AHTC trial: Low Thia Khiang ‘directed’ FMSS before it was appointed managing agent, says lawyer
SINGAPORE: The Workers’ Party’s (WP) Low Thia Khiang had “directed” FM Solutions and Services (FMSS) to employ workers from Hougang Town Council (HTC), even before FMSS was appointed as managing agent of Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (AHTC), Senior Counsel Davinder Singh argued on Wednesday (Oct 17).
This meant that FMSS was not the independent party Mr Low had made it out to be, said Mr Singh on the ninth day of the trial.
He referred to a May 28, 2011, email that Mr Low had sent to Ms How Weng Fan whose late husband Danny Loh started FMSS. Ms How was also secretary of HTC and had worked with Mr Low for many years.
In the email, Mr Low wrote that the managing agent of AHTC should employ existing employees of HTC, at least for a start.
“You would not have been giving these instructions to Ms How for FMSS to engage the Hougang staff unless their position was already confirmed?” asked Mr Singh.
“No,” Mr Low replied. He explained that he was just stating the conditions that FMSS would have to meet if they were to be appointed, as he regarded the employees of Hougang to be an asset to FMSS.
“Surely you would have known that if FMSS would have engaged the staff as directed by you, that would mean that first they would be engaging staff who had been loyal to you for the last 20 years right?”
“Yes,” Mr Low replied.
“In fact that was one of the reasons you had asked them to be engaged, yes? One of the reasons.”
“Yes,” said Mr Low.
The May 28 email was two days before a meeting with the incumbent managing agent, CPG Facilities Management. It is Mr Low’s assertion that CPG had said during the May 30 meeting that it did not want to continue as AHTC’s managing agent.
CPG managed Aljunied Town Council (ATC) for the People’s Action Party (PAP) until WP won Aljunied GRC in the 2011 General Election.
LAWYER ASKS WHY LOW MOVED BACK MEETING TO "AVOID" CPG
Mr Singh spent much of Wednesday questioning Mr Low on another email trail and why it appeared to show that he and his fellow elected Members of Parliament moved back a meeting so that employees of CPG would not attend it.
The email was sent by WP MP Sylvia Lim to Mr Low and others, asking if they should proceed with the AHTC meeting on Jul 21, 2011, or defer it until after Aug 1. CPG had said they would work for AHTC until Aug 1, 2011.
When Mr Singh pressed Mr Low on why they decided to defer the meeting, the WP MP repeatedly said he was “uncomfortable” having certain discussions with a CPG representative in attendance, and that there was a level of “distrust”.
Mr Singh charged that Mr Low and his counterparts did not want CPG to find out that they were appointing FMSS as AHTC's managing agent, as CPG had the impression that AHTC would be managed in-house instead of by a new managing agent.
“It would have crossed your mind that if CPG had found out, CPG at that meeting might say - what are you doing? You have to (put out a) tender,” Mr Singh asserted.
He went on to say that Mr Low and his fellow elected MPs wanted to avoid a tender because they wanted to make sure FMSS was appointed as managing agent. This was tied in to a point Mr Singh made earlier - that one of the reasons Mr Low wanted to appoint FMSS was because they would engage staff "who had been loyal to you for the last 20 years", a point that Mr Low agreed to.
“You had Hougang staff and you needed to find a home for them,” Mr Singh said. The managing agent, therefore, would comprise “a team of people led by Workers’ Party supporters and a staff including WP members”, Mr Singh asserted.
To this, Mr Low said he could accept that Ms How was a supporter, but he was not sure whether the rest of the HTC employees supported his party, conceding that a number of them were “probably” supporters.
Mr Low, along with MPs Sylvia Lim, Pritam Singh and other related parties, are being sued by AHTC and Pasir Ris-Punggol Town Council (PRPTC) for alleged breaches of fiduciary duties.
This relates to the appointment of FMSS as AHTC’s managing agent, as well as “improper payments” amounting to more than S$33 million that AHTC allegedly paid, mostly to FMSS.
READ: An 'egregious, cavalier misuse of public funds': Town council lawyers rip into Workers' Party leaders
LOW HAD BEEN TOLD ABOUT TENDER, DESPITE SAYING IT "DID NOT CROSS HIS MIND": LAWYER
In his cross-examination, Mr Singh, the lead lawyer for PRPTC, asked Mr Low why AHTC did not put out a tender for the first managing agent contract for an agent to handle services for the town council. Mr Low repeatedly said it "did not cross his mind" that they should put out a tender.
After a series of questions to which Mr Low repeated this same answer, Mr Singh produced an email in court from a WP member. The email was sent to Mr Low on May 13, 2011, by a person identified only as T T Tan.
