SINGAPORE: After being repeatedly accused of providing “inconsistent” evidence, former Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (AHTC) chairman Sylvia Lim admitted that the town council’s former secretary had not been kept fully informed about details necessary for him to discharge his duties as required under the law, the court heard on Monday (Oct 22), the 12th day of the landmark AHTC trial.
The secretary, Mr Jeffrey Chua, was also the managing director of outgoing managing agent (MA) CPG Facilities Management.
These details that Mr Chua was kept in the dark about, charged Senior Counsel Davinder Singh, included the fact that a new managing agent - FM Services and Solutions (FMSS) - was being appointed, and a tender was to be waived.
READ: AHTC trial: Sylvia Lim admits to breaching town council financial rules by not calling for tender
Ms Lim, who took the stand for a third day, said that Mr Chua “did not know the full details as required under Section 20” of the Town Councils Act. She later elaborated that by this, she was referring to the secretary’s duty to ensure proper records are kept of decisions made.
“What we did was what we felt was necessary to ensure there was a smooth handover and it was in the interests of the residents,” said Ms Lim.
READ: Sylvia Lim avoided calling for tender for new managing agent despite having time do so: Davinder Singh
Ms Lim, along with fellow MPs Low Thia Khiang and Pritam Singh, and AHTC councillors Kenneth Foo and Chua Zhi Hon, are being sued by AHTC and Pasir Ris-Punggol Town Council (PRPTC) for alleged breaches of fiduciary duty relating to the appointment of FMSS.
This, along with “flawed governance” of the town council and “improper” payments of more than S$33 million made mostly to FMSS, is the subject of two lawsuits that also are aimed at FMSS employees How Weng Fan and Danny Loh, who also held positions at AHTC.
“YES OR NO”
Ms Lim, who is also a Member of Parliament for Aljunied GRC, was being cross-examined on the witness stand by PRPTC’s Senior Counsel Davinder Singh on Monday (Oct 22).
The morning session focused on an email sent on Jul 6, 2011 by Ms Lim to Ms How - a former AHTC deputy secretary who was also a director and shareholder at FMSS.
Ms Lim had asked if a town council meeting could be deferred until after Aug 1 – by which time CPG would have stepped down – or if the council had to be involved to waive the tender for a new MA, in which case it would “needlessly” involve CPG.
“For the terms of appointment of a new MA, I don’t think CPG was interested because they wanted to leave in any case, so there was no need to discuss these details in front of them,” Ms Lim explained. “I don’t think these details were of any concern or relevance to CPG.”
A tense back-and-forth ensued with Mr Singh repeatedly demanding that Ms Lim answer his questions with a “yes or no”. The PRPTC lawyer then pointed out that for Mr Chua, the outgoing secretary, to discharge his duty to ensure the town council complies with the law, he must be given whatever information is relevant for that purpose.
“The secretary, Mr Jeffrey Chua, was being kept out of the fact that there had been a binding commitment,” said Mr Singh. “That tenders had not been called, that the matter had not been put before the town council, and the issue of the waiver had also not been put before the town council: Sitting there today Ms Lim, do you say it was not necessary for Mr Jeffrey Chua to know all that?”
Ms Lim said that Mr Chua knew a new MA had been appointed, and that “he would have known” there was a waiver of tender.
“Really?” Mr Singh raised his voice. “If you go to your email on Jul 6, isn’t the entire purpose to ask Ms How ‘do we need Jeffrey Chua to know about the waiver’?
“From saying there is no need for CPG to know, to now saying CPG knew about it - it’s being inconsistent.”
Ms Lim denied the repeated charge, saying the email had to be viewed in the entire “context” of terms and conditions of appointing FMSS as the new MA - specific details which Mr Chua “did not know” and “did not need to know”.
To which Mr Singh charged: “The reason you changed your evidence from CPG not needing to know everything to CPG knowing everything except the terms, is because you realise you’ve breached section 20 of the Town Councils Act.
“Together with your fellow MPs, you’ve created a situation where the secretary cannot discharge his functions. Isn’t that the reason for the sudden change in position?”
What followed was a lengthy stand-off with Ms Lim at one point noting: “I will just say that Jeffrey Chua was an outgoing secretary, and he knew what was needed. That's all I will say.”
A dissatisfied Mr Singh then called on Justice Kannan Ramesh to “let the record reflect that Ms Lim refuses to answer the question”. Several minutes later, the Workers’ Party MP finally conceded that she had “to agree” with Mr Singh.
SYLVIA LIM “CONCOCTED EVIDENCE”: DAVINDER SINGH
During the cross-examination, Mr Singh also argued that evidence Ms Lim had given – that it had “slipped her mind” to bring up information about the shareholdings of FMSS during a town council meeting in August 2011 – was “concocted”. This included the results of an Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA) search performed on the company.
Pointing to emails that Ms Lim had sent on Aug 3, 2011, a day before the meeting to fellow WP MPs Yaw Shin Leong and Low Thia Khiang, Mr Singh noted that she had indicated that she had said the information “can and should be disclosed”, and asked her repeatedly why, if she had felt this way, the information had not been shared with councillors at the meeting.
Mr Yaw was MP for Hougang and was expelled from the Workers' Party in February 2012 over allegations of extramarital affairs.
Ms Lim at first said that while doing so would have made the records more robust, she “didn’t think” councillors would want to know “all those details”. She later said that while she felt it was important to disclose the information, it “must have slipped her mind” and it was not produced during the meeting.
To that, Mr Singh pointed out that this evidence was coming out for the first time, and was not stated in her affidavit or in the defence’s opening statements.
“But it’s the truth,” Ms Lim countered.
“I have some difficulty with that,” Mr Singh responded, noting that Mr Yaw and Mr Low were also present at the meeting, but had also not brought up the ACRA search.
“Since August 2011, there have been public statements ... statements in Parliament about this,” he said. “There have been numerous occasions where this issue was ventilated.”
Accusing Ms Lim of only saying this at this point because she “had to think of an answer”, Mr Singh said the evidence that it had “slipped her mind” was “concocted”. She disagreed.
The trial continues.