On Nov 5 the Deputy Prime Minister introduced a motion calling on Aljunied-Hougang Town Council to require Workers’ Party (WP) MPs Low Thia Khiang and Sylvia Lim to “recuse themselves” from the town council’s financial matters, in the wake of the High Court judgment in the AHTC legal case.
The WP called on the House to reject the motion, noting that the timeframe in which the MPs can appeal the judgment has yet to expire. Revealing that the MPs intend to appeal the court decision, the WP questioned the ruling party’s motives for putting such a motion forth when the legal proceedings have yet to conclude.
The motion was passed 52-9 after four hours of debate, with all nine WP MPs and Non-Constituency MPs opposing the motion. Read the responses by Ms Sylvia Lim, Mr Pritam Singh and Mr Faisal Manap in full here:
MS SYLVIA LIM
DPM Heng Swee Keat’s filing of this Motion, at this point in time, is telling but premature. Let me explain why.
The PAP government is clearly excited about certain findings and comments contained in the High Court judgment issued on 11th of October. And these are findings in relation to certain actions taken by some of us in the aftermath of the 2011 General Election. However, as DPM himself pointed out, Singapore has a court structure that subjects High Court judgments to possible appeal to the Court of Appeal. This avenue of appeal enables parties who are aggrieved by judgements of the High Court to seek review of the findings by the Court of Appeal. The Court of Appeal, consisting of at least three Judges of Appeal, will review the findings at the trial and may affirm, reverse or vary the findings. And if I may quote from the Supreme Court Adjudicature Act, it stated that the Court of Appeal “may draw inferences of facts, and give any judgment, and make any order which ought to have been given or made, and make such further or other orders as the case requires” (S37(5), SCJA).
The judgment referred to in this motion was delivered on 11th of October. Under the applicable procedures, any party dissatisfied with the judgment can file a Notice of Appeal within one month. In this case, the deadline for filing the appeal is 11th of November, which is next Monday.
We have been studying the judgment with our lawyers since it was released. I can inform the House today that we have decided to appeal the judgment to the Court of Appeal. We are still within the time frame to do so, and it will be filed by 11th of November.
Accordingly, the DPM acted prematurely in his decision to file the Motion and I ask the House to reject it. Whatever the trial judge had decided is subject to review by the Court of Appeal. This is a civil proceeding and involves novel points of law.
And contrary to what I think DPM had suggested, it has not been decided as to whether any loss as been caused to the Town Council. And on this point, I should put it in perspective by referring to the summary, which DPM Heng distributed earlier, Annex 1, Para 27, where the judge states, as it is summarized, quite clearly that the legal burden of proving loss falls upon the plaintiffs. So, this point has not been decided as to whether loss has been proven.
Mr Speaker, as Members of Parliament, Mr Low Thia Khiang and I have duties to discharge. The Motion appears to be aimed at curtailing us from discharging our duties while the case is still pending final adjudication. We are still pursuing the matter through the courts, and we thank everyone who has stood by us and helped us in our quest for justice.
MR FAISAL MANAP
(In Malay) Tuan, Saya tidak menyokong usulan ini untuk meminta agar Majlis Bandaran Aljunied Hougang mengecualikan Enk Low Thia Khiang dan Puan Sylvia Lim daripada posisi atau peranan Majlis Bandaran yang merangkumi isu-isu kewangan.
Tuan, Saya telah mengenali kedua-duanya sejak 2006 dan menjadi rakan sepasukan dalam pentadbiran Majlis Bandaran Aljunied-Hougang sejak 2011. Saya mempunyai kepercayaan dan keyakinan yang sepenuhnya terhadap integriti Enk Low Thia Khiang dan Puan Sylvia Lim. Saya percaya dan yakin bahawa tindakan dan keputusan yang telah diambil sebelum ini semasa Puan Sylvia menerajui AHTC sebagai pengerusi dan Enk Low Thia Khiang sebagai naib pengerusi dalam pentadbiran AHTC, telah dilakukan dengan niat yang seikhlasnya demi untuk memberi yang terbaik kepada penduduk-penduduk bandar Aljunied-Hougang.
Saya juga menolak usulan ini kerana ianya tidak sesuai untuk diketengahkan. Ini adalah kerana kes yang melibatkan Puan Sylvia dan Enk Low Thia Khiang masih dalam tempoh rayuan yang dibenarkan. Keputusan mahkamah telah dikeluarkan pada 11 Oktober 2019 dan tempoh rayuan selama sebulan hanya akan berakhir pada 11 November 2019. Seperti yang telah diujarkan oleh Puan Sylvia awal tadi, beliau akan mengemukakan rayuan. Oleh itu adalah kurang wajar untuk mengemuka dan membincangkan usulan ini.
Tuan, Sebagai pengerusi majlis bandaran Aljunied-Hougang, saya juga belum menerima sebarang nasihat dari Panel Bebas (Independent Panel), yang telah dilantik oleh Majlis Bandaran Aljunied-Hougang, mengenai mana-mana perkara berkaitan dengan keputusan mahkamah. Sejauh ini, panel bebas hanya mengeluarkan kenyataan yang bertarikh 11 October 2019 bahawa mereka maklum terhadap keputusan mahkamah yang telah dikeluarkan. Namun demikian, saya akan mengemukakan keputusan mahkamah di mesyuarat majlis bandaran yang akan datang.
