The Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (AHTC), in waiving a tender for a new managing agent in 2011, and appointing a firm associated with the Workers' Party (WP), sent a "loud and clear" message to the township management industry, said Senior Counsel Davinder Singh.
That message was "don't bother" bidding for its contract as the WP-run town council would be doing things its own way, he charged when cross-examining WP chief Pritam Singh yesterday.
Hence, no one - except for one firm - bid for the managing agency and Essential Maintenance Service Unit contracts which AHTC called in 2012, the Senior Counsel said as he sought to establish the motivations behind AHTC's decisions that led to a new managing agent being appointed.
Yesterday was Mr Pritam Singh's first and only day on the stand, and it came after five days of cross-examination that WP chairman Sylvia Lim faced in the hearing of a multimillion-dollar civil lawsuit against, among others, three WP MPs.
The sole firm that bid for the contracts, Mr Davinder Singh noted, was the incumbent, FM Solutions & Services (FMSS), owned by supporters of the WP.
The Senior Counsel put to Mr Pritam Singh: "A responsible town councillor would apply his mind to the implications of waiving his tender on future prospects of parties in industry being interested in making a bid."
The WP chief replied: "I disagree because a responsible town councillor needs to understand what is the difference between his town council, PAP (People's Action Party) town councils and the reality of the politicised town council space in Singapore.
"After the responsible town councillor goes through that process, he will understand why AHTC, as the first opposition GRC, had to take the decisions it did, particularly after Mr Lee Kuan Yew himself warned that Aljunied residents had five years to repent," he added.
He was referring to a warning Singapore's founding prime minister gave to Aljunied voters a week before Voting Day on May 7, 2011, that they would "live and repent" if the PAP was defeated in the GRC.
Mr Pritam Singh is the third defendant in the ongoing lawsuit over alleged improper payments made by the town councillors to FMSS and its service provider.
The first two were former WP chief Low Thia Khiang and Ms Lim.
Mr Davinder Singh said if Mr Pritam Singh honestly believed it was in AHTC's interest to waive the tender in 2011, the responsible thing to do would have been to "lock in" FMSS to the rates of the former agent, CPG Facilities Management, for two years rather than just one.
This would have helped AHTC avoid the rise in managing agent rates in 2012, when FMSS was the sole bidder in the open tender.
Disagreeing, Mr Pritam Singh said it was a better idea to give FMSS a one-year contract and then call for a tender so that the town council could gather appropriate rates from other players.
"You cannot have it both ways," said Mr Davinder Singh, "and expect that the market would open up and embrace an opposition-run town council a year later after saying the companies would not touch AHTC".
Mr Pritam Singh said he could not speak for other companies as "the market has money to make with a managing agent contract".
Mr Davinder Singh also asked why the WP MPs waited until a town council meeting to inform the other councillors about the appointment of FMSS, instead of informing them earlier, like via a "two-minute" e-mail.
The WP chief said a meeting would be a better platform for the councillors to scrutinise the decision.
Mr Davinder Singh pointed out that the meeting was postponed from July 27 to Aug 4, further delaying the councillors being informed and residents being told of FMSS' appointment.
Mr Pritam Singh replied: "I don't think there was any nefarious plot on that."
Mr Davinder Singh also sought several times to get Mr Pritam Singh to remember certain dates, including when he learnt Ms Lim and Mr Low were involved in talks on forming a managing agency.
The WP chief said he could not remember, as the events took place seven years ago.
Mr Davinder Singh referred him to his affidavit, in which he mentioned several meetings, one as early as in June 2011.
"I suggest to you that having remembered it so clearly in your affidavit… which you filed last month, on the stand you create a completely different impression," he added.
Mr Pritam Singh said he had nothing to hide.
The Senior Counsel also asked the WP chief if he attended any discussions where someone suggested that a tender to appoint a managing agent be called. The WP MP said he could not recall.
"For the last 50 minutes, you have told us you cannot recall so many things," Mr Davinder Singh said.
Mr Pritam Singh replied: "Do you want the truth? I am giving you the truth."
But there were some light moments during the morning hearing.
When asked to recall whether he attended a meeting in June or July 2012, Mr Pritam Singh said: "I was married around that period, so I can't remember..."
"So, you put your marriage over your town council?" Mr Davinder Singh said with a laugh.
Mr Pritam Singh replied in jest: "Nice try, Mr Singh."
Senior Counsel Chelva Rajah, the defence's lawyer for Mr Pritam Singh, then stood up and said, to chuckles in the courtroom: "That is a conflict of interest, if there ever was one."