The dirt path from AIM to town council managing agents

Aljunied-Hougang Town Council

Maybe that’s why it looks so clean

The reason given for the PAP town councils’ decision to engage AIM to manage its software system was to reap economies of scale, instead of having each town council develop or purchse its own system separately. This makes sense, but going by this line of argument we can reasonably expect opposition parties to not enjoy similar economies of scale.

So why should it be a surprise that Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (AHTC) has to pay higher prices than Tampines Town Council in management fees? CPG Facilities Management, who manages Tampines TC and other PAP town councils, would have the economies of scale and cost savings that allow them to charge lower than FMSS. Besides, as Sylvia Lim has already pointed out, the type of services provided by FMSS and CPG are not identical, so it is pointless to compare the per unit price.

If the Workers’ Party and any other opposition parties are to be faulted for not being able to secure rates comparable with PAP town councils in various contracts it outsources, then the MND should take over the management of all town councils to ensure consistent rates across the board. But Minister Khaw Boon Wan has already said that the ministry does not want to do that.

Where exactly does Mr Khaw stand in all these? His role in this whole saga is so muddled that, on one hand, his ministry was in charge of the MND review that cleared the PAP town councils and AIM of any wrongdoing, yet, on the other, he was clearly defending the town councils in parliament and counter-attacking the WP for FMSS. If we are to believe that this review is completely neutral, then he should at least keep quietly to one side and leave it to Teo Ho Pin to lead the attack.

I am surprised that not much has been raised about CPG’s decision that it couldn’t serve both PAP and WP town councils, leading to it terminating its services on mutual agreement with Aljunied Town Council after the WP took over. Is CPG political in nature as well? Questions have been asked in various quarters of whether members of CPG were concurrently employees of PAP town councils — the same charge Mr Teo levied on the FMSS owners.

And what about EM Services, also the managing agent of various PAP town councils? Former PAP MP Ang Mong Seng listed on his CV on the Parliament web site that he has been Chief Operating Officer of EM Services since 2001, at the same time he was serving as MP of Hong Kah GRC. Was there no conflict of interest in PAP town councils awarding EM Services contracts to manage their estates? Did Mr Ang not then draw two salaries as both COO of EM Services and Member of Parliament? Besides Mr Ang, EM Services also has former PAP MP Mathias Yao serving as chairman.

Both CPG and EM Services were offshoots of government bodies, so it is hardly surprising that they may have PAP party members or supporters in their numbers. What is strange is that Mr Teo finds this a problem in WP’s dealing with FMSS, because it is an accusation that can easily be — and has already been — thrown back at his party. As we have seen, both companies chose not to bid for the managing of AHTC when FMSS was the sole bidder, perhaps reflecting the two companies’ political nature.

FMSS owners Danny Low and How Wen Fan are supporters of the Workers’ Party but not party members — that is one point that Mr Teo and the WP can agree on, even if the support is “close and trusted”. Whether awarding contracts to close party supporters is a conflict of interest is a grey area best left to corporate governance experts to comment on, but if it is indeed deem so, there will be even more businesses out there that shouldn’t be dealing with the PAP town councils.

Even if Mr Teo’s accusations reek a lot of the pot calling the kettle black, it’s good for the public interest that both sides are bringing these questions out in the open. Those government critics who have long argued for transparency should realise that it’s not just the PAP who has to be accountable to the people, and the WP must also be completely open with its dealings with external companies. It is therefore wrong to suggest that this is a mess that benefits no citizens. Without the squabble, where and how do we uncover more dirt that lies beneath?