Statement on AIM (Ho Pin gag’em style)

Teo Ho Pin

“Watch how I wiggle out of the situation”

The most eagerly anticipated PAP statement of the year—okay we are just two days into it—is finally out. Like a true star worthy of a Psy tribute band, Dr Teo Ho Pin has kept us waiting, clamouring, salivating over the festive holiday weekend at what juicy details he has to offer on the AIM transaction.

Without going into a hair-splitting operative, I don’t find anything glaringly dubious in the numbers presented in the statement; perhaps more astute readers will. A missing piece of the puzzle was what AIM gets paid after the initial one year period, and the answer is no more lease payments but just a maintenance fee of $140. This better justifies the sale price of $140,000. Previously, I posed the question on what is the useful life of the software, because some had assumed the lease will last up to five years.

Some questions remain unanswered. For example, why didn’t the TCs advertise the tender offer further when there was only one bid? They could argue that the process then was less strict, having taken place before the Brompton bike controversy. How did the TCs judge that the terms offered by AIM were competitive? They could point to the £8,000 profit they made from the disposal (but could it have been more?). I’m also not entirely convinced why there was a need to engage a third party to negotiate and manage the projects with NCS. With or without AIM, town council employees cannot totally exempt themselves from necessary tasks such as testing any releases or reporting bugs encountered because they are the ultimate end users. Thus, the role of AIM appears dispensable, especially when it can be performed by just two part-time staff. The TCs would have been better off trying to work out a deal directly with NCS, who as a regular government contractor will surely oblige.

My own feel is that there was no fraudulent intent from a financial standpoint, but what happened during the tender process remains opaque and lends itself to accusations of suspicious dealing. Such a business transaction between PAP-run entities involving public monies cannot be considered arm’s length and must be completely avoided, especially when there was only a single bid. Else the government will find themselves having to constantly defend against questions from the public. The fact remains undisputed that this was used as a political play to throw the opposition into disarray.

So why did it take Dr Teo so long to provide these straightforward details? Was information was not readily available because staff were away during this festive period? More disturbingly, if everything was indeed above board and done in the public interest, why did the press remain so silent? Surely this was the most newsworthy issue over the past week, whether or not there was any basis behind the allegations. Did Dr Teo or the PAP impose a gag’em style order on the mainstream media, or was there self-censorship for fear of displeasure from their political masters? Netizens and online forums have done well to demand for accountability and this is another example of our nation building media losing its relevance among more politically attuned Singaporeans. The question now is, if the people don’t find this explanation satisfactory, will the CPIB investigate?

Unfortunately, there are many who still believe this government is clean and incorruptible. The people must remain watchful. To give a software maxim as a befitting analogy: You can always prove the existence of bugs, but never the absence. Just because you don’t see any wrongdoing, it doesn’t mean it’s not there. And it’s what you can’t see that should really scare you.