26 September 2016
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Rajah & Tann Asia extends reach to Philippines

Straits Times
26 Sep 2016
Chia Yan Min

Legal network Rajah & Tann Asia has extended its reach to the Philippines with a new member, C&G Law.

C&G Law, a full-service law firm in the Philippines, will become a member firm of Rajah & Tann Asia with effect from Jan 1 next year.

The firm works with major Philippine conglomerates and multinational companies operating in a diverse range of sectors.

"C&G Law is one of the most dynamic, progressive and well-regarded law firms in the Philippines. We are delighted that they are joining Rajah & Tann Asia at a time when the Philippine economy is enjoying a resurgence and many international and regional companies are stepping up their investments in the country," said Rajah & Tann Asia chairman Lee Eng Beng.

The Philippines has enjoyed rapid economic growth in recent years and business leaders have stepped up their overseas investments, said C&G Law managing partner Jaime Renato Gatmaytan.

"Joining the Rajah & Tann Asia network is not only timely, but necessary to meet the growing demands of our clients," he said.

The Rajah & Tann Asia network also includes law firms and lawyers in Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

Chia Yan Min

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6 1/2 years' jail, caning for man who abused girlfriend's baby

Straits Times
20 Sep 2016
Amir Hussain

Tan pleaded guilty earlier this month to one charge of causing grievous hurt and three out of four charges of ill-treating a child. 

A man who pushed his girlfriend's one-year-old son off a bed with so much force that the baby broke his skull was yesterday sentenced to 6 1/2 years' jail and six strokes of the cane.

The infant had bleeding in his brain but miraculously survived the ordeal on March 25 last year - after emergency surgery. Now aged three, the boy is in foster care and undergoing rehabilitative therapy.

His tormentor, Franklie Tan Guang Wei, 26, pleaded guilty earlier this month to one charge of causing grievous hurt and three out of four charges of ill-treating a child.

District Judge Hamidah Ibrahim said a deterrent sentence was needed to signal society's disapproval and reprobation of Tan's conduct.

"The most glaring and obvious aggravating factor is the fact that these acts of abuse were committed against a defenceless and vulnerable child... His only crime was the fact that he cried, a natural thing for him to do at his age, and could not be consoled, which (Tan) found frustrating," she said.

The boy was born in mid-2013, after his father lost contact with his mother, who is now 25. In August 2014, she got into a relationship with Tan, who did odd jobs and last worked at a mobile phone shop. The next month, the infant's behaviour changed.

"(He) appeared to be fearful of males and started having nightmares in his sleep," Assistant Public Prosecutor Dillon Kok said.

Two nannies who looked after him also found bruises on his body.

"When (the mother) was questioned, she denied that (he) had been abused and claimed that there were 'spirits' in the flat," Mr Kok added.

In November 2014, the mother got pregnant with Tan's child and moved in with Tan and his mother.

On Nov 8, the baby's cries woke the couple. Tan slapped him once, leaving finger marks on his cheek and bruising near his ear.

Three days after the incident, a nanny took photos of the bruises and swelling. She made a police report about the injuries on Nov 19 and the Child Protective Service was informed. The baby was then put under the nannies' care, and the mother and Tan were allowed only weekly supervised access. Tan's grandparents later took over from the nannies in taking care of the baby in February last year, with the couple granted supervised access again.

But on March 8 last year, Tan's grandfather left the infant at Tan's flat. That night, frustrated with his cries, Tan threw the baby at his mother, who was about 2m away. The infant fell against her body.

Later, Tan and the mother were allowed to spend the nights with him. But on the morning of March 25, angered by the baby's cries, Tan hit his buttocks twice, causing a bruise.

After the mother went to work, leaving the infant alone with Tan, the baby vomited on the bed. Angry, Tan forcefully pushed him off the bed with his right arm.

The infant landed face-up on the floor about 2m away and vomited. Tan took him to the toilet to shower but did not check the water temperature first, scalding his upper back.

Later, Tan noticed that the baby was in a daze and semi-conscious. He was also vomiting repeatedly. Tan told the mother, who went home to find the infant weak and very pale. They took him to hospital.

The mother has been charged with two counts of permitting Tan to ill-treat the baby. Her trial is scheduled to begin next Monday.

Defence lawyer Gino Hardial Singh submitted a psychiatric report that said Tan has persistent depressive disorder, poor emotion regulation and low intelligence.

Tan could have been jailed for up to 10 years, fined and caned for causing grievous hurt. For child abuse, he could have been fined $4,000 and jailed for four years per charge.

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Legal online betting may be available soon

Straits Times
15 Sep 2016
Jermyn Chow & Melissa Lin

Singapore Pools, Turf Club await go-ahead to launch online services as early as next month

Punters may be allowed to place their bets online legally as early as the second half of next month - in a move that appears aimed at trying to counter illicit gambling on unauthorised websites.

The Straits Times has learnt that Singapore-based lottery operators Singapore Pools and the Singapore Turf Club (STC) are preparing to launch their online betting services, in anticipation of getting the green light from the authorities.

Responding to queries from ST, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) would say only that it is evaluating applications from Singapore Pools and STC.

But ST understands that both lottery operators are running final tests on their online betting platforms and have prepared advisories for staff and customers.

They are hoping to be exempted from the Remote Gambling Act by the end of this month.

Details are still being finalised, but it appears that all lotteries and games except for Big Sweep will be available online. However, betting amounts and permutations will be limited. It is also understood that the operators will be able to take live bets online.

Singapore Pools offers betting on football and motor-racing as well as 4-D and Toto, while STC takes bets on horse races.

The latest move to allow the two operators to venture into online betting comes two years after Parliament passed the Remote Gambling Act, which outlawed online and phone gambling. Hundreds of websites that offer remote gambling services have since been blocked.

But the possibility of allowing some operators into this space had been kept open: Then Second Home Affairs Minister S. Iswaran said that an outright ban could drive illegal remote gambling activity underground.

An operator could be exempted from the Act provided that it was a not-for-profit operation and contributed to public, social and charitable causes in Singapore.

Both STC and Singapore Pools meet these criteria. They are not-for-profit organisations operated by the Singapore Totalisator Board (Tote Board), a statutory board under the Ministry of Finance.

Their gaming surpluses are channelled to the Tote Board to fund charitable and social causes.

If their applications are indeed approved, they will be the first to receive an exemption.

But MPs then said the exemption clause sends mixed signals.

Allowing punters to place their bets online would make betting more convenient - and lead to a whole host of other problems, social workers warned.

"The danger is not just addiction. Especially among the younger generation who lack self discipline, there's also the danger of debt issues," said Ms Deborah Queck, 48, who counsels gambling addicts at Eternal Grace Community Services.

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S'porean lawyer bags global award

Straits Times
26 Sep 2016
Annabeth Leow

Lawyer Remy Choo Zheng Xi has become the first Singaporean to clinch the International Bar Association's (IBA) Outstanding Young Lawyer of the Year Award. Mr Choo, 30, was presented with his prize at the association's annual conference in Washington, DC, last Monday.

The IBA was founded in 1947 and has over 80,000 members from more than 160 countries. The award is open to all lawyers under 35 and recognises their professional excellence, ethical reputation and community service.

Mr Choo, a director at Peter Low LLC, was nominated by the firm's founder and managing director, Mr Peter Cuthbert Low. Mr Choo's award citation commended him for his work in the "unpopular and challenging area of human rights litigation".

He has been involved in cases such as teenager Benjamin Lim's death amid a police investigation, blogger Alex Au's charges of contempt of court and the Section 377A constitutional challenge.

Mr Choo wrote on Facebook that he hoped his win would show young lawyers that professional success and a positive social impact were not mutually exclusive goals. "Being the first Singaporean to win this award is particularly special to me," he said. "So for the IBA newsletter I picked a photo taken on Cavenagh Bridge, with a uniquely Singapore bumboat passing by."

Last year, he was named the civil society advocate of the year at the Singapore Advocacy Awards. The son of a chef, Mr Choo is a foodie and writes the occasional food review, according to his firm's website.

Annabeth Leow

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Find other ways to counter illegal gambling: Forum

Straits Times
20 Sep 2016
Toh Shok Ching

I was saddened by last Thursday's report ("Legal online betting may be available soon").

The Government approving Singapore Pools' and Singapore Turf Club's applications to be exempted from the Remote Gambling Act would be taking the easy way out in its efforts to counter illicit gambling on unauthorised websites.

Instead, it should think up responsive measures by working closely with the police and the Infocomm Development Authority, while continuing to ban and block websites that offer remote gambling services.

In fact, the ban acted as a deterrent.

What makes the Government think that the number of gambling addicts will not spiral upwards with the introduction of online betting?

Leisure gamblers could possibly turn into chronic ones. Online gambling could even reach new audiences, such as young people, housewives, retirees and the jobless. All they need is a smartphone or computer to log in at any time.

It is easy to get addicted to gambling, but so much harder to get out of it.

Chronic gamblers still place bets, even with the inconvenience of having to queue at kiosks. Why tempt them further with the convenience of online betting?

Telling the public that the gambling surpluses from Singapore Pools and Singapore Turf Club are used for good causes is irrelevant to families that are broken up as a result of gambling.

These families may not recover from the psychological damage gambling does to them.

We have already seen the damage the casinos brought. We do not need to see more.

Toh Shok Ching (Mrs)

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New law gives shoppers more protection against errant retailers

Straits Times
14 Sep 2016
Melissa Lin

Errant retailers will no longer be able to secretly close and reopen their shops under a different name to escape detection, under changes to the law approved by Parliament.

By the end of this year, government agency Spring Singapore will have wide-ranging powers to investigate and take enforcement action against retailers who persist in unfair practices.

The amendments to the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act send a strong deterrent signal to the small number of businesses which engage in unfair practices, Minister of State for Trade and Industry Koh Poh Koon told the House during the debate, which saw 14 MPs rise to speak in support of the changes.

The new law aims to stamp out "black sheep" retailers and prevent a repeat of the Jover Chew saga.

The former mobile phone shop owner in Sim Lim Square and his workers were jailed last year for cheating 26 victims into agreeing to buy mobile devices worth over $16,000 over a 10-month period.

With its new powers, Spring - a statutory board under the Ministry of Trade and Industry which oversees the growth of enterprises in Singapore - will be able to search and enter premises without a warrant to gather evidence against a persistent errant retailer.

This will allow the agency to take action quickly and file a timely injunction - a court order to stop the retailer from continuing with unfair practices - if needed.

It will also be an offence for anyone to obstruct Spring's investigations, such as by destroying documents or giving false information.

Under the new law, the courts can also require errant retailers to alert customers that they are under injunction, such as by printing a notice on their invoices.

The retailers also have to alert Spring when there are changes to their shop's address or employment status. If they fail to comply, they may be charged with contempt of court.

The changes will plug some gaps in the current consumer laws, said Dr Koh, who is also Minister of State for National Development.

Currently, the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) and the Singapore Tourism Board handle consumer complaints. But the two agencies do not have investigative and enforcement powers.

They can negotiate with retailers, arrange for mediation or invite retailers to sign an agreement to stop their unfair practices. If the retailer refuses to sign the agreement or breaches it after signing, the agencies can take out an injunction.

But even if a court order is issued, business owners tend to close their shops and reopen under a different name to dodge penalties.

Under the new law, doing so would amount to a criminal offence.

In a debate that lasted three hours, 14 MPs raised concerns over issues such as the scope of the law, and how it will be explained to the layman.

Mr Patrick Tay (West Coast GRC) asked if the law applied to online retailers and agents who act as middlemen between buyers and overseas suppliers.

The Act provides the same protection to consumers whether their purchases are made online or from a brick and mortar shop, said Dr Koh.

Agents who "carry on a business" - meaning that they carry out several transactions, and not just a one-off deal - are also subjected to measures under the Act, he added.

Mr Melvin Yong (Tanjong Pagar GRC) urged Spring and Case to educate consumers, particularly the elderly, foreign workers and tourists, on their rights as consumers.

Raising awareness of the changes to the law is a priority, said Dr Koh, who added: "Business models can change. Consumer shopping patterns may also evolve. So it is not always possible to use legislation to cover all manner of consumer actions... Consumer education will remain the key pillar of our consumer protection framework."

Five MPs also asked whether more will be done to protect consumers who buy prepaid packages, following the sudden closure of gym chain California Fitness in July.

Mr Lim Biow Chuan (Mountbatten), who is also president of Case, noted that the amendments "make no attempt to discourage the taking of prepayment or deposits for future services".

Dr Koh said it would be "very challenging" to impose a broad-based measure on all businesses to protect consumers against loss of prepayments from business closures.

He noted that overseas jurisdictions such as the European Union, Australia and Hong Kong do not adopt such a stance, adding: "Such measures may affect the cost of doing business which would eventually be passed on to consumers."


How Jover Chew incident would have been dealt with now

Jover Chew's mobile phone shop at Sim Lim Square, Mobile Air, shot to infamy in November 2014 when a video of a Vietnamese tourist begging for the return of his money went viral.

The shop refused the Consumers Association of Singapore's request for it to sign an agreement to stop its unfair practices then.

Case's next step was to take out an injunction against Mobile Air.

The process would take several months, as Case had to seek approval from its relevant committees as well as the Injunction Proposals Review Panel at the Ministry of Trade and Industry, before applying for the court order.

Chew and four of his workers were last year jailed for cheating customers.

Describing how Mobile Air would have been dealt with under the new law passed yesterday, Minister of State for Trade and Industry Koh Poh Koon said Case would refer the case to Spring Singapore, which now has the power to gather evidence - such as by entering and searching the shop even without a warrant - that Mobile Air had carried out unfair practices.

Spring could present the evidence to the courts, which might then issue an injunction barring Mobile Air from engaging in unfair practices as stated in the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act.

The courts could also order Mobile Air to publicise its injunction status, such as by putting up notices on its premises. It would then be up to consumers to decide whether they still want to purchase from Mobile Air.

The shop's employees who engaged in the unfair practices could also be required to similarly declare that they are under an injunction.

Spring and Case could also work together to publicise the retailer's injunction order.

Had Mobile Air not complied with the court orders, Spring, as the administering agency, would have the power to haul the retailer to court. Failure to comply with a court order is considered a criminal offence, which could result in a fine and/or jail.

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S'porean gets Aussie visa - with A$500 a day difference

Straits Times
26 Sep 2016
K.C. Vijayan

Work visa granted on appeal as impact of loss to his firm 'outweighs' other factors: Tribunal

A Singaporean underwater photographer who takes tourists diving at the Great Barrier Reef has been granted a work visa on appeal after an Australian tribunal found that his economic contribution to the community outweighed the fact that he had spent six months in jail.

Queensland-based Calypso Productions, the company that hired Singaporean Lim Yoong Xiang, 32, quantified the revenue loss from Mr Lim's absence from lack of a work visa as being A$500 (S$518) a day and claimed it would take a year to find a replacement with his unique skills.

But the office of Australia's Minister for Immigration and Border Protection objected to issuing the permanent work visa, indicating that Mr Lim did not qualify under the character test, as he had served two six-month jail terms concurrently in Singapore in June 2012 for breach of probation orders in relation to cannabis consumption.

Mr Lim had been placed on three years' probation in 2010 for shoplifting, drug possession and drug consumption. His sentence was equal to 12 months under Australian rules, which disqualified him for a visa under the character test.

At issue was whether his past criminal convictions here took precedence over his economic contributions to his Queensland employer.

Mr Lim filed an appeal with the Administrative Appeals Tribunal of Australia, with a hearing held in Brisbane. In judgment grounds released last week, it set aside the previous decision and ruled the discretion to refuse Mr Lim a visa on character grounds should not be invoked.

Calypso, which hired Mr Lim in 2014 as its imaging information and marketing manager, specialises in underwater photography and operates in Cairns, which is Australia's tourist gateway to the Great Barrier Reef. Mr Lim is a graduate and certified divemaster whose job includes underwater photography, sales and training.

Cairns-based Calypso has an annual revenue of A$1.4 million and more than 60 per cent of its clients are Chinese tourists for whom Mr Lim could facilitate a "positive experience", according to the company's managing director Lisa Conyers.

Mr Lim argued that the seriousness of his conduct was "very low by Australian standards", pointing to the different approaches to cannabis use in Singapore and Australia.

He added that he would have been unlikely to face a jail term for the same offences in Australia.

But the minister's representative stressed that drug-related offences are serious on account of the harm and costs to health and law enforcement resources, and underlined the duty to protect the community.

Tribunal deputy president P. McDermott said such a consideration "weighs slightly against" Mr Lim, but although " serious", the offending did not involve violent or sexual crimes. He gave Mr Lim credit for his "candour " at the hearing and said that he "now has a certificate of clearance from the Singapore Police which was issued under local spent convictions legislation".

He ruled that the impact on Calypso "outweighs" the other primary considerations. He found the risk of Mr Lim reoffending or causing harm to others in Australia to be " low".

"I am satisfied that the discretion to refuse the visa on character grounds should not be exercised," said Dr McDermott.


What are spent convictions?

From 2001 to last year, a total of 157,369 convicted offenders have had their criminal records rendered as " spent" under the Registration of Criminals Act.

To qualify for a record to be spent, the offender must not have been sentenced to an imprisonment term exceeding three months or to a fine exceeding $2,000. They must also satisfy a five-year crime- free period, among other criteria.

Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam, in a written reply to a parliamentary question in February, said that based on these criteria, those who have had their records spent since 2005 include people who committed minor offences, such as shop theft, as well as foreigners, most of whom are immigration offenders.

