‘Underwhelmed’ by Town Council report

Residents are personally affected by their Town Councils’ performance. If they feel that their MPs are not performing, they would have voted them out long ago. But the two opposition MPs have been returned to office again and again for the last 18 to 25 years–longer than any other PAP MPs save one. Why does MND suddenly feel the urge to tell residents what they should think of their TCs?

It is hard to contain one’s scepticism when reading the news about the Town Council Management Report (TCMR).

The Straits Times reported on Friday:

The two best performers are Ang Mo Kio-Yio Chu Kang led by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, and Tanjong Pagar headed by Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew, according to the government’s Town Council Management Report.

The two worst performers are run by the opposition: Hougang, by the Workers’ Party’s Low Thia Khiang, and Potong Pasir by the Singapore People’s Party’s Chiam See Tong.

Isn’t it interesting that the two Town Councils (TCs) that “top” the report are the ones “headed” by the PM Lee and MM Lee, and the two “worst performers” are those headed by opposition MPs? (Technically the two Lees do not head their Town Councils. They have delegated that less glamorous job to their backbencher MPs.)

Tanjong Pagar Town Council (“headed” by MM Lee) was given a particularly glowing mention by the media, despite them hitting the headlines back in March after a 7-year-old girl fell four storeys through a broken railing that was not fixed by the TC, even after a resident reportedly lodged two complaints about it three months earlier. Unsurprisingly, MM Lee was not mentioned back then to be “heading” that TC.

Broken railing - Tanjong Pagar Town Council

In fact, the Straits Times reported that “many of the 30 residents interviewed were underwhelmed by the results, with some saying the glowing scores on cleanliness and maintenance do not reflect the reality in their neighbourhood.”

Looking at the criteria that the Ministry of National Development (MND) used to judge the TCs, it’s not hard to figure out why. The six criteria are: cleanliness, estate maintenance, lift performance, ARD failure, percentage of households in service and conservancy charges (S&CC) arrears, and amount in arrears.

Hands up all those who don’t know what an ARD is. (Don’t worry, even Wikipedia doesn’t have an entry for that.) And why do I as a resident care how good my TC is at debt collection?

In my weekly–usually bi-weekly–house visits to residents, I usually ask about their concerns concerning their neighbourhood. I have only heard two of the TCMR criteria mentioned — cleanliness and maintenance. Obviously lift performance is important, but that doesn’t seem to be a problem for any of the TCs, and hence not something residents are losing sleep over.

What I have heard are concerns over rising S&CC (which several PAP wards just hiked, and I’m told Hougang has one of the lowest), broken promises and delays lift upgrading (these are PAP wards, mind you), poorly designed covered walkways and footpaths, and the squandering of sinking funds due to ill-advised investments.

Does the TCMR reflect residents’ concerns about the way their TCs are managed? Were they even consulted on the report? Apparently not. Why not judge the TCs on how low their S&CC charges are and their value for money? Why were TC investments dropped from the evaluation criteria at the eleventh hour?

What is the motive of MND coming up with this report in the first place? Does the Ministry of Transport come up with a bi-annual report on the performance of SBS Transit or SMRT? Does the Ministry of Health issue an overall ranking report on hospitals? Even the Ministry of Education has slowly moved away from ranking schools. Why is MND going against the flow in coming up with this report?

Residents are personally affected by their TCs’ performance. If they feel that their MPs are not performing, they would have voted them out long ago. But the two opposition MPs have been returned to office again and again for the last 18 to 25 years–longer than any other PAP MPs save one.

Why does MND suddenly feel the urge to tell residents what they should think of their TCs, and by extension, their MPs?

(Afternote: I have no objections to ranking public services per se,provided they are not politically biased. Can the Government assure Singaporeans that there was no political motivation coming out with this report, and that it did not pass through the approval of any PAP politician before being issued?)

14 thoughts on “‘Underwhelmed’ by Town Council report”

  1. The reason can be as simple and straightforward as an order given out by the PAP leaders to its juniors, like Grace Fool, to do their parts to make the party look good in readiness for the GE.

  2. I believe the report need not pass through any of the politician to look nice. It is very logical. HDB is headed by a PAP politician so how on earth can the report not be bias! No one working in HDB would want to step on that HDB guy’s tail (unless s/he does not want to keep his or her job). I think that is pretty logical again.
    HDB’s report is never an independent report.

  3. In a properly functioning Parliamentary democracy, the civil service should be completely politically neutral, and should be able to produce fair and unbiased reports that are in the best interests of the country, not their political masters. Unfortunately the way the PAP has interwoven itself with the civil service over the years, this is, sadly, impossible in Singapore.

  4. Can Gerald Giam assure Singaporeans that there was no political motivation coming out with this blog article, and that it was not read by any WP member before being issued?

  5. Arrears important criteria but amount of investment including profit & losses made by these Town Councils are not important ? Amount of bonuses paid also not important ? Obviously there is a political agenda as so many issues are not addressed in the Town Council report.

    As a matter of fact, what is the purpose in including killing litter as a criteria in future reports ? These are individual sort-of one-off cases and what the hell has it to do with the performance of each Town Councils ?

    I would have thought that the amount of investment made by each of the Town Councils including profits or losses reported including the no. of months in bonuses the staff are paid are equally important so that then these Town Councils would then have no excuse to increase the conservance charges as and when they pleases if they have so much additional funds to invest (or lose) in the first place.

    To rate the Old Man and his PM son’s Town councils as the best and second best managed Town Councils respectively is really stretching our imagination a bit too far. If the PM eventually lose his seat in the next General Election which is not too impossible to achieve, then wouldn’t this kind of Report then make him the greatest laughing stock in the history of Singapore’s politics ?

  6. Really Ah? Says:
    June 14th, 2010 at 4:20 AM

    Can “Really Ah?” comment if taxpayers funds were used by Gerald in his blog post vs MND’s Town Council report to paint a glowing picture of the ruling party while putting the opposition wards in bad light?

    At least Gerald’s blog is done on his own using his own resources. He has the right to be express his own opinions.

    MND is a ministry serving the PUBLIC, i.e. one and all not just a party. It has a duty to the public to be FAIR and UNBIASED.

    Really ah?

  7. “In a properly functioning Parliamentary democracy, the civil service should be completely politically neutral, and should be able to produce fair and unbiased reports that are in the best interests of the country, not their political masters.”

    I don’t think the above is possible in any democracy. The civil service has to serve the political masters of the moment, and the promotion and bonus of civil servants depend on their political masters, thus they are beholden to the govt of the moment. The only difference in Singapore is that the “masters” have been masters for far too long.

    The only way for complete neutrality is for reports to be produced by a joint committee (in the US, it’s always “bipartisan” whenever broad acceptance is needed) or by a completely independent party (ie someone who is completely independent of the Govt under the Constitution). In the US, the Fed Chairman and Chief Justice are examples of such parties and thus are often called upon to head committees of inquiry, fact-finding commissions, etc.

    Neither of these approaches will work here, nor are they appropriate if the aim is simply to grade town councils.

  8. @Really Ah? – I have not concealed my party affiliation and have stated that what I write on my blog are my own opinions, and not that of my party or party members.

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