SINGAPORE - National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan on Thursday countered what Workers' Party chairman Sylvia Lim described as four "myths" on the Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC) saga.
Mr Khaw told reporters: "I do not like to harp on the AHPETC but when the facts are distorted, I think it's my duty to point out the distortions, what are the facts, what are the half-truths and what are the semi-truths."
He issued a fact sheet on his ministry's rebuttal to the four "myths" highlighted by Ms Lim at a WP rally in Hougang on Wednesday night.
The owners of FM Solutions and Services (FMSS), AHPETC’s managing agent from 2011 until July this year, were also key officers of the town council, and the Auditor-General’s Office (AGO) had flagged third-party transactions that involved them as serious lapses.
Ms Lim said on Wednesday that the cheques issued to FMSS were countersigned by herself or AHPETC vice-chairmen Pritam Singh and Png Eng Huat. She added that she had refused to sign the cheques on some occasions.
Mr Khaw, however, pointed out that the AGO has found a lack of controls over related party transactions with FMSS. What happened previously with FMSS can only be properly examined with a forensic audit which the WP has refused.
He also responded to Ms Lim's claims that AHPETC would have had an operating surplus of $1.7 million for financial year 2014/2015 if the Ministry of National Development had not withheld grants worth $7.2 million to the town council.
Mr Khaw said that while the latest accounts were submitted on time, they remained qualified, meaning that their own independent auditors said "there is no assurance based on the documents they have seen that their accounts are accurate".
Earlier on Thursday, Law and Foreign Affairs Minister K Shanmugam also slammed the WP over its management of the town council, echoing comments made by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
Speaking at a press conference, Mr Shanmugam said: "So you can do pretty much anything you like as long as you don't go to jail. That is the standard WP has set for their candidates.
"Let's look at that standard, and it is clear that they have been behaving according to that standard. The High Court said that Ms Sylvia Lim misled Parliament, was dishonest. She has not responded to that. Yeah, you don't go to jail for that. I suppose that is all right?" he said.
He added: "Another observation the High Court made was that if this kind of conduct had taken place in a public company, it probably would attract criminal sanctions."
Mr Png Eng Huat, the WP incumbent in Hougang SMC, responded to Mr Lee's comments during a walkabout at Whampoa Market with the WP team contesting Jalan Besar GRC on Thursday.
Said Mr Png: "We wanted to be treated fairly (about the AHPETC issue). We were not treated fairly. If we have done any wrongdoing, bring us to court.
"Why must it be a sad state for politics? If somebody is wrong just prosecute the person. What has it got to do with politics?"
Ms Lim, who was also at Whampoa Market, said the WP does not intend to get bogged down by the issue.https://youtu.be/2DihHUzpgEo
However, she noted: "Because of publicity brought to bear, we thought that it was important for us to spend some part of the first rally to explain those things, otherwise we would be accused of not being accountable again."
"In rallies to come, we'll be talking about other issues."
In response, Mr Shanmugam said: "Obviously they think it's a serious issue and they need to convince voters. That's why they spent a long time explaining at the rally last night.
"But they choose to do it at a rally, where they don't have to answer any questions."
Mr Shanmugam had another barb for the WP: "In the one place they're in charge of, everything has gone wrong."
Lawyer Gurmit Singh, who is part of the WP team challenging Mr Shanmugam's PAP team in Nee Soon GRC, said the party will have to speak to residents and explain its position on the issue.
"I think slowly we should be able to try to overcome this," he said.
"It may not be easy, we understand, but we will work very hard on the ground to explain this, and ask them to come to more of our rallies to listen to what our leaders have to say on this."