Having successfully contested in seven general elections, Low Thia Khiang is arguably Singapore’s most successful opposition politician.
But the longest-serving opposition Member of Parliament in Singapore’s history faces possibly his greatest challenge yet – this time just across the road from Parliament House, in the High Court. The MP for nearly three decades is named as a co-defendant in two civil suits revolving around $33.7 million in residents’ monies alleged to have been improperly spent by their town council.
Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (AHTC) and Pasir Ris-Punggol Town Council (PRPTC) are suing Low, who is the former chief of the Workers’ Party (WP), WP chairman Sylvia Lim and chief Pritam Singh, along with AHTC councillors Chua Zhi Hon, Kenneth Foo Seck Guan, WP supporter How Weng Fan and FM Solutions and Services (FMSS), which was AHTC’s former managing agent.
FMSS was set up in the wake of WP winning Aljunied GRC in the 2011 general elections (GE) and it took over from CPG Facilities Management. How and her late husband Danny Loh Chong Meng were directors and shareholders of FMSS.
The two town councils allege, among other things, a breach of fiduciary duties and improper payments made to FMSS and its service provider FM Solutions and Integrated Services (FMSI), between 15 July 2011 and 14 July 2015.
AHTC’s suit was initiated in July last year at the direction of an independent panel. Two months later, PRPTC initiated its suit.
AHTC was formed after the WP won Hougang SMC and Aljunied GRC in the 2011 GE. Punggol East SMC was won by WP in the January 2013 by-election and joined AHTC, which became known as AHPETC. After WP lost Punggol East in the 2015 GE, the constituency became part of PRPTC, and AHPETC reverted to AHTC.
Public hearings began in the High Court on 5 October with opening statements from the plaintiffs, followed by the defendants’ lawyers. Two accountants then took the witness stand for the plaintiffs’ case – KPMG executive director Owen Hawkes and PwC partner Goh Thien Phong.
Low, 62, is set to take the stand in the high-profile case as the first witness for the defendants on Tuesday afternoon (15 October), where he is expected to add a strong political tenor to the courtroom.
As set out in his lawyer’s opening statement, Low is expected to testify about the evolution of town councils to show that they are institutions with a strong political dimension. He would likely point out historical difficulties faced by opposition town councils, including his own experience running Hougang SMC after the 1991 general election.
The suits are being heard before Justice Kannan Ramesh, with hearings expected to run till 2 November.
On the plaintiff’s side, AHTC is being represented by David Chan, while PRP is being represented by Senior Counsel Davinder Singh. On the defendants’ side, Senior Counsel Chelva Rajah is representing the three WP MPs, as well as Chua and Foo. Leslie Netto is representing How and FMSS.