SINGAPORE — Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (AHTC) on Tuesday (Sept 5) said Workers’ Party (WP) chair Sylvia Lim has not been directly involved in its procurement and payment processes since 2020, though party chief Pritam Singh sits on two town council committees dealing with purchases, tenders and contracts.
The opposition-run town council was responding to an Aug 22 request from the Ministry of National Development (MND), asking for information on the powers and duties of the WP leaders in relation to their involvement in AHTC’s payment and procurement processes.
The ministry gave AHTC two weeks to reply. Its response on Tuesday — signed by town council chairman and Hougang Member of Parliament Dennis Tan — was released within the timeframe.
In the letter, AHTC highlighted that members in all its committees make decisions collectively, with “no risk of any person unilaterally making decisions or granting approvals”.
Under a rectification order issued by MND to AHTC in January 2020 — which required the town council to restrict Ms Lim and former WP secretary-general Low Thia Khiang’s powers in handling some of its financial matters — the duo also had their rights to vote in committees withheld from them.
The rectification order was cancelled on Aug 22, after MND considered the Court of Appeal’s findings — released in November 2022 and July this year — that Ms Lim and Mr Low did not owe fiduciary duties to AHTC.
AHTC on Tuesday clarified that Ms Lim sits on an audit committee which has no role in the procurement and payment process.
Along with Mr Singh, she is also a member of an estate and community liaison committee, which “evaluates requests for approval for estate projects and cyclical maintenance purchases within a budgetary framework”.
Since the rectification order was issued on Jan 3, 2020, however, Ms Lim has had no direct involvement in AHTC’s procurement and payment processes, said AHTC.
AHTC noted that Mr Singh further sits on a tenders and contracts committee, which “relies on a price quality method evaluation framework by appointed external consultants’ recommendation in the approval process”.
Members in this committee are required to declare any conflicts of interest for tender evaluations, and will recuse themselves from decision-making if so.
Ms Lim and Mr Singh’s roles in these 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”, said AHTC.
MND had also asked on Aug 22 about other actions that AHTC intends to take in relation to them, given the Court of Appeal’s findings.
In July, the Court of Appeal found Ms Lim and Mr Low liable for negligence in the town council’s payments process, in relation to the appointment of a managing agent. Lawyers representing AHTC in the suit did not make any claim against Mr Singh over control failures.
“AHTC is confident that the underlying cause of concern related to conflicted persons and absence of safeguards in the payment processes related to the appointment of a conflicted managing agent has been fully addressed,” the town council said on Tuesday.
It said it saw “no reason to disallow Mr Pritam Singh and Ms Sylvia Lim from discharging their functions and duties as elected councillors of the town council”, and has “no plans for any other action”.
AHTC cited KPMG’s final monthly report on Feb 14, 2018, which stated that the auditor was “reasonably satisfied” that AHTC was compliant with the Town Council Act.
“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,” it added.
“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.”
AHTC also pointed to its unqualified audited financial statements for the financial period from FY2019 to FY2022.
In 2020, the town council also engaged an independent internal auditor — Baker Tilly Consultancy — for two years, to review its corporate governance, procurement and financial rules compliance processes in a bid to “further enhance governance”.
“No material control weaknesses were flagged,” AHTC said on Tuesday.
On Aug 22, MND said that after hearing back from AHTC, it would consider the need for further regulatory action to “safeguard” public money entrusted to the town council.
CNA has contacted MND for more information.
AHTC on Tuesday said it “trusts that no regulatory action needs to be taken” in relation to the exercise of Ms Lim’s and Mr Singh’s powers and duties.
“As explained above, the payment processes and systems that were subject-matter of the (Court of Appeal’s) findings have long been overhauled and enhanced and AHTC no longer engages an external managing agent,” the town council wrote in its conclusion.
“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.” CNA
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