A Summary of the TCMR debacle

Just a recap:

On the 10th of June, the Ministry of National Development released the first ever Town Council Management Report (TCMR) that rates Town Councils according to 6 key indicators under 4 areas like, “Cleanliness, Maintenance, Lift Performance and Service & Conservancy Charges (S&CC)”.

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The top two ranked Town Councils belonged to the wards of Minster Mentor Lee and Senior MInister Goh, while the last two ranked belonged to opposition-held wards helmed by Mr Low Thia Khiang (Workers Party) and Mr. Chiam See Tong (Singapore Democratic Alliance).

The results irked many netizens who felt that the release of the report was politically motivated with an impending General Election due to be called latest by Feb 2012. Gerald Giam asks if residents were consulted for the report and why the current set of indicators were used instead of others.

Singapore Dino felt that the report was ‘divorced from reality’ as he feels that his estate hasn’t been properly maintained with its own share of problems like irregular cleaning, shoddy block washing and unresponsive town council staff(s).

Ng E-Jay asks why wasn’t the lost of money by ill-considered investments by the PAP Town Councils wasn’t mentioned in the report. (see netizen response to the loss of Town Council monies)

Both Tattler from Singapore Notes and Yaw Shin Leong question whether the Town Councils have exercised empathy and were sympathetic to residents who are unable to pay their S&CC due to the poor economic situation, with one of the indicators used in the report being the proportion of household with overdue payments ≥ 3 months.

On the opposition front,

One day after the report, the Singapore Democratic Party released a statement condemning the results and accuses the PAP for depriving opposition-run wards of funds and resources to upgrade their facilities and infrastructure. Both Mr Low (Workers Party - Hougang) and Mr Chiam (SDA - Potong Pasir), MPs of opposition-held wards also came out to dismiss the report:

Mr Low:

' Low, Chiam dismiss report Jun 11, 2010 Both opposition MPs yesterday dismissed the Town Council Management Report that gave their town councils the lowest scores. In an e-mail statement sent last night, Hougang MP Low Thia Khiang suggested that the whole grading exercise might simply result in residents having to pay more. He said: 'Such an exercise ... which inevitably requires much resources put in by the town councils, would translate into higher operating costs, and residents will eventually end up paying higher service and conservancy charges.' He made it clear that he had been sceptical of the whole undertaking from the start. For example, it was not feasible to assess town councils with a 'common denominator', given the differing constituency profiles. Opposition town councils start from a disadvantaged position, as they are at the bottom of the queue for estate upgrading. 'Considering this, for the Hougang Town Council to be given a ranking of four for maintenance, as against a three and below given to a PAP town council with all the various upgrading given them by the HDB, it is an accomplishment,' he said.

Mr Chiam:

When contacted, Potong Pasir MP Chiam See Tong was in a defiant mood. He curtly dismissed the report as a ploy to discredit his town council. 'They want to thump Potong Pasir down,' he said, when approached at his Meet-the-People session last night. Looking clearly upset, the opposition veteran added: 'Potong Pasir is the best town council in Singapore, what do you expect me to say?'

June 13 - Senior Minister for State, PAP MP, Ms Grace Fu replied to claims by Mr Low that the report was unfair and subjective.

Snipped quote:

Responding to claims by the opposition that they do not receive funding to improve the estate, Ms Fu said all town councils are provided funding based on the number and type of households in their wards. "The operating funds, the grants, are exactly identical," she said. She also noted that the opposition wards have been included in the Lift Upgrading Programme or LUP. "There will be flats which are eligible for LUP, including the opposition wards. So all the divisions who are eligible for LUP will get their LUP done. "As for other upgrading, for example Neighbourhood Renewal Programme or Home Improvement Programme, that's actually depending on our available resources, and then the allocation will also depend on the needs of the local areas. "So not all PAP divisions will have the same upgrading done as well. There are some who get more and some who get less. So it doesn't apply just to opposition towns...."

June 14th, Mr Chiam See Tong, Opposition MP for Potong Pasir (SDA) wrote to the Straits Times Forum to reply to a resident complaining about the poor facilities in Potong Pasir just a day before the TCMR report was released. The MP made references to the recently released TCMR.

Snipped quote:

Potong Pasir Town Council has been engaging competent contractors for all estate maintenance work and our team of estate officers is always there to ensure that the work is carried out effectively. I am not surprised at the rankings in the Town Council Management Report (TCMR), which was published in the media. It is not at all appropriate to compare the performances of the town councils as the profile and age of the properties are totally different. There is also an inequality in the funds granted among the town councils and the improvement works carried out by the Government. Potong Pasir is a mature estate where the blocks are 25 to 35 years old. Constant efforts are being made using our available resources to maintain the estate as best as possible. [snip] I have been managing Potong Pasir Town Council for the last 25 years as diligently as I can and will continue to do my best.

On the 15th of June, Mr Low Thia Khiang, Opposition MP for Hougang (Workers Party) released a press statement responding to PAP MP Ms Grace Fu (Senior Minister of State)’s reply on the 13th and called upon the Ministry of National Development to release the data of the additional funding allocated to PAP Town Councils so that the public can make its own analysis. He also suggested that two new criteria be added to the next TCMR exercise.

It is time the Ministry of National Development let the public know how much additional funding each PAP TC has received through the various upgrading programmes funded by the national budget or has benefitted from the programme up to the financial year 2009 so that Singaporeans can have a clear idea of which PAP TC did not qualify for the upgrading program as mentioned by Grace Foo. The public should know how much additional funding is given to PAP TCs via the upgrading programs and hence can judge for themselves whether it could affect the outcome of town management. [snip] I would suggest two more new criteria for TCMR for MND’s consideration. They are funding either directly received or indirectly benefitted from government programmes to improve and upgrade common areas managed by town councils; and amount of SCCC arrears written off by town councils. Band 5 being for the most funding and SCCC amount written off.

17th June - SMS Ms Grace Fu responded to WP’s Mr Low press release on the Workers’ Party website on the Straits Times but made no mention about making available the set of data that the opposition MP requested.

She said he was 'overly simplifying the situation' when he argued that estate upgrading impacts on how well a town council (TC) performs in the maintenance of a Housing Board estate. For instance, new lifts installed in older blocks will add to the responsibilities and operational costs of town councils, she said. She stressed that all TCs, whether run by the People's Action Party or the opposition, are treated the same when it comes to estate upgrading.

Disclaimer: Due to the comprehensive nature of the responses to the report, I am unable to quote in full the various replies. I’d encourage readers to click on the links to read in full detail about what was being said, instead of relying solely on my snipplets of quotes.