The Workers’ Party (WP) Members of Parliament (MP) do not have a legal obligation to recuse themselves from the Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (AHTC)’s financial matters, according to a partner at law firm Eugene Thuraisingam LLP.
Suang Wijaya told The Straits Times, as seen in an article published on Thu (7 Nov), that legal recuse from a matter “is generally justified if someone has a personal interest” in said matter.
An example of having a personal stake in a matter is “when a decision is being made on whether to award a contract to a company and the person happens to be a shareholder of that company”, he added.
Mr Wijaya also argued that it would be “premature” to comment on the WP MPs’ potential criminal or further civil liability, as court proceedings are still ongoing.
DPM Heng Swee Keat’s decision to file Parliamentary motion “premature”: WP MPs Sylvia Lim and Pritam Singh
The lawyer’s comments came on the heels of a Parliamentary motion on Tue (5 Nov), which called upon the WP MPs – chairman Sylvia Lim and former chief Low Thia Khiang – to recuse themselves from AHTC’s financial matters following a High Court judgement, in which the two WP MPs and party chief Pritam Singh were found guilty last month of breaching their fiduciary duties as AHTC’s town councillors.
Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat, in his opening address of the debate, called on the WP to “take action” in light of said court judgement.
“All that this House is asking, is for Ms Sylvia Lim and Mr Low Thia Khiang to recuse themselves from dealing with or having oversight over financial matters, until the court case is concluded,” said Mr Heng.
Mr Heng, who is also the Finance Minister and the People’s Action Party (PAP)’s first assistant secretary-general, added that “this is the least they can do” given the court’s findings.
Stating that Mr Heng had acted “prematurely” in filing the motion, WP chairman Sylvia Lim called upon the House to reject the motion.
She also responded that she and her colleagues have reviewed the judgment with their lawyers, and that they will be filing an appeal to the Court of Appeal.
WP chief Pritam Singh also challenged Mr Heng’s motion, and concurred with Ms Lim that the decision was “hurried and premature”.
“There is no reason for Parliament to be prematurely hijacked as a substitute for the judicial process”, said Mr Singh.
“The Workers’ Party have read the motion carefully, and all the Workers’ Party MPs will unanimously vote against it.”
The motion was passed after over four hours of debate. Among the MPs who were present, 52 supported the motion, while only nine MPs – all from WP – voted against it. Two MPs abstained from voting, namely Nominated MPs Anthea Ong and Walter Theseira.
Currently, the Singapore Parliament has 82 PAP MPs, 9 WP MPs and 9 NMPs.
WP former chief Low Thia Khiang states willingness to recuse himself from AHTC discussions and voting processes
A day after the motion was passed in Parliament, Mr Low told reporters on the sidelines of his Meet the People session in Hougang yesterday (6 Nov) that he is willing to recuse himself from discussions pertaining to AHTC matters.
“I will recuse myself from participating in any discussion… [and] for the voting if there is a vote to be taken,” he said, adding that his role in the Town Council’s financial matters “is very limited”.
“I am only a member of the committee who looks at some projects and some of the approvals,” Mr Low added.
Responding to a question on what WP’s move on the issue will be, Mr Low said that he does not want to “prejudge or anticipate what the town councillors will do”, as the matter “has nothing to do with WP”.
“WP is a separate legal entity,” he stressed.
Touching on whether Ms Lim would also recuse herself from AHTC’s discussions and voting processes, Mr Low said that while he could not speak on her behalf, he thinks that she would “do the same”.
When asked if he would continue with his present roles at AHTC in the event that he is not legally compelled to recuse himself from his responsibilities in the Town Council, Mr Low answered that “we (would) think about it” once a decision is made.
He noted that Faisal Manap, chairman of AHTC and another MP under the Aljunied Group Representation Constituency, said that the issue will tabled at the next quarterly town-council meeting, the date of which has yet to be determined.