Workers' Party NCMP says he did not evade questions about town council

SINGAPORE - Worker's Party (WP) Non-constituency Member of Parliament Yee Jenn Jong has sought to show that his party was not evasive towards the public about the lapses uncovered in its town council.

In particular, he said, he did not intentionally avoid answering questions about the town council during two encounters that were shared in Parliament.

Education Minister Heng Swee Keat had brought them up on Friday as examples that showed the WP's lack of transparency, during a debate on the Auditor-General's Office (AGO) findings about serious governance and compliance lapses at the Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council.

Pressing the opposition party for answers, the minister said on Friday: "So won't answer auditors. Won't answer Parliament. Won't answer residents. Who is left in Singapore that the WP think is worthy of an answer?

In his blog post on Saturday, Mr Yee said: "Our answers were provided in detail in Parliament by seven speakers, and some further replies were given in clarifications to speeches by PAP MPs. I am satisfied with the answers that my fellow MPs gave and will give the same answers."

Mr Yee did not speak about the issue in Parliament, but he was mentioned in Mr Heng's speech.

Mr Heng had said that a month ago, one of his colleagues bumped into Mr Yee, a WP central executive committee (CEC) member, and asked him about AHPETC.

"He evaded the question, and gave a non-answer: answer will be given at the right time and the right place," Mr Heng said.

Then, when told that he should have asked WP chairman Sylvia Lim for answers, since he too belonged to the party's key decision-making body, Mr Yee had replied that it was "a matter for the elected Members", added Mr Heng.

Mr Yee revealed in his blog post that the incident had happened in Pasir Ris town, and the "colleague" in question was Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean.

From what he remembers, he said, he met Mr Teo at the void deck of a block of flats, and was asked about what was happening at the town council.

Mr Yee said he was "puzzled" by the question, as it was the first thing Mr Teo said to him, so he replied that "there was nothing much and things were as usual".

Mr Teo then asked specifically about the state of finances at AHPETC, recounted Mr Yee, to which he said that the elected MPs running the town council would respond "in due course when the AGO report is out".

This was from the WP's statement about the issue, which was released around that time as two People's Action Party ministers - Minister of State for National Development Desmond Lee and Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong - had just written about AHPETC's high service and conservancy arrears rates, said Mr Yee.

On his role as a WP CEC member, Mr Yee said in the blog: "Asking me to account to him for things in a town council which I am not involved in the operations of, because I am a WP CEC member, is like me asking the account for things that happen in other PAP town councils just because DPM is a PAP CEC member, such as why rats were running wild in Bukit Batok. Of course, I didn't think it was appropriate for me to tell him that in front of his grassroots leaders so I left our conversation as it was."

The second encounter mentioned by Mr Heng had taken place on Thursday night, also in Pasir Ris, said Mr Yee.

Mr Heng had said in Parliament on Friday that Mr Yee was with a group of WP supporters the night before when they were asked by a resident about what was going on at AHPETC.

"But he didn't answer and walked away quickly," said Mr Heng. "A WP CEC member and his activists met residents, and evaded the question?"

On this second encounter, Mr Yee said: "I was sure I did not walk away without answering anyone on anything."

He added that he had checked with two other WP helpers who were with him that night, and they too remembered that he did not walk away from any resident who asked about AHPETC.

Mr Yee said he could only remember one middle-aged man who had brought up the topic. The man had mentioned that he saw the Parliamentary debate on the town council on TV.

But he said "there was nothing that was specifically asked of me about AHPETC by the resident".

The AGO found major lapses in governance and compliance with financial rules after a year-long audit of AHPETC accounts for financial year 2012/2013.

A motion on the findings was unanimously endorsed by Parliament on Friday, after two days of intense debate.