FMSS director’s phone conversation with KPMG employee revealed intention to remove allegedly “hopeless” AHTC chairperson Sylvia Lim

Source: TODAY Online

Tensions heightened during the Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (AHTC) trial as a phone conversation between director of the town council’s former managing agent FM Solutions and Services (FMSS) and a KPMG employee was revealed in court on Monday (29 Oct).

A transcript of the phone conversation between How Weng Fan — who was also AHTC’s deputy secretary — and the KPMG employee was read out by one of the plaintiffs’ lawyers, Senior Counsel Davinder Singh, on the 16th day of the hearing for the high-profile lawsuit.

Three Workers’ Party Members of Parliament (MPs) — Mr Low Thia Khiang, Mr Pritam Singh and Ms Sylvia Lim — are being sued by an independent panel representing AHTC and Pasir Ris-Punggol Town Council (PRPTC) for making allegedly “improper” payments to FMSS and other service providers under the capacity of AHTC’s town councillors between 2011 and 2015.

Ms How was contacted via phone call by a KPMG employee in 2016 to discuss the audit firm’s findings as stated in its report on AHTC, and in the phone conversation, it was revealed that Ms How had branded Ms Lim — the chairperson of both AHTC and her political party WP — a “hopeless” and “inexperienced” town councillor who was “so scared of everything” in politics, unlike Mr Low.

“From Day One, when I knew that she was going to be the chairman… oh dear, the town council is going to die,” lamented Ms How in the phone conversation.

In the phone conversation, she had also expressed her dissatisfaction towards Mr Low, who she believed had “played” her “out” by placing Ms Lim as the town council’s chairperson.

“She will do things to protect herself only. Then I told (Mr Low) you have to replace her… (to straighten out the town council). He doesn’t want to listen.”

Ms How was also recorded as saying that “All (the People’s Action Party) needs to do is to ask me for my views on the (elected) MPs… I think they [WP MPs] will surely die straight away lah,” and that if AHTC did not defend her, it was “digging (its own) grave.”

Counsel Singh then asked her if she was hinting at possessing information that would “finish them (WP MPs) off” and would “destroy them politically,” to which Ms How replied that while she did not, every party involved would be “dragged through the mud” due to how the media would report the situation.

“But we would be dragged through the mud because of how the press would report. It’s a grave. I can’t get any jobs. I can’t get any contracts for my company. (The MPs) will lose their seats and all that. If for one reason or another, the truth has been turned into lies … they will lose their seats. With all this political bullshit this is what is going to happen, look at what is happening!”

Justice Kannan Ramesh reminded her to mind her language, to which Ms How apologised and said that she got carried away with her testimony.

NCS withheld info from town council, WP MPs afraid to raise matter in public, says former AHTC General Manager

Ms How also alleged that Ms Lim had withheld crucial information related to payments made to the Housing and Development Board (HDB) for lift services from the auditors.

Mr Singh said: “The fact that the payments made to HDB were for lifts and services (that were) not rendered… these were improper and should (be) raised to KPMG to look into.”

“KPMG gave you an opportunity to explain and asked you to meet her – were you honest in your conversation with the employee?” probed Counsel Singh.

“AHTC should have listened to my advice … that [it] was not possible to do the audit because NCS had withheld crucial information from us … instead of allowing HDB to insist that they must do it,” replied Ms How.

Mr Singh prompted: “What is that advice they [AHTC town councillors] did not want to listen to?”

Ms How replied that FMSS had told the town council that they were not in a good position to do an audit, as they did not have the computer system for it and could not balance the figures, and that FMSS had advised the town councillors to come clean to the Ministry of National Development and the Housing Development Board about being unable to do an audit.

Mr Singh then charged, highlighting that KPMG indicated that the email archive related to Ms How was not in the device assigned to Ms How: “You destroyed the evidence – didn’t you? Danny Loh [Ms How’s late husband] also destroyed email archives.”

In what Mr Singh dubbed as a “convenient and sudden disappearance of evidence,” twenty-three documents and two email archives were deleted from the profile of a former FMSS employee on July 14, 2015, as well as 17 documents and four email archives from the profile of Loh on June 2, 2015.

“I am not an IT person,” rebutted Ms How. “I did not delete anything. I do not know who is JC. I do not know how to delete anything.”

She added: “I know that Danny – when he left – passed on all his emails to the chairman [Ms Lim].”

