On Tuesday (5 November), Parliament debated a motion put forth by Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat for Worker’s Party (WP) MPs Sylvia Lim and Low Thia Khiang to recuse themselves from dealing with or having oversight over financial matters of the Aljunied-Huogang Town Council (AHTC) until the court case has ended.
In his long speech calling for the motion, Mr Heng referred to the High Court judgement which found Ms Lim, Mr Low, and WP chief Pritam Singh liable for damages suffered by AHTC, which it has been said made improper payments under their watch amounting to millions.
As Mr Heng delivered his motion, he claimed that Ms Lim and Mr Low had been “dishonest and deceptive and have failed in their duty to the Town Council”.
Ms Lim countered by seeking clarification from Mr Heng on his remarks that “millions have been lost”, to which he hesitated as he flipped through his folder before addressing Ms Lim’s other queries.
There was then a little back and forth between the ministers on various points with the DPM saying, “I moved this motion because this is a question of integrity, this is a question of the way that we deal honestly in parliament with our residents, with the public, and with our fellow town councillors.”
“I have asked very serious questions about how the transactions were done. I have pointed out very serious findings in all the audit reports, in all the high court findings, the court of appeal findings. But both of you have just stood up to ask me a series of little details.”
To this, WP MP Png Eng Huat retorted, “It is a question of integrity”.
Ms Lim then said, “DPM Heng Swee Keat’s filing of this motion at this point in time is telling but premature,” adding that “The PAP gov is clearly excited about certain findings and comments contained in the High Court judgement.”
She continued, “We have been studying the judgment with our lawyers since it was released and I can inform the house today that we have decided to appeal the judgment with the court of appeal.”
Following that, only a few minutes into what would turn out to be an almost 3-hour long debate, Mr Heng asked for an adjournment. He said, “Ms Sylvia Lim, a member, has said that she has made the point that it was not proper for me to raise this and I would like an adjournment for us to consider the matter and respond to you.”
Mr Pritam Singh countered that there was no need for an adjournment as the House had only just come back from a break. However, the speaker granted a 10-minute adjournment anyway.
The AHTC case
On 11 October, Judge Kannan Ramesh, in his written judgement, ruled that Lim and Low as town councillors had acted in breach of their fiduciary duties to AHTC, reasoning that the breach was evident in the waiver of tender leading to the award of the first managing agent contract to FM Solutions & Services (FMSS).
The waiver, said the judge, was “not justified under the Town Council Financial Rules (TCFR), and that subsequently, Lim and Low had “failed to act in AHTC’s best interests and had acted for extraneous purposes”.
“The evidence shows that there was a clear plan for FMSS to replace the incumbent MA CPG regardless of CPG’s intention as regards the existing MA contract, and that this decision was made by Ms Sylvia Lim and Mr Low Thia Khiang shortly after the 2011 General Elections,” said Justice Kannan.
“There was no urgency of circumstances that would have justified the waiver of tender, particularly since CPG was contractually obliged to continue serving as the MA under the existing MA contract, and the defendants should have held CPG to that contractual obligation, at least for such time as was necessary for a tender to be called,” he added.
As for Mr Singh, the judge said that while “it cannot be said that he has breached his fiduciary duties to AHTC” based on the available evidence, the former had breached his “duties of skill and care” to the Town Council in relation to the award of the first MA contract.