Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Conundrum of AIM's Role in the AHPETC Audit Report

What started well for the PAP Government in the Auditor-General's Office (AGO) exposure of the so-called major lapses of the AHPETC in the financial management and governance of its town council has now gradually become counter-productive to the PAP for going overboard in their frenzied attacks of the Workers' Party on these issues. In the midst of their massive swoop on the WP, the PAP wallahs simply glossed over the role played by AIM in the whole controversy. The unfortunate situation would not have arisen if it were not for the sudden intentional withdrawal of the software system of AHPETC resulting in major disruption of its management. They faced immense difficulty and despair in the limited time available to re-assemble a workable system in order to prevent a collapse of the administration.

Singaporeans, until now, find it hard to comprehend how three PAP MPs could own AIM (Action Information Management), a $2/- payout company that bought over town council software for $140,000 when the development cost at public expense totalled $23.8 million. And this PAP company is used to deprive the AHPETC of the use of its software. The AGO has either not been aware of AIM's role in the controversy which is unlikely or for some unknown reason simply avoided giving prominence to its role in it which could be significant. The Ministry of National Development (MND) was tasked by the Prime Minister to carry out a review of the AIM scandal over its questionable purchase by the three PAP MPs but, as expected, the MND reported that nothing was amiss. So quite merrily, AIM could go on with impunity with its nefarious task of depriving the opposition in the use of its software should they find themselves in the invidious situation of taking over a town council in an election victory.

As for the so-called conflict of interest presented by the AHPETC managing agent FM Solutions & Services (FMSS), it was apparently under intractable circumstances that the WP had the unenviable task of appointing it as MA as no other bidders seemed to have the temerity of incurring the wrath of the PAP to venture in. Any conflict of interest seemed to have been more apparent than real as AHPETC Chairman Sylvia Lim had explained that necessary checks had been made before each transaction.

However, whatever factors are advanced in its favour, the AHPETC still faces a transparency problem in running the town council and it is crucial for the WP to convince the electorate, especially the middle ground, that the Town Council in still very much in good hands. There is no reason for it not to be able to restore electoral confidence in the Party in the next GE.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

The Astounding Lapses of AHPETC

The reputation of the Workers' Party has never so splendid since its capture of the Aljunied GRC and Punggol East  SMC in GE 2011 and BE 2013 respectively. And the prospects that it can do even better in the next GE have never been brighter. The groundswell of opinion is in its favour and the opposition generally as of until now. And the electorate, minus the pro-PAP diehards, looks forward promisingly to the winds of change in the political situation in the next GE.

So the critical report of the Auditor-General's Office on the lapses of the AHPETC in its financial management and governance of the Town Council came like a bolt from the blue. It caught most Singaporeans by surprise, but quite frankly it was not entirely unexpected. One of the most glaring lapses is the persistent conflict of interest revealed in the AGO's report between the Town Council and its managing agents the FM Solutions & Services (FMSS) and the FM Solutions & Integrated Services (FMSI).  How on earth could the husband and wife team of secretary and general manager of the Town Council be the majority owners and proprietor of the managing agents at the same time is the serious conflict of interest problem no amount of explanation that the WP Secretary-General Low Thia Khiang and Chairman Sylvia Lim can give convincingly to pacify the electorate.

The Minister for National Development Khaw Boon Wan and Law Minister K. Shanmugam  have never been so vehement in their denunciations of the Workers' Party for its lapses in AHPETC emphasising strongly on its conflict of interest problem at the Parliamentary sitting on 12 February. The WP Mr. Low Thia Khiang and Ms Sylvia Lim could offer no satisfactory answers to the pernicious accusations and looked very dejected. WP Mr. Pritam Singh did not help in his inexplicable remarks that he would only answer to his residents.

It is unfortunate that these colossal AHPETC lapses occur so near to the next GE which could take place at any time before January 2017. WP's ineffectual defence against the PAP denuciations could not have put them in a favourable light with the electorate. Unless they can come up with a concrete solution to the financial and governance lapses of the AHPETC quickly, it looks like they may lose considerable support from the middle ground.

