SINGAPORE - The Workers' Party (WP) supports the Government's move to strengthen the oversight of town councils and takes seriously the Auditor-General's findings of lapses in governance and compliance in its Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC), said WP chief Low Thia Khiang on Thursday.
Speaking publicly on the AGO's report for the first time, Mr Low said that AHPETC's problems stemmed from its difficulty in finding an established managing agent to hire when it first won Aljunied GRC in May 2011.
The large managing agents that run People's Action Party town councils in Singapore would not take the WP's business, he said: "it seems that the managing agents serving PAP town councils are unwilling to serve in non-PAP town councils, and the reason appears to be political rather than professional."
Detailing the WP MPs' task of scaling up Hougang SMC's system for a GRC many times its size, in the face of previous Aljunied GRC contractors terminating their services abruptly - all within a stipulated 90 days transition period - Mr Low said:
"Under our current system, it seems to be that any opposition party which aspires to be elected in a GRC will have to build a town management team to train hundreds of staff officers first, (then) start shopping for an off-the-shelf accounting software."
"If an opposition party aspires to be the next government, it may need to build an army of civil servants first," he said. "This is a strange political situation for any functioning democracy to be in."
Mr Low emphasised that the AGO report did not find the town council to be engaged in corrupt practices nor any money lost.
He said that the episode should be put in the proper perspective, which is that besides poor management of its service & conservancy charges, AHPETC's performance in the annual town council grading exercise had been found to be "comparable to other town councils".
He said that the WP has learned from the AGO audit that it should have appointed a consultant to look at internal controls in compliance with the Town Councils Act while the elected MPs focused on taking over the town to ensure that major services are not disrupted.
"This is something we would do if such a privilege happens in future elections," he said.
Adding that the WP welcomes the PAP Government's scrutiny of its town council as this is what happens in a "First World Parliament", Mr Low said that in addition to strengthening the Town Councils Act, he hopes that the Government looks at the "de-politicisation of the transition process" when town councils change hands.