by Alex Au
21 December 2012
I am a little surprised the story about town council computer and financial systems is not getting as much traction as I think it deserves. Perhaps with the Michael Palmer affair, workers going on strike and climbing cranes, and now a school principal being investigated for corruption, it just got buried by more attention-grabbing news.
However, my sense is that this has the potential to be a big story, causing enormous damage to the People’s Action Party (PAP). Possibly too, the Workers’ Party knows more than they are revealing.
From what has been disclosed so far, it shows the PAP to be a party that is determined to leave a trail of destruction, crippling the state if need be — to hell with the citizens! — should it be forced to leave power. It is contrary to the spirit of democracy and any shred of good governance.
It began with the government trying to be too smart for its own good. The Ministry of National Development said, in its latest Town Council Management Review, that Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (AHTC) got a red score — the worst band — over its management of arrears of service and conservancy charges. Its score for corporate governance was shown in the review as “pending”, with the explanation that “Aljunied-Hougang TC has yet to submit their auditor’s Management Letter, which is material to the banding of the corporate governance indicator”. Everyone knew what the message was: that the Workers’ Party, which runs AHTC, is incompetent. Many in the PAP must have been gleeful for the chance to take this potshot at the Workers’ Party.
On 14 December 2012, Sylvia Lim, chair of AHTC — she is also chair of the Workers’ Party — issued a statement that attributed difficulties faced by ATHC to the sudden withdrawal of the provider of computer and financial systems just after the party took over the running of the town council. She said:
After the [general election] in May 2011, the Town Council was served with a notice that the Town Council’s Computer and Financial Systems will be terminated with effect from 1 August 2011 due to material changes to the membership of the Town Council. This Computer and Financial Systems had been developed jointly by the 14 PAP Town Councils over a period of more than 15 months but was in January 2011 sold to and leased back from M/s Action Information Management Pte Ltd, a company which was dormant. This effectively meant that ATHC had to develop its own equivalent systems, in particular a Financial System, within a 2 months’ timeframe.
A few days later Action Information Management (AIM) tried to defend itself by saying that it would have continued to extend the lease of the systems to the town council if WP had asked for it.
But yesterday, AIM’s chairman S. Chandra Das said in a letter to The Straits Times: “If AHTC had asked for a longer extension, AIM would have similarly agreed. However, after the second extension, AHTC did not ask for further extension.”The first extension was until Aug 31 and the next, until Sept 9, added Mr Chandra Das.Last night, Ms Lim said the first extension was achieved through an intermediary, who said the extra month had to be “fought for”.She said: “We were certainly not given to understand that there could be any extension after this.”– Straits Times, 18 Dec 2012, WP, computer firm argue over lease
The name Chandra Das would ring a bell: he was a former PAP member of parliament. In fact, it was soon revealed that AIM”s three directors were all former PAP MPs: Chandra Das, Chew Heng Ching and Lau Ping Sum.
Then — I think it was TR Emeritus which broke the story — it was revealed that AIM had a paid-up capital of only $2. Chandra Das and Lau each owned one share (of $1). The company’s registered office (at 36 Robinson Road #17-01, City House, Singapore 068877) was also a shell office.
As Sylvia Lim pointed out, the questions have to be: Why did the PAP Town Councils relinquish ownership of the computer and financial system, and how much did they sell it to AIM for? It was probably developed with taxpayer money by the 14 town councils, with much input and support from tax-payer-paid town council staff, unless — and it is hard to believe — the PAP paid for the development of the system.
What is even more curious is that the service agreement with AIM allows AIM to terminate the contract with only one month’s notice should there be a material change to the composition of the town council. As Sylvia Lim asked: “How is it in the public interest to have such a thing?” (ibid).
The carcass smells even worse than a week’s garbage lying in the hot sun.
Any half-lucid observer will see it for what it is: an attempt by the PAP to plant booby-traps to snare opposition parties when they win a constituency and take over the town council. But they have done this in ways that raise troubling questions about the possibility of breach of trust.
- What price was it sold to AIM for? How was that price arrived at?
- Was there competitive tendering?
- In discharging their duty as town councillors, how is acting for partisan advantage in the best interest of the residents of the constituency? Shouldn’t they be acting to ensure the continuation of the town council systems?
If a financial controller of a company created some mechanism that ensured that, upon his departure from the company, the financial system of the company would break down, would he not be prosecuted for criminal breach of trust?
If, as they claim, our Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau and Attorney-General’s Chambers are independent institutions, we should expect them to mount an investigation immediately.
Aljunied was a PAP ward before May 2011. I assume it was among the 14 PAP Town Councils that participated and paid for the development of the system. If so, there should be information in its accounts indicating how much its share of costs was. There should also be records in its minutes of meetings from before and around January 2011 pertaining to the sale of the system to AIM. Surely, PAP-run Aljunied would have been consulted and its agreement sought.
This is why I think the Workers’ Party may know more than it is currently prepared to reveal.
On the other hand, maybe the records were deleted before the handover. But if so, the question becomes: Wouldn’t such tampering of accounts and minutes of meetings be illegal?
The PAP likes to cast itself as a party of scrupulous integrity. On this matter, they have a lot to answer for, or they’ll be seen as the opposite: foul and dirty. This is not a case which it can dismiss as the mistake of one lone PAP person; the moves they made involved nearly all PAP MPs in the town councils across the board.