AHTC clarifies roles of WP leaders in response to MND’s inquiry, emphasizing collective decision for accountability

SINGAPORE: Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (AHTC) clarified that Workers’ Party (WP) chair Sylvia Lim hasn’t directly participated in its procurement and payment processes since 2020, while WP chief Pritam Singh is part of town council committees dealing with purchases, tenders, and contracts.

AHTC emphasized that committee decisions are collective, minimizing the risk of unilateral decision-making.

“Their roles in the various Committees allow them to discharge their duties as an elected councillor to serve the Town Council and communicate the perspective of the residents whom they represent to better serve the residents’ needs.”

On 22 August, the Ministry of National Development (MND) cancelled a rectification order issued to AHTC in January 2020, which had mandated restrictions on the authority of Ms Sylvia Lim and Mr Low Thia Khiang, a former WP MP, in managing some of the town council’s financial matters.

The Court of Appeal’s findings, disclosed in two parts in November 2022 and July this year, ultimately concluded that Ms Lim and Mr Low were not legally obligated to AHTC in terms of fiduciary duties. Consequently, upon reviewing these findings, MND decided to rescind the order.

MND, based on the CA’s determination of Ms Lim and Mr Singh “acting without good faith,” requested information from AHTC concerning the WP leader’s specific powers and duties related to payment and procurement processes, any actions that AHTC plans to take in response to these findings, and any other actions AHTC intends to take.

The ministry gave AHTC two weeks to reply.

Collective decision-making ensures transparency and accountability

In a response letter to MND, issued on Tuesday (5 Sept), and signed by Dennis Tan, the chairman of the town council and Member of Parliament for Hougang, it was emphasized that all committee members at AHTC collectively make decisions, with “no risk of any person unilaterally making decisions or granting approvals”.

In the letter, Dennis Tan first welcomes the Minister’s cancellation of the RO in light of the CA’s findings.

AHTC’s response also underscored that the Court of Appeal found the Town Councillors acted in good faith when awarding the initial contract for the managing agent and “Essential Maintenance Service Unit” services to FMSS.

Regarding the Court of Appeal’s findings on Low Thia Khiang, Ms Sylvia Lim, Ms How Weng Fan, and Mr Danny Loh being held liable for negligence in permitting control failures within the payment process, Dennis Tan reiterated that AHTC had already addressed and rectified these issues by implementing the necessary controls.

Dennis Tan referenced KPMG’s final monthly report from February 14, 2018, which confirmed the resolution of all audit points raised by AHTC.

“Further, since mid-2015, AHTC has not hired a managing agent but adopted a direct town management model, which would have reduced the conflicted person’s risk.”

“Most pertinently, AHTC has achieved green banding for the governance disclosure checklist in the Town Council Code of Governance from FY2021-2022 assuring good governance standards are in place.”

Dennis Tan said AHTC engaged Baker Tilly Consultancy (Singapore) Pte Ltd as their independent internal auditor in 2020 for 2 years to review AHTC’s corporate governance, procurement and Town Councils Financial Rules (“TCFR”) compliance processes, and “no material control weaknesses were flagged.”

As MND has enhanced its governance checklist from time to time, and also introduced its Code of Governance since 1 April 2020, he said AHTC has been in full compliance since FY2021- 2022, further strengthening the governance framework to ensure public funds are safeguarded and handled properly.

Role of Pritam Singh and Sylvia Lim in AHTC

In the 22 August letter, MND requested information on: (i) Ms Lim’s and Mr Singh’s specific powers and duties in relation to their involvement in AHTC’s payment and procurement processes, (ii) actions that AHTC intends to take, if any, in relation to Ms Lim and Mr Singh, given the CA’s findings that they acted without good faith, and in gross negligence and (iii) such other actions AHTC intends to take.

In response, AHTC clarified the roles of Mr Pritam Singh and Ms Sylvia Lim in various committees, emphasizing their collective decision-making process.

“Since each Committee meeting has a quorum to comply with, there is no risk of any person unilaterally making decisions or granting approvals. ”

The AHTC’s letter noted that Mr Pritam Singh chairs the Public Relations Committee and is a member of the Estate & Community Liaison Committee and Tenders & Contracts (T&C) Committee, which relies on external consultants’ recommendations for approval based on a Price Quality Method evaluation framework.

“T&C Committee members are required to declare any conflicts of interest for tender evaluations. ”

Meanwhile, the Estate & Community Liaison Committee evaluates estate projects and maintenance purchases within a budget.

Ms Sylvia Lim is on the Audit Committee, overseeing statutory audits and governance, but has no role in procurement or payments.

No reason to restrict Pritam Singh and Sylvia Lim from fulfilling their elected councilor responsibilities, states AHTC

Regarding actions AHTC intends to take, AHTC expressed confidence that the underlying concerns related to conflicts of interest and safeguards in payment processes, especially concerning the appointment of a conflicted managing agent, have been fully addressed.

AHTC see no reason to disallow Mr Pritam Singh and Ms Sylvia Lim from discharging their functions and duties as elected councillors of the Town Council.

In light of the foregoing, AHTC trusts that no regulatory action needs to be taken by the Minister in relation to the exercise of Ms Sylvia Lim’s and Mr Pritam Singh’s powers and duties.

The AHTC Chairman added that the payment processes and systems that were subject-matter of the CA’s findings have long been overhauled and enhanced and AHTC no longer engages an external managing agent.

“Consequently, the CA’s findings in relation to the payment processes have been overtaken by events. ”

“Most importantly, AHTC’s audits since FY2019 and governance checks since FY2021-2022 prove that AHTC has consistently maintained high standards of governance and compliance.”

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