Wednesday, 9 January 2013

AIM saga: An independent body should investigate instead of MND

9th January 2013

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has ordered a probe into the sale of People's Action Party (PAP) Town Council management software to Action Information Management (AIM) Pte Ltd.

The controversial deal has been the source of much debate and tension over the past fortnight ever since it was raised by Workers' Party chief Sylvia Lim and the WP-run Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (AHTC).

In a statement on Tuesday afternoon, PM Lee said he's asked the Ministry of National Development to review the transaction in "the interest of transparency and maintaining trust in the system" and that "public funds were safeguarded and resident's interest were not compromised". He also added that MND would at the same time take a broad-based review of the "fundamental nature" and purpose of TCs in order to ensure "high overall standards of corporate governance". The review is expected to take a month or two.

On hearing that the Prime Minister had ordered a review by the Ministry for National Development (MND) of the business transactions involving Action Information Management (AIM), a company owned by the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP), ground reaction was, “Isn’t the Minister for National Development Khaw Boon Wan also the chairman of the PAP, the entity at the centre of this whole controversy?”

It is a sentiment shared by some others as well.

“As AIM is a company that was set up by members of the PAP, is it in the public interest to task a Ministry that is headed by the chairman of the PAP to assess the integrity of its transactions?” asks activist Jolovan Wham in his Facebook note.

“Your decision,” he adds, referring to the Prime Minister, “to conduct an investigation via an arrangement that reveals a clear bias in protecting the interests of your party is deeply problematic.”

The order to “review this transaction fully, and satisfy itself that public funds were safeguarded and residents’ interests were not compromised” is a welcome move by the prime minister, he could have done better by making sure that the agency doing the review was manifestly independent and seen to be so. While one can be sure that the team will do a professional and thorough job of the task assigned to it, this is a particularly special case, one would argue, which requires a higher degree of independence in the public’s eyes.

“After all, if there was anything untoward in the transaction, shouldn’t MND have spotted it in the first place? It’s like telling MND to go through self-criticism,” Bertha Henson wrote on her blog.

As such, the review team should consist of non-PAP, non-MND personnel. “[A] committee comprising independent and respected members of society from the business community, civil society and the various political parties should be appointed to carry out the investigations,” Wham suggested. The controversy over the AIM-PAP issue is one of a conflict of interests. With MND heading the review of the business transactions, another conflict of interest, perceived or otherwise, has apparently emerged.

One feels that the PAP must not hide behind this review by the MND and instead take its own initiative to answer the many questions which the public has about its business dealings.

The PAP does not have to wait for the results of the MND review to be released before doing so. It can start by disclosing to the public the number of companies it owns.

Contributed by Andrew. He helms as Editor-in-Chief. His writings have been reproduced in other publications, including the Australian Housing Journal in 2010.

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