Punggol East lawsuit to be handled by the newly-formed Sengkang Town Council

Punggol East lawsuit to be handled by the newly-formed Sengkang Town Council

The Ministry of National Development (MND) revealed on Wednesday (22 July) that the newly-formed Workers’ Party-run Sengkang Town Council (SKTC) will be taking over the management of a lawsuit commenced by the Pasir Ris-Punggol Town Council (PRPTC).

The lawsuit was initiated by PRPTC against WP chairman Sylvia Lim, former party chief Low Thia Khiang and six other defendants in the High Court.

The PRPTC filed the ongoing civil suit to retrieve alleged losses suffered by the former Punggol East SMC, which is now part of the Sengkang GRC that the WP won in the recent general election.

“As the former Punggol East SMC has become a part of Sengkang GRC, its rights and duties, including the management of the lawsuit initiated by PRPTC, will be handed over to the new town,” MND said.

It added that it cannot comment on specific legal actions or arrangements, as they are the prerogative of the involved town councils.

MND also explained that the transfer of lawsuit will happen by end of July, when the new town councils are formed after an official declaration by the Minister of National Development.

However, it is unknown if Senior Counsel Davinder Singh, who has been representing PRPTC in the case, will still continue to represent the new Sengkang Town Council.

The Straits Times reported that both WP and Mr Singh’s law firm, Davinder Singh Chambers, did not respond to comment on the matter on Wednesday.

The PRPTC’s lawsuit started after the WP-run Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (AHTC) had taken the same defendants to court.

Initially, Punggol East was handled by AHTC from 2013 to 2015. However, in GE2015, the People’s Action Party (PAP) won back the constituency. In GE2020, the electoral boundaries were redrawn and Punggol East became part of Sengkang GRC.

PRPTC and the WP town councillors are appealing against a High Court decision which ruled, among other things, that Ms Lim and Mr Low had breached their fiduciary duties to the town council.

The amount payable to the plaintiffs will be assessed separately.

Assistant Professor of Law Benjamin Ong from the Singapore Management University noted that in theory, SKTC could apply to the court to discontinue the claim entirely.

“However, because the proceedings are at such a late stage, SKTC would require the court’s permission to discontinue the suit. Further, the court would be able to impose conditions on the discontinuance,” he said.

He went on to say that even if the court permits the lawsuit to be discontinued, it can still be allow SKTC to restart proceedings against the defendants in the future.

If that’s not all, the Minister for National Development can also have the power to ask SKTC to resume proceedings under Section 43D of the Town Councils Act, Prof Ong said, adding that this is speculation on his end.

“I say it is possible because, as far as I know, Section 43D, which was introduced in 2017, has never been used before, so the precise scope of the minister’s powers under Section 43D has yet to be pronounced on authoritatively by the courts,” he explained.

Another possible thing to do is for the minister to give financial grants to SKTC condition on it going ahead with the legal proceedings against the defendants or, depending on the timing of the grant, conditional on SKTC not going ahead with the civil suit in the first place, Prof Ong noted.

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