The following article appeared in Channelnewsasia today:

It appears that the SPP has alleged that the newly elected PAP MP for Potong Pasir had promised to retain the services of all 16 employees of the Potong Pasir Town Council.

It appears that only 3 employees were retained at Potong Pasir TC and the remaining staff have been served with termination notices with an offer of re-employment with EM Services.

EM Services is the newly appointed managing agent of the Potong Pasir Town Council. I find the following aspect of the news report disturbing:

When contacted on Wednesday, Mr Sitoh refuted SPP’s claims.

“At that time, I didn’t know the inside workings of the town council and how many staff there were, so my exact words to her, “Since you asked, I’ll try my best to see what I can do”,” he said.

“And I think I’ve kept to my word: I negotiated with EM Services and I must give credit to EM Services. They said, “Don’t worry, we’ll take the staff”.”

As for his decision not to keep most of the town council employees at Potong Pasir, Mr Sitoh said he could not keep everybody, as he has to abide by EM Services’ regulations.

“It has its own way of doing things that is developed over the years, which is why I adopt this system. My paramount interest is the Potong Pasir residents, so EM Services has to bring in its own people. I can’t compromise on standards of services I deliver to residents.”

He added that EM Services will probably have to train some of the Potong Pasir town council employees under its own training programme.

Town council employees whom MediaCorp spoke to expressed concern about the situation, especially after they were told that when re-employed, they would be put on a six-month probation under EM Service’s terms and conditions. When asked about the probation period, Mr Sitoh said this was standard human resource policy for all EM Services staff. He added: “If they’re good performers, what’s the worry?”

Firstly, it appears that the appointment of EM Services was one which involved a personal choice and exercise of discretion by Mr Sitoh. The process of appointment of Managing Agents is totally unsatisfactory. In the end, these Managing Agents are going to be paid under their contract by the Town Council. The Town Council funds are coming from the residents ultimately. Where is the accountability if one person exercising his personal discretion could negotiate with and appoint EM Services as the Managing Agent. I have in an earlier blog post addressed the issue of PAP members being part of EM Services including, of course, the Chief Operating Officer of EM Services who is an ex-MP. With such close party based links, it would have been more prudent for Mr Sitoh to have taken over the Town Council and then to set out, through an open and transparent manner, to find an appropriate Managing Agent. The fact is that PAP run Town Councils have become comfortable with the delegation of estate management functions to these companies such as EM Services, Esmaco & CPG Facilities. This has led to the newly elected MP for Potong Pasir to speedily appoint EM Services without first considering if the process itself should be transparent.

In an article on Today that appeared on 30th May 2011, Mdm Halimah of Jurong Town Council noted as follows:
“We have a transparent and rigorous system in place where all tenders, including the appointment of the managing agent, are evaluated by the Tenders and Contracts Committee comprising Councillors. This committee’s recommendations are then reviewed by the full Council,”

If this is in fact the practice in Jurong Town Council, it Is to be welcomed. The appointment of the managing agent itself is one that is evaluated by the Tenders and Contracts Committee.

In Potong Pasir it remains a question mark as to whether any rigorous or transparent process was followed.

Secondly, this issue of what Mr Sitoh promised should not descend into a war of words between the SPP and Mr Sitoh over who said what. But, at this point that is the way it is coming out. SPP alleges one thing and Mr Sitoh disputes it. Let’s assume for a moment that Mr Sitoh is telling the truth that he said he would try his best. His final remark in that Channelnewsasia article is not at all indicative of someone who tried his best or someone who cares.

In relation to the 6-month probation period for the terminated Town Council employees, Mr Sitoh stated “if they are good performers, what’s the worry.” This is precisely the EQ problem that we have been encountering with many PAP MPs lately. One would have thought that the chorus of discontent that grew louder and louder during the elections would have helped to soften these MPs. It doesn’t appear to have affected some of them.

You win the election. You take over the Town Council. You unceremoniously terminate the employment of Town Council employees without so much as an offer of compensation. The best you could negotiate for these employees was an offer of employment at EM Services and your response to the 6 month probation period can at best be described as scornful. I expect more than that from you Mr Sitoh.

Thirdly, what is there to stop EM Services from claiming after the end of the probation period that the staff cannot be confirmed because they were below par. With the kind of political links that EM Services has, doubts may arise as to the true reason for the termination of the employees if they get dropped after six months. Many doubts have already been cast at the termination of services encountered by an employee of Esmaco serving at Jurong Town Council. The General Manager of the town council, Mr Ho had allegedly terminated the services of one of staff that happened to take part in campaign activities in support of the National Solidarity Party. Mr Ho, as it turned out, is, apart from being a director UGL Premas (the holding company that owns Esmaco), the Branch secretary of the PAP’s Bukit Batok Branch.

The line between Town Council, Managing Agent and the political party tend to be blurred in such situations. I can only hope that things would be more transparent.

In the meantime, the SPP’s letter to Mr Sitoh is available here: