WP decided to have new managing agent just days after GE: Davinder

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The Workers' Party (WP) plan to hire a new managing agent for its town council in 2011 was not devised as a contingency against the withdrawal of its existing agent, Senior Counsel Davinder Singh said yesterday.

Instead, the WP MPs had decided to appoint a new managing agent within three days of winning Aljunied GRC - even before the GRC's agent CPG Facilities Management had told them on May 30 that it wanted to pull out of its contract.

Mr Singh made the point when cross-examining former WP chief Low Thia Khiang on the eighth day of a multimillion-dollar civil lawsuit involving three WP MPs.

He said: "I suggest to you, Sir, that on the morning of the first working day after the election, you had sealed CPG's fate."

"You had decided to... appoint a company in which (then secretary of Hougang Town Council How Weng Fan) would be involved as the managing agent," Mr Singh added, referencing an e-mail that Mr Low sent to his party's newly-elected MPs.

This was despite CPG's experience and Mr Low not having read the terms of its contract, said Mr Singh, who argued that in doing so, the WP MPs compromised residents' interests.

  • Key dates of events in 2011

  • May 7: WP wins Aljunied GRC in the general election. 

    May 9: WP MPs meet to discuss what Mr Low Thia Khiang says was a contingency plan should CPG pull out of running the town council. But Mr Davinder Singh suggests it was in preparation for the setting up of FMSS. 

    May 12: Application made to register the FMSS company name. 

    May 13: Ms How Weng Fan sends letter to CPG on taking over management of Aljunied Town Council. Mr Singh suggests it was clear Hougang Town Council will take over management of Aljunied GRC, but Mr Low says it refers to WP taking over the GRC from the PAP. 

    May 30: CPG informs WP it wants to pull out of contract.

Mr Low disagreed on every count, saying repeatedly: "That is not true."

The sequence of events from 2011 that emerged from the cross-examination was as follows:

• May 7: WP wins Aljunied GRC.

• May 9: WP MPs meet to discuss plans for the running of the town council.

• May 12: Application made to register the FM Solutions & Services (FMSS) company name.

• May 13: Ms How sends a letter to CPG on taking over management of Aljunied Town Council.

• May 30: CPG informs WP that it wants to pull out of the contract.

During the cross-examination, Mr Low, when asked if any of the "highly educated" members of his team referred to the plan as a contingency in their e-mail replies, said there was no such reply.

He added that on May 9, no decision had been made to replace CPG and appoint another agent.

Mr Singh said Ms How's husband Danny Loh had, on May 12, 2011, applied to the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority to register FMSS' company name.

Logically, Mr Singh said, this meant Mr Low and Ms How had discussed setting up the company before that date. Yet, nothing was done to inform CPG there would be a new managing agent.

Mr Low replied there was no decision made at the time to replace CPG and, if the MPs had made such a decision, CPG would have to be told. He also said CPG had wanted out and asked for mutual release. When it was released, the town councillors appointed a new agent.

But Mr Singh noted that a letter which was sent by Ms How to CPG on May 13 - 17 days before CPG said it would pull out - gave a different impression.

Written with the letterhead of Hougang Town Council, she said "we" had been instructed by the MPs to arrange to take over the town council management.

 
 
 

Mr Low replied that this referred to the WP taking over from the People's Action Party (PAP).

Mr Singh said the letter was deliberately designed to give CPG the impression that the MPs had decided to manage AHTC in-house. It was a "calculated" move to avoid calling a tender and risking that another agent other than FMSS would get the job, he added.

Mr Low disagreed that this was the intent, saying it was a contingency, and later adding that it anticipated CPG's pullout.

Mr Low, WP chairman Sylvia Lim and current chief Pritam Singh are among eight defendants sued by Pasir Ris-Punggol Town Council (PRPTC) over alleged losses suffered when Punggol East was run by the opposition town council.

Mr Singh represents PRPTC, which in 2016 appointed audit firm PwC to review past payments made by Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (AHTC) relating to Punggol East, which the WP took charge of after a 2013 by-election. The PAP won it back in the 2015 polls.

The other defendants include AHTC's former managing agent FMSS and its main owners, Ms How and the late Mr Loh.

Earlier in the day, Mr Singh said residents would expect their town councillors to watch their money, act lawfully and manage the transition well, and not cut off an experienced firm without proper due diligence and consideration.

"But none of that mattered... You have come to this court to talk about politics, but instead what you were doing was putting politics above the residents," he added.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 17, 2018, with the headline 'WP decided to have new managing agent just days after GE: Davinder'. Print Edition | Subscribe