Day 15 AHTC trial: Singh vs Singh ends the day that started with an intense exchange

Despite the short cross-examination, there was plenty of back-and-forth between the two of them.

Sulaiman Daud | Matthias Ang | October 26, 2018, 11:12 AM

The clash between WP leader Pritam Singh and Senior Counsel Davinder Singh at the Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (AHTC) trial concluded on the afternoon of Oct. 25, with the release of Pritam from the witness stand.

In the course of Pritam's cross-examination, both witness and lawyer looked through multiple areas in the administration of Pritam's duties as an elected MP and town councillor of AHTC.

The question of an alternative to a managing agent

Shortly after the morning recess, Davinder put to Pritam that one of the matters a town councillor had to consider when being asked to appoint a managing agent was the question of what were the alternatives.

Pritam agreed, stating that he thought it was fair.

Davinder then asked Pritam if mention was made about direct management at the second meeting of the AHTC on Aug. 4, 2011, referencing Low's mention of direct management during his earlier cross-examination.

Pritam responded that to his best recollection, the question was dealt with by the elected MPs very early on with their decision to go down the managing agent path.

This was because Low had informed the rest of the elected MPs that they would be busy with their grassroots work -- an issue compounded by the lack of a residents' committee within an opposition town council.

Pritam then added that he did not recall the discussion of direct management coming up on Aug. 4, 2011. What's more, there was a greater likelihood of the question not coming up since the managing agent route had already been decided by that point.

This elicited Davinder's response that if that was the case, would not there have been the need to inform the other town councillors who were appointed to their positions that the alternative path had been discussed and dismissed for certain reasons?

Pritam replied that his own view of the matter was that the appointed councillors looked to the elected councillors to show leadership and the strategic direction the town council had to go and believed that was how it unfolded, with the elected MPs wanting the managing agent for political reasons.

Davinder then pressed Pritam, asking if should not there, at the very least, be a discussion on the issue of money spent then or potential cost savings.

Pritam responded that he did not disagree with Davinder's contention and added that his own contribution to Davinder's question was that the Hougang town councillors formed the nucleus of the other AHTC town councillors.

This meant that the appointed town councillors were therefore aware of the town council's political nature.

Additionally, they would have found the managing agent more compelling as they intuitively understood that in Hougang, Low did everything on his own.

Pritam then concluded that in any case, there were more important issues to deal with than cost savings and he did not recall any discussion.

An absence of disclosure on the shareholdings of Danny Loh and How Weng Fan in FMSS

Davinder then moved on to the topic of the shareholdings of General Manager/ Deputy Secretary How Weng Fan and her late husband Danny Loh in FMSS.

Here, Davinder asked Pritam if there was indeed an absence of a declaration about How and Loh's shareholdings at a meeting on Aug. 4, 2011, or at a subsequent meeting on Aug. 2, 2012, which saw AHTC's approval of a new three-year managing agent contract with FMSS after the initial one-year contract had expired in June 2012.

Pritam replied yes.

Davinder then said assuming that had not all of the town councillors knew How and Loh were shareholders -- this subject would therefore have been a material thing to disclose.

Pritam replied on that assumption, yes.

Upon Davinder asking why, Pritam stated that if one had nothing to hide, considering the political reality, bona fide, and not doing something in the cover of darkness, there was no reason to hide from anyone.

This resulted in Davinder putting forth the statement that it would have been relevant for the town councillors, assuming they did not know, to know that the managing agent was owned substantially by people "on this side of the fence"-- the Secretary, General Manager, and Deputy Secretary -- as it gave rise to a conflict of interest.

Pritam replied "yes".

Davinder then asked Pritam if he relied on WP MP Sylvia Lim in her capacity as Chairman to make the relevant disclosures.

Pritam answered that he would not put it totally at her feet as everyone who knew had that responsibility.

This led to Davinder asking Pritam if he knew about How and Loh's shareholdings by Aug. 4, 2011.

Pritam said that he knew they were owners and majority shareholders. However, he did not know by how much nor did he know who were the other owners.

When Davinder then asked Pritam when did he learn of it, Pritam answered that it would have been by 2012 when the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA) search details of FMSS were circulated to the tender evaluation committee formed at that time.

Pritam added that he was absent for one of the two tender committee meetings as he had gotten married around the time of June 2012.

This led to a rare of moment of humour in court when Davinder cheekily told Pritam that he had put his marriage over his tender committee meeting.

Pritam laughed, stating, "Nice try."

This prompted his defence lawyer Senior Counsel Chelva Rajah to pipe up and state: "That would be a conflict of interest."

Verification Process

Davinder subsequently turned to Pritam's position as an authorised signatory of cheques for work done in his capacity as Vice-chairman of the Town Council from 2012 and later, Chairman, after the 2015 General Election.

