Commentary – Legality vs Being right

After I read the 26-paragraph statement from Teo Ho Pin, this immediately came to mind: “If being right is standing on your own two feet, resorting to legality and claiming that everything is procedurally in order and thus being right, would be like crutches to the legless. It is their only way to stay upright. And there’s only one outcome to that, that they will need to expend large amount of energies holding on to those crutches even if they want to go anywhere, or else they will be crawling like worms on the ground.”

I understand describing the PAP this way would be insulting to handicapped people without legs, and I apologise for all the offense I have caused to this courageous and determined group of people because I can’t think of a better analogy as yet. I meant no offense, because their will to live on is admirable and a beacon for able-bodied people who lost hope.

But why did I think of such an analogy? That’s because what Teo Ho Pin wants us to know is that everything is according to procedure and above all, legal. The logic is that as long as everything is prim and proper, then it has to be right. Indeed, Teo Ho Pin wants us to believe that it is right, and everything leading to the decision to do it was logical. But there is a difference between being right, compared to being logical, legal and according to procedure. Even though it may not be illegal because it is all according to procedure and proper reasoning, it still doesn’t make it right. So, I won’t waste time rebutting his entire statement point by point like some have done ever so resolutely, nor will I go again into the matter of alleged conflicted of interests. I am putting all that aside not because they are not important, but I simply prefer not to join everyone else in flogging a dead dog. On top of which, I reject his statement because it doesn’t make any sense. Let me explain why.

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Teo Ho Pin may imagine his statement to be perfect, but there is a chink in that armor and I had to point it out. First of all, the closing date of the tender is 14th July 2010. But according to Teo Ho Pin’s statement, AIM only submitted its bid on the 20th July 2010. Why is the bid even accepted 6 days after the tender has closed? A few of my friends who do sales told me that this doesn’t make sense because they often had to rush down to submit bids before the closing date. At times, even when the office may close at 5pm, the bidding would have ended at 4pm because the officer in charge of the tender process has collected the documents and he has the discretion to reject further bids even though the day is not yet out. The question here is, was there a hitherto unknown new tender called after the end date on 14th July which allowed AIM to submit this bid? Had Teo Ho Pin missed out this important detail in his long winded statement? (This had been the kind of effort I expected of Teo Ho Pin when he was asked whether someone has received a 8-month bonus in the Northwest Community Development Council back in March 2009. Instead, all he said was he had no knowledge of the staff’s salary details, and that it may not be unwarranted and was all according to National Wage Council Guidelines. That response clearly paled in comparison to what he has done here. Perhaps, these self-styled “elites” will only start putting in an effort to do what is necessary when backed into a corner.)

Anyway it was reported on The New Paper that Mr Oliver Tian, the Chief Executive of Hutcabb Consulting, one of the companies which collected the tender document said, “It was very hard to make a decision based on what was provided. After paying more than $200, we simply got a thin stack of documents and the town councils were unable to provide us with more information.”

This give us the perception that none of the other 4 companies were actually given sufficient information to be able to put in a bid. So, as part of my wish to understand and accept that everything is according to procedure (and thus legal), the anomalies above has poked an even bigger hole in Teo Ho Pin’s statement. Will Teo Ho Pin please further elaborate on all these matters so we can be clear once and for all? How about revealing the tender documents so we can see for ourselves?

I was also told that it is very commonly done for entities that wishes to be asset light to do a ‘sell and lease back’for e.g. a company selling all the desktops and servers to a system integrator and then leasing them – but doing so with a $2-company is completely unheard of. It further boggles the mind when AIM is not even listed on common directories like the Yellow Pages and the Green Book, and it’s physical address is that of the PAP Community Fund cum PAP HQ. It also has no company website, and thus it begs the question on how it satisfy the eligibility criteria as an ‘experienced and reputable company with relevant track record’ as stated on the advertisement (see inset above). Teo Ho Pin said nothing about AIM’s capabilities nor its relevant experience but instead talked about how AIM’s offer of $140,000 for the software “earned” 14 town councils just a meager amount of $8000 nett, and also its affiliation to the PAP. It would require a lot of faith – the religious kind – to accept that such a secretive and virtually unknown $2-company had met the requirements of the tender on “its own merits”. That’s about as good as I telling you that my favorite plumber can perform an operation on your mother.

