Singapore Budget 2015: Maliki, WP's Pritam spar over upgrading work in opposition wards

SINGAPORE - Minister of State for National Development Maliki Osman on Wednesday rejected suggestions by Workers' Party MP Pritam Singh (Aljunied GRC) that grassroots groups were slow to push for upgrading programmes in opposition wards.

Dr Maliki said the Ministry of National Development (MND) has been fair to the WP-run Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC) and has treated it no differently from other town councils.

The Citizens' Consultative Committees (CCC) - grassroots bodies appointed by the Government - had worked with the WP town council to identify upgrading projects under the Community Improvement Projects Committee (CIPC) programme, he said.

Eventually, a list of 17 projects was finalised, of which 12 were proposed by AHPETC.

Mr Singh had sought to give his version of events in Parliament, saying on Tuesday that CCCs had been slow in working with his town council to secure funding from the ministry.

AHPETC initiated contact with the CCCs in May 2012 about CIPC funding, but after a series of correspondence "there has been no substantive update from the CCCs", Mr Singh said.

But Dr Maliki replied today that the CCCs have to raise funds for the proposals and "need a bit more time to implement the projects".

"I don't know why Mr Singh would now turn around, blame the CCCs for tardiness, and unfairly paint them in such a negative light in the eyes of the public, when the CCCs took the time and trouble to seek, go through and as it is clear, gave significant consideration to the town council's proposals and were prepared to support many of them?" Dr Maliki added.

In response, Mr Singh said that "the CCC can work much faster as shown by the previous town council management", adding that $12 million was allocated to the CCC through the ministry between 2009 and 2011 but "nothing has been allocated to AHPTEC since 2012".

However, Dr Maliki said that CIPC funds were disbursed through CCCs and so "it is therefore incorrect for Mr Singh to say that MND had previously given CIPC funding to the former Aljunied town council, but withdrew it from AHPETC".

In his speech, Dr Maliki also said that AHPETC was given six Home Improvement Programmes and three Neighbourhood Renewal Programmes over a two-year period from 2012 to 2013. "This is comparable to the number of projects received by other town councils", he said.

But, "when it comes to exerting its autonomy even against prevailing HDB policies, it is the AHPETC that has been especially aggressive and often with total disregard to such national policies," he said.

To back up his point, Dr Maliki cited an example where "AHPETC had unilaterally cut the works at Serangoon North Avenue 1 and Avenue 2" because the town council's cost overran and exceeded the approved budget.

"As a result, residents will no longer get shelters over the basketball court at the Family Park and the Community Plaza, which were committed earlier.

"The local grassroots informed HDB that residents had the impression that the items were cut by HDB because AHPETC was run by the opposition. Again this is a mischievous distortion," Dr Maliki said.

Responding, WP chairman Sylvia Lim (Aljunied GRC) said that the consultants for the Serangoon project were appointed before the party took over the constituency.

"So the architects and other consultants were actually in a sense passed over from the previous town council management to work with us," she said, adding that the project's management fee was 3.5 per cent, which "is within market norm".

Dr Maliki also had an exchange with Mr Singh on the allocation of upgrading projects within the opposition-controlled constituencies. He said that AHPETC had given "the bulk of the projects to Hougang SMC, although Aljunied GRC has more eligible projects".

"Nonetheless, that is of course a call the MPs are entitled to make," he noted.

But Mr Singh said that in total, three precincts in Hougang and 20 in Aljunied had been nominated for the different upgrading programmes. He added that the reason why more Hougang precincts were nominated in earlier years was because "Hougang wasn't given any main upgrading or interim upgrading projects prior to 2011".

ziliang@sph.com.sg