Tuan, sekali lagi saya ingin menyatakan yang saya menolak usulan ini.
(English Translation) Sir, I do not support this motion to call upon AHTC to recuse Mr Low Thia Khiang and Ms. Sylvia Lim from the position or role of the Town Council which covers financial issues.
Sir, I have known both of them since 2006 and we have been working as a team the running of the Aljunied-Hougang Town Council since 2011. I have full trust and confidence in the integrity of Mr Low Thia Khiang and Ms Sylvia Lim. I believe and trust that the actions taken and decisions made during the chairmanship and vice-chairmanship of Ms Sylvia Lim and Mr Low Thia Khiang is with utmost sincere intent and in the best interest of the residents of Aljunied-Hougang.
I also reject this motion as it is not appropriate to have it tabled. This is because the case involving Ms Sylvia Lim and Mr Low Thia Khiang is still within the appealable period. The findings on the case was released on October 11, 2019, hence, the appeal period would end on November 11, 2019 and as mentioned by Ms Sylvia earlier, she would file an appeal. It is therefore inappropriate to table this motion.
Sir, as the current chair of the Aljunied-Hougang Town Council, I have not received any advice from the Independent Panel on any matter relating to the court’s findings. The Independent Panel only issued a statement dated October 11, 2019 stating their acknowledgement on the court’s findings. Nevertheless, I will be bringing up the court findings at the next Town Council’s meeting.
Sir, I would like to say again that I reject this motion.
MR PRITAM SINGH
Mr Speaker, the timing of this motion by DPM Heng is highly unusual for a legal system that places an exacting premium on the rule of law as a defining characteristic of the country. As intimated by Workers’ Party Chair Ms Sylvia Lim, insofar as the judgment referred to in the motion is concerned, the window for appeal remains open and the PAP must explain truthfully what is its motive in hurriedly filing this motion before the case is concluded.
At the outset, the Workers Party does not disagree with the first limb of the motion which calls on the House to affirm the vital importance of Members of Parliament maintaining high standards of integrity and accountability.
On the second limb, I will not repeat the points made by Ms Sylvia Lim on the appeal process, but to restate that the grounds of appeal can cover both issues of fact and law. However, I do wish to add that the judgment also raises the real prospect of the Plaintiffs, namely Pasir-Ris Punggol Town Council or AHTC’s Independent Panel filing an appeal against the judgment identified in the DPM’s motion. This is because the Plaintiffs did not succeed in many causes of action, some which were either rejected or dismissed by the Judge – one important example with significant repercussions for their case at the second trial on quantum, being the Plaintiffs’ attempts to reverse the burden of proof and to put to onus on the defendants to disprove loss.
Sir, I believe there is a real likelihood for the Plaintiffs to vigorously challenge the findings of the judgment that are not in their favour at the Court of Appeal as the Plaintiffs too are within the one-month window to file an appeal. Sir that the judgement referred to in the motion is evidently a very live issue, is stating the obvious.
To that end, there is no reason for Parliament to be prematurely hijacked as a substitute for the judicial process when the window for appeal on the judgment has not closed. I hope all members consider this when they decide on the motion later.
Next, I wish to consider limbs (iii) and (iv) of the Motion. Natural justice dictates that any question of a recusal for Ms Lim and Mr Low from their roles at the Town Council must surely be considered after the case is concluded. However, if Parliament passes the motion, the Councillors of AHTC will discuss the matter and vote on it if that is the collective decision of the Council. In any such decision, Mr Low and Ms Lim will excuse themselves from voting on the issue and will not participate in the discussion on the matter.
On my part, I have absolute trust and confidence in both Ms Lim and Mr Low’s leadership and their continued participation on the Town Council. I speak for myself when I say I will not be voting for them to be recused from financial matters should it be determined so by Council, even if this motion passes. Why?
Let me start with Vice-Chair Ms Lim, who also chairs the Finance and Investment Committee of the Town Council. As Chairman of the TC between 2011 and 2015, despite challenging circumstance and under tremendous pressure, Ms Lim led the TC to manage the estate without major disruption of service affecting the lives of the residents. Ms Lim, as Vice-chair, has also contributed much over the years to the positive transformation of the TC management today. For the information of the house, for the latest annual report, AHTC’s auditors have submitted an unqualified audited report to the Council, which has been forwarded to MND for onward tabling to Parliament. That said, any decision to consider a recusal for Ms Lim and Mr Low is for the individual Councillors to make and AHTC will act in accordance with their decisions.
On Mr Low, he is a member of the Estate and Community Liaison Committee or ECLC, and does not chair any finance-related committee. The ECLC does however approve expenditure for estate-related work. Mr Low’s depth of Town Council experience and perspective as a long-standing opposition Town Councillor on estate matters is very useful for the ECLC. Once again, it is only appropriate for Council to take a collective decision on any recusal if it decides to do so. And again, AHTC will act according to Council’s decisions.
To conclude Mr Speaker, the two words that have defined this motion are hurried and premature. The Workers’ Party has read the motion carefully, and all the WP MPs will unanimously vote against it. -/TISG