By Leong Wee Keat
SINGAPORE: Amid a debate on how future Town Council Management Reports can be fine-tuned, opposition leader 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, who is also the chairman of Hougang Town Council, made these suggestions on Tuesday in response to comments by Senior Minister of State for National Development Grace Fu.
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 too.
In a press statement, 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?” the Workers’ Party (WP) chief asked.
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.
“One will not expect to find missing or worn off screws, nor floor mat being ripped off in new playgrounds,” Mr Low added.
“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 inaugural Town Council Management Report released last week, maintenance – such as the condition of wall tiles and playgrounds – was an area where no town council got the top grade of one.
While almost all PAP town councils got 3s – the exception being Ang Mo Kio-Yio Chu Kang Town Council which got a 2 – Hougang got a 4 and Potong Pasir got a 5.
Another bone of contention appears to be 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 part-time employment.
“However, the more serious question is whether this is fair to other residents who pay promptly,” Mr Low said.
When contacted, 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.” – CNA/ir