AHTC lawsuits

Disclosure of conflict issue not a big deal: Low

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

He says he and Sylvia Lim intended to disclose it but may have missed issue as they were busy

Former Workers' Party (WP) chief Low Thia Khiang did not think it was a "big deal" when he and party chairman Sylvia Lim failed to disclose an apparent conflict of interest in the town council they were running.

This was revealed in the High Court yesterday, the second day Mr Low was on the stand in the ongoing multimillion-dollar civil lawsuit involving three WP MPs.

Questioning Mr Low about conflicts of interest, Senior Counsel Davinder Singh put to him that he had been aware of them as early as Aug 3, 2011, when then WP MP Yaw Shin Leong had copied Mr Low in an e-mail addressed to Ms Lim.

In it, Mr Yaw asked if there was a need to disclose that Mr Danny Loh - whose business, FM Solutions & Integrated Services, provided maintenance services for Hougang Town Council - was married to the town council's then secretary How Weng Fan.

The Hougang Town Council had previously awarded Mr Loh's firm an Essential Maintenance Services Unit contract. The couple were involved in setting up Aljunied-Hougang Town Council's (AHTC) new managing agent, FM Solutions & Services (FMSS).

Mr Low replied to the e-mail saying there was no harm mentioning it, while Ms Lim said they should enclose a document - showing the company's stakeholders - in the AHTC minutes. She added that she would arrange for it.

Mr Singh, who represents the Pasir Ris-Punggol Town Council which is suing Mr Low and Ms Lim, among others, pointed out that the disclosure was not made: "Did you ask Ms Lim why it wasn't done?"

  • ON THE DISCLOSURE NOT BEING MADE

    Senior Counsel Davinder Singh: Did you ask Ms (Sylvia) Lim why it wasn't done?"

    Former WP chief Low Thia Khiang: Why should I? She is the chairman.

    Mr Singh: You are a town councillor, and the vice-chairman.

    Mr Singh: It would appear that having decided initially it should be disclosed, a decision was made not to.

    Mr Low: Why is it a big deal whether or not to disclose it?

    Mr Singh: It is not a big deal? Do you know we are in court today because of this?

    Mr Low: At that point of time, it wasn't a big deal.

    Mr Singh: Today, now that you know what the issues are, having heard everything, it is still not a big deal?... The e-mails show that it was an important issue even then. Three minds were applied to the issue, and... a decision was made to suppress this from the town councillors.

    ON AHTC STAFF HOLDING APPOINTMENTS ON BOTH SIDES

    Mr Singh: Could you explain why in circumstances where your senior employees at AHTC, the most senior employees, were shareholders of FMSS... that did not give rise to a concern?

    Mr Low: (replying that it was industry practice... and that it was up to the town council to manage this conflict) It is a conflict which can be mitigated.

Mr Low replied that he did not. When pressed to give a reason, he said: "Why should I? She is the chairman."

Mr Singh's retort: "You are a town councillor, and the vice-chairman."

Mr Low explained that he and Ms Lim may have missed the issue as they were busy at the time.

Mr Singh put to him that he could not have missed her e-mail response indicating her intent to do so, given that it was a day before the town councillors' meeting, and she replied two hours after he did.

To this, Mr Low said he did not know if he read her e-mail then, but added he did not ask her about it.

"It would appear that having decided initially it should be disclosed, a decision was made not to," Mr Singh said.

Mr Low replied that it would be best to ask Ms Lim, and questioned if it was "a big deal" to disclose it.

To which Mr Singh said: "It is not a big deal? Do you know we are in court today because of this?"

Mr Low clarified: "At that point of time, it wasn't a big deal."

Mr Singh asked: "Today, now that you know what the issues are, having heard everything, it is still not a big deal?"

On further questioning, Mr Low conceded it did appear to be a serious matter, given the court case had advanced to this stage.

Mr Singh pressed on: "The e-mails show that it was an important issue even then. Three minds were applied to the issue, and... a decision was made to suppress this from the town councillors."

Mr Low held his ground, maintaining that it was "absolutely not true".

The disclosure of Ms How's marriage to Mr Loh, who died in 2015, was one of several conflicts of interest that came under the spotlight yesterday. Earlier in the day, it was also revealed that Mr Low and Ms Lim did not think it was a big issue that Mr Loh and Ms How - both of whom were majority owners of AHTC's managing agent FMSS - were going to be employed by AHTC as well.

"Could you explain why in circumstances where your senior employees at AHTC, the most senior employees, were shareholders of FMSS... that did not give rise to a concern?" asked Mr Singh.

Mr Low replied that it was industry practice for it to happen that employees hold appointments on both sides - it was up to the town council to manage this conflict.

"It is a conflict which can be mitigated," he added.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 18, 2018, with the headline 'Disclosure of conflict issue not a big deal: Low'. Print Edition | Subscribe