Do away with 'double-hatting' practice in town councils

Running a town council can be daunting, even for an experienced team ("Overlapping roles can be efficient but safeguards needed", Dec 31, 2016; and "AMK Town Council general manager under CPIB probe", Dec 30, 2016).

However, the practice of "double-hatting" - having town council officers who also work for the estate's managing agents - is certainly not a good way to ease the operations of the town council, especially when senior staff involved have substantial conflicts of interest.

Since public monies are involved, any suggestion of such a conflict must be avoided.

While making a declaration of such a conflict of interest is a start, it is no guarantee that this issue will be well managed.

Constant monitoring of such conflicts is necessary and this can be time-consuming, and lapses may still occur.

Even if offences are later discovered, it might already be too late to recover any lost public funds.

Again, it is more prudent to avoid having such double-hatting staff in the first place.

It may also be a good idea for the Government to set up an agency that can take over the operations of all town councils.

This "public works" agency will then be in a good position to maintain sound governance.

At the same time, it will be in a strong bargaining position to make more economical use of public funds, either by running operations itself or by subsequently contracting out work to maintenance companies.

Daniel Ng Peng Keat (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 09, 2017, with the headline 'Do away with 'double-hatting' practice in town councils'. Print Edition | Subscribe