WP town council unfairly singled out by MND: Sylvia Lim

Syvia Lim at the Appeal hearing for MND vs AHPETC.
Syvia Lim at the Appeal hearing for MND vs AHPETC. ST PHOTO: WONG KWAI CHOW

The Workers' Party (WP) town council has suggested it had been unfairly singled out for "exemplary treatment" by the Ministry of National Development (MND) when it argued against the ministry's appeal for independent accountants to be appointed to the town council.

Ms Sylvia Lim, chairman of WP and the Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC), quoted from a recent Auditor- General's Office (AGO) report when she pointed out lapses had been found at several government departments and statutory boards. Drawing parallels between this and her town council, she said the MND should thus take action against these agencies.

In her sworn statement submitted in court, Ms Lim zeroed in on the AGO's findings about related-party transactions at the People's Association. She was referring to the former chairman of the Citizens Consultative Committee of Admiralty ward in Sembawang GRC approving his own claims to the tune of more than $114,000.

Another case she highlighted involved the National Parks Board awarding $20 million in contracts without competition.

She said that given the Government and MND's "zeal in taking AHPETC to task", she trusted that they would "act with similar vigour" and take legal action against the various government departments and statutory boards.

AHPETC had undergone a separate year-long audit by the AGO that was ordered by the Government after it failed to submit clean accounts two years in a row.

In this audit, the AGO had similarly found related-party transactions as its managing agent firms were owned by key officials of the town council.

In countering her point, MND's lawyer Aurill Kam, from the Attorney-General's Chambers, said the AGO report on the public sector is "irrelevant because it does not deal with issues at AHPETC".

AHPETC's lawyer, Mr Peter Low, had also referred to the AGO report on the public sector.

Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon noted that as the AGO report is on "public record", there was no reason Mr Low could not refer to it if he wanted to.

In yesterday's hearing, Mr Low also accused MND of causing AHPETC to be late in making transfers to its sinking fund. He said AHPETC could not do it as MND had withheld $14 million in grants under the "flimsiest of excuses".

This was rebutted by Ms Kam: "The point has been argued ad nauseam and the judge has made a specific finding that if anyone is to be blamed for failing to make sinking fund transfers on time, it's them."

Chief Justice Menon said it was "unhelpful" for Mr Low to recast the argument. He pointed out that National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan had been willing to disburse the grants, but with conditions - that AHPETC agree to the appointment of independent accountants to oversee the use of the grants. Also, the Chief Justice said, AHPETC had not argued the conditions were unreasonable, illegal or irrational.

The court heard AHPETC has made its overdue sinking fund transfer for the third quarter of financial year (FY) 2014/2015.

But overdue payments for the fourth quarter of FY2014/2015 and first quarter of FY2015/2016 have not been made.

Ms Kam reiterated that AHPETC has been dithering on the ministry's offer to release grants with conditions and this was why the matter has come to court.

Walter Sim and Tham Yuen-C

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 04, 2015, with the headline 'WP town council unfairly singled out by MND: Sylvia Lim'. Print Edition | Subscribe