SINGAPORE - The Workers' Party (WP)-run town council on Friday accused the National Development Ministry (MND) of misrepresenting its stance on a sum of $14 million in government grants that the ministry has withheld from the town council.
WP chairman Sylvia Lim, who also heads the Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC), said it was a "gross misrepresention and wrong" of the ministry to say AHPETC wanted the grants "without conditions and accountability".
In a statement on Thursday, MND had said AHPETC was in urgent need of the grants, but had "consistently resisted" the ministry's offer to disburse half the money with terms attached.
MND added that this was "presumably because it wants the grants, but without conditions and accountability".
That is one reason the ministry has applied to expedite court action to appoint independent accountants to safeguard government grants to the town council, it said.
It is hoping to fast-track its appeal against a High Court decision last week that turned down its initial request for the court to appoint the accountants.
The ministry is withholding the grants due to concerns over the town council's financial management processes, after a special audit by the Auditor-General's Office found accounting and governance lapses at AHPETC.
MND wants independent accountants at AHPETC to co-sign cheques that use funds from the grants and to investigate past payments made by the town council. But Justice Quentin Loh had rejected the ministry's bid for the High Court to appoint the independent accountants, saying that the court had no legal basis to do so.
On Friday, Ms Lim said the town council disagrees with MND's reasons for the appeal against Justice Loh's decision, adding that AHPETC is continuing to review its financial and control processes.
She also said AHPETC accepted that the Town Councils Act enabled the National Development Minister to set conditions on the disbursement of grants, and had written to MND to say as much "from the onset of the High Court case".
AHPETC had also "gone further to agree to most of the conditions that MND had proposed" over the disbursement of the $14 million in grants, she said.
In her view, only two issues remain unresolved: the identity of the external accountants to co-sign cheques drawing on the grants, and AHPETC's request for the entire grant for FY2014/2015 to be deposited into its sinking fund, which is to be used for long-term cyclical maintenance.
Ms Lim also pointed out that Justice Loh had noted "the remaining issues were minor and technical, and could be overcome".
"He further urged parties to reach a consensus so that the grants could be disbursed as soon as possible," she said. "Instead of heeding the judge's advice, MND filed an appeal against the judgment within 48 hours."