Changes to Town Council Act likely by year end: Minister

Changes to Town Council Act likely by year end: Minister
TODAY file photo
Published: 9:15 PM, July 24, 2016
Updated: 12:22 AM, July 25, 2016

SINGAPORE — Audit firm KPMG’s fourth and latest report on the Workers’ Party-run Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (AHTC) provides further impetus for changes to the Town Councils Act, which could be finalised by year end, National Development Minister Lawrence Wong disclosed on Sunday (July 24).

Responding to media questions on the report during his visit to Kebun Baru consituency, Mr Wong said it highlights “serious findings” that would be monitored closely, even as his ministry waits for further recommendations by the auditor.

In a 43-page report posted on AHTC’s website on Wednesday, KPMG said it had identified a further 70 “control failures” across key areas of governance, financial control and reporting, procurement and records management over five years.

This comes on top of the 115 control failures that were identified earlier by the Auditor-General’s Office and the town council’s statutory auditors.

Noting a “pervasive” culture of systemic lapses, the firm said the town councillors will have to “reset the tone at the top of AHTC” to emphasise “competence and accountability” to remedy the situation.

“All the more, these findings by the auditor give us the impetus to make sure that the Town Councils Act will be amended so that we have proper governance structure over the town councils,” said Mr Wong.

“We’ve talked about this before, so the legislative changes are already being studied and in the process of being finalised. We hope to be able to pass the legislative changes by the end of the year.”

Last year, when the issue was raised in Parliament, Law Minister K Shanmugam flagged the need for more focus on enforcement as among the amendments to be made.

And in a Facebook post on Saturday, Mr Shanmugam commented that KPMG’s report underlines the key issue of AHTC’s leadership, which has “neither upheld nor enforced integrity and ethical values”.

Suggesting that AHTC had wanted to keep Singaporeans in the dark, Mr Shanmugam added that “more facts will emerge” as KPMG reviews past payments made by the town council to determine if they were improper.

Hitting back, AHTC chairman Pritam Singh said the town council specifically requested that KPMG publish the 70 additional lapses, even though the firm had not intended to detail them in its report. Remedial measures taken since were also highlighted.

“The review of past payments is still ongoing and KPMG expects a full report to be released to AHTC at the end of August. Therefore, it is not helpful to speculate or jump the gun,” Mr Singh said.

“The public can be assured that AHTC will publish the past payments report, like all previous KPMG reports, for scrutiny in full, and AHTC will take any necessary action thereafter.”