“Last night, Mr Chandra Das declined to give details of AIM’s track record and business dealings…” – Straits Times, 3 Jan 2013.

To make matters worse, Chandra Das, an ex-PAP MP, was reluctant to give any details on AIM’s track record and business dealings. That in itself is strange since many IT companies would be happy to reveal such information which often projects confidence and competence, while their success with other customers would serve as case studies for consideration. Coupled with Teo Ho Pin’s assertions that AIM is backed by the PAP and will thus honor its commitments, business might actually come rolling into AIM and it might actually turn into another success story like NTUC Fairprice supermarkets.

But without AIM’s portfolio to back up, it doesn’t matter at all Teo Ho Pin tells us that the AIM transaction had served public interest. This did nothing at all to assert AIM had the merits in the first place even though it may vindicate the decision to approve AIM’s bid. Teo Ho Pin may assert that there is no basis to suggest that the AIM transaction disadvantaged residents of Town Councils, but he could perhaps only speak for the PAP ones. There is no denying that Aljunied-Hougang Town Council [AHTC] was subjected to terms and conditions negotiated not by it’s current management but the PAP one, and the outcome of that certainly created a mess for AHTC. To put things back into proper perspective, I am not making any allegations that AIM – fully owned by the PAP – has not acted in good faith, or that it is motivated by political agenda in how it subsequently handled its business relationship with AHTC. I am simply pointing out that this is the general perception and so far all these statements and clarifications etc has not changed that perception a single bit. Hopefully, Singaporeans are still entitled to think, and feel a certain way about certain matters.

Even if there is any blogger who wanted to help the PAP change that perception, they have nothing solid to stand on. It would be entirely foolhardy for anyone to even try to write what Grace Fu wrote in a recent Facebook status – that focusing on AIM was irrelevant, and suggest that this is nothing more than politicking by the Workers’ Party to divert attention from the alleged mismanagement of its own town council. Has none of the PAP grassroots even informed her that the Town Council Management Report is perceived as nothing more than an attempt to make the Workers’ Party look bad? Assuming that perception is true, then it has badly backfired. It makes us wonder how someone like Grace Fu, who is purported to be some of the most elite people in this country, had her head in the fog and apparently does not understand the crux of the matter. I guess, it’s really hard to be politically sensitive when one is high up in the ivory tower. Above which, why is the minister herself speaking up for AIM? If AIM has been such a reputable and experienced company that we are made to believe, why can’t it speak for itself? I have to say, AIM would have been quite an inspiration to budding entrepreneurs, had AIM not been affiliated with the PAP. Where else can we find $2-company which can win tenders, and even have ministers defend it and 14 clients at one go?!

It has been about 3 weeks after this matter come to light, and there has been nothing concrete enough to fight the perception of this being nothing more than a lame and underhanded attempt to fix the Workers’ Party. In fact, I am getting really confused on where to draw the line between the PAP, the PAP Town Councils and AIM, even though they have different names, and are different legal entities. Teo Ho Pin maybe able to show everything to be legal and procedurally correct, but that will never made it right. Just like the Mas Selamat issue, the PAP may think it can talk its way out, but this matter will not come to a happy conclusion until someone takes the fall. Perhaps there is only one option left for Teo Ho Pin, that is to do what is proper and resign as co-ordinating chairman and even as Member of Parliament. That might actually act like a salve for public anger over this matter and do his party some good even though no one could really say this is his fault.

But if he wants to stay put and hope we forget this whole AIM matter like a bad fart, he might want to remember Mr Wong Kan Seng and the case of Mas Selamat’s escape. Singaporeans didn’t really forget that one even though few people seems to be still talking about it after some time.


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