Of the 157,369 people who had their criminal records rendered spent as of Dec 31, 68,792 were Singaporeans and permanent residents.

Of the 88,577 foreigners who had their criminal records rendered spent as of Dec 31, more than half (47,836 persons) were convicted for entering or attempting to enter Singapore without a valid pass, he added.

But the number of offenders with convictions rendered spent has declined steadily from 7,618 in 2006 to 2,888 last year.

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Businessman fined for fighting man suspected of affair with wife

Straits Times
20 Sep 2016
K. C. Vijayan

A district judge fined a businessman instead of jailing him for a bruising fight with a man alleged to be having an affair with his wife.

The prosecution, which is appealing against the sentence, had urged that Tommy Koh Leng Theng, 36, be jailed for at least three weeks for his "relentless" blows that continued even after Mr Ho Wei Siong, 42, was on the ground.

"But there were factors that mitigated against the seriousness of Mr Koh's actions", including his "emotional response to seeing Mr Ho, who he perceived was responsible for the breakdown of his marriage", said District Judge Adam Nakhoda.

Mr Ho was also "insolent" when asked if he had had an affair with Koh's wife, responding: "What if I have, what can you do?" This led to Koh overreacting, he added in judgment grounds released last week.

Koh had pleaded guilty to disturbing the peace when he fought with Mr Ho at Lorong 27A, Geylang on June 11, 2014.

Koh also agreed to an additional charge being taken into account during sentencing, which involved fighting with another man who had made advances on his wife in 2012.

The district judge agreed with Deputy Public Prosecutor Sarah Shi that since Koh had previously resorted to fighting to settle differences, he had to be specifically deterred from doing so in future.

In pressing for a jail term, DPP Shi pointed to the serious injuries Mr Ho suffered, among other things, saying he had bruises, abrasions and stitches on his left eyelid.

Lawyer Anil Singh, in defending Koh, argued that the incident was not premeditated, with Koh emotionally unstable because of his marriage breaking down.

He added that Mr Ho had used a plastic chair to hit Koh when the latter tried to punch him, after which the fight began.

Mr Ho, who was given six days' medical leave, had been issued a stern warning by the police for his part, noted the judge.

The district judge acknowledged the aggravating factors but ruled the "threshold" to merit a jail term had not been crossed, given the facts and circumstances of the case.

"I considered that imposing the maximum fine of $5,000 would be sufficient to meet the needs of specific deterrence," he said.

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Cutting tedious legal research with intelligent search engine

Straits Times
14 Sep 2016
Amelia Teng

Thanks to website launched in January, lawyers now have the time to take on more cases

Legal research can be the bane of every lawyer and law student's existence.

From poring over textbooks in law libraries to trawling through cases online and offline to prepare for submissions, it is a process that can take hours.

To ease the burden, a group of local entrepreneurs - some of whom are former lawyers - have designed a website that helps lawyers search faster, keep notes and organise their research better.

Launched in January, Intelllex, meaning "intelligent law", has already attracted more than 1,000 users - about half of whom are lawyers and the rest law students.

The service is currently free, but a subscription fee is likely to be introduced next year. Lawyers said it has reduced their research time by 30 to 60 per cent, meaning they can handle more cases.

Mr Chang Zi Qian, one of its four co-founders, said: "The base of legal information is growing exponentially as more cases are reported and at a faster rate. Lawyers have to take into account what is happening around the world and things are more complex than decades ago.

"Demands of clients have also increased. They want all angles and arguments covered and that means a lot more work.

"We're trying to use artificial intelligence and machine learning to solve the problem of knowledge management."

The 30-year-old Singapore Management University law graduate, who served his apprenticeship in commercial litigation at Rajah & Tann Singapore, added that sometimes, partners ask for "fact-specific research" or "quick-turnaround for answers", which can be tough to obtain with existing legal platforms.

His website uses a search algorithm that understands legal case relationships so that it offers more relevant cases, commentaries and statutes across countries.

It focuses on jurisdictions which adopt common law like Singapore, and is able to pick out the legal context of a word or phrase instead of the plain English meaning.

It can also save results for future reference and organise cases according to each lawyer's needs.

"A junior litigation lawyer spends 35 per cent of his time every day doing research," said Mr Chang. "You cannot be billing the client (for) every hour because you have to remain competitive in pricing."

Mr Chang, who spent about four years at the National Research Foundation under the Prime Minister's Office (PMO), enjoyed studying law but wanted to be an entrepreneur.

He and the other co-founders left their jobs a year ago to focus on the start-up full time.

One of them, Mr Edmund Koh, 31, worked as a lawyer in banking and financial disputes at Wong Partnership for four years. The others are Ms Li Jianxin, 28, formerly chief operating officer of an IT start-up based in the United States and Ms Felicia Ng, 28, who worked in talent management at the PMO's Public Service Division.

The team plans to open a Hong Kong office next year.

Lawyers said the service helped to speed up their workflow. Mr Kelvin Ong, 30, a litigation lawyer who has been using Intelllex every day since April, said it consolidates not just cases, but other reference materials not found on other platforms, and offers more relevant results.

"As a litigator, research is our bread and butter," he said, adding that it reduces about 60 to 70 per cent of his research time.

Mr Ronnie Tan, 56, managing partner at Central Chambers LLC, a mid-sized firm with about 23 lawyers, said the access to wider content such as research papers and legal publications on Intelllex saves practitioners from going to other sources like Google.

"When I ask them for research on a point that could be very obscure, they can get back to me within 45 minutes, which is very good," he said. "If they are more efficient, they have the capacity to handle more files."

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Splitting over parenting

Straits Times
25 Sep 2016
Venessa Lee

Different parenting styles can place a strain on marriage, say divorce lawyers

Co-sleeping, the practice of having infants and toddlers sleep with their parents, is said to impart a sense of security to the young ones.

Its disadvantages, say detractors, include an increased risk of suffocation for babies and, for adults, a dampener on spousal intimacy.

In some cases, unhappy spouses even take the matter to their lawyers.

Mr Lim Chong Boon, head of family law practice at PKWA Law, says co-sleeping is a major area of parental conflict in divorce cases he has handled.

One client, for example, told him that having his eight-year-old child in the matrimonial bed strained his relationship with his wife.

Mr Lim says one parent tends to push for co-sleeping, while the other prefers the child to learn to sleep alone.

However, the lawyer, who has handled divorce cases for 27 years, says that "generally, different parenting styles per se don't result in divorce in Singapore".

"Something else was already wrong with the marriage."

The high-profile divorce of movie stars Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie was announced on Tuesday amid allegations of clashing parenting styles, among other points of conflict.

The actress, 41, filed for divorce citing irreconcilable differences and is seeking physical custody of their six children.

News reports have claimed that Jolie, who is allegedly upset with Pitt over his parenting, has no fixed bedtimes and believes in freedom of expression for the children. Pitt, 52, is reportedly the disciplinarian.

Ms Gloria James, head lawyer at Gloria James-Civetta & Co, says parenting differences "might not look serious, but are important to the client".

She has worked on a divorce case where the father overrode instructions from the mother, allowing their child to go to the cinema without first doing homework.

She estimates that her firm sees an average of 30 new divorce cases each month, close to 60 per cent of which involve parenting differences.

One such case showed how pain from parenting clashes can run deep, even when the children have grown up.

Ms James, who has practised family and divorce law for 20 years, recounts a case in which a son returned home from work with Chinese New Year goodies, which he left on a table. His father assumed the goodies were meant to be eaten and took some. The son, who has a brother, said his father was "like a dog, sniffing for food", she recalls.

The mother did not reprimand the son and the father felt she had not disciplined and instilled respect in their son. The incident was mentioned in the divorce papers.

In the experience of Ms Hoon Shu Mei, of law firm WongPartnership, "children are often used as pawns in the proceedings" of acrimonious divorces.

"Most of the time, the reason for the marriage breaking down lies with the parents themselves. If they can't get along, it will affect their parenting," the lawyer says.

Adultery or "unreasonable behaviour" is usually cited in acrimonious divorces, rather than parenting issues, she adds.

Ms Hoon has come across parenting differences in divorce cases that "could be perceived as petty", such as parents disagreeing about what co-curricular activities their children should take part in, or which tuition centre they should go to.

Before a marriage breaks down, common areas of parental conflict include discipline, for example, when one parent wields the cane and the other prefers not to, as well as situations where one parent is more harsh and the other more permissive, says Ms Monica Christine Fernando, a marriage and family counsellor at Reach Counselling.

"If one parent strictly follows his or her parenting style and that is the only style allowed, with no space for compromise, that can cause friction and lead to marital breakdown," she adds.

Ms Hoon thinks parenting differences could become more prominent in divorce cases in the future.

She says: "Parents are now more aware of different parenting styles and have a view as to how they should parent."


Working through differences

Here are some tips on how to reconcile different parenting styles.

Ms Theresa Bung, principal therapist at the non-profit Family Life Society, says:

• If the couple have different parenting approaches, they need to improve their communication to work on their differences.

• Set aside a time to talk, away from the children, and not when experiencing stress at work. Be mindful of the tone of voice and choice of words.

• When deciding what is best for a child, listen to his views as well, once he is mature enough to express them.

• Establish consistent parenting, for example, in terms of how much allowance a child gets. This is because if dad says one thing and mum another, he may be confused and anxious as he does not know which parent to please.

Ms Sarah Chua, parenting specialist at Focus on the Family Singapore, says:

• Gather different objective perspectives on parenting by joining a parent support group, attending parenting workshops together and befriending parents who have children of a similar age.

• Do not be afraid to seek help from a family counsellor. Couples who learn to work through their differences will have a stronger relationship. The best way to love your children is to love your spouse.

• Conflicts over parenting can be reduced when couples understand why they parent the way they do. For example, one spouse may insist on having dinner as a family because that was his experience growing up. The other spouse may not find it important as on-the-go meals were the norm as a child. Agree to disagree where necessary, though it is important to agree on the values you want to instil in your children.

Venessa Lee

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Ex-principal fired from public service

Straits Times
20 Sep 2016
Jeremy Koh

Koh lied about his affair with a school vendor and was sentenced to four weeks' jail in January

A former River Valley High School (RVHS) principal, who was sentenced to four weeks' jail in January after lying about an extramarital affair with a school vendor to whom he awarded contracts, has been dismissed from public service.

Koh Yong Chiah, who was 61 when sentenced to jail, was once one of Singapore's "super principals".

A notice posted yesterday in the online edition of the Government Gazette said that Koh, a Senior Education Officer Superscale G, had been dismissed from the public service with effect from Sept 14.

On Nov 24, 2005, the father of two gave false information to an officer from the Ministry of Education (MOE), asserting that he was not having an affair with school service provider Ivy Loke Wai Lin.

Koh was then principal of Jurong Junior College (JJC), a post he held from 2003 until 2009, when he became principal of RVHS.

Koh and Ms Loke, who was 55 as of January this year, met in 2000 while he was the principal of the former Chinese High School (CHS). Their first sexual encounter was during a CHS community service trip to Lijiang, China, in 2001. Both were married.

Between May and November 2005, in his capacity as the final approving authority for contracts at JJC, Koh awarded six contracts worth $162,491 to Ms Loke's firm, Education Architects 21 (EA 21).

He did not disclose the nature of his relationship with Ms Loke to the quotation approval panel.

Between 2005 and 2012, he approved $3.4 million worth of contracts to EA 21 and Education Incorporation, another of Ms Loke's firms.

Dubbed one of the "super principals" when he was appointed cluster superintendent in 1999, Koh was, at one point in his career with the education service, overseeing 11 schools in the south zone.

The Nanyang University graduate began his teaching career at Catholic High School in 1981, eventually becoming Kranji Secondary's principal. He made the news in 1999 when he was named principal of CHS.

When the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau started investigating him in 2012, he was redeployed to the MOE to assist in curriculum development.

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Doc given 2 weeks to pay $500k in legal fees

Straits Times
14 Sep 2016
Selina Lum

A surgeon who owes the Singapore Medical Council (SMC) about $500,000 in legal costs for two disciplinary hearings has been given until Sept 28 to pay the sum or disclose his assets.

Dr Pang Ah San, 58, a general surgeon, was twice found guilty of breaching ethical guidelines which state that doctors are not to offer remedies that are not generally accepted, except in approved clinical trials.

Between 2007 and 2009, he performed a procedure known as percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy on at least four elderly patients at Mount Alvernia Hospital. The procedure consists of inserting a tube into the stomach of patients who cannot swallow.

Instead of standard procedure, Dr Pang used an experimental tube he had invented.

In 2012, he was fined $10,000 for using the tube on an 84-year-old patient who needed permanent tube-feeding. She died of pneumonia a few weeks after the procedure. In 2014, a second disciplinary hearing was started after the Health Ministry received two e-mails from the then-chairman of the hospital's ethics committee. It looked into Dr Pang's use of the same device on three other patients. Dr Pang was found guilty, suspended for six months and fined $10,000.

For both sets of proceedings, he was ordered to pay the SMC's costs, totalling about $538,000.

The SMC, represented by lawyer Chang Man Phing, took steps to enforce the costs orders, including initiating bankruptcy proceedings. This application was dismissed after Dr Pang showed he had $1 million in the bank.

Yesterday, the SMC sought to start contempt proceedings against Dr Pang for disobeying court orders to pay the costs and to disclose his assets. However, the High Court gave him two more weeks to comply.

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Review rules to help expats during divorce: Forum

Straits Times
25 Sep 2016

I was sad to read about the method some expatriates used to gain an unfair advantage in their custody battles for their children in divorce cases ("More expat spouses left in lurch in divorce cases"; last Sunday).

I applaud the various parties that are fighting for the rights of the vulnerable spouses.

With globalisation, we will see more expats working in Singapore.

As the number of divorce cases rises, it is time to review the rules and regulations to protect children in divorce cases and to level the battlefield for both parties.

The main issue is the cancellation of a spouse's Dependant's Pass.

I hope the authorities can review the expat's right of cancellation in such cases, especially when children are involved.

Alternatively, a special visa or visitor pass could be granted until the court case is over.

The authorities should make it easier for the affected spouse and the children to be together by, for instance, allowing special arrangements for the rental of accommodation, and study arrangements.

Leong Kok Seng

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Feedback wanted on tweaks to charities' code of governance

Straits Times
20 Sep 2016
Priscilla Goy

Charity Council proposes changes to improve transparency and accountability

Charities should disclose information on their board members - including their attendance at board meetings, their pay and when they were appointed.

They should also declare the pay packet for each of their three highest-paid staff, if the person's pay exceeds $100,000 a year.

These guidelines - some of which already apply to larger charities - will be extended to cover almost all charities, under proposed changes to the code of governance for the charity sector.

  • Proposed changes

  • Disclosure of board members' names, board appointments and dates of appointment

    NOW: This is required by law, for charities with annual receipts or expenditure of $500,000 and above.

    NEW: This is a guideline in the new basic tier, that is, for charities with annual receipts of over $50,000 and all Institutions of a Public Character (IPCs).

    Disclosure of number of board meetings in the year, and attendance of each board member

    NOW: No such guideline.

    NEW: Guideline in basic tier.

    Disclosure of board members' pay in annual report

    Generally, board members should not be paid for their services on the board. If they are, the pay and benefits should be declared in the annual report.

    NOW: This guideline applies only to charities with annual receipts of above $10 million and IPCs with annual receipts of above $200,000.

    NEW: Guideline in basic tier.

    Disclosure of pay of each of charity's three highest-paid staff, if this exceeds $100,000 a year

    NOW: This is a guideline for large charities with annual receipts of above $10 million, and IPCs with annual receipts of above $200,000.

    NEW: Guideline in basic tier. Total annual pay also includes any pay received in a charity's subsidiaries. The charity should also disclose if any of the three top-paid staff serves on the board.

    Maximum term limit of 10 years for at least two-thirds of the board members

    NOW: No such guideline.

    NEW: Guideline for large charities with annual receipts of above $10 million, and IPCs with annual receipts of above $500,000.

Small charities with annual receipts or total expenditure of less than $50,000 will be exempt from these, as well as from submitting online checklists that evaluate their governance.

Such charities usually have fewer staff and more resource constraints, and find it tougher to meet the guidelines. They make up about 10 per cent of the more than 2,000 charities in Singapore.

The Charity Council is asking the public for feedback on the proposed changes, and the consultation paper can be read online from today.

The council promotes good governance in the sector and advises the Commissioner of Charities on regulatory issues. The code of governance is a best practices guide for charities to improve their transparency and public accountability.

It was introduced in 2007, and refined once in 2010. The latest refined code is expected to be launched early next year.

The council said yesterday that it started on the latest refinement in August last year, "to enhance the code's relevance and clarity, taking into consideration developments in other jurisdictions and increased global focus on good governance, transparency and accountability to enable informed giving decisions".

The guidelines are tiered, depending on the charity's financial size and status as an Institution of a Public Character (IPC).

In giving the rationale for extending some guidelines to mid-sized charities, the council said: "Charities are public-interest entities and receive tax exemption on their income. Therefore, there is a greater need for transparency and accountability to the public for all charities to whom the code applies."

It also noted that key decisions are made at board meetings and it wants to encourage regular attendance at the meetings, even if this is done via teleconferencing.

Mr Delane Lim, who is not paid as an executive director and board member of the Character and Leadership Academy, said he does not mind having to disclose more information, noting that safeguards and transparency are important. His charity, which conducts youth outreach programmes, had an annual income of about $70,000 in the financial year ending in April last year.

"There will probably be more paperwork, and we don't have many staff to do that, but I think it's okay as long as the process is seamless and convenient," he said.

