SINGAPORE: The Court of Appeal has found Workers’ Party (WP) chairperson Sylvia Lim and former secretary-general Low Thia Khiang liable for negligence in town council payments process as part of the ongoing civil trial involving the alleged misuse of S$33.7 million in Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (AHTC) funds.
The Court of Appeal has cleared current party chief Pritam Singh of any wrongdoing in this matter due to a legal technicality.
In its latest findings released on Friday (7 July), the Court of Appeal also confirmed the liability of town councillors and employees to Sengkang Town Council due to negligence that allowed control failures to persist in the system.
These failures were attributed to the involvement of conflicted parties, namely managing agents who held positions in both AHTC and the managing agent FMSS, as well as the absence of necessary safeguards that resulted in the risk of overpayment.
Furthermore, the court upheld that Ms Lim is accountable to Sengkang Town Council for negligence in awarding a new contract to Red-Power Electrical Engineering. It ruled that she failed to provide sufficient evidence to prove that her decision not to renew existing contracts at significantly cheaper rates was made in good faith.
After the Workers’ Party’s victory in Sengkang during the 2020 General Election, assets and liabilities pertaining to the area under Pasir Ris-Punggol Town Council (PRPTC) were transferred to Sengkang Town Council, including relevant legal proceedings.
In the past, PRPTC took over the management of Punggol East from AHTC when the People’s Action Party won the constituency in the 2015 General Election. Sengkang GRC comprises Punggol East, Sengkang West, and Sengkang Central.
The Court, however, overturned all other previous findings by the trial judge, who had previously held all three WP leaders liable and raised doubts about their integrity.
The Apex Court determined that the town councillors and employees did not owe fiduciary or equitable duties to AHTC, a key aspect of the allegations made against the WP Members of Parliament and AHTC councillors.
The court acknowledged that they had acted in good faith when awarding contracts on behalf of AHTC. However, the Apex Court also found them grossly negligent in implementing the payments process, leading to the persistence of control failures within the system.
The appeals were heard by a five-judge panel, including Chief Justice Menon, Justice Judith Prakash, Justice Tay Yong Kwang, Justice Woo Bih Li, and Justice Andrew Phang.
Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon said the court found Sylvia Lim and Low Thia Khiang liable to AHTC for negligence in allowing control failures to persist in the town council’s payments process. Managing agent director How Weng Fan and her late husband Danny Low, who had conflicts of interest as they were involved with AHTC and the managing agent FMSS, were also found liable for negligence.
Along with Mr Singh, the trial judge’s findings cleared former AHTC councillors, Chua Zhi Hon and Kenneth Foo.
AHTC’s lawyers made no claims against Pritam Singh and the two town councillors concerning the control failures. AHTC also did not cross-examine or present their case against the town councillors and employees, relying instead on cross-examination conducted by counsel for Pasir Ris-Punggol Town Council, Senior Counsel Davinder Singh.
Chief Justice Menon remarked that, in these circumstances, AHTC did not present any case against the three individuals regarding the system. As a result, the trio were unaware that they had to defend a case against AHTC for breaching their duties regarding the system.
The court concluded that it would prejudice the trio to find them liable for breaching their duties in allowing control failures to exist.
This latest ruling by the Court of Appeal marks a significant development in the prolonged legal proceedings involving AHTC. The determination of the damages Ms Lim and Mr Low may be liable to pay will be addressed in subsequent trial hearings.