Parliament: Town Councils Act spelling out higher governance standards passed

The new laws are meant to clarify town councils’ roles, improve governance and strengthen financial management, as well as give the Ministry of National Development more regulatory oversight.
The new laws are meant to clarify town councils’ roles, improve governance and strengthen financial management, as well as give the Ministry of National Development more regulatory oversight.ST PHOTO: LIM SIN THAI

SINGAPORE - It will soon be an offence for town councils to not record conflicts of interest and submit their financial accounts on time.

These new regulations are part of wide-ranging changes to the law governing town councils that were passed in Parliament on Friday (March 10) after a three hour-long debate.

For starters, the amendments to Town Councils Act will require town councillors and employees, town council committee members, or anyone delegated with town council responsibilities to declare any conflicts of interest.

The town council secretary will also be required by law to keep a register of these disclosures.

Town councils will also have to submit audited financial reports within six months of the financial year ending, and may also be required to submit financial projections.

Senior Minister of State for National Development Desmond Lee told the House in a speech that these changes would boost "transparency and public accountability".

Mr Lee also said the new laws are meant to clarify the town councils' roles, improve governance and strengthen financial management, as well as give the Ministry of National Development (MND) greater regulatory oversight.

One key change will give the MND powers to conduct regular checks on the financial health of town councils and look into suspected irregularities.

The MND will be able to appoint inspectors, who could be public officers or professionals, to conduct investigations into suspected irregularities.

"While the Bill has introduced stronger enforcement powers to investigate and require town councils to take specific remedial actions, they will generally be exercised when a town council is uncooperative or recalcitrant, refusing to correct irregularities despite due and fair notice," said Mr Lee.

He also pointed out that before the changes were passed, MND lacked the "regulatory levers" to intervene if rules were flouted.

For instance, MND has no power to compel town councils to give information on their finances, and there are no penalties if a town council refuses to do so.

Mr Lee added that the amendments to the law seeks both to preserve the autonomy and latitude of town councils, while protecting residents' interests and public funds.

A total of 14 MPs spoke during the debate, with all nine Workers' Party (WP) MPs present voting against the Bill at the end of the debate.

The opposition members took issue with the change that allows the MND to appoint inspectors to conduct investigations into suspected irregularities in a town council.