Friday, 21 November 2014

Conclusion to the fabricated story of the "missing $3.3 million".

This shall be the concluding post to the series... until another mud-slinging attempt begins. I am glad that the MND posted clarifications yesterday and today to dispel further rumours. Of course, not everything that was said made sense. But hey, at least they tried. I have edited the blogpost to also reflect Minister of State Desmond Lee's latest response

Here are some of the loopholes. 

"Ang Mo Kio TC and Tanjong Pagar TC receive more grants than AHPETC because they have more and smaller HDB flats. Ang Mo Kio has 89,127 HDB flats, of which 39 per cent are 3-room or smaller. Tanjong Pagar has 75,050 HDB flats, of which 59 per cent are 3-room or smaller. In comparison, AHPETC has 71,760 flats, of which only 29 per cent are 3-room or smaller. Likewise, even though Chua Chu Kang has about the same number of HDB flats (71,348) as AHPETC, Chua Chu Kang receives less S&CC grant (S$4.9 million compared to AHPETC’s S$7.2 million), because only 12 per cent of its flats are 3-room or smaller." - MND 

I will take their word for it that AHPETC has fewer small flats. But their explanation does not apply when we compare Ang Mo Kio GRC, which received $17 million in grants, and Tanjong Pagar GRC, which only received $13 million. AMK GRC has fewer flats smaller than three-room compared to Tanjong Pagar GRC, but it received $4 million more. What's the reason for this anomaly? There are two legitimate possibilities that I can think of: 1) AMK GRC had received one of those once-off special grants for whatever reason, thus accounting for the higher grant; 2) AMK GRC has a lot of one-room and two-room flats that are entitled to higher grants. 

"The accumulated surplus is the amount of operating surplus cumulated over the years. Under Section 34 of the TCs Act, all TCs have to transfer the stipulated amount of their accumulated surplus to their Sinking Fund after an election. This is the TC’s own Sinking Fund. The TC can use this to pay for future major repair and repainting works. After GE 11, Aljunied transferred S$3.7 million Accumulated Surplus (80 per cent of total Accumulated Surplus) to its Sinking Fund, as required by law." - MND 

So, now that we have heard from MND about where 80 percent of the accumulated surplus went (this should include the operating surplus of $3.3 million), are we going to hear apologies from the pro-PAP groups for publishing misleading statements that alleged that Workers' Party had "Huat Ah" pocketed $3.3 million? 

Probably not. Some of them are still insisting that WP is corrupt by clutching at straws. Probably because they think that they have the backing of the dominant party, and therefore, can say whatever they like without needing to provide evidence. 
The result of being misled by pro-PAP websites. This person still believes
that the $3.3 million "disappeared into thin air".
Whose pocket?
Alleging that Low Thia Khiang used his own company to make the block signs at Hougang. These people need to be reminded that Chiam See Tong once successfully sued two PAP leaders for making claims that they could not prove.

As for the ability to use the sinking fund, this link shows an exchange between then-Potong Pasir MP Chiam See Tong and PAP man Cedric Foo where Cedric Foo tries to rationalise to Chiam See Tong why Potong Pasir SMC cannot use its own sinking fund to make lifts that stop at every floor. Therefore, the statement about the use of sinking fund should be qualified with the phrase "subject to approval from the government". Should the government not approve the use of the sinking fund, the TC that wants to continue with a programme will have to fund it using other sources of income. (In other words, the sinking fund is like the CPF for Town Councils. You can only use it if the government thinks your reason is good enough.) 

"Despite an increase in income (AHPETC’s income in FY12 was S$29.8 million, compared to $26.8 million in FY10, a 11 per cent increase), its expenditure increased more significantly (its expenditure in FY12 was S$35.4 million, compared to $27.3 million in FY10, a 30 per cent increase). Its operating deficit before grants was $5.6 million in FY12 compared to $500,000 in FY10 (1,120 per cent increase). After grants and less transfers, it ran an operating deficit of S$734,000 in FY12 compared to a surplus of S$3.3 million in FY10." - MND

"AHPETC received the same S&CC grants in FY12 that it got before the 2011 General Election. Yet, in FY10 the TC ran an operating surplus of S$3.3m, but in FY12 it ran a deficit of S$734,000. Why did this happen? Is the S&CC from Aljunied GRC residents being used to cover the deficit in Hougang TC?" - Desmond Lee 

A rephrasing of these paragraphs are in order, because the entity AHPETC did not exist until FY13. The PE by-election was in January 2013, so any reference to AHPETC before 2013 is a mistake. What MND should have written was: "After Aljunied GRC merged with Hougang SMC in 2011, there was an increase in income for Aljunied-Hougang TC to $29.8 million. This was 11 percent higher than the income of $27.3 million accrued by Aljunied TC in FY10." Since the TC after 2011 comprised two constituencies instead of one, it makes sense that the expenditure would have been higher rather than lower. So I don't know what MND's point was in highlighting the increased expenditure across time.

