Workers' Party (WP) chairman Sylvia Lim conceded in the High Court yesterday that a statement she issued to the media in August 2011 was inaccurate and "not true".
Ms Lim had informed the media then that the appointment of a new managing agent, FM Solutions & Services (FMSS), by the Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (AHTC) would not incur any additional agent fees.
But she had omitted a one-time fee FMSS had charged the town council for the hiring of additional staff - a detail about which she was questioned repeatedly by Senior Counsel Davinder Singh.
Ms Lim insisted initially that she had no intention to mislead when drafting the statement. But this prompted a protracted exchange, during which Mr Singh asked her again if to knowingly state an untruth is to lie.
After pausing for a while, she replied: "Yes."
Yesterday was her fourth day on the stand being cross-examined by Mr Singh in a multimillion-dollar civil lawsuit against eight people, including three WP MPs.
The issue in question was whether the statement about FMSS that Ms Lim gave to newspapers and social media was - to her knowledge - false.
Lengthy exchange over media statement
Senior Counsel Davinder Singh yesterday questioned Workers' Party (WP) chairman Sylvia Lim at length about a media statement which she issued in August 2011 on her town council's appointment of FM Solutions & Services (FMSS) as its new managing agent.
Ms Lim told the media then that the Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (AHTC) would not incur any additional fees.
This was untrue, Mr Singh charged during his cross-examination, as AHTC had to pay a one-time charge to FMSS for hiring new staff.
Here is an edited excerpt of the exchange.
Davinder Singh (DS): That (media) statement was to your knowledge false?
Sylvia Lim (SL): I did not think it was false at the time I wrote it. I was conveying the steady state... There was a one-time expense. I can agree that I could have been more accurate, but I didn't intend to mislead.
DS: My question is that, that statement is untrue. Do you agree?
SL: I can accept that it is not accurate.
DS: I didn't ask you that question. Do you agree it was untrue? Ms Lim?
SL: It is not true.
DS: And you knew it was not true.
SL: I would have known, yes.
DS: I asked you, that to knowingly state an untruth, is to lie?
SL: I would say I was very careless.
DS: You agreed you knew it (the media statement) was untrue when you made it. My question is (that) to knowingly state an untruth is to lie. Do you agree?
DS: Ms Lim, minutes have passed. We are waiting for an answer.
SL: I don't agree in so far as lie implies a dishonest intention.
DS: My question is to knowingly state an untruth is to lie. Do you agree?
SL: The time (when) I drafted this media release, I did not have an intention to mislead. I agree it is not accurate.
DS: I am asking a simple question. If you can't grapple with this simple moral point, then I am afraid there are serious difficulties. If someone knows that something is untrue, and he communicates it, then he is lying. Do you agree?
SL: Lying implies a dishonest intention.
DS: To knowingly state an untruth is to lie. Ms Lim, you are fencing, you are evading... So, to knowingly state an untruth is to lie?
DS: You have already said you knowingly stated an untruth. You said it was to the entire country, including your residents. It was about the amount of money that was to be spent. You have already confirmed that the elected MPs who knew about the untruth did nothing to correct the position. And you have repeated and reiterated that position in your affidavit, correct?
SL: There was no correction made.
DS: Do you agree?
DS: Ms Lim, please, it has been a few minutes.
She said she was conveying the "steady state" of FMSS' charges. She added that she could have included the one-time fee paid to FMSS but "didn't think it was material since it was a one-off expense".
"I can agree that I could have been more accurate, but I didn't intend to mislead," she added.
Mr Singh followed it by asking whether "to knowingly state an untruth is to lie".
"I would say I was very careless," she replied.
After he repeated his question several times, she said: "I don't agree in so far as lie implies a dishonest intention."
For 10 minutes, they went back and forth, with Mr Singh telling Ms Lim that she was "fencing" and "evading" his question.
Eventually, when she was asked yet again whether knowingly stating an untruth is to lie, she said "yes".
Mr Singh also asked if any of the elected WP MPs, who received a copy of the media statement, asked for a correction by Ms Lim or sent a correction to the media. Ms Lim said they did not.
He then charged that she "knowingly stated an untruth to the entire country", including her residents, about how much money was going to be spent by engaging FMSS.
Mr Singh noted that Ms Lim had also repeated this same point - that AHTC was not incurring additional fees by using FMSS - in her affidavit, another untruth.
She eventually agreed.
Earlier, Mr Singh also highlighted that the August 2011 media statement had stated "no WP member has any interest in FMSS".
Mr Singh asked Ms Lim why she did not disclose to the public that the main shareholders of FMSS - Ms How Weng Fan and her late husband Danny Loh - were WP supporters, and that the remaining shareholders had some association with the party.
Ms Lim replied that the purpose of the statement was to inform the public of a smooth handover of the town council to the new managing agent, and information like the shareholding of FMSS would not have been relevant.
"There was nothing sinister about it," Ms Lim told the court.
Earlier, Mr Singh had also asked her why Ms How's and Mr Loh's shareholding in FMSS was not disclosed when AHTC awarded their company the Essential Maintenance Service Unit (EMSU) contract in September 2011.
This was a "second opportunity" to inform town councillors of their ownership of FMSS, he said.
However, he noted that Ms Lim had thought it relevant to dis-close this information at a town council meeting on Aug 4, 2011, when councillors decided to hire a managing agent.
He asked why there was a difference in approach.
Ms Lim initially said the FMSS' shareholding was not material to the decision to award the EMSU contract.
But she later conceded there should have been similar considerations in both cases.
She agreed with Mr Singh that Ms How's and Mr Loh's stakes in FMSS should have been disclosed, to "make the records more ro-bust" and that the information was relevant.
Ms Lim, Ms How and FMSS are among the eight defendants in the lawsuit, which centres on $33.7 million in payments AHTC made from 2011 to 2015 to FMSS and its service provider, and which are alleged to be improper and void.
Ms Lim is expected to take the stand again today.
In the course of his cross-examination over the past four days, Mr Singh crossed swords with Ms Lim on several occasions.
While he said that she had lied to her town councillors and Parliament by giving the false impression that AHTC was forced to upscale an IT system because a software firm terminated its contract, she disagreed with the charge.
But Ms Lim admitted she and her fellow MPs had breached their duties in failing to disclose FMSS' rates to the rest of the town council members during a meeting.