AHTC appoints KPMG to check books

Move resolves long-running dispute; accounting team expected to produce first monthly progress report by April 15

Mr Pritam Singh, the Aljunied- Hougang Town Council chairman, said KPMG was the most suitable firm and capable of performing an independent and objective review.
Mr Pritam Singh, the Aljunied- Hougang Town Council chairman, said KPMG was the most suitable firm and capable of performing an independent and objective review.

A long-running disagreement over the appointment of accountants to examine the books of the Workers' Party town council has been resolved, with the hiring of a team of accountants from KPMG.

Mr Pritam Singh, the town council's chairman who gave the news yesterday, said: "KPMG is the most suitable firm and is capable of performing an independent and objective review."

His announcement follows a Court of Appeal order, made on Jan 22, that the Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (AHTC) hire a 'Big Four' accounting firm to fix the lapses in governance and compliance with the law that were found in a special audit by the Auditor- General's Office (AGO) .

The three other firms are PwC, Deloitte, and Ernst & Young.

The KPMG team is expected to produce its first monthly progress report by April 15, Mr Singh said.

It is the deadline the three-judge apex court had set for the submission of the first report to the Housing Board, to which all town councils have to submit annual reports on their financial statements.

Yesterday's statement by Mr Singh comes almost four weeks after the Feb 5 deadline the Court of Appeal had given initially for one of the Big Four to be appointed. It later agreed to AHTC's request for an extension.

The HDB said last night it had no objections to the choice of KPMG.

It, however, noted that KPMG had disclosed to AHTC potential conflicts of interest which could arise from the appointment, including the fact that the firm's managing partner Tham Sai Choy sits on the HDB board. Mr Tham has "recused himself from any deliberation and decision-making relating to AHTC", the HDB added.

It also said both parties have agreed on "safeguards to ensure that the objectivity of KPMG's engagement is not threatened by conflicts of interest".

"AHTC can confirm that such safeguards are, in its view, adequate," the HDB said.

"We look forward to AHTC giving its fullest cooperation to its accountants, including full and unimpeded access to the relevant records and personnel, so that the tasks ordered by the Court of Appeal can be completed expeditiously."

The saga of AHTC's accounts is a long-running clash between the opposition-run town council on one side and the National Development Ministry and HDB on the other.

In February last year, the AGO said its special audit unearthed major lapses at the then Aljunied- Hougang-Punggol East Town Council.

The ministry and the HDB subsequently applied to the courts to appoint independent accountants to inspect the town council's books and rectify the lapses.

Following a stalemate, they went to the Court of Appeal. Last November, it ordered AHTC to appoint accountants to fix the lapses.

When both sides could not agree on a firm, the court ordered AHTC to select one of the Big Four.

Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon said in a Jan 22 ruling that the accountants' task "should not be underestimated" because they had to make sure a public body was fulfilling its legal obligations and using its public funds properly.

They would also have to look into whether any past payments made by the town council "were improper and ought therefore to be recovered".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 02, 2016, with the headline 'AHTC appoints KPMG to check books'. Subscribe