FMSS contract for essential services comes under scrutiny

Workers' Party chairman Sylvia Lim agreed that Town Councils Financial Rules state "there shall be a written agreement before the works or supply of services begin" for works, period quotations and contracts.
Workers' Party chairman Sylvia Lim agreed that Town Councils Financial Rules state "there shall be a written agreement before the works or supply of services begin" for works, period quotations and contracts.PHOTO: LIANHE WANBAO

FM Solutions & Services (FMSS) began taking care of the Aljunied-Hougang Town Council's (AHTC) essential maintenance in October 2011, although there was no written agreement allowing it to do so.

This "was a breach on the part of the entire town council", Senior Counsel Davinder Singh charged in the High Court yesterday.

Yes, Workers' Party (WP) chairman Sylvia Lim conceded as she was being cross-examined for the fourth day, during which the circumstances surrounding AHTC giving its Essential Maintenance Service Unit (EMSU) contract came under scrutiny.

While she contended there had been a verbal agreement between AHTC and FMSS, she agreed that Town Councils Financial Rules state "there shall be a written agreement before the works or supply of services begin" for works, period quotations and contracts.

"(It was) not in my consciousness at that time," she said, adding it did not occur to her that this would be a problem.

Ms Lim, however, strongly disputed several other issues Mr Singh put to her yesterday.

Among them was his claim that she had created a sense of "urgency on the basis of a fictional verbal agreement" so as to waive a tender for the EMSU contract.

 
 
 
 

In her affidavit, Ms Lim had said that incumbent managing agent CPG Facilities Management initially agreed verbally to continue providing EMSU services to AHTC for another six months.

This is why, when CPG said in September 2011 that it was unwilling to continue, it "came as a surprise", she added. By then, there was no time to call a tender for a new EMSU contract starting on Oct 1, hence the need to waive the tender process.

But Mr Singh cast doubt on this account.

He noted that unlike Ms Lim, AHTC's then deputy secretary How Weng Fan had not cited its verbal agreement with CPG in her affidavit when recounting the waiver of tender for the EMSU contract.

Mr Singh then referred to an Aug 26, 2011, letter in which AHTC asked CPG and its other provider, EM Services, to extend their services for another six months, suggesting that if there were indeed an earlier agreement, it would have been reflected in this letter.

Ms Lim said there may have been reasons for the phrasing used in the letter, disagreeing with his proposition that it was therefore unlikely an agreement took place before its date.

Mr Singh then sought to establish whether there was an agreement outlining the terms and specifications for the 2011 EMSU contract.

Ms Lim said: "There (was) no written agreement, as I said, between FMSS and AHTC, setting out the terms."

He then asked if there was an e-mail, to which she said: "I think there may not have been an e-mail, but the expectations or specifications were communicated to FMSS during our interview with them."

"Let's forget about the oral side of the picture," said Mr Singh. "Let's just focus on the documents. How was AHTC going to enforce the specifications which (were) approved against FMSS?"

"It was communicated to them already," she said, adding later it was done when they met on Sept 18.

But Mr Singh said the town council would not have been protected if these agreed specifications were not in a written contract signed by both sides.

Ms Lim concurred that they would have to form the basis of any eventual contract that is awarded, though she maintained there was an oral agreement between FMSS and AHTC.

Mr Singh then asked why FMSS' presence at the Sept 18 meeting was not mentioned in the affidavits of those who were supposed to be there, including a Mr Vincent Koh. Ms Lim maintained they were present, but could not recall how the meeting proceeded.

He also asserted that when FMSS made its presentation to the town council to be the new managing agent, it also recommended that it be given the EMSU job. But Ms Lim was adamant it was part of FMSS' proposal of the services the firm would offer.

After he asked her several times if she agreed that FMSS was recommending that it provide the services, Ms Lim's lawyer, Senior Counsel Chelva Rajah, interjected to say she had given an answer.

Mr Singh called it the most disingenuous of answers, adding that he was entitled to pursue the issue: "A witness should not be allowed to treat this so lightly and ignore the word that is staring everyone in the face."

Judge Kannan Ramesh said: "I will allow you a little bit more Mr Singh, (but) I think you have to draw a line somewhere." He reminded Ms Lim to answer the question in substance, and she agreed the word "recommended" was used.

This was not the first time yesterday that Justice Ramesh asked Mr Singh to "draw a line" at some point in his questioning, after interjections from Mr Rajah.

Earlier in the day, Mr Singh and Ms Lim had also argued over whether the town councillors understood the key terms of the FMSS contract and if it would be based on the entire contract of the incumbent CPG. Mr Singh cast doubt that they knew the FMSS contract would follow that of CPG.

As Ms Lim was pressed on the matter, Mr Rajah interrupted: "This is the fourth time this question was asked." Each time, it was answered the same way, he added.

Mr Singh countered that he was "entitled to challenge the credibility of the witness".

  • Additional reporting by Adrian Lim
 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 24, 2018, with the headline 'FMSS contract for essential services comes under scrutiny'. Print Edition | Subscribe