TL;DR – “Because election coming.”
Arguably the country’s most credible opposition party, the Workers’ Party (WP) have won many Singaporeans’ hearts for punching above its weight in Parliament and giving us an alternative voice.
It’s no surprise why I’ve always had tremendous respect for WP. Heck, I would even give them my vote if they were running in my ward!
So, can you imagine how taken aback I was when I read that three of the WP’s Members of Parliament (MPs) Pritam Singh, Low Thia Khiang and Sylvia Lim have been found liable for damages to the Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (AHTC)?
In case you haven’t been following the news, you can read the summary here.
As I was flipping through the 329-page written judgement, there were three notable things that stood out so much for me that I couldn’t put my finger to.
1. The appointment of FMSS as managing agent and “prioritizing own political interests”
FM Solutions and Services (FMSS) was set up shortly after WP won at the General Election of 2011. The owner of FMSS was husband-and-wife duo Danny Loh and How Weng Fan, were also long-time WP supporters (read: friends).
They were later appointed by WP MPs Low Thia Khiang and Sylvia Lim as the managing agent of AHTC, even though AHTC had another two more years of contract with their former managing agent, CPG Facilities Management.
Fair enough, if you ask me.
I mean, if my long-time friends set up their own company, I might want to give them my support and I would have trusted them more than anyone else too, right?
However, the conflicting issue here is that the appointment of FMSS was done without tender, and this was not disclosed to other town councillors until the appointment.
A few years back, I was marked red in an internal audit for not calling for tenders – for a job that was done satisfactorily by one vendor for years. Other than having to answer to management and to the Board, we also had to document as well as implement remedial and preventive actions. Later, my team was “arrowed” to go through another two straight years of audit as a result, procurement was always scrutinized down to the last period. Such is the severity of not calling for tender and not justifying for waiver of tender or competition in the real world.
So, the appointment of FMSS without tender, it’s just weird.
What’s even more peculiar is that there was even an email sent by Ms Sylvia Lim to FMSS, asking them to examine a draft report on the managing agent appointment if it would “pass the auditors’ eyes”.
Does that mean that the WP MPs already knew that their conduct was improper, and they wanted to camouflage the true reasons for not calling a tender like what the judge has said?
What happened to being above-board and carrying things out honestly and openly?
While Pritam Singh did not exactly breach his fiduciary duties to AHTC, he had breached his “duties of skill and care,” said the judge.
I’m not trying to be judgey here, but what are the odds of him not knowing what’s going on in his own town council and as WP secretary-general?
2. Were there plans to oust CPG Facilities Management all along?
FMSS ousted the then-incumbent CPG Facilities Management, who had another two more years of contract with AHTC, and took over as the town council’s managing agent.
The judge found that there was “a clear plan for FMSS to replace the incumbent managing agent CPG” after the 2011 GE, regardless of CPG’s intention to stay on or withdraw from its contract.
“The defendants, or at least some of them, wanted CPG out. This means that the waiver of tender and the appointment of FMSS was not a contingency at all, but a fait accompli,” he said in the judgment.
While I understand that the WP MPs might already have a managing agent in mind that they preferred, but why didn’t they at the very least, make an effort to call for tenders? That is as good as not even giving others a chance to submit their tender, or for CPG to submit a better proposal.
I don’t know about you, but that is just so strange to me.
Regardless of political party, as MPs elected by the residents, we expect these MPs to be professional, above-board and to act in the best interests of the residents. By not even examining and reviewing the then-incumbent’s contract and performance (this is Ms Sylvia Lim’s admission by the way), by not calling for tenders, how would the MPs know that FMSS’ rates were the most competitive or that their services would give the best value for money for the residents?
It has been pointed out in past Parliament sessions by ministers and other MPs that AHTC had been found to be charged amounts higher than other town councils for the same services.
Mind you, the funds are both the residents’ money and also taxpayers’ money. It is reasonable to expect the MPs and the managing agents to have accountability and to exercise care.
3. Non-so-transparent approval process and “improper payments” to FMSS
To make matters worse, the judge also found that there were no protocols, doctrines or processes set in place to independently and objectively assess the service of FMSS.
Shareholders of FMSS were also tasked to approve payments from the town council to the company, and hence, allowing conflicted persons to approve payments to themselves.
This result in FMSS being paid S$33.7 million of “improper payments” from July 2011 to July 2015. And these, are public monies, if I may add.
Could this be some conspiracy or evil plot against the WP MPs?
“Because election is coming.”
In case you don’t already know, the three WP MPs sued by an independent panel appointed by the AHTC for their mismanagement and financial lapses.
This independent panel is chaired by Senior Counsel Philip Jeyaretnam – whose father J.B. Jeyaretnam was the WP secretary-general from 1971 to 2001.
As much as I would like to witness a drama unfold in the real world with my own eyes (lol), this isn’t an evil plotting by anyone against the WP MPs.
What’s going to happen next?
The two MPs, along with WP chief Pritam Singh, could now be liable for part of the S$33.7 million in claims, which will be determined in a future second round of hearings.
However, in the event that the WP MPs are unable to pay damages, they will be declared bankrupt and they may even lose their parliamentary seats.