In the email, Mr Tan warned Mr Low about "the ongoings at ATC", and urged Mr Low to "act now" to take steps needed to take over ATC as WP would be "in a difficult position" if he did not. Among the suggested solutions Mr Tan gave was one where he wrote: "Start employing or ask for tender now. At the last minute when you realise they (ATC) are playing you out, prices are going to shoot up."
Addressing Mr Low, Mr Singh said: “As early as the 13th of May, 2011, six days after you were elected, you were reminded by a WP member to prepare yourself for a tender because of what he had heard about CPG.”
“Therefore, your entire evidence that you gave today about the tender not having crossed your mind and no one telling you about the tender - is regrettably untrue. Do you agree or disagree?” Mr Singh asked.
“Disagree,” Mr Low answered.
Mr Singh continued: “And because, as I suggested to you yesterday and this morning, you and your colleagues wanted at all cost to avoid a tender, you did not want CPG to learn about FMSS because if CPG had learnt about FMSS, CPG would have raised a red flag about a breach of the law.”
Mr Low replied that that did not cross his mind.
“In fact, it would appear from the documents that there was a concerted attempt to hide this plan so that you can avoid a tender, so that nothing can stop you from engaging FMSS,” Mr Singh charged.
“No, there’s no such plan,” Mr Low said.
READ: What makes a ‘responsible’ town councillor? Low Thia Khiang, PRPTC lawyer cross swords at AHTC trial
LOW "NOT HONEST", ALLEGES PRPTC LAWYER
During the course of the proceedings, Mr Singh charged that Mr Low was “not honest”. He did so while questioning the former WP chief whether an email proved that Mr Low and his counterparts had already made a decision to release CPG as its managing agent before meeting the firm on May 30, 2011, when it said it wanted to withdraw from its role.
Mr Singh referred to an email sent on May 27, 2011, by Ms Lim to Mr Low and others, where Ms Lim stated that “the existing management of ATC, CPG, will report to us until we release them at such date not later than Aug 1”.
“That sentence makes it clear that there was already a decision to release CPG,” Mr Singh asserted.
“No, there was no decision,” Mr Low said.
“I’m going to give you another opportunity. I’m reading this sentence again. Please think carefully Mr Low,” Mr Singh said. “The existing management of ATC, CPG, will report to us until we release them at such date not later than Aug 1. Does this not suggest that a decision to release them had already been made and that this sentence is about the timing of the release?”
“Yes, on the assumption that they will not continue (as managing agent),” Mr Low answered.
“Where (exactly) is the assumption stated here?” Mr Singh asked.
“It’s not here lah. But it’s on our mind,” Mr Low replied.
At this, Mr Singh said: “I’m sorry to say you are not honest.”
Mr Low responded: “I’m honest! I’m looking in your eyes and telling you that.”
“Many people have done that and were (not honest),” Mr Singh countered.
“I declare I am honest,” Mr Low pressed.
“Many people have done that too,” Mr Singh said.
To this, Mr Low conceded: “The sentence may appear to be that way. But all this while, our assumption is, they won’t want to continue to manage (AHTC), and they will likely go on Aug 1.”
WHERE WOULD FMSS GET ITS MONEY?
While grilling Mr Low about the tender process for the first managing agent contract, when AHTC took over Aljunied GRC and merged HTC with ATC, Mr Singh also asked about where FMSS got its capital.
"On the 28th of May, 2011, did you know what was FMSS' capitalisation?" He asked.
"I'm not very sure. Probably S$200,000 or something?" Mr Low replied.
"You knew that, or are you telling us what you know now?" Mr Singh asked.
"At that point, I don't know," Mr Low said.
"So if you didn't know, where did you think FMSS (found) the money?" Mr Singh pressed.
"They go and find lah, it's their company what," Mr Low answered.
"And where would they find the money if they were a freshly minted company which was set up only a few days before the 28th of May, you had no idea what its capitalisation was, or whether it had any assets," Mr Singh continued. "Where did you think they are going to find the money, sir?"
"Well," Mr Low answered. "The fact that they agreed to set up a company, they must have ... a plan for capitalisation."
Mr Singh countered: "When you say they have their own plan - you were the only one who told Ms How that FMSS should engage Hougang staff and we know that happened later. So when you say 'their plan', it was all your plan, sir. It was you who were driving the entire thing at the time."
He then charged that “it was irrelevant” to Mr Low whether FMSS had money, because the hiring of staff was going to be funded by AHTC.
To this, Mr Low replied: "No."
Mr Singh then asked him if he knew what the monthly financial obligation of FMSS would have been, to which Mr Low again replied "no".
The trial resumes on Thursday, with Mr Low again taking the witness stand.