AHTC case: Work continues at town council as WP MPs study court's decision, says Pritam

Following the release of the judgment in the AHTC case, most of the 20 residents in Aljunied GRC and Hougang interviewed said they were not surprised by the verdict, but hoped that the outcome would not disqualify Mr Pritam Singh, Ms Sylvia Lim and M
Following the release of the judgment in the AHTC case, most of the 20 residents in Aljunied GRC and Hougang interviewed said they were not surprised by the verdict, but hoped that the outcome would not disqualify Mr Pritam Singh, Ms Sylvia Lim and Mr Low Thia Khiang from being MPs. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

Work at the Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (AHTC) continues in earnest, Workers' Party (WP) chief Pritam Singh said, even as he and fellow Aljunied GRC MPs Sylvia Lim and Low Thia Khiang study a High Court judgment issued yesterday.

"We are reviewing the judgment carefully and will take the advice of our lawyers before announcing our next step," Mr Singh said in a Facebook post yesterday evening.

In a 338-page judgment released yesterday afternoon, High Court judge Kannan Ramesh found the trio liable in a case involving the misuse of town council funds.

Following the judgment's release, most of the 20 residents in Aljunied GRC and Hougang interviewed told The Straits Times that they were not surprised by the verdict, but hoped that the outcome would not disqualify the trio from being MPs.

A second round of hearings will be held to assess and determine the quantum of damages suffered by the town council, and how much it can recover from the MPs, if they decide not to appeal, or do not succeed in an appeal.

They could be disqualified from being MPs or contesting elections if they are unable to pay the damages and declared bankrupt.

Several residents said they hope voters will be able to decide whether to still support the WP MPs at the polls.

"It is not a criminal case. They have not committed a crime. They made a mistake, and I am sure they won't make the same one again," said administrative assistant Rasyidah Suradi, 34, from Serangoon.

"I think they should be given a chance, and the voters will decide."

 
 
 
 

Information technology administrator Raju Selvaraj, 46, said he will wait for the final verdict before making any judgment.

He also noted that the alleged amount of improper payments is "no small sum".

FM Solutions and Services (FMSS), the managing agent hired by Mr Low and Ms Lim in 2011, is said to have received some $33.7 million in improper payments from the town council from July 2011 to July 2015.

"If they really did something wrong, they should be accountable for it. I hope they can offer an explanation or even an apology," Mr Raju added.

A 37-year-old Singapore Armed Forces regular serviceman, who wanted to be known only as Mr Khoo, said he will be "thinking carefully" before casting his vote in the next general election.

"The case seems complicated, but it is really about trust. It feels like they haven't been totally transparent about how they handled it. As leaders, they must show they can be trusted."

The fallout on the WP's leadership, the party's status and its place in Singapore's politics and society could be serious if the damages are large enough to bankrupt the MPs, National University of Singapore political scientist Bilveer Singh said.

He added that there is also likely to be increased public scrutiny of similar fiduciary failures and lapses, whether by the opposition or the ruling People's Action Party.

 
 

"The lesson from the Workers' Party case is that no one in Singapore who is an elected official and holds the public trust should be in any way allowed to mishandle precious public funds, be it in the Government or the opposition," he said.

Political observer Derek da Cunha said the judgment was a cloud over the WP, and this could make it politically advantageous for the PAP to call for a December election, if the Electoral Boundaries Review Committee releases its report in the next two weeks.

"This is not just because of the cloud over the Workers' Party, but it also obviates the need for the Government to turn next year's Budget into an election Budget," he said.

"There is also the other issue of uncertain economic conditions in 2020, which has become an increasingly obvious issue."

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 12, 2019, with the headline 'Pritam: Work continues at AHTC as WP MPs study court's decision'. Print Edition | Subscribe