SINGAPORE: Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat on Tuesday (Nov 5) moved a parliamentary motion calling for Workers' Party (WP) MPs Sylvia Lim and Low Thia Khiang to recuse themselves from financial matters at Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (AHTC).
Here is his English speech in full:
Mr Speaker, I beg to move that this Parliament affirms the vital importance of Members of Parliament maintaining high standards of integrity and accountability; notes the judgment in Aljunied-Hougang Town Council & anor v Lim Swee Lian Sylvia and ors and anor suit  SGHC 241, where, amongst other things, the court held that:
Ms Sylvia Lim and Mr Low Thia Khiang had acted dishonestly and in breach of their fiduciary duties, and their conduct lacked integrity and candour; and Ms Lim and Mr Low were fully aware that their conduct was of questionable legality.
(That this Parliament) notes that Ms Lim remains Vice-Chairman of Aljunied-Hougang Town Council, and Mr Low remains an elected member of Aljunied-Hougang Town Council; and calls on Aljunied-Hougang Town Council to discharge their responsibilities to their residents by requiring Ms Lim and Mr Low to recuse themselves from all matters relating to, and oversight over, financial matters.
I have moved this Motion because of the High Court’s findings. Mr Speaker, may I distribute the Supreme Court’s summary of the Judgment as Annex 1 to my speech? The full Judgment was released to the public on Oct 11, 2019.
If there is an appeal against the judgement, the Court of Appeal will decide on the merits of the appeal in due course.
The appeal may take months to conclude.
READ: WP ‘cannot stay silent’ and has to take action after leaders found liable in AHTC case, says DPM Heng
Given the very serious findings about the dishonesty of particular members of this House, and the misuse and loss of public funds, the question is what is going to be done in the interim, pending the appeal, if there is one.
Will the Workers’ Party provide the House with any guarantees to uphold accountability and transparency between now and the appeal?
This Motion is also about the integrity and character expected of public officials and MPs.
It pains me to move this motion, in particular because one of the two MPs named in it is Mr Low Thia Kiang. If I may be permitted a personal note at the outset, he is someone for whom I have always had a high regard. I think many on both sides of the House share my sentiment.
But there are important questions of public interest to consider. I will mention just a few at the outset.
Millions of dollars in public funds are involved. The High Court has found Ms Sylvia Lim and Mr Low Thia Khiang to be dishonest and deceptive, and to have failed in their duty to the Town Council.
Indeed, Ms Sylvia Lim has admitted under oath that she had lied to the public. Pending the appeal, if there is one, this House is entitled to ask: Are Ms Sylvia Lim and Mr Low Thia Khiang going to continue to have oversight, and decision-making power, over public funds in Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (AHTC)?
And What do those in charge of AHTC intend to do about the findings in the judgment?
I should add that from February 2013 to September 2015, the Town Council included Punggol East and was known as AHPETC. For simplicity, I will refer to the Town Council consistently as AHTC so as not to confuse listeners.
READ: Workers' Party MPs to appeal AHTC judgment; calls on House to reject 'premature' motion by DPM Heng
THE FACTS OF THE MATTER
I will deal with the Judgment, and the questions raised following the Judgment.
The Judgment is the latest chapter in a saga that has been eight years in the making. Throughout this long time, the Workers’ Party has consistently and repeatedly refused to take responsibility for the problems in its Town Council. This is lamentable.
The Workers’ Party town councillors have persistently resisted disclosure, offered countless excuses, and made a litany of misleading statements – to the public, in Parliament and before the Courts. They have not been transparent in their dealings.
In essence, what happened is simple.
The Workers’ Party wanted their friends to manage the Town Council.
The honest and honourable thing to do, if one wants to appoint one’s friends is: Be transparent and open about it. Disclose all the facts, so that a fair decision can be made.
And call an open tender, so that your friends compete with the market.
And this is important – you cannot allow your friends to overcharge.
What the Workers’ Party did was the opposite.
They told untruths and manipulated the circumstances, so that FMSS would be appointed, whatever the case.
They did not care whether FMSS was the best candidate to serve residents. Indeed, Mr Low said that he would have appointed FMSS, even if a cheaper, more experienced contractor had put in a bid.