WP must try its best to defend itself in the coming weeks to convince the middle-ground that its Town Council is still very much in good hands. What needs to be rectified or who needs to be changed, act on it. Be transparent with the electorate and I'm sure they will be a lot more forgiving towards you.

The same cannot be said of the PAP. Like one of their prominent minister said, "We are deaf to all these criticisms."

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Our humanitarian Prime Minister

Can our PM Lee Hsien Loong pass off as a humanitarian Prime Minister? He can be quite humanitarian when it comes to paying obscenely high salaries to himself and his so-called incorruptible ministers from taxpayers' money. He claims that he and his ministers are serving the people and would it not be a cynical travesty of the lofty principle of serving the people if they exact exorbitant salaries in order the serve them? It raises the question of whether they can be honest with themselves and with the people that their motives are altruistic. What really flummoxed the people is the way they continue their blatant way to serve the people at an exorbitant price.

Which brings me to the point of the writing of two letters of appeal to the callous PM Lee to mitigate the plight of government pensioners who retired in the seventies of the last century to improve their meagre pensions which had remained stagnant since the start of their retirement whilst the cost of living has been rising at an alarming rate. The letters are reproduced so as to give a realistic picture of the appeal:

Letter 1
27 December 2014
PM Lee Hsien Loong

Dear Prime Minister,
I have always admired your humanitarian character, or lack of it, and hope this will catch you not in your infamous "flame-proof" mood.
 I will come straight to the point. It is about the plight of government pensioners who retired in the seventies of the last century. It is not a secret that you and your highly incorruptible ministers are enriching yourselves with absurdly astronomical salaries from taxpayers' money. Of course it is your earnest hope that this will not become a political issue with the electorate. However much you try to sweep this issue under the carpet, it will feature, much to your anguish, prominently in the next GE and the opposition will be foolish not to capitalise on it in their election campaign. Especially since some of the ministers are of mediocre calibre drawing million dollar salaries. It will be a surprise if they can escape the critical judgement of the electorate in the next GE. You were qualmish when interviewed by a China TV host who posed you tendentiously the question of "high salaries" of your ministers and you artfully employed the euphemistic term "reality and correct" to wriggle your way out. So you cannot prevent the public, especially the electorate, to perceive the ministerial salaries as obscenely humongous.

My point in labouring on the astronomical ministerial salaries is to show that while the PM and his ministers are wallowing in wealth and luxury, they are oblivious to the terrible plight of the impoverished government pensioners who are languishing in their miniscule pensions which have never been adjusted since the start of their retirement in the seventies although cost of living has been increasing at an alarming rate. There are not many of them still around breathing the salubrious Singapore air. They had contributed in no small measure and certainly not any less creditably than the first generation ministers to the progress of Singapore. It is a disgrace that they are being so inhumanly treated. I wrote to you on 10 April 2007 to appeal to your humanitarian character, which I thought existed, to be kind enough to lift this group of pensioners out of their misery by making reasonable adjustments to their pensions so that they can live decently. In case you are still ignorant, in Malaysia, which is considered less progressive than Singapore, government pensioners' pensions are adjusted from time to time whenever there is a rise in the cost of living. When the pensioner passes away, his wife continues to receive his pension and medical benefits until she passes away.

Before my letter to you, two representatives of the Government Pensioners' Association had been to see the then Finance Minister Dr.Richard Hu for his help to improve the pensions of government pensioners. Not only Dr. Hu did not lift a finger to help, but what he told the two representatives could only have been uttered by a monster and not a human being. The callousness of his remarks could only be made by a satanic beast. Dr. Hu told the two representatives that the pensioners had served their purpose, what they were getting was enough for them to live and the government was just waiting for them to die. I mentioned this in my letter to you but apparently as a face-saving measure you chose to avoid the subject.

