Questions resurface about $22.5 million in 'missing' funds from Punggol East

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. PH
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

SINGAPORE - Questions surrounding $22.5 million in "missing" funds from Punggol East - the subject of heated exchanges during the General Election in 2015 - have resurfaced.

Workers' Party (WP) MP Png Eng Huat brought up the issue in a Facebook post on Thursday (Feb 15), after independent auditor KPMG said in its final report that the Aljunied Hougang Town Council had fixed all its financial and governance lapses.

Mr Png said the KPMG exercise had not shed light on the sum, indicating 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.

The issue first surfaced during the 2015 General Election.

During the campaigning period, WP chief Low Thia Khiang had said that Punggol East was in deficit when the WP took over the single-member constituency following the 2013 by-election.

Disputing this, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean had said that Pasir Ris-Punggol Town Council handed 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 election and won, had sent a letter to residents about the issue near the end of the campaigning period.

On Thursday, Mr Png said that the mystery over the sum will never be solved since an independent audit by KPMG - appointed in March 2016 to look into Aljunied-Hougang Town Council's (AHTC) books - had not shed light on the matter.

KPMG said in its final report issued on Thursday that the town council had fixed its financial and governance lapses. Referring to this, Mr Png said: "The final report speaks for itself."

He added that there had been $22.8 million to $26.3 million attributed to Punggol East sitting in the accounts of the WP-run town council in every financial statement since 2013.

The Pasir Ris-Punggol Town Council also had 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, adding: "He brushed off my question and said he had already explained. I did not recall there was an explanation given anyway."

When asked about the matter on Saturday, Mr Chong told The Straits Times that in 2015, the WP-run town council's financial statements were all qualified by their own auditors.

"Consequently, there were no reliable figures to adequately account for the moneys 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."