WP chairman gave 'blank cheque' to agent to hire staff, says Davinder

Workers' Party (WP) chairman Sylvia Lim had given her town council's managing agent a "blank cheque" to hire whoever it wanted, by failing to impose a limit on the number of staff it could employ.

This was one of several examples Senior Counsel Davinder Singh gave yesterday as he sought to paint Ms Lim as someone who was careless with the monies of the residents of Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (AHTC).

Ms Lim is among eight defendants in a multimillion-dollar civil suit to recover alleged improper payments.

Mr Singh, pointing to a contract in which Ms Lim signed off as town council chairman, noted that it allowed FM Solutions & Services (FMSS) to be reimbursed for new hires for an interim period without a cap. "You gave them a blank cheque. They could have hired three, 50, 250, 700 people… Where is the limit?" he asked.

Ms Lim said the limit came in the form of a limited timeframe - by July 15, 2011 - as the hires were meant to help FMSS take over the expanded town council.

FMSS got the contract to run AHTC without a tender being called for a replacement of incumbent CPG Facilities Management, which was managing the Aljunied Town Council.

Mr Singh then asked if she thought it was a "responsible thing" to let a managing agent employ workers without a cap.

After he repeated his question six times, Ms Lim said: "I believe I acted responsibly in the circumstances."

Mr Singh wanted to know how she had done so, and Ms Lim replied that there was no way to fix the number of hires.

He responded: "Can it not be that any staff to be employed would be subject to the prior consent of AHTC? As a lawyer, do you not know of that formula?"

Ms Lim said she believed FMSS would act responsibly.

Mr Singh then gave the analogy of a hired gardener who might need extra hands: "Would you tell (him), 'I will give you one month, go hire as many as you like and I will pay, but don't have to check with me'?"

 
 
 
 

Ms Lim, after some back and forth, said no.

He then asked what was the difference between the gardener and FMSS.

Ms Lim said: "With the garden, there is no need to hire people earlier, (while) the managing agent contract is a big undertaking… It is reasonable for FMSS to ask to prepare for the takeover."

Mr Singh replied: "The difference is that the first example of the garden is your money. The second is not your money, it is other people's monies… which is why you so readily agreed to give FMSS carte blanche, (telling them) not to worry, the residents will pay for it."

Another area of the contract Mr Singh found fault with was FMSS charging AHTC $1.114 million in 2011 - the same amount CPG would have billed that year.

Ms Lim admitted that at the time she signed the contract, she did not know several details, including FMSS' price and staff structure.

Mr Singh wondered how she found it reasonable to pay "a newbie" the same fees as an experienced managing agent like CPG.

Ms Lim said she was "comforted by the fact" that the price of managing agent services would remain the same.

"You seem to be a bit casual about other people's money," Mr Singh said. "Because it was the residents' money, and not coming out of your pocket, it didn't matter to you to apply your mind to negotiate for a better deal."

Ms Lim disagreed.

He added: "You were content because it served your political purpose of getting rid of CPG and having your own people in… to use residents' monies to achieve these political purposes."

Ms Lim disagreed.

Mr Singh also questioned why, under the contract, FMSS had "taken over" former Hougang Town Council staff on June 15, 2011 - a whole month before the managing agent took the reins of the entire AHTC.

Mr Singh charged that Ms Lim and other WP MPs did so to "provide sanctuary" to these workers, who may be let go if they were in AHTC while CPG was in charge.

Laughing, Ms Lim said: "I don't think so."

Mr Singh added: "You very craftily… protected WP members and supporters using the hard-earned monies of the residents… It was plotted, it was calculated and it was implemented."

Ms Lim replied: "We planned for this contingency, but I don't agree with whatever derogatory term you used."

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 20, 2018, with the headline 'WP chairman gave 'blank cheque' to agent to hire staff, says Davinder'. Print Edition | Subscribe