AHTC trial: 'No room for doubt' that town councillors and officers of town councils are custodians of public monies

Workers' Party chairman Sylvia Lim, former WP chief Low Thia Khiang and WP secretary-general Pritam Singh are facing lawsuits from Pasir Ris-Punggol Town Council and Aljunied-Hougang Town Council. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

SINGAPORE - There is "simply no room for doubt" that town councillors and officers of town councils are custodians of residents' and public monies, said the lawyer for Pasir Ris-Punggol Town Council (PRPTC), Mr Davinder Singh.

In his opening statement at the start of a trial against three Workers' Party (WP) MPs on Friday (Oct 5), Mr Singh said: "Those monies are given to town councillors and officers not to benefit friends and supporters, but to carefully and prudently spend for the benefit of the residents and the estate."

Any misconduct not only affects the pockets of residents, but can also cause property values to diminish, he added.

The three Aljunied GRC MPs - former WP chief Low Thia Khiang, party chairman Sylvia Lim and secretary-general Pritam Singh - are facing lawsuits from PRPTC and Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (AHTC).

Both lawsuits are linked to the $33.7 million paid to FM Solutions and Services (FMSS) and a related service provider between July 2011 and July 2015.

The three MPs were town councillors of AHTC which, before the 2015 General Election, was known as the Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC).

The single-seat Punggol East constituency, was managed from 2013 to 2015 by AHPETC. But it came under PRPTC after the WP lost the constituency in the 2015 General Election. AHPETC was later reconstituted as AHTC.

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On Friday, PRPTC alleges the decisions taken by the town councillors had caused it to suffer "loss and damage", and is claiming equitable compensation.

The AHTC lawsuit - initiated by the town council itself under the direction of an independent panel - alleges that payments to its former managing agent and service provider were improper and void, as the three MPs had acted in breach of their fiduciary duties.

In a statement last July, the trio rejected the allegations that they acted in breach of their fiduciary duties and that they had set up a faulty system that made it possible for the town council's managing agent FMSS and/or officers to benefit themselves.

They also denied they entered into contracts with architects in breach of duties owed to AHTC.

Mr Davinder Singh, in his opening statement on Friday, pointed out that when the town council system was set up in 1989, it was stated explicitly that members of town councils should be "fully accountable" to residents for their actions and decisions.

He added that Ms Lim and Mr Pritam Singh have themselves also stated more than once that elected members of town councils are described as "custodians" and "guardians" of public funds.

He pointed out there is a reason for their "volte-face". Knowing that they have breached their duties, they have resorted to denying those duties, Mr Davinder Singh said.

He added: "This is only part of a highly disturbing pattern of saying whatever is convenient, even if untrue."

Mr Davinder Singh also drew attention to reports by global accounting firms KPMG and PwC, saying they "make it overwhelmingly clear" the instances of non-compliance, lapses and failures stem from a "complete and reckless disregard" of their duty to protect residents' and public's monies.

"It is striking that despite the KPMG and PwC reports, there is no honourable acknowledgement of wrongdoing," he said. Instead, the defendants had come "ready to use the witness stand as a soapbox to score political points".

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