"If the authorities start asking for many supporting documents like Central Provident Fund statements, or insist that attendance at every board meeting is very high, then that may be quite ridiculous."

Other proposed changes include introducing a maximum term of 10 consecutive years for at least two-thirds of the charity's board members. This is generally for larger charities.

The council originally proposed to have this guideline apply to all board members, to encourage renewal and introduction of "fresh ideas". But it decided to allow more flexibility after receiving feedback from dialogues with charities.

Mr Gerard Ee, who chairs the council, told The Straits Times: "For a religious charity where the founder sits on the board, the charity may not want the founder to step down from the board after 10 years."

The council also recommended that larger charities set in place whistle-blowing policies and risk-management processes.

• The public has until Oct 18 to send feedback on the proposed changes to charity_council_sec@mccy.gov.sg

• The consultation paper is available at www.charities.gov.sg and www.reach.gov.sg

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Copyright fair use: Are we 'future-ready'?

Straits Times
14 Sep 2016
David Tan

The digital age is characterised by a proliferation of myriad platforms on the Internet that inform, educate, entertain, ridicule, promulgate ideologies, sell products and connect communities of individuals. Love it or loathe it, social networking sites are here to stay. Sites like Facebook, YouTube and Instagram invite each of us to share writings, photographs and videos.

But do these postings qualify as fair use of the original copyrighted works? It has been said that such activities expose users to higher risks of copyright infringement and the technological features nudge users to behave in certain ways that violate the exclusive rights of copyright holders.

Copyright law is ultimately designed to benefit society by stimulating creativity, by providing economic incentives to create new works. It achieves this goal by securing for creators limited-term monopoly rights to exploit their work.

However, without appropriate limitations and exceptions, these rights could place considerable restraints on creativity, resulting in an overall decrease in social welfare.

Are Singapore's copyright laws "future-ready"? Are we striking the right balance between owners' rights and users' access?

On Aug 23, the Ministry of Law and the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (Ipos) released a public consultation paper on proposed changes to our copyright regime, covering a wide range of topics from fair use to exceptions for non-profit education.

The proposal to reform fair use aptly captures the Government's concern to safeguard the interests of the public at large within a framework of strong, effective protection for copyrighted works.

The open-ended American "fair use" approach was introduced in Singapore in 2004 to complement the categorical Australian and English models. The then Minister for Law, Professor S. Jayakumar, explained that this was intended to strike a good balance between the interests of copyright owners and users by preserving the unimpeded exchange of information and ideas to create an environment which is conducive to the development of creative works.

Courts in Singapore are required to weigh five factors to determine whether an infringing use was "fair dealing". This provision has never been tested before our courts.

The five factors are:

• The purpose and character of the use, including whether the use is commercial in nature or for non-profit educational purposes;
• The nature of the creative work;
• The amount of the creative work that has been copied, or whether the part that is copied is substantial to the whole of the creative work;
• The effect of the use on the potential market for, or value of, the creative work; and
• The possibility of obtaining the creative work within a reasonable time at an ordinary commercial price.

The Consultation Paper recommends the removal of the fifth factor as "it was adopted in 2004, a time when copyright works were still largely distributed in a physical medium" and that it seems "to have less relevance in the light of certain new platforms and uses for content creation and distribution, such as the use of music in the background of home videos put up online".

This is an enlightened move that is in step with technological development, social media norms and global legal trends.

The fifth factor suggests copying is fair dealing if, after reasonable investigation, the work cannot be obtained within a reasonable time at an ordinary commercial price.Therefore, before I can upload a home video on YouTube of myself lip-syncing and dancing to Let It Go, I need to attempt to pay a licence fee for the use of the song.

The Consultation Paper asks: "Are there any other changes to the 'fair use' defence that can better fulfil the purposes of a balanced copyright regime?"

Many copyrighted works possess significant established meanings and connotations to the public, who utilise them in arguably "transformative" ways on the Internet for social identity formation and democratic discourse, including memes, fanfic and fanvids. It is unclear, even after removing the fifth factor, whether such uses are unequivocally fair use.

I have a modest suggestion - the Government could consider the adoption of a Non-Commercial User-Generated Content (UGC) exception akin to what Canada has recently enacted. Under Canada's Copyright Modernisation Act 2012, an individual may use an existing work in the creation of a new work and authorise an Internet intermediary to disseminate it, if use of the new work is solely for non-commercial purposes. This could certainly cover parody, satire, caricature and pastiche.

As a private individual, I can then freely share photographs, short texts and videos on social media platforms without having to seek the permission of the copyright owners, so long as there is no commercial profit and substantial adverse effect on the potential exploitation of the original work.

Last year, 74 per cent of Singaporeans used social media regularly. In 2018, the number of Facebook users in Singapore is expected to reach 3.18 million.

A clear UGC exception would certainly bring great comfort to many who are a part of the remix/reload/recode culture of online communities today. Copyright law should embrace this new future of transformative play within an interactive social and cultural space.

• The writer is an associate professor in the Faculty of Law at the National University of Singapore, where he teaches entertainment law and freedom of speech.

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SPH seeks winding up of ad agency

Straits Times
24 Sep 2016
Selina Lum

The agency, Adcom, failed to pay a $1m judgment after being sued by the publisher

Singapore Press Holdings (SPH), which publishes The Straits Times, has applied to wind up an advertising agency, Adcom, following the latter's failure to pay a $1 million judgment ordered by the High Court two months ago.

The move by SPH came after Adcom, which had been given 21 days to pay the judgment debt, failed to do so by the Aug 29 deadline. SPH sued Adcom in March this year after the agency failed to pay about $1 million in advertising fees.

Adcom, set up in 1974, is owned by well-known entrepreneur Adam Khoo and his father Vince Khoo.

In its claim, the publisher contended that the agency had breached an agreement signed by both parties in January 1999, in which SPH agreed to publish advertisements on behalf of Adcom.

Under the written agreement, Adcom, as the advertiser, must make payment no later than 45 days after the date of SPH's invoice for the advertising services.

If any sum remains unpaid after the expiry of the 45 days, all sums owed to SPH become immediately due and payable by Adcom, the agreement states.

The agreement also states that Adcom has to fully indemnify SPH for any liabilities, losses and expenses incurred as a result of any breach of contract by the agency.

Between October 2015 and February this year, SPH issued various invoices to Adcom for advertisements it had published on behalf of the agency. However, Adcom did not pay these sums, totalling $1,005,546.43.

After it was sued by SPH, Adcom filed a counter suit. It contended that SPH had orally agreed not to strictly enforce the terms of the 1999 agreement. Adcom asserted that SPH had breached this alleged oral agreement. It also claimed SPH had contacted clients of Adcom and induced them to breach their contracts with the agency.

On May 31, SPH applied for summary judgment to be granted for its claim for $1 million. This was not opposed by Adcom at the hearing of the application on July 21.

After summary judgment was granted in favour of SPH, Adcom discontinued its counterclaim on Aug 8. On the same day, SPH issued a statutory demand to Adcom to pay the judgment sum as well as interest and legal costs. But no payment was made.

On Sept 13, SPH filed a winding up application against Adcom, on the basis of the agency's inability to pay its debts under the Companies Act.

The winding up application is scheduled to be heard on Oct 7.

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Singaporean nabbed for drug trafficking in Bali

Straits Times
20 Sep 2016
Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja

A Singaporean working illegally as a deejay has been arrested for drug trafficking on the popular Indonesian resort island of Bali.

Officials said Muhammad Faliq Nordin, 32, was nabbed during a sting operation on Sept 10, after he picked up two packages at a post office in Denpasar, Bali's capital.

The packages, which arrived separately from the Netherlands on Aug 29 and Sept 9, contained a total of 100.2g of methamphetamine, better known by its street name, crystal meth, and 30.3g of cocaine.

The drugs have an estimated street value of 225 million rupiah (S$23,300), according to Mr Syarif Hidayat, who heads the Customs and excise office for Bali, Nusa Tenggara Barat and Nusa Tenggara Timur.

"The illicit drugs were hidden in ceramic cups and filled over with candle," he said.

Bali police director for narcotics Franky Parapet said Faliq confessed that he was going to deliver the packages to a friend identified as Kubo Raum, a British national.

"The suspect went to the post office carrying a proxy letter signed by Kubo Raum to pick up the package, he was also carrying Kubo Raum's passport," said Mr Franky, adding that the police are now searching for the Briton.

Bali provincial police spokesman Anak Agung Made Sudana said Faliq is the first Singaporean to be arrested on the island for drug trafficking.

Faliq has been living in Bali for the last four to six months on a tourist visa and had worked as a deejay, said Mr Franky. He had also deejayed in the Philippines and Thailand recently.

Mr Franky said initial investigations indicated that Faliq was operating as a "drug courier" even though the Singaporean claimed that he did not know what was in the packages. He claimed he was collecting them as a favour for Kubo, whom he befriended two to three months ago.

Indonesian law differentiates between a drug user, courier and dealer, with the latter typically receiving the maximum death sentence if found guilty.

The amount of drugs seized during Faliq's arrest does not carry the death sentence but, if found guilty, he could be jailed for life.

Indonesia has a tough anti-drugs policy and the Joko Widodo government has stepped up executions of drug convicts, including several foreigners, in recent years.

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California Fitness bosses 'overseas and uncontactable'

Straits Times
14 Sep 2016
Melissa Lin

Lawyer acting for liquidators says there are insufficient funds to go after them

BREACH OF ACT?

The individuals who continued to operate California Fitness even though the gym chain's parent company was millions in debt have been identified, but investigators have hit a snag - they are overseas and out of contact.

Lawyer Lionel Tay also told The Straits Times that the liquidators, for whom he acts, do not have the funds to go after them.

What this means for creditors, including the 27,000 members owed $20.8 million in unused gym access and unredeemed training sessions, is that the chance of getting their money back remains slim - for now.

After nearly 20 years of operating in Singapore, California Fitness closed all its outlets suddenly in July, a week after 12 of its gyms in Hong Kong shut due to debt.

Last month, a liquidation report revealed that owner JV Fitness was $21.7 million in the red in January last year, yet it signed new members and got them to pay fees up front.

It also showed that the debt owed to members makes up most of the $30.8 million which the chain's owner is liable for. JV Fitness' total assets on record are worth $5 million and include rental deposits paid to its landlords.

Mr Tay said: "The fact it was insolvent but continued (to operate) and take in new members without any realistic expectation of being able to meet its contractual obligations is, in the view of the liquidators, a potential breach of the Companies Act."

The liquidators have identified the management officers who may be responsible for operating the company at that time but they are overseas and uncontactable, said Mr Tay.

To complicate matters, JV Fitness' parent holding company is based in the British Virgin Islands and China.

"The liquidators' efforts to trace assets overseas are hampered by limited funds currently available," Mr Tay said.

Even if there are company funds available overseas to pay off its debts, "efforts to trace and claw back these funds require significant time and expenses", he said. For now, hope lies in getting litigation funders to pay for the investigation. In such cases, they will get a cut of the proceeds.

The Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority said it "will not hesitate to investigate the company if the liquidators... come across evidence suggesting the company or its directors had breached the Companies Act".

Questions also remain over why the chain could continue collecting money for gym packages when it was deep in debt.

Mr Tay noted that while the Companies Act aims to prevent companies from doing that, there is no regulatory body that checks if a business, especially one that collects prepayments, is financially able to fulfil its contracts.


27k

Number of members owed $20.8 million in unused gym access and unredeemed personal training sessions.

$21.7m

Amount of money owner JV Fitness was in the red in January last year, as revealed in a liquidation report last month. Yet it continued to sign new members and get them to pay fees up front.

20

Number of years California Fitness operated in Singapore. It closed all its outlets suddenly in July.

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Feuding neighbours: Noise, littering among complaints handled by tribunals

Straits Times
24 Sep 2016
Seow Bei Yi

Most common complaints are noise, littering, interfering with movable items

A woman complained about the din made by her neighbours downstairs when they sang karaoke.

They hit back by leaving their main door and windows open, and hurling vulgarities at the woman and her family. Early this year, the woman filed a claim with the Community Disputes Resolution Tribunals (CDRT) - one of almost 80 made from October last year, when it opened, to July 31.

The tribunals, which are given powers to resolve disputes between neighbours under the Community Disputes Resolution Act passed last year, received more than 930 inquiries in the same period.

These statistics were revealed yesterday by the State Courts, which oversees the tribunals, in conjunction with its first seminar on resolving community disputes. Some 300 people from government agencies and community groups attended the event.

As in the case of the woman and her karaoke-singing neighbours, nearly 70 per cent of the cases included complaints about excessive noise.

Other pet peeves are littering and interfering with movable property, each forming about a quarter of the cases. There may be more than one cause of dispute for each claim.

In the case of the woman, an order was issued to the other family to close all windows and doors completely when using the karaoke machine. They were not to use the machine when her children were having examinations, if told of the exam periods.

Both parties were also not to stare at each other or make abusive comments and sounds if they met.

Before the tribunals were introduced, people turned to the Community Mediation Centre (CMC) if they could not settle disputes on their own or even with the help of grassroots leaders. But there is little the authorities can do if the neighbours do not want to make up. Some do not even turn up. The no-show rate at the CMC was about 60 per cent.

The tribunals, which have jurisdiction on claims of up to $20,000, has more teeth. For unresolved disputes, the judge may order a hearing, in which he can make certain orders, like getting a neighbour to pay damages or apologise.

Still, while the tribunals do not conduct mediation, a State Courts spokesman said parties are "strongly encouraged" to go for mediation voluntarily before filing a claim.

Those who inquire with the tribunals will be referred to a free consultation to understand court processes and consider alternatives to resolution. Even when a claim has been filed, parties may be ordered to go through mediation.

MPs told The Straits Times that spats between residents are common.

Said Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin: "There are often several sides to an issue, and it does take time to find solutions. Sometimes, we are not able to achieve a positive outcome."

Chua Chu Kang GRC MP Zaqy Mohamad added: "Mediation has a certain weakness to it. You can't force parties to attend it."

Nee Soon GRC MP Lee Bee Wah said: "It is neither practical nor desirable for most disputes to go to the CDRT. I hope most cases can continue to be resolved with compromise and consideration, with the grassroots leaders' help."

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Limit working hours for lawyers called to the Bar: Voices

TODAY
19 Sep 2016

I refer to The Big Read article “As supply of lawyers lurches from shortage to glut, spotlight falls on policies” (Sept 10).

The Chief Justice’s suggestion of the paralegal route for fresh graduates has potential consequences, not to mention the concerns of those pursuing a law diploma.

As a member of the legal fraternity, I would argue that another way to address the oversupply of lawyers is to limit, by statute, the working hours per week for lawyers called to the Bar.

This would crystallise the aspiration to a better work-life balance, drive up productivity, and generate higher demand for lawyers.

Obviously, there are other economic considerations: Proponents of free-market principles would frown upon tampering with market forces, and owners of legal practices would argue that this would increase costs and make legal services less competitive.

Most people may agree that the invisible hand of the market should be balanced by the visible hands of good governance and regulation to prevent market failure.

As with other businesses, legal practices are exposed to the risk of regulations and would be wise to price in such risks, whether during the recruitment of lawyers or the provision of legal services.

Long working hours are a factor in the mid-career attrition rate; it follows that a statutory limit on working hours is a straightforward fix to stop the haemorrhage of experienced practitioners.

I also think that a minor tweak to the qualification process — extending the training contract period — would serve as another remedy.

The current process for local law graduates consists of five months of studying for the Bar examinations and a six-month practice training period, whereas the process is longer for overseas law graduates.

The qualification period in Singapore is shorter than in England and Australia. In England, qualified solicitors must have first completed the legal practice course, similar to our Bar examinations, and then a two-year training contract.

In New South Wales, Australia, a barrister must have undertaken 12 months of training. Notably, however, law degrees in England and Australia can be completed in three years, compared with four years in Singapore.

Regulating the supply of qualified legal professionals is not an easy task; if the market is saturated, and we prefer not to do a U-turn on overseas graduates, we should focus on fine-tuning the process where the supply meets demand.

Ambition is indeed no substitute for ability as Singapore continues its efforts to establish itself as the legal hub of the region. And plainly, this potential glut is, in fact, an opportunity if it is managed properly.

 

Ju Xiaoyong

Copyright 2016 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved 

Dual-class shares - a must or a bust?

Straits Times
14 Sep 2016
Grace Leong

 

Retail investors' rights must be protected as such shares concentrate power in select few

The recent moves by the Singapore Exchange (SGX) towards the listing of dual-class shares (DCS) have provoked much debate in business and legal circles.

It had been suggested several times last year that the authorities reconsider allowing dual-class listings here to reinvigorate a listless stock market and address the dearth of big initial public offerings. And also to keep from losing the likes of Manchester United after the football club in 2012 reportedly bypassed SGX in favour of the New York Stock Exchange because its share structure allowed the controlling Glazer family superior voting rights to entrench themselves.

It seemed just a question of time before SGX opened its doors to listed companies with DCS, after an amendment to the Singapore Companies Act to allow public companies to have DCS took effect in March this year.

SGX did move closer to allowing this after "an overwhelming majority" of the members of the Listings Advisory Committee (LAC) endorsed it with certain "safeguards" to mitigate the risks inherent in such structures. SGX has given assurance that there will be a public consultation before it makes its decision.

But these moves have drawn flak from some quarters. Critics argue that allowing such a structure will not guarantee that globally renowned companies will make a beeline for SGX. Some believe Singapore may end up attracting questionable firms, as the better ones will typically look to dual-list in the United States.

But not having it may preclude SGX from attracting quality firms that have compelling reasons to have such structures in place before listing.

