Move by AHTC to amend claims in case 'prejudicial', say lawyers for Workers' Party town councillors

SINGAPORE – A move by the Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (AHTC) to amend its claims in a long-running court case is “prejudicial” and an abuse of the court process, said lawyers representing town councillors from the Worker’ Party.

WP chief Pritam Singh, party chairman Sylvia Lim and former party chief Low Thia Khiang, along with the two other town councillors who were taken to court by the town council, have opposed the amendment, in submissions released online on Monday (Aug 3).

The five defendants noted that the trial is already over, and judgment has already been delivered.

They also said the amendments AHTC wants to make are intended to take advantage of the orders made in the High Court judgment released last October, which also covered a parallel lawsuit brought by the Pasir Ris-Punggol Town Council (PRPTC) against the five defendants and others.

This is the latest development in the court case, which is now before the Court of Appeal.

AHTC, acting through an independent panel, had taken the five town councillors, along with their managing agent company FM Solutions & Services (FMSS) and the company’s owners to court over $33 million in improper payments that the town council made under their watch.

Justice Kannan Ramesh had found Ms Lim and Mr Low in breach of their fiduciary duties towards AHTC in awarding a contract to FMSS without calling a tender.

It also found Mr Singh and the other two town councillors, Mr Kenneth Foo and Mr Chua Zhi Hon, in breach of their duty of skill and care.

According to court papers filed by AHTC’s lawyers Shook Lin & Bok, the town council is seeking to add to the claims against Mr Singh, Mr Chua, Mr Foo and Ms How Weng Fan, the owner of FMSS who is also representing the estate of her late husband Danny Loh.

AHTC’s claims against Mr Singh, Mr Chua and Mr Foo were focused on several specific contracts, while its claims against Ms How were focused on breaches of fiduciary duty. Now, AHTC is also seeking to claim against them for breaches of a duty to exercise due skill and care towards the town council.

In contesting this, lawyers from Tan Rajah and Cheah, representing the WP town councillors, and Netto and Magin, representing Ms How, said in separate submissions that AHTC was attempting to “take a second bite of the cherry”.

Lawyers for the WP town councillors argued AHTC had the information it needed to make the claims previously, but had not done so, and said the town council had also run its case according to its original claims over a span of two years from July 2017 until October 2019, when the judgment was released.

They also said the application was a “blatant attempt” to benefit from the findings in the judgment in relation to the parallel lawsuit brought by PRPTC.

“Having had sight of the judgment, AHTC is clearly attempting to have a second bite at the cherry,” the WP town councillors lawyers said, adding that this is an abuse of the process of the court.

The lawyers argued that there was a time limit for making the claims that the town council wants to add on through the amendment. When AHTC had first filed the lawsuit in 2017, it would have been in time to make the claims, but it was now too late, they said.

Another argument the lawyers for the WP town councillors and Ms How made was that allowing AHTC to change its claim is severely prejudicial, because they had run their case based on the original claims. This deprives the defendants of the chance to fight the claims, since the trial is over.

“The prejudice suffered is irremediable as the first to fifth defendants would have conducted their defence differently if these claims had been made at the outset,” said the lawyers of the WP town councillors.

They added that they would have adduced additional evidence and also have called other town councillors to testify on the issue of the managing agent and essential maintenance service unit contracts.

Justice Ramesh, who heard the application to amend the statement of claim in chambers on Monday, has reserved judgment.

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