AHTC lawsuits

Low disputes his action was at the expense of his residents

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

It was of "overriding importance" to former Workers' Party (WP) chief Low Thia Khiang that staff at his old constituency kept their jobs, even if another managing agent that was "cheaper and more experienced" threw in a bid.

By prioritising the job security of these Hougang Town Council staff - many of whom were WP supporters - Mr Low had "locked" Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (AHTC) into its managing agent FM Solutions & Services (FMSS), at the expense of his residents.

Senior Counsel Davinder Singh laid out this argument yesterday, which Mr Low disputed.

Mr Singh brought up the point Mr Low raised last week that town councils were political entities and that none of the three managing agent firms around in 2011 would have worked for AHTC.

Among other things, these companies were concerned that working for AHTC would affect their business with other People's Action Party-led wards, Mr Low said.

Thus, he felt he had no choice but to ask his supporters, Ms How Weng Fan and her husband Danny Loh, to set up FMSS.

But yesterday, Mr Singh argued that if FMSS was engaged and led by WP supporters, it would give these companies an "additional reason" not to bid for AHTC's contract in subsequent tenders.

Mr Low disagreed.

Mr Singh said: "Your whole thesis is that this is political, that some (companies) will only serve the PAP and so you had to start your own... (Did you therefore know that) having a tender after the first term would not result in any bids coming from these companies?"

Mr Low replied: "No, this is (on) a commercial basis. Anyone who thinks that it is a good (deal) would tender for it."

 
 
 

Mr Singh said: "You can't have it both ways… Now, AHTC has gone beyond just being a WP town; it has engaged a WP company to provide managing agent services. You would have known that calling a tender for the second year would have resulted in no bids except from the chosen one."

In appointing FMSS as managing agent from the get-go, Mr Singh added, Mr Low had "effectively put AHTC in a position where it was locked into FMSS, going forward".

He contended that AHTC lost its negotiating power when no other company, apart from FMSS, submitted bids for the managing agent tender it called in April 2012.

Mr Low disputed this: "If FMSS wanted something ridiculous, I would revert to direct management."

Mr Singh responded: "You were putting AHTC in a position... where FMSS had been given a gun they could put to AHTC's head."

Mr Low said: "They may have a gun but they don't have the trigger."

Mr Singh then said Mr Low's suggestion of reverting to direct management of AHTC was merely an assertion.

"Because of the path you chose, you put AHTC in a vulnerable position and therefore compromised the interests of the residents," he added.

Later, Mr Singh questioned why Mr Low had allowed FMSS - "a new kid on the block with no experience managing a town of this size" - to charge AHTC the same price that former managing agent CPG Facilities Management commanded.

Mr Low said FMSS was "the best possible option we had at the time".

Mr Singh also made the case that Mr Low and his fellow town councillors did not do what responsible town councillors would have done, in agreeing to FMSS' contract - which made reference to CPG's previous terms - without ever reading the original contract.

He said: "A responsible town council with responsible town councillors must ask themselves which part of that CPG contract is now applicable and which part is not applicable. It's very basic... and you didn't ask that question."

Mr Low said: "Yes, I didn't ask."

Mr Singh said: "As far as you know, none of the elected MPs asked that question. So it follows that none of you conducted yourself responsibly."

Mr Low replied: "Yes, specifically we didn't."

Rachel Au-Yong

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 18, 2018, with the headline 'Low disputes his action was at the expense of his residents'. Print Edition | Subscribe