To guarantee FMSS’s appointment, Ms Sylvia Lim and Mr Low Thia Khiang waived the tender, even though the law required it.
They misled their own town councillors – including their own fellow MPs in the GRC – and gave a false reason to them for not calling a tender.
And they removed the existing Managing Agent (MA) and appointed their friends in FMSS, though FMSS had less experience and charged more. This overcharging, abuse of public funds, was inexcusable.
What they did was in breach of their fiduciary duties, at every turn. They told untruths and distorted the facts, and knowingly sacrificed their residents’ interests in favour of their friends.
After having misled their own town councillors to get FMSS appointed without a tender, they then repeatedly misled the public and Parliament on why they had hired their friends in this manner.
They misled their own auditors too, and refused to give them documents (which would have revealed the truth).
Mr Speaker, they did all this to cover up their wrongdoing. It is a tale of deception, spun out over eight years, which finally unravelled in Court – And not just in one Court. It unravelled in three different Courts, including the Court of Appeal.
The residents have suffered. Under the management of the Workers’ Party’s friends, the Town Council ran up deficits. A surplus of S$3.3 million under the previous management, became a deficit of S$2 million by the third year of the new regime.
Meanwhile, their friends made big profits running into millions of dollars. Allowing your friends to help themselves to public funds – that is a tale that belongs to the Third World, not Singapore.
In two different trials, the Courts reached judgments that showed that the Workers’ Party’s MPs had misled Parliament. First in 2015, and now in the latest judgment.
Even so, the Workers’ Party maintains that they are not answerable either to the Courts or to Parliament.
Indeed, they have taken the position in Court that as elected MPs, they are not answerable to the Courts for any serious mismanagement or mis-spending of public funds.
Both the High Court and the Court of Appeal disagreed with this submission – which sought to place the Workers’ Party MPs above the law.
It was a remarkable position for the Workers’ Party to take. They are saying that no matter what wrongs they commit, and no matter how much public funds are misused, they are not answerable and nothing can be done to them in court.
This was said in the hope that the electorate would not pay attention to their wrongdoings. Therefore, everything could be covered up and forgotten.
A LONG-RUNNING SAGA
How did we get to this state? Many in the House will remember that it was AHTC’s own auditors first issued a disclaimer of opinion on its accounts back in 2013.
The auditors raised serious questions about the adequacy of the Town Council’s financial and accounting systems.
The responsible thing for Ms Sylvia Lim, the Workers’ Party Town Council Chairman then, to have done at that moment was to come clean, accept that there were issues, and fix them. But she did not.
In the next audit in 2014, they hid details of the transactions with their friends, and refused to give the documents and information to their own auditors. The auditors were alarmed and again issued a disclaimer of opinion on the Accounts. But the issues they highlighted were not rectified.
And so, in 2014, Auditor-General carried out an audit. But like AHTC’s own auditors, Auditor General’s Office (AGO) too was obstructed by the Town Council. The AGO report stated that despite repeated requests for critical documents, the Town Council did not produce them.
Still, the 2015 AGO report uncovered serious shortcomings, which cast doubt on whether the Town Council was properly managing public funds.
Parliament debated the AGO report in February 2015.
Even at that point, instead of taking ownership and rectifying the problems uncovered by the AGO, the Workers’ Party MPs – and Ms Sylvia Lim in particular – made excuses.
They repeated in this House their objections to the AGO report, objections which the AGO had already addressed. Instead of dealing with the issues, they sought to obfuscate, throw doubt on AGO, pretend that everything was fine.
The Law Minister said in this House that the conduct of Ms Sylvia Lim and her fellow town councillors was unlawful, and that they were in breach of their fiduciary duties. Ms Sylvia Lim’s response was to shout “Rubbish”- brazenly denying their unacceptable actions using unparliamentary language.
Despite their refusal to acknowledge the issues, then Minister of National Development, Mr Khaw Boon Wan, patiently advised the Workers’ Party to take immediate steps to resolve the problems.
He urged them to take concrete steps to recover the losses and make restitution to their residents, and he suggested commissioning a forensic audit.
Sadly, the Workers’ Party did not do anything.
I do not know what they were expecting. Perhaps they felt that somehow the public would forget and give them a free pass since they were an opposition party. They were not used to running a GRC, so the public would “give chance”?