Desmond Lee is more careful in his use of words this time. In his previous statement, he actually said, "The operating surplus of $3.3 millon Aljunied had in FY10 had turned into an operating deficit of $734,000 in FY12." (Italics are mine.) The use of the phrase "turned into" implied that WP had the money, and squandered or pocketed it, thus causing the account deficit. It is misleading to readers who are not aware of the Town Council Act, which requires the TC to transfer the majority, if not all, of the accumulated surplus to the sinking fund after an election. Unless Desmond Lee was in fact saying that the $3.3 million operating surplus that George Yeo's TC had was not transferred to the fund in 2011, but was handed to WP? But I doubt he was saying that because he subsequently altered his words.

This reply obfuscates the issue by confusing the accounts of Aljunied TC with
Aljunied-Hougang TC, which is a different entity. 
Of course, there's no mistake in their criticisms that the finances of the areas managed by WP seem to have been in a perpetual bad state after Hougang merged with Aljunied. And since PE merged with the two constituencies in 2013, there has been no news about the state of finances. It is also true that WP's expenditure has consistently been higher than its income. There are many possible reasons for that, such as poor spending control or an ineffective system of collecting services and conservancy charges. We need to hear from WP to get both sides of the story. In my opinion, it was unwise of WP to merge the constituencies. It's always better to deal with complicated matters in small parts, rather than have them lumped together into one big mess. 

However, I expect public officials to be more measured in their public communication. I think any statement by anyone, especially from the PAP, that misleads the public into thinking that financial misappropriation was the cause of the deficit should be condemned. As MPs or former MPs, PAP leaders are supposed to know that the operating surpluses of a TC get rolled into what is called the accumulated surplus, which is then transferred to the sinking fund after an election. Therefore, any person in the government trying to create the impression that the accumulated surplus could've been misused or had somehow "disappeared" will come across - at least to members of the public who are aware of the law - as either woefully ignorant of something that he should know about, or not completely trustworthy and truthful in his communication.

Hopefully, after this debacle, everyone will realise that when communicating with the public, being honest is often the better option than being vague in order to create an impression of unlawful activity. For example, had the PAP simply laid out the facts of the TCMR assessment, leaving Singaporeans to judge for themselves, I think they would have gotten the result that they hoped for - which is, people concluding that WP is no good at managing its finances and will have a problem managing the country's finances. Unfortunately, PAP opted to condemn WP repeatedly on national media with misleading statements. Pro-PAP Facebook pages simultaneously alleged that WP was corrupt without any evidence.

I think that suggests a willingness to stoop to a low level just to gain the upper hand. I don't think the PAP ever believed that Singaporeans are capable of thinking. Well, they should change their opinion, because it could darn well affect their votes.

“AHPETC has yet to explain its serious financial mismanagement, and the S&CC arrears. Instead, we have seen a coordinated online campaign to distract the public, using falsehoods, half-truths and speculations, by friends, sympathisers and proxies of the Workers’ Party (WP). The aim is to confuse the public and distract them from the real issues. MND has addressed these untruths. This is what the WP often does when caught under the spotlight – raise a flurry of red herrings in the hope that people forget that they have not come clean." - Desmond Lee 

This paragraph, in my opinion, shows how out of sync the PAP is with reality. Calling the online speculations a "coordinated online campaign" by "friends, sympathisers and proxies of the Workers' Party" is just so.... off.... I don't even know what other word to use to describe it. Does Desmond Lee, scion of former PAP Minister Lee Yock Suan, really think that the government critics online are being controlled by the opposition parties? If so, it is further evidence of what I have pointed out above: the PAP does not believe that well-educated Singaporeans have the capacity for individual thought. What an insult.

The labeling of random bloggers who do not know one another as "sympathisers and proxies of the Workers' Party" would be amusing, if he wasn't already made a Minister of State. The phrase is more commonly used to describe supporters of illegitimate and illegal political parties, such as "Nazi sympathisers" or "Communist sympathisers and proxies". Such parties are usually banned in democratic countries because they are associated with totalitarianism and extremism with scant regard for the basic rights of humans. I have never heard of politicians in democratic countries calling supporters of other lawful political parties "sympathisers" and "proxies". 

So the question is, does Desmond Lee think that the Workers' Party, established in 1957 by our former Chief Minister and Singapore Ambassador - a man who remains respected by the Jewish community in Singapore - the late David Marshall, is an illegitimate political party and should be made illegal? Does his view reflect the view of the PAP? 

If there were "red herrings" in this entire debacle, the first fish was thrown by the pro-PAP camp with the fabrication, intentional or otherwise, that the Workers' Party had caused the surplus of $3.3 million to disappear. If the PAP's intention was to criticise the WP for financial mismanagement and arrears (a justified criticism), it should have focused on those aspects instead of misleading the public into thinking that WP had pocketed money. Financial misappropriation is a totally different, and much more serious charge. A deficit is by no means proof of financial misappropriation.

Let's be clear. The key issue is what the following pro-PAP supporter has said below - the arrears, and what caused the "red areas" in the TCMR assessment of AHPETC. Anything else that goes beyond the facts to jump to conclusions will be construed by discerning Singaporeans as attempts to tarnish the reputation of the PAP's strongest political rival.
The real issue lost in a basket of herrings.

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