Hearing on independent accountants for AHPETC starts today

A High Court hearing will start today to decide whether to appoint independent accountants to oversee government grants given to the Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC). -- ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG
A High Court hearing will start today to decide whether to appoint independent accountants to oversee government grants given to the Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC). -- ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

A HIGH Court hearing will start today to decide whether to appoint independent accountants to oversee government grants given to the Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC).

The Ministry of National Development (MND) had applied to the court on March 20 to appoint the accountants, after a special audit by the Auditor-General's Office (AGO) found accounting and governance lapses at the Workers' Party (WP)-run town council.

The hearing had been scheduled as a closed-door session, but the court decided to grant AHPETC's request to allow the case to be heard in open court. The decision was made known to AHPETC lawyers last Thursday.

The case will be heard by Justice Quentin Loh. AHPETC and WP chairman Sylvia Lim is expected to represent the town council.

Ahead of the hearing, Ms Lim said in a statement last Saturday that the town council had hired an external accounting firm to help it clean up its past accounts and strengthen its internal controls.

AHPETC engaged the accounting firm on March 3, about a month after the AGO's audit findings were released and two weeks after Parliament held a special debate over the lapses at the only opposition-run town council here.

If the court agrees to appoint the independent accountants, the MND will release about $14 million in grants to AHPETC. These grants are disbursed to all town councils but the ministry has withheld them from AHPETC for a year now owing to governance and compliance lapses.

The MND also wants the independent accountants to examine past AHPETC payments and take appropriate action to recover any losses suffered by the town council and its residents.

Ms Lim had previously told reporters that having independent auditors would "derail" AHPETC's work, as the town council would have to deal with several sets of auditors.

She could not be reached for comments yesterday.

In her statement last Saturday, Ms Lim reassured residents that the town council is "working hard" to file its FY2013/14 accounts by June 30 and its FY2014/15 accounts by Aug 31 - deadlines set earlier by the MND.

AHPETC will also soon send letters to its residents providing details of key points from the AGO report and parliamentary debate, as well as "clarifying some misconceptions that have been circulated", she said.

rachelay@sph.com.sg