Yishun condo council members sue ex-chair for defamation after he complains about estate in letter, judge throws out case

The plaintiffs say they hold 'important positions' in companies.

Kerr Puay Hian | February 08, 2023, 06:48 PM

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A judge in Singapore threw out a defamation case filed by three residents of a condominium in Yishun against a fellow resident, saying that the legal test for establishing defamation was not satisfied.

According to a State Courts judgment made available to the public on Feb. 8, the issue arose after the defendant wrote a letter complaining about various facilities in The Canopy Condominium in Yishun that were "poorly maintained" and "less than desirable".

The letter writer and defendant, Goh Siong Heng Benson, who was the chairperson of the second management council from April 2016 to April 2017, was very concerned with various aspects of the management of the third management council, which was appointed from April to December 2017.

District Judge Wong Peck dismissed their claims in court, and two of the plaintiffs have appealed her decision.

Complained in a letter

Goh decided to take action to have his concerns addressed by sending a letter to all voting residents, pasting the letter on notice boards, and publishing it on the condo’s official website.

The letter stated that maintenance fees were to be reduced by S$3 per share, and for shuttle bus service to be resumed without increasing maintenance fees.

It also asked to resolve the issue with the current council members due to "no confidence".

The letter also drew attention to incidents against estate house rules, which included a pool party held for pets at a badminton court during a water carnival, as well as another party held for pets at the court.

Regarding the alleged mismanagement of the estate, the letter pointed out that landscape and estate lights were not working and were not replaced, the pumps that operated the fountain were not working properly, leading to cleanliness issues, and the deterioration of landscaping.

Similar cleanliness issues were also spotted in the guest toilets and the swimming pool, the letter added.

Goh proposed in writing that council members be re-elected and called for a review of the whole set of estate house rules by law.

The letter was also addressed to the secretary of the management corporation strata title of the condominium.

"Important positions"

The three council members sued Goh because they were unhappy with the letter, claiming it was defamatory.

Those who sued said they held "important positions" in multinational and local entities.

The first plaintiff, Fang Yiqiang, is a senior telecommunication employee at a Fortune Global 500 Chinese multinational entity and a commissioned officer in active reserve in the Singapore Army.

The second plaintiff, Jason Kwek Siew Chuan, is a regional Chief Financial Officer of a multinational entity listed on the London Stock Exchange and is an adjunct lecturer at the Singapore University of Social Sciences.

The third plaintiff, who did not appeal and not named, is a regional Supply Chain Specialist of a multinational entity in the aviation industry.

Judge: Words not defamatory

However, the judge ruled that the words in the letter did not lower the standing of the plaintiffs in the estimation of “right thinking members of the society”, as Goh was merely raising his concerns about the way the estate had been run, and the necessary action was for the council to be dissolved and re-elected.

Also, the judge deemed that the letter was understood to mean that the management council no longer commanded the confidence of the subsidiary proprietors because they had organised, in particular, two pet events that breached the house rules of not having pets in the badminton courts.

Mould, algae and "milky" water

The judge also found during the trial that there was evidence of poor maintenance of multiple facilities.

These included the estate lamps that were left not working for several months, fountains that had faulty pumps and "stagnant" "milky" water, and guest toilets that were mouldy due to an apparent "bad air circulation" caused by a "design flaw".

The swimming pool was also found to have algae and its underwater lamps that were "out of position", while plants were not growing properly in the rear of the condominium.

After hearing parties on their submissions relating to costs, the judge ordered the plaintiffs to pay costs and disbursements to Goh.

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