AHTC lawsuits

How calls Sylvia Lim 'hopeless' town council chairman

Ms How Weng Fan (above) said yesterday that they had been in a political situation and a new MP like Ms Sylvia Lim would not have been able to handle a situation in which all the government bodies were coming at AHTC.
Ms How Weng Fan (above) said yesterday that they had been in a political situation and a new MP like Ms Sylvia Lim would not have been able to handle a situation in which all the government bodies were coming at AHTC.PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

AHTC ex-deputy secretary and managing agent says new MP was inexperienced

In a phone conversation, a former key officer of the Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (AHTC) had described its chairman Sylvia Lim as "hopeless", and said that the town council would die under her watch.

Ms How Weng Fan, who was AHTC's deputy secretary, also said she felt "played out" by former Workers' Party chief Low Thia Khiang for appointing Ms Lim as the chairman in 2011, and had asked him to take over the position from Ms Lim.

In the 2016 phone conversation with an executive of audit firm KPMG, she went as far as to blame Ms Lim for the death of her husband, who was AHTC's secretary from 2011 to 2015.

A transcript of the conversation was read out by Senior Counsel Davinder Singh in the High Court yesterday when he wrapped up his cross-examination of Ms How.

Yesterday was the 16th day of the hearing of a multimillion-dollar civil lawsuit brought against eight defendants, including Ms How and Ms Lim, over alleged improper payments AHTC made to its managing agent FM Solutions & Services (FMSS) and its service provider.

Ms How and her late husband, both WP supporters, were FMSS' main shareholders.

She had been contacted by the KPMG executive who wanted a meeting with her.

  • How Weng Fan's 2016 phone call with KPMG

  • During yesterday's hearing, Senior Counsel Davinder Singh read out certain parts of a transcript of a phone conversation between FM Solutions & Services owner How Weng Fan and a KPMG staff member in 2016. He then questioned Ms How about what she said during the phone call. Here are edited extracts of the cross-examination:

    Davinder Singh (DS): "I already told Low Thia Khiang to remove her as chairman… I am not scared to reveal this." You told Mr Low to remove Sylvia Lim as chairman of the town council?

    How Weng Fan (How): No, rotate and replace with Mr Low, to take over.

    DS: Why?

    How: Because we were put into this political situation whereby a new MP like Sylvia, or any other elected MP, would not be able to handle this kind of situation where all the government bodies were coming at us, so you need someone experienced to deal with it.

    DS: "I told Mr Low Thia Khiang how can you not be the chairman, you put her, the town council is just going to die, enough lah!" That is clear, right?... It was an expression of your complete absence of confidence in Ms Lim, right?

    How: On her inexperience, yes.

    DS: "She was a councillor before at Hougang Town Council. She was so scared of everything, she just cannot be the chairman. She will just do things to protect herself only. I told Mr Low Thia Khiang… you have to come back and be the chairman for at least the first two years, straighten out the town council first. He doesn't want to listen..." Ms How, you meant she was a person of no integrity because she would look after her own interest only. Yes or no?

    How: No.

    DS: You said, "You know I had to lose my husband in the process. And because of her." Who is the her?

    How: Sylvia... My husband was under a lot of pressure, we went through hell having to actually set up the town council properly amid all the problems that we had, and at the end of the day, we deal with all this, we deal with AGO (Auditor-General's Office), and we have to deal with an audit again, and then PwC... because of this AGO report, the chairman… imposed an LD (liquidated damages) of $250,000 on us. My husband was caught and stressed up in this kind of thing… when we were in Japan, he was still doing calculations for bonuses… he just died of a heart attack there and then... The press reported that he died of an accident. How can that be?

    DS: "At the end of the day, she is a hopeless chairman." Who is the "she"?

    How: Sylvia.

AHTC had appointed KPMG in 2016 to look into the town council's books, after a special audit by the Auditor-General's Office (AGO) found significant governance lapses at the town council.

Referencing the phone conversation, Mr Singh charged that when KPMG stepped in to do its review, everything Ms How and her husband had "worked for" with the other defendants to benefit FMSS, despite the conflict of interest, had started to "unravel".

It led to "fingers being pointed at each other", Mr Singh added, alluding to Ms How's scathing comments of Ms Lim.

Ms How initially disagreed with Mr Singh's statement.

But after he pointed out that in the phone conversation she had blamed Ms Lim for AHTC's problems, Ms How said this was because her husband had died and she held Ms Lim responsible for failing to stand up to the AGO report at the start. Ms How had told the KPMG executive: "You know I had to lose my husband in the process. And because of her (Ms Lim)."

Justice Kannan Ramesh asked her to further explain her remark.

Ms How said her husband was under a lot of pressure and "went through hell" to set up AHTC properly, amid the many problems it faced.

"Nobody wants to listen to the problems we were facing and going through," she added, pointing out that they had to deal with the AGO's investigations and audits from KPMG and PwC.

She said her husband was under great stress and died of a heart attack in Japan in 2015, adding that the media wrongly reported that he had an accident there.

Ms How also said that because of the AGO report, Ms Lim imposed liquidated damages of $250,000 on FMSS.

The court also heard yesterday that Ms How told KPMG that the town council was not going to defend her because of an arbitration process between FMSS and AHTC.

"They don't know by not defending me, they are just digging their (own) grave", she had told the KPMG executive.

She added that "all the PAP (People's Action Party) needs to do is ask for my views of the (WP) MPs, I think they will die straight away".

Mr Singh asked Ms How what information she had that would destroy the WP MPs politically.

She said she did not have any, but that if the issue of financial governance was brought to court, they would all be "dragged through the mud" because of the way the media would report on the situation and how the truth would be "inverted".

She herself had been put in a "living grave" because her company cannot get any contracts now. "With all the political bulls***, they (WP MPs) will die," she added.

Justice Ramesh told Ms How to watch her language and she apologised, saying she got carried away.

Mr Singh asked Ms How what she meant when she said in the phone conversation that the "town council was going to die" if Ms Lim was the chairman.


She replied that it was because of Ms Lim's inexperience and the town council would similarly suffer if it had been any of the other new WP MPs who had taken over.

She further added yesterday that they were in a political situation and a new MP like Ms Lim would not have been able to handle a situation in which all the government bodies were coming at AHTC.

Things were political from the start, with the audits and the incumbent computer vendor withdrawing a Town Council Management System in 2011, she said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 30, 2018, with the headline 'How calls Sylvia Lim 'hopeless' town council chairman'. Print Edition | Subscribe