Workers' Party (WP) chairman Sylvia Lim yesterday admitted that she and her fellow MPs had breached their duties by failing to disclose the rates of their managing agent to the rest of the Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (AHTC) during a meeting.
Her admission came only after a 35-minute tussle on the stand, during which Senior Counsel Davinder Singh tried to get her to agree that the WP MPs, including former party chief Low Thia Khiang and his successor Pritam Singh, had failed in their roles as town councillors.
Ms Lim is among eight defendants in a multimillion-dollar civil suit over alleged improper payments filed by AHTC and Pasir Ris-Punggol Town Council (PRPTC). Mr Singh is representing PRPTC.
Asked the same question repeatedly by Mr Singh - whether her fellow MPs had also breached their duties by not informing the rest of the town council about the rates charged by FM Solutions & Services (FMSS) - Ms Lim said the rest of the town council looked to her to set the agenda as chairman.
She said she did not include the rates in a report she presented to the town council on Aug 4, 2011, but "there was nothing sinister in that".
Mr Singh then asked if it was responsible for town councillors to accept rates they did not know.
Ms Lim agreed that they should know the rates charged by FMSS.
But while she also conceded that it was the duty of the chairman who knew the rates to disclose this to other town councillors who did not, she sought to avoid getting pinned down on whether the other elected members had a responsibility too.
DUTY AS TOWN COUNCILLORS
You have agreed with me that (the MPs) didn't disclose the rates, so they should have complied with their duties but didn't... Having agreed they should have disclosed the rates - and we know they didn't - it follows they didn't comply with their duties, right?
SENIOR COUNSEL DAVINDER SINGH, questioning WP chairman Sylvia Lim on whether the other elected WP MPs had breached their duties as town councillors.
Among her various answers, she said: "They delegated the decision to me… I take the responsibility on myself."
But Mr Singh was adamant that she answer the question: "That is very, very big of you, but you agreed that they too were under a duty… Knowing that you hadn't (disclosed the rates), that was a breach on their part as well, agree?"
Ms Lim eventually replied: "I don't think it is fair for me to answer this question."
"If it wasn't fair, there would be an objection and (Justice Kannan Ramesh) would have stopped me. It is not for you to decide if it is fair," said Mr Singh.
But Ms Lim would only say that the omission was "inadvertent" and that it was her responsibility alone.
After around 30 minutes, the judge stepped in: "Ms Lim, the question has been asked several times over several minutes, could you try to answer it please?"
The exchange between Ms Lim and Mr Singh went on for another five minutes. Mr Singh said: "You have agreed with me that (the MPs) didn't disclose the rates, so they should have complied with their duties but didn't… Having agreed they should have disclosed the rates - and we know they didn't - it follows they didn't comply with their duties, right?"
Yes, Ms Lim replied.
Later, Mr Singh sought to establish that she breached the Town Councils Financial Rules by not calling for a tender or justifying a waiver for close to $150,000 in payments to FMSS.
These payments, he added, covered work the firm did from June 15, 2011, to July 14, 2011. But when the town council convened on Aug 4, 2011, to waive the tender to hire FMSS, it did so for the one-year period from July 15 only, he noted. "We know as lawyers that approvals only cover the points that are approved… Therefore to that extent there was a breach of the law," he said.
Ms Lim agreed.
He asked why this sum, which was "no small change", was not communicated to the rest of the town council.
Ms Lim replied: "It just didn't occur to me at the time."
But Mr Singh expressed doubt, given her previous testimony that showed how she and other MPs had "carefully thought" about the meeting, such as when it should be called and what should be disclosed.
"Isn't it the case that there was an arrangement among you and the elected MPs to be very selective about what you told the other town councillors?" he said.
Ms Lim disagreed.
Mr Singh then asked what would have happened if the town council did not approve the waiver and FMSS' appointment.
Ms Lim said the town council would have to discuss how to handle the situation without disrupting the services to residents.
"That would have been a bit of a bother, to put it mildly," said Mr Singh.
Ms Lim said: "Agreed, but we would have had to find a way to work it out."
Mr Singh charged: "But you couldn't afford (to work it out). You wanted FMSS' arrangements approved… which is why where it was necessary to withhold information, you breached your duties," he said.
Ms Lim replied: "The councillors were familiar with (FMSS majority owners How Weng Fan and Danny Loh) and the circumstances of FMSS being set up. I don't agree in that sense that they had the relevant information withheld."