Far from exercising due diligence in appointing a new managing agent for Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (AHTC) after the 2011 general election, the Workers’ Party’s former chief Low Thia Khiang misled incumbent managing agent CPG Facilities Management into thinking that its services would no longer be needed, the High Court heard from a lawyer on Tuesday (16 October).
And one of the reasons for the lack of due diligence, Senior Counsel Davinder Singh asserted, was that Low wanted to set up a managing agent that could handle towns won by opposition parties in future. “This is as ‘bad faith’ as it can get,” said Singh, who is representing Pasir Ris-Punggol Town Council (PRPTC).
Singh was cross-examining Low on the eighth day of a hearing centring around $33.7 million in residents’ monies alleged to have been improperly spent by their town council.
In fact, Low had made up his mind to remove CPG Facilities Management within days of winning the election on 7 May 2011 “at all costs and (had) subordinated residents’ interests”, Singh said.
“You come to this court to talk about politics, but what you’ve done is to put politics above residents,” Singh told Low in court.
“That’s not true,” replied a composed Low. The veteran opposition politician maintained on the witness stand in a courtroom packed with about 50 WP supporters that he had acted in good faith and did not misuse town council funds.
Low also maintained that the post-election plan by the WP team that won Aljunied GRC in 2011 was to prepare for a “contingency” should CPG call it quits, even when Singh pointed out that an application had been made to form the new managing agent, FM Solutions and Services (FMSS), on 12 May – five days after the election.
Low reiterated that no decision was made to remove CPG until the managing agent told WP MPs at the end of May 2011 that it did not want to continue running the town council.
On why there were no discussions with regard to damages, as CPG still had a contract with AHTC, Low said the consideration he had at that point in time was to ensure that residents’ services were not affected.
The atmosphere was tense at times during the hearing. When asked by Singh if Low had checked on the town council’s contractual obligations with CPG, Low replied, “Do you want to know the reason why I didn’t check?” Singh replied, “I’ll ask the questions, you give me the answers.”
Later on, when Low chuckled on the stand, Singh said, “You used residents’ monies and you laugh on the stand.” Low replied, “I find your questions funny.”
Raising his index finger and looking stern, Low added, “I have not spent a single cent of residents’ money improperly.”
The first 15 minutes of the hearing saw Low’s lawyer Senior Counsel Chelva Rajah and Singh argue about whether the MP should have a Mandarin interpreter by his side. Rajah said Low’s command of English was not great.
But Singh said he had not been told of the need for an interpreter and called the move a “stunt” which would “seriously prejudice” his case by reducing his time for cross-examination. Low’s affidavit in English showed a strong command of the language, Singh said, alleging that the move “can merely be to run down the clock or to cause it to be extended to my detriment and to allow him to think about his answers”.
Rajah reassured Justice Kannan Ramesh that Low would endeavour to reply in English as best as he could.
Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (AHTC) and PRPTC are suing Low, 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 FMSS. 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.
On the plaintiff’s side, apart from PRPTC, AHTC is being represented by David Chan. On the defendants’ side, in addition to Low, Rajah is also representing the the other two WP MPs, as well as Chua and Foo. Leslie Netto is representing How and FMSS.
The hearing will resume on Wednesday morning.