Indeed, shortcomings resulting from inexperience can be forgiven. But dishonesty, deliberate and repeated deception, to profit one’s friends, cannot be forgiven, or swept under the carpet.
We would not be here today speaking about this judgment, if the Workers’ Party, and Ms Sylvia Lim in particular, had even at this late stage in 2015, been serious about setting things straight. If they had corrected the problems, got their friends to make good the losses, it could all have been very different.
But the Workers’ Party refused to acknowledge the issues, and flatly refused to deal with them.
In view of the Workers’ Party’s inaction, despite the debate in Parliament, the Ministry of National Development (MND), and then the Housing Development Board (HDB), applied to the High Court to deal with the matter.
Both the High Court and the Court of Appeal took a serious view of the matter. Tellingly, both had sharp remarks about the Workers’ Party’s conduct.
To help Members follow the Courts’ findings, I wish to distribute Annex 2 – Quotes from the Judgments – to my speech. Mr Speaker, may I have your permission to distribute the Annex?
The High Court observed that Ms Sylvia Lim’s statement in Parliament in 2015 that the Town Council had done due transfers to the sinking fund was curious because of what she had failed to mention. The Court described Ms Sylvia Lim’s behaviour with the Latin phrase “suppressio veri, suggestio falsi” (suppression of the truth is equivalent to the suggestion of what is false).
The Court of Appeal said that it was clear that there had been breaches of the statutory requirements. It found lapses in internal controls, which exposed the Town Council to risk of loss of money or valuables; inadequate oversight of related party transactions, where key officers acted despite conflicts of interest; and that the Town Council had not seriously considered whether, and how, to recover possible sums due from wrong payments.
Thus, the Court had already taken a view on this matter as early as 2015, after the AGO report was debated in Parliament.
The Court of Appeal ordered the Town Council to appoint independent accountants, despite the Workers’ Party’s resistance.
AHTC then responded to the CA’s order cynically, nominating accountants to do the forensic audit, but failing to provide enough information on their proposed accountants’ experience and expertise. When HDB asked for additional information, AHTC did not respond.
The CA noted the Town Council’s lack of rigour and basic due diligence in how it nominated accountants.
On the CA’s direction, AHTC eventually appointed KPMG LLP (KPMG).
KPMG too uncovered serious shortcomings. Among them: One, that the Town Council had not been justified to waive tender before appointing FMSS as its Managing Agent.
There were conflicts of interest in the Town Council’s appointment of FMSS and FMSI.
FMSI, which was engaged by the Town Council to provide essential maintenance and lift rescue services, was a sole proprietorship owned by the Secretary of the Town Council, who was also part-owner of FMSS.
The people that formed FMSS and FMSI were the Workers’ Party’s friends – trusted, loyal supporters.
FMSS’ directors and shareholders were the Secretary, General Manager and Deputy General Manager of AHTC, respectively.
Two, that there were pervasive control failures cutting across the key areas of governance, financial control, financial reporting, procurement and records management. I will mention three of these.
The Town Councillors relinquished an unacceptably high degree of financial responsibility to conflicted persons. All of the payments to FMSS/FMSI were co-signed by the conflicted persons.
There were overpayments to FMSS; and payments to FMSS without certification of work performed or without the requisite co-signature of members of the Town Council.
There were also numerous breaches of the Town Councils Act and Town Council Financial Rules.
In the meantime, PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP (PwC) – retained by Pasir Ris-Punggol Town Council (PRPTC) after Punggol East became part of PRPTC after the 2015 General Election –submitted its own report.
It too raised questions similar to KPMG. Again, it found that AHTC had not been transparent, and had delayed granting PwC access to all necessary documents and information.
In view of these serious flaws, the Court of Appeal then directed the Town Council to appoint an independent panel (IP) to take such action as may be appropriate to safeguard residents’ interests.
The Workers’ Party chose the Members of the IP. It appointed the IP. HDB was consulted, and had no objections.
Mr Pritam Singh, on behalf of AHTC, welcomed the appointments, and called the Independent Panel members “eminent”, as indeed they were.
