14 May 2013

What the MND review really means

How does one conduct a comprehensive review while wearing blinkers?

Headed by one Mr Tay Kim Poh (apparently a deputy secretary in the Ministry of National Development), the MND team found that the PAP-AIM deal was

1. Not illegal
2. Followed due process and did not represent a conflict of interests

We have already predicted in February that the deal would not be illegal, though the ownership of AIM by PAP would fall under a grey area. The deeper issue of political financing and political donations were not addressed by the "comprehensive" MND review, which only strove to investigate the deal through the blinkers of the Town Council Act.
We've already pointed out that Singapore's regulatory framework of political parties with respect to these two issues is at odds with international legal norms, which ban political parties from owning private enterprises.

Further, it's only through very imaginative acrobatic manoeuvrings that MND could find the deal in accordance with due process and free from conflict of interests. MND had to accept that being town councils, appointments and contracts will be, can be, and can be allowed to be preferential, can be parcelled out as political appointments.

By allowing this, MND in effect says that certain practices which could end the political career and legacy of... let's say a former mayor of Paris, would be perfectly legal and above board in Singapore because we allow that local government is, by nature, "politicised".

Implications of MND's findings

1. The civil service or at least the team headed by Tay was simply incompetent, and utterly stupid.

2. The civil service or at least the team headed by Tay lacked independence, and had become politicised. They were charged by the prime minister to conduct a comprehensive review and turned up a heavily blinkered review.

Whether there was self-censorship or behind-the-scenes political pressure, this may cause some to conclude that the civil service is either very openly batting for the ruling party or intimidated by the prospect of having to investigate the party. The MND review may ironically further undermine public trust in the system.

3. The MND review legitmises the idea that local government in the form of town councils are held to lower standards of corporate governance and due process, and higher thresholds of conflicts of interest than the private sector. This is the gateway to open preferential contracts, clientelism, and procurement corruption.

In light of all these, we at Illusio again renew our call for the Town Council-AIM deal to be investigated fully by the Auditor-General of Singapore and the Register of Societies. We further call upon the Minister for National Development to step down and for his deputy secretary to be censured by the head of the civil service for publishing a review that holds local government to lower standards than the private sector.

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