Wow! 12 big fat ones, all gone. I am, of course, referring to the report in Parliament yesterday that two of our Town Councils (TCs), both helmed by PAP government MPs, have lost $12 million dollars of the people's money - held as the sinking (no pun intended) fund for the purpose of repairing and improving the common properties in and around the residential estates - by investing that money in the very risky Lehman structured financial products.
The government, to its credit, disclosed these losses in Parliament yesterday, saying that these losses represented 6% and 2% of the sinking fund of these TCs respectively, but that these TCs remain in the black. Well, black, red or white is not the issue here. The issue is that a substantial amount of the people's money, kept in trust, to be used for the people, have vanished into thin air. And the shocking thing this, nobody is standing out to take responsibility for it. Everybody is hiding behind Parliamentary disclosures, announcements and, it would appear, exoneration. No, we don't want to go witch-hunting, but we want accountability. No we don't want to sack anyone, but we want, perhaps, some contrition and admission of wrong by some parties. All that I am hearing now is that the town councils will now adopt a more conservative investment strategy - itself a tacit admission that they were wrong in investing in these highly risky products in the first place, but nothing more. Maybe instead of lambasting and ridiculing the opposition the next time, the PAP MPs and government should take a leaf out of them this time. Hindsight is always a better teacher because we can see with perfect vision what we should and what we should not have done. If the town councils involved - Holland-Bukit Panjang and Pasir-Punggol, who respectively lost $8M and $4M - had that vision BEFORE the event, they wouldn't now have ended with mud on their faces today. Some have made the point that sinking funds are exactly that - stashed away, sunk in a hole, sealed up in very safe fixed deposits. But no, somebody figured that structured products made more money and, without understanding the product, went to market and bought $12million dollars worth of it. When it is not your money, or when you feel that you have 'earned' it through positive investments in the past, the decision to take on riskier investments seem easier. But it is still the people's money, no matter if they are accumulated surpluses or however well one has invested it in the past. All investment gains still accrue to the people's account, just as the losses do now.
Residents now have $12million less to help improve their lives. They have$12million less to cut the fees that they are paying monthly. They have $12million less to put in the bank that will at least earn some more interest. Even at 1% annual interest in an FD account, it will still net $120,000 a year. Sure, its peanuts (now where did this word last cause an uproar?) when you consider the cost of maintaining not one town, but several, but it is money that belongs to the people. Singapore has always prided itself on accountability of public funds. Is it now being conveniently swept under the carpet?
Many in Singapore feel that, with government MPs behind them in their constituency, they can only gain - they stood to stand in the front of the queue for more and newer amenities as well as upgrading works - so people vote for them. But it appears that they also had their money gambled away by the local government, which inextricably, had a huge appetite for risks - risking other people's money, i.e. Obviously they cannot take their grievances now to Mr Tan Kin Lian. The only thing the TCs can do is hang their heads down in shame the next time they ask for more money for the S&C fees. I don't know if they would die of embarrassment. The only way they can demand increases in the fees is if they changed the entire team who lost all those money. For that, we will probably need a GE, which we are told is not on the cards yet.
The constituents, lost big this time around without even stepping into a casino. Will the government reimburse the TCs? Nope, that's not what its going to do, that's not their style, which is well and good. The TCs have to make up their shortfalls - or is there any shortfall to be made up for in the first place. It appears not.
Which disturbs me.
If the loss of $12M is of no consequence to these TCs at all, then what is it doing with so much excess money - money which it still collects from the people every month, money which belongs to the people? The question is - are the people paying too much already in Service and Conservancy fees in the first place? Have they been paying so much over the years that the TCs have found in its kitty sums of money which it can afford to lose? For the sake of the people, I hope not.
Image source: morgueFile.com. Author: Dawn M Turner