WHAT ARE DUAL-CLASS SHARES?

A company with DCS has two classes of voting shares - one class with one vote per share; the other class with more than one vote per share. This structure gives an outsized degree of voting influence to founding members, and the right to control matters such as board composition.

DCS tend to appeal to early growth technology or research-based firms in the life sciences that have large initial capital requirements and need to tap external sources of funding, but do not want to risk diluting the management's shareholdings and voting rights.

Banks are unlikely to finance such high-risk start-ups. Typically, only venture funds and private equity firms would be keen, and the funding will usually come in the form of convertible bonds or debt instruments. Once the company shows results, these investors may convert their debt financing to equity, diluting the management or founders' shareholdings, lawyer Robson Lee of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher said.

"The dual-class structure allows founding members the autonomy to make key decisions which, instead of focusing on short-term return of investments for shareholders, focus on long-term growth," said Mr Sin Boon Ann, Drew & Napier's deputy managing director of corporate and finance, and associate Ng Pei Tong in a joint statement.

AN EDGE OVER HONG KONG?

Industry observers are divided over whether DCS will put Singapore one up over Hong Kong when it comes to attracting quality listings.

Allowing DCS structures may make SGX a more attractive listing venue, but it is only one of many factors considered.

"Other factors include valuation, investor and analyst familiarity with the sector, the presence of a comparable peer group, corporate governance standards, specific listing requirements, aftermarket liquidity, and cost. Traditionally, the large tech companies have chosen to list in the US after having closely considered all of these many factors, and not simply because the US allows a DCS structure," said Credit Suisse.

Still, Singapore may appeal to companies considering a listing in the region and needing a dual-class structure, as SGX may be the only major exchange here allowing DCS.

But corporate governance expert Mak Yuen Teen argued that such a structure will not necessarily attract the likes of Google, Facebook and Alibaba here. "We may attract listings from less traditional markets like Russia. I understand there are Russian companies looking to list overseas and many have founders/ controlling shareholders with an interest in DCS. But are we ready for Russian-style governance?

"My point is that we need to be aware that the largest and better ones are very unlikely to head our way. The S-chips are a good case in point," said Professor Mak, referring to the type of foreign listings from China that Singapore attracted when it opened its doors to them.

WHAT ARE THE RISKS TO RETAIL SHAREHOLDERS?

In essence, DCS concentrate power in the hands of a select few, and this can be used for ordinary shareholders' greater good, or against them. That is because this could result in shareholders who hold shares with super-voting rights unilaterally controlling how the company is run, Mr Sin and Mr Ng said in the statement. Retail investors are generally considered to be less sophisticated than institutional investors, and have less direct access to senior management. They may also not have the resources to research into why a company needs to have DCS, or to pursue actions against the firm for matters such as breach of fiduciary duties or inappropriate management, they added.

While the loss of shareholder parity means that ordinary shareholders could pay a lower price for stock in a company with DCS, there is also a need to ensure they are not short-changed of their rights.

Therefore, retail investors should consider if the proposed safeguards will be complied with by the company and if it has put in place any safeguards voluntarily, and whether they can trust the ability and integrity of the shareholders holding the super-voting rights.

CORPORATE GOVERNANCE RISKS

There are also concerns that if more stock exchanges allow DCS structures to attract listings, this may potentially result in declining standards of corporate governance. That is because founders holding shares with super-voting rights may take actions that may be detrimental to the interests of the larger number of individuals, who hold common shares and can be outvoted.

As such, the specific details on the implementation of DCS will be important - particularly in terms of the safeguards and checks and balances that can be put in place, according to Credit Suisse.

Prof Mak said: "Institutional investors need to exercise proper stewardship by holding management and boards accountable, and with dual-class shares, they won't be able to do that effectively.

"On the one hand, we want to allow dual-class shares that basically trample over investor rights. On the other hand, we are going to soon issue a stewardship code that tells institutional investors to use their rights to hold boards and management accountable. I worry that we will become a laughing stock if we do both! If we allow dual-class shares, we should scrap the idea of issuing a stewardship code."

PROPOSED SAFEGUARDS

Industry experts are divided on the strength of the proposed safeguards.

According to Drew & Napier, the strongest safeguard is the maximum differential in voting power, where one class of shares can have at most 10 times more voting rights than the other class of shares.

Mr Sin and Mr Ng suggest that the differential could be a "fluid" number that is influenced by factors such as other safeguards in place, the industry type, reputational risks, the profile of the management, and the controlling shareholders.

But Prof Mak called it "a problem". "With a 10:1 differential, it allows one person holding relatively few shares to control. They will be able to easily outvote single vote shares. When someone has little skin in the game and controls the company, that could be a recipe for disaster."

Another safeguard suggested by the LAC is restricting DCS holders to one vote per share on voting on the election of independent directors, which would allow minority shareholders to have an adequate say in board composition.

But Prof Mak said the safeguard suffers from lack of accountability of independent directors.

While independent directors owe fiduciary duties to the company under the Companies Act, the prohibitive costs of litigation and dearth of derivative actions brought against directors here often make shareholders think twice about seeking recourse.

Retail investors cannot always count on independent directors to provide an effective check and balance on management, Prof Mak added. "We very rarely hold independent directors to account when they do not discharge their duties effectively, so why would they be effective safeguards?

"The retail investors really should just go to AGMs (annual general meetings) for the food because their votes won't really matter."

Prof Mak suggested imposing fiduciary duties on those who control companies through DCS and allowing contingency fee class action like in the US.

"Even so, if we start having foreign listings with dual-class shares, these safeguards may not work. Can you imagine trying to enforce your rights, say, for a Russian company with dual-class shares listed here, if things go pear-shaped? Have you seen our regulators or shareholders have much luck enforcing against S-chips that break rules? How do you enforce when the key management is overseas?" he asked.

Ultimately, investor rights and protection are fundamental to a strong capital market. Otherwise, Singapore may be able to bring in the listings using DCS structures, but many investors may avoid the shares. And we will have the same problem that the S-chip scandals have helped create - shares with low liquidity and valuations. That is a problem that we do not need in an already anaemic market.

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

222 apply for protection against harassment

Straits Times
24 Sep 2016
Seow Bei Yi

Most people who lodged complaints under the Protection from Harassment Act say they suffered harassment, alarm or distress, with a number citing fear, provocation of violence or even unlawful stalking.

From November 2014 - when the Act was enacted - to July this year, there have been 222 applications for protection orders. Of these, 76 were granted and 83 withdrawn at the pretrial stage. This could be due to lack of evidence or both parties reaching a settlement. No details were given for the rest of the applications.

Of nine non-publication orders filed - for someone to stop publishing an offending statement - three were withdrawn and two granted.

A State Courts spokesman said counselling and mediation are often used in cases and applications may be withdrawn, sometimes with a settlement agreement. In other cases, both parties may agree on the terms of a protection order.

In the same period, 1,233 Magistrate's Complaints, which involve criminal cases, were filed under the Act.

Ms Jolene Tan, head of advocacy and research at the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware), said: "Many people whom we deal with have a better understanding of harassment because of the Act." They are mainly from Aware's Sexual Assault Care Centre.

But Ms Tan said there is little take-up for Protection Orders as the paperwork can be "very complex" and costly, starting from around $125.

For a Magistrate's Complaint, the paperwork is less daunting, she added.

Seow Bei Yi

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Singapore companies take wait-and-see approach

Straits Times
19 Sep 2016
Lee Xin En

With little idea of how Britain's new relationship with the European Union will look, businesses in Singapore are taking a wait-and-see approach, even as they make preparations to amend legal agreements.

For now, the main impact on Singapore companies with a presence in Britain has been limited to the sterling's depreciation - and for some, this has been a silver lining.

Local property developer Oxley Holdings, which is developing the Royal Wharf waterfront project in London, said that while the sterling's fall will affect profits, it has also prompted increased inquiries from overseas buyers since Brexit.

As of the end of last month, 88 per cent of about 3,400 units at the Royal Wharf had been sold, it said. It plans to double marketing efforts in the Middle East and Asia.

City Developments (CDL), which has 22 hotels in Britain through its London-listed unit Millennium & Copthorne Hotels (M&C), said the impact of the currency fall is seen when the British operations are consolidated into Singapore dollars in the accounts of M&C's parent, CDL.

Despite perceptions that a weaker sterling will make Britain more attractive to travellers, the firm has yet to see evidence of this. CDL executive chairman Kwek Beng Leng said that raising rates would be difficult, but added that he expects a boost in domestic British tourism, which would benefit M&C.

"During this period of economic uncertainty, our strategy is to ensure that costs are controlled. This is a very important factor," he said.

For conglomerate Sembcorp, which provides utilities to chemical and other manufacturing firms, the weaker sterling has been a boon.

"We haven't seen any fall in demand from our customers in Britain thus far. In some cases, some are even increasing production to take advantage of the weaker pound," a spokesman said by e-mail.

Singapore Business Federation (SBF) chief Ho Meng Kit said for its members with business in Britain, things are back to "near normal".

He noted that as Singapore firms operating in Britain are largely in the services and hospitality sectors, Brexit would be "less impactful" for them than firms using Britain as a manufacturing hub to Europe.

Lawyers here said that clients are making preparations, although nothing has been executed.

Ms Sophie Mathur, a Singapore-based partner at Linklaters, said that while firms here were not feeling the impact on a day-to-day basis, companies and investment managers were looking at areas such as data-sharing rules.

"Under Singapore's Personal Data Protection Act, you can export data to a country with an equivalent regime, or take steps to ensure that data is treated as it would be here," she said. "The EU is generally seen as the gold standard for data protection laws. It is not yet clear if the new United Kingdom rules will be an equivalent regime.

"Singapore firms will have to assess the extent to which the regime there is equivalent to Singapore's, and whether they are allowed to transfer data there without taking additional steps."

The latest available figures from the Department of Statistics show that Singapore's foreign direct investment in the UK amounted to $41.6 billion in 2014.

Meanwhile, investment managers might have agreements with clients to buy EU funds, which would have implications for how the agreements would pan out from a "definitional point of view", Ms Mathur added. "We are poised to start amending those agreements but, as of now, we can't."

Ms Lee Suet-Fern, senior director of Morgan Lewis Stamford's Singapore office, said companies were looking at dispute resolution provisions in their contracts.

"With respect to new contracts, where possible, many Singapore corporates active in Europe are now more keen to push to use Singapore law and Singapore dispute resolution, for familiarity and clarity. Counter-parties are becoming more receptive to this."

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Clinic manager stole over $120,000 from employer

Straits Times
14 Sep 2016
Amir Hussain

A clinic manager entrusted with collecting payments from patients and keeping accounts stole more than $120,000 from her employer in one year.

Claudia Chua Hui Peng, 38, used the cash to pay off her car loan, her maid's salary, her household expenses, as well as her husband's debts to banks, licensed moneylenders and loan sharks.

Yesterday, she was jailed for 21 months after pleading guilty to one charge of criminal breach of trust as a servant.

A District Court heard that she worked for Chris Chong Clinic, an obstetrics and gynaecology clinic at Gleneagles Hospital.

Between January and December 2013, she siphoned off $123,422 from the clinic using two methods.

When a patient opted to pay in cash, she would put the money aside. At the end of the work day, she would edit the consultation item and/or medication purchased as well as the corresponding sum collected in the computer system used for keeping accounts. She would then pocket the difference.

Sometimes, at the end of the day, she would hand over all cash sales proceeds to her employer, Dr Christopher Chong Yew Luen, who would then entrust her with depositing the money into the clinic's bank account.

But Chua would later change the date and time settings in the clinic's computer in order to edit the entries in the bookkeeping system, so that the accounts reflected a lower sum collected. She would then pocket the difference.

Chua's scam was discovered when a patient went to the clinic for a follow-up in December 2013, but the accounting system did not have her details.

The patient had purchased a full antenatal package and paid for it in cash, and this was supposed to have shown up in the system.

Dr Chong confronted Chua, who owned up to her deeds, the court heard. He allowed her a grace period to make full repayment of the misappropriated sum by April 15, 2014, but Chua could not meet the deadline and surrendered herself to the police on April 14.

She has since paid back $1,000.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Nicholas Lim Kah Hwee asked for 22 to 24 months' jail for Chua. Defence lawyer Jason Goh asked for not more than 20 months.

Mr Goh said Chua started work as an administrative assistant in October 2005 with a gross monthly salary of $1,500 and this was eventually increased to $2,000.

Her husband got involved in football betting in 2012 and resorted to taking loans from moneylenders.

Chua, who is the sole breadwinner of the family, felt compelled to comply with his demands for money to prevent her family from being harassed by loan sharks.

The maximum penalty for criminal breach of trust as a servant is 15 years' jail and a fine.


When a patient opted to pay in cash, she would put the money aside. At the end of the work day, she would edit the consultation item and/or medication purchased as well as the corresponding sum collected in the computer system used for keeping accounts. She would then pocket the difference.

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Need for holistic reform in consumer protection: Forum

Straits Times
24 Sep 2016

The Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) (Amendment) Bill tabled in Parliament, unfortunately, does not seem to address the lingering problem of retailer insolvency where there have been prepayments made by customers ("New law gives shoppers more protection against errant retailers"; Sept 14).

The recent cases of businesses suddenly winding up or disappearing are merely the latest in a string of such cases where consumers have been left in a quandary.

According to the Consumers Association of Singapore, the number of complaints due to sudden business closures has shot up and was expected to reach 500 by the end of last year.

Perhaps we should look at the recommendations made by Britain's Law Commission in its report, Consumer Prepayments On Retailer Insolvency, presented to the British Parliament on July 13. There were five key areas highlighted for reform:

• Regulating savings schemes which pose a particular risk to vulnerable consumers
• Introducing a general power for the government to require prepayment protection in sectors which pose a particular risk to consumers
• Giving consumers more information about obtaining a refund through their debit or credit card issuer
• Making a limited change to the insolvency hierarchy, to give preference to the most vulnerable category of prepaying consumers
• Making changes to the rules on when consumers acquire ownership of goods

A holistic reform package such as the above should be similarly considered for Singapore, and the authorities should address consumer concerns head-on. Any piecemeal reform may make matters worse.

David Chang Cheok Weng

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More expat spouses left in lurch in divorce cases

Straits Times
18 Sep 2016
Amelia Teng

Ending a marriage is never easy, especially in a foreign country, and this is the case for a growing group of expatriate spouses here.

While dealing with divorce, some find themselves stripped of their Dependant's Pass (DP) and are forced to leave the country or fight a lengthy legal battle. They can even be forced to leave behind young children.

Under the law, a parent cannot leave Singapore with his or her children without the consent of the other parent, even if they are legally divorced. Those who do so can be hauled back to Singapore on charges of child abduction.

Once the DP is cancelled, he or she is given a social visit pass or tourist visa to stay in Singapore, which could be 30 to 90 days. He or she is not allowed to work during this period.

This method of "getting rid" of expat spouses is becoming more common, according to lawyers.

When an expat moves here, his or her company sponsors the Employment Pass (EP). The employer of the expat, who is typically male, then sponsors his wife and children as dependants on his pass, which he can ask to cancel any time.

Ms Catherine Rose Yates, a British permanent resident who set up a support group for expats going through a divorce, said she has come across 11 such cases.

"The spouse with the EP is legally entitled to request to cancel the DPs of his family members and, in these cases, by cancelling only the mother's DP, he is trying to separate her from the child," she said.

"He is hoping that she would have to leave the country. That puts him in a better position in a custody battle for the children."

Ms Christina Karl, managing director of Berry Appleman & Leiden Asia Pacific, an immigration consultancy firm, said: "Cancellation is immediate once the employer makes the request. It is not the individual who cancels the DP, but his or her employer as it is the sponsor."

Ms Yates said the support group has grown from five to six members in December 2014 to more than 250 now.

"Almost every day, there is a new post on the group's Facebook page asking for advice about these visa situations. It works both ways, but it tends to be the women who are more vulnerable," she added.

Kate (not her real name), a 26-year-old from Kazakhstan, was told via letters from her husband's lawyers earlier this month that her DP had been cancelled and she could stay in Singapore only on a social visit pass until Oct 5. She was also told she had been taken off the tenancy agreement of their rented condominiumunit and had to leave within the same time period.

Her French husband, a tennis coach who holds an EP, had filed for divorce just a day before, after moving out of their place in July.

She is still staying there with their son, who is nearly two years old. She lost her monthly pay of $1,800 as a spa receptionist last month when her contract ended and is not able to work now.

"If I take my baby home with me, I am denying him access to his father, but why is it also not seen the other way round?" she asked. She has since managed to engage pro bono lawyers to try to get her DP back until the divorce is finalised.

Lawyers said that, in these cases, the working spouse has not done anything illegal. Ms Aishah Winter, associate director at Consilium Law Corp, said: "While probably not desirable, the husband may be within his legal rights in cancelling the DP for the partner and retaining it for his child. The visa status of children is usually pegged to the husband's (or working parent's) employment status in Singapore and will not usually have to change upon a divorce."

Ms Poonam Mirchandani, partner at Mirchandani & Partners, which specialises in international family law, said current rules and regulations allow the spouse holding the EP to, in a way, "play God".

She has seen a 25 per cent rise in the number of expats filing for divorce here in the last two years.

"If there is an ongoing court case, and the children are in Singapore, my firm has seen instances where ICA has given the spouse a long-term visit pass," she said, referring to the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority.

She added: "A trailing wife, whose marriage has broken down and whose husband behaves unconscionably, will find herself in a desperate position.

