SDP takes issue with WP chief's defence in AHTC lawsuit

The Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) has taken issue with a legal defence filed by Workers' Party MPs that cited the SDP as having poorly managed several town councils.

In a statement yesterday, the SDP objected to the claim by WP chief Low Thia Khiang, which was submitted as part of his defence in a lawsuit brought by the Aljunied-Hougang Town Council.

Mr Low and his fellow Aljunied GRC MPs, Ms Sylvia Lim and Mr Pritam Singh, along with five others, are being sued over $33 million in improper payments the town council made from July 2011 to July 2015.

In defending himself, Mr Low had harked back to his experience in 1991, after he first won the Hougang single-seat constituency, saying it had been difficult to take over a town council previously run by the People's Action Party.

He also said the SDP's newly elected MPs in the single-seat constituencies of Bukit Gombak and Nee Soon Central, Mr Ling How Doong and Mr Cheo Chai Chen, "faced similar challenges when they took over the running of their respective town councils".

He added that based on feedback he "received from the ground", "poor town council management was part of the reason why the SDP lost both seats at the next General Elections in 1997".

Referring to this, the SDP said it was "manifestly unfair to say, or give the impression, that the Bukit Gombak and Nee Soon Central town councils were poorly managed".

The SDP, which is not involved in the lawsuit, said evidence like annual reports from 1991 to 1997 prove the opposite is true.

In a statement on its website, it said the reports showed its town councils had recorded yearly accumulated budget surpluses and conducted maintenance and repairs of the estates duly and efficiently.

It added that financial audits of the accounts did not flag any major problems.

The Bukit Gombak Town Council, for instance, had "accumulated enough savings to beautify and upgrade the housing estate", such as by building a clock tower, it said.

The SDP also said Mr Low's statement seemed to imply the takeover of town councils from the PAP is fraught with difficulties which contribute to the poor quality of management by opposition parties.

"This is untrue. While there will always be issues during the handover process when town councils change management, these problems are not insurmountable," it added.

The SDP said it had approached the WP as well as Tan Rajah & Cheah, the law firm representing the MPs in the lawsuit, to try to resolve the matter, to no avail.

"That said, we wish the WP well in the suit and all its future endeavours," it said.

The lawsuit was initiated under the direction of an independent panel appointed by AHTC to recover improper payments made.

The town council is suing the WP MPs, two of its town councillors, as well as its former managing agent, FM Solutions and Services (FMSS), and the company's owner, Ms How Weng Fan.

It alleged that $33,717,535 in payments made to FMSS and and its sister company, FM Solutions and Integrated Services, were not valid as the town councillors had acted in breach of their fiduciary duties.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 07, 2017, with the headline 'SDP takes issue with WP chief's defence in AHTC lawsuit'. Print Edition | Subscribe