When Davinder asked Pritam if the practice was for cheques to be accompanied by documents that the work had been verified and that the amounts had been correctly computed by staff of the managing agent, Pritam reaffirmed Davinder's statement.

Pritam responded yes again when Davinder next asked if that meant reliance on the managing agent to have done a proper job in terms of verifying and checking.

However, when Davinder asked Pritam if he was too busy to go down to check the works done, Pritam stated that there were instances where cheques were sent back because things were unclear.

Other instances included the nature of the invoice, certain documents one had to rely on, and ad hoc works in particular, as mistakes could slip in due to such works not being contractually obligated.

Accordingly, Davinder then asked what was the form of independent verification in the payment process to break the possibility of a profit.

Pritam's reply was that the chairman would be that break since they were not related to the managing agent.

Moreover, they would ultimately have to take responsibility when they signed off.

This brought up Davinder's counter-argument that the insurance of independent verification did not lie at the end of the signing chain as it had to have a check before that.

Moreover, the insurance would have to lie in both verification of the work and the computation of the amount for the work done.

When Davinder then asked further if there had been discussions for a specific safeguard for the verification of the work done by someone independent of FMSS, Pritam replied that the safeguard was not discussed after the Town Council had assured themselves the final signatory would be responsible.

A period of limbo

Next, Davinder focused on the end of the first managing agent contract on June 14, 2012 and the end of the first contract for the Essential Maintenance Service Unit (EMSU) on June 30, 2012.

Davinder highlighted that since the second contracts for both the managing agent and the EMSU were only approved on Aug. 2, 2012, what, as such, was the contractual position of FMSS on July 2, 2012?

Pritam replied that he assumed FMSS was operating under some kind of extension.

Pritam then added that he was not aware of any discussion or terms regarding the operation of FMSS for the period of July 2012 in response to Davinder's questions if there were any.

Davinder then asked why the Town Council Financial Rules (TCFR) were not complied with for that period of time.

To which Pritam answered if the TCFR was not complied with, it was not an intention to not comply.

Davinder dwelt on the point further after the lunch break, asking Pritam if this meant that there was no tender for the period between the expiry of the EMSU and the decision to approve the second contracts on Aug 2, that there had been no discussion about a tender or waiver of the tender, and that this also meant FMSS continued to provide services after the first contracts had expired.

Pritam replied in the affirmative to all.

This resulted in Davinder alleging that the rules for the town council had not been adhered to in the limbo period.

Again, Pritam reiterated his position that he believed the town council operated on the basis of extension.

Letting FMSS choose consultants on the basis of better technical knowledge

This segued into Davinder's next point about the the selection of two consultants -- LST Architects (LST) and Design Metabolists (DM) -- for a panel on architectural consultancy services. Both firms had put in their bids for an open tender put up by AHTC in September 2012 regarding the establishment of such a panel.

Here, Davinder highlighted how LST and DM were chosen by FMSS instead of the Town Council itself to sit on the panel and reminded Pritam that the purpose of the tender was to choose the optimal party for the town council.

Pritam agreed.

When Davinder asked why did the town council leave it to FMSS to make the decision, Pritam gave two reasons.

The first was that a precedent had been set by the previous Town Council. Given that the previous Town Council had felt that it was right in their case, the current Town Council felt that it would be right for their case as well.

This drew Davinder's rebuttal that two wrongs do not make a right.

Pritam then gave his second reason which was his view that he expected the managing agent, properly appointed, to understand which consultant would be most appropriate for the job.

Davinder conceded that it was a fair point but asked Pritam if he agreed that the final step of having the Town Council make the decision was not taken?

Pritam answered that while he could see Davinder's point, it was already fait accompli by the point of the final step as it was for FMSS to recommend the consultant.

Davinder then formulated his next question, asking Pritam if he disagreed with the rationale and spirit of the rules, but decided it was okay because it had been done before.

Pritam replied that he did not agree, as he felt that the Town Council had went along with the rationale of the rules.

This drew Davinder's statement that the rules were meant to ensure that town councillors would apply their mind to the good of the Town Council.

To this, Pritam agreed in terms of principle, but added that town councillors also had leeway in delegating duties to appropriate individuals.

Davinder argued that this effectively meant any tender project could be delegated, which drew Pritam's counter-argument that in the case of the appointment of LST and DM, it was for ad hoc work unlike ongoing recurring services such as the EMSU.

Davinder subsequently concluded his cross-examination of Pritam just before the afternoon recess. Given that Rajah did not have any questions for a re-examination of Pritam, he was accordingly released from the witness stand.

The trial continues with WP town councillor Kenneth Foo taking the stand next.


Sketch by Dan Wong


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