EM Services cites manpower crunch for not putting in a bid in Sengkang Town Council tender

The WP, which runs Sengkang Town Council, had said the tender exercise for a managing agent failed to attract any bids. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Sengkang Town Council's (SKTC) existing managing agent, EM Services, said on Thursday (May 19) that it did not put in a bid to continue in its role after its contract expires next year, because of a manpower crunch.

EM Services chief executive officer Tony Khoo, in response to queries from The Straits Times, said in an e-mail: "As you are aware, managing township requires many people.

"As labour market is very tight these days, it is not easy to find the right people who have the relevant skill sets. As such, we have decided to give it a miss for this tender."

On Tuesday (May 17), the Workers' Party-run SKTC - which comes under MPs He Ting Ru, Louis Chua and Jamus Lim - had said it would directly manage the entire town from next year after a three-week tender exercise in April for a managing agent failed to attract any bids.

The news had reignited debate among some quarters about the barriers that opposition-run town councils face, with some such as former WP Non-constituency MP Yee Jenn Jong saying in a Facebook post that the town council system had been designed to be political right from the start.

Asked about the perception that facilities management companies prefer not to work for opposition-run town councils and EM Services' experience managing SKTC, Mr Khoo declined to comment.

He said like any other managing agent tenders, factors that are considered before putting in a bid include "pricing, manpower, duration, technologies", among other things.

In the case of SKTC, it was manpower constraints that loomed large, he added.

He said EM Services is currently managing only a part of Sengkang town, but in the April tender, SKTC had been looking for a managing agent for the entire town.

SKTC was formed on July 30, 2020, to manage Sengkang GRC, a newly-formed constituency that was won by the WP at the general election that year, and had inherited managing agent contracts with EM Services and CPG Facilities Management.

The four-member constituency is made up of Buangkok, Compassvale and Rivervale divisions, formerly part of Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC and Punggol East SMC, as well as the Anchorvale division, formerly part of Sengkang West SMC.

The areas previously under Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC and Punggol East are managed by EM Services until its contract expires on Jan 31 next year, while the areas under Sengkang West SMC were previously managed by CPG Facilities Management.

The town council's contract with CPG ended on Oct 31 last year, and a tender exercise for a new managing agent received only one bid from a company that had no prior experience running a town council. SKTC then took over management of Anchorvale division.

ST has reached out to CPG for comment.

Another big player in the facilities management business, C&W Services, which manages Nee Soon Town Council, declined comment when asked if it had considered putting in a bid.

Mr Yee said on Wednesday (May 18): "Not at all surprised that there is zero bid to manage Sengkang Town Council. I had always believed that eventually, the town council had to be self managed whether we like it or not."

He had added that this political nature of town councils was a key argument in the Aljunied Hougang Town Council (AHTC) case, which is pending judgment by the Court of Appeal.

In 2017, AHTC had sued its own town councillors, including WP chief Pritam Singh, former WP chief Low Thia Khiang and WP chair Sylvia Lim over $33 million in improper payments that the town council had made under their watch.

Part of the case hinged on the hiring of AHTC's managing agent FM Solutions and Services, set up by a couple who were WP supporters. The WP leaders had awarded the job to the company without a tender after the WP won Aljunied GRC in the 2011 General Election.

Mr Low and Ms Lim had said during the court hearings that AHTC's then managing agent CPG was unwilling to continue in its role. They had also suggested that CPG, which they saw as being aligned with the People's Action Party, might "sabotage" matters.

On Tuesday, SKTC said as a matter of prudence, it had called for a tender for a managing agent in April this year, well in advance of next year's expiry of its contract with EM Services, but did not receive any bids.

SKTC did not respond to a request for comment.

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