Chaired by Mr Philip Jeyaretnam SC, the other two members of the Independent Panel were Mr N Sreenivasan SC and Mr Ong Pang Thye, Managing Partner of KPMG.
The Independent Panel went through the facts and concluded that Town Council’s monies had been wrongly spent. On behalf of the Town Council, it decided to sue the key persons involved – including Mr Low Thia Khiang, Ms Sylvia Lim, and Mr Pritam Singh – for losses arising from wrongful payments by the Town Council.
Mr Speaker, I must emphasise: It was not MND or HDB that sued Mr Low Thia Khiang, Ms Sylvia Lim and Mr Pritam Singh. It was the Independent Panel that did so. The Independent Panel appointed by AHTC, acting on behalf of AHTC, sued AHTC’s councillors.
This is how we got here today. The Workers’ Party has persistently refused over eight years to be transparent about what it had done.
At numerous points over the last eight years, they could have acted.
In 2013 and 2014, they could have acted after their own auditors issued reports, before the AGO had to step in.
In 2015, when AGO made its report and Parliament debated the matter.
In 2016 and 2017, when KPMG and PwC issued their reports. But, at every step of the way, there was obfuscation instead of transparency; resistance instead of accountability; denial instead of honesty.
Hence, the matter came before the Courts to decide.
Following a 17 day trial, the Court issued a 329-page judgment, which established the following important facts and conclusions.
One, contrary to the Workers’ Party’s claims, including claims made in Parliament, there was no urgency that warranted the waiver of the tenders for the Managing Agent and services under the Essential Maintenance Service Unit (EMSU).
The Court found that Mr Low Thia Khiang and Ms Sylvia Lim had deliberately delayed calling a tender in order to provide themselves with a convenient, but false, excuse to waive the tender.
In the trial, the Workers’ Party accepted that they only needed two months to call a tender. They could have asked CPG, the previous Managing Agent, to continue providing Managing Agent services for far longer than that.
They had ample time to call for a tender, but deliberately delayed doing so, in order to create an excuse not to call a tender. This conduct is inexcusable.
In fact, the Court found that here had never been any intention to call a tender in the first place. The two Workers’ Party MPs had already decided on FMSS within days of the 2011 General Election, and had hid that fact from other councillors.
They were determined to appoint their friends.
They admitted in Court that they had decided to engage FMSS. They also admitted that they had rejected other parties who were interested in providing Managing Agent services.
As I said earlier, if one wants to appoint one’s friends, there is a proper, transparent, process to do so.
The Workers’ Party deliberately chose the wrong way – and the two hid the truth from their own Town Councillors and the public.
Among the Workers’ Party Town Councillors, they had one experienced town councillor who had been Chairman of another Town Council for 20 years, and they had three lawyers. They should have known that a tender could only be waived under very special circumstances – and they should also have known that these special circumstances did not exist when they waived tender in this case.
If they had called a tender, and their trusted friends had been the only bidders, they could have then appointed their friends. Even if there had been several bids, they could have still chosen to appoint their friends, provided they had acted honestly and properly: Explain why they were appointing their friends, record the reasons in the Minutes, and be prepared to defend their reasons in public.
But they admitted in Court that if a tender had been called, there was a risk that someone else might have put in a bid. Indeed, there were other parties that had expressed an interest to provide Managing Agent services to AHTC.
They admitted that if someone had put in a bid better than FMSS’s, they would have been duty-bound to consider that bid. And they knew that FMSS would not have got the job if they had said they would only accept the better bid.
They were not prepared to take the risks that would have come from being honest: Appoint their friends despite receiving better bids from others; and explain to the public why they have done so.
But they were prepared to run the risks that came from being dishonest: they claim they have no time to call a tender, so they could appoint FMSS without a tender.
As I said, the right way was to go before the tender and contracts committee to justify the decision to appoint their friends, and have their reasons documented.
Furthermore - and this is extremely important – if they want to appoint their friends then they should have made sure that their friends charged less – and not more – than their previous Managing Agent.
The previous Managing Agent was an established institution, while their friends had set up a fledgling company, which, as they admitted in court, had no experience in managing a town the size of AHTC.
The Court found that Mr Low Thia Khiang and Ms Sylvia Lim had been fully aware that their conduct regarding the waiver of the tender was of “questionable legality”.
