DPM: WPs' Lim, Low must recuse themselves from AHTC financial matters
Deputy Prime Minister says recusal is the least Workers' Party leaders can do after High Court ruling
Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat wondered how long The Workers' Party (WP) would "continue to duck, dodge and deny", as he and several People's Action Party (PAP) colleagues blasted the opposition MPs in charge of Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (AHTC) in Parliament yesterday.
The PAP MPs voted in favour of a motion calling for WP leaders Sylvia Lim and Low Thia Khiang to recuse themselves from all financial matters related to AHTC.
The move comes after a High Court ruling last month that Ms Lim and Mr Low had acted dishonestly and breached their fiduciary duties when appointing former managing agent FM Solutions and Services without a tender and were liable for damages suffered by the town council.
Chiding the WP for its silence following Justice Kannan Ramesh's verdict on Oct 11, Mr Heng, who tabled the motion, asked current AHTC chairman Muhamad Faisal Manap if he would apologise to residents, and said recusal was the least Ms Lim and Mr Low could do.
He said: "Very serious adverse findings were made against them - findings that go to the heart of the integrity of these MPs. How can they remain in charge... as if it is business as usual?"
But Ms Lim, who is AHTC's vice-chairman, said the Aljunied GRC MPs involved in the lawsuit would appeal Justice Ramesh's ruling before the deadline next Monday, and called Mr Heng's motion premature.
WP chief Pritam Singh, also a defendant in the suit, said the timing of the filing of the motion was unusual as the window for appeal was still open.
"The PAP must explain truthfully what is its motive in hurriedly filing this motion before this case is concluded," he said.
"There is no reason for Parliament to be prematurely hijacked as a substitute for the judicial process."
Yesterday's vote was split 52 to nine along party lines, with two Nominated MPs, Prof Walter Theseira and Ms Anthea Ong, abstaining.
While they agreed with the principles behind the motion, the NMPs noted that it is not binding, with Prof Theseira adding that calling for Ms Lim and Mr Low's recusal would have the effect of a political resolution.
Responding to these concerns, Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee said the motion was not about partisanship and the Government recognises the political nature of town councils and accepts that political considerations can go into the appointment of contractors.
"But there is a proper process and there are rules that govern even a creature of politics," said Mr Lee, who is also Second Minister for National Development.
Citing the Ang Mo Kio Town Council corruption scandal where the errant general manager had to step down, Mr Lee said the management of a company would recuse themselves if the same had happened in the corporate context.
Mr Lee added: "What would the public expect? What would our friends from the Workers' Party expect if there were such a finding... made of one of my colleagues or one of the members of the ruling party? What would they be calling for?"
Mr Heng reiterated that it was an independent panel appointed by the WP in February 2017 that filed the suit against the WP MPs, not the Ministry of National Development or the Housing Board.
Accusing the WP MPs of misleading their own town councillors, auditors, Parliament and the public, Mr Heng said he was disappointed that Ms Lim and Mr Singh had chosen to hide behind the ongoing appeal.
Mr Heng said the Aljunied GRC MPs had knowingly sacrificed their residents' interest in favour of their friends.
"Allowing your friends to help themselves to public funds - that is a tale that belongs to the Third World, not Singapore," said Mr Heng.
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WP chief Pritam Singh backs AHTC colleagues
Over the course of a four-hour debate, Workers' Party (WP) chief Pritam Singh and Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (AHTC) chairman Muhamad Faisal Manap stood firmly behind colleagues Sylvia Lim and Low Thia Khiang.
After the motion passed in Parliament yesterday calling for Ms Lim and Mr Low to recuse themselves from all financial matters related to AHTC, Mr Singh told the House that it would be up to the town councillors to make the final decision.
Said Mr Singh: "In any such decision, Mr Low and Ms Lim will excuse themselves from voting on the issue and will not participate in any discussion of the matter. On my part, I have absolute trust and confidence in both Ms Lim and Mr Low's leadership and their continued participation on the town council.
"I will not be voting for them to be recused from financial matters... even if this motion passes."
All nine WP MPs had voted against the motion tabled by Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat, which came in the wake of the High Court ruling last month that found Ms Lim and Mr Low in breach of their fiduciary duties.
For an hour, Mr Heng recounted in painstaking detail how the saga unfolded over eight years.
Under former managing agent FM Solutions and Services (FMSS), AHTC ran up deficits of $2 million by the third year, from a surplus of $3.3 million under the previous managing agent, Mr Heng said.
Second Minister for National Development Desmond Lee pointed out that FMSS made $1.5 million in profits in the first full year, which shot up to some $3.2 million in the second year.
He asked: "How is this protecting the interest of residents and safeguarding the use of public funds?"
Mr Faisal also vouched for Ms Lim and Mr Low and said he had full confidence them, having worked with them since 2011.
Reiterating points made by Ms Lim and Mr Singh, including their intention to appeal, Mr Fasial said his call as a responsible chairman was to wait until the Court of Appeal's verdict before taking any action.
Senior Minister of State for Law Edwin Tong pressed Mr Faisal on what he intended to do between now and the appeal, and said recusal would safeguard the interests of the town council and residents whatever the outcome.
Mr Heng said he was troubled by Mr Faisal's stance, which indicated a refusal to take steps to protect public funds and to protect the money of residents.
He said: "Given this position, the Government will be forced to express its concerns to AHTC's own independent panel."