Issue of Punggol East's 'missing' $22.5m resurfaces

The issue of the "missing" funds first surfaced during the 2015 General Election, after Workers' Party chief Low Thia Khiang said that Punggol East was in deficit when the WP took over the single-member constituency following the 2013 by-election.
The issue of the "missing" funds first surfaced during the 2015 General Election, after Workers' Party chief Low Thia Khiang said that Punggol East was in deficit when the WP took over the single-member constituency following the 2013 by-election. PHOTO: ST FILE

WP MP says audit showed no missing money; PAP MP says no reliable way to account for funds

Questions surrounding $22.5 million in "missing" funds from Punggol East have resurfaced after they were first raised during the General Election in 2015.

Last Thursday, Workers' Party (WP) MP Png Eng Huat brought up the issue in a Facebook post, after independent auditor KPMG said in its final report issued on the same day that the Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (AHTC) had fixed all its financial and governance lapses.

Mr Png said the KPMG exercise indicated there was "no such missing money" in the first place.

In response, People's Action Party (PAP) MP Charles Chong maintained on Saturday that there was no reliable way to ascertain what happened to the money because the WP had not submitted clean accounts when Punggol East came under its Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council from 2013 to 2015.

During the 2015 General Election campaign, WP chief Low Thia Khiang said Punggol East was in deficit when the WP took over the single-member constituency following the 2013 by-election. Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean disputed this, saying that Pasir Ris-Punggol Town Council had handed over more than $22.5 million in cash to the WP-run town council, which was now unaccounted for.

Mr Chong, who stood in Punggol East during the 2015 elections and won, had also sent a letter to residents about the issue.

Last Thursday, Mr Png said an independent audit by KPMG - appointed in March 2016 to look into the AHTC books - did not shed light on the matter. Mr Png added that there had been $22.8 million to $26.3 million attributed to Punggol East sitting in the accounts in every financial statement since 2013.

And he said after Punggol East came under the Pasir Ris-Punggol Town Council, the town council submitted an unqualified financial statement for the 2016/2017 financial year, which "means there was no such missing money else the accounts would be qualified".

Mr Png, who is MP for Hougang and vice-chairman of AHTC, said he had tried to ask Mr Chong about the $22.5 million in 2015. "He brushed off my question and said he had already explained. I did not recall there was an explanation given."

On Saturday, Mr Chong told The Straits Times that in 2015, the WP-run town council's financial statements were all qualified by its own auditors. "Consequently, there were no reliable figures to adequately account for the monies that were transferred to them by Pasir Ris-Punggol Town Council after the by-election in 2013," he added.

He also referred to an ongoing court case brought by AHTC against several of its town councillors over $33 million in improper payments. AHTC was directed to sue by an independent panel appointed to help recover the money.

Said Mr Chong: "Key office holders of AHTC will still have to account for more than $33 million spent by AHPETC and to recover any amounts overpaid when the suit brought by the independent panel on behalf of AHTC comes up in court later this year."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 19, 2018, with the headline 'Issue of Punggol East's 'missing' $22.5m resurfaces'. Print Edition | Subscribe