The Straits Times interviewed Mr Tan Jee Say, Sec-Gen of SingFirst to understand if we can manage the town council should we be voted into Parliament.
Here is the interview:
This is Straits Times. Thanks for taking my call earlier. As I was saying, I’m trying to gather the different political parties’ reactions on the town council issue that has been in the news recently. As you know, SDP has also put out a town council management plan to try and convince voters that they are capable of running town councils well. I was hoping to find out more from you about your party’s plans about this issue.
ST : Do you think that town council management will be one of the main issues during the coming general election? Do you think voters will want more assurance about the competency of a party to run a town council, especially since Workers’ Party has run into problems with the National Development Ministry?
SingFirst : Of course, the PAP will exploit the issue to frighten Singaporeans. But they would be misleading the voters. Opposition MPs have run town councils for more than 20 years beginning with Potong Pasir and then Hougang, and the HDB estates in these 2 constituencies had been well run. In fact, despite all the negative publicity the estates in the Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East combined town council have also been well-maintained. The roads, pathways, gardens, car-parks and corridors are clean, rubbish chutes and bin centres are cleared regularly, and the lifts, water systems and lights are working. So estate management is not an issue in AHPETC.
We understand that the AHPETC had a problem with the accounting software and had to do manual accounting, thus causing a delay in completing the required financial accounts. We wish the AHPETC success in resolving the matter soon.
ST : SingFirst is a relatively new party in Singapore. How is the party planning to reassure voters that you are able to run a town council give your relative inexperience?
SingFirst : We will reassure voters by reminding them that inexperience had not prevented Mr Chiam See Tong and Mr Low Thia Kiang from running Potong Pasir and Hougang town councils successfully. We will retain the estate managers in existing town councils and if any one does not wish to stay on, we will hire replacements as these are not difficult to find since there is a lot of expertise in estate management in Singapore (including estate managers with experience of working in town councils and managing agents of private estates).
Many of us in SingFirst have working experience in large and medium size organisations in both the public and private sectors and we will know how to deal with these management issues. In addition, we will beef up the accounting systems and procedures and hire a dedicated compliance officer to ensure that these procedures are adhered to on a daily basis.
My colleagues and I will take a special interest to oversee this. Having worked in the financial sector which is highly regulated by the MAS with strict compliance requirements, I will bring my experience in these matters to the running of town councils.
ST : How is SingFirst planning on differentiating itself from other parties who have experience in running town councils, for example the WP, SPP and SDP?
SingFirst : We will want to benefit from the experience of our friends in the WP, SPP and SDP in running town councils. They will want us to succeed as well since we all share a common interest in serving Singaporeans. We understand that Mr Chiam shared his experience of running Potong Pasir TC with Mr Low when the latter was first elected in Hougang. We will of course share our experience acquired in beefing up the accounting and compliance procedures with the other parties.
ST : Could you share any other town council related plans, such as if SingFirst is planning a dialogue on town councils, how SingFirst is planning to address town council questions should they come up at dialogues, or how SingFirst has addressed town council questions that have already come up. Or if there are any discussion within the party on town councils and if there are plans to release a paper like SDP?
SingFirst : We have discussed town council issues within the party. We have also met up with a managing agent who has more than 10 years’ experience in running several residential estates, condominiums and shopping malls. The managing agent shared his experience with us and assured us that estate management and maintenance is not difficult as Singapore professionals have a lot of experience in this area.
What we need to pay particular attention to is financial accounting. His company is prepared to assist us if we need their help. We will answer all questions on town councils if and when these surface at our dialogue sessions with residents. In fact, we are holding a public forum in due course and it includes segments where concerned citizens can participate on issues related to town councils.
ST : Do you have any other thoughts on town councils that are not addressed by the questions above?
SingFirst : As I had said before at our party’s inaugural dinner on 22 March 2015, “The real solution is to return the management of estates to the HDB like in the past, so that residents benefit from overall economies of scale and pay a uniform fee. This way, charges will be kept low for all residents all over Singapore and no estate will be overcharged. But we can do so only if we are voted in to form the government.”
In the event that the opposition could not form a government, as in a coalition government, we will take over the running of the town councils ourselves by retaining existing estate managers and officers, and improving the accounting and compliance procedures. Residents can rest assured that we will do a good job based on the working experience of our party leaders and the advice of experienced managing agents. We also hope that the mass media will help residents understand the true nature of the town council issue and not over-hype it for party political purposes.
End of Interview