What makes a ‘responsible’ town councillor? Low Thia Khiang, PRPTC lawyer cross swords at AHTC trial

What makes a ‘responsible’ town councillor? Low Thia Khiang, PRPTC lawyer cross swords at AHTC trial

Former Workers’ Party chief Low admits that he and his other elected MPs did not ask which parts of the contract between CPG Facilities Management and Aljunied Town Council would apply when FMSS took over as managing agent of the Aljunied-Hougang Town Council.

None of the elected Workers’ Party (WP) Members of Parliament looked at the terms and conditions of the contract between CPG Facilities Management and Aljunied Town Council (ATC), and asked questions a "responsible town councillor" would before appointing a new managing agent (MA), lawyer Davinder Singh charged on Wednesday (Oct 17). Deborah Wong reports. 

SINGAPORE: None of the elected Workers’ Party (WP) Members of Parliament looked at the terms and conditions of the contract between CPG Facilities Management and Aljunied Town Council (ATC), and asked questions a "responsible town councillor" would before appointing a new managing agent (MA), lawyer Davinder Singh charged on Wednesday (Oct 17).

On day nine of the civil lawsuit over the WP's running of the Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (AHTC), Mr Singh, the lead lawyer for Pasir Ris-Punggol Town Council (PRPTC), continued his cross-examination of former WP chief Low Thia Khiang by focusing on what he and his other elected MPs for Aljunied Group Representation Constituency (GRC) did following their 2011 General Election win.

Specifically, Mr Singh zeroed in on whether Mr Low or his other MPs knew about the terms and conditions of the contract between CPG, then the MA, and Aljunied Town Council (ATC). He also questioned whether they did the “basic” thing of reviewing these terms before seeing which points are applicable to the contract FM Solutions and Services (FMSS) would eventually sign with AHTC later that year.

READ: Low used residents' monies to fund 'start-up' managing agent for opposition: PRPTC lawyer

He referred to the Letter of Intent (LOI) sent by the late Mr Danny Loh, managing director of FMSS and another defendant in the case, to WP chairman Sylvia Lim to be AHTC’s MA on Jun 15, 2011.

In it, one of the clauses was: “Our scope of work for Aljunied-Hougang Town Council shall follow the specifications stipulated under the Managing Agent’s contract with the former Aljunied Town Council.”

Mr Singh said the “specifications” constituted only one of seven parts of the contract between CPG and ATC, and when he asked Mr Low how he construed that line in the LOI to represent the whole CPG-ATC contract, the WP MP said he did not look at the contract when it was circulated to him and the other MPs.

READ: AHTC trial: WP’s Low Thia Khiang concedes he did not do the 'responsible' thing to check on managing agent contract

“That is my point, Mr Low. This is, and I think you have now come to understand, the issue of transferring rights and obligations. This is FMSS saying - I will be the MA on certain terms that had been agreed to by CPG. Yes?” Mr Singh asked.

“Yes,” replied Mr Low.

“A responsible town council with responsible town councillors must ask themselves: ‘Ok which part of that CPG contract is now applicable and which part is not applicable’, correct? Very basic (question)?”

“Yes.”

“You didn’t ask the question, correct?”

“Yes. I didn’t ask.”

“As far as you know, none of the elected MPs asked that question, correct?”

“Yes, as far as I know.”

“So it follows doesn’t it? That none of you, as far as you know, conducted yourself responsibly? Correct?”

(Pause)

“I’m waiting for an answer, Mr Low.”

“I think the answer will be yes; specifically, we did not ask for that part of the contract, yes,” the WP MP said.

Mr Singh was cross-examining Mr Low as part of the lawsuit brought by AHTC and PRPTC against WP MPs Low, Sylvia Lim and Pritam Singh; AHTC town councillors Chua Zhi Hon and Kenneth Foo; AHTC’s former MA FMSS; and FMSS employees How Weng Fan and Loh.

They are accused of breaching fiduciary duties and allowing more than S$33 million in “improper” payments made by AHTC to FMSS and others.

