House asks WP's Lim, Low to stand down from AHTC's financial matters
52 MPs vote in favour of motion moved by DPM Heng in wake of High Court judgment.
Parliament yesterday called on Workers' Party (WP) MPs Sylvia Lim and Low Thia Khiang to recuse themselves from all financial matters at Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (AHTC) in the wake of a High Court judgment against them.
Moving the motion, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat criticised the WP for remaining "totally silent" for over three weeks since the court found that Mr Low and Ms Lim had acted dishonestly in awarding the managing agent contract to a company set up by their friends.
"Will they at long last be conducting their own investigation? Or will they continue to duck, dodge and deny?" Mr Heng asked, stressing that integrity is of the utmost importance for elected officials.
Ms Lim, who is WP chairman, however, called the motion "premature" as they would be appealing against the judgment. The Court of Appeal, she noted, could still review or vary the findings of the High Court.
After four hours of debate, the motion was passed with 52 MPs in favour and all nine WP MPs against. Two Nominated MPs abstained.
The motion is not legally binding, but sends a political signal to the WP MPs to make their position on the issue clear and act on it.
Justice Kannan Ramesh had found that Ms Lim and Mr Low, in awarding FM Solutions & Services (FMSS) a managing agent contract without calling a tender, after the WP won Aljunied GRC in 2011, had breached their fiduciary duties and were liable for damages suffered.
Mr Heng recounted how the saga unfolded over eight years, saying the WP had persistently refused to be transparent. The honest and honourable thing to do would have been to call an open tender but, to guarantee FMSS was appointed, both MPs waived the tender, even though the law required it, he said.
AHTC also ran up deficits, with a surplus of $3.3 million under the previous management turning into a deficit of $2 million. Said Mr Heng: "Allowing your friends to help themselves to public funds - that is a tale that belongs to the Third World, not Singapore."
He also stressed that it was an independent panel appointed by the AHTC to act on its behalf that sued Mr Low, Ms Lim and WP chief Pritam Singh, not the National Development Ministry or Housing Board.
Several PAP MPs spoke on how the WP had tried to conceal the truth of how it appointed FMSS.
Senior Minister of State for Law Edwin Tong said Ms Lim had directed her friends in an e-mail to "sanitise" the draft report on it so as to "pass the auditors' eyes".
Second Minister for National Development Desmond Lee said it was the "right and proper thing to do" for the WP MPs to stand down on financial matters.
Ms Lim acknowledged the WP's poor record-keeping but refuted PAP MPs' claims that the party had deliberately withheld evidence, saying auditors had full access to search AHTC's IT system. She herself led a physical search of AHTC for missing documents, she added.
Mr Heng asked AHTC's current chairman Faisal Manap whether he would ask Ms Lim and Mr Low to be recused from financial matters, given the court findings.
Mr Faisal said he had full trust and confidence in both, having worked with them since 2011.
Mr Singh also vouched for their integrity, adding that AHTC had submitted unqualified accounts this year, the first time since taking over, and credited Ms Lim for her role in this.
Mr Heng said residents have borne the consequences of the WP town councillors' actions, saying: "Playing the victim or the underdog may be par for the course in politics, but there are important matters at stake - public funds, residents' monies, the estates that Singaporeans come home to. We cannot sweep things under the carpet."
Noting that the WP MPs had chosen to say silent on the matter for weeks, Mr Heng added that in any reputable organisation, individuals who had fallen short would feel a sense of shame and regret, and would "do the right thing".
Otherwise, other town councillors would step up to clean up their own house, or the political party in charge of the town council would act to put things right. "In the case of AHTC and the WP, all these multiple levels of personal and party responsibility had failed," he said.
A MATTER OF TRUST
If we cannot trust a politician to tell the truth, we cannot trust him to safeguard public funds, to put the public interest ahead of personal gain, or to make decisions in the best interests of Singapore and Singaporeans.
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER HENG SWEE KEAT
Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.