AHTC lawsuit: WP leaders object to plaintiff's bid to add new claims, question timing and legal issues

AHTC lawsuit: WP leaders object to plaintiff's bid to add new claims, question timing and legal issues

AHTC trial
(From left) The Workers' Party's Pritam Singh, Low Thia Khiang and Sylvia Lim. 

SINGAPORE: The Workers' Party (WP) leaders who are facing a civil lawsuit over misuse of town council funds are objecting to the plaintiff's bid to amend its claims, months after the judgment was delivered. 

The Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (AHTC), acting under the directions of an independent panel, applied to amend its statement of claim in May this year.

The proposed amendments include new causes of action against WP chief Pritam Singh, Aljunied GRC MP Sylvia Lim and former WP secretary-general Low Thia Khiang. This "significantly" increases the amount of damages sought, their lawyers said.

This was after Justice Kannan Ramesh found the defendants liable last October for breaching different types of duties, based on the original statement of claim.

READ: Workers' Party MPs found liable in multimillion-dollar AHTC case; judgment raises 'serious doubt' about their integrity

After a hearing in chambers on Monday morning (Aug 3), Justice Ramesh reserved his verdict on whether to allow the amendment, and it will be released at a later date.

Lawyers for Mr Singh, Ms Lim and Mr Low, as well as AHTC councillors Chua Zhi Hon and Kenneth Foo Seck Guan urged the court to dismiss AHTC's application.

The lawyers from Tan Rajah & Cheah raised in court documents several issues it had with the amendment sought.

WP, TOWN COUNCILLORS OBJECT TO AMENDMENTS

First - AHTC "has offered no explanation as to why these new claims could not have been made earlier". 

"AHTC should not be allowed to have a second bite at the cherry by amending its pleadings to suit the judgment," wrote the lawyers.

They added that the proposed new claims are time-barred by both the six-year and three-year limitation period under the Limitation Act, and that the proposed amendments would "prejudice" the WP leaders and AHTC councillors.

This is because the amendments "raise completely new claims and heads of damages".  

Some of the new amendments include fresh causes of action against Ms Lim and Mr Low, for allegedly breaching equitable duties of care and skill.

This was for purportedly failing to exercise proper scrutiny, in causing the town council to improperly waive the tender for the first Essential Maintenance Services Unit (EMSU) contract, and awarding this contract to managing agent FM Solutions and Services (FMSS).

New causes of action against Mr Singh, who is now Leader of the Opposition, and the two town councillors Mr Chua and Mr Foo include alleged breaches of equitable duties of care and skill.

These are for allegedly failing to exercise proper scrutiny in causing AHTC to improperly waive a tender for its first managing agent contract, and subsequently awarding the first and second such contract to FMSS. 

The court heard over the trial that the leaders of FMSS had alleged conflicts of interest as they were "opposition" supporters.

The new claims also allege that Mr Singh and the two town councillors breached their duties of care and skill by allowing conflicted persons to certify the work that was done, and to approve payments to themselves.

Under the proposed amendments, "significantly higher damages" are being claimed against the WP leaders and the two town councillors, said their lawyers.

DEFENCE WOULD HAVE BEEN CONDUCTED DIFFERENTLY: LAWYERS

The defendants would have conducted their defence differently if these claims had been made at the outset, the counsels wrote.

Additional evidence would have been put forth at trial had the amendments been made earlier, and the proposed amendments would require further evidence which would require a retrial.

This would "severely prejudice" the defendants, wrote the lawyers.

AHTC's lawyers declined comment on details of the amendments when approached.

A hearing for the appeal against the verdict is set for Aug 17, but it is unclear if this will proceed as planned.

Source: CNA/ll(gs)

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