THE High Court is not the right authority to settle disputes between the National Development Ministry (MND) and a town council, lawyers for the Workers' Party (WP)-run town council said yesterday.
This is because the Town Council Act allows the National Development Minister to set conditions for the use of disbursed funds, said Mr Peter Low, representing Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC).
This means it is unnecessary for the MND to ask the court to appoint independent accountants to oversee government grants given to AHPETC, he added.
Also, National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan told Parliament in February that the Act would be given more bite, with a system of enforcement and penalties, he noted.
These proposed amendments would give the MND more power, and eliminate the need for the ministry to seek authority from the court, Mr Low said.
Even if someone were to seek redress in the courts, he argued that the Act allowed only the Housing Board or a resident living in an area under the town council's purview to do so.
Justice Quentin Loh asked Mr Low if he read the Act to mean that residents, faced with a breakdown in services, would have "to live with it until the next election" if the town council did nothing.
Responding, Mr Low said: "Yes, unless they can invoke some other legislation or power."
AHPETC also characterised the case as a "political dispute".
In arguing against the MND's bid to have independent accountants appointed, it said in a document: "The High Court should also not intervene in the political dispute between the People's Action Party and the WP concerning alleged mismanagement of monies of AHPETC arising out of the report of the Auditor-General."
Yesterday, Mr Low referred to ministerial speeches which he said were government pledges to stay out of town councils' affairs.
He cited a 1988 parliamentary speech by then National Development Minister S. Dhanabalan saying that the Government would not bail out a town council even if "a bunch of crooks" emptied its coffers.
And he noted that Mr Khaw told Parliament in February about a "light-touch approach to regulation and enforcement" when it comes to town councils.
Mr Low said these showed "Parliament intended to give elected MPs and town councillors as much latitude as possible to run town councils".
CHONG ZI LIANG