"Not only is her continued stay here dependent on the whims of her husband supporting her DP application, but he could also cut her off financially and deprive her of access to their home and children. As a foreigner, she is also not entitled to any legal aid."

Mrs Franca Ciambella, managing director of Consilium Law Corp, said her firm has seen a 20 per cent increase in the number of expat inquiries for divorce and separation this year. Many face complications in their visa situations.

Her firm tries to work with both parties or the opposing party's lawyer to maintain the wife's visa status in the interim.

"If that is not possible, (we ask) for a more reasonable timeline in the wife's ability to stay... All of this is dependent on the clients themselves and their willingness not to allow their emotions to affect their decisions, which could cause disruption in the lives of their children."

Ms Wong Kai Yun, co-managing partner of Chia Wong LLP, has seen spouses whose DPs were cancelled, give up and leave Singapore. Such a situation is what the husband is usually counting on.

Lawyer Gloria James-Civetta said that about half of the spouses in expat divorce cases she saw last year threatened to cancel the DP.

"After receiving my letter, they usually take steps to reinstate the DP at least until the divorce is finalised and, in some cases, until the partner can get a relevant pass to work here," she added. "Usually, the stubborn ones will go to court."

A spokesman for the Ministry of Manpower said that a person may also apply for a work pass on his or her own merit, adding: "Approval will be subject to the relevant eligibility criteria being met."

Ms Mirchandani feels that the courts should more readily allow trailing spouses to relocate with their children, if they can show that they have no means of staying here.

Ms Yates said: "It could be easier if there was some sort of visa to allow the women caught in such situations to get back on their feet.

"They would like to work and not be completely dependent on their ex-husbands, but they need some support to get the right passes so they can be with their children."

CORNERED

A trailing wife, whose marriage has broken down and whose husband behaves unconscionably, will find herself in a desperate position. Not only is her continued stay here dependent on the whims of her husband supporting her DP application, but he could also cut her off financially and deprive her of access to their home and children. As a foreigner, she is also not entitled to any legal aid.

MS POONAM MIRCHANDANI, partner at Mirchandani & Partners, which specialises in international family law.

 


 

Staying in Singapore on visit pass

For nearly every month since January last year, Alicia (not her real name) has been heading to Malaysia by plane or bus, and returning shortly after. All for the sake of her five-year-old daughter. Following her divorce in 2014, her Dependant's Pass (DP) expired in January last year, and she has been on a visit pass, which has to be renewed for her to stay in Singapore.

"ICA (Immigration and Checkpoints Authority) gives me eight to 30 days of extension, if any, depending on the reasons I have, like a date for a court case," said the 35-year-old, whose daughter is on a DP here and attends pre-school.

The court had awarded joint custody of the girl to both parents, and care and control to Alicia, which means she is responsible for the girl's daily care.

But being on a visit pass means she cannot work and has trouble renting a home.

She stayed at a friend's place for a year for free, before moving in May to a room in another friend's home in Bukit Batok with her daughter, paying $800 a month in rent.

Her applications to change her daughter's DP to a Student's Pass - for foreigners studying here - had been rejected three times. If her daughter had a Student's Pass, Alicia could apply for a Long-Term Visit Pass to accompany her as a guardian.

"I have my daughter here and I have the care and control, but it's clearly not enough for me to extend the visa to a long-term one," she said.

Alicia, who declined to reveal her nationality for privacy reasons, alleged that her former husband - an American who is a banker on an Employment Pass - had started cheating on her in 2011. He now sees their daughter nine days a month and pays $2,000 monthly for child support. "It's so difficult to plan anything because I don't know when I will be kicked out of the country," said Alicia. She found a lawyer in May - who charges her a small fee of $300 a month - to help with legal proceedings.

"I'm still looking for a job offer but it's very difficult, especially when companies are employing only locals or permanent residents. "I'm scared I'll lose my daughter - she's my everything. I would be glad to go back to my home country and start life all over again, but I also don't want to separate her from her father. "So I'm totally stuck."

 

 Amelia Teng

 

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Inconsistencies, gaps in elected presidency proposals: Forum

Straits Times
14 Sep 2016

In reading The Straits Times' thorough coverage of the Constitutional Commission's recommendations on the elected presidency, some thoughts come to mind.

The use of a company's shareholders' equity and hands-on experience in managing such a company as new eligibility criteria will make it more difficult for one to become eligible. Yet, no such requirement is placed on public-sector officials, who qualify solely by the heft of their positions.

Given the growth of the economy and the size of businesses, the new eligibility criteria will, reportedly, increase the size of the candidate pool today, as compared with the number eligible in 1993, when the first presidential election was held.

What is more relevant is the size of the pool just before, and after, the new criteria are to take effect.

Also, what is needed is a comparison of the new criteria's effect on the number of minority candidates.

Since it is hard enough to get good people interested in being elected president, the net should be widened, not narrowed.

It is good that the Council of Presidential Advisers has been given a more important role in advising the president.

The commission has used the "Westminster tradition" to dismiss the need for the president to be elected by a majority of the electorate.

But our system of group representation constituencies and the elected presidency are a far cry from the Westminster tradition.

How, then, can a narrow aspect of this tradition now be cherry-picked to defend the first-past-the-post system for the elected presidency?

The commission's view that a run-off election "is likely to be unnecessarily complex and cumbersome" is no reason for not endorsing a run-off election.

Many countries hold run-off elections for important posts.

The commission has concluded that "Singapore cannot yet be considered a post-racial society". But, hasn't the recent by-election, where a minority candidate defeated one from the majority race, shown otherwise?

The proposal for each race to get a shot at the presidency could well have the undesirable effect of entrenching this provision. This will be hard to remove in future, and so make it even more difficult for us to ever become a race-blind nation.

Maurice de Vaz

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Case partners CDCs to hold free talks on consumer rights

Straits Times
24 Sep 2016
Melissa Lin

How to handle door-to-door salesmen, what to look out for before making prepayments and how to lodge complaints against errant retailers.

These topics and others will be addressed during a series of free talks by Singapore's consumer watchdog, to educate consumers on their rights.

The Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) will hold at least 10 talks a year over the next three years, under a Memorandum of Understanding signed yesterday with the Community Development Councils (CDCs). This is their first such partnership.

South West District Mayor Low Yen Ling said the agreement is timely as it comes a week after the Government passed a law to strengthen measures against errant retailers.

It allows Case to tap the network of the five CDCs and reach as many residents as possible, particularly the elderly, housewives and young students who are "very often the soft targets of errant retailers", said Ms Low, who is also Parliamentary Secretary for Education and Trade and Industry.

Last year, Case received 22,319 complaints, a 9.7 per cent fall from 2014. But the number of filed cases - where the consumer authorises Case to handle the dispute - rose 45.3 per cent to 2,006.

The talks will cover the changes to the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act, and other consumer laws such as the "lemon law".

They will also be customised to the needs of residents. For example, in the South West District, where new flats have just been built, the talks will focus on what to look out for when engaging a renovation contractor.

Case officers will be on hand to offer advice to residents and explain how they can lodge a complaint if they have an unresolved dispute with a retailer.

Case president Lim Biow Chuan said consumer education remains the cornerstone of consumer protection in Singapore.

"Although consumer protection laws and regulatory actions help to protect consumers' interests, it is consumers themselves who hold the main responsibility to be aware of their own rights," said Mr Lim, who is also MP for Mountbatten.

The first talk was held at Jurong Spring Community Centre yesterday. Housewife Alice Wong, 74, who attended the talk, said: "I learnt that I should find out more about a company before buying any package from it."

Those interested in the talks - which are about two hours long and in English and Mandarin, for now - can contact their respective CDCs.


Case seeks review of arbitration clause

The Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) yesterday flagged another issue faced by consumers: A clause in the contract between a business and a consumer that requires both parties to go for arbitration in the event of a dispute.

This clause is sometimes buried in a contract's terms and conditions, which consumers usually do not read thoroughly.

"If there is an arbitration clause, you can't go to the Small Claims Tribunal," said Case president Lim Biow Chuan.

Case has asked the Ministry of Trade and Industry to consider making this clause invalid in cases where it may be unfair.

Melissa Lin

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1 in 5 complaints against docs due to poor communication

Straits Times
18 Sep 2016
Linette Lai

Complaints against doctors have been creeping up over the past decade - about one in five that the Singapore Medical Council (SMC) finished investigating last year boiled down to poor communication between doctor and patient, says Dr Tan Chi Chiu.

In updating the council's guidelines on medical ethics, he hopes to reverse the trend - giving patients a better idea of what to expect from treatment by making sure that doctors go through all the important issues with them.

"In the complaints that the Complaints Committee has received, many of them have to do with either poor communication or a misunderstanding of the ethical obligations," said Dr Tan, a gastroenterologist in private practice who chaired the working committee reviewing the guidelines.

When people complain after procedures go wrong, for example, investigations often throw up a similar issue: Patients felt they were not told enough to make an informed decision.

"Sometimes, what is discovered is that the consent-taking was not a thorough process," Dr Tan explained. "Information which ought to have been given - regarding the potential for side effects, adverse outcomes, risks and so on - was not clearly explained."

The SMC received 141 complaints last year - its lowest in six years, although the figure has generally been on an upward trend.

Its updated ethical code and guidelines were announced on Wednesday. This is the first time that these guidelines have been revised since 2002.

Unlike the old set of rules, the new guidelines are more specific on the dos and don'ts. They include detailed advice on issues such as complementary medicine, caring for minors and the appropriate charging of doctors' fees.

This was intentional, said Dr Tan, as the environment that medical professionals work in is an increasingly complex one.

"We believe that doctors can be better educated and guided on their ethical obligations if guidelines are comprehensive, rather than general and vague," he said.

The new guidelines also address issues such as fees and appropriate advertising - a necessary addition, said Dr Tan, in an era where medical services have become more commercialised.

Rather than listing the fees which doctors should charge - a measure that was scrapped in 2010 when the Competition Commission of Singapore ruled that doing so was anti-competitive - the guidelines specify the principles doctors should abide by when making commercial decisions.

For example, fees must be "fair and reasonable and commensurate with the work actually done", while advertising must not "exploit patients' vulnerabilities, fears or lack of knowledge".

Cardiologist Kenneth Ng, who is from the Novena Heart Centre, said that the guidelines help doctors to "know where the boundaries are, so that we operate within the allowed confines".

Meanwhile, general practitioner Yik Keng Yeong said that he makes sure he and his patients are on the same page by explaining the potential effects of treatment.

"For example, if you're doing a little operation to remove a lump, you've got to forewarn the patient that it might cause a scar," said Dr Yik, who carries out small surgical procedures under local anaesthetic. "You must let them know these things and manage their expectations."

Added Dr Chua Jun Jin of JJ Chua Rejuvenative Cosmetic and Laser Surgery: "To me as a practising physician, the most important principle that I follow is to do everything we can in the interests of our patients."

 

  • Updated guide for doctors

  • What's new in the Singapore Medical Council's (SMC) updated ethical guidelines for doctors:

    •Sections on telemedicine and end-of-life care, which have become more prominent in recent years. Doctors practising telemedicine, for instance, are reminded that they must try to provide the same quality of care as they would in person.

    •A section on complementary and alternative medicine. Doctors must practise only the forms that are approved by the SMC, and must not mislead patients as to the appropriateness and expected benefits.

    •An expanded section on caring for vulnerable patients who may not be able to make informed decisions, such as minors and people with diminished mental capacities.

    •More specific instructions on how doctors should charge patients, including their ethical obligations to be transparent and charge "reasonable fees" that are commensurate with the work done.

    •Detailed guidelines on the way doctors advertise their services. These include advertising in a way that does not exploit patients' insecurities, fears or lack of knowledge.

    •Guidelines on the appropriate use of social media, such as not initiating social media relationships with patients, and making sure that the things they choose to make public do not bring the medical profession into disrepute.

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A deleveraging nudge from fine-tuning of TDSR rules on refinancing

Business Times
14 Sep 2016
Jamie Lee

THE Monetary Authority of Singapore's recent fine-tuning of refinancing rules relating to the total debt servicing ratio (TDSR) governing property loans is a strong nudge towards deleveraging.

Stretched borrowers who hold investment properties will have to think about actively managing down their debt, especially as rental income is under pressure and economic growth is easing. Far from stimulating demand for new housing loans, the move also acts as a wake-up call for those inching precariously close to the debt-income ceiling set by the regulator.

To allow borrowers more flexibility in managing their debt obligations, MAS this month fine-tuned the three-year-old TDSR such that all home owners and holders of investment properties will be able to seek refinancing at better terms even when their TDSR limit crosses 60 per cent.

But there are two conditions for refinancing of investment properties above the threshold. Besides having to fulfil his financial institution's credit assessment, the borrower must repay at least 3 per cent of the outstanding balance over a maximum of three years. This is on top of existing monthly instalment payments, and comes up roughly to about an added year of mortgage payments. The 3 per cent reflects the medium-term interest rate.

In 2014, about a year after TDSR came into effect, MAS allowed refinancing for borrowers whose repayments for property loans exceeded 60 per cent of their income before TDSR came into force. Borrowers for investment property loans could, during the transition period ending June 30, 2017, refinance above the TDSR threshold if the borrower commited himself to a debt reduction plan. This rule is now superceded by the recent refinancing fine-tuning, which applies regardless of when the property was purchased.

Among the changes in the latest tweak is that MAS has now set a rate at which highly-leveraged borrowers who hold investment properties must cut debt.

The TDSR model is set to stay. MAS took pains to stress that the latest move was not meant to relax cooling measures, with TDSR still in place for new loans. And the reasoning is sound. TDSR is meant to guide debt management, so if parts of it unintentionally impede that process - in this case, in preventing refinancing that could pare debt - MAS should remove the friction.

TDSR is a ratio. It is not just the debt repayment that affects the proportion. The amount of income that a borrower earns also determines whether his or her debt meets TDSR rules. In the years before TDSR, several borrowers of investment properties effectively made money off cheap debt by renting out their investment property. Today, the most common benchmark pricing housing loans, Sibor - while still low - has about doubled from 2013, when TDSR came into effect. Rates will rise as the Federal Reserve lifts rates, albeit at a gradual pace. Meanwhile, from the peak of January 2013, rents for private non-landed homes have fallen 16.9 per cent as at July, data from SRX Property showed.

Some property investors are no doubt on a knife edge. The adjustment by MAS ensures refinancing remains an option for the overleveraged borrowers, but in doing so, forces rigid discipline in cutting debt.

To be clear, most households in Singapore are managing their debt well, by TDSR standards. But 5-10 per cent of households here are under pressure and have already borrowed above the 60 per cent limit, showed MAS data in late 2015. Among them is likely a select group of PMETs (professionals, managers, executives and technicians) who are mired in debt, and face the prospect of transitioning to a lower-paying job as economic conditions deteriorate. For these households, cutting debt that has fuelled their property investment will be painful. But it still beats taking a huge loss on a fire sale.

Households that are close to breaching TDSR, or have breadwinners possibly losing significant income over the next 12 months - from a job loss, much lower bonuses, or a switch in jobs - should seriously consider refinancing before breaching the ratio. They may escape the set 3 per cent deleveraging rule. In staying within the 60 per cent limit, paradoxically, they'll have the most flexibility to adjust their debt by their own time and discipline (all assuming generously that such discipline is in place in these households).

MAS's latest move inadvertently sparks the question of whether cooling measures should be rolled back. There is a supply glut in residential properties. Vacancy rates for private residential units in the second quarter was at a 16-year high of 8.9 per cent. Mortgagee sales have risen.

But prices have not reflected that reality. As MAS has pointed out, property prices have fallen just 9.4 per cent from the peak in the third quarter of 2013. This followed a surge of 60 per cent between 2009 and 2013; over the same period, nominal income was up just 30 per cent.

Consultants have said most investors still have debt headroom and are holding on to properties, rather than selling. Households here also have cash on hand that is, as a conservative estimate, more than S$300 billion, showed reports and MAS data.

No surprises, then, that MAS has said ad nauseam cooling measures will stay. The TDSR tweak supports stability, and a soft landing in the property market. A managed, gradual, approach should sit well with a central bank.

Source: Business Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

Too much personal data required for fitness initiative: Forum

Straits Times
24 Sep 2016

My office recently asked all staff to sign up for the National Steps Challenge, organised by the Health Promotion Board (HPB).

Applicants would be issued a fitness tracker, such as a Fitbit device.

However, when I was signing up for the programme, I was alarmed at the amount of personal information required: full name, identity card number, height, weight, age, gender, and home address.

If the programme is basically to encourage Singaporeans to be active, why is all this information needed and what might it be used for?

Due to data privacy concerns, I did not sign up for the programme.

While the National Steps Challenge has good intentions, the HPB should clarify certain issues.

Although applicants receive the fitness tracker for free, who actually owns the device and the data on it? If it is the HPB, how would it use this data?

With the Personal Data Protection Act in place, public agencies have a greater responsibility in ensuring that personal data is not misused or compromised.

Databases can be compromised by hackers and errant employees, and government bodies should share personal data only on a need-to-know basis.

In the Government's Smart Nation push and greater use of technology, personal data and privacy should, all the more, be protected.

Lynne Tan Sok Hiang (Ms)

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Has the bar been set too high?

Straits Times
18 Sep 2016
Chong Zi Liang

Has the bar for potential presidential candidates been raised too high, inadvertently excluding individuals who have what it takes to be the head of state?

Nominated MP Azmoon Ahmad raised this question at last Friday's panel discussion, when he zeroed in on two key amendments to the eligibility criteria suggested by the Constitutional Commission and accepted by the Government.

