AHTC writing to Court of Appeal to seek more time to appoint accountants from Big Four firm

SINGAPORE - The Workers' Party-run Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (AHTC) is asking for more time to decide on a Big Four accounting firm to examine its books.

On Jan 22, the Court of Appeal ordered the town council to appoint one of the Big Four accounting firms as its accountants within two weeks. The deadline to do so was Friday.

But in a statement to the media on Friday, the town council said that while it had initiated contact with one of the Big Four firms on Jan 23, a day after the order by the court, it needed "more time to provide information relevant to the appointment of the accountants to the HDB".

The statement added that the town council "will be writing to the Court to request for an extension".

In a separate statement in response to queries from The Straits Times, the HDB said it had been informed by AHTC of the need for an extension to the court's mandated deadline of Friday the accountants.

The statement added: "The Court of Appeal , in its judgment, stated that as this was a matter of public interest and involving public funds, it should not be delayed further."

"AHTC has informed HDB that they require more time before they can provide HDB with the relevant information concerning their proposed accountants. HDB has no objection to AHTC's request for time extension but has requested that AHTC write to the Court of Appeal to request that the deadline for appointment be extended."

In making the ruling on Jan 22, Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon said that "the task to be undertaken by the accountants who are to be appointed should not be underestimated" as they had to make sure a public body was fulfilling its legal obligations and using its public funds properly.

The three-judge court, which included Justice Chao Hick Tin and Justice Andrew Phang, also gave a deadline of April 15 for the chosen accounting firm to submit its first monthly progress report to HDB.

The town council saga hit the headlines early last year, when the Auditor-General's Office (AGO) highlighted lapses in governance and compliance with the law by the town council since 2011.

The Ministry of National Development initially, and subsequently the HDB, applied to have the courts appoint independent accountants to look into the town council's books. In November last year, the Court of Appeal ordered AHTC to appoint accountants to fix lapses uncovered by the AGO.

The town council initially picked Business Assurance - its financial consultant since March last year - for the job. But HDB raised concerns about the firm's capability and wanted more information to determine its suitability.

But the firm then pulled out from being considered. A second firm, MRI Moores Rowland, also withdrew after being nominated by AHTC.

At the Jan 22 hearing, AHTC picked yet another accounting firm called Ardent, but the HDB again objected, saying the firm did not have the relevant expertise, among other things. The Court of Appeal then directed AHTC to appoint accountants from, one of the Big Four firms and gave the town council two weeks to do so.

While the town council has now said that it will request for an extension of time to appoint the accountants, its statement did not say when it would be writing to the Court of Appeal.