Monday, June 14, 2010

MND considers new town council criteria

Sinking funds, killer litter may be on future report cards

IN ITS attempts to assess how well town councils manage their towns, the Ministry of National Development (MND) is considering two other possible indicators.

These are: the adequacy of a town council's sinking funds, and the placement of objects in Housing Board (HDB) blocks that could result in killer litter.

MND's Senior Minister of State Grace Fu told reporters yesterday that her ministry was in discussion with town councils on the possibility of including these matters in future assessments.

She was speaking on the sidelines of a grassroots event at Yuhua Community Club in Jurong GRC, where she is an MP.

Her comments are the first by a government official since the release of the report card on town councils on Thursday.

In that report, MND graded the 16 town councils on six criteria, spanning cleanliness, maintenance, lift breakdowns and how expeditiously service and conservancy charges are collected from households.

Left out of the assessment was the amount of sinking funds, which are used for longer-term maintenance needs like repainting, lift upgrading and water pump replacement.

Town councils are funded by service and conservancy charges as well as an operating grant from the Government based on the number of HDB flats and flat-types in the town.

On killer litter, Ms Fu said yesterday that MND was 'very keen' to engage town councils on this issue, possibly making it an area of assessment.

HDB has been on a campaign in recent months to educate HDB dwellers on the dangers of killer litter.

Ms Fu said, however, that changes to the assessment system would not be hasty, as MND preferred to let the current system 'stabilise' first 'for a period of time'.

She also stressed that the evaluation process was fair and transparent: Town councils were informed of inspections 'one to two months' ahead of time, and were also invited to participate in joint inspections.

Hougang Town Council, run by Workers' Party chief Low Thia Khiang, took part in some of these inspections, she said.

Inspectors, who are drawn from the HDB, are rotated around different estates so that no one could say any one team was more lenient than others.

All their factual observations, including the date, time and photographs, are filed and can be accessed online by town councils if they want to know how their grades were arrived at, said Ms Fu.

Where arrears in service and conservancy charges are concerned, the data was provided by individual town councils.

'There's no manipulation, no addition or management of the data involved from our side,' she said.

For compiling the report, HDB's inspections took place from October last year to March this year, and covered half of the 900,000 HDB blocks in Singapore.

Maintenance - for example the condition of wall tiles, benches, staircase railings and playgrounds - was an area where no town council got the top grade of 1.

Ang Mo Kio-Yio Chu Kang Town Council got a 2, other People's Action Party (PAP) town councils got 3s, while Hougang got 4 and Potong Pasir got 5.

Responding to the report, Hougang MP Mr Low said on Thursday that opposition wards were disadvantaged as they were at the end of the queues for various upgrading programmes.

Rebutting Mr Low, Ms Fu said the criteria for HDB's upgrading programmes are clear and not all PAP wards qualify too.

In any case, an upgraded estate also faces maintenance issues as covered walkways, for example, could need more effort to maintain than a 'clean patch of grass'.

She also pointed out that it is not true that opposition town councils receive less funds from the Government.

The rules governing operating grants and service and conservancy rebates are identical for all constituencies, she said, and how much a town council gets from the Government depends on the number and type of flats the town has, not whether it is run by the PAP or the opposition.

Source: Straits Times, 14 Jun 2010

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