Workers’ Party rally

Sylvia Lim seeks to debunk 'myths' about AHPETC

AHPETC and WP chairman Sylvia Lim speaking at the party's rally last night. She said the town council is not in financial difficulties and is more than capable of fulfilling residents' needs.
AHPETC and WP chairman Sylvia Lim speaking at the party's rally last night. She said the town council is not in financial difficulties and is more than capable of fulfilling residents' needs. ST PHOTO: YEO KAI WEN

Workers' Party chairman Sylvia Lim used her first rally speech yesterday to debunk four myths that she said the People's Action Party (PAP) has been spreading about her party's town council.

Contrary to what the PAP has said, the Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC) is not in financial difficulties and is more than capable of fulfilling residents' needs, she said.

Ms Lim was speaking at the WP's first rally for the Sept 11 polls. Taking to the stage as the night's last speaker, she declared: "Yes, I am the chairman and I am proud of it."

In the last four years, the town council she chaired has hogged media headlines, she said, but much of what was being said was untrue.

For one thing, Ms Lim said, the town council is not in financial difficulties and can well sustain its services. After having incurred "significant but necessary" expenses in its initial years, it has turned things around by raising revenue and using contestable energy in its estates, she added.

And while the town council's latest audited accounts for financial year 2014/2015 shows it closed the year with a deficit, she added, this is because the Ministry of National Development (MND) had withheld grants. Factor in the $7.2 million grants, and the town council would have had an operating surplus of $1.7 million, she said. "Going forward, we are confident the financial position of AHPETC will continue to improve," she added.

Taking aim at three other claims, Ms Lim stressed her party did not use its town council to enrich "friends". She was referring to FM Solutions and Services (FMSS), the town council's managing agent from 2011 until July this year. The company is said to be owned by WP supporters.

Ms Lim said the town council had not reserved contracts for the company or allowed the company's owners to sign cheques to themselves. Neither did it overpay the company when it was the town council's managing agent, she added.

The owners of FMSS were also key officers of AHPETC, and the Auditor-General's Office (AGO) had flagged third-party transactions that involved them as serious lapses.

But Ms Lim said all cheques made out to the company were countersigned by her, or AHPETC vice-chairmen Pritam Singh and Png Eng Huat. She added that she had refused to sign the cheques on some occasions.On the issue of overpayment, Ms Lim said: "This allegation was not made by the AGO or auditors. It is the mantra of the PAP and MND."

The managing agent contract from 2012 to 2015 was reviewed by three auditors, all of whom found it was proper, she added.

She also referred to MND's recent assertions that FMSS had been "grossly profiteering", saying: "How much profit is too much?"

She said she received two letters from MND over the issue, sent on Saturday and Sunday, and asked rhetorically: "I thought the civil service only works a five-day week?"

Repeating the charge that the civil service was being used by the Government to attack the opposition, she called on voters to curb this.

Ms Lim said the ruling party had scrutinised and harped on the town council's financial management, because it was the one area in which the WP had "some difficulties".

"The PAP is trying to make it painful for other political parties to succeed in town council management. Is this the behaviour we expect of a First World government?" she said.

Another speaker at the rally, Mr Png, also hit out at the Government for spreading falsehoods about the town council. He said National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan was quoted in a news report saying AHPETC was finally in the black after it severed ties with FMSS.

He charged that it was not true, and said AHPETC had turned things around on its own merit, when FMSS was still its managing agent. Mr Png said the PAP had also been "baying for blood" when it said money from Aljunied had been used to cover up the deficit in Hougang.

This was not true, he said, adding that the PAP "conveniently left out" the fact that Hougang Town Council had a surplus in 2011, when it merged with Aljunied Town Council.

At the rally was Hougang resident Judith Loh, 35. She said of AHPETC: "There is definitely room for improvement, especially on how funds are used... I think my main concern is not whether we can have more opposition MPs in Parliament, but whether they can do their jobs."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 03, 2015, with the headline 'Sylvia Lim seeks to debunk 'myths' about AHPETC'. Print Edition | Subscribe