And to cover up their wrongdoing, they consciously and deliberately misled their own fellow Town Councillors, their own auditors, their constituents, and Parliament.
As the High Court put it: There was a “deliberate and calculated” plan to “cloak” and “camouflage” their wrongdoing.
Mr Speaker, this is a most serious finding. It means they knew what they were doing was wrong, but nevertheless persisted in the wrong.
And they deliberately set out to mislead everyone – including their own colleagues in the Town Council – so as to hide their wrongdoing.
Mr Speaker, I would now like to distribute Annex 3 to my speech. Annex 3 is a compilation of the Workers’ Party’s misleading statements.
The Workers’ Party misled their own Town Councillors. They deliberately kept the decision to appoint FMSS away from a Town Council meeting.
Instead they delegated authority to Ms Sylvia Lim, so as to keep the other Town Councillors in the dark. They concealed their true motives from the rest of the Town Councillors.
The Workers’ Party misled their own auditors. Most disturbingly, Ms Sylvia Lim asked Ms How Weng Fan and Mr Danny Loh to sanitise the report on FMSS’ appointment as Managing Agent so it could “pass the auditors’ eyes”’. And she is a lawyer.
Mr Danny Loh was asked to draft the report. Ms How Weng Fan and Mr Danny Loh were the very officers and shareholders whose appointment was to be approved without tender, and here were Mr Low Thia Khiang and Ms Sylvia Lim asking them to draft and comment on a report concerning their own appointment. The Judge considered this to be extraordinary, and stated these actions cast serious doubt on their honesty and integrity.
The Workers’ Party misled the public. In the Town Council’s press release on 5 August 2011 concerning the appointment of FMSS, they falsely asserted that there was no time to call a tender.
The Judge found that this misled the public and the very constituents the MPs were elected to serve.
As the Judge put it: “There was a concerted attempt to cloak the appointment of FMSS with a veneer of propriety”, “in order to camouflage its true motive”.
The press release also falsely asserted that AHTC did not incur additional Managing Agent fees from appointing FMSS. Under cross-examination, Ms Sylvia Lim admitted that this was “not accurate”, before finally admitting “it’s not true”, and that she knew it was not true. She then had to agree that she had lied in the press release, which was disseminated to all Singaporeans, including the residents of AHTC.
The Workers’ Party misled Parliament. The Judge found that it was not sufficiently urgent to justify waiver of tender. This means that when the Workers’ Party told Parliament in 2015 when they said that they waived tender because of urgency, they were misleading Parliament
Ms Sylvia Lim said in Parliament in 2015: “For the first contract in 2011 for MA services, it was triggered as the incumbent MA, CPG Facilities Management, asked to be released from the contract with the TC for business reasons. There was an urgent need to put in place a computer system due to the termination of the former system in use.”
The Judgment was crystal clear on this: “There was no urgency or public interest that warranted the waiver of tender. It was neither CPG’s announcement on 30 May 2011 nor AIM’s withdrawal of TCMS that resulted in tender being waived.”
In waiving tender, Ms Sylvia Lim and Mr Low Thia Khiang’s “conduct was improper and the attempt to cloak the same with a veneer of truth and credibility collectively leads to the conclusion that they had not acted honestly”.
Mr Speaker Sir, why were there so many false and misleading statements? When one reads the record – the AGO report, the KPMG and PwC reports, three Court judgments – you will find misleading statements made by the Workers’ Party MPs piling up.
In sum, waiver of tender was not justified, but they did this to appoint their friends. They knew that this was wrong, and thus misled their own Town Councillors, misled their own auditors, misled the public, and misled Parliament – to hide their wrongdoing.
Ms Sylvia Lim and Mr Low Thia Khiang not only misled Parliament. They also knowingly allowed Mr Pritam Singh to mislead Parliament.
Mr Pritam Singh said in 2015: "Where FMSS is a tenderer in a tender called by the Town Council, as was the case in 2011 for the Managing Agent contract, FMSS is kept at an arm's length and a China wall is built between FMSS and the Town Council."
We now know this to be false. The Court found that How Weng Fan had been heavily involved since early May 2011, soon after the General Election, in setting up FMSS and in the plot to keep CPG in the dark.
