Posts Tagged ‘Aljunied-Hougang town council’

Town councils as political organisations

In News Reports, Politics, Society on January 7, 2013 at 11:59 pm

Here’s an interesting twist to the AIM tale: town councils are political organisations, not public organisations. That’s Baey Yam Keng’s take on how the whole saga should be viewed. The issue has been unnecessarily politicised, he said. Town councils aren’t government agencies, not run by civil servants – which I take to mean that they shouldn’t be subject to civil service norms or expectations.

He also said in Today that the question should be whether Action Information Management failed in its commitment to town councils and whether its fees are reasonable.

His answers are in response to former PAP backbencher Tan Cheng Bock’s comments that the town councils had used public monies to develop the system, which was sold to AIM. “This software is developed using public funds by town councils. Is it right for the TCs to give up ownership in this manner?” he asked in his FB posting. “So did the town councils as public institutions do the right thing, selling to a company owned by a political party with its own agenda?”

I suppose Mr Baey’s position is rooted in the way town councils are actually forms of local government, run by politicians elected by the people living in the ward. So if the composition of the town council changes, then a political organisation – and its partners – pulling out of the management is really something to be expected.

I wonder if he realises that he’s opening up a can of worms.

You can’t help asking then if AIM is then the ONLY PAP-owned outfit that works with town councils. What if the PAP had set up a cleaning service unknown to us all? Or it went into lift repairs? The PAP isn’t saying what other companies it owns. It should. Because when I elect a representative, I want to know exactly what is on offer. I want to know how local government will change if I choose to throw out the incumbents. That it isn’t just the heads that will roll, but arms and legs will get chopped off too. Fair, no?

Just think. What if the PAP decides that its PCF kindergartens shouldn’t operate in opposition wards and closes down what it now has? I doubt it wants to antagonise residents like that but, hey, it’s a political party and if it wants to inflict pain on the people who turned their backs on it, it can.

Come to think of it. Wasn’t lift upgrading also a political issue? Go to the back of the queue if you vote opposition? And that’s not even a political party imperative but a G initiative explained away as the right of the party in power to decide who gets rewarded first. But that’s in the past.

Back to AIM. I really think politicians should stop telling us how to think. I read on Sunday that Ms Grace Fu said that we’ve all got hold of the wrong end of the stick and should remember how the issue arose – the Workers’ Party’s Aljunied-Hougang town council’s poor showing in the corporate governance category. Focus on that, she said.

Then there was this ding-dong about who terminated the agreement first. It was like a schoolyard fight: You did it first! No, you did it! You! You! It was framed like an integrity question: who came clean, who didn’t, what’s hidden etc.
Frankly, I’m not sure I care who wins that fight.
Seems to me there are far bigger issues here that the PAP should address that goes beyond the handing over an information system to a company it owns. And Mr Baey has just started a big one: Is the town council a political organisation? If so, what does it MEAN?


Draft of an unpublished story

In News Reports, Reading, Society on December 31, 2012 at 1:59 am

I suppose MSM is waiting for PAP’s Teo Ho Pin’s response on the sale of the town council’s computer information system before it decides to publish anything on the matter. Typical move, except that too much of the action is taking place online to be ignored. Even if sources are un-named, they are worth reporting for wider public consumption. Better still, if the MSM can go out and GET them named, or at least get confirmation of the facts.

So, here’s my attempt to piece the story together from what’s online. Moderately. Carefully. Oh, so carefully….

MORE questions regarding the sale of a town-council developed computer information system to a People’s Action Party company have surfaced, with one individual purportedly escalating the matter to the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau.

The unnamed individual has asked the police to look into how the tender was awarded to Action Information Management, according to documents mailed to TR Emeritus.

Another individual, who declined to be named for “professional purposes’’, has also dug out what he claimed to be the original tender notice announced on June 30, 2010. He charged that it was lacking in details compared to other tender notices. The notice also levied a a $214 fee for interested applicants to “find out more’’, he wrote on The Online Citizen.

