SINGAPORE — A National Development Ministry (MND) team that reviewed the controversial sale of software by People’s Action Party (PAP) town councils to Action Information Management (AIM), a PAP-owned company, has found that the transaction in 2010 had complied with the Town Councils Act and the Town Council Financial Rules.
Making public its findings in a 37-page report released today, the MND Town Council Review Team has proposed that the Government consider “a strategic review” of town councils in their current form, noting that there have been sentiments expressed in the public discussion that Town Councils (TCs) should be depoliticised so that the issue of handover between political parties would not arise.
There were also some who view that depoliticising TCs can improve their governance, as MND can regulate and oversee them without perception issues, the team noted.
“Going forward, we propose that the Government consider a strategic review of TCs in their current form. How our public housing estates are managed is a very significant subject as it impacts the value of the homes and the experience of day-to-day life for a vast majority of Singaporeans living in the HDB estates,” said the MND Review Team in its report.
The ministry had been tasked by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to conduct the review “in the interest of transparency” in January, following accusatory exchanges between the Workers’ Party (WP) and PAP town councils and AIM.
Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council Chairman Sylvia Lim had claimed that the town council’s poor performance in managing its services and conservancy charges arrears was caused by the termination of IT services with AIM.
In the midst of the exchanges, it was revealed that the software in 14 PAP town councils was sold to AIM — the sole bidder — in a tender conducted in 2010.
In a statement today, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said the Government accepted the findings and recommendations of the MND review.
“Minister for National Development Mr Khaw Boon Wan will deliver a Ministerial Statement on the MND Review, including both the AIM transaction and the overall governance of TCs, when Parliament next sits on 13 May,” added Mr Lee.
On the sale of the software, the Review Team found the transaction “showed no loss of public monies and found no pecuniary or material interest” by any Town Council member in AIM or in the contract to AIM.
“The Review Team assessed that the PAP TCs had acted in good faith in the interests of their residents. They crafted a contract with terms which explicitly assured against any increase in maintenance fees chargeable by the winning bidder.
“They conducted an open tender for the transaction. It eventually secured only a single bid, i.e. AIM’s,” said the report.
The TCs’ decision to award the tender to AIM was based on their evaluation that it was a fair price bid for the Town Council Management System (TCMS) software which was near obsolescence, and also on their confidence that AIM would be able to meet the requirements of the contract as they were familiar with AIM’s track record with the TCs in the past.
During the review, Town Councils also gave inputs on how changeovers can be better managed, especially when between political parties. For example, more time should be allowed for an operational handover when there is a change of political party.
In its report, the MND Review Team said, “One option is for TCs to have in place contractual provisions for automatic one-off extensions following an election when there is a change of party in charge of the TC, and to impose a minimum notice period for termination initiated by the contractor or key appointment holders (e.g. General Managers).
“The length of such extensions or notice period would depend on the nature of services provided, and should be fair to all parties.”
Read the full text of PM Lee's statement on the finding: http://www.todayonline.com/singapore/pm-lees-statement-aim-review
The MND's report can be viewed in full here: http://www.mnd.gov.sg/towncouncilreviewreport/AnnexA_MND_TC_Review_Report.pdf (PDF)