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Home » Politigasm » The Parliament is not a place to settle old political scores by calling a truce

The Parliament is not a place to settle old political scores by calling a truce

The parliament is a public institution and it is not a venue to play political hunger games. Sadly, to the disappointment of all political watchers in Singapore, our state of politics has degenerated into a sport of mudslinging and blood spills. On Monday 13th of May 2013, the Workers’ Party parliamentarians walked out with their noses bloodied, figuratively speaking, by the Minster for National Development Khaw Boon Wan.

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Khaw pointed out that WP has been parceling off contracts to supporters of their own political party for a whopping figure of $25.9 million. Upon closer inspection, there appears to be lapses in governance in the way contracts were awarded.

But it was not a case of the pot calling the kettle black. Even if Khaw made any aspersions of poor governance, he was politically savvy enough to show WP a way out of their death trap.  They reached a common ground; and it turns out, that it is perfectly okay for parliamentarians to do whatever they want with town councils. Khaw said, “As MPs, we are given a lot of latitude to run TCs.”

We must put our trust, wholeheartedly, in our politicians to wriggle out of a tight spot. And our parliament has become a place to cut deals, settle old political scores and forge new alliances:

“I call on all, including our WP colleagues, to work closely with my Ministry to improve our TCs, for the interests of our residents moving forward,” said Khaw.

There appears to be some kind of political brotherhood and it will be not too long before our dear beloved politicians turn our public institutions i.e TCs into their own political fortresses. At least for now, having a fortress seems like a good idea. Besides, it is a comfortable safe zone for both parties to fall back on.

WP in choppy Political Waters

WP has found itself in choppy political waters in the last two days. It has lost the moral high ground to argue that TCs are a public institution after farming out its own IT contract to a party insider.

However, according to some die hard WP supporters, it is a different kettle of fish when WP parcels out contracts to its supporters. Apparently, it is not favoritism; it is because of their distrust for anything not affiliated with WP.

Pritam Singh, at the parliamentary sitting, called for a ban of  TC transactions on party-owned companies.

Khaw responding to Pritam said, “We must impose it across all TCs, and also not just narrowly for party-owned companies but companies owned by people in various forms of party affiliations, like ex-party members and party supporters and even their immediate families. If we do this, we would of course be prohibiting the appointment of FMSS by the AHTC as well.”

The slippery slope of TC contracts

TC deals are vital to the growth and survival of political parties. It provides party members with income, jobs and precious cash to organize their parties more effectively. Without these deals, parties will have to solely rely on donations and MP allowances to survive. For some, as distasteful as it seems, it is the reason why they sign up for politics in the first place.

One needs to lift the corporate veil in the case of FMSS. If the company was setup for the sole purpose of hiding the true ownership and in this case the Workers’ Party, then there is a serious lapse in governance.

While it may seem easy for Pritam to say that he can just ban all TC transactions by party-owned companies. In reality, we need to extend the notion of ownership to party-members, affiliates and supporters. In this case, WP can’t afford to throw this out of the window for practical financial reasons. In fact, they have gotten themselves into a nice little mess.

To be fair to WP, this fight was started by the bloggers. The battle lines were drawn digitally in the cloud by over-zealous supporters who thought they were doing WP a favour. But little did they know that they were doing them (WP) in, by kicking the dust on AIM.

What I fear most is the internal turmoil that WP would go through (or maybe not). So what happens to those who joined them to make a difference and those who argued for TCs to be a public institution? Where do they stand philosophically and ideologically in all these? So, what can WP offer?

It appears that a tactical withdrawal would be a nice respite for our WP warriors, especially after their passionate performances in their first world parliament.

Trust me, even if the warriors retreat, the foot soldiers will fight till the bitter end.

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3 Comments

  1. The Pariah says:

    Equally questions should be asked about service providers to PAP Town Councils and Govt Buildings:

    1) CPG Facilities Management Pte Ltd as subsidiary of CPG Corp Pte Ltd corporatized from the former PWD (Public Works Dept); and

    2) EM Services Pte Ltd as JV between HDB and Keppel Land as part of Temasek Holdings stable chaired by ex PAP MP Mathias Yao.

    To what extent are (A) biz procurement and (B) senior appointments “politicized”?

    It is healthy that WP is subject to the same rigour and vigour of scrutiny. Let’s see if this AIM-FMSS saga will backfire in the same grand way that PAP’s attempt to cast doubt on WP’s nomination of Png Eng Huat for Hougang BE did.

  2. Anon says:

    In Parliament, Min Khaw Boon Wan revealed troubling facts about FMSS. He then asked Sylvia Lim directly how she would “characterise the FMSS transactions and if public interest has been protected”. Ms Lim has not answered these queries.

