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AHTC Trial: WP was stripped of its town council management computer system by $2 AIM

At the Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (AHTC) trial yesterday (8 Oct), the defence acting on behalf of WP MPs Sylvia Lim, Low Thia Khiang and Pritam Singh, along with other AHTC councillors, said that the audit reports which the lawsuits were based on, fail to recognise the dire circumstances WP MPs and councillors were put into.

At the time when WP took over the running of Aljunied town council after 2011 GE, it was “stripped of its town council management computer system (TCMS)”, the defence said.

WP had to do their best to upscale their Hougang computer management system to handle the whole of Aljunied GRC.

The defence lawyer also pointed to the fact that the so-called IT firm Action Information Management Pte Ltd (AIM) had terminated its contract with Aljunied town council after WP took over, and refused to let WP continue to use the TCMS software.

WP was forced to scramble to upscale their Hougang computer management system in order to handle the much larger Aljunied GRC.

“Despite this, AHTC was subjected to continuing audit from 2012 to 2016,” said the defence lawyer. “During the early part of this period, AHTC was still in the process of upscaling the computer system. And yet, no one, not even KPMG or PwC, mentions this withdrawal of this vital TCMS and its effects (in their audit reports).”

“It is (my clients’) case that in all these audit reports the plaintiffs have failed to recognise the predicament that AHTC was in,” he added.

It is very unusual that both lawsuits are “based on audit reports and not facts”, the lawyer said. His clients “intend to challenge the accuracy and the correctness of these audit reports”.

TCMS software sold off to $2 company owned by PAP before 2011 GE

In fact, the TCMS software was originally built for PAP town councils by National Computer Systems (NCS), obviously paid for by residents' conservancy fees.

In June 2010, slightly less than a year from 2011 GE, the PAP called an "open tender" to sell away the software. AIM, a $2 company owned by PAP, submitted the sole bid and won the rights to buy over the software for $140,000. It was considered a bargain since PAP town councils probably paid millions to NCS to develop it. The software was finally transferred to AIM in Jan 2011, 4 months before 2011 GE.

After AIM bought over the software, it leased the software back to PAP town councils for $785 a month. AIM also engaged back NCS to maintain and further develop the system.

What was more incredible was AIM only had two part-time staff. Its three directors were all former PAP MPs: Mr S. Chandra Das, Mr Chew Heng Ching and Mr Lau Ping Sum.

At the time after AIM terminated its contract with WP-run Aljunied town council in Aug 2011, WP Chairman Sylvia Lim was visibly angry.

"What justification was there for the Town Councils to relinquish ownership (of the systems) and leave the continuity of the Town Council operations at the mercy of a third party (AIM)? Residents all over Singapore have a right to know," she said in a public statement.

Noting that PAP MP Teo Ho Pin had admitted that AIM was "fully-owned" by the PAP, she pointed out further that the PAP-managed town councils "had seen it fit to sell away their ownership of the systems, developed with public funds, to a political party, which presumably could act in its own interests when exercising its rights to terminate the contracts".

Later Mr Teo came out in public to defend PAP's action saying that the software agreement which allowed AIM to terminate its deal with just a month's notice was deemed "reasonable".

He explained the reason for PAP town councils selling and leasing the software back from AIM, which was allowed to terminate the contract with any town council that experiences a "material change in composition".

"This (the clause) is reasonable as the contractor has agreed to provide services on the basis of the existing (town council) and town boundaries, and priced this assumption into the tender," he said. "Should this change materially, the contractor could end up providing services to a town council which comprises a much larger area and more residents, but at the same price."

He also explained that the sale took place because it was "cumbersome and inefficient" to have 14 individual town councils hold intellectual property rights to the software being used by all of them. He further added that the move to sell resulted in savings of about $8,000 for the town councils.