AHTC trial: Sylvia Lim admits to breaching rules by not calling tender

Workers' Party chairman Sylvia Lim arriving at the Supreme Court yesterday. She said she had exercised her authority to act on behalf of the town council to waive the tender, "in circumstances of urgency".
Workers' Party chairman Sylvia Lim arriving at the Supreme Court yesterday. She said she had exercised her authority to act on behalf of the town council to waive the tender, "in circumstances of urgency".PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

Davinder points out that this was done without discussing any special circumstances

Workers' Party (WP) chairman Sylvia Lim admitted yesterday that she had breached Town Councils Financial Rules when she failed to call a tender for managing agent services in 2011.

The Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (AHTC) had waived a tender for managing agent services provided by FM Solutions and Services (FMSS) to Hougang SMC in June 2011, which amounted to $92,000. The AHTC merger took place after the WP won Aljunied GRC in the May 2011 General Election.

Town council rules stipulate that tenders must be called for services that are estimated to cost more than $70,000, and should be waived only "under very special circumstances and must be fully justified".

During his cross-examination on day 11 of the hearing, Senior Counsel Davinder Singh asked Ms Lim if there was any discussion about waiving a tender for services by FMSS following its June 2 proposal about providing managing agent services.

"No," Ms Lim replied.

"So, being aware, as you claimed this morning, of the town council rules, you disregarded them. You breached them. Right?" he asked.

Ms Lim said she had exercised her authority to act on behalf of the town council to waive the tender, "in circumstances of urgency".

 
 
 
 

But Mr Singh noted that there was no discussion of the urgency or circumstances of that period in Ms Lim's affidavit, "nothing in (former Workers' Party chief Low Thia Khiang's), nothing in the elected MPs' affidavits."

There was nothing on record about a waiver as of mid-June 2011, said Mr Singh, who asked Ms Lim if she agreed that was a breach.

"I have to agree, technically, yes." Ms Lim replied.

"Technically?" Mr Singh asked, repeating his question.

"On this date, I agree, yes," Ms Lim said, later adding that the date would have been around June 15.

Mr Singh later asked Ms Lim if it was correct that anyone who knew about the rules would know there was a breach, to which she said yes.

He then asked her who else among the elected WP MPs knew about the matter.

"I cannot remember distinctly but I believe Mr Low knew and I believe the other MPs also knew," she replied.

The Aljunied GRC MP is one of eight defendants in a multimillion-dollar civil suit to recover alleged improper payments.

Mr Singh also charged that FMSS was hired as AHTC's managing agent "under the cover of darkness" in 2011 to avoid calling for an open tender.

He noted that Ms Lim did not tell the other AHTC town councillors about the incorporation of FMSS at a meeting on June 9, 2011, at which she was given the authority to act for the town council. Neither did Ms Lim say that FMSS would be appointed without a tender to take over from incumbent managing agent CPG Facilities Management.

Mr Singh made the case that Ms Lim and the other WP MPs had decided not to tell the others about FMSS, so it could be appointed without questions.

Ms Lim disagreed.

Mr Singh later asked why a June 2 proposal by FMSS was circulated only to the elected MPs but not the other appointed councillors.

Ms Lim said she could not recall the date it reached the rest, and that the need to send them the FMSS proposal was superseded by the delegation of authority to her. She added that they did so, trusting her to make decisions accordingly.

Mr Singh said: "You did a dirty on your own town councillors."

She replied: "I disagree totally."

Mr Singh also asked Ms Lim why AHTC retained CPG's services for essential maintenance, but chose to release it as managing agent.

She had earlier suggested there was ground feedback against CPG and that, as it was "committed" to the People's Action Party cause, the opposition MPs might not be able to predict its behaviour.

Mr Singh noted that essential maintenance services would need to be carried out by a reliable company, and Ms Lim agreed. He made the point that if she was content to use CPG for some projects also beyond August 2011, when its contract would end, it meant her argument that there were complaints from the ground against CPG and that it could not be trusted, was "utter rubbish" and "all made up".

He also said the WP-led town council wanted CPG out so FMSS could come in, but at the same time wanted to take advantage of CPG's services.

Ms Lim disagreed, saying the projects were in advanced stages. She also said it was CPG that had suggested that it would continue.

"We agreed that it was reasonable," she said. "They did not ask to be relieved of all their projects."

Against claims that she wanted to have her cake and eat it too, Ms Lim replied: "That's very creative, Mr Singh, but that's not what it is."

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 20, 2018, with the headline 'Sylvia Lim admits to breaching rules by not calling tender'. Print Edition | Subscribe