A Lesson on the Need for Alternatives
I refer to the media responses by Dr Teo Ho Pin and Mr Chandra Das on Christmas Eve regarding the issue of the sale of the PAP-managed town councils’ computer and financial systems and the subsequent termination of the systems at Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (AHTC) by Action Information Management Pte Ltd (AIM) after General Election (GE) 2011.
First, it should be clarified that during the post-GE transition period from May till August 2011, the PAP-appointed Managing Agent at the former Aljunied Town Council was still in place and assisted the incoming management to liaise with AIM. AIM had issued notice of termination of the systems, effective 1 Aug 2011. The new management at AHTC had requested an additional month, from 1 to 31 Aug 2011, mainly to do parallel testing of the front-end of the system, which AIM agreed to after intercession. After 31 Aug, the former system was no longer operational at AHTC.
It is regrettable that both Dr Teo’s and Mr Das’ statements have been calculated to side-step the most critical question of how the public interest was served when the PAP-managed Town Councils, which developed the computing and financial systems at significant cost and co-owned them, sold them off to a third party which could exercise rights of termination if there was a “material change” in the composition of a Town Council. What justification was there for the Town Councils to relinquish ownership and leave the continuity of Town Council operations at the mercy of a third party? Residents all over Singapore have a right to know.
Dr Teo has now confirmed that this third party, AIM, is “fully-owned” by the PAP. In other words, the PAP-managed Town Councils saw it fit to sell away their ownership of the systems, developed with public funds, to a political party, which presumably could act in its own interests when exercising its rights to terminate the contracts. Was that the very reason why there was such a termination clause in the first place? And what arrangement, if any, is now in place at the PAP-managed Town Councils to cater for any subsequent “material change”?
As for developing an alternative replacement IT system for town management for AHTC, AIM reportedly said that AHTC had indicated sometime in June 2011 that it was developing its own system to serve residents. At the time, the Workers’ Party (WP) MPs who became the incoming management of AHTC were acutely aware of the possible termination of the computing and financial systems at short notice by AIM, hanging over AHTC like the proverbial Sword of Damocles.
To safeguard the interests of residents who elected the WP Team and gave the WP MPs the mandate to manage the town, AHTC worked overtime to upscale the town management system in use in Hougang TC, which had been tried and tested. AHTC counts itself fortunate to have been able to leverage on the Hougang TC system, which had been developed and in use for more than a decade, customized specifically for town council management requirements. If anything, this episode clearly demonstrates the risks to Singaporeans of having a lack of alternatives in every sense.
ALJUNIED-HOUGANG TOWN COUNCIL
28 December 2012