AHTC lawsuits

Sylvia gave FMSS heads up on tender, says Davinder

Senior Counsel Davinder Singh and Workers' Party chairman Sylvia Lim crossed swords yesterday over a heads up Ms Lim is said to have given the owners of FM Solutions & Services to come fully prepared to a meeting to defend their pricing in their bid
Senior Counsel Davinder Singh and Workers' Party chairman Sylvia Lim crossed swords yesterday over a heads up Ms Lim is said to have given the owners of FM Solutions & Services to come fully prepared to a meeting to defend their pricing in their bid for the Aljunied-Hougang Town Council's managing agent contract.PHOTOS: KELVIN CHNG, LIANHE ZAOBAO

Counsel says this tainted the process, but WP chairman says it was for practical reasons

Two days before a meeting with the only company that bid for her town council's managing agent contract, Workers' Party chairman Sylvia Lim gave its owners a "heads up" that they would need to justify their higher rates.

Ms Lim used those words in an e-mail to FM Solutions & Services (FMSS) owners Danny Loh and How Weng Fan on June 19, 2012, in which she encouraged them to provide more details at the meeting.

Two days later, the late Mr Loh gave an 11-slide presentation to some members of the Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (AHTC) explaining FMSS' pricing strategy.

Yesterday, Senior Counsel Davinder Singh said that because of her actions, the tender process was "tainted and flawed".

"You colluded with FMSS to make sure that FMSS would come prepared with everything that was needed to secure that bid," he charged.

FMSS won the tender, which was called about a year after the WP won Aljunied GRC in the 2011 General Election.

Mr Singh is representing Pasir Ris-Punggol Town Council in a multimillion-dollar civil suit to recover alleged improper payments from eight defendants, including Ms Lim, who was on the stand for the fifth - and final - day yesterday.

In cross-examining her, Mr Singh noted that one town councillor, Mr Anthony Loh, had asked why FMSS' quote for its services was on the higher side, especially when compared with the charges of People's Action Party town councils.

"Are they having trouble breaking even or is this purely profit-driven?" Mr Anthony Loh wrote in an e-mail to Ms Lim.

She replied an hour later, noting that it was a good question, but not before she had e-mailed Mr Danny Loh and Ms How about giving them the "heads up", Mr Singh noted.

"These people had been given a tip-off, insider information, so that they could come prepared… to overcome the one difficulty you knew the committee had," he charged.

Ms Lim replied: "Sole tenderer, Mr Singh."

He asked if there was a difference between a competitive tender and one with a sole bidder.

She replied: "Yes, in the sense that there isn't information being given out to one tenderer and not the others… I wanted them to come prepared so that the meeting would be productive."

Mr Singh then proceeded to read Ms Lim's earlier testimony that in the tender process, she did her best to act with integrity and objectivity, dealing with all bidders at arm's length.

 
 
 
 

"You agreed with me that whether it is a competitive bid or sole tenderer, none of them would have an advantage. Yet, you gave FMSS the advantage of the 'heads up' to come fully prepared to defend their pricing," he said.

"It was just a practical matter," she said. "They were the sole bidder. If they had not prepared their answers, they would have to adjourn and come back again."

Mr Singh charged that the process was tainted and that Ms Lim colluded with FMSS to secure their bid.

Ms Lim disagreed.

Mr Singh also said Ms Lim withheld information from AHTC's external auditor and "played with words" to give Parliament the impression FMSS' ownership structure was disclosed to the town council.

"I suggest to you that someone as artful as you knowingly breached your fiduciary duties - duties as a trustee, duties under the law - just to get your way," he said.

"I acted in good faith at all times," Ms Lim replied.

"If this is good faith, then all of us in Singapore are in big trouble," Mr Singh said.

Earlier, Mr Singh posited that an external auditor AHTC hired to review its award of a new managing agent contract to FMSS in 2012, on the expiry of its one-year contract, was a "superficial job".

The firm, RSM Ethos, gave AHTC an "A" overall. But, Mr Singh said, it had based its observations only on what it had been told by town councillors such as Ms Lim.

RSM did not carry out any checks, and said its report was "not sub-stantive in nature" and that it was "not possible to detect fraud or irregularities".

Disagreeing that it was a "paper exercise", Ms Lim countered that RSM staff had attended one of the meetings the town council's tender committee had with FMSS.

"I do not agree that they just produced a report based on what they are told. This is not fair to them," she said.

Mr Singh put it to her that there was nothing in RSM's report that said the award of the contract to FMSS was done in an "unbiased, objective, fair and transparent" way, or that its rates were reasonable.

Ms Lim said the point about how it should be awarded was made in the report and, although she could not find it there, reiterated that RSM had given AHTC an "A".

Mr Singh also charged that Ms Lim relied on "conflicted persons" - town council staff with stakes in FMSS - to check that work had been done.

Ms Lim said she worked closely with FMSS daily and was able to assess the work it did.

Mr Singh also put it to her that "the question of the protection and safeguarding of the monies was never on your mind". He added: "You had abdicated your entire role to conflicted persons."

She replied: "That is entirely false."

Mr Singh, in wrapping up his cross-examination, asked Ms Lim what her response to the various claims he had put to her in the five days of cross-examination would be.

"I am suggesting that all those claims and assertions are correctly made," he added.

Ms Lim replied: "I disagree, and I have done my best, together with my counsel, to put forward my defence."

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 25, 2018, with the headline 'Sylvia gave FMSS heads up on tender, says Davinder'. Print Edition | Subscribe