06 January 2013

The PAP clown show continues! (Town council edition)

"Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce."
-- Marx's introduction in The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte

Almost two years ago, half-hearted reports in the mainstream media hemmed and hawed over Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (AHTC) and its award of a contract to a firm which was registered barely on the eve of the elections.

Thanks to my sources, I sought to provide a fuller picture of just what was unsettling about the AHTC case, namely non-transparency, less than proper procedures in the tender process, a clear conflict of interests in the firm that won the contract. Whether or not there was any intention or whether this was simply a matter of non-standard or even slipshod management, it did lead my source and others familiar with town council procurement procedures to question if there was any procurement corruption - intentional or accidental.

Almost two years later, Marx's quip about history repeating itself holds true. We wouldn't say there has been a scandal but at the very least, there has been widespread concern over the blogosphere and media, again composed of half-hearted hemming and hawing, over how 14 PAP-run town councils outsourced their management software solution to a company called AIM.

Like before, as the priestess of Ise, I am bound by duty and obligation to point out the farce that lies before us - even though I fully expect the mainstream media now, as it did before two years ago, to leave the matter hanging while the balls are up in the air, out of sheer cowardice and fear of inquiring after what people need to know and want to know.

The real issue, as before, is conflict of interest

To a process auditor, the fact that (Action Information Management Pte Ltd) AIM is a company with $2 paid-up capital is immaterial.

The real cause for concern is the fact that a firm registered to former PAP MPs was awarded a contract for 14 PAP-held town councils by Teo Ho Pin, who was a sitting MP at that time and now names himself the "coordinating chairman" of these town councils, after being the sole bidder for the tender, and submitting the tender way past the deadline.

The fact of the case is there has been a conflict of interest, just as there was a clear conflict of interest in the AHTC case 2 years ago. AHTC awarded a contract to a firm set up by its former employees and managers. Now, it is revealed that Teo Ho Pin awarded a contract to a firm set up by his former parliamentary colleagues.

But a conflict of interest or a preferential awarding of contracts doesn't necessarily imply that there is any criminal or otherwise illegal behaviour, much less political corruption or procurement corruption.

A hypothetical professional auditor may query MP Dr Teo Ho Pin and former MP Chandra Das thus: Was the conflict of interest disclosed by AIM during the bidding process?

The auditor-general of Singapore, whose purview is checking the books of town councils, may query MP Dr Teo Ho Pin and former MP Chandra Das thus: Was the conflict of interest disclosed by the town councils in their annual reports submitted to him?

If the answer to both questions (both easily verifiable) is no, then according to some process auditors there might be a case for an investigation by the relevant regulatory authority.

Love me tender (as a farce)
We refer to the report in The New Paper, dated 5 January 2013 on page 6. As Lucky Tan points out: "For the tender process to work successfully and fairly, companies have to be provided sufficient information to put in a bid. In this case, the tender involves the purchase a custom software and specifications have to be sufficiently detailed so that companies can value the system and put in a competitive bid."

Instead, Hutcabb Consulting believes that the tender was a non-transparent one, with insufficient information provided about the nature of the work to be contracted. We infer from what the IT procurement experts canvassed by TNP said, that the contract made no business sense, the work had no financial benefit; hence "companies would ordinarily not bid for such contracts." You can find other software experts saying the same thing elsewhere.

And like the AHTC saga from 2 years ago, we come to the same questions of whether the tender process and the terms and scope of the contract was preferential in the sense that no other firm aside from the one awarded would have put in a bid for it. An auditor will ask if the tender process and terms of the contract make no business sense to bid for the contract unless that one firm was connected to the town council or the PAP.

Nothing illegal or corrupt yet but the non-transparency stinks anyway

I admit that even if this were a case of preferential contracts, this is not a smoking gun for political corruption.

What makes this entire affair a clown show and a farce is how Dr Teo Ho Pin and Mr Chandra Das proceed day by day to whittle down their vast reserves of citizen goodwill, reasonable doubt over the rightness of the tender and award process, as well as the general trust in the transparency of Singapore's only ruling party since independence.

We can only say it's nothing short of flabbergasting the elan that possesses Teo when he says that during the time of him awarding the contract to AIM, he already knew that AIM was backed by the PAP. And that's not as farcical as the further admission from Chandra Das himself that AIM is PAP-owned. And perhaps not as mindblowingly hilarious that Das follows that up with a refusal to state how much assets and business his PAP-owned company has.

But let's look at the other real issue of transparency here:

1. How does a company registered under the names of 3 former PAP MPs become a PAP-backed company (according to MP Dr Teo), a PAP-OWNED company (according to former MP Chandra Das)?

2. Is there any reflection in ACRA records that AIM is a PAP-owned company?

3. Do Chandra Das and his other 2 directors have a legal duty to declare that AIM is a PAP-owned company in its official records?

4. Is it legal for the PAP as a political party with donation and funding limitations to 'own' companies registered in the names of private individuals?

5. Does the PAP operate any other businesses that are registered in the names of private individuals, as Das and his other 2 directors were?

6. As a political party, has the PAP furnished the Registrar of Societies, whose purview is in part the management and disciplining of political parties in Singapore, a full list of companies officially PAP-owned and unofficially held in trust for PAP by private individuals, their assets, and their business returns?

As the priestess of Ise retires for the night, we leave these questions hanging in the air for a day or two, or a week or two, as fruit for your thought.

Our thoughts? What a clown show!

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