AHTC trial: WP’s Low Thia Khiang concedes he did not do the ‘responsible’ thing to check on managing agent contract

SINGAPORE: The former secretary-general of the Workers’ Party (WP) Low Thia Khiang acknowledged on Tuesday (Oct 16) that he did not check the contract with Aljunied-Hougang Town Council’s (AHTC) previous managing agent, CPG Facilities Management, before releasing the company from its obligations.

This emerged as Mr Low took the witness stand for the first time, when he was questioned over the decision to replace CPG with new managing agent FM Solutions and Services (FMSS) and what had happened when CPG indicated it wanted to end its services.

The Workers’ Party’s Low Thia Khiang and Sylvia Lim arriving at the Supreme Court on Oct 16 (2)

During the cross examination, lawyer Davinder Singh asked whether a "responsible town councillor" would check the situation before deciding whether to release the other party.

“Was it the responsible thing to do to check whether CPG was entitled to get out?” Mr Singh asked.

“That was not on my mind,” said Mr Low.

“I’m asking you now. Was it the responsible thing to do?”

“Yes,” Mr Low responded.

“Thank you. And you didn’t do that, yes?”

“Yes,” Mr Low replied.

When Mr Singh suggested that the lack of checks gave Mr Low the opportunity to bring in FMSS as the new managing agent, the WP Member of Parliament disagreed.

Mr Low said foremost on his mind was how to protect residents’ interests because if the town was not managed properly and services were not provided, residents’ lives would be affected.

READ: AHTC trial: FMSS lawyer and accountant spar over PwC’s ‘prejudiced’ report

Earlier, Mr Singh suggested that an “honest” town council member would have done his or her due diligence to review existing contracts between Aljunied Town Council and its existing managing agent as well as the computer software vendor – Action Information Management (AIM) – before deciding to replace them with someone else. 

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Mr Low noted that he had reviewed the CPG contract but did not recall when he did so, despite much prompting from the lawyer. 

Mr Singh then asked Mr Low if he had sought a copy of the contracts to review them personally or had asked for a briefing on the contracts, to which the WP MP said he did not. 

Mr Low followed up by asking: "You want to know the reason why I didn’t check?"

"I’ll ask you the questions. You give me the answers," the lawyer said. 

Mr Low is being sued along with seven other defendants for an alleged breach of fiduciary duties, as well as “improper” payments amounting to S$33 million. These were allegedly paid by AHTC to FMSS and other third parties between May 2011 and November 2015.

Mr Singh is the lead lawyer for Pasir Ris-Punggol Town Council (PRPTC), which is suing in relation to past payments pertaining to Punggol East Town Council. Punggol East was previously managed by the WP after it won the single-member constituency in a by-election in 2013.

CPG “WANTED OUT”: LOW

The WP MP was grilled on whether he decided to do away with CPG even before it indicated its desire to terminate the contract.

Mr Low said there was a meeting on May 30 with CPG, during which the company said it did not want to continue as AHTC’s managing agent.

In his cross examination, Mr Singh focused on an email on May 9 sent by Mr Low to the other defendants – MPs Sylvia Lim, Pritam Singh and How Weng Fan from FMSS – as well as other WP town councillors Chen Show Mao and Faishal Manap and then-Hougang SMC MP Yaw Shin Leong.

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The Drew & Napier lawyer highlighted one point in the email which said: “We will appoint managing agent to manage the town instead of self-management.”

He suggested that the way the sentence was phrased – “we will”, which connotes an action to be done – indicated that Mr Low and his team already had another  managing agent in mind on May 9, the first working day after winning Aljunied GRC in the 2011 General Election. 

“Whether one is good in English or not, if you already have a MA (managing agent) appointed, you do not say we will appoint CPG; you don’t use those words,” Mr Singh said.

Mr Low said it was “not true” that there was a decision at that point to axe CPG, and the plan for the town councilors to take over management of the constituency earlier was a contingency in case CPG did not perform.  

When Mr Singh asked when and if CPG was informed that it was being replaced, Mr Low said they had a meeting on May 30 when CPG said it did not want to continue. He added that he didn’t think CPG was told they were being replaced.

Mr Singh asked why CPG wasn’t informed and Mr Low responded: “Why should I tell them.”

“But you just told me that if you were going to replace them, you would tell them?”

“Yes, but it wasn’t a question of replacement; they wanted out,” said Mr Low.

“But wasn’t CPG replaced?” said the lawyer. “Right, the contingency happened. So they were substituted by another. Someone else came in place of CPG.”

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Said Mr Low: “I don’t know the meaning of substitute. They wanted out, so we did a mutual release. We released them, then we appointed a new MA.”

READ: AHTC trial: S$60 million in payments recorded manually, says KPMG

RESIDENTS’ INTERESTS COMPROMISED?

Mr Singh said the elected WP members chose to remove CPG – an experienced agent with proven ability to manage the town – “at all costs” despite knowing that the move from managing a town with 10,000 residents (Hougang SMC) to one with 40,000 residents will be a “herculean task”. 

“To do that, you compromised and subordinated the residents’ interest,” the lawyer said. “The residents would have expected you to watch their money, to make sure that you act lawfully, act prudently and manage the transition well. 

“You don’t cut off an experienced, longstanding MA without proper due diligence and consideration. But none of that mattered to you and the (other) defendants.”

“That’s not true,” Mr Low replied. 

“You’ve come to this court to talk about politics. Instead, what you were doing was putting politics above the residents,” Mr Singh carried on.

“That’s not true,” Mr Low said. 

The trial will continue on Wednesday with Mr Low again taking to the witness stand.