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MND seeking to better protect town council funds, says Khaw

SINGAPORE — The Ministry of National Development (MND) is studying what can be done to ensure better protection of public funds entrusted with town councils, even though there are several safeguards in place, its minister Khaw Boon Wan said yesterday.

SINGAPORE — The Ministry of National Development (MND) is studying what can be done to ensure better protection of public funds entrusted with town councils, even though there are several safeguards in place, its minister Khaw Boon Wan said yesterday.

Responding to a question from Chua Chu Kang GRC Member of Parliament (MP) Alvin Yeo, Mr Khaw told Parliament that the Town Councils (TCs) Act and the Town Councils Financial Rules give the elected MPs “much latitude and autonomy” to run the town councils while being accountable to their constituents.

The minister pointed out that there are only three offences stated in the Act: The misuse of town councils’ funds, contravention of the Town Council Lift Upgrading Programme rules and the wilful withholding of information required by an auditor without reasonable cause. The town councils can be fined for committing these offences.

“While the TCs Act may have limited enforcement powers, the actions of TC officials as individuals are of course subject to the laws of the land beyond the TCs Act, no different from any other person,” said Mr Khaw. “Criminal and civil liabilities apply when their actions amount to transgressions of such laws.”

The National Development Minister can also, in extreme cases, intervene in a town council’s operations and appoint someone else to perform its duties, such as when a town council fails to maintain the estate properly or if there is a need to remove any imminent danger to residents, Mr Khaw said.

Mr Yeo’s question came after Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam had, at Mr Khaw’s request, directed the Auditor-General on Feb 19 to audit the accounts of the town council run by the Workers’ Party. The town council’s independent auditors identified 13 items to be issues of concern, which led them to give a disclaimer of opinion on its FY2012/13 financial statements.

Pointing out that town councils are “entrusted” to deliver essential municipal services and manage large sums of public monies, Mr Khaw said: “While residents can hold their town councils to account in areas such as cleanliness and maintenance of the estate, it is difficult for residents to exercise effective oversight in other areas of town council operations, such as financial management.”

To ensure public accountability, the MND publishes the Town Council Management Report so that residents know how their town councils are performing. The ministry also makes public its concerns and observations on town councils’ annual audited reports so that residents are kept informed and can hold them to account.

The MND said, in response to queries, that it has been studying the current administrative and regulatory framework for town councils — including the TCs Act and various subsidiary legislations such as the Town Councils Financial Rules — to see what can be done to ensure better protection of public funds and residents’ interests.

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