political town management had become," she said, adding that residents could become political pawns.

Ms Lim filed an adjournment motion to present the issue in Parliament but withdrew it after the review was announced. The WP felt it was in the public interest to wait for the review's outcome before taking up the matter further, she said, adding: "This episode illustrates the way WP works."

She also addressed criticism that the WP used the Aim issue as an excuse for its report card performance. Ms Lim said the WP had been "simply obsessed" with taking over the town council with minimal disruption since 2011, but felt it owed residents an explanation for the audit delay.

Key issue is WP's management of town council: PAP
DR TEO Ho Pin, the coordinating chairman of the People's Action Party (PAP) town councils, responded to Workers' Party chairman Sylvia Lim's rally speech during which she raised the Action Information Management (Aim) issue.

In a statement issued late last night, he said: "I have already explained the circumstances behind the transaction. To reiterate, these are the facts:
- Aim was awarded the contract after an open tender by PAP town councils, to centralise software to maintain the current IT system and help develop a new system.
- The transaction brought benefits and savings to the town councils. Aim did not make any financial gains from the transaction.
- It was the Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (AHTC) which terminated the contract, and not Aim.
Ms Lim herself has admitted that the AHTC's arrears are high, and that this has nothing to do with Aim or the changeover of the IT system, and that the AHTC could do better.

This is the key issue - the performance of the town councils, and how well they are managed by the WP."

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