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AHTC case: WP MPs ‘had not acted honestly’ and tried to mislead, says judge

SINGAPORE — In arriving at his verdict following a year-long trial, High Court Judge Kannan Ramesh had strong words for the Workers’ Party (WP) Members of Parliament (MPs) sued by Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (AHTC) and Pasir Ris-Punggol Town Council (PRPTC) — calling them out for dishonest and improper conduct, among other things.

SINGAPORE — In arriving at his verdict following a year-long trial, High Court Judge Kannan Ramesh had strong words for the Workers’ Party (WP) Members of Parliament (MPs) sued by Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (AHTC) and Pasir Ris-Punggol Town Council (PRPTC) — calling them out for dishonest and improper conduct, among other things.

In particular, the appointment of former managing agent FM Solutions and Services (FMSS) without tender by party chairman Sylvia Lim, former chief Low Thia Khiang and current chief Pritam Singh and the subsequent “concerted attempt” to cloak it “with a veneer of truth and credibility collectively”, came in for harsh criticism by the judge in his 329-page written judgment released on Friday (Oct 11).

“It was an attempt to mislead, and a clinical demonstration of the disregard Ms Sylvia Lim and Mr Low Thia Khiang had for the requirements in the Town Councils Financial Rules,” said Justice Ramesh, who also chided the pair for putting political interests above that of AHTC and its residents.

Adding that the actions of Mr Low and Ms Lim were driven by “politics and a misguided sense of loyalty”, the judge said they had engineered a plan with the bosses of FMSS — both loyal WP supporters — to ensure that the company would be appointed AHTC’s managing agent.

“They did this by deliberately delaying the calling of tender so that time for doing so would be compressed,” he wrote. “This in turn served, as intended, as a convenient excuse and purported justification for the waiver of tender on the ground of exceptional circumstances, thereby facilitating the appointment of FMSS as managing agent under the first managing agent contract.”

He added: “Their motivations for doing so had nothing to do with the best interests of AHTC.”

The lack of candour on the part of Ms Lim and Mr Low also cast “serious doubt” on their integrity, Justice Ramesh said.

The amount claimed against the defendants exceeds S$33.7 million, but the actual sum that they eventually have to pay will only be decided in the next phase of the trial. 

If the WP MPs cannot pay, they will be deemed bankrupt, could lose their parliamentary seats, and will not be able to contest in the next General Election.

In a media statement, the Housing and Development Board (HDB) noted that the court has ruled that “some of the defendants had acted dishonestly and egregiously in their capacity as Town Councillors”.

“It found that the tender process in the Town Council had been subverted, related parties made money and public funds misused,” said HDB. “Other Town Councillors were also held to be in breach of their duties.”

HDB noted that the legal action was brought by an independent panel that AHTC had appointed. The panel was appointed after a court-appointed auditor, KPMG, found severe lapses and withholding of documents, it added.

“As public monies are involved, AHTC should take the appropriate steps to recover the monies misused,” said HDB, stating that it will study the matter further.

AHTC is claiming S$33.7 million — the total amount which had been paid to FMSS and service provider FM Solutions and Integrated Services.

While the actual amount that the WP MPs and other defendants eventually have to pay will be decided only in the next phase of the trial, Justice Ramesh said that not “every cent disbursed under the impugned contracts” is a loss to AHTC.

“This would be to entirely ignore the nature of the breach, which involved entering into various contracts for the provision of services,” he added. 

The loss to AHTC should be the difference between the amount of money paid out by the town council and the value of the services it received. The burden of proving the amount lost falls upon the plaintiffs, Justice Ramesh said. 

 

Related topics

AHTC judgment high court Pritam Singh Sylvia Lim Low Thia Khiang

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