National Development Minister Lawrence Wong has ordered the Aljunied Hougang Town Council (AHTC) to restrict Workers’ Party MPs Sylvia Lim’s and Low Thia Khiang’s powers over financial matters at the town council they have been elected to represent.
In a statement released on Friday (Jan 3), the Ministry of National Development said Mr Wong issued the rectification order to AHTC to prevent financial irregularities from re-occurring at the town council.
About a month ago, on Dec 6, the ministry expressed concern over Ms Lim’s and Mr Low’s continued involvement in their town council’s financial affairs, even though AHTC achieved a “green” banding in the corporate governance indicator of the FY2018 Town Council Management Report.
In October 2018, Ms Lim and Mr Low were found liable for damages by the High Court in the AHTC civil lawsuit. The MPs have filed an appeal against the decision.
Despite the fact that the legal case is yet to conclude, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat introduced a motion in Parliament in November to get AHTC to make Mr Low and Ms Lim “recuse themselves” from its financial affairs.
Although Mr Heng fumbled when confronted with the WP’s position that they are appealing against the High Court decision, Parliament voted to pass his motion with a 52-9 vote.
On Nov 30, however, AHTC town councillors voted on whether Ms Lim and Mr Low should recuse themselves from AHTC financial matters and decided that the MPs did not have to do so. Days after the AHTC vote, the ministry asked why the MPs have not recused themselves.
In a press statement released after the ministry publicly insisted that Mr Low’s and Ms Lim’s continued involvement in AHTC’s financial affairs would jeopardise the town council’s procurement and payment processes, AHTC countered the concerns that “past failures” would recur if the WP MPs are not recused and made specific mention of Ms Lim’s work in improving its corporate governance rating.
Mr Wong’s order falls under Section 43D(2)(b) of the Town Councils Act, which ensures that Ms Lim and Mr Low cannot unilaterally incur or approve expenditure on behalf of AHTC, unilaterally accept or waive any quotation or tender for any stores, services or works on behalf of AHTC or serve as cheque signatories for AHTC.
Clauses 43D(4) and 48A(1) under the Act state that the town council can be fined up to $5,000 for not complying to the rectification order by the deadline and can incur $50 each day it continues to ignore the order after conviction.
The chairman or secretary can also be fined the same amount and face a maximum 12-month jail term over non-compliance.
The ministry said that the rectification order does not affect the WP MPs’ other functions and duties as elected parliamentarians and town councillors.
The AHTC is reviewing the ministry’s order.