THE Workers' Party (WP)-run town council yesterday objected to accounting firm PwC being chosen to help manage its finances, should the court decide to appoint independent accountants to the town council.
Its lawyer Peter Low said using PwC may lead to perceptions of bias, as the firm helped in a recent special audit of the town council done by the Auditor-General's Office (AGO). The audit found accounting and governance lapses.
If PwC was again appointed to inspect the town council's books, the firm might be seen to have preconceived notions of AHPETC's wrongdoing, Mr Low said.
The town council was in court to argue against the Ministry of National Development's (MND) request for independent accountants to be appointed to AHPETC.
MND had suggested the High Court appoint PwC partners Ong Chao Choon and Chan Kheng Tek to oversee government grants to the Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC), and to examine its past payments.
But AHPETC believes PwC would be "constrained" if it were appointed, Mr Low said.
He referred to a court statement made by AHPETC chairman Sylvia Lim on April 17: "(PwC) had already made findings contained in the AGO report that it was not 'fully satisfied' with the validity and propriety of the town council's transactions with its managing agent.
"AHPETC also had disagreements with PwC during the course of the AGO audit."
Also, MND's offer to pay for the work done by the independent accountants, on top of suggesting whom to appoint, may also lead to suspicions of bias, said Mr Low.
Instead, AHPETC wants a neutral party - like a retired judge - to select the accountants.
Responding to Mr Low's argument, Justice Quentin Loh noted that the WP's MPs had fully accepted in Parliament the AGO's audit findings and had acknowledged its integrity.
"It can't be (you) accept what the AGO said but (you) have grave suspicions about PwC's work," he said.
"Is an auditor doing something unprofessional or doing something wrong, if it comes to related-party transactions or checking on processes, to follow the trail? You can't say they are being unreasonable," Justice Loh said.
In any case, if the independent accountants show bias, they would be answerable to the court, he said.
"They are no longer part of the AGO team, they are no longer part of anybody's team; they are officers of the court."
At yesterday's hearing, AHPETC's lawyers also said for the first time that the town council would submit two overdue financial reports by new deadlines that had earlier been set by the Government.
AHPETC's financial consulting firm, Business Assurance, is now ironing out accounting issues flagged by previous auditors, so AHPETC can submit an unqualified set of accounts, they said.
AHPETC has until June 30 and Aug 31 to submit its accounts for the 2013 and 2014 financial years respectively.
Its lawyers' assurance yesterday comes after they dithered on Monday when asked by Justice Loh how likely AHPETC was to meet the deadlines.
This article was first published on May 6, 2015.
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