When the changes kick in, private-sector candidates must have had experience running large, complex companies that have a minimum of $500 million in shareholders' equity - a change from the current requirement of $100 million in paid-up capital.

Also, only the most senior executive in such a company will qualify.

But Mr Azmoon argued that the $500 million figure was not an exact measure of a person's capabilities, and someone helming a company of a lower value may well have better leadership skills.

"I know of top executives, those that lead smaller companies, and they are good leaders and their products are, what I call, low-value products and they will never make the $500 million mark," he said.

Law Minister K. Shanmugam acknowledged that the $500 million figure is a "proxy" for finding individuals with the necessary financial competence. But he highlighted that the same could be said of the criterion, no matter what figure it is set at.

  • The $500m question: What they said

  • AZMOON AHMAD: I know of top executives, those that lead smaller companies, and they are good leaders and their products are what I call low- value products and they will never make the $500 million mark. K. SHANMUGAM: I understand. But how do we devise a system that doesn't look at individuals but can work for the future?

    AZMOON: Precisely, that's what I'm trying to point out - this $500 million is still a proxy, it is not a true measure. SHANMUGAM: Yes, it's a proxy.

    AZMOON: Yes, so if it's not a true measure, it's just a proxy and that proxy became...

    SHANMUGAM: I don't say it's not a true measure, I say it's a proxy.

    AZMOON: Okay, a proxy may become a stumbling block, a filtration where it's not real. That's my worry. Can we couch it a bit different?

    SHANMUGAM: Right. Well, you have the deliberative track which Gillian Koh pointed, even if you haven't run a company of size of $500 million, but if you can persuade the Presidential Elections Committee that you have this kind of qualities and you have run a smaller company but your company made all these sorts of advances and changes and it's demonstrative of your ability, if you can persuade the PEC that you have comparable experience, then you can still succeed.

That is why the commission compared the financial figures today with those of 1991, when the elected presidency was introduced, to get a sense of how the eligibility criteria should be revised to better reflect the present economic landscape.

"There is no ideal way of choosing the best person, but if you want to look for markers and proxies, this is what the commission has come up with," he said.

And even if an applicant's company does not meet the $500 million mark, the rules include what Mr Shanmugam called a "deliberative track" that allows the vetting body, the Presidential Elections Committee (PEC), some leeway on who qualifies to stand for election.

"If you can persuade the PEC that you have this kind of qualities and you have run a smaller company but your company made all these sorts of advances and changes and it's demonstrative of your ability, if you can persuade the PEC that you have comparable experience, then you can still succeed," he said.

Later, Mr Azmoon asked if it was necessary to restrict qualification to only the top executive position in a firm. A chief financial officer - not as high a rank as chief executive - could actually be the best person to look into the numbers when safeguarding the national reserves, he said.

But Institute of Policy Studies deputy director Gillian Koh pointed out the commission's rationale was that only the most senior decision-maker in a company will have the required expertise and experience.

Mr Shanmugam added that if more executive positions could qualify, the PEC would "be hard-pressed to decide what exactly your executive role was, how significant your role was in the context of the success of the company".

"The commission's view was 'let's be quite clean and neat about it - you show that you are responsible for the company and that it was profitable, that you managed it and for a period'," he said.

Meanwhile, National University of Singapore assistant professor of law Cheah Wui Ling suggested that the PEC's decision on who qualifies to stand for president could be subject to judicial review.

But Mr Shanmugam said the realities of operating such a system would make it too complex and unworkable.

"Let's say a candidate challenges and meanwhile elections are held and someone else is elected, the court ruling may come 18 months down the road. I think judicial review in such cases is not the best or most practical solution," he said.

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

SGX goes after Swiber in potential rule breach

Business Times
13 Sep 2016
Tan Hwee Hwee

It cites disclosure lapses on US$710m West Africa project

[Singapore] THE SINGAPORE Exchange (SGX) is going after Swiber Holdings for potential breaches to the exchange's Rule 703 pertaining to disclosure of material information.

In the letter obtained by The Business Times relating to the potential breaches, SGX made reference to Swiber Holdings' disclosure lapses on the US$710 million West Africa project first announced in late 2014 and two separate litigation claims by Likpin International Ltd and Greene Energy Group Asia Pacific Pte Ltd.

SGX said citing disclosure lapses on the US$710 million project, Swiber has potentially breached paragraph 25 of Appendix 7.1 to Rule 703.

Paragraph 25 of Appendix 7.1 deals with, among others, three key points - that the contents of a press release or other public announcement is as important as its timing and that the announcement should avoid omission of important unfavourable facts as well as presentation of favourable possibilities as certain or as more probable than is actually the case.

SGX in its letter alluded to the fact that since Swiber's first SGX filing on Dec 15, 2014, for the US$710 million project, the listed group in addition to an observed lapse in disclosing a delay in the project execution, did not proactively identify the client nor flag any pre-conditions tied to the project.

The project, as disclosed in Swiber's SGX filing on July 8 in its response to a private query from SGX, has been deferred indefinitely due to a weakness in the oil and gas sector.

The listed group in its second response to an SGX query on July 29, acknowledged that the award from RoyalGate Energy is a letter of intent that still needs to be formalised as a contract in due course. This confirmed BT's report on July 9, which pointed out that Equatorial Guinea-based RoyalGate has signed on Swiber for a project tied to Block Z field development off the West African country.

In its Aug 12 response to a third SGX subsequent query for an update, Swiber further clarified that no contract has yet to be entered into between the listed group's subsidiary, Swiber Offshore Construction and the end client. The listed group added the contract award has been held back due to a delay in an appraisal drilling that is a pre-requisite for front-end engineering and design studies to commence. It blamed the delayed drilling on a persistent weakness in the O&G sector.

SGX, in taking in Swiber's responses, has however, noted disclosure lapses on the listed group's order book.

"The company did not inform its shareholders and the investing public about the delay in the US$710 million project during a prolonged period from Dec 15 2014 to July 8 2016," SGX wrote.

In addition, the US$710 million project was accounted for "in all (Swiber's) disclosures on the group's order book without any qualification that the contract has yet to be signed or the project has been delayed", the regulator added.

On Dec 15, 2014, Swiber laid claims with the alleged US$710 million project award, it had clinched contracts totalling US$1.03 billion. BT also understood following Swiber's dramatic reversal from its now aborted winding-up petition, the interim judicial managers of the distressed group has included the US$710 million LOI in the US$1.67 billion secured projects tabled under a report filed with the High Court for the judicial management application.

SGX in invoking Paragraph 8 of Appendix 7.1 to Rule 703 also noted Swiber has not made any announcement on material litigation claims by Likpin and Greene Energy amounting to S$10.7 million and S$9.6 million, respectively.

The exchange viewed these litigation claims as significant taking into account Swiber's profits recorded for the financial year 2014 and for the first quarter ended March 31, 2015. Swiber posted a net loss of US$2.5 million for Q1 FY2015 and a net profit of US$21.7 million for FY2014.

Swiber in its July 12 response to a private query from SGX argued that both litigation suits were not material based on calculations against the group's revenue, total assets and net tangible assets at the relevant time. "In addition, the group's external lawyers were of the view that the claim for the Likpin suit was unmeritorious," it added.

It provided updates to the suits in its response to SGX, in support for non-disclosure:

• Greene Energy has filed a notice of discontinuance dated Nov 20, 2015, to the suit because the dispute was resolved via mediation and the case was settled for US$3.6 million.
• Likpin's claim in its suit was struck out by the High Court on Oct 1, 2015, and although the appeal was scheduled to be heard between July 25, 2016 and Aug 1, 2016, Swiber's external lawyers are confident of succeeding in resisting the appeal.

The SGX letter dated Aug 16 was addressed to Swiber's board of directors before its July 28 winding-up petition. They are Raymond Goh, Francis Wong, Darren Yeo, Nitish Gupta, Jean Pers, Leonard Tay, Yeo Jeu Nam, Chia Fook Eng and Oon Thian Seng.

Mr Wong and Mr Gupta have resigned from the board of the listed group as vice-chairman and executive director, but continue to remain as directors of certain subsidiaries of the company. Swiber retracted its erroneous July 28 announcement on Mr Tay's resignation and said he remains on board as the group chief financial officer.

SGX invited the named parties to make their representations within 14 days from Aug 16 to the alleged breaches of Rule 703 or run the risk of the exchange making findings against their interest.

Source: Business Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

Woman gets $56k but must pay $35k in costs

Straits Times
23 Sep 2016
K.C. Vijayan

Damages awarded are less than the settlement offer she rejected

A woman who sued for $4.82 million over injuries from a fall but got $56,000 instead stands to see her proceeds shrink as the apex court has ordered her to pay $35,000 in costs.

This is because the damages won by Briton Pamela Mykytowych in court fell short of the hotel's offer to settle before the case went to court.

Under the rules, if a suing party declines a sum offered in settlement and persists in the court case but fails to get a higher sum, then she or he will have to bear the costs of the party sued. The amount that the hotel offered was not disclosed.

Mrs Mykytowych, 52, had sued VIP Hotel, near Newton MRT station, for damages after she slipped on a puddle of water in the reception area and fractured her left kneecap and hurt her ankle in May 2011.

While she recovered fully from the injuries, she said she continued to suffer intense pain after developing a condition called Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS). Her claim list included loss of earnings and future medical treatment.

The former car rally driver was awarded $9,000 by the High Court last year. She appealed to the apex court, or Court of Appeal, through her lawyer Salim Ibrahim. The court increased her award to $56,605 in July this year but ordered her to pay costs last month.

The appeal court comprising Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon and Judge of Appeal Chao Hick Tin had found that her disability as a result of CRPS was not as serious as she claimed, yet not as insignificant as what the High Court judge had found. The court awarded her $30,000 for pain and suffering from CRPS while the High Court gave her nothing.

The appeal court rejected the £622,080 (S$1.1 million) she sought for a full-time domestic helper, but accepted she could do with occasional help. It awarded $20,000 for the services of a domestic helper for about eight hours a month for the next 10 years at an hourly rate of £10 she suggested.

Overall, the court awarded her $113,211. Based on her 50 per cent liability for the mishap, the final sum due to her was $56,605.

On top of the $35,000, the appeal court last month ordered Mrs Mykytowych to pay costs to the hotel from the date of the offer to settle on July 16, 2013 to that of the High Court decision on May 19 last year.

She was in turn awarded legal costs for the case from the date she filed the suit in 2011 to the date the offer to settle was made in 2013.

But the costs that the hotel was ordered to pay her would be based on costs in the State Courts, not the High Court, because the sum she won in the High Court was below $250,000. These sums are to be computed.

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Shareholder move to oust SBI Offshore CEO stalls

Business Times
17 Sep 2016
Anita Gabriel

FRIDAY's meeting for SBI Offshore shareholders to vote on a board shake-up that was triggered by a major shareholder's "mutiny" against the chief executive officer came through like an edgy day-time chat show and after two highly-charged hours, ended up being adjourned.

The hashtag #nofilter came to mind as all nine directors, led by chairman Mirzan Mahathir, huddled at one side of a table at the far end of a small, packed room, facing no less than 70 shareholders including many proxy shareholders and former employees and for the most part of the entire two hours, endured a litany of hard-hitting questions and incensed remarks.

The most vociferous bunch who were visibly vexed by the company's loss-making status and were eager to oust CEO Chan Lai Thong from the board were parties friendly to Tan Woo Thian. Mr Tan, SBI Offshore's founder and largest shareholder, together with two other requisitioning shareholders, Hui Choon Ho and Ong Nai Pew, are seeking shareholders' approval to instal four new directors and oust Mr Chan from the board.

The four prospective directors are Mr Hui, Dr Ong, Lau Yoke Mun and Geoffrey Yeoh Seng Huat.

After a lengthy crossfire, raised voices and finger-pointing between the board and parties friendly to Mr Tan, it was suggested by some minority shareholders - they were possibly the lone voice of reason from the floor - that the meeting be adjourned until there was more clarity on the investigations into Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PwC) findings and the outcome of the report lodged by the company with the Commercial Affairs Department on Thursday. Based on a show of hands, the meeting was adjourned.

"Shareholders were right in seeking more information from the investigation currently in progress before deciding on the suitability of the proposed candidates," said David Gerald, president and chief executive of the Securities Investors Association (Singapore).

In an announcement to the Singapore Exchange, SBI Offshore said that the board would make further announcements on the progress of such investigations, and also give notice for the reconvening of the EGM at an appropriate time.

The session started out on a civil note with a shareholder expressing "shock" over the PwC findings that were publicly released a week ago and had unearthed two sets of agreements, each on the purchase and subsequent sale of a 35 per cent stake in China-incorporated Jiangyin Neptune Marine Appliance Co (NPT).

Based on the PwC report, the agreements which contained discrepancies in terms of dates and pricing from the company's official disclosures involving the NPT transactions allegedly bore the signatures of Mr Hui (for the NPT purchase) and Mr Tan (subsequent NPT sale).

"We don't have all the facts and CAD's investigations could take two to three months . . . we believe that certain fiduciary duties of (past) directors were compromised," said Ling Yew Kong, one of four newly-appointed independent directors (IDs), all of whom make up a special investigation committee that was just formed to lead the investigations into the matter.

The absence of the company's Catalist sponsor, Prime Partners Corporate Finance, at the meeting was noted after one shareholder deemed that their presence would have been helpful to clarify shareholder questions arising from the PwC report.

SBI Offshore's appointment of the four IDs drew scrutiny with one shareholder saying that it was a "slap on the face" for the existing IDs who if they were truly independent, should have been tasked with that mandate of leading the probe instead of upsizing the board and incurring higher cost for the company.

To that, Basil Chan, the company's lead ID, replied: "We wanted to dispel the perception (of not being independent) as we have been involved over the last two months (looking into) the various allegations. Perception doesn't mean we are not independent. This was an exceptional situation."

Jen Shek Voon, a former independent non-executive director of SBI Offshore who resigned last year and shareholder who was seated next to Mr Tan throughout the EGM, stood up and interrupted Mr Mirzan mid-speech - he would do this several more times during the session, drawing rebuke from others - and with a thundering voice suggested that perhaps the board (Mr Mirzan, the non-independent chairman included) should resign since it is not deemed independent, hence was not protecting shareholder interest.

"We have heard enough about PwC (report). This whole report is a red herring. This has nothing to do with the resolution for John Chan (Lai Thong) to be removed," he remarked, asking how much was paid to PwC for the review, to which Dr Ong later claimed had cost the company S$600,000.

From hereon, the animosity in the room cranked up. Mr Tan said: "I'm the founder. He (Mr Chan) was my good friend for 30 years. The company is losing money but he travels business class. I'm very unhappy about all this. Are you listening, Mr Chairman?"

At which point Mr Chan stood up in a huff: "Don't tell half-truths to justify my removal."

Amid the unnerving exchange, Mr Mirzan, who stayed remarkably calm, unflinchingly so despite the jibes levelled at him by some shareholders, called on Mr Hui to provide his side of the story.

"We are very sad because as shareholders, we haven't received a single cent of dividend in the last four years from the company. Because of that, I would like to remove the CEO to restore the company to profitability," said Mr Hui

However, Mr Mirzan - 11.6 per cent shareholder of SBI Offshore and eldest son of Malaysia's former premier, Mahathir Mohamad - and Mr Chan pointed out that Mr Tan was the CEO of the company up until March this year.

For now, the plans by the requisitioning shareholders to shake down the board and force the CEO out have been stymied by the release of the PwC report which rightly so, has turned minority shareholders wary.

One man seemed visibly dispirited by that outcome. When approached by The Business Times after the meeting, Mr Tan said: "I am very disappointed."

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Singapore Stewardship Code expected to be launched by year-end

Business Times
13 Sep 2016
Kenneth Lim

Code typically lays out how investors should use their powers as shareholders

AN INDUSTRY working group could launch Singapore's first Stewardship Code by the end of the year, laying out how investors should use their powers as shareholders, according to Hans Cristoph-Hirt, co-head of Hermes Equity Ownership Services.

"So-called stewardship codes for institutional investors have been adopted in many markets around the world, including Japan, Malaysia, Hong Kong and Taiwan," he said via e-mail. "We have contributed to the development of stewardship principles for investors in Singapore. They are due to be launched later this year."

The working group - which includes the Stewardship Asia Centre, the Singapore Institute of Directors (SID), the Investment Management Association of Singapore (Imas) and the Securities Investors Association of Singapore (Sias) - has been working on the Code for at least a year, according to Imas's annual report published in October 2015.

"This industry-led initiative aims to enhance the quality of engagement between investors and investee companies to further the long-term interest of all stakeholders," Imas reported. "The Singapore Stewardship Code also serves as a complement to the Code of Corporate Governance applicable to listed companies in Singapore."

Singapore will not be the first to have a Stewardship Code, which has its origins in the United Kingdom after the global financial crisis. The Codes in the countries that have adopted them typically target institutional investors, placing on investors the responsibility to ensure that companies are properly run, and to hold the companies accountable when they are not.

"One of the key developments following the financial crisis in the UK was the formal adoption of a code for institutional investors outlining their important role in corporate governance," Mr Cristoph-Hirt said. "They should monitor companies and communicate with them around key business and governance issues, vote their shares, not least to ensure an adequate composition of the board, and - if necessary - intervene when things are heading in the wrong direction."

As the ones holding the purse strings, shareholders have a unique ability to influence the actions of corporate boards and management, said Roger Barker, senior consultant on corporate governance for the UK Institute of Directors.

"Institutional investors have also felt increased pressure from society to pursue a more active approach as champions of governance, and are stepping up their game. This is a positive development - but they need to do more. Shareholders are better placed than regulators to nurture long-term wealth creation in the corporate sector."

