FMSS controlled payments, says lawyer for AHTC

As the deputy general manager of Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (AHTC), Mr Yeo Soon Fei was one of three key officers signing off on such documents as work orders, invoices and payment vouchers to authorise payments to the council's managing agent.

But Mr Yeo and the other two town council executives were, at the same time, shareholders of AHTC's managing agent FM Solutions & Services (FMSS).

This led to a process in which FMSS' shareholders "controlled" payments to their own firm, lawyer David Chan said in the High Court yesterday, as he sought to show the conflicts of interest in the town council run by the Workers' Party (WP).

Mr Chan is representing AHTC, which is suing eight defendants to recover allegedly improper payments made by the town council to FMSS from 2011 to 2015. The defendants include three WP MPs.

Mr Yeo, a witness in the multimillion-dollar civil lawsuit, disagreed with Mr Chan's charge that he had facilitated payments to his own company FMSS, whose other shareholders include Ms How Weng Fan and her late husband Danny Loh.

Mr Loh, who died in 2015, was AHTC's secretary, and Ms How, its general manager.

Mr Yeo said that ultimately, the town council was the "paymaster", and its chairman and vice-chairman had to sign off to approve the payments to FMSS.

The chairman between 2011 and 2015 was MP Sylvia Lim, and the vice-chairman post was held by different MPs, including MP Low Thia Khiang and MP Pritam Singh.

If FMSS did not perform, it would not get paid, said Mr Yeo, one of five witnesses who testified yesterday.

 
 
 

Another issue in the payment process raised by Mr Chan was a stamp used by Mr Yeo on invoices and which stated that "works have been delivered/completed".

Mr Chan said there was no certification of works being done. Instead, the stamp signified that the amounts payable on the invoice had been checked and tallied, Mr Chan added.

Mr Yeo said that was not true, as works being undertaken and done were tracked by an Integrated Maintenance Management System. This software system records residents' complaints, like faulty lights in corridors, and how they are resolved.

Mr Chan, however, said this system was limited to just monitoring issues raised by residents.

After some back and forth, Mr Yeo confirmed the stamp was only to certify whether the figures on the invoices were accurate.

Mr Yeo said the spectrum of a managing agent's work is wide, and the best people to oversee its work were the MPs, who could keep track of the agent, such as through regular meetings and the system which recorded residents' complaints, he added.

"The MPs saw us working. We were working day and night… We have so many audits, we have to do day-to-day work, it is not like we sit there and do nothing," Mr Yeo said.

Mr Chan responded: "I am not suggesting you are not working hard."

The other witnesses yesterday were former FMSS employees: Mr Ng Wai Loon, Mr Tan Han Hoe and Ms Chong Huey Jiuan, who were all seconded to work in AHTC; and Ms Serene Loi, a computer programmer deployed by her IT firm to work with the town council.

Mr Ng and Mr Tan were questioned briefly by Mr Chan about their roles in AHTC, while Ms Chong and Ms Loi were not cross-examined.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 31, 2018, with the headline 'FMSS controlled payments, says lawyer for AHTC'. Print Edition | Subscribe