The Workers' Party (WP) terminated the contract of a managing agent appointed by the People's Action Party (PAP) early because the ruling party had a track record of making "things difficult for opposition town councils", Senior Counsel Chelva Rajah said yesterday.
The lawyer is representing three WP MPs, including former WP chief Low Thia Khiang and chairman Sylvia Lim, and two town councillors in a multimillion-dollar court case.
In the first half of the civil trial yesterday, he sought to explain why CPG Facilities Management was dropped shortly after the opposition party won Aljunied GRC in the 2011 General Election, even though it had two years left on its contract.
Citing Mr Low's affidavit, Mr Rajah said the former WP chief had 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.
Coupled with the PAP-owned software company Action Information Management's termination of their contract shortly after his party won Aljunied GRC in 2011, Mr Low was determined to ensure that residents continue to enjoy a smooth flow of services.
"You know what they say about an unwilling horse. Don't ride it," Mr Rajah said in his cross-examination of auditor KPMG's executive director Owen Hawkes.
Mr Hawkes replied that unlike horses, corporate entities like CPG have legal obligations to fulfil.
EXCHANGE IN COURT
You know what they say about an unwilling horse... Don't ride it.
SENIOR COUNSEL CHELVA RAJAH (above), on why the Workers' Party terminated the contract of CPG Facilities Management early.
There is a difference for corporate entities. The horse may buck you. CPG has legal obligations... It doesn't mean you oblige it to... (leave the contract) without ramifications.
KPMG'S EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OWEN HAWKES
His firm was appointed to look into Aljunied-Hougang Town Council's 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, Mr 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.
Mr 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.