AHTC trial: Defence explains why Workers' Party decided to drop old town council managing agent

(From left) Workers' Party's Sylvia Lim, Png Eng Huat, Low Thia Khiang and Pritam Singh at the Supreme Court on Monday. The WP's lawyer had explained that directly managing a town council would take up much of an MP's time.
(From left) Workers' Party's Sylvia Lim, Png Eng Huat, Low Thia Khiang and Pritam Singh at the Supreme Court on Monday. The WP's lawyer had explained that directly managing a town council would take up much of an MP's time.ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

SINGAPORE - Workers' Party (WP) terminated the contract of CPG Facilities Management, which had been appointed when the People's Action Party (PAP) ran Aljunied Town Council, because the ruling party had a track record of making "things difficult for opposition town councils", Senior Counsel Chelva Rajah said on Monday (Oct 8).

The lawyer is representing three WP MPs, including former WP chief Low Thia Khiang and chairman Sylvia Lim, and two town councillors in a multi-million dollar court case.

On Monday, he sought to explain why CPG was dropped shortly after the opposition party won Aljunied GRC in the 2011 General Election.

Citing Mr Low's affidavit on the second day of the hearing, SC Rajah said the former WP chief faced several challenges when he became Hougang MP in 1991, such as having to secure a new office at short notice.

In the mid-1990s, the Housing Board also terminated its Essential Maintenance Service Unit contract and computer services for Hougang Town Council, and Mr Low had to find alternatives.

"You know what they say about an unwilling horse. Don't ride it," said SC Rajah, in his cross-examination of KPMG forensics partner Owen Hawkes.

In response, Mr Hawkes said that unlike horses, corporate entities like CPG have legal obligations to fulfil.

 
 
 
 

His firm was appointed to look into Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (AHTC) books after the Auditor-General's Office found significant governance lapses in a special audit.

In explaining why the WP had to hire a managing agent to handle the town council's affairs, SC Rajah said directly managing a town council would take up much of an MP's time.

This, he added, is "not only tiring and stressful but also harder for an MP to play a more active role in serving his residents through grassroots work".

But he also pointed out that none of the only three managing agents in the relatively niche field of township management - CPG, EM Services and Cushman & Wakefield - put in a bid to manage the WP town council in 2012.

He said that all of them ran at least one PAP town council.

SC Rajah asked Mr Hawkes if it was likely that these firms did not put in a tender for a town council because it was now run by an opposition party.

Mr Hawkes said it was possible, but he noted that in his own capacity, he has worked for many firms which are competitors.

"Most firms typically do not begrudge that happening," he said.