MPs welcome more clarity on a town council's role

Ang Mo Kio Town Council vice-chairman Darryl David, said requiring town councils to set aside a fund dedicated to replacing lifts and lift parts signals how important this particular function is to town councils.
Ang Mo Kio Town Council vice-chairman Darryl David, said requiring town councils to set aside a fund dedicated to replacing lifts and lift parts signals how important this particular function is to town councils. PHOTO: BERITA HARIAN

Members of Parliament and observers yesterday said changes proposed to the laws governing town councils will give more clarity to what role a town council plays, and what it should focus on.

They added that this will benefit all town councils and those running them, as they will have a better idea of what needs to be prioritised and what should be avoided.

National University of Singapore real estate professor Yu Shi Ming said: "It's about making it clear once and for all what the town council's role is."

Citing two of the changes - one that requires town councils to ring-fence part of their sinking fund to replace lifts and other critical lift parts, and another that prohibits town councils from engaging in financial activities such as running commercial fairs - he said: "It highlights what's important like lift replacement, and what's not, like making profits, which could be a conflict of interest."

The Ministry of National Development (MND) is proposing 12 amendments to the Town Councils Act. Among the proposed changes are some that will give the ministry more regulatory oversight, and some that aim to clarify the roles of town councils, improve governance and strengthen financial management.

 

MPs interviewed, such as Ang Mo Kio Town Council vice-chairman Darryl David, said requiring town councils to set aside a fund dedicated to replacing lifts and lift parts signals how important this particular function is to town councils.

Marine Parade Town Council chairman Lim Biow Chuan said it makes explicit that the responsibility for replacing lifts falls on the town councils, as is the case in private estates.

Other proposed changes will make clear when a town council member or employee is deemed to have a conflict of interest, and also require town councils to inform residents and the MND of its key appointments.

"I think these are good moves to minimise potential conflict of interest and they are necessary to improve the governance structure, said Nanyang Technological University accounting professor El'fred Boo.

Another proposed change will put in place penalties for town councils that withhold information from the MND or fail to submit audited financial reports.

Tampines Town Council chairman Baey Yam Keng said: "The proposed changes are to give the Government more authority to demand or require information from town councils... Ultimately, these are all in the interest of the public, because while they can technically bring the town council to court, it is not so easy for them to do so."

In response to queries from The Straits Times, the Workers' Party- run Aljunied-Hougang Town Council said it would go through the MND's proposals, adding that its MPs will debate the amendments in Parliament.

Members of the public can give their feedback until Nov 17.

Details about the proposed amendments are available on the Reach website at https://www. reach.gov.sg

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 19, 2016, with the headline 'MPs welcome more clarity on a town council's role'. Print Edition | Subscribe