READ: AHTC trial: FMSS lawyer and accountant spar over PwC’s ‘prejudiced’ report

WP trial day 1 Low Thia Khiang
File photo of Mr Low Thia Khiang walking out of the High Court on Friday (Oct 5). (Photo: Hanidah Amin) 
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ENGAGING FMSS PUTS AHTC, RESIDENTS IN “VULNERABLE POSITION”: LAWYER

Mr Singh went on to explore the process by which FMSS was eventually appointed as MA by AHTC in 2011 and whether it left the constituency, and by extension its residents, in a “vulnerable position”.  

The Drew & Napier lawyer argued that by appointing a company led by WP supporters in FMSS, it would be logical to assume that this would dissuade other parties - particularly the ones Mr Low said was aligned with the People’s Action Party (PAP): CPG, EM Services and Cushman and Wakefield - from participating in the subsequent tender AHTC called in 2012.

Mr Low had said in his affidavit that all three companies had been managing PAP town councils for many years but “none of these companies wanted to manage AHTC”.

“You see Mr Low, the moment you and your colleagues did what you did with FMSS in May … you had effectively put AHTC in a position where it was locked in to FMSS going forward,” Mr Singh said.

The WP MP disagreed, saying: “I don't think that because FMSS is appointed (and) it has WP supporters, that when you call for an open tender, no company will tender because of that.

READ: Asking CPG to run AHTC without a computer system akin to building a house without bricks: Defence

“I don’t think that is logical because if it’s an open tender, anyone can tender, and I won’t rule out the possibility of other big companies. Or these big companies (the three mentioned above) may split up and they (may) want to tender.”

The PRPTC lawyer went on to posit that in April 2012, when AHTC called for the second MA tender, it was in “no negotiating power” given that the only party it dealt with was FMSS. Mr Low disagreed.

Mr Singh then asked where was AHTC’s negotiating power if all the staff who previously served Hougang Town Council or Aljunied were now with FMSS, to which Mr Low said he did not understand this assertion but added that the town council would have reverted to managing the constituency directly if FMSS insisted on something “ridiculous”.

The notion of direct management was then questioned by the lawyer, who pointed out there was at least a risk that staff from FMSS would not want to join AHTC if the MA did not get the second contract. Mr Low agreed with this.

“You see, Mr Low, this assertion of … in-house, direct management (and) getting all the (FMSS) staff or many of them to join me - these are all statements you are making today,” Mr Singh said.

“But in truth, at that time, because of … the path you chose, you put AHTC in a vulnerable position, and therefore compromised the interest of the residents.”

“I disagree,” said Mr Low.

READ: AHTC trial: S$60 million in payments recorded manually, says KPMG

WAS CONFLICT OF INTEREST “SUPPRESSED”?

The issue of whether there was a conflict of interest arising from Ms How and Mr Loh holding shares in FMSS, the company appointed as MA then, as well as being town councillors of AHTC, was also brought up towards the end of Wednesday’s hearing.

Mr Singh referenced an email from Mr Yaw Shin Leong, the former MP for Hougang, on Aug 3, 2011, asking WP chairman Sylvia Lim if there was a need to disclose “the exact stakeholdership(s)” of FMSS in the TC minutes/report. Mr Low was included in the email.

Ms Lim replied saying they “can/should enclose the ACRA search” in an email that same day, but Mr Singh pointed out that this was not done.

Mr Low acknowledged this was not done, but could not explain why, saying it was better to ask Ms Lim about it.

“You have to ask Ms Lim. It’s not a big deal, whether she discloses or not.”

“It’s not a big deal? Do you know that we are all in court because of this? You are saying that, today, disclosing the shareholdings is not a big deal? Is it your evidence that having heard everything, it is still not a big deal?” Mr Singh asked.

“Today, no, but at that point in time, I didn’t think it was a big deal.”

“You mean today you recognise it is a big deal, yes?”

“I’m not sure whether I recognise it’s a big deal. But the fact that the court (case) came all the way up here, so … the fact is, I cannot say it’s not a big deal.”

Mr Singh went on to suggest that given that "three minds were applied" to the issue, it was an important one, and that a decision was made to "suppress" this fact from the town council.

“That’s not true, absolutely not true,” Mr Low said.

The trial will continue on Thursday with the WP MP again taking to the witness stand.

Source: CNA/kk(ra)

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