She was even involved in the preparation of the FMSS letter of intent and, as I noted earlier, in sanitising the report on FMSS’ appointment as Managing Agent, for the auditors.
Ms Sylvia Lim and Mr Low Thia Khiang knew very well they had not kept How at arm’s length. Yet, they let Mr Pritam Singh mislead this House, without correcting him.
When the Workers’ Party leaders let their own MPs mislead Parliament on their behalf, what does this say about the Workers’ Party’s integrity and values?
The Workers’ Party also misled Parliament that their safeguards for transactions with their friends were adequate.
Ms Sylvia Lim told this House in 2015: “It was the policy that no cheque to FMSS of whatever amount could be issued unless either the Town Council Chairman or one of the Vice Chairmen co-signed the cheque. Thus, it was not possible for FMSS to pay itself unless it was authorised by the Town Council Chair or Vice Chair who have no interest in FMSS whatsoever.”
Mr Png Eng Huat said: “Our Managing Agent cannot make payments to themselves for the above services without the Chairman or one of the Vice Chairmen to co-sign the cheque."
Now these are half-truths at best, because in reality there was no standing instruction that co-signatures were required on cheques for payments to FMSI, the EMSU provider.
In fact, these claims are entirely untrue.
Ms Sylvia Lim admitted to the Court that she did not personally check that each payment was justified.
Despite all the reassurances they gave, there were payments to FMSS without the requisite co-signature of members of the Town Council.
WORKERS' PARTY NEEDS TO TAKE ACTION
Everything I have presented is based on objective facts, as established in Court, after having heard the defendants under oath.
The Court found that Mr Low Thia Khiang and Ms Sylvia Lim had breached their fiduciary duties, had not been honest and questioned their integrity and lack of candour and transparency.
Ms Sylvia Lim remains a Vice-Chairman of AHTC, while Mr Low Thia Khiang is a Member of AHTC.
Almost four weeks have passed since the Court judgment. The Workers’ Party has been totally silent on this matter. So has AHTC. This is why I have to ask in Parliament, what does the current Chairman of AHTC Mr Faisal Manap intend to do?
At the minimum, will he apologise to the residents of Aljunied and Hougang, for letting them down? An apology would be the first step, a belated recognition that they had let residents down, and an intention to put things right.
Is he going to require the MPs so severely judged and found wanting by the Court, to recuse themselves from the Town Council’s affairs, pending the disposal of any Appeal they may file?
Very serious adverse findings were made against them – findings that go to the heart of the integrity of these MPs, and the deceptive manner in which they conducted the Town Council’s affairs. How can they remain in charge of the Town Council’s affairs, as if it is business as usual?
At the very least, should not the Chairman and other Town Councillors require them to recuse themselves from handling the Town Council’s financial matters, as called for in this motion?
Until the appeal, if any, is over, will Mr Faisal Manap remove Ms Sylvia Lim as a Vice-Chairman? Or will he allow her to continue to be in a position where she can co-sign cheques on behalf of AHTC?
If AHTC were a company, Ms Sylvia Lim and Mr Low Thia Khiang would, at the very least, have been interdicted – prohibited or restrained from acting – pending their appeal. Most likely, they would have been forced to leave the company a long time ago – when AGO, and then KPMG, made their findings – instead of being allowed to carry on, in the same roles and enjoying the same degree of financial oversight over public funds.
If they were members of a professional body, their acts of dishonesty would have brought them before a disciplinary tribunal.
As the earlier judgment of High Court noted, they might have been exposed to civil liability, or, in an extreme scenario, to criminal liability.
And in light of how they have misled this House, and the absence of a response by the Town Council, I’d like to know what, if anything, the Workers’ Party’s remaining MPs and NCMPs propose to do about these findings pending any appeal?
Will they at long last be conducting their own investigations? Or will they continue to duck, dodge and deny?
As Secretary-General and Chairman, respectively, of the Workers’ Party, Mr Pritam Singh and Ms Sylvia Lim are responsible for party standards and discipline. Both are themselves involved in the AHTC problem. But it is still their duty to act for the Workers’ Party.
