Friday 12 June 2015

WP to run its own town council after tender draws no bids

By Rachel Au-Yong, The Straits Times, 11 Jun 2015

THE Workers' Party (WP) will run its own town council from next month, after failing to find a managing agent to do the job, said its chairman Sylvia Lim.

A three-week tender the town council held last November did not attract a single bid, even from its current managing agent, FM Solutions and Services (FMSS).

The Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC) is now looking to hire finance staff, property officers and call centre staff, as seen in posters displayed recently in its estates.

Ms Lim, who is also AHPETC's chairman, informed residents of the town council's plan to go solo in a 15-page flier in four languages distributed yesterday.

In the flier, she denied charges that AHPETC had awarded managing agent contracts to "friends" - a reference to the fact that some of the town council's senior officers had stakes in FMSS.

This potential conflict of interest had been flagged, among other accounting and governance lapses, in a special audit report on the town council released by the Auditor-General's Office earlier this year. The report's findings led to a parliamentary debate in February over the lapses.

But Ms Lim said AHPETC called public tenders for a managing agent from 2012 onwards.

It failed to do so in 2011 because "urgent taking-over work was needed" after WP won at the polls, which was why FMSS was given a one-year managing agent contract without competition.

Ms Lim also used the flier to rebut allegations that the town council had overpaid FMSS.

In the February debate, Minister for Law and Foreign Affairs K. Shanmugam noted that AHPETC had the highest managing agent rates across all town councils and estimated that it had overpaid FMSS $6.4 million over four years, based on a weighted average of the rates paid by other town councils last year.

But Ms Lim said taking last year's average rates was "not a good way to judge the fairness of the rates". For one thing, four town councils run by the People's Action Party (PAP) saw a "drastic" drop in their rates last year, even though the managing agent remained the same, she said. The move by these town councils, which included East Coast and Pasir-Ris Punggol (see table), dragged down the average.

And going by the average rates, some PAP-run town councils with higher rates - such as Tanjong Pagar and Sembawang - would also be deemed to be overpaying their managing agents, she added.

Ms Lim said AHPETC had largely based its rates on those previously charged by the former PAP-run Aljunied Town Council.

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