AHTC trial: Payment to FMSS properly approved by WP chairman Sylvia Lim, says defence

(From left) Workers' Party's Pritam Singh, Faisal Manap, Low Thia Khiang and Sylvia Lim, at the Supreme Court, on Oct 8, 2018. The court was told the town council and its MPs regularly went to the ground to ensure FMSS performed up to satisfaction. ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG
Clockwise from top left: FM Solutions & Services owner How Weng Fan; Aljunied-Hougang Town Council councillor Kenneth Foo Seck Guan; Workers' Party chairman Sylvia Lim and Workers' Party chief Pritam Singh, arriving at the Supreme Court, on Oct 8, 2018. ST PHOTOS: KELVIN CHNG

SINGAPORE - A system was in place to ensure that the monthly payments Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (AHTC) made to its managing agent were signed off and approved by Workers' Party (WP) chairman Sylvia Lim.

The town council and its MPs were hands-on and regularly went to the ground to ensure that its agent, FM Solutions & Services (FMSS), performed the contracted works up to satisfaction, said lawyer Leslie Netto on Monday (Oct 8). Ms Lim herself took the financial documents away to verify them before endorsement, he said.

Speaking on the second day of a million-dollar court case involving three WP MPs and two town councillors, Mr Netto said there was no dishonesty on the part of FMSS' shareholders - Ms How Weng Fan and her husband, the late Mr Danny Loh Chong Meng, who were also the town council's secretary and general manager respectively.

The lawsuit, initiated by AHTC under the direction of an independent panel, centres on $33.7 million in payments AHTC made from 2011 to 2015 to FMSS and service provider FM Solutions and Integrated Services (FMSI), which are alleged to be improper and void.

Ms Lim and then WP chief Low Thia Khiang, have been asked to account for the money and to repay any sums that had been paid out wrongfully. The other defendants in the case include current WP chief Pritam Singh and town councillors Chua Zhi Hon and Kenneth Foo.

Mr Netto, who is representing Ms How and FMSS, said audit reports that have highlighted the alleged wrongdoings were prepared by "bloodhounds", not "watchdogs". Ms How is also representing her late husband.

Mr Netto, from Netto & Magin, said allegations which suggest that AHTC paid a higher fee because it engaged the new managing agent, FMSS, in July 2011, after winning Aljunied GRC in the May elections that year, are "preposterous".

He said the previous vendor, CPG Facilities Management, outsourced the maintenance of the town council management system for close to $460,000 a year.

FMSS, on the other hand, undertook the maintenance of the IT system without cost, he noted.

He said Mr Loh and Ms How worked "tirelessly" and performed the difficult task of up-scaling the IT system used by the WP-run Hougang Town Council so it could be used for the larger Aljunied GRC. This was after CPG's contracted provider, Action Information Management (AIM), terminated its services to Aljunied Town Council.

Mr Netto said in the two lawsuits filed by AHTC and Pasir Ris-Punggol Town Council (PRPTC) against the defendants, "knives have been sharpened", with the defendants as "lambs".

As the WP had also managed Punggol East from 2013 to 2015, after winning the constituency from the ruling party in a by-election, the PRPTC is also suing to recover Punggol East's share of losses arising from the alleged improper payments.

The WP MPs and town councillors are represented by Senior Counsel Chelva Rajah, from Tan Rajah & Cheah.

Mr Rajah said last Friday, the first day of the trial, that they have not breached any of their duties and cannot be held liable. He argued that his clients do not owe any fiduciary duties to AHTC.

Mr Rajah also said that it was CPG - which was appointed when the ruling party was running Aljunied Town Council - who did not want to continue serving as the managing agent, leading the WP to appoint FMSS.

Senior Counsel Davinder Singh, who is representing PRPTC, said last Friday that the circumstances in which FMSS was appointed resulted in the creation of a system whereby "controls were abdicated and checks and balances were thrown to the wind".

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