Senior counsel throws doubt on motives behind change of agent

SENIOR COUNSEL DAVINDER SINGH.
SENIOR COUNSEL DAVINDER SINGH.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

There is "simply no room for doubt" that town councillors and officers of town councils are custodians of residents' and public monies, said the lawyer for Pasir Ris-Punggol Town Council (PRPTC), Senior Counsel Davinder Singh.

In his opening statement at the start of a civil case against three Workers' Party (WP) MPs yesterday, Mr Singh said those public monies are "given to town councillors and officers not to benefit friends and supporters", but to carefully spend to benefit residents and the estate.

The three Aljunied GRC MPs - former WP chief Low Thia Khiang, party chairman Sylvia Lim and secretary-general Pritam Singh - are facing lawsuits from PRPTC and the Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (AHTC). Both lawsuits are linked to the $33.7 million paid to FM Solutions and Services (FMSS) and a related service provider between July 2011 and July 2015.

AHTC alleges these payments were improper and void, and that the WP MPs had acted in breach of their fiduciary duties. PRPTC is alleging the decisions taken by the town councillors had caused it to suffer "loss and damage", and is claiming equitable compensation.

In his opening statement, Mr Singh also drew attention to reports by global accounting firms KPMG and PwC, saying they "make it overwhelmingly clear" the instances of non-compliance, lapses and failures stem from a "complete and reckless disregard" of their duty to protect residents' and public monies.

The system of checks and balances in the town council was so lacking and flawed, he said, "that it allowed conflicted persons to enrich themselves almost at will".

NO TENDER CALLED

Under the cover of darkness, this letter of intent was sent (to FMSS) and accepted with no tender, no discussion... (with) town council members of the basis to waive the tender."

SENIOR COUNSEL DAVINDER SINGH, lawyer for Pasir Ris-Punggol Town Council, in his opening statement.

"It is striking that despite the KPMG and PwC reports, there is no honourable acknowledgement of wrongdoing," Mr Singh said. Instead, the defendants had come "ready to use the witness stand as a soapbox to score political points".

Mr Singh also noted that "there was no urgency" for AHTC to replace its then managing agent CPG in 2011, as the contract still had two years to run. "There is nothing in any contemporaneous document" to show CPG would have disputed or challenged AHTC's right to compel CPG to fulfil its contract till expiry or a tender was called to appoint a new managing agent, Mr Singh said.

He added that Ms Lim and Mr Low had decided to bring in FMSS, and took steps to achieve that objective, "in complete disregard for the law and their duties".

"It was also not as if their motives were honourable. That reprehensible enterprise was undertaken to achieve collateral and improper purposes," he said.

Mr Singh pointed to a letter of intent with FMSS that Ms Lim signed in June 2011, which stated that FMSS' appointment would take effect from July 15, 2011.

 
 

"Under the cover of darkness, this letter of intent was sent (to FMSS) and accepted with no tender, no discussion... (with) town council members of the basis to waive the tender," he said.

This, he added, was "effectively handcuffing AHTC to FMSS". Town council members were told of FMSS' appointment only on Aug 4, 2011, by which time they had no choice.

"Once they signed the letter of intent... they have effectively lost all leverage... and given FMSS a gun to put to their head," he said.

Mr Singh also said that FMSS was given "carte blanche" to hire as many new staff members as they needed, in preparation for taking over AHTC, akin to being given a "blank cheque".

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 06, 2018, with the headline 'Senior counsel throws doubt on motives behind change of agent'. Print Edition | Subscribe