AHTC trial: Defence and witness dispute financial procedures for town councils

In the 56 instances in which auditors said there was no proper endorsement of invoices, defence lawyer Chelva Rajah (above) pointed to alternate documents called the Voucher Journal Report, which showed signatures of the appropriate head of departmen
In the 56 instances in which auditors said there was no proper endorsement of invoices, defence lawyer Chelva Rajah (above) pointed to alternate documents called the Voucher Journal Report, which showed signatures of the appropriate head of department.ST PHOTO: KHALID BABA

SINGAPORE - Procedures were put in place by a Workers' Party (WP)-run town council to ensure there was oversight of payments made to vendors, contrary to allegations that there was a lack of financial control, defence lawyer Chelva Rajah said on Thursday (Oct 11).

In the 56 instances in which auditors said there was no proper endorsement of invoices, Senior Counsel Chelva Rajah pointed to alternate documents called the Voucher Journal Report, which showed signatures of the appropriate head of department.

But PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) partner Goh Thien Phong said this would still not fulfil the requirement under the law, and that a consistent policy was necessary, not according "to each individual's whims and fancies".

As spelt out in the Town Council Financial Rules, Mr Goh said the department head - in most cases, the property manager - needs to sign the invoices to satisfy himself that goods and services had been delivered and fees charged correctly, among various responsibilities.

The fifth day of a lawsuit involving three WP MPs and two councillors, over an alleged breach of their fiduciary duties, saw Mr Rajah and an auditor going back-and-forth over financial procedures in a town council.

PwC had been appointed in 2016 by the Pasir Ris-Punggol Town Council (PRPTC), which manages the affairs of single-seat Punggol East, to look into the books of the WP-run town council.

PRPTC, now run by the People's Action Party (PAP), is suing eight defendants to recover any losses allegedly suffered when the constituency was managed from 2013 to 2015 by WP's Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC), after the PAP lost it in a by-election.

Mr Goh said the PwC took a sample of 200 invoices during its audit. Of these, 144 were correctly endorsed while 56 were not signed by the head of department. There was no written standard operating procedures then, he added.

 
 
 
 

But according to Aljunied-Hougang Town Council general manager Vincent Koh - whose affidavit was read out by Mr Rajah in court - the town council used the Voucher Journal Report to comply with the law.

Mr Goh said he disagreed as the Voucher Journal Report held a different purpose, which was to be entered into accounting reports.

The PwC audit also found 12 invoices of improper payments - amounting to more than $171,110 - which were without supporting documents.

Six of these included payments that AHPETC made to contractor Propell Integrated in 2015, for the setting up of polling stations for the General Election.

For these, Mr Rajah said the Housing Board (HDB) and the elections office sent their officers to inspect the works, and emails between AHPETC and HDB attest to this. He also highlighted a claim that AHPETC submitted to HDB and which was reimbursed.

But Mr Goh, during cross-examination, disagreed, saying the emails between the parties were only instructions and the town council paid the contractor without satisfying itself that the work had been done.

Mr Rajah asked: "The General Election has come and gone and polling has taken place. That is not evidence that work has been done?"

Mr Goh maintained there was no actual evidence or photographs supporting AHPETC's payment to the contractor.

In other instances of payments where supporting documents were allegedly missing, Mr Rajah suggested this should not be the case as there was a handover between AHTC and PRPTC in late 2015. This was after PAP wrested the Punggol East seat back in the 2015 General Election.

An e-mail sent by PRPTC's general manager Kwok Wei Kin on Dec 9, 2015, to then-AHTC deputy general manager Vincent Koh, also thanked Mr Koh and his team for handing over the documents.

Mr Rajah pointed out that since PwC started its audit work on Nov 1, 2016, the documents should have been in PRPTC's possession.