The Ministry of National Development’s (MND) application to the courts to appoint independent accountants to safeguard government grants to the Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC) is not a move as part of a “political dispute”, said its lawyers on Monday (May 4).
Attorney-General’s Chambers Deputy chief counsel for litigation Aurill Kam, who is acting for MND, said that the Workers’ Party-run town council has “mischaracterised” MND’s actions by saying that it is action between the ruling People’s Action Party and the WP.
Speaking at the start of a two-day hearing in the High Court, Ms Kam said that it is action between MND, which has regulatory oversight over the Town Council Act, and AHPETC, which is a statutory body.
“This concerns obligations of a statutory body that is holding funds. The leadership of the town council being WP members is not the point. These are legal questions,” she said.
The court hearing is the latest development following a report by the Auditor-General’s Office in February that flagged lapses in the town council’s books.
STEPS TAKEN ‘INADEQUATE’
On Monday, Ms Kam said that the steps taken to date following the report have been “inadequate”.
She noted that AHPETC have appointed an external accounting firm Audit Alliance to look at their accounts, and financial consultants Business Assurance to review their processes.
But she pointed out that Business Assurance – a sole proprietorship that was set up last February – does not appear to have the necessary expertise to advise on or carry out reviews, and does not appear to have a good understanding of town council operations.
“There is no evidence that the town council has sought help from professionals with good track records,” she added.
Earlier, the court heard that AHPETC had enough funds to last until June this year – but this would be premised on them not making transfers to the town council’s sinking fund. Quarterly transfers to the sinking fund are mandatory – and the money is used for long-term estate maintenance.
Before heading into the courtroom on Monday morning, town council chairman Sylvia Lim said she would not be able to comment further as the case was before the courts, but added that the town council would be mounting a “vigorous defence”.
“We are doing this in the interest of our residents, and we believe this court case is wholly unnecessary,” she said.