SINGAPORE - Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean yesterday (Sept 6) rebutted Workers' Party (WP) chief Low Thia Khiang's claim that Punggol East suffered a deficit of more then $280,000 in April 2013, before the estate was transferred to the WP's town council.
The facts show that Pasir Ris-Punggol Town Council had handed over $22.5 million in cash to the Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC), Mr Teo told reporters.
"Fully accounted for. At that point, they raised no issues, so we are very surprised that these issues have suddenly come up," he said.
Mr Low had, at a WP rally in Punggol Field last Saturday night (Sept 5), held up a printed page of the Pasir Ris-Punggol Town Council's accounts and accused the People's Action Party (PAP) of misleading voters by saying the ward had a surplus when handed over to the WP town council.
WP won Punggol East SMC in a 2013 by-election, after which the ward came under the Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council.
Sept 4: Workers' Party (WP) bosses Low Thia Khiang and Sylvia Lim say they are done talking about the Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC) saga, following weeks of verbal sparring with People's Action Party (PAP) ministers and backbenchers.
"We have already answered all the questions they raised but the PAP is going in circles, and I think it's unproductive to continue," said Mr Low during a visit to Chong Pang ward.
Ms Lim, who was in Fengshan, said: "This issue on town council lapses versus People's Association lapses - if people keep going on and on about it, it could sound like a broken record."
Sept 5: "So we've made our points. I think the voters are clear-eyed, they know what this is about. They can make up their minds. I think we can leave it to them," said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, referring to the AHPETC saga during a press conference.
Many had thought it would be the end of the issue but, in a surprise twist, Mr Low raised it again while speaking during a rally at Punggol Field later that evening.
Holding up a printout of the Punggol East town council accounts dated April 30, 2013 - when it merged with the Aljunied-Hougang Town Council after the by-election earlier that same year, Mr Low accused the PAP of misrepresenting the facts and misleading voters. "It was the bully that cried foul first. They are bullies. It is a deficit of $280,000 and not a surplus. You all have to get this clear," he said.
Sept 6: A PAP candidate in Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC, Mr Zainal Sapari, issues a quick clarification in a Facebook post. He said: "At the hand-over to AHPETC on April 30, 2013, although there was a deficit in the accumulated routine fund of $282,009, the same set of accounts also showed an amount of $303,372 claimable as reimbursement from the (Community Improvement Projects Committee) fund, which PRPGTC (Pasir Ris-Punggol Town Council) had already secured for Punggol East SMC.
"This was made known by PRPGTC to AHPETC at the point of takeover of Punggol East's accounts and monies, which would give an actual net surplus of $21,363."
The Punggol East ward was under the PRPGTC before the WP won it during a by-election in 2013.
At a separate walkabout at Rivervale Plaza, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said: "Mr Low very dramatically showed one page of the accounts. There are 20-over pages in the accounts... We were very careful to hand over everything that was due to our residents here, because my residents, our residents before, we wanted to do right by them. We handed $22.5 million in cash to the town council, from Pasir Ris-Punggol Town Council to Punggol East residents through the AHPETC."
But DPM Teo, who leads the PAP team in Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC, said Mr Low was giving only part of the picture. "Mr Low very dramatically showed one page of the accounts. There are 20-over pages in the accounts, so we should really look at the whole set of accounts... We were very careful to hand over everything that was due to our residents here. We wanted to do right by them," he said.
The real issue at hand, DPM Teo added, was the fact that after these accounts were handed over, AHPETC had never submitted an unqualified set of accounts.
"The question for AHPETC is: You haven't been able to account for these monies in three, four years of operation.
"Even up till today, the accounts have been qualified, and we don't fully understand what's happened to all our money," Mr Teo added.
Several ministers have also raised questions over governance lapses in AHPETC, after a report by the Auditor-General's Office in February flagged these lapses.
The $22.5 million handed over to AHPETC in 2013 was listed as part of the transfer of assets and liabilities from Pasir Ris-Punggol Town Council. The amount includes sinking funds and project funds.
Pasir Ris-Punggol Town Council chairman Zainal Sapari also rebutted Mr Low's allegations in a Facebook post. He wrote: "The truth is that the financial position was in surplus and Punggol East SMC was in good financial health when the whole set of accounts handed over to AHPETC is read together."
Mr Zainal noted that as at March 31, 2012, the last full-year audited accounts before the by-election, there was an accumulated routine fund surplus of $804,945 for Punggol East SMC. Also, if there is a change of party, the law requires that 100 per cent of this routine fund surplus be transferred to the sinking fund with the exception of town improvement projects committed to at that point.
Therefore, $782,563 was set aside from the routine fund surplus for committed town improvement projects, and the balance was transferred to the sinking fund.
Mr Zainal also said that at the handover to AHPETC on April 30, 2013, there was a deficit in the accumulated routine fund of $282,009.
However, the same set of accounts also showed an amount of $303,372 claimable as reimbursement from the Community Improvement Projects Committee fund, which had already been secured for Punggol East SMC.
This was made known to AHPETC "at the point of takeover of Punggol East's accounts and monies, which would give an actual net surplus of $21,363", he added.
Mr Teo, who was on a walkabout with PAP candidate for Punggol East Charles Chong, also said that WP's Mr Low had previously said his then Hougang Town Council accounts were fine, despite their auditors expressing grave concern about whether they were able to continue operating in the manner they had.
"The point here really is this: For Punggol East, we looked after our residents well, handed over all the accounts fully, everything was there, every cent was accounted for," he added.