The Ministry of National Development (MND) has on 20 March 2015 made an application to the High Court of Singapore to appoint independent accountants to safeguard Government grants to Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC).
This is an unprecedented move by the Government to protect residents’ interests.
The move is in response to Sylvia Lim's demand in June 2014 to MND to release close to $14 million in S&CC grants which MND has withheld pending the outcome of the AGO's special audit. MND had withheld disbursement of the grants as they have a fiduciary duty to ensure that public funds are used correctly. With the appointment of independent auditors, MND can proceed with the disbursement and ensure that Aljunied residents' interests are not affected by the on-going saga.
Going through the courts process to apply for independent accountants would help allay accusations that the spotlight on AHPETC is politically motivated, Singapore Management University law lecturer Eugene Tan said. “I don’t think anyone would have any basis to say that the courts are being used,” he said.
By doing this, the Ministry of National Development (MND) is “demonstrating their resolve” to assure residents that this was not a political battle, he added. “Whether it is politically motivated or not, we can’t run away from the fact that there are real issues raised by the Attorney-General’s report."
National University of Singapore (NUS) Institute of Policy Studies sociologist Tan Ern Ser said independent accountants are expected to be professional and non-partisan, and therefore objective and unbiased, thus helping to snuff out rumblings that the episode is a political attack on the Workers’ Party.
Associate Professor Eugene Tan also said the MND’s hands are “tied” due to the Auditor-General’s report on the AHPETC’s accounts, detailing governance lapses at the town council. “The MND has to follow up on the remedial action ... because if they do nothing, (the MND) would be accused of failing in their duties,” he said.
He added that the move would ultimately serve to safeguard residents’ interests. “They would get the government grants they are entitled to, and if there were any wrongful payments made, then those would be made good,” he said.
Any measure taken to enhance governance, accountability and transparency is a good thing, said Dr Tan Ern Ser, while Dr Singh said this would remind other town councils to be more careful and transparent in their operations. This is something which the Workers' Party of Singapore had publicly supported during the Parliamentary Debate on AHPETC.