I refer to the article published in the Straits Times and Lian He Zao Bao on 10th December 2014 written by Mr Lawrence Wong, Minister for Culture Community and Youth.
In his article, Minister Wong repeated the same tune of his party colleagues about Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC) allegedly not releasing information on its financial matters. He also raised doubts about some statements attributed to me as AHPETC Chairman on the arrears situation and reporting of arrears to the Ministry of National Development (MND).
Let me clarify the matter.
Minister Wong may have not known that the TC had explained to MND its challenge in submitting arrears data in MND’s format from mid-2013. I had explained that while the IT system being used at AHPETC could churn out arrears reports, manual counting and sorting was required to get the information into the format required by the MND. I had also informed MND that AHPETC had requested its software developers to enhance the system to churn out the reports in the required format, but this was work in progress. MND had been informed that AHPETC’s Finance Team and its software developers had been involved in (two consecutive) audits, first by the TC’s own auditors (commencing mid 2013) and then by the Auditor-General (commencing March 2014), and that this had led to a deferment of reporting requests, including MND’s request for arrears data in its prescribed format. I had concurrently offered to submit to MND the arrears data the TC had as it was, but this was rejected by MND.
Minister Wong asked the same questions as his colleagues about AHPETC having stopped submitting monthly arrears 10 months before the AGO audit began. He may have been under a mistaken impression due to mass media reports.
When the mass media interviewed me on 10 November 2014 on the MND’s Town Council Management Review (TCMR) results for Financial Year 2013, I was asked about the circumstances leading to AHPETC’s non-submission of two sets of documents – the TC’s audited financial statements for FY 13 as well as the arrears reports. I had told the media that the audit for FY 13 could not reasonably commence while the Auditor-General’s Office (AGO) special audit was still in progress; as for the arrears reports, I told them that the finance team had been tied up with audits by our commercial auditors for FY 12 and then by the AGO.
Unfortunately, my responses to the two matters were conflated in certain media reports. At no time did I say that focusing on the AGO audit was the sole cause of the delay in submission of the arrears data to MND. In any case, MND should have known this from my earlier correspondence.
Due Diligence into Arrears Situation and Arrears Data
Minister Wong further wrote that “when pressed recently, Ms Lim said that she was looking into the matter and would release her findings in due time. That was the same answer she gave two years ago, when the arrears issues were first flagged”.
It was unfortunate that Minister Wong has chosen to generalize the issue in a different context. He referred to my statement in 2012 that AHPETC would be looking into the arrears situation and my recent statement that AHPETC would verify the arrears data.
Minister Wong impliedly wondered whether anything had been done to recover arrears since 2012. As residents will attest, AHPETC has been following up on households in arrears by issuing reminders for payment and engaging law firms to proceed with court actions where other steps have failed. Residents in financial difficulties have also been placed on instalment plans. As for the 2013 S&CC arrears figures recently highlighted by MND, we have made public several times that we are looking into the arrears data, and will respond to the query on the financial and arrears situation in due course.
Transparency and Accountability Accusation – A Non-Starter
Finally, I refer to Minister Wong’s “queasiness” about whether AHPETC and indeed the Workers’ Party (WP) is deliberately trying to avoid answering questions about the TC’s financial management and situation, and hence was not transparent and failed to account to the residents.
I thank the PAP ministers for repeatedly reminding Singaporeans of the issues that are close to our heart.
First, the public can expect that the PAP will be the first to hold WP to account.
Secondly, the PAP government has all the investigative arms within its disposal to hold WP to account on any matter under the sun.
Thirdly, AHPETC has been facilitating the special audit by the AGO, and like all Town Councils, AHPETC will have to have its annual accounts audited by firms approved by the MND. We trust that the government will duly make public the AGO audit findings; the AHPETC’s annual audited accounts will also have to made public when audit is completed. I believe that once the audited information is available, more productive discussions can be entered into.
In the meantime, I urge Minister Wong not to confuse or alarm the public by speculating on whether the S&CC arrears situation has worsened or whether AHPETC is facing “bigger problems”.
ALJUNIED-HOUGANG-PUNGGOL EAST TOWN COUNCIL