Workers' Party (WP) chief Low Thia Khiang must explain what the party is doing to set right the situation, given the "grave and serious questions" raised by the High Court over the management of its town council and the conduct of its MPs in Parliament, Law Minister K. Shanmugam said yesterday.
"He is a town councillor and party to all of this," he told the media. "What are they going to do to set right the situation?"
He was asked for his comments on the High Court's dismissal of an application by the Ministry of National Development (MND) to appoint independent accountants to the WP-run town council to oversee and safeguard the disbursement of government grants, and to look at past payments.
Justice Quentin Loh, in his decision released on Wednesday, said the court does not need to step in as the law already allows the National Development Minister to impose conditions on grants disbursed to town councils.
He also said the Housing Board and residents could take legal action should a town council fail to perform its duties.
But he had sharp words for the Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC) for the gravity of its lapses.
These included the state of its accounts and the validity and propriety of payments previously made to related parties - a reference to its managing agent companies that were in fact also owned by some key officials in the town council.
Also, the town council's failure to make quarterly transfers to the sinking fund was the "height of financial irresponsibility".
The judge also suggested that WP and AHPETC chairman Sylvia Lim was being economical with the truth for her "curious" statement at a parliamentary debate on Feb 12, when she said AHPETC had "been making transfers for financial year 2014/2015".
But she omitted the fact that only two of three transfers due at that time had been made, the judge noted. Neither did she mention that both transfers were late, with the second transfer made only a day before Parliament met.
Mr Shanmugam noted yesterday that Justice Loh was "scathing" about the WP town councillors and their conduct: "He said that the chairman of the Workers' Party misled Parliament. It is very serious to lie in Parliament."
He added that the judgment confirmed what he said in Parliament: That the WP's conduct over AHPETC was "unlawful".
"(The judge) said their conduct was possibly criminal. And that residents and the HDB can sue them.
That if they were running a public company, the officers will be in serious trouble. He said their actions were at the height of financial irresponsibility," he said.
Yesterday, he pointed out that WP town councillors had "given $26 million worth of contracts to their friends" - a reference to the managing agent - and then refused to give information on these contracts to their own auditors.
"The fact is, money cannot be traced properly. Gone. They are insolvent. Egregious conduct. Given all these and the direct criticism of the chairman Sylvia Lim, the secretary-general of the Workers' Party has to explain. What are they going to do to set right the situation?"
He said that going forward, the Government will continue to take advice from the Attorney-General on its next course of action.
This article was first published on May 29, 2015.
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