SDP takes issue with claims by WP chief Low Thia Khiang over AHTC lawsuit

In a statement on Wednesday (Sept 6), the SDP said it objected to the claim made by WP chief Low Thia Khiang (centre), which was submitted as an annex to his defence in a lawsuit brought by the Aljunied-Hougang Town Council.
In a statement on Wednesday (Sept 6), the SDP said it objected to the claim made by WP chief Low Thia Khiang (centre), which was submitted as an annex to his defence in a lawsuit brought by the Aljunied-Hougang Town Council.ST PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

SINGAPORE - The Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) has taken issue with a legal defence filed by Workers' Party MPs that cited the SDP as having poorly managed several town councils in the 1990s.

In a statement on Wednesday (Sept 6), the SDP said it objected to the claim made by WP chief Low Thia Khiang, which was submitted as an annex to his defence in a lawsuit brought by the Aljunied-Hougang Town Council.

Mr Low and his fellow Aljunied GRC MPs Sylvia Lim and Pritam Singh, along with five others, are being sued over improper payments the town council made from July 2011 to July 2015.

In defending himself, Mr Low had harked back to his experience in 1991, after he first won Hougang single-seat constituency, to show that it was difficult to take over a town council previously run by the People's Action Party.

He also said that the SDP's newly elected MPs in the single-seat constituencies of Bukit Gombak and Nee Soon Central, Mr Ling How Doong and Mr Cheo Chai Chen, "faced similar challenges when they took over the running of their respective town councils".

He added that based on feedback he "received from the ground", "poor town council management was part of the reason why the SDP lost both seats at the next General Elections in 1997".

Referring to this, the SDP, which is not involved in the lawsuit, said it was "manifestly unfair to say, or give the impression, that the Bukit Gombak and Nee Soon Central Town Councils were poorly managed".

Not only did Mr Low not substantiate his claim, evidence also shows that the town councils were run by the SDP in a sound manner, said the SDP in a statement on its website.

It cited annual reports from 1991 to 1997, saying that they showed yearly accumulated budget surpluses were recorded, maintenance and repairs of the estates were duly and efficiently conducted, and financial audits of the accounts did not flag any major problems.

The Nee Soon Central Town Council even accumulated enough surplus funds to make investments, and to make improvements to the town, added the SDP.

Similarly, the Bukit Gombak Town Council "managed the estate prudently and accumulated enough savings to beautify and upgrade the housing estate", such as building a clock tower and bell tower, it said.

The SDP also said that Mr Low's statement seemed to imply that the takeover of town councils from the PAP is fraught with difficulties which contribute to the poor quality of management by opposition parties.

"This is untrue. While there will always be issues during the handover process when town councils change management, these problems are not insurmountable," it added.

The SDP said it had approached a WP official as well as Tan Rajah & Cheah, the law firm representing the MPs in the lawsuit, about Mr Low's claims to try to resolve the matter.

However, this was unsuccessful and the party decided to make its own statement, it added.

"That said, we wish the WP well in the suit and all its future endeavours," it said.

The lawsuit was initiated under the direction of an independent panel appointed by AHTC to recover improper payments made.

The town council is suing the WP MPs, two of its town councillors, as well as its former managing agent, FM Solutions and Services (FMSS), and the company's owner, Ms How Weng Fan.

It alleged that $33,717,535 in payments it made to FMSS and and its sister company, FM Solutions and Integrated Services, were not valid, as the town councillors had acted in breach of their fiduciary duties.