National Development Ministry's appeal hearing for AHPETC case expected on Aug 3

The appeal by the Ministry of National Development (MND) against a High Court decision not to appoint independent accountants to the Workers' Party (WP)-run town council is expected to be heard on Aug 3. -- ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG
The appeal by the Ministry of National Development (MND) against a High Court decision not to appoint independent accountants to the Workers' Party (WP)-run town council is expected to be heard on Aug 3. -- ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

SINGAPORE - An appeal by the Ministry of National Development (MND) against a High Court decision not to appoint independent accountants to the Workers' Party (WP)-run town council is expected to be heard on August 3.

The ministry had originally asked for an expedited appeal process with the appeal hearing to be held in the week of July 6, but Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon said the appeal court's July calendar was full.

Another consideration was that the lawyer for WP's Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC), Mr Peter Low, will be unavailable for the next three weeks.

Presiding over an half-hour open-court session on Thursday to decide whether to grant the ministry's request for its appeal to be fast-tracked, the Chief Justice said the August 3 date would depend on the availability of the other two Judges of Appeal who will hear the appeal as well.

He also set the dates for both sides to file their cases: MND on June 22 and WP's Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC) on July 16.

Both sides are then scheduled to exchange skeletal arguments on July 24. MND had originally asked that this be done by July 3.

WP and AHPETC chairman Sylvia Lim later told reporters: "In principle the town council agrees that the appeal could be heard on an expedited basis because we also want to move on from what we consider needless litigation, and to fully focus on our core mission of serving the residents.

"At the same time today we're happy that the Chief Justice has given what we think is adequate time for the parties to prepare for the appeal." Ms Lim was accompanied at court on Thursday by AHPETC vice-chairmen Pritam Singh and Png Eng Huat.

The ministry is appealing a decision by Justice Quentin Loh, who last week denied its request for the High Court to appoint independent accountants to AHPETC.

MND wanted the accountants to safeguard government grants to the town council and to investigate past payments made by the town council, after a special audit of AHPETC found accounting and governance lapses in the management of the town council's finances and contracts.

But Justice Loh found that the ministry had no legal basis to make the request, although it could impose conditions tied to the disbursement of government grants without going through a court process.

He also noted that the Housing and Development Board (HDB) or the town council's residents could take legal action against the town council if it failed to perform its duties.

The MND decided to appeal Justice Loh's decision, saying it would be unable to disburse government grants to the town council if the accountants are not appointed. The ministry has so far withheld about $14 million in grants from AHPETC.