    The public deserves to know because the award of contracts worth $26 million by the Workers’ Party (WP) run Aljunied Hougang Town Council (AHTC) to long time supporters and close business associates of WP, through FM Solutions and Services Pte Ltd (FMSS), raises serious questions about public interest and transparency.

    Ms Lim and WP MPs have not disputed the following facts:

    a) WP won in Aljunied GRC on 11 May 2011.

    b) Four days later, on 15 May 2011, FMSS was set up.

    c) Mr Danny Loh and Ms How Weng Fan (who are husband and wife) own FMSS.

    d) Mr Loh and Ms How were Assentor and Proposer for the WP team of candidates who contested in Ang Mo Kio GRC in the 2006 General Election. They were clearly close and trusted supporters of the WP.

    e) How and Loh are also Secretary and Deputy Secretary/General Manager respectively of AHTC. How had been an employee of Hougang TC.

    f) AHTC, headed by Ms Sylvia Lim, gave a $5.2 million contract to FMSS on 15 July 2011 (soon after the General Election) to manage AHTC, without calling a tender.

    g) One year later, in August 2012, AHTC awarded a contract worth $16.8 million to FMSS to manage AHTC. This time AHTC called a tender, and FMSS submitted the only bid.

    h) AHTC also gave another contract in 2012, for the Essential Maintenance Services Unit to FMSS, worth $3.9 million. In total, AHTC has awarded $25.9 million worth of contracts to FMSS.

    FMSS charged AHTC $7.87 per property unit in July 2011 to be its Managing Agent (MA). This was 20% higher than the rate charged by the previous managing agent ($6.51 per unit per month) before the GE. In the August 2012 tender, FMSS increased the unit rate to $8.04. This is more than 50% higher than the unit rate ($4.99 in 2012) paid by Tampines TC, a comparable-sized estate, to its managing agent.

    Instead of trying to obfuscate the public with wrong calculations on how much FMSS charged AHTC, Ms Lim needs to explain clearly why a WP run Town Council gave more than $26 million of public funds in contracts to close associates. And why it paid management fees significantly higher than normal, and 20% higher than its previous managing agent.

    Three key questions of public interest arise:

    a) Did AHTC secure the best possible deal by awarding an MA contract worth over $5 million to a company formed by close WP supporters just days after the 2011 GE, and without a tender?

    b) Did AHTC exercise due diligence when they awarded not one but two contracts worth over $21 million to the same company a year later in 2012?

    c) Has AHTC protected the interests of Aljunied and Hougang residents?

    Ms Sylvia Lim is Chairman of AHTC. Presented with these facts in Parliament, her first response was that she was not sure about the unit rates that AHTC paid to FMSS. She had awarded contracts at significantly higher prices to close and trusted party supporters, and she did not know the facts?

    Ms Lim then said that the high price could be due to inflation. Really? Can inflation explain the huge difference in rates with Tampines TC?

    On Tuesday 14 May, the WP issued a statement in Ms Lim’s name disputing MND’s figures for the MA rates and providing her own figures. But for some inexplicable reason, Ms Lim had left out commercial units and only included the residential units. Her figures were therefore erroneous and misleading.

    On Wednesday, Ms Lim issued another statement to explain the MA rates. She raised her estimate of the MA rate for FY2012 from $7.01 the previous night to $7.58. This is indeed more than 50% higher than the Tampines rate ($4.99). Further, as MND pointed out, even at $7.58, the MA contract value for the whole estate for 3 years would only be $15.8 million – $1 million less than the $16.8 million that Ms Sylvia Lim herself had declared to HDB last year. Where is the missing $1 million?

    One possible explanation is that AHTC has staggered the MA rate with increments each year starting with $7.58 in 2012. If so, it is bad news for residents – it means simply that their current MA rate, which is already high, will rise even higher each year. By my calculations, it will increase from her figure of $7.58 in 2012, to $8.00 this year and $8.50 next year!

    Beyond these specific problems with WP’s claims, more basic questions must be asked:

    a) Loh and How are Secretary and Deputy Secretary/General Manager of the AHTC. Do they draw salaries as employees of the TC?

    b) As Loh and How do business with the TC through FMSS which they own and profit – do they get paid twice?

    c) What was the need to form FMSS just a few days after WP won Aljunied GRC? If urgency was the chief consideration, as Ms Lim claims, would it not have been easier for AHTC to have employed How directly and managed the town itself, just as Hougang TC had done, without having to form this for-profit company?

    These questions raise serious issues of financial probity and transparency. The WP MPs in AHTC owe it to the residents of Aljunied and Hougang, as well as Singaporeans in general, to give full answers to them.

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