AHTC trial: Lawyer says WP chairman Sylvia Lim knew her duty to inform town council secretary of tender waiver but did not do so

Workers' Party chairman Sylvia Lim said that while she did not specifically tell then town council secretary Jeffrey Chua about the waiver of tender, he already knew of it. ST PHOTO: KHALID BABA

SINGAPORE - Workers' Party (WP) chairman Sylvia Lim did not inform the Aljunied-Hougang Town Council's (AHTC's) then secretary about a waiver of tender for its new managing agent despite knowing she had a duty to do so, the court heard on Monday (Oct 22).

When cross-examined by Senior Counsel Davinder Singh on Monday, Ms Lim conceded that in order for then secretary Jeffrey Chua to discharge his duties in line with town council rules, he needed to know that AHTC had waived a tender and appointed FM Solutions & Services (FMSS) as managing agent in July 2011.

But she said that while she did not specifically tell Mr Chua about the waiver of tender, he already knew of it.

AHTC is suing Ms Lim and seven other defendants to recover alleged improper payments stemming from the appointment of FMSS.

Mr Singh is representing the Pasir Ris-Punggol Town Council (PRPTC), which is suing Ms Lim and seven other defendants over alleged losses Punggol East suffered when it was under the opposition town council from 2013 to 2015.

On Monday, he repeatedly questioned Ms Lim about a July 6, 2011, e-mail she sent to Ms How Weng Fan, one of the majority owners of FMSS and then deputy secretary of AHTC.

In it, Ms Lim asked if it would be alright to defer the formal appointment of FMSS to after Aug 1, when incumbent managing agent CPG Facilities Management was due to step down - or whether it was necessary to get the town council to waive the tender first. In the latter scenario, CPG would "needlessly" be involved, given that Mr Chua was both town council secretary and CPG's managing director.

Mr Singh asked Ms Lim why CPG would be "needlessly" involved, given that it was still the agent for the town council in July.

She replied that CPG would not be interested in details of its new agent's appointment, given that it already wanted to leave. She later added that the details were not of concern, and also not relevant to CPG.

"Did CPG say to you that they have no interest in matters that would normally be tabled at town council meetings at which they would be present?" Mr Singh asked.

Ms Lim replied that this was implied in CPG's other communications such as in weekly meetings.

It was quite clear that CPG was phasing itself out, she added, apart from the occasional question of whether enough people had been hired for subsequent operations.

"CPG asked that question because it was concerned that the town council should have enough people available to carry on, correct?" Mr Singh asked.

Ms Lim disagreed that this was the purpose, maintaining that Mr Chua already knew there would be a new managing agent to replace CPG.

Questioned further, Ms Lim said it would have been "inappropriate" to discuss the terms of a new agent's contract with CPG around.

Mr Singh immediately cast doubt on her answers, pointing out that CPG remained involved on other matters.

He asked: "Would it not have concerned CPG and the secretary, (to ensure) that the Town Councils Financial Rules are complied with?"

Ms Lim said she agreed with this as a general proposition.

"So this entire morning, where you spent a lot of time on (saying it was) not necessary, inappropriate, of no concern... the secretary, Mr Jeffrey Chua, was being kept out of the fact that there had been a binding commitment (made) as of June 2011, that tenders had not been called... and the issue of the waiver had also not been put before the town council.

"Sitting there today, do you say that it was not necessary for the secretary, Mr Jeffrey Chua, to know that?" he charged.

Ms Lim maintained that she had been delegated powers to act on the town council's behalf, and that Mr Chua knew about the new managing agent.

She acknowledged that in hindsight, Mr Chua would have needed to know that the tender for a new agent had been waived.

Mr Singh put it to Ms Lim that she was inconsistent, in first saying there was no need for CPG to know about the waiver for FMSS and later saying that CPG knew about the matter.

She disagreed, saying the terms and conditions of FMSS' appointment did not concern CPG.

She added that Mr Chua already knew there was going to be a new agent, but he did not need to know the terms and conditions.

"But earlier you were telling us all these things were not of his concern," said Mr Singh, adding that Ms Lim appeared to have changed her evidence - from first saying Mr Chua did not need to know anything, to saying he knew everything except the terms and conditions.

"The reason you changed your evidence is that you realise that you breached Section 20 (of the Town Councils Act)," he charged.

"You caused and created a situation together with your fellow elected MPs, of putting a secretary in a situation where he could not discharge his functions. Isn't that the reason for your sudden change in your position?" he asked.

Ms Lim paused for more than a minute.

She eventually replied: "Mr Singh, I will just say that (Mr Chua) was an outgoing secretary, and he knew what was needed. That's all I'll say."

"(I'll) repeat my question, because that's not an answer," Mr Singh responded.

"He was aware that there was no tender and he must have been aware that was going to be a waiver, or that there had been a waiver," said Ms Lim.

"But as to the terms and conditions of the appointment of a new managing agent, yes, we did not keep him informed."

"You still have not answered my question," said Mr Singh. "It's been six minutes since my first question, or when I first asked this question, Ms Lim."

"I agree that (Mr Chua) did not know the full details... that seemed to be required under Section 20," she replied.

"What we did was what we felt was necessary to ensure that the handover was smooth, and it was in the interest of the residents."

Disclosure of FMSS stakeholders

Later, the two were engaged in a back-and-forth about what Ms Lim meant when she wrote in an Aug 3, 2011, e-mail that the town council "can/should disclose" who the stakeholders in FMSS were, and how much of the firm they owned - the day before the town councillors met for the second time.

Mr Singh sought to show that her use of the word "should" implied that she thought the information was relevant to the other town councillors.

Ms Lim insisted, multiple times, that she meant it was "good for councillors' decision-making" and "more robust record-keeping".

Mr Singh said: "We are living in a world of information overload. Why did you think this particular piece of information good to be disclosed?"

After multiple attempts from Mr Singh to get a direct answer, Ms Lim agreed that the ownership details may be relevant to town councillors when discussing if the waiver to call for a tender was justified.

But Mr Singh noted that though Ms Lim said such ownership details should be disclosed, no such mention was made during the Aug 4 meeting.

Ms Lim said: "It must have slipped my mind."

But Mr Singh said that in the seven years since this happened, not once has it been said that Ms Lim had forgotten to inform the town council - not in "public, Parliament, in court, in (her) responses to KPMG reports, in (her) defence, affidavits".

"I suggest that this evidence of it having slipped your mind is concocted," he said.

Ms Lim disagreed.

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