Testy showdown between Low and Davinder over language use

Senior Counsel Davinder Singh expressed surprise and serious concern that former WP chief Low Thia Khiang would give his testimony in both English and Mandarin - with the help of an interpreter.
Senior Counsel Davinder Singh expressed surprise and serious concern that former WP chief Low Thia Khiang would give his testimony in both English and Mandarin - with the help of an interpreter. ST PHOTO: JONATHAN CHOO

From spelling out certain words to giving the definition of others, yesterday's trial saw Senior Counsel Davinder Singh and former Workers' Party chief Low Thia Khiang taking digs at each other in the course of a three-hour hearing.

The eighth day of the multi-million-dollar civil lawsuit opened with the question of whether Mr Low's command of English was strong enough that he could do without an interpreter.

Defence lawyer Chelva Rajah had asked for an interpreter, in case his Chinese-educated client felt that answering in Mandarin would better capture the nuances of his thoughts.

But Mr Singh, who is representing Pasir Ris-Punggol Town Council (PRPTC), objected to the request. He pointed to Mr Low's written testimony, and said it showed the MP "has a very strong command of the English language".

Mr Low is one of three Workers' Party MPs, and eight defendants in total, in the trial to recover alleged losses suffered by Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (AHTC) and PRPTC under his party's watch.

Mr Singh went on to charge that any translations would eat into the time he was given to cross-examine Mr Low. Not only that, "it would appear that Mr Low is seeking to reserve to himself more time to think about the questions, by having things translated to him before he gives his answers", he said.

Responding, Senior Counsel Rajah said there was "no need for that kind of rash and unfounded allegations", adding it was his suggestion that Mr Low have an interpreter.

 
 
 

Justice Kannan Ramesh said he expected Mr Low to give most of his answers in English, and should he need an interpreter, he would have to explain why. "Given the nature of the content of his (affidavit)... those instances should be fairly rare."

Mr Low did not require the services of his translator for yesterday's hearing, which unfolded into a testy showdown between the veteran politician and Mr Singh, a top litigator.

At one point, Mr Singh was questioning Mr Low about the software he would need to manage AHTC.

"But... if you were going to continue to use your in-house software for a larger constituency, it would need to be upgraded," said Mr Singh.

"Upscaled," Mr Low interjected.

Mr Singh retorted: "Thank you for correcting my English."

"Thank you, Mr Singh, for giving me a higher grade of English than Mr Lee Kuan Yew," replied Mr Low, to laughter from the packed gallery.

Mr Low did not specify what he was referring to, but in the 2006 General Election, the founding prime minister said Mr Low could not have written an apology letter by then WP candidate James Gomez because it was drafted in tight legal language and Mr Low's English was not good enough.

At another point during the cross-examination, Mr Singh spelt out the word "sources" letter by letter when Mr Low did not seem to understand his question about where a town council gets its money from.

Mr Singh also had to explain what "a herculean task" - a difficult job - meant, when he used the phrase in questioning.

Mr Singh also brought up grammatical tenses when he pointed to an e-mail Mr Low sent on May 9 2011, two days after the WP won Aljunied GRC. He noted Mr Low used the phrase "we will be appointing a (managing agent) instead of self-management". Aljunied Town Council was still being managed by CPG Facilities Management at that time.

Mr Singh sought to make the point that Mr Low and his fellow MPs had already decided to terminate the contract with CPG and appoint FM Solutions & Services in advance, which Mr Low disputed.

Mr Singh said: "Whether one is good at English or not... you wouldn't say something is to be done (if it was already the case) - it is done."

He referenced Mr Low's use of the phrase "we will appoint" to drive home his message.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 17, 2018, with the headline 'Testy showdown between Low and Davinder over language use'. Print Edition | Subscribe