Will they apologise on behalf of the Workers’ Party? Will they direct Mr Faisal Manap to do the right thing to protect AHTC’s governance? Will they temporarily stand aside themselves and allow some other Workers’ Party’s CEC member to take charge of this matter, again a standard practice in the corporate world?
If nothing is done from now till the appeal is concluded, we will be forced to conclude that the Workers’ Party, by its inaction, in fact endorses the dishonest conduct and the breach of the fiduciary duties that has already occurred, and is complicit in the wrongdoing.
I hope that the Workers’ Party will take action. There were other financial and governance lapses which occurred in AHTC. The Workers’ Party has put them right, albeit after a very long delay and after denying and resisting for many years.
In doing so, the Workers’ Party has shown that they are in fact capable of taking steps to put their house in order, when further obfuscation and delay at last becomes untenable. Last year, KPMG found that AHTC had finally resolved all the lapses flagged in past audits since 2013.
I have detailed earlier how the Workers’ Party initially resisted the appointment of any independent auditor, then resisted the appointment of a Big Four accounting firm.
Finally, with the Court intervening, and with the Government’s offering to pay for the accountant, KPMG was appointed.
Almost two years after KMPG was appointed, AHTC finally cleared the audit.
I am sure that the town councillors will agree that they are the better for the audit, and that their controls and processes are now much safer.
Sometimes, a bitter pill has to be taken so a sick system can be returned to health.
Similarly, now that the honesty, integrity, candour and transparency of some of the most senior Workers’ Party members have been called into serious question – by the High Court no less – will the Workers’ Party be willing to swallow another bitter pill, and take action?
If the Workers’ Party wants the privilege of representing Singaporeans in Parliament, they cannot be silent on this.
Beyond the specific facts of this case, this episode reminds us of the need for integrity and probity. We hope that the Workers’ Party MPs – and all Non-Constituency MPs and Nominated MPs – will agree that MPs should be held to the following standards in Singapore:
- MPs should not mislead their fellow town councillors, or hide things from them;
- MPs should not mislead the public;
- MPs should not mislead Parliament;
- MPs should not mislead the Court;
- MPs should not let their friends make money at the public’s expense;
- MPs should always act with integrity; and with candour and transparency.
I am moving this motion because integrity is of the utmost importance in elected officials.
Singapore has succeeded only because we have maintained a culture of honesty and integrity in the public service.
Those who participate in politics must be honest, upright people who can be trusted to uphold the public interest, speak the truth even at a cost to themselves, and admit their mistakes when they have done wrong.
They have to uphold these principles even when it is politically inconvenient to do so.
And we need to do this, whether you are a government or opposition MP, whether you represent a constituency in Parliament, or are an NCMP or NMP.
Because if we cannot trust a politician to tell the truth, we cannot trust him to safeguard public funds, to put the public interest ahead of personal gain, or to make decisions in the best interests of Singapore and Singaporeans.
For this reason, we have always taken any accusations of dishonesty against political leaders very seriously.
Certainly, the 4G PAP leaders intend to continue maintaining the high standards which we have achieved and upheld for so many years, since the PAP first formed the government in 1959
For we must ensure that MPs, both Government and Opposition, are men and women of integrity. It is in the vital interest of Singapore and Singaporeans for members of the Opposition also to be persons of integrity, and not persons who cannot be trusted with public funds, much less national responsibilities.
I might add, Mr Speaker, that we have had such upright, honourable men among the Opposition.
I might mention Mr David Marshall, Mr AP Rajah and Mr Chiam See Tong. If I might be permitted another personal note, Mr Low Thia Khiang ran his Town Council well when he was MP for Hougang.
Each of our Prime Ministers – Mr Lee Kuan Yew, Mr Goh Chok Tong, and our current Prime Minister – has espoused and upheld the values of honesty, transparency and integrity.
Each made integrity, honesty, and incorruptibility fundamental values in Government. And they walked the talk.
If any PAP Minister or MP is accused of lying, the Prime Minister would do a thorough investigation.
And if they were found dishonest, serious consequences would inevitably follow.
The Court has made very serious and severe statements about Mr Low Thia Khiang and Ms Sylvia Lim. It concluded that their conduct of Town Council matters lacked candour and transparency, and that they had not acted honestly and with integrity.
Imagine if a Court had made such findings against PAP town councillors.