The negative reply from your Private Secretary on 16 April 2007 came as a disappointment to say the least though not entirely unexpected. Seven unfruitful years have passed and it is thought not inexpedient to revive the subject to see if the eminent Prime Minister will be in a more accommodating and humanitarian mood to give a favourable response to the pensioners' plight, maybe with some merciful divine intervention.

Letter 2.
10 January 2015.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

My dear Prime Minister,
It has regrettably escaped my plebeian mind that the Right Honourable Prime Minister might be miffed by my outspokenness and could be put in a dilemma as to how to reply to an otherwise non-complex issue involving pensioners who retired in the seventies of the last century. As a Prime Minister of an affluent Progressive Singapore, I am sure you possess a magnificent magnanimity which could transcend any personal animosity and look at the more humanitarian picture of mitigating the abject plight of these impoverished pensioners. There is a Chinese saying: A virtuous family will certainly have a surplus of luck (積善之家,必有餘庆). In other word, one who does a benevolent and humanitarian act will accrue immense benefits to their children and offspring especially in health and fortune.
And not only that. Your ever loving father will benefit from your benevolence. For all his loving kindness and mercy to his political adversaries, he will definitely be given an honoured abode in heaven. As his filial son, it will be reasonable to expect that you continue to do good deeds such as looking after the down-trodden to ensure the continued blessing of your loving father and children. It is natural that you will want to perpetuate you famous father's name to flow fragrantly for generations (流芳百世).
As a final endeavour, may I appeal to your keen sense of justice and fairplay? It may not have occurred to your busy mind, so you may not have appreciated it. Some of us had risked our precious lives at the height of the Communist insurgency to make this place safe and secure so that people like the Honourable Prime Minister can feel safe and sleep peacefully at night. It was through the dedicated efforts of officers like us in those turbulent days that make Singapore the prosperous and peaceful country that it is today with the Prime Minister and his loyal ministers enjoying the luxury and comfort of a "realistic and correct" salary. So please give a thought, while you are at the top of this world, to the abject plight of the impoverished pensioners who had contributed not insignificantly to the security and prosperity of Singapore. Their numbers are small and any increase in their pensions will not be a burden to the Government, and would cost the Government at most a minuscule fraction of what the Prime Minister and his ministers are getting. Many are advanced in age and may not enjoy any bestowal of increase in their pensions for long but the spirit of the gesture will be something that will touch them very deeply.
I do not think I need to elaborately further and I only hope that I have been able to mitigate any negative factor in you to gi9ve a favourable response to my humanitarian appeal.

The first letter is admittedly somewhat outspoken but it forms the basis of the appeal as it was considered the appropriate moment to make it whilst PM Lee and his ministers are enriching themselves with obscenely high salaries from taxpayers' money. If there is an iota of humanity left in the so-called humanitarian PM Lee Hsien Loong, the pensioners concerned will feel that they have found a saviour in him. But is he a saviour? He did not even have the civility to answer my first letter and so I sent a second letter, written more reverently this time, to this high-falutin Prime Minister hoping that the highly respectful language will somehow move him. Still there is no response and it suddenly dawned on me the saying that "the leopard cannot change its spots".

It may appear that this appeal only applies to a group of pensioners of the seventies but they belong to the pioneer generation who had contributed not insignificantly to the security and prosperity of Singapore, no less significant than any of the current ministers (including the Prime Minister) or even the first generation of ministers. So the often professed slogan of the Prime Minister to respect and reward the pioneer generation is but a myth. One can find no dearth of rumbles among the pioneer generation of citizens on such myth, the so-called generous distribution of the Pioneer Generation Packages notwithstanding.

Would you agree that the present lot of political office holders are not of such high stature that they are above that of self-serving mercenaries with their obscenely high salaries?  If the electorate , minus the pro-PAP diehards, is not discerning enough in the next GE, they will find themselves saddled with being governed by the same bunch self-serving money-minded PAP prime minister and ministers. In this respect the opposition has a crucial role to play to warn the electorate of this danger and to galvanise them to vote for the opposition in the next GE.