Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Get on with job of running town councils

Jun 18, 2013

IT IS a mercy the irritable exchange between a state agency and a Workers' Party-managed town council over the cleaning of food centres appears to have ended. Members of the public were discomfited to witness the party's MPs and officials of the National Environment Agency slugging it out over interpretations of contractual obligations, amid recriminations of victimisation and breach of faith. Government leaders had little choice but to respond once a state agency was charged with being politically motivated, as it is incumbent on the authorities to uphold the integrity of public institutions. Besides, HDB residents and business operators would have cause to feel something is amiss if the politicisation of the role of councils results in an adversarial relationship developing between public service organs and certain town councils.

It is doubtful if many disinterested observers or constituents in the WP wards could keep up with the plot twists in what should have been an uncomplicated matter. Cleaning of hawkers centres has been carried out without controversy for years. The protocol for doing so should be well rehearsed. So, the endless rounds of who should be responsible, and disputes over who said what to whom, left many observers bewildered, to say the least.

The public expectation of national agencies and local government, each with its clearly defined remits, is that the former be scrupulously even-handed in its work while the latter discharges its functions efficiently and within budget. Where disputes arise over matters for which an agency has titular responsibility, contending parties ought to settle the differences by negotiating in good faith. Grandstanding never helps as any reflexive attempts to politicise issues might only turn off people, whatever their political persuasion. Stakeholders' main interest is in seeing things work well, in return for the conservancy charges and taxes they have paid. Voters here rightly expect things to get done, rather than to endure endless political bickering over who should get it done, or who is responsible if it does not.

The ugly spat comes soon after another contentious dispute over the managing of town councils, with many serious questions raised over the politicisation of local government. The review committee that has been tasked with looking into the role of town councils is therefore timely. Most residents want their town councils to be effective and accountable. As politics here becomes more keenly contested, voters expect that key players learn to work with other in good faith rather than be at constant loggerheads. They will not look kindly on those for whom residents' interests are secondary to political point scoring.

No comments: