AHTC trial: Ex-WP chief Low Thia Khiang concedes he didn’t check CPG contract

Former Workers' Party chief Low Thia Khiang on Oct 16, 2018. ST PHOTO: JONATHAN CHOO

SINGAPORE - If a managing agent wanted to terminate its contract with a town council, a "responsible town councillor" would check on its contractual obligations and not simply release the firm.

This was what former Workers' Party (WP) chief Low Thia Khiang failed to do in 2011, and he jumped at the chance to fulfil his plan to appoint a new company run by his supporters, Senior Counsel Davinder Singh said on Tuesday (Oct 16).

Mr Singh said Mr Low had put his "political supporters ahead of the residents' interests", and he did not check whether Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (AHTC) would be entitled to any damages when CPG Facilities Management terminated its contract.

"Was it the responsible thing to check if (CPG) was entitled to get out?" Mr Singh asked.

"That was not on my mind," replied Mr Low, who is one of eight parties being sued for an alleged breach of fiduciary duties in running the town council.

Said Mr Singh: "I'm asking you now. Was it the responsible thing to do?"

"Yes," Mr Low said.

"Thank you," Mr Singh said. "And you didn't do that, yes?"

"Yes," Mr Low acknowledged.

When Mr Singh suggested that the lack of checks gave Mr Low the opportunity to bring in FM Solutions & Services (FMSS) as the new managing agent, Mr Low disagreed and said that was Mr Singh's "own story".

Mr Low said that at the time, it was "uppermost" in his mind to protect the interest of his residents.

The eighth day of a multimillion-dollar lawsuit saw sharp exchanges as Mr Singh cross-examined Mr Low before a packed courtroom, with close to 50 people in the public gallery.

Tensions hit a high point during the three-hour session when Mr Singh repeatedly made the point that Mr Low had no intention of extending CPG's contract and wanted to keep his plans under wraps.

This, Mr Singh said, was evident in an e-mail circulated among the WP MPs about a journalist's query on whether AHTC would be taking over various contracts for Aljunied Town Council.

Mr Singh said Mr Low did not want to give an answer to the press, which would expose AHTC to any claims by CPG for terminating the contract.

Mr Low said there was no intention then to extend CPG's contract beyond what was in force.

But it was "mind-boggling", Mr Low said, to assume that the town council would want to have a claim filed against it by CPG. "I'm not that stupid, Mr Singh," Mr Low said.

Mr Singh replied: "You may want to contain your anger and focus on the question."

On Tuesday, the lawyer also charged that Mr Low had misused public and residents' monies to fund a start-up - referring to FMSS.

This was because Mr Low wrote in his affidavit that having a new player in the township management market would be good for competition, and would be an attractive alternative option to other opposition candidates.

Mr Low disagreed, saying that he had asked for FMSS to be formed as a contingency measure if CPG pulled out. Having a new player in the market was just a consequence or a positive outcome, and not the intention, he added.

Mr Singh also said Mr Low was "reckless" by "merrily" allowing FMSS to charge the town council rates set by CPG.

He added that Mr Low ought to have considered the "dollars and cents" more carefully, because they did not belong to him.

Mr Low denied this, and said he was not aware of what cost structures CPG or FMSS had. "Whether they are going to make a profit or not, I don't know," he said.

Mr Singh also said that Mr Low had "misled" CPG into thinking that AHTC would be run in-house, to avoid calling a tender for a new managing agent.

This was seen in a May 13, 2011, letter which was sent by Hougang Town Council (HTC) to Aljunied Town Council, which Mr Singh said "was deliberately designed to give the CPG the impression that the elected MPs had decided to manage AHTC in-house as you did previously for HTC".

That was how "calculated" Mr Low's plans were, Mr Singh said.

"That's your own calculation, not mine," Mr Low replied.

Mr Singh later pointed out that Mr Low was approached by two other companies that expressed interest in providing managing agent services around May 2011.

He said these two companies were in the same position as FMSS, in terms of not having staff or experience managing a township of that size.

He added that Mr Low did not do his due diligence on the two companies, and had rejected them "because FMSS was a done deal and it was going to be FMSS regardless".

Mr Low replied that he needed to make an assessment before he spoke to the other MPs.

"What you did is you found a way to get rid of them so that nothing could threaten your plan to have FMSS in place," said Mr Singh.

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