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AHTC trial: Low Thia Khiang had ‘no other people to depend on’, says FMSS director on conflicts of interest

SINGAPORE — She and her husband owned FM Solutions and Services (FMSS). When the firm was appointed the managing agent of the Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (AHTC) that was run by the Workers' Party (WP) and the couple became town councillors, Ms How Weng Fan is accused of colluding with the party's Members of Parliament to hide the conflicts of interest.

AHTC trial: Low Thia Khiang had ‘no other people to depend on’, says FMSS director on conflicts of interest

Ms How Weng Fan, who was Aljunied-Hougang Town Council’s deputy secretary and general manager, spoke in court about working with former Workers' Party chief Low Thia Khiang.

SINGAPORE — She and her husband owned FM Solutions and Services (FMSS). When the firm was appointed the managing agent of the Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (AHTC) that was run by the Workers' Party (WP) and the couple became town councillors, Ms How Weng Fan is accused of colluding with the party's Members of Parliament to hide the conflicts of interest.

Senior Counsel Davinder Singh, who is representing the Pasir Ris-Punggol Town Council (PRPTC), called her out on Monday (Oct 29), saying that “business is not just business”.

On Tuesday, when she was re-examined by her lawyer Leslie Netto, Ms How said that she and her husband Danny Loh were persuaded by Mr Low Thia Khiang — who was WP's chief then — to set up FMSS after the party won the Aljunied Group Representation Constituency (GRC) from the ruling People's Action Party during the 2011 General Election.

Having worked with Mr Low in Hougang Town Council for more than 20 years, she said: “When you come to face Low Thia Khiang, who comes to you and persuades you… and recollects the times, challenges, difficulties and prejudices you faced at Hougang Town Council… business is not just business."

AHTC was formed after merging Aljunied Town Council with Hougang Town Council. Ms How, who later became AHTC’s deputy secretary and general manager, added: “You cannot ignore the fact that (Mr Low) will face even worst challenges in a GRC. He has no other people to depend on.”

Ms How and her late husband are among eight defendants in the multi-million-dollar lawsuit brought against them by PRPTC and an independent panel acting on behalf of AHTC over alleged improper payments made to FMSS and third-party service providers from 2011 to 2015.

In court on Tuesday, Ms How also said that her phone conversation with a KPMG staff member — parts of which were read out in court on Monday — were recorded by her. The KPMG employee, who contacted Ms How to discuss findings of its 2016 audit on AHTC, was not aware that she was recording the conversation.

On Monday, the court had heard details of this conversation, where Ms How raised concerns over WP chairman Sylvia Lim’s inexperience in running AHTC, as well as her opinion that Ms Lim was a “hopeless” chairperson of the town council.

NO CERTIFICATION ON WORKS DONE?

On Tuesday morning, FMSS director Yeo Soon Fei also took the stand as an eighth defence witness for the trial.

Mr Yeo was AHTC’s operations manager and deputy general manager from 2011 to 2015.

Mr David Chan, lawyer for the independent panel representing AHTC, said that the payment processes in the town council were “facilitated by the very people” who were also receiving the payment.

However, Mr Yeo replied that the invoice approvals were signed by different parties later on.

Mr Chan then said that the “chop” or stamp used by Mr Yeo for tax invoices for the town council — stating that work projects have been completed — was not to show that works had been done, but to “tally up the numbers” instead. There were no checks that the works had been completed.

While Mr Yeo agreed, he pointed out that if the works were not completed, then payment would not be made.

He added that changes were made in 2012, and that one more officer would review and affix a “chop” to certify that works had been delivered or completed, after ensuring the calculations were correct.

Mr Chan said that this “new measure” was not a certification. “It is an exercise to ascertain and determine the amount payable to each invoice. There was no certification on works done,” the lawyer insisted.

There were also no written records to show that works had indeed been completed, Mr Chan told Mr Yeo.

On Tuesday afternoon, four other witnesses — three FMSS employees and one AHTC staff member — took the stand, before the trial was adjourned.

The trial, which began on Oct 5, was scheduled to run till Friday. 

Both the plaintiffs and defendants will be given until Jan 18 next year to file their written closing submissions to the court. A court hearing for the closing submissions will likely be scheduled for some time in March.

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