Expect changes to Town Council Act by end of the year: Lawrence Wong

Aljunied-Hougang Town Council at Block 701 Hougang Avenue 2.
Aljunied-Hougang Town Council at Block 701 Hougang Avenue 2.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Changes to the law on town councils to ensure public funds are managed properly can be expected by the end of the year, National Development Minister Lawrence Wong said on Sunday (July 24).

The amendments to the Town Councils Act will, among other things, ensure that town councils have a "proper governance structure", he told reporters after a ministerial visit to Kebun Baru ward in Nee Soon GRC.

The changes have been in the works for several years.

Mr Wong was responding to reporters' queries on what his ministry was doing after a report on Workers' Party-run Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (AHTC) by independent auditor KPMG last week flagged "pervasive" control failures in AHTC's accounts and processes.

 

These lapses over the past five years spanned the areas of governance, financial control, financial reporting, procurement and records management.

 

Mr Wong said the latest findings "give us an impetus" to ensure that the act is amended soon.

"The legislative changes are already being studied and are being finalised and we hope to make them by the end of the year," he added.

The Government had previously said the law on town councils was being reviewed, including last year when a special audit by the Auditor-General highlighted major problems in the accounts of the WP's town council, which was also not forthcoming with information.

Currently, MND has no power to compel town councils to submit information and there are no penalties if a town council refuses to do so.

On Saturday, Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam criticised WP leaders for not showing integrity in managing their town council's finances and fixing lapses.

In a strongly-worded Facebook post, he urged its six elected MPs to come clean on millions in irregular payments in its "dark corners", which KPMG had flagged.

Mr Wong said the auditor's findings were "a very serious matter" and he awaited AHTC's response.

Some of the lapses "pertain to the culture of management, which has to change", he added.

"This is not the end of KPMG's findings because there are still more studies and reviews to be done, including the issue of past payments and whether they have been made properly," he said.

"These are all findings and requirements the Court has ordered and these are audit findings made independently."

"Their work is still ongoing but clearly there are very serious lapses surfacing, and we will continue to await further recommendations from the auditor and we will monitor the matter very closely."