Sunday 14 June 2015

Handling of Workers' Party town council saga speaks volumes of dishonesty: Lawrence Wong

THE Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC) last Saturday ("Town council saga: Workers' Party replies") took issue with my commentary ("WP town council saga: Why lapses cannot be swept under the carpet"; June 5).

But my commentary was drawn from key findings of the court. There is no reason why the AHPETC should find it "surprising and puzzling", especially since its chairman Sylvia Lim has said that it "respects the court's decision".

Indeed, AHPETC's letter further underlines the court's finding that Ms Lim had suppressed facts to leave a false impression.

First, the letter blandly asserts that AHPETC had done the necessary transfers to the sinking fund up to financial year (FY) 13/14.

This is precisely what the court took issue with: That Ms Lim had claimed in Parliament that AHPETC had made sinking fund payments for FY14/15, when, in fact, payments were outstanding.

Second, while the letter says "town councils need to have their audited reports presented to Parliament for public scrutiny", it suppresses mention that all AHPETC accounts submitted so far have been late and heavily qualified by their own auditors.

Third, AHPETC shifts the blame to the Ministry of National Development (MND) for withholding $14 million in grants.

But AHPETC is disingenuous in not admitting that it is the only town council with qualified accounts.

The Auditor-General's report found that the AHPETC's accounts cannot be relied upon, and that there can be "no assurance that... public funds are properly spent, accounted for and managed".

Under such circumstances, it would be irresponsible for MND to disburse the grants to AHPETC without safeguards.

Furthermore, as the court noted, "MND was willing to consider releasing half of the FY14/15 grants-in-aid, subject to conditions".

"However, AHPETC never accepted this offer. If AHPETC has anyone to blame for failing to make the transfers on time, it was itself."

Fourth, AHPETC's letter suggests that its officers are not guilty of any illegal acts, since no one has been charged.

But it fails to mention the court finding that if similar lapses were committed by people managing a private building or condominium, or officers running a public-listed company, there would be civil, or even criminal, action against them.

The Workers' Party's handling of this saga speaks volumes of its dishonesty. Faced with tough questions, it always ducks.

It is, therefore, no surprise that the court found Ms Lim guilty of suppressio veri, suggestio falsi, which, in legal terms, amounts to fraud.

Lawrence Wong
Minister for Culture, Community and Youth
Second Minister for Communications and Information
ST Forum, 13 Jun 2015

Town council saga: Workers' Party replies

THE Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC) finds Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong's accusations surprising and puzzling ("WP town council saga: Why lapses cannot be swept under the carpet"; yesterday).

We would like to make the following clarifications to correct the misconceptions.

What the High Court recently had to decide were mainly legal questions, that is, whether the court had the power to entertain the Ministry of National Development's (MND) request for the court to appoint and authorise independent accountants to
- co-sign cheques for the disbursement of the Financial Year (FY) 2014/15 and FY2015/16 $14 million town council grants which the MND had withheld; and
- to look into AHPETC's past transactions.
The High Court accepted the arguments of AHPETC's lawyers that there were no legal bases whatsoever for the MND's request, and accordingly, threw out the Government's entire case.

There was no trial and the High Court did not itself embark on a dedicated fact-finding exercise.

However, in the course of delivering the judgment, the High Court expressed views on AHPETC's lapses, but the views were based, principally, on the findings of the Auditor-General's Office (AGO) report.

A special two-day sitting of Parliament was convened to debate the AGO report.

All Workers' Party Members of Parliament (MPs) who are responsible for overseeing the management of the town council, including secretary-general Low Thia Khiang, participated in the debate to explain and clarify matters raised.

Party and town council chairman Sylvia Lim denies that she lied to Parliament.

Parliament has avenues such as the Committee of Privileges to ensure that MPs' conduct meets the standards expected.

Just because AHPETC did not physically transfer monies into sinking funds from its operating funds does not mean that monies are missing.

Up to FY2013/14, AHPETC has done the necessary transfers.

If the MND continues to withhold the grants from AHPETC that every town council should receive, AHPETC will not be able to fulfil its obligations to make the necessary sinking fund transfers.

AHPETC does not understand the basis for Mr Wong to accuse AHPETC or the Workers' Party of "dishonesty" or "irresponsible" behaviour.

All town councils are required to be audited, and the audit reports are presented to Parliament for public scrutiny.

Whether AHPETC's contractors are delivering services or not, and the standard of their work, is a matter that residents can assess for themselves.

When town councils engage contractors, they are required to comply with rules on the calling of public tenders.

If any town council staff has committed any illegal act or corrupt practice, he will have to face the full consequences of the law.

Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council spokesman
ST Forum, 6 Jun 2015

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