SINGAPORE: Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (AHTC) and the Housing and Development Board (HDB) on Friday (Jul 8) went to the Court of Appeal for clarification on its previous ruling relating to accounts when AHTC was Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council.
AHTC is of the position that two accounting firms – appointed by two different town councils – are effectively duplicating each other’s work in reviewing the accounts of Punggol East ward.
The Workers’ Party-run AHTC appointed auditor KPMG, after a court ordered it to appoint one of the "Big Four" firms to help fix any accounting and governance lapses at the town council, which was then known as the Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC).
Punggol East was transferred to Pasir Ris-Punggol Town Council (PRPTC) after the People's Action Party won back the seat from the Workers' Party (WP) in the last general election. On May 30, PRPTC appointed PricewaterhouseCoopers to ensure that Punggol East’s accounts were in order.
In a media statement on Friday, AHTC chairman Pritam Singh said that in the town council’s view, this was a duplication of the work being done by KPMG. He said AHTC "thus believed it was best for the Court of Appeal to clarify if it contemplated two big firms appointed to carry out similar work, funded by the public purse".
However, PRPTC was not present at Friday’s court hearing.
The Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) told the court that despite the AGC having served the papers on PRPTC and inviting them to attend the hearing, PRPTC had replied that "in their view, there (was) no need for them to attend".
Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon expressed "surprise" that PRPTC had chosen not to attend the hearing. He added: "If there is an interest that is being represented here, I would say it is PRPTC's." He remarked that PRPTC’s absence "raises the question as to why we are here".
The court noted that the work being done by AHTC and KPMG included Punggol East SMC, and that there had been no suggestion that KPMG was not carrying out its work independently.
After hearing arguments, CJ Menon said KPMG and PwC should communicate directly with each other and "afford each other such access as may be reasonably required to safeguard each party’s interests".
In his media statement, Mr Singh said that AHTC would discuss the court’s latest directions with KPMG and "continue to ensure that the interests of its residents and the residents of Punggol East are safeguarded".
In response to AHTC’s statement, PRPTC chairman Zainal Sapari said in a Facebook post that the town council appointed PwC to inquire into whether any past payments made by AHPETC had been improper and ought to be recovered. "As PRPTC has consistently stated, this is in the interests of the residents of Punggol East," wrote Mr Zainal.
He also pointed out that AHTC had previously refused PRPTC’s request to jointly appoint KPMG to do this. He wrote: "It is because of AHTC’s refusal to jointly appoint accountants that PRPTC has had to appoint PwC."
AHTC DID NOT PRESENT THE FULL PICTURE: HDB
HDB said that AHTC had not presented the full picture when it asserted that PRPTC’s appointment of PwC would result in “a duplication of the work being done by KPMG”.
In a reply to media queries, HDB pointed out that, shortly after the court first ordered AHTC to appoint an accountant, HDB had suggested that AHTC and PRPTC do so jointly, "to avoid duplication of effort, competing access to documents and incurring unnecessary costs".
No joint appointment materialised as AHTC rejected it. Said HDB in its media statement: "Had AHTC agreed to HDB’s suggestion to work with PRPTC to jointly appoint one set of accountants, there would not have been the need for PRPTC to appoint PwC separately."
HDB said that AHTC had refused to give PRPTC access to documents for it to carry out its review of Punggol East's accounts.
It added that AHTC also requested that HDB first apply to the Court of Appeal to clarify whether PRPTC was bound by the court order to audit Punggol East's books.
HDB said that it had applied for Friday's hearing, given AHTC’s position and the impending Aug 31 deadline for the report on AHPETC’s past payments.
Following the direction given by CJ Menon at the hearing, HDB said it expects AHTC and PRPTC to do "all that is necessary to facilitate the work of the accountants, KPMG and PwC," in carrying out the orders of the court.