AHTC trial: Lawyer says AHTC sent message to industry in waiving tender and choosing firm associated with WP, Pritam disagrees

Workers' Party secretary-general Pritam Singh at the Supreme Court on Oct 24, 2018. Mr Singh is the third defence witness to be called to the stand, following WP chairman Sylvia Lim and former WP chief Low Thia Khiang. ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

SINGAPORE - In waiving a tender for a new managing agent in 2011, and appointing a firm associated with the Workers' Party (WP), the Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (AHTC) was sending a "loud and clear" message to the township management industry, said Senior Counsel Davinder Singh.

The message to companies was to not bother bidding for a contract from the WP-run town council, as AHTC would be doing things its own way, the senior counsel said on Thursday (Oct 25) during his cross-examination of WP secretary-general Pritam Singh.

Thus, there were no bidders for the tenders that AHTC called in 2012 for a managing agent and Essential Maintenance Service Unit contracts apart from the incumbent firm, FM Solutions and Services (FMSS), he said.

The senior counsel put to Mr Pritam Singh: "A responsible town councillor would apply his mind to the implications of waiving his tender on future prospects of parties in industry being interested in making a bid."

The WP chief disagreed. He is one of eight defendants facing multimillion-dollar lawsuits over alleged improper payments made by the town council to FMSS and its service provider.

"I disagree because a responsible town councillor needs to understand what is the difference between his town council, PAP (People's Action Party) town councils and the reality of the politicised town council space in Singapore," he said.

"After the responsible town councillor goes through that process, he will understand why AHTC, as the first opposition GRC, had to take the decisions it did," he added.

Mr Pritam Singh is the third defence witness to be called to the stand, following WP chairman Sylvia Lim and former chief Low Thia Khiang.

Mr Davinder Singh said that if Mr Pritam Singh honestly believed it was in the interest of the town council to waive the tender in 2011, then the responsible thing to do would have been to "lock in" FMSS to the rates of the former agent, CPG Facilities Management, for two years, rather than just one.

This would have helped AHTC avoid the increase in managing agent rates in 2012, when FMSS was the sole bidder in the open tender.

Mr Pritam Singh disagreed, and said it was a better idea to give FMSS only a one-year contract and then call a tender, so the town council could gather appropriate rates from other players.

Mr Davinder Singh said that he "cannot have it both ways" and expect that the market would open up and embrace an opposition-run town council a year later, after saying the companies would not touch AHTC.

Mr Pritam Singh replied that he could not speak for other companies, as "the market has money to make with a managing agent contract".

Mr Davinder Singh also asked why the elected WP MPs waited until a town council meeting to inform the other town councillors about the appointment of FMSS, instead of informing them earlier.

The senior counsel established that Mr Pritam Singh learnt of FMSS' appointment on July 6, 2011, when the company's letter of intent was sent to him.

Mr Pritam Singh said this was because all questions and scrutiny from the councillors could come during the meeting.

Mr Davinder Singh pointed out that the town council meeting was postponed from July 27 to Aug 4, further delaying the notification to town councillors and announcement of FMSS' appointment to residents.

"I don't think there was any nefarious plot on that," Mr Pritam Singh replied.

During the cross-examination, Mr Davinder Singh tried to get Mr Pritam Singh to remember certain dates, including when he learnt that Ms Lim and Mr Low were involved in setting up a managing agency.

Mr Pritam Singh replied several times that he could not remember, as these events took place seven years ago.

But the senior counsel referred the WP chief to his affidavit, in which he mentioned several meetings, one as early as in June.

"I suggest to you that having remembered it so clearly in your affidavit…which you filed last month, on the stand you create a completely different impression," Mr Davinder Singh said.

Mr Pritam Singh said he had nothing to hide.

The senior counsel also asked if Mr Pritam Singh attended any discussions where someone suggested a tender to appoint a managing agent was called.

The WP MP said he could not recall.

"For the last 50 minutes, you've told us you cannot recall so many things," Mr Davinder Singh said.

"Do you want the truth? I'm giving you the truth," Mr Pritam Singh replied.

There were also some lighter moments during the morning hearing.

When asked by Mr Davinder Singh to recall whether he attended a meeting in June or July 2012, Mr Pritam Singh said: "I was married around that period so I cannot remember..."

"So you put your marriage over your town council?" Mr Davinder Singh said with a laugh.

Mr Pritam Singh replied in jest: "Nice try, Mr Singh."

Defence lawyer Chelva Rajah, who is representing Mr Pritam Singh, then stood up and said, to chuckles in the courtroom: "That's a conflict of interest if there ever was one."

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