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.
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?)