Is it even conceivable that a PAP MP whom the Court has described in these terms, can remain in the Town Council, and continue handling public funds, as if nothing has happened? At the very least, he would have been asked to go on leave pending any effort to clear his name through an Appeal.
What sort of questions would the Workers’ Party be asking the PAP? What sort of demands would they be making of the Government?
The Opposition must hold themselves to the same standards that they rightly apply to the Government.
This is in fact precisely why we have our system of town councils.
It is an important way Singaporeans can judge for themselves who deserves to be given the responsibility to run the country, whether it is a Government MP or an Opposition MP.
It allows them to identify which MPs, and which political parties, can walk the talk, manage public monies and show that they can actually get things done.
TCs allow political parties to prove their mettle even if they are not the Government.
If a party can manage a Town Council well, it proves its competence to conduct good, clean, administration.
And their leaders can show that they are credible, and deserve to be entrusted with broader responsibilities. If not, then it is just as well that everybody finds out early, before too much damage is done.
Indeed, as I just noted, Mr Low Thia Khiang himself won his spurs when he was MP for Hougang and ran its Town Council. Similarly Mr Chiam See Tong in running Potong Pasir Town Council.
So when the Workers’ Party argues against the Town Council system instead of putting right their lapses, what does it mean?
Do they think the Opposition only exists to poke holes in Government policy, bandy around the slogan of ‘First World Parliament’ but shoulder no other responsibility for residents?
Do they think Opposition MPs should not be held to the same standard as Government MPs, even though at each election, we are asking the same thing of voters – their trust?
Surely this is not the sort of Opposition that Singaporeans need.
The Workers’ Party cannot stay silent on this.
Almost four weeks have passed since the judgment was published. In all that time, the Workers’ Party has said nothing.
They have not apologised for the shortcomings that the Courts – and before the Courts, AGO and KPMG – have established. They have not accounted for their dishonesties and untruths.
Nor have they have said whether they intend to put right the many wrongs that the Court has uncovered, and if so, how.
This is not the way to conduct yourself in politics. Trust between the electorate and elected officials is vital in democratic societies.
When trust breaks down, the people will feel that their leaders are disconnected and only seem to be looking after themselves and their friends.
We see this happening in many countries. We must never let this happen in Singapore.
This is a long account – I thank Members of this House for your patience. Mr Speaker, please allow me to say a few points in Mandarin.
(Part of speech in Mandarin, before Mr Heng continued in English)
Mr Speaker, to sum up what this motion is about: It is about the integrity and character expected of public officials and MPs.
In politics, we must uphold the fundamental values of integrity, honesty, and incorruptibility. Not by words, but by deeds.
We know the words of the Workers’ Party – they claim to stand for transparency and accountability.
But now, after eight long years, we know that their deeds show the contrary.
They appointed their friends to manage the Town Council, at a higher cost than the previous managing agent.
They concealed the real facts and manipulated the circumstances of this appointment, even to the extent of misleading their fellow Town Councillors.
They then told the public, their auditors, and Parliament untruths about these circumstances.
They refused to give auditors documents – documents that might have shed light on their wrongdoing.
Even after these facts were uncovered by independent auditors, they took no action.
It took the Independent Panel that they appointed to finally bring them to Court to set things straight.
And even before the Court, they continued to perpetuate untruths.
The consequences of what the Workers’ Party Councillors have done has fallen on the residents.
Under the management of FMSS, the Town Council ran up deficits of up to S$2 million by the third year. Meanwhile, their friends, FMSS, made a profit of S$3.2 million in their second year.
Even after all this has been made public, the Workers’ Party has stayed silent.
Maybe they hope that Singaporeans will forget, or forgive them.
Playing the victim or underdog may be par for the course in politics, but there are important matters at stake – public funds, residents’ monies, the estates that Singaporeans come home to. We cannot sweep things under the carpet.
All that this House is asking for, is for Ms Sylvia Lim and Mr Low Thia Khiang to recuse themselves from dealing with or having oversight over financial matters, until the Court case is concluded.
Given the Court’s findings, this is the least that they can do.
So it falls on all members of this House to ask the Workers’ Party what it intends to do, to put its own house in order.
Mr Speaker, I beg to move.