Following its review of the Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (AHTC)’s reply regarding its rationale behind not requiring the recusal of two Workers’ Party (WP) Members of Parliament from its financial affairs, the Ministry of National Development (MND) on Friday (Jan 3) issued an order to the town council to limit the powers of Sylvia Lim and Low Thia Khiang in its financial matters.
In a statement on Fri (3 Jan), MND said that it has ordered AHTC to “restrict their [Sylvia Lim and Low Thia Khiang] powers with respect to certain financial decisions, in order to guard against a recurrence of irregularities caused by them”.
“The order does not preclude Ms Lim and Mr Low from continuing to serve as elected members of AHTC, and discharging all other functions and duties in their respective capacities, including taking part in discussions and voting in committees,” the Ministry added.
MND said that it has “carefully considered” AHTC’s 13 Dec reply, and noted that “the reasons provided by AHTC for not requiring Ms Lim and Mr Low to recuse themselves from all of AHTC’s financial matters do not relate directly to, and more importantly, do not detract from the grave and serious Court findings on Ms Lim’s and Mr Low’s conduct”.
“Further, while we note the measures that AHTC has put in place, it is not apparent – and AHTC has not demonstrated – how they would be effective to guard against a recurrence of irregularities arising from the acts of dishonest town councillors,” the Ministry added.
MND in its Town Council Management Report (TCMR) for the financial year 2018, which covers the period from Apr 2018 to Mar 2019, expressed its concern regarding whether the measures implemented under the advice of KPMG, the auditing firm appointed by AHTC pursuant to a Court order in 2015, “are adequate to guard against a recurrence of the past control failures if Ms Lim and Mr Low continue to be involved with AHTC’s financial affairs”.
“MND notes the recent High Court judgment in October 2019 which found that Ms Sylvia Lim and Mr Low Thia Khiang, both elected town councillors of AHTC, had acted dishonestly and in breach of their fiduciary duties, and that their conduct had lacked integrity and candour.
“Despite these serious and grave findings, AHTC has resolved during its recent quarterly meeting that Ms Lim and Mr Low do not need to recuse themselves from AHTC’s financial matters.
“In this regard, MND has written to AHTC on 4 December 2019 to request for information on AHTC’s reasons for not requiring Ms Lim’s and Mr Low’s recusal on AHTC’s financial matters, and on whether AHTC intends to implement other interim measures or safeguards,” said the ministry.
MND urged AHTC to “take interim measures to safeguard its procurement and payment processes immediately” in the name of “good governance”.
“Until and unless the Court findings in respect of Ms Lim’s and Mr Low’s conduct are reversed by the appellate Court, they remain good and should be taken seriously by AHTC,” MND added.