Draft town council code of governance open for public feedback

The Ministry of National Development said it will take public feedback into consideration when finalising the code, with the aim to launch it in the third quarter of 2019.
The Ministry of National Development said it will take public feedback into consideration when finalising the code, with the aim to launch it in the third quarter of 2019.ST PHOTO: JOSEPH CHUA

SINGAPORE - Members of the public have been invited to give their feedback on a proposed code of governance for town councils (TCs) which was published on Monday (April 1).

The new code of governance, a result of the changes to the Town Councils Act passed in March 2017, highlights best practices to guide town councils in better executing their fiduciary responsibilities and improving accountability.

It is also meant to improve transparency and build public trust and confidence.

Among the draft guidelines is a suggestion for "proper segregation of duties between audit and other TC operations, and between the finance and procurement functions", to prevent conflicts of interest from arising and increase the integrity of the process.

Chairpersons of certain TC committees should also serve a maximum of 10 years, to ensure that decision-making remains objective.

Other suggestions include a data privacy policy and having a way to evaluate the effectiveness of vendors like managing agents.

Similar to the code for charities here, town councils will be encouraged to adopt these practices through a comply-or-explain regime.

Like charities, the 16 town councils here manage large sums of money - a total of $2 billion in public and residents' funds currently.

Unlike charities, however, the appointed members of the town council are volunteers who may only receive an allowance for their services. As such, the Ministry of National Development (MND), which worked with consultant Ernst & Young Advisory as well as a seven-member advisory panel, adapted the provisions accordingly.

The ministry said it will take public feedback into consideration when finalising the code, with the aim to launch it in the third quarter of this year.

Members of the public can read the full draft of the code on the website of government feedback unit Reach, and e-mail, fax or call the MND with their comments until the end of this month.

Dr Teo Ho Pin, the coordinating MP for PAP town councils, welcomed the code, saying it would "provide a clear framework to further enhance corporate governance in town councils".

"The town councils should not face much problem implementing it," he added.

Several town councils have come under the spotlight recently.

Several Aljunied-Hougang town councillors, including three Workers' Party MPs, are embroiled in two multi-million-dollar lawsuits over alleged improper payments to its managing agent.

And last week, ex-Ang Mo Kio Town Council general manager Wong Chee Meng pleaded guilty to charges of corruption after using his position to influence the outcome of tenders.