A day after a High Court raised the red flag on the goings-on in Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC), Law Minister K Shanmugam followed up with hard-hitting words for the Workers’ Party, which runs the town council.
The scathing comments Justice Quentin Loh directed at AHPETC confirms his remarks previously that AHPETC’s town councillors had acted in an “unlawful” manner, said Mr Shanmugam, who is also Foreign Minister. He also zeroed in on the fact that the judge had highlighted AHPETC chairman Sylvia Lim’s misleading statements to Parliament about the financial transfers the town council was required to make.
“I said in February, in Parliament, that the WP MPs’ conduct on AHPETC was unlawful. I said that several times. I choose my words carefully. This judgment confirms what I have said,” said Mr Shanmugam, who was giving his views on the court’s decision at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs today (May 28). “The judge was scathing about the town councilors and their conduct. He said that the chairman of the WP misled Parliament. It is very serious to lie in Parliament.”
Today was not the first time Mr Shanmugam has, shorn of parliamentary privilege, described the WP town councillors’ conduct as unlawful. Parliamentary privilege refers to the legal immunity from any action in the courts for words spoken in the course of parliamentary proceedings. The aim is to allow Members to speak freely and frankly without fear of legal consequences.
In an 80-page judgment released on yesterday, Justice Loh had said that AHPETC’s actions were “at the height of financial irresponsibility”, quoted Mr Shanmugam.
The judgment underscores the fact that action should be taken over the “egregious conduct” of the AHPETC, he added, highlighting that the judge had said the conduct was “possibly criminal” and that the town council could be sued by residents and the Housing and Development Board.
Mr Shanmugam said: “If this were to happen to a People’s Action Party town council, what do you think Singaporeans would be asking? If this were to happen to a public company, what do you think the shareholders would be saying? Is conduct like this responsible? Is the Government responsible if it just keeps quiet in the face of a judgment from the Supreme Court that says all these things?”
The judge also noted that “it is clear there are grave and serious questions” in AHPETC, relating to its books and the validity and property of payments made to related parties.
Calling for WP’s Secretary-General Low Thia Kiang and other AHPETC town councillors to take action, Mr Shanmugam said: “(They) have to explain what are they going to do to set right the situation? … What are they going to do to answer the ‘grave and serious questions’ that the court says has been raised? This is pretty serious.”
Mr Shanmugam said MND will consult the Attorney-General’s Chambers on its next steps, but said the Government has a responsibility to pursue further action.
Reiterating that the judgment concurs with the government’s position that AHPETC’s conduct “was bad … and actionable”, Mr Shanmugam said the judge was of the view that the Town Councils Act empower the HDB and residents, not MND, to seek legal action.
“That is something the Attorney-General will advise us on, as to whether it is the correct interpretation, and what they should do about it,” he said.
AHPETC could not be reached for comment today.