SDP’s town councils not “poorly managed”; party does not wish to be dragged into the AHTC dispute

Singapore Democrats

The SDP has been mentioned in the WP’s Defence in the suit brought by the Aljunied Hougang Town Council (AHTC). We wish to set the record straight over the statement made by Mr Low Thia Kiang who is also the 2nd Defendant in the proceedings.

Before we do that, however, we would like to clarify that the SDP had approached a WP official as well as the WP’s counsel, Tan Rajah & Cheah, to try to resolve the matter but was not successful.

Specifically, the issue involves the statement made in Annex A (Considerations of the 2nd Defendant in respect of past experiences and lessons learnt), paragraph 2 of the Defence which states:

“At that time, the newly elected MPs in the Bukit Gombak and Nee Soon Central SMCs, Mr Ling How Doong and Mr Cheo Chai Chen from the Singapore Democratic Party (“SDP”), also faced similar challenges when they took over the running of their respective town councils. Based on feedback the 2nd defendant received from the ground, poor town council management was part of the reason why the SDP lost both seats at the next General Elections in 1997.”

The “poor town council management” is, in Mr Low’s words, “based on feedback…from the ground”. Such a statement is unsubstantiated, and cannot and does not give a factual indication of reality. One can cite such kind of feedback to make any conclusion one wants. Such inaccuracies detract from the case that he is trying to make.

Contrary to Mr Low’s claim, the said town councils were run in a sound manner during the period of SDP’s management from 1991 to 1997. Annual reports showed that yearly accumulated budget surpluses were recorded, maintenance and repairs of the estates were duly and efficiently conducted, and financial audits of the accounts did not flag any major problems.

In fact, the Nee Soon Central Town Council had managed the budget well enough to accumulate enough surplus funds for investments as well as to make improvements to the town. The PAP candidate who contested the seat in the 1997 General Election even acknowledged that the SDP-run Town Council had made improvements to the town. Similarly, the Bukit Gombak Town Council had managed the estate prudently and accumulated enough savings to beautify and upgrade the housing estate. It built a clock tower and carillon for residents to enjoy, a town landmark which still stands today.

In light of the above, it is manifestly unfair to say, or give the impression, that the Bukit Gombak and Nee Soon Central Town Councils were poorly managed.

Already, government-controlled newspapers like Lianhe Zaobao and Lianhe Wanbao have inaccurately reported the matter in the following manner:

“With regards to the hasty takeover of the town council from PAP after the opposition has won it, Low has already anticipated this and pointed out that other opposition MPs face similar issues. The SDP lost the 1997 elections because their management of the town council was poor.” (LHZB, 17 August 2017)

As can be seen, the newspaper did not mention that this was only a perception that Mr Low received from the ground (which, as mentioned in preceding paragraphs, is inaccurate in the first place). Such misperception has been transformed, in the two newspapers at least, into undisputed fact. This cannot be left unaddressed.

In addition, Mr Low’s statement seems to imply that the takeover of town councils from the PAP is fraught with difficulties which contribute to the poor quality of management by opposition parties.

This is untrue. While there will always issues during the handover process when town councils change management, these problems are not insurmountable. As described above, the Bukit Gombak and Nee Soon Central Town Councils eventually managed to resolve the issues with the PAP agents during the takeover process and then moved on to run productive and efficient town councils.

In truth, it does not take exceptional talent to run a town council. There is nothing that PAP MPs can do that opposition MPs cannot.

In fact, in A Promise to the Residents: SDP’s Town Council Management Plan which we launched in 2015, the SDP spell out specifically how we will run town councils more effectively than the PAP by being transparent, accountable and genuinely consultative with the residents.

Regardless of whether they belong in SMCs or GRCs, our town councils will be managed with fiscal prudence and administrative efficiency.

In fact, the SDP not only welcomes the job of managing housing estates, we also relish the opportunity provided to interact with the residents and form strong community bonds with them. Our goal is to become effective community leaders by earning the trust and confidence of the people.

We also recognise that the primary function of an MP is that of a legislator. To this end, SDP MPs, once elected, will discharge our duties in a responsible manner: Unflinching when it comes to taking the government to task and holding it accountable for its failures, but also working with the ruling party in a constructive manner to better our nation whenever the situation calls for it.

It is only when MPs are responsible legislators, effective administrators and caring community leaders that they can eventually make good ministers to lead the country.

The SDP has thus far refrained from commenting on the WP Town Council’s matter even though it has been going on for years. We make this statement now only because we have been implicated in the WP’s Defence. We do it only to defend our record of running town councils (and only after approaching the WP away from the public spotlight).

It is important that we clear up any misperception that may have arisen from WP’s Defence because one can count on the PAP to use such misperceptions to attack the SDP during elections and scare voters from electing us.

We do not wish to be involved in the suit between the WP and AHTC in any manner, and we intend to stay focused on the important job of speaking up for the people.

That said, we wish the WP well in the suit and all its future endeavours.

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