SINGAPORE - The Workers' Party (WP) shifted from "one untenable excuse to another" to justify appointing the Aljunied-Hougang Town Council's (AHTC) managing agent without a tender, Senior Minister of State for Law Edwin Tong said on Tuesday (Nov 5).
The WP-run town council also constantly refused to disclose information to its own auditors as well as those from the Auditor-General's Office (AGO) and KPMG, "fobbing off inquiry at every turn", he added.
Mr Tong was speaking in support of Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat's motion in Parliament, which among other things called on WP leaders Sylvia Lim and Low Thia Khiang to recuse themselves from all financial matters at AHTC, after a High Court judge found the duo had acted dishonestly and in breach of their fiduciary duties.
Referring to the court's findings, Mr Tong highlighted three "excuses" that the WP used to justify appointing FM Solutions & Services (FMSS) as the managing agent.
First, that FMSS had to be hired urgently because the existing managing agent, CPG, had wanted to terminate its contract with only short notice, and left WP in a lurch without a managing agent for AHTC.
This narrative was put out repeatedly to the public and in Parliament, said Mr Tong.
"But such a narrative was entirely false, one that was designed to give cover to the advancement of their own collateral motives, whilst at the same time sacrificing the interests of residents."
Second, Mr Tong said WP had given the excuse that FMSS was set up only as a contingency, which he called "a wholly untenable position".
"WP was clear and deliberate in themselves not wanting CPG to carry on - so what contingency are we even talking about?" he said, adding that court findings he outlined showed the decision to appoint FMSS was premeditated.
Third, Mr Tong said another "entirely false excuse" by WP was that it was forced to hurriedly appoint FMSS without a tender after the People's Action Party-owned firm Action Information Management (AIM) terminated AHTC's management system.
He pointed out that Ms Lim had in fact said in court that AIM had been helpful to her own town council, and FMSS's How Weng Fan had disclosed it was Ms Lim who did not want to extend AIM.
Mr Tong then noted that Ms Lim had asked Ms How and her late husband Danny Loh to "sanitise" the draft report on the managing agent appointment so that it would "pass the auditor's eyes".
This, he said, provided an insight into the way affairs were conducted at AHTC.
"And Ms Lim continues in a position of having financial oversight over matters today. How can this status quo be allowed to continue?"
Responding to Mr Tong, Ms Lim reiterated WP's position that they would appeal against some of the findings he cited.
"We have consistently maintained these circumstances were the circumstances we had to deal with in the aftermath of the 2011 General Election... We will also highlight to the judge certain evidences that may not have been given proper weight."
This included the termination notice issued to WP by AIM, she said.
She also noted that AHTC's general manager had told her their own auditors were given full access to IT systems to search for any information.
"Regarding the AGO audit... I personally headed a physical search of the town council offices with the AGO team to try to search for some of these documents, so I would refute any suggestion that we tried to hide things from their auditors," she said.