But both Mr Cristoph-Hirt and Mr Barker warned that investors wielding their influence for short-term goals at the expense of long-term gains are a dangerous combination.

Mr Cristoph-Hirt said: "Stewardship codes which encourage investors to get involved in the governance of companies are a first step in the right direction. However, they assume that investors are properly incentivised and interested in the long-term success of companies they invest in. Unfortunately this is not always the case. More work on the governance of investors and specifically the relationship between asset owners, such as sovereign wealth and pension funds, and their fund managers is required."

David Gerald, president of Sias, said that retail investors should also improve the quality of their engagement with companies even if they do not have the same level of access as institutional shareholders. Sias has started an initiative to provide questions, based on Singapore-listed companies' annual reports, that investors should ask at annual general meetings.

"While institutional investors have their own resources and their private meetings with company boards and senior managers to feedback directly to them; retail investors, on the other hand, do not have the same resources and opportunities," Mr Gerald said. "Their only forum is usually the annual general meeting, which is also a statutory meeting with a formal procedure and may not allow sufficient time for all shareholders concerned to be addressed."

Source: Business Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

Ex-NUS High student sues eight years after orientation injury

Straits Times
23 Sep 2016
K.C. Vijayan

Ex-NUS High student claims she was hit in head during activity, sues school and two former schoolmates

Eight years ago, when she was 12, Miss Edith Enright was hit in the head by two schoolmates during an orientation activity, she alleges.

Now aged 21, the Harvard undergraduate is suing them and the National University of Singapore (NUS) High School of Mathematics and Science for the injury which she claims affected her balance, and still causes migraines and giddiness, and has left her sensitive to certain smells and lights.

She could have sued earlier through a legal representative such as her parents. But the law also allows Miss Enright, an American, to wait till she reaches the age of majority, which is 21 here, and sue in her own name within three years.

Senior lawyer Niru Pillai said: "They do this for a variety of reasons, such as to better gauge how the effects of the injury manifest itself over time and also to spare the possible anguish and trauma of a minor having to face court litigation."

It was the third day of school in 2008 when Miss Enright and the other two NUS High students were involved in an orientation activity known as "Wet-the-Flag", together with about 160 other students.

In the activity, the students of each class had to construct a "fort" using metre-length wooden poles, and then place a flag on top. Part of the challenge, which took place on the school track, was for rival groups to wet the others' flag by throwing water balloons. Poles were also used to deflect the water balloons.

Miss Enright claims that the two defendants struck the side of her head with a pole during the activity.

The injury, she said, kept her away from classes for three months. When she returned to class, she could do so only on a part- time basis, and took her examinations on a modified schedule.

Miss Enright, then a proficient athlete and competitive ice-skater, also claims she partly lost her ability to balance. In the year that followed the incident, she had to consult several specialists, was repeatedly hospitalised and suffered post- concussion syndrome and insomnia, her lawyer Subramaniam Pillai said in court papers filed.

Since the incident, she also has had to rely on special schooling arrangements, including at her current place of learning, Harvard University. These include attending fewer classes, unique arrangements for exams, and special accommodation which keeps her away from flashing and coloured lights.

All three defendants deny her claims.

One of the former NUS High students said he was 12 then, and had no choice but to take part in the orientation games as he had just enrolled in the school.

According to the papers filed by his lawyers, Ms Choo Yean Lin and Mr Lee Chow Soon, he remembers holding on to a yellow pole with his classmate to deflect the balloons, and had no intention of hitting the plaintiff.

His classmate said he was also unaware that either he or his classmate had hit Miss Enright until he heard a shout. Even then, he was unsure if it was directed at them. He alleged that she was also to blame for failing to keep a safe distance.

The school, defended by Dentons Rodyk & Davidson lawyers Loh Jen Wei and Nerissa Tan, made clear that the activity was closely supervised by student leaders and teachers.

Miss Enright's class mentor, Ms Joon Ng, had ordered both defendants to stop and the event was terminated immediately as the students had breached the rules by stepping out of the "fort".

The school added that Miss Enright contributed to the injury by failing to keep a safe distance from the other two students.

A High Court pre-trial conference was held last week.


Miss Enright's class mentor, Ms Joon Ng, had ordered both defendants to stop and the event was terminated immediately as the students had breached the rules by stepping out of the "fort". The school added that Miss Enright contributed to the injury by failing to keep a safe distance from the other two students.

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

Jason Hldgs employee, ex-employee interviewed by CAD

Business Times
17 Sep 2016
Tan Hwee Hwee

TROUBLED timber flooring specialist Jason Holdings said on Friday the Commercial Affairs Department of Singapore (CAD) had called in two employees either currently or previously on the payroll of its principal operating unit for an ongoing investigation.

New Sze Wei, an employee of Jason Parquet Specialist (Singapore) Pte Ltd (JPSS), and Amy Chan Mei Lin, a former employee of JPSS, were interviewed by the CAD in relation to its investigations on Aug 30 and Sept 9, respectively.

The CAD is conducting an investigation into a possible offence under the penal code.

Jason Holdings previously clarified on Aug 7 that the CAD was investigating the company's director, Jason Sim Chon Ang, for the possible offence and not JPSS.

Mr Sim was interviewed by the CAD on Aug 1 and ordered to produce documents and information from 2008 to 2016. His travel documents were impounded on Aug 2.

Separately, Jason Holdings said on Friday that the company had received a letter of demand dated Aug 30 from KPMG for payment of the sum of about S$41,000, in respect of tax invoices issued for services rendered and disbursements incurred. The letter stated that KPMG may commence legal proceedings if payment of such sum is not made. The deadline for payment as stipulated in the letter has lapsed on Sept 9.

The company's board of directors are of the view that the claim will have a material adverse impact, inter alia, on its financial position, the financial performance, business and operations.

Shareholders of the company and potential investors are advised to exercise caution when dealing in the shares of the company, it said.

The listed company posted in June a S$13.8 million net loss for FY15 compared to S$215,000 net profit in its restated 2014 results. Revenue fell to S$23.2 million in 2015 from S$40 million in 2014 on a slump in the construction sector.

Shares in Jason Holdings, which are suspended, last traded at S$0.062.

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Setting the right board culture

Business Times
12 Sep 2016
Philip Forrest

Members need the right motivation, be guided by shared values for the company's benefit

COMPANIES today have to adhere to a list of governance and control guidelines that are either mandatory or highly recommended as they reflect best corporate practices.

When it comes to board composition, almost all ensure their boards have an appropriate number of members, good committees and structures, members with sufficiently diverse competencies, and clear terms of reference, ethics and conflict-of- interest policies.

However, a closer look at the failures of boards at companies such as Enron, Tyco and Worldcom shows that dysfunction within the board was the catalyst for failure rather than the lack of corporate governance structures or best practices.

Importance of board culture

In other words, simply placing competent people of goodwill around a boardroom table will not necessarily result in an effective and functioning board. The hardware around which the board is built must be accompanied by an "operating system software" that ensures openness, shared values and collegiate behaviour of board members. No matter how well-composed a board is, it needs the right board culture.

A board with a bad culture appears obvious to many directors. The factors and behaviours that determine a good culture are less obvious.

The board chair is responsible for setting the direction and tone for the board and thus has overall responsibility for orchestrating a harmonious and functioning board. Promoting a healthy board culture is not high on the priorities of most board chairs, but ignoring the necessity of it will eventually cause problems to arise.

Boardroom dynamics

To get board culture right, the board has to pay attention to a number of inter-personal dynamics that play out among board members, the CEO and senior management.

A key issue is the power balance between the board chair and CEO, and more broadly, between the board and management.

This requires a very clear understanding of the role and duty of care that each holds, in order to reduce conflicts which may build up mistrust. Once everyone is on the same page, all members will be able to speak openly and honestly without concern of overstepping one's turf while focusing on the best interests of the company.

It is common that one or two members will dominate the board discussion, leaving others to disengage. In local cultures where face saving is de rigueur, board members may prefer to take up matters with the board chair "offline". A successful board chair will be able to draw as many board members out as possible, taking as much time as required, and perhaps encouraging constructive, non-adversarial challenges of opinions.

The lack of "devil advocates" may afflict any given board, especially when the board chair or the CEO exerts strong influence on the rest of the board of directors. The risks such personalities pose arise when they mislead the rest of the board from looking more closely into issues, even to the extent of covering misdeeds. A clear way to mitigate against such risks is to encourage questions to be raised, no matter how unpleasant and to document the discussions and decisions for future reference.

Board focus

Another feature of undesirable board culture has to do with time management.

Often, discussions are not managed well, dragged on by indecision or lack of focus. A better way will be to set an agenda and keep discussions robust within the allocated time. The board chair plays a key role in keeping everyone focused on the issue at hand and what they are meant to achieve.

As leaders of a company, the board's primary message about their values is sent through their actions. In the case of Enron, the board was a willing conspirator in breaking the law as board directors set their sights only on financial measures of success, growth and achievement such as rising share price, low debt levels and high asset values.

On the other hand, a healthy board culture strikes a balance in the values that the board supports, between financial performance on one hand and other non-financial indicators over the longer term such as diversity, safety and sustainability, and finding ways for the company to measure and do better in these areas.

Qualities of directors

At the end of the day, boards are made up of people, and their personal qualities will enable a good board culture to emerge. These qualities should include:

• Integrity to fulfil fiduciary duties, put the organisation's interests before personal interests, and act ethically;
• Curiosity to ask questions and the courage to persist in asking or to challenge management and fellow board members where necessary;
• Interpersonal skills and the ability to work in a collegial team, to listen well and be tactful when communicating a point of view frankly;
• A genuine interest in the organisation and its business;
• The instinct for business and ability to get to the crux of the issue quickly; and
• The ability to contribute actively.

It is sometimes thought that if a group of successful people are brought together, they will, by definition, become a successful board.

The truth is somewhere in between. These talented people need the right motivation, be guided by shared values and feel they can make a real contribution in order to produce a group culture that will bring the company onto a stronger corporate governance footing.

The writer is a member of the Governing Council of the Singapore Institute of Directors.
For more articles, go to btd.sg/BMatters

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Wrong FY figures used, so company's penalty for price-fixing is cut

Business Times
23 Sep 2016
Claire Huang

Competition watchdog's error means penalty payable falls from S$7.6m to S$4.8m following appeal

[Singapore] FOR the first time, a financial penalty imposed by the Competition Commission of Singapore (CCS) has been reduced on appeal, following a mistake in the interpretation of its rules.

Japanese firm Nachi-Fujikoshi Corporation and three other Japanese ball-bearing manufacturers were fined in May 2014 for engaging in cartel activities to fix prices.

The competition watchdog had then imposed a penalty of close to S$7.6 million.

Following an appeal, the Competition Appeal Board (CAB) found in January that the amount should have been 37 per cent lower, or close to S$4.8 million, as CCS had used the incorrect turnover figures.

Under CCS' guidelines, the penalty calculation is based on the infringing party's turnover in the relevant markets in the "last business year" or "the one preceding the date on which the decision of the CCS is taken".

The CAB said the watchdog should have based the company's penalty on turnover from the most recent financial year before the final infringement decision - not the financial year before the proposed infringement decision.

Law firm WongPartnership, which represented Nachi, said in a statement that the infringement decision was issued in May 2014, so the firm's most recent business year would have been FY2013.

The CCS had applied turnover figures from the firm's FY2012 instead, the law firm said.

When approached, CCS explained that Nachi's turnover for the financial year ending Sept 30, 2013 had not been provided to CCS before Dec 16, 2013 - the day the proposed infringement decision was issued.

In Jan 2014, Nachi made written representations to CCS; two months later, it furnished its turnover figures for FY2013, but did not state that these turnover figures should have been used for calculating the penalty.

The issue was raised only at the point of appeal, after it received the final infringement decision and penalty amount from CCS in May 2014.

CCS said: "Notably, Nachi had asked for a much larger reduction in penalties, relying on three grounds of appeal. The CAB found in CCS' favour on two out of the three grounds:

CAB said that CCS had properly exercised its discretion in determining the starting percentage to be used in calibrating the financial penalties, given the seriousness of price-fixing. CAB also found CCS to have been correct as well in factoring in the impact of this infringement on the relevant market in Singapore, in light of Nachi's market share, said the competition watchdog.

It added that the CAB's decision on this issue is significant because re-export sales make up a large part of Singapore's total export sales; in 2015, it was about 51 per cent.

Said CCS: "With Singapore being a small, open and export-oriented economy, CCS regards the CAB's decision on this issue as recognising the need to prevent and deter anti-competitive behaviour that has an impact on competition between businesses within Singapore, to ensure our markets for exports remain competitive."

After a round of public consultations between Sept 25 and Nov 27 last year, the watchdog in June sought public feedback on proposed changes to its guidelines on financial penalties and enforcement for breaches of competition regulations. CCS said the proposed review would bring its practices in line with that of the European Union and the United Kingdom.

The proposals follow submissions by WongPartnership and the International Bar Association's Antitrust Committee last November.

Ameera Ashraf, head of the law firm's competition and regulatory practice, noted that the proposed tweaks to the calculation of penalties will provide "far more certainty to parties under investigation".

Source: Business Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

Timing of reserved election to be made known by October

Straits Times
17 Sep 2016
Rachel Au-Yong

Whether next year's presidential election is one reserved for candidates from the Malay community will depend on addressing several legal issues.

But these will be sorted out and a decision made by the time amendments to the Constitution are tabled in Parliament next month, Law Minister K. Shanmugam said yesterday. Reserved elections are among proposed constitutional changes accepted by the Government this week.

"Ultimately, it's for Parliament to decide," he said at a Straits Times Roundtable discussion on the Gov- ernment's White Paper reviewing aspects of the elected presidency.

On Thursday, the Government accepted a review panel's idea of a "hiatus-triggered framework" to ensure minorities become president from time to time. Under this model, an election is reserved for a race if no one from that group has been president for five continuous terms.

Yesterday, panellist and Institute of Policy Studies deputy director Gillian Koh asked if the clock for such a provision will start from 1991, when the elected presidency scheme was introduced through amendments to the Constitution, or 1993, when Mr Ong Teng Cheong was the first president voted in by the people.

If it starts from 1991, the next presidential race - which must be held by next August - must be reserved for Malay candidates. There has not been a Malay president since Mr Yusof Ishak, who died in office in 1970. But if it starts from 1993, there must be one more open election before a reserved one kicks in in 2023.

Mr Shanmugam replied that there were legal issues to sort out before giving a definitive answer. He did not elaborate, but said earlier this month that the Government was asking the Attorney-General for advice on aspects of the panel's proposals to ensure representation of all major races in the office of the president.

Observers say one issue is defining who counts as an elected president: while Mr Ong was the first popularly elected president, his predecessor Wee Kim Wee, although chosen by Parliament, was the first to exercise discretionary powers due to a special provision inserted into the Constitution when the elected presidency scheme was introduced in 1991. Mr Wee was president from 1985 to 1993.

Another is ensuring that the provision complies with the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, which Singapore signed last year and is expected to ratify next year.

But he added: "Certainly, by the time the Bill is tabled in Parliament in October, we'll be in a position to say where the clock starts."

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Woman barred from suing again without court approval

Straits Times
12 Sep 2016
K.C. Vijayan

A woman who has had 10 written judgments made in a 16-year legal struggle to sue the Government for wrongful dismissal has been ordered by the highest court to seek its permission if she wants to sue again in future.

Ms Linda Lai, 59, was sacked as a senior officer at the Land Office of the Law Ministry in December 1998.

In January 2000, she sued the Public Service Commission, seeking a judicial review of her dismissal, which she claimed was due to her exposing her superiors' incompetence.

After her latest legal bid collapsed, Judge of Appeal Judith Prakash wrote in judgment grounds released last week: " One of the purposes of the (relevant law) is to protect litigants, such as Ms Lai, from themselves, and to thereby avoid the situation where they repeatedly bring court actions in different forms to re-litigate matters that have already been decided.

" If such an order is not made, the vexatious litigant, having lost sight of rationality or reality and being armed with an aggravated sense of injustice about his case, is very likely to persist indefinitely in instituting legal proceedings."

In 2001, the Court of Appeal ruled that the courts could not intervene and it was a contractual dispute between her and her employer.

In 2004, she sued the Government for wrongful dismissal and, after a string of legal moves, the suit was deemed discontinued when she took no further action.

But five years later, the Court of Appeal allowed her to resurrect the suit and in the trial that followed in 2010, her claim was dismissed.

In 2011, she sought an order for the Court of Appeal to "reopen and rehear" three past decisions but this was also rejected by the High Court in 2012.

The following year, she asked the Court of Appeal to rule on an "array of disparate questions" linked to the rejected 2012 suit.

This was struck out by an assistant registrar and her appeal to the High Court failed.

The Attorney-General's Chambers subsequently applied in the High Court last year to restrain Ms Lai from trying to revive her case without the court's permission.

Ms Lai, representing herself, appealed to the apex court against the decision at a hearing in May.

The court, in dismissing her appeal, made clear the number of proceedings brought by a litigant, though relevant, " should not be given undue weight".

" There is no magic number of legal proceedings that have to have been brought before a litigant would be labelled as vexatious."

The court found, among other things, that Ms Lai was unable to back her claims that the court had been biased against her in the various past legal proceedings.

"The history of the previous legal proceedings shows that Ms Lai is unwilling and unable to accept that her claims have been dismissed", which meant she would continue to pursue her claims in court "until a court finds for her and gives her exactly the relief that she seeks".

