SINGAPORE: Workers’ Party (WP) chairman Sylvia Lim on Tuesday (Oct 23) agreed that she had stated an “untruth” that Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (AHTC) did not incur additional costs when appointing a new managing agent, as her cross-examination in the ongoing landmark AHTC trial continued.
Ms Lim, along with fellow Members of Parliament Low Thia Khiang and Pritam Singh, as well as AHTC members Kenneth Foo and Chua Zhi Hon, are embroiled in a civil lawsuit over millions of dollars of “improper” payments that were allegedly made to new managing agent FM Services and Solutions (FMSS).
They are being sued by AHTC as well as Pasir Ris-Punggol Town Council (PRPTC) for alleged breaches of fiduciary duty in the appointment of FMSS.
Tuesday's cross-examination touched on a media statement drafted by Ms Lim on Aug 5, 2011 that indicated AHTC had not incurred any additional costs by appointing FMSS.
When PRPTC counsel Davinder Singh asked Ms Lim if the statement was true, she replied that there was an “additional one-off expense” incurred from hiring new employees to prepare for the handover.
“I agree that I could have added that in as an additional sentence, but I didn’t think it was material,” said Ms Lim. “I did not think it was false at the time I wrote it … I agree I could have been more accurate here, but I didn’t intend to mislead.”
Mr Singh then asked if she was aware that to state an untruth is to lie.
“I would say I was very careless,” Ms Lim replied. “I don’t agree, as a lie implies dishonest intention.”
Several minutes then passed, with Justice Kannan Ramesh himself asking Ms Lim to respond, before the witness said “yes”.
Mr Singh then noted that the statement was publicised and disseminated to Singaporeans via the press and social media, with none of the other WP MPs taking any steps to correct the “untruth”. He also observed that Ms Lim’s affidavit of evidence repeated the point.
“So even on oath ... you continued to maintain the position,” said Mr Singh.
“You knowingly stated an untruth to the entire country - including your residents - about how much money was going to be spent. Do you agree?”
Ms Lim initially responded by re-emphasising that the additional cost was a “one-time, transitional expense”, but replied “yes” after Mr Singh repeated the question.
“PLAYING WITH WORDS, GIVING HALF-TRUTHS”
During the cross-examination, Mr Singh also accused Ms Lim of “play(ing) with words” and giving “half-truths” about the ownership of FMSS.
Referring to a segment in a media release that stated that WP members did not have any interest in FMSS, he asked Ms Lim why she had decided to include information on the qualification of FMSS’ directors and management and staffing figures.
He also asked why information about Mr Danny Loh and Ms How Weng Fan - who owned 70 per cent of FMSS - holding key roles in the town council was not included.
Ms Lim responded by saying that the purpose of those paragraphs was to explain that while FMSS was a new company, it had people with experience in HDB town management.
“Then why not talk about who owned it?” Mr Singh asked. “So much information about FMSS, but the ownership was omitted?”
Ms Lim replied that the issue of ownership “did not come up in that context” but later acknowledged that she had included the line about no WP members having an interest in FMSS as there was some “social media chatter” about the party’s involvement in the company. “So it was good to clarify,” she said.
After some back-and-forth during which Ms Lim maintained her belief that the information was not relevant, Mr Singh responded: “This is how you play with words ... This is how you carefully craft matters to give impressions."
“I don’t know what you mean,” Ms Lim said.
“If you say there was social media interest ... the full picture was to say, no WP members but supporters, yes,” he said, adding that her words were “very carefully chosen”.
Ms Lim maintained that it would be “strange” and “not appropriate” for her to “go into what is mentioned” for the purpose of the media release, which was to relate to the public steps the town council had taken to “ensure a smooth handover”.
“You went into it, but you stopped halfway,” countered Mr Singh.
Ms Lim responded by saying there was “nothing sinister” about it.
READ: AHTC trial: Sylvia Lim admits to breaching town council financial rules by not calling for tender
READ: An 'egregious, cavalier misuse of public funds': Town council lawyers rip into Workers' Party leaders
"MS LIM, HERE WE GO AGAIN"
The cross-examination continued later on Tuesday with Ms Lim rejecting Mr Singh’s charge that she had breached and “completely undermined” the Town Councils Act by allowing FMSS to recommend itself for an Essential Maintenance and Service Unit (EMSU) contract with a view to obtaining a waiver on the tender.
Mr Singh pointed out that according to statutes, where a town council intends to waive tenders, the managing agent does not participate in the evaluation of such a waiver. But FMSS showed intention to recommend its own services for appointment – because it used the word “recommendation” in a presentation, he argued.
Ms Lim rejected this, saying it was merely a proposal and “just their presentation on their services”.
Another back-and-forth ensued, with Mr Singh saying: “Ms Lim, here we go again”. Ms Lim's lawyer Chelvah Rajah then stood up to insist that his client had already answered the question “five to six times”.
“If so, that’s the most disingenuous series of answers I have heard,” said Mr Singh. “I wish to pursue this because I know she will try her luck and see how she can stretch it before she is cornered.
“A witness shouldn’t be allowed to treat such matters so lightly, and ignore the word that is staring everyone in the face. She’s not answering the question ... because this is where she’s headed.”
“What I understand is we’re headed to 5pm with the same question,” Mr Rajah laughed.
“She is prepared to lie under any circumstances,” Mr Singh replied.
Justice Kannan then stepped in to ask Ms Lim to answer the question “in substance”.
Mr Singh repeated the charge that by allowing FMSS to recommend it be engaged, Ms Lim had committed a breach of town council rules. She again disagreed.
During the afternoon session, Mr Singh also accused Ms Lim of breaching another portion of the Town Councils Financial Rules (TCFR) in relation to FMSS’ provision of EMSU services in 2011 - an allegation that Ms Lim later admitted to.
The rule in question states that for works, period quotations and contracts, there shall be a written agreement before the works or supply of services begin. According to Ms Lim, the town council had agreed verbally on the provision of some services.
Ms Lim said that while she knew the rules “substantially”, this particular rule was “not in (her) consciousness” at the time.
She also acknowledged that they should have put the oral agreement into writing.
When further pressed by Mr Singh, Ms Lim agreed that the entire town council had breached the rules.
The trial continues on Wednesday.