Town councils should be run by centralised agencies: NSP

National Solidarity Party's secretary-general Tan Lam Siong has called for a centralised agency to run all town councils in Singapore to help ensure a "seamless continuation of all services" after elections. -- PHOTO: TAN LAM SIONG
National Solidarity Party's secretary-general Tan Lam Siong has called for a centralised agency to run all town councils in Singapore to help ensure a "seamless continuation of all services" after elections. -- PHOTO: TAN LAM SIONG

SINGAPORE - Opposition party National Solidarity Party (NSP) has called for a centralised agency to run all town councils in Singapore.

Doing so would ensure a "seamless continuation of all services" if elected MPs, who are also town councillors, change after an election, said NSP's newly elected secretary-general Tan Lam Siong in a statement on Tuesday.

It would also result in lower service and conservancy fees because a centralised body can tap on more economies of scale, he added.

Responding to an argument brought up during last week's Parliament debate that how well a political party manages a town council is a test for whether it can form a government, Mr Tan said there was "no empirical basis" for this.

"Any suggestion of a correlation would imply that the best people to govern the country are town planners and estate managers, which cannot be true," he said.

Citing the example of Singapore's pioneer leaders, who were "fully capable of governing the country" without managing a body like the town council," he added that a good government depends on "an efficient and politically neutral civil service."

In the same way, "a good town councillor depends on having a good non-partisan managing agent."

The NSP's statement follows Workers' Party (WP) chief Low Thia Khiang's call for the Government to "depoliticise" the transition process of a town council's management from one political party to another, during a debate in Parliament last week.

The debate centred on the Auditor-General's Office recent audit report on the WP-run Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC), which found five major lapses.

Prior to the Town Councils Act of 1989, the Housing Board had direct control over the running of housing estates. A review of the act is undergoing, with stiffer laws to hold those responsible for managing a town council to proper account a likely outcome.

In his statement, the NSP's Mr Tan also raised concern over the National Development Ministry's decision to withhold $7 million in grants from AHPETC until it sets its house in order.

While the Government has said that it is prepared to consider paying out the grant in full, or at least half of it, if it receives assurance that the money will be used properly, Mr Tan said he hoped that residents would not be unfairly penalised for the AGO's report. Grants should continue to be disbursed to pay for essential services, he said.

He added that an MP's fundamental duty is to represent his constituents in Parliament. Calls to impose penalties on those who mismanage town councils may undermine "their primary role as MPs", he said.