Ah, the thrill of a Committee of Inquiry strikes again! The joy of watching your career slip right before your eyes, of seeing your name immortalized for generations, of wondering who will be the last Survivor…
PM Lee has wisely decided to call in MND to investigate the AIM saga. Maybe it won’t be so bad this time around, it’s only a ‘review’ and not a full-blown COI. Here’s what they’ll likely find.
1. No corruption, no criminal breach of trust. Those who alleged this have overactive imaginations. Really, do you think the PAP is so stupid as to do something patently illegal? What they do is sometimes distasteful, but always legal. They hire smart lawyers to write laws for them, they hire smart lawyer to advise them, and to sue people for them. With lawyers like these, how can they ever fall foul of the law?
2. No misuse of public monies. Those who allege this do not understand what public money is. Town council fees are not public money, unlike taxes, levies or duties. The latter are used to fund public services; the former are used to pay for specific services consumed by the payee, in this case, estate cleaning and maintenance services. They are no different from condo management fees or even fees collected by (say) polyclinics, which pay for drugs and medical services used by the payee. If you don’t consume the said services, you don’t pay.
Public money is different. When you pay taxes, you are not consuming anything specifically. You just pay. Public money is used to run public services, and is distributed by the ministry of finance. Those who have too much (eg SLA, LTA) contribute their excess to the Govt Reserve. Those who don’t have enough (eg Mindef) draw from the Reserve.
Public money is also subject to President oversight. Basically, if the govt doesn’t raise enough revenue and has to borrow or draw from the Govt Reserve, his approval is needed.
As far as I know, Town Councils do not have to contribute their excess funds to the Govt Reserve, nor do they need Presidential approval for overspending. Hence to me, it’s very clear this is not public money.
3. Town councils are political organizations. Technically wrong, since Town Councils aren’t gazetted, like TOC. However, it is totally correct that town councils are run by political parties and their employees are not paid by the Civil Service. So again, they are in many ways different from govt employees, though many residents can’t appreciate the difference.
4. Conflict of Interest. I think not even MND can deny that having a Pap company buy software from pap town councils is a conflict of interest. However, they can point out that no one else was interested in the tender. So how?
Sale and leaseback is not illegal. In fact, it’s quite common in business. Many businesses want to free up cash, lighten their balance sheets. Outsourcing also makes sense. No point having 14 groups of IT support staff, 14 server rooms, 14 IT helpdesks etc. when centralising it brings economies of scale and cost savings. Hence, in principle, I have nothing against sale and lease back, not just because it’s legal, but because it makes business sense.
I think MND will just fault the Town Councils for not calling for a re-tender before awarding to AIM, as MND itself does if there’s only one bid for a hawker stall.
5. The Poison Pill clause. To me, this is the crux of the matter. The right for aim to walk away when there is a material change of ownership of the town council is political poison by the pap. One sees such clauses only in commercial contracts such as joint ventures, where both partners have the right to walk away if there is a material change, eg if the other party is acquired by a direct competitor. It would seem pap regards other parties as direct competitors and puts the same kind of poison pill clauses in its contracts as companies in a joint venture.
Again, this is perfectly legal but it shows just how political and self-serving PAP is.
In summary, I don’t believe PAP or AIM did anything illegal. However, I see what they did is for their own political interest, and I’m glad this case has exposed the lengths to which PAP will go to cling on to power.
Voters should see PAP for what it really is. They should also realise that AIM stands for “Aljunied Is Mine”.