“Went through hell” with late husband to “set up the town council properly”: Ms How

Emotions were at an all-time high during the hearing when Ms How began blaming Ms Lim for her husband’s death: “You know I had to lose my husband… because of her (Ms Lim).”

The media reported that Mr Danny Loh had passed away in an accident in 2015.

She insisted, however, that her husband actually “died of a heart attack” while on holiday in Japan due to the stress.

When prompted by Justice Kannan Ramesh to elaborate on her statements, Ms How said that she and her late husband had gone “through hell to set up the town council properly,” and even reached a point where the two of them were forced to personally deal with the Auditor-General’s Office (AGO) and the auditing firms PwC and KPMG, adding that Mr Loh was still working out bonuses to staff members, even while on vacation.

“No one wanted to listen to the problems we (faced)… Because of the AGO report (where key lapses were found in the town council financial management)… (Ms Lim) felt compelled to impose liquidated damages (of S$250,000) on us.”

She also took Ms Lim to task for failing to stand up to the AGO report at the start.

“The report doesn’t tell everything … Events are not recorded properly. I spent five hours talking to AGO, I don’t think the minutes … (reflect that).”

AIM’s termination of TCMS due to Ms Lim’s reluctance to extend the contract: Ms How

The issue of the town council computer management system (TCMS) by AIM was also brought up by the KPMG employee during the phone call, to which Ms How replied: “She (Ms Sylvia Lim) doesn’t want to extend. It’s not that we do not want.”

Previously, in Ms Lim’s affidavit, she stated that AHTC’s interim secretary Jeffrey Chua had informed her and Ms How regarding AIM’s intention to cease providing the TCMS in June seven years ago.

“My sense was that (Mr Chua) gave us this heads-up so that we could make the necessary preparations,” said Ms Lim.

Earlier in the trial, Mr Singh had accused Ms Lim of deliberately setting up the “false impression” that an “upscale” of the town council’s computer system was needed due to AIM’s intention to withdraw its services from AHTC.

It was highlighted in the WP MPs’ opening statements that the “lack of a proper computerised system greatly hampered the management of the town council in its early days”.

Upscaling costs were also part of the damages sought by the plaintiffs from the lawsuit.

“Business is not just business” when it comes at “great risks and liabilities” to ourselves: Ms How

Mr David Chan, representing AHTC, charged against Ms How during the cross-examination: “You have presented an audio recording between you and Ms Eng of KPMG in yesterday’s proceedings … The audio recording was made by you.”
Ms How replied: “No, exactly, because its the office’s automated phone system.”
The defence counsel probed Ms How: “In your affidavit, you said that the computer company (SNI) — which was engaged on 15 Jun to upscale the computer system in June 2011 will testify to the difficulty of doing it, and how difficult it was to work, especially the finance — can you elaborate on this document?”
Ms How said: “I sent a report to Ms Lim to get approval to upgrade the system … When we knew from Jeffrey Chua that they would terminate the computer system for sure, we had to kickstart this process of upgrading and so we asked the vendor what we needed to procure … We were told by the vendor that the earliest to deliver was September, which was too late.
So, we asked SNI to loan to us – which they were initially reluctant to do – but otherwise we couldn’t work.”
When asked why she had sent a letter to Jeffrey Chua on 13 May 2011, Ms How replied: “Mr Low said from his last experience it took a very long time to get such information, so, better kickstart the process I thought.”
Defence counsel Mr Leslie Netto asked Ms How: “You were interrupted by the plaintiff’s counsel when you tried to explain why you did not advise on the requirements for a tender. Would you like to continue now?”
Ms How elaborated: “I was the deputy secretary of AHTC from 9 Jun – the waiver of the first contract was a decision to be made by the elected MPs and the councilors.
I knew that their situation was quite urgent, as CPG had confirmed that they were leaving AHTC … Jeffrey Chua spoke to me on 13 Jun and knew that AHTC would be going for a [new] managing agent,” she said.
She continued: “So, it would have been Jeffrey Chua whose position as secretary was to advise, and not for me to do so as the deputy secretary.”
When probed as to what the plaintiff’s counsel was referring to by ‘business is business,” Ms How said: “Business is not just business … With all the problems we had with the authorities and the media in AHTC, we were making commitments we had other than ‘business is business,’ at great risk and liabilities to ourselves.”
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