Grace Fu: Town-council reports fair

Of course there will be political impact, somewhat, resulting from the town council reports. Right. Who are we kidding?! How many of us do really care of how the town councils fare?

Especially not during the craze session of World Cup, people.

The Ministry of National Development (MND)--in one of the news--had stressed that results should not be simplistically compared across towns" due to each town's unique resident profile and property profile.

So why still the unhappiness? Why still the allegation that the reports are unfair? If so, shouldn't whoever claimed so propose the reporting criteria & re-assess the results together?

In an ideal world, that without doubt shall happen. However, real world isn't an ideal world. Unfortunately.

CYNICS should not call the first Town Council Management Report unfair, Senior Minister of State for National Development Grace Fu argued yesterday.

The biannual report - which grades the 16 town councils on six indicators across four key areas - has been dismissed only by opposition MPs, whose town councils received the lowest overall scores, said Ms Fu.

Potong Pasir MP Chiam See Tong simply said: "They want to thump Potong Pasir down."

Hougang MP Low Thia Khiang said in an e-mail last Thursday - the day the report was released - that his town council receives less state funds.

For example, he said that it has never received funding from the Community Improvement Projects Committee (CIPC), which can be used to pay for smaller-scale improvement projects.

Ms Fu, whose ministry is in charge of the framework of the report - covering estate cleanliness, estate maintenance, lift performance and arrears on service and conservancy charges (S&CC) - sought to debunk these allegations.

The annual operating grant from the Government is fair, she said. The disbursed amount depends on the types of property in the estate, a Ministry of National Development (MND) spokesman told my paper.

The grant makes up about 15 per cent of a town council's income.

The rest comes from S&CC collected from residential and commercial lessees or tenants.

Regarding Mr Low's comments on CIPC funding, MND had not replied by press time.

However, Hougang has received such funding before.

In a 2007 letter to the media, for instance, the MND press secretary noted that the Hougang Citizens' Consultative Committee had applied for and received funding for noticeboard-replacement works in 2004 and 2006.

The funds for such projects are channelled through the grassroots adviser, the letter said.

This is usually the MP, except in opposition wards. In Hougang, the adviser then was - and still is - the People's Action Party's Mr Eric Low.

The state-appointed adviser's main role is to assist in implementing programmes, like those in Housing Board upgrading.

Opposition MPs cannot be appointed advisers as they do not answer to the ruling party.

Ms Fu also said that the data collection for the management report has been made "as objective as possible" for all towns.

Data for two key areas - lift performance and arrears on S&CC - is supplied by town councils monthly.

There was no manipulation or mismanagement of data by the MND, but the opposition- run town councils did not do well in these areas, she said.

Having inspectors from the HDB do the scoring in the other two areas - cleanliness and estate maintenance - was also fair, Ms Fu said, as the HDB is not involved in the day-to-day management of an estate's facilities.

Also, in their rounds, the inspectors take photos of problematic spots, which are noted down in a report that can be accessed by the town councils.

"There must be some confidence that the government agency is 'level-handed' in all areas," said Ms Fu.

She also defended the introduction of a uniform scoring system, though she echoed the MND line that the report should not be used to directly compare town councils as each had its own characteristics.

She argued that a uniform ranking system provides a platform for residents to discuss estate improvements with their town councils.

This is less achievable if assessments are left to individual towns, which may not do the grading under the same indicators, criteria or time frame, she said.

From Asiaone, "Town-council reports fair, says Grace Fu".

THE Town Council Management Report released on Thursday may have sparked talk about political motives behind it, but observers think the report will have minimal impact on how people vote.

Potong Pasir MP Chiam See Tong had initially reacted testily to the report, which gave his town council low scores, saying that it was an attempt to 'thump down' his ward.

But political observers felt that voters would not be swayed by the report, which was compiled by the Ministry of National Development (MND) based on observations over a six-month period.

From Asiaone, "Little political impact in town council report".

While the majority of town councils received an above average assessment overall, almost all were found to have room for improvement in estate maintenance.

Only one of the 16 town councils - Ang Mo Kio-Yio Chu Kang - was banded level 2 in estate maintenance, in the first Town Council Management Report (TCMR) released yesterday. The report banded estates from levels 1 (best) to 5 (worst).

Most of the town councils were given a level 3 banding, which means they had an average of four to six areas not properly maintained per block. This included damaged walls, corroded pipes and potted plants in common corridors and staircases.

In contrast, 14 of the 16 town councils achieved at least a level 2 banding in the areas of cleanliness, lift performance and service and conservancy charges (S&CC) arrears management. Inspections were carried out over six months by HDB inspectors, and data from town councils were also used.

While the Ministry of National Development (MND) stressed that "the TCMR results should not be simplistically compared across towns" due to each town's unique resident profile and property profile, chairman for Ang Mo Kio-Yio Chu Kang Town Council Inderjit Singh said "the report gives us a feel of how we are performing in different areas in comparison to others". Ang Mo Kio-Yio Chu Kang was the only one banded level 2 for maintenance.

Mr Singh said that since two years ago, the town council has focused on systematically preventing things from breaking down, "so maybe that's why we stood out". As the estate ages, the biggest challenge is wear and tear, so routine maintenance is key. Town council staff will also have to be disciplined in carrying out checks, and continue educating residents on how they can help, he added.

Tanjong Pagar scored a banding of level 1 for all the indicators, except for maintenance, for which they were banded level 3.

Hougang and Potong Pasir towns were the only ones with level 4 and 5 banding. Potong Pasir has since replaced all the faulty Automatic Rescue Devices (ARD), which brings the lift car to the nearest landing level during a power failure, and from January, the device failure rate was zero per cent.

In an email response to Media-Corp, Mr Low Thia Khiang, chairman of Hougang Town Council noted Opposition town councils like his, "which has never received" any Government funds to "improve and rejuvenate the estate would be in a disadvantaged position" compared to People's Action Party town councils.

Saying that he was "satisfied" with the town council's performance "given its limited resources", Mr Low added that he was concerned that the TCMR exercise would ultimately "translate into higher operating cost and residents will eventually end up paying higher S&CC (service and conservancy charges)".

When approached during his Meet-the-People Session last night, chairman of Potong Pasir Town Council Chiam See Tong said his is "the best town council in Singapore". When asked why Potong Pasir was banded as such in the TCMR, he said it was obvious that the report wanted to put down Potong Pasir.

In an email response, Mr Chiam said last night he would be issuing a press statement soon.

Potong Pasir residents whom MediaCorp spoke to had mixed views. While Ms Chee Pek Eng, 41, noted the estate is "not very clean", Mr Yeo Seah Ming, 50, said he has seen a "big improvement from previous years".

Some town council chairmen assured residents they would not have to pay more for improvements. Ms Indranee Rajah, chairman for Tanjong Pagar Town Council, said it seeks to work within its budget so residents would not pay more. Jalan Besar Town Council chairman Denise Phua said it has no plans to raise fees, as it partners residents to improve maintenance.

However, Madam Cynthia Phua, chairman for Aljunied Town Council, cautioned if residents do not cooperate, more home visits by town council staff could lead to higher manpower costs. Half the maintenance penalties imposed by the council come from corridor clutter and unauthorised hanging of items by residents.

According to MND, the report aims to facilitate discussion between residents and town councils on how to improve their estates. The 16 town councils manage about 900,000 HDB flats. "The more appropriate use of the results is for monitoring of the performance of towns over time," said MND.

From Today, "Good, but can do better".

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