LEONG WEE KIAT
SINGAPORE – Amid a debate on how future Town Council Management Reports can be fine-tuned, Opposition Member of Parliament Low Thia Khiang has suggested adding two more new criteria: The extent of Government funding that each town council receives and the amount of service and conservancy charges (S&CC) it has written off.
Mr Low said the Government funding should include the amount received – either directly or indirectly – to improve common areas the town council manage.
Grade 5 – the lowest score – should be given to the town council which receives the most funding or has the biggest S&CC amount written off, added the Workers’ Party chief.
Mr Low made these suggestions yesterday in response to Senior Minister of State for National Development Grace Fu’s comments.
On Sunday, Ms Fu had rebutted Mr Low’s earlier comments that Opposition wards were disadvantaged as they were at the end of the queues for various upgrading programmes. Ms Fu also said the criteria for HDB’s upgrading programmes are clear and not all People’s Action Party (PAP) wards qualify for them, too.
In a press statement yesterday, Mr Low accused Ms Fu of “sidetracking the issue” and “attempting to mislead Singaporeans (into) believing that the PAP Government is fair to all town councils, including those managed by Opposition parties”.
“Is she saying that upgrading programmes have no impact and implication on estate maintenance?” he said.
Mr Low argued that upgrading programmes “do not just build additional facilities” but also include upgrading of common areas like common corridor and replacement of lift lobby tiles as well as upgrading of playgrounds.
“If the staircase railing is replaced with stainless steel railing instead of the existing mild steel railing inherited from the HDB as part of the upgrading programme, one will not expect the railing to become rusty and corroded to become a maintenance issue.”
In the first Town Council Management Report (TCMR) ever released last week, maintenance – such as the condition of wall tiles and playgrounds – was an area where no town council scored the top grade of 1.
While almost all PAP town councils scored a grade of 3 – the exception being Ang Mo Kio-Yio Chu Kang Town Council which received a 2 rating – Hougang scored a 4 and Potong Pasir was awarded a grade of 5 – the lowest possible score.
Another area that has come under scrutiny is over the management of S&CC arrears. While PAP town councils scored 1s and 2s for arrears management, Hougang and Potong Pasir both scored 5s in this area.
Mr Low felt that PAP Town Councils manage arrears better because they have more surpluses due to additional funding received through upgrading programmes. Thus, these town councils are able to use their own funds to help residents pay S&CC arrears by offering them part-time employment.
“However, the more serious question is whether this is fair to other residents who pay promptly,” Mr Low said.
When contacted yesterday, the Ministry of National Development said: “We would like to reiterate that it is inappropriate to compare the TCMR results across towns. Town Councils should use the TCMR as a basis for discussion with their residents and to monitor the performance of towns over time.”