These disclosures, which have yet to be confirmed by the CPIB or the town councils, are the latest of a series of questions that is being asked by the online community, which was first alerted to the circumstances of the sale by blogger Alex Au.
The issue came to light after a report card on town councils’ work was made public with Workers’ Party run Aljunied-Hougang TC lagging behind conspicuously behind in the corporate governance category. This was because, WP MP Sylvia Lim said, it had yet to develop a computer information system after the vendor, Action Information Management, terminated its services following the WP win in the ward.

Mr Au and other online commentators unearthed a trove of information about the vendor: That it was a $2 company, which bought the system which the 14 town councils had developed for $140,000. It leased the system back to the town councils for a fee of $785 a month. Ex-MPs S Chandra Das, Lau Ping Sum and Chew Heng Chin were named as directors.

PAP’s co-ordinator of town councils Dr Teo Ho Pin confirmed that the company was People’s Action Party owned, while the company declared that its action to terminate the contract with the opposition-run TC was in line with a contractual clause that it allowed it to do so if there were “material changes in the composition’’ of the TC.

Dr Teo charged that the WP was already developing its own information system, had asked and been granted two extensions and could have asked for a third extension to the lease if it wanted. Ms Lim hit back, accusing Dr Teo of not addressing more fundamental questions of the contract termination.

Online commentary appear to be focused on the following issues:
• Accountability – Whether residents’ funds were used to develop the computer system and the logic behind having it sold to a third party, which happens to be PAP owned, and re-leased for a fee.
• Transparency – Of five interested applicants who paid the fee for more information on the tender, only AIM put in a bid. Drawing parallels with the Brompton bike case, comments included whether the tender process could have been extended to allow for more bidders to take part and whether there was any impropriety in the process.
• Political connections – Implicit in the commentaries is whether AIM’s move to terminate the Aljunied-Hougang TC contract is a purely partisan decision rather than motivated by business or public interest considerations. If so, the on-going saga raises the question of the role of political parties in business and how these businesses operate in the political sphere.

Said former journalist Bertha Henson: “It’s disquieting to read what’s online. The Government has always maintained that its tender processes are above-board. A political party too should maintain the same strictures lest it be accused of using business for political or private gain – at the expense of the public interest.’’
PAP’s Dr Teo said he would give a fuller accounting soon.

PS. I interviewed myself as a quote but apparently the technique just puzzled people…hence, deletion

Politics and business

In News Reports, Politics, Society on December 29, 2012 at 2:07 am

I have got to say that WP’s Sylvia Lim was pretty feisty in her response to PAP’s Teo Ho Pin on the issue of the computer system termination that occurred in Aljunied-Hougang Town Council.

I missed out on quite a bit of the wrangle coz I was too busy eating this Christmas, so I had to look back at past news stories to get a handle on the issue. So the firm in question, AIM, did reply on why it terminated the deal. It was, it said, merely following a contract clause on “material changes’’ in composition of town council.

But Ms Lim is right in saying that the PAP has yet to answer some fundamental questions about the issue. Mr Teo had chosen instead to focus on how the town council had actually been preparing to replace its systems ahead of the termination in their latest exchange of words. And to use a favourite phrase of the PAP, they told WP to “come clean’’. (You know, this phrase is rather over-used…)

This is pretty distracting. The more important question is over AIM’s role and how it came to be in that role. Here’s where I think the online commentators have one over the MSM, asking detailed questions on whether there was any impropriety in the way the system was handed over to a PAP company. It looks clear to everyone that the clause “material changes’’ in composition is codeword for “political changes’’ – unless AIM and Mr Teo can show instances to the contrary.

Mr Teo said he would answer the questions in the next few days. I hope he answers every single question. And for good measure, he should also say if there are other PAP-owned companies and tell us what they do. Finally, he should articulate (or a higher-ranking PAP leader should) the role of the PAP in business. I am sure there’s some code of conduct on business somewhere no? Or do they only apply to members, and not to the party as a whole?