Ex-PSP member Kala Manickam sues PSP for wrongful termination, seeks $10,000 reimbursement

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Kalla Manickam and Dr Tan Cheng Bock on a walkabout at Nee Soon GRC. PHOTO: Facebook (left) and Yahoo file photo (right).
Kala Manickam and Dr Tan Cheng Bock on a walkabout at Nee Soon GRC. PHOTO: Kala Manickam/Facebook (left) and Yahoo file photo (right).

Update: Kalayarasu Manickam has responded via her lawyers on her lawsuit against PSP.

SINGAPORE — A former member of the Progress Singapore Party (PSP) has taken the PSP to court over what she alleges was her wrongful termination from the opposition party.

Kalayarasu Manickam, who competed in PSP’s Nee Soon Group Representation Constituency (GRC) slate of candidates in last year’s General Election (GE), is applying for a declaration that her termination was “wrongful and invalid”.

Kala is also seeking to claw back $10,000 which she claims to have contributed as part of election expenses for the GE. 

PSP, founded in 2019 by veteran politician Dr Tan Cheng Bock, is challenging the application, which was filed in the High Court in July this year. 

When approached, Kala's lawyers from ADTLaw said, "The $10,000 referenced in the affidavits is in respect of the required contribution on account of election expenses all candidates were to have made, which our client duly paid to the party in full from her own funds. 

"Our client's claim for this sum is based on the party's alleged stoppage of resources to her in the course of campaigning for GE 2020, despite her aforesaid payment on account of election expenses."

The lawyer added that Kala's case arose from events post-GE, in which she sought an explanation for the resources that were stopped, and was also based on the "alleged violation of her due process rights".

Kala's affidavit documents, seen by Yahoo News Singapore, stated that she was terminated without regard to "the rights of due process" laid out in the party constitution. 

According to the party constitution, disputes between members are to be heard in a Special Party Conference. However, no such conference was convened, according to Kala. 

Kala also alleged that she was "kept in the dark" about charges against her by other members, and had been "suddenly suspended" from all Nee Soon-related matters from 12 September last year, while she was serving a quarantine order. 

While she was told that an investigation sub-committee would be formed to investigate her alleged disciplinary issues, she said that she was never told of its results.

PSP's response 

Court documents filed on behalf of PSP, seen by Yahoo News Singapore, stated that Kala was terminated from PSP on 24 December last year after efforts to reconcile her with the party were unsuccessful, with PSP chair Dr Tan stating that her termination was a "last resort". 

Affidavits from at least seven party members were submitted on behalf of PSP. They include Dr Tan, current secretary-general Francis Yuen and two Nee Soon GRC candidates, Muhammad Taufik Supan and Damien Tay Chye Seng, who contested alongside Kala in 2020. 

In his affidavit, Yuen said that Kala's application to be compensated $10,000 has "no basis". Each candidate contributed $10,000 towards the PSP's election expenses as the party did not have enough funds to cover all such expenses. 

The contribution was also to underscore the candidate's serious intention in contesting, Yuen said. Kala's expenses ran up to $33,627, and the party forked out $23,637, he added.

Fellow candidates: Kala conducted her own walkabouts  

In their affidavits, Taufik and Tay described Kala's behaviour during the GE campaign trail as "uncooperative" and "disruptive". 

Tay, who led the Nee Soon GRC team, said that Kala’s behaviour had “undermined the cohesiveness of the Nee Soon team”, which comprised Tay, Kala, Taufik, S Nallakaruppan and Bradley Peter Bowyer, who has since resigned from the party. 

According to Tay, Kala did not join the team for morning meetings at coffeeshops and walkabouts, even though all candidates had agreed to do so. Kala also demanded that things be done her way, with no regard to anyone else’s opinion. 

She would go for walkabouts on her own with her own volunteers rather than party volunteers, and only turned up at two team walkabouts in the nine days of campaigning, claimed Taufik. 

This meant that the candidates could not appear as a team in front of the media and residents, Tay added. Kala had also ranted about Tay being a “lousy leader” and went behind his back to arrange a walkabout with Dr Tan and PSP member Lee Hsien Yang. 

The purported problems with Kala culminated in a petition filed by 17 party members and a party volunteer to PSP’s central executive committee on 26 August last year, calling for her removal. The petition cited Kala’s alleged disrespect towards Tay and her controlling attitude, amongst other reasons. 

An investigation sub-committee then recommended that Kala be redeployed to "start anew" as she could still be an asset to PSP should she be “persuaded to change her attitude”. 

Dr Tan: Kala's conduct tantamount to insubordination

In a separate affidavit, Dr Tan said that Kala’s termination was due to her "uncompromising attitude", even though she was "resourceful, outspoken, and had strong fighting spirit".

On 25 November last year, Dr Tan and three CEC members met with Kala in an attempt at reconciliation, but her conduct was “far from conciliatory”, said Dr Tan. “I recall that when (Kala) entered the meeting room on 25 November 2020, she appeared composed but confrontational, as if she was raring for a fight.”  

As Dr Tan started to explain the objective of the meeting, Kala allegedly cut him off and insisted she had done nothing wrong. 

“Each time any of us tried to stop her to say something, she would shout over us and continue with an angry spiel about the wrongdoings of the other members of the Nee Soon GRC team. (Kala) then aggressively questioned if we had any proof of her wrongdoings by shouting, 'WHAT PROOF? WHAT PROOF?'" stated Dr Tan.

The meeting ended with a CEC member asked to speak to Kala privately to propose a reconciliation. However, Kala allegedly proposed her own conditions, including continuing being a member of the Nee Soon GRC team.

The CEC then held a meeting, during which it declined to accede to Kala’s conditions. The CEC concluded that PSP was unable to work with Kala and decided to terminate her membership. It gave Kala a week to tender her resignation from 17 December last year. When Kala did not do so, the party terminated her membership on 24 December last year. 

Her termination letter, signed off by Dr Tan, stated that her conduct in the 25 November meeting "was disrespectful and tantamount to insubordination". 

Kala unsuccessfully appealed the termination on 30 December. On 19 February this year, Kala again sought to appeal, addressing an email to the party conference of cadre members.

On 28 March this year, 66 out of 71 cadre members attended the PSP party conference and voted on her appeal, with the majority voting to reject her appeal. 

The case has been transferred from the High Court and is now pending before the State Courts. 

When approached by Yahoo News Singapore, PSP declined to comment on the matter.

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