This Friday (5 Oct) marks the commencement of the civil lawsuits hearings against three Workers' Party (WP) Members of Parliament (MPs) over alleged improper payments made through town councils.
The civil lawsuits were brought upon in July and September last year by an independent panel on behalf of the Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (AHTC) and the Pasir-Ris Punggol Town Council (PRPTC).
Lawyers revealed after a pre-trial conference yesterday (2 Oct) that former WP secretary-general Low Thia Khiang and current chairperson Sylvia Lim will be expected to give the first testimonies in the hearing.
Present WP Secretary-General and AHTC chairman Pritam Singh, former member of the WP Youth Wing executive committee Chua Zhi Hon, deputy organising secretary of the WP and WP candidate for Nee Soon GRC in General Election 2015 Kenneth Foo Seck Guan, owner of the town council's former managing agent firm FM Solutions and Services (FMSS) How Weng Fan, and FMSS itself were also among the defendants named in the lawsuit.
Last year, the three WP MPs issued a joint statement to confirm the receipt of the claims, while rejecting the allegations made against them, and stressed that they have "acted in good faith and in the best interests of the Town Council and our residents".
The WP MPs also denied specifically the allegation that they had deliberately set up a faulty system which had led to the appointment of the town council's managing agent, on top of paving easy access for FMSS and/or the town council officers to benefit themselves.
Another allegation that they have denied was one concerning entering contracts with architects in violation of their duties owed to ATHC, for which Ms Lim and Mr Singh are expected to pay damages of S$2.8 million.
When queried about the profits made from the appointment of FMSS, Mr Low and Ms Lim insisted that they have “not benefited a single cent”.
The eight defendants were also probed on the sum of S$33.7 million that was paid to FMSS and FM Solutions & Integrated Services (FMSI) as its service provider.
Subsequently, the defendants were told to compensate for said alleged improper payments.
In 2013, the WP won the Punggol East single-member ward in a by-election. As a result, it was incorporated under AHTC to form the Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC).
However, a reconstitution of AHPETC took place following the defeat of WP in Punggol East in the 2015 General Election. As a result, AHPETC reverted to ATHC, while the management of Punggol East returned to PRPTC.
Last year, AHTC received instructions from the Housing and Development Board (HDB) to appoint a third party to recover improper payments after a KPMG report dated 31 Oct 2016 revealed improper payments totalling around S$1.5 million, with at least S$600,000 of which the audit firm said ought to be recovered.
Another writ of summons was also filed by AHTC in the High Court against FMSS on the same date in July last year relation to an arbitration case over a financial dispute emerging from the lapses at the town council found in a KPMG audit report of ATHC last year, which "had put public funds running into millions of dollars at risk of improper use", according to The Straits Times.
AHTC’s lawsuit against the WP MPs and its town councillors had stated that while it did not claim any losses that are attributable to PRPTC, it would like to make a plea for a full quantum for the case.
PRPTC said it launched its own legal proceedings in order to “discharge its duty to its residents to recover what is due”.
The two town councils’ auditors from KPMG and PwC will also be expected to take the stand at some point along the hearings.
The WP MPs will be represented by Tan Rajah & Cheah. Lawyer Chelva Retnam Rajah will be heading the defence counsel team.
The independent AHTC panel is represented by Shook Lin and Bok LLP through a team led by lawyer David Chan.
PRPTC is separately represented by Drew & Napier, while FMSS is represented by Netto & Magin LLC.