On the stand

WP leaders fight allegations in courtroom battle

(From left) Mr Low Thia Khiang, Ms How Weng Fan, Ms Sylvia Lim and Mr Pritam Singh. PHOTOS: TIMOTHY DAVID, LIANHE ZAOBAO, LIM YAOHUI

LOW THIA KHIANG

On the witness stand for a total of 11 hours, stretched over three days

Senior Counsel Davinder Singh charged that Mr Low released CPG from its contractual obligations as a managing agent without checking what those were, a move that put "political supporters (referring to FM Solutions & Services) ahead of residents' interests".

Mr Low acknowledged he did not make the necessary checks, which he agreed was part of the duties of a "responsible town councillor".

Another point Mr Singh made was that Ms How Weng Fan wrote a letter to CPG more than two weeks before the incumbent managing agent said it would leave, giving CPG the impression that the MPs had decided to manage Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (AHTC) in-house. He called it a "calculated" move to avoid calling a tender and risking an agent other than FMSS getting the job.

Mr Low disagreed, saying it was a contingency. He added later that he had anticipated CPG's pullout.

He also said, when cross-examined, that he did not think it was a "big deal" that he and Ms Lim failed to disclose an apparent conflict of interest: that Mr Danny Loh, whose business provided maintenance services to Hougang Town Council, was married to AHTC's then-deputy secretary, Ms How.

Mr Low said he and Ms Lim may have missed the issue as they were busy at the time. Mr Singh countered that it was a serious matter, since it was before the courts.

Mr Low later conceded it was so, but disagreed with Mr Singh that he and Ms Lim "suppressed" the information from the town councillors.

The following day, Mr Low made the unusual move of clarifying his previous day's testimony when he repeatedly said he was "uncomfortable" about CPG's presence if its executives were to sit in on a July 21, 2011 meeting, but could not tell Mr Singh why.

Although Mr Singh took issue with the fact that Mr Low was volunteering information, Justice Kannan Ramesh allowed it. Mr Low explained that he did not trust one of the CPG representatives, Mr Seng Joo How, owing to their previous dealings when he was the newly elected MP for Hougang. Mr Seng was a Housing Board official "who was supposed to help but didn't seem to do so", Mr Low said. Mr Singh said Mr Low had made up the evidence overnight.

SYLVIA LIM

On the witness stand for 4½ days

Mr Davinder Singh said Ms Lim "knowingly and deliberately" perpetuated a false impression that AHTC was forced to upscale its computer system. While she conceded that some work related to upscaling had taken place before the PAP-owned software firm Action Information Management terminated its contract, she disagreed she had lied to her "fellow town councillors, Parliament and the court", as Mr Singh had charged.

Ms Lim and Mr Singh had several protracted exchanges throughout her 4½ days on the stand, during which Mr Singh described her as an "obstreperous witness" and said she was trying to buy time to answer his questions.

One issue he said she was stalling on was when he asked if she and Mr Low had decided shortly after the 2011 General Election to appoint FMSS without calling a tender.

He could not get a straight "yes" or "no" answer. The answers she gave were qualified.

On the third day of her testimony, however, she admitted she and her fellow MPs had breached their duties by failing to disclose managing agent FMSS' rates to the rest in AHTC so that they could make an informed decision. But she concededonly after a 35-minute verbal tussle with Mr Singh that led to Justice Ramesh stepping in.

Another area where the cross-examination dragged on was when Mr Singh said Ms Lim had lied in a media statement and to the entire nation in August 2011 that FMSS would not incur any additional agent fees. But she had omitted a one-time fee FMSS had charged the town council for hiring additional staff.

Ms Lim insisted multiple times she had no intention to mislead, but after several rounds of back-and-forth, including when Mr Singh asked if to knowingly state an untruth is to lie, she said yes.

The court also heard that Ms Lim, in her own words, gave FMSS' major owners a "heads up" on the need to justify to AHTC their new rates for a 2012 managing agent tender. The rates were higher than that of their initial one-year contract, for which the tender was waived.

Mr Singh said what Ms Lim did rendered the tender process "tainted and flawed" and said she was colluding with FMSS. Ms Lim replied that her advice had to be seen differently because there was only one bidder and she wanted the town council meeting to be a "productive"one. She said she had acted in good faith at all times.

Mr Singh also said Ms Lim and her fellow WP defendants were "disingenuous" to draw a parallel between the non-disclosure of interests by shareholders of FMSS and CPG.

This was because Mr Jeffrey Chua, then Aljunied Town Council's general manager and secretary, had declared his interest as CPG managing director in a 2010 town council meeting. Not only that, Mr Chua's share options were for CPG's parent company and amounted to only 0.015 per cent.

In contrast, husband-and-wife team Mr Loh and Ms How held a 70 per cent stake in FMSS, while holding key roles in AHTC.

After another lengthy exchange, Ms Lim eventually admitted there was no similar disclosure by FMSS. Mr Singh said: "So Ms Lim, as you have been giving evidence to this court in your defence, in Parliament, in your media statements, you have no qualms lying."

"I will reject that," she replied.

During re-examination by her lawyer Chelva Rajah, Ms Lim said it would have been "redundant" to disclose the stakeholding of FMSS to town councillors - an issue Mr Singh had raised - since most of them would have known who its owners were. But Mr Singh said evidence about other people's knowledge is "inadmissible".

PRITAM SINGH, KENNETH FOO AND CHUA ZHI HON

WP chief Pritam Singh was on the stand for four hours

Mr Davinder Singh put to Workers' Party (WP) chief Pritam Singh that in waiving a tender and appointing FMSS in 2011, AHTC had sent a message to companies in the township management industry to stay away.

This resulted in FMSS being the sole bidder for the managing agent and essential maintenance services contracts in 2012, when both were put up for tender, he said.

The WP chief disagreed, saying the "politicised town council space" must be considered, and that AHTC, as the first opposition GRC, had to take the decisions that it did.

Mr Davinder Singh also questioned why the WP MPs waited until a town council meeting to inform councillors about the appointment of FMSS, when an e-mail could have been sent out.

Mr Pritam Singh said the meeting would be a better platform for councillors to scrutinise the decision.

Mr Davinder Singh asked town councillors Kenneth Foo and Chua Zhi Hon whether they could have done more to ensure the decisions AHTC made were in the best interest of the residents.

Mr Foo said "hindsight is always the master". Still, he agreed with the senior counsel's point that it was better to have had a tender and for FMSS to bid with other firms, so that AHTC would have greater negotiating power.

Mr Chua replied that he was satisfied FMSS would take over the job of the outgoing agent at the same rate and scope of work.

HOW WENG FAN

Ms How secretly recorded a phone conversation with a KPMG executive in 2016, in which she called Ms Lim a "hopeless" chairman and said the town council would die under her watch.

The FMSS owner submitted the recording for court proceedings, and a transcript of the call was read out in court by Mr Davinder Singh.

It was revealed that Ms How also blamed Ms Lim for the death of her husband, Mr Danny Loh, who had a fatal heart attack in Japan in 2015.

Mr Singh charged that Ms How had misled the town council, by telling councillors a three-year budget projection could not be done. She did it so that the town council would award the managing agent contract to FMSS in 2012 at its proposed rates, he said.

Ms How disagreed, saying the town council's computer system had not stabilised yet, so she was unable to work out the projected budget. Uncertainties, like rising manpower costs, also meant the projection would be difficult to do, she added.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 04, 2018, with the headline WP leaders fight allegations in courtroom battle. Subscribe