Judge Prakash, who was writing on behalf of the apex court - which included Justices Belinda Ang and Quentin Loh - added: "This is a clear case that justifies an order under Section 74(1) of the Supreme Court of Judicature Act in order to protect the interests of the courts, the public, the Attorney-General (the opposing party in these proceedings) and Ms Lai herself, unlikely as it is that she may recognise or accept it."

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

Lai Swee Lin Linda v Attorney-General [2016] SGCA 54

S’pore Medical Association renews call for managed-care firms to be regulated

TODAY
23 Sep 2016
Neo Chai Chin

SINGAPORE — The Singapore Medical Association (SMA) has reiterated its call for companies handling medical claims for insurers and doctors to be regulated for the good of the public, amid growing concern among doctors over “unfair” practices of such firms.

The SMA represents the majority of doctors here. Speaking to TODAY, SMA president Wong Tien Hua suggested that the authorities consider new laws or amending current laws to regulate these companies, which are called managed-care companies or third-party administrators (TPAs).

TPAs usually offer companies and insurers a panel of doctors, and doctors can join these panels to potentially reach a larger pool of patients.

But doctors are concerned over TPAs charging them fees computed as a percentage — typically 8 to 25 per cent — of what they charge a patient for their services, which is akin to a sales commission, even though the TPA might not have done any work related to the care of the patient. Some TPAs also impose caps on the fees that doctors can charge patients.

When the issue came up in Parliament last week, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong gave no indication that his ministry would regulate TPAs, but said the Health Ministry is working with medical professional bodies and associations to raise doctors’ awareness of appropriate arrangements with TPAs.

Releasing its latest ethical code for doctors that same week, the Singapore Medical Council, which regulates doctors, said that fees charged by TPAs “must not be based primarily on the services (doctors) provide or the fees (doctors) collect”.

Responding to queries, Dr Wong Tien Hua, who wrote about the issue in SMA’s August newsletter, said the association remains of the opinion that TPAs should be regulated as healthcare entities, to ensure better standards and improve transparency.

A possible preliminary step is for TPAs to form a body for voluntary self-regulation and to promote ethical standards within the industry, he said. The body could then engage actively with stakeholders including the Life Insurance Association (LIA) and professional bodies.

Doctors told TODAY that care for patients is compromised when doctors have to keep fees too low. For instance, caps on medication could mean doctors being able to prescribe only three days’ worth of antibiotics when a proper course would be five days’ worth.

In addition, when senior specialists decide to end their contracts with the TPAs, patients could end up being referred to remaining specialists on the panel who are not in the best position to handle the cases. For instance, someone with acute appendicitis may be referred to a surgeon who does not normally deal with abdominal diseases.

Dr Wong Nan-Yaw, a colorectal surgeon in private practice, agreed that TPAs should be regulated. “My experience with the TPAs as a specialist is that the fees dictated by the TPAs to my anaesthetist colleagues are so low that in an emergency, I’ve got great difficulty getting an anaesthetist who’s willing to (take up the case),” he said. “That compromises patient care.”

TPAs should disclose how much of each dollar they receive is retained by them, and how much goes into services for the patient, he said. They should also be open and transparent about the specialists still remaining on their panel and their sub-specialty, and patients should have a right to choose the specialist who can provide the best standard of care, he added.

TPAs have billed their services as a solution to managing healthcare costs. Mr Michael Tan, co-founder of Fullerton Health — a TPA — previously told The Business Times that the fees that they levy help cover operating costs such as setting up an IT system and running of a 24/7 call centre for patients and panel doctors, among others.

Dr Wong Tien Hua said the SMA is currently holding talks with the LIA, the Consumers Association of Singapore, the Ministry of Health and the Monetary Authority of Singapore to see how healthcare costs can be controlled.

The Health Ministry would also work with the LIA to remind Integrated Shield insurers to ensure their appointed TPAs have no conflict of interest and disclose to policyholders any financial arrangements they have with the doctor.

When contacted, the LIA — whose members include AIA, Aviva, NTUC Income, Great Eastern, AXA and Prudential — did not say what disclosures would be made to policyholders. It also did not say what it considered to be a conflict of interest. LIA executive director Pauline Lim, however, said its member companies that work with TPAs should ensure no conflict of interest that will compromise policyholders’ interest. LIA does not condone practices that add another layer and further escalate healthcare costs in Singapore, she said.

TPAs have been part of the healthcare landscape for many years. But their involvement in Integrated Shield plans of individual policyholders in the past year, restrictions imposed on the amounts doctors can bill policyholders, and unfair contract terms imposed by some TPAs, have triggered an uproar over what doctors call unfair practices, TODAY reported in June.

The SMC said fees paid to TPAs should reflect actual work done in handling and processing the patients, and doctors must not pay fees that are so high as to constitute “fee splitting” or which render them unable to provide the required standard of care.

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I was brainwashed by Kong, says former CHC fund manager

Straits Times
17 Sep 2016
DANSON CHEONG,NG HUIWEN

He had been brainwashed into thinking pop singer Ho Yeow Sun would be "a megastar" like American singer Whitney Houston as her husband, City Harvest Church (CHC) founder Kong Hee, had regularly played up her success.

That was why he had thought the church investments in the financial bonds he had structured to fund her music career were genuine and profitable, former CHC fund manager Chew Eng Han, 57, told the High Court yesterday.

He was one of six church leaders convicted last October of misappropriating millions in church funds to fuel the pop music career of Ms Ho, in a church mission known as the Crossover Project.

The court found that they had invested $24 million from CHC's building fund in bogus bonds used to fund the Crossover Project. Another $26 million was used to cover up the initial misdeed.

Appealing against his conviction and sentence, Chew, who faces six years in jail, said Kong told church leaders Ms Ho would be more successful than pop stars such as Taiwanese singer Jay Chou and girl group S.H.E., and even tipped her to be the "next Whitney Houston".

Citing an e-mail in which Kong said they had "a singing diva" in their midst, Chew said: "If she was touted to be the next Whitney Houston, how would she not be a profitable commercial vehicle for us?"

Justice Chan Seng Onn, part of the three-judge panel hearing the appeals, asked Chew: "So you were brainwashed?"

Chew replied: "Yes, I was."

He said if what he did was considered part of a criminal conspiracy, it would have been "the worst thought-out conspiracy ever".

"It looks that way to me too," said Judge of Appeal Chao Hick Tin, to laughter in the courtroom.

Chew also took issue with the decision of the lower court, which had ruled that using the CHC building fund for the Crossover Project was a "wrong use" of the money and, hence, the funds were misappropriated. The building fund could be used for only building-related matters or investment.

But Chew said even if the Cross- over was a "wrong use" of church funds, spending the money on it cannot be considered misappropriation as it was a "church mission".

"No one has deprived the church of the benefit of using the money... As long as the money is applied to the owner's benefit, it is not misappropriation," said Chew.

Meanwhile, lawyer Paul Seah, who argued for the appeal of former CHC finance manager Sharon Tan, said Tan was "kept out of the loop in key discussions", and pulled in only when she was needed "to provide facts and figures".

He did not concede that spending the money on the Crossover Project was a "wrong use" and said that even if it were, "wanting to do something wrong or unauthorised is not the same as wanting to cause wrongful loss".

He said that if the building funds were used instead to hold a Christian rally here - paying for overseas speakers, the rental of the National Stadium and other logistics - it would have been seen as a "wrong use", but the church would have benefited from the thousands converted to Christianity.

Tan, 40, the fourth CHC leader to present her case, faces 21 months in jail, the lightest sentence of the six. Kong and former CHC finance committee member John Lam had argued their appeals on Thursday.

On Monday, the final two CHC leaders - deputy senior pastor Tan Ye Peng and former church accountant Serina Wee - will present their appeals.

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

SBI Offshore's legal counsel to review PwC findings and provide advice to board

Business Times
12 Sep 2016
Joyce Hooi

Report finds two different sets of agreements for purchase, subsequent sale of a China firm

[Singapore] AS a boardroom tussle looms at Catalist-listed SBI Offshore (SBIO) this Friday, the offshore and marine firm's legal counsel will review the findings of a PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) report that it had commissioned, it said on Saturday.

The PwC report, dated Sept 6, was released by SBIO in a filing to the Singapore Exchange on Sept 10.

The report found that there were two different sets of agreements for SBIO's purchase and subsequent sale of Jiangyin Neptune Marine Appliance Co Ltd (NPT).

The agreements contain conflicting considerations for the purchase and sale of a 35 per cent stake in NPT, which is incorporated in China. These numbers were reported by The Business Times last week, based on the PwC report that it had obtained.

In a supplemental letter to shareholders dated Sept 10, SBIO's board said that it noted the legal implications of these two sets of agreements, including possible breaches of China's tax laws, as well as the Securities and Futures Act and the Catalist rules.

The company said that it will instruct its lawyers l to review the PwC findings and provide advice to the board on "the appropriate course of action, including referring the matter to the relevant authorities, if necessary".

In its report, PwC found that one acquisition agreement stated the consideration for a 35 per cent stake in NPT as US$1.75 million, while another stated it as US$350,000.

Likewise, where SBIO's 2015 disposal of the stake was concerned, two different disposal agreements were found - one for the sale of the stake for US$3.5 million, and another for a disposal price of US$1.75 million.

SBIO's initial public offering prospectus stated that the stake in NPT was acquired in 2009 for US$1.75 million. Last year, the firm announced that it sold the stake for US$3.5 million.

According to SBIO, PwC noted, however, that the withholding tax paid to China's tax authority was consistent with the other set of agreements, and appeared to be based on a profit of US$1.4 million - coming from an investment cost of US$350,000 and a disposal consideration of US$1.75 million.

In its supplemental letter, SBIO noted that Hui Choon Ho was its executive chairman and CEO when the two acquisition agreements were signed and both sets were allegedly signed by him on behalf of the company.

"The board noted that PwC did not receive a satisfactory explanation from Mr Hui on the existence of the two sets of the NPT acquisition agreements," it said.

SBIO also said that Tan Woo Thian was its executive director and CEO when both NPT disposal agreements were signed and both sets were allegedly signed by him on the company's behalf as well.

"This was despite the fact that Mr Tan presented the second set of the NPT disposal agreement to the board for approval and the board did not agree to its execution as there was already a duly signed disposal agreement at that time and the consideration was different," it said.

"As at the date of the PwC NPT findings, PwC did not receive any clarification from Mr Tan on the existence of the two sets of disposal agreements."

Both Mr Hui and Mr Tan are key players in SBIO's boardroom showdown which will unfold at an extraordinary general meeting (EGM) this Friday.

The EGM was called by several shareholders, including Mr Tan, to remove SBIO'S current CEO Chan Lai Thong from the board and appoint four new directors. Mr Hui is one of the four proposed directors.

SBIO's board has called on shareholders to vote against Mr Chan's removal. It has also recommended that shareholders vote against Mr Hui's and Lau Yoke Mun's appointments as directors of the company.

In its supplemental letter, SBIO's board said that Mr Hui's involvement in the NPT transactions and his conduct have raised doubts over his suitability to act as the company's director.

Where Mr Lau is concerned, SBIO had previously said that he had not "sufficiently discharged" his duties as vice-president of one of the group's units and has no experience as a director in a Singapore-listed firm.

SBIO's Catalist sponsor, PrimePartners Corporate Finance, said that it will wait for the outcome of the legal advice that the board is getting before concluding its views on Mr Hui's suitability as a proposed director. It added that it would be "concerned" with his suitability if it is confirmed that he was involved in any "fraud, misrepresentation or misconduct" on the acquisition of the stake in NPT.

As for Mr Lau, SBIO's board has accepted PrimePartners' recommendation that it engage an independent and suitably qualified professional firm to review and assess the "facts and circumstances" of Mr Lau's conduct as a service provider. "The board will also make the necessary announcement upon completion of such review and assessment of this matter," it said.

SBI Offshore had called a trading halt on its counter pending an announcement last Friday, and subsequently requested that it be lifted the following day, after its update on the PwC report.

Source: Business Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

SGX queried over salaries, tech spending at AGM

Straits Times
23 Sep 2016
Wong Wei

Investors concerned exchange may not be on the right track as markets slow down

The Singapore Exchange (SGX) fielded a string of queries at its annual general meeting (AGM) yesterday with investors voicing concerns over salaries and the recent trading disruption.

Around 700 shareholders attended the AGM at the Star Theatre yesterday which lasted for about three hours. Due to a slew of questions, voting on the first resolution did not start for over an hour into the meeting.

Long-time shareholder Mano Sabnani questioned the level of pay for chief executive Loh Boon Chye, given a difficult year.

The SGX recorded a full-year net profit of $349.02 million, a shade above the $348.61 million a year earlier.

Mr Loh, who became CEO in July last year, is getting a remuneration package of $3.2 million. Mr Sabnani suggested the salaries paid to top executives be reduced.

"If you want to incentivise your executives properly, and if the market is not doing well, maybe you want to make them feel the pain a bit and work harder to improve," he said, drawing applause from shareholders.

Chairman Chew Choon Seng responded: "We have to have a competitive compensation structure, comparable to financial institutions in Singapore, in order to attract the right people... and retain them."

Mr Chew, who retired from the board and as chairman at the end of the AGM, added that the exchange's performance was partly affected by market forces beyond its control. Board director Kwa Chong Seng will be the next chairman.

In his opening remarks, Mr Loh said that SGX had to grapple with interest rate changes, slower global growth and volatile commodity prices during the year.

Nonetheless, he said, the SGX has further cemented its position as a multi-asset class exchange, pointing to the launch of an over-the- counter bond trading platform in December.

"In the derivatives business, we launched the MSCI China Free Index contracts and the first offshore India Nifty sector futures," he noted, saying that the SGX is looking to add South Korea's equity index into its futures platform that already covers indices in China, India, Japan and Taiwan.

But not all investors were convinced that the SGX is on the right track. One shareholder challenged the management to "think outside the box" to incentivise companies to list on the SGX.

He also pressed the SGX on the 2013 penny stock saga: "Three years have passed, which is a long time, and there is still no resolution in sight."

Chief regulatory officer Tan Boon Gin pointed to court proceedings in January where the prosecution had said that charges would be brought by the end of this year.

Another shareholder questioned whether the spending on technology, which rose 10.3 per cent to $127.85 million in the last financial year, has been effective, given the recent trading disruption in July.

Mr Loh said the outage was prolonged due to the longer-than-expected time needed for broker firms to reconcile the market data and that the backup system was actually functioning properly.

Other issues raised yesterday also included the impact of the implementation of the minimum trading price (MTP).

An investor asked: "Out of the many AGMs I have attended, I have not found one company that said (the MTP) is a right move. Are you out of tune with the listed companies?"

Mr Loh pointed to the recent proposed refinements to the MTP scheme, adding that the SGX is open to feedback.

All resolutions were passed yesterday.

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

S'pore Academy of Law moving to Adelphi

Straits Times
17 Sep 2016
K.C. Vijayan

With the sleazy massage joints banished earlier this year, The Adelphi in Coleman Street is set to burnish its owners' list with new intellectual heft - the Singapore Academy of Law (SAL).

The Academy is buying 8,751 sq ft of office space on the eighth floor of the premises for some $20.7 million. The space is equivalent in size to almost eight five-room Housing Board flats.

Located in the heart of the civic district, The Adelphi is bordered by the National Gallery, the Supreme Court building and St Andrew's Cathedral. Constructed in 1991, the 10-storey building with a basement has offices on six floors.

SAL - which is headed by Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon and whose membership of over 10,000 from the legal fraternity includes the Attorney-General and the Bench - is the promotion and development agency for Singapore's legal industry.

The Academy announced yesterday on its website that it expects to complete the deal by December and move its office and administrative outfit in the new financial year.

The purchase will enable SAL to convert a part of its current rented space in the Supreme Court into training rooms and meeting facilities to better accommodate its programmes and services.

The Chief Justice who gave a "heads-up" about the "exciting changes" during the Academy's annual appreciation dinner last month, said its work had expanded over the years and will continue to grow.

It is also looking at ways to better serve the needs of different segments of the legal community.

The purchase was made after a thorough review of available properties, and was approved by the SAL senate on the recommendation of the executive board.

The Chief Justice added that the purchase would diversify part of SAL's investment assets into real estate at a time of volatility in other investment markets.

"The move will enable the Academy to house its operational units at its own premises instead of paying rent to the Supreme Court," he said.

Real estate consultant Nicholas Mak said weightage in selecting the site would have been based on industry need. Being located next to the Supreme Court, The Adelphi would be convenient for lawyers.

The property was in the news earlier in the week when The Straits Times reported that the massage parlours in its basement were gone following an extensive police raid at the strata-titled building over six days in June.

The police said at least 13 illegal massage establishments had been closed down.

Following the raid, The Adelphi's tenancy mix now consists mainly of offices as well as audio-visual and beauty care stores. New cafes have also started moving in.

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

Call-a-lawyer web services target small businesses, individuals seeking quick legal aid

TODAY
11 Sep 2016
Valerie Koh

SINGAPORE — When a clause on an employment contract befuddled him, Mr Adrian Tan decided to seek legal advice. He turned to social media for recommendations, and ended up at a legal aid website, which touted a 15-minute phone consultation with a lawyer for a fee of S$49.

Mr Tan, a 35-year-old entrepreneur, then completed a form detailing his legal kerfuffle, picked a lawyer’s name off the website and paid the fee online last month. Within a day, the lawyer confirmed the appointment and called him the next working day.

The session lasted 10 minutes, he said, and “it was quite a breeze”. Having already mentioned in the form why he needed help, he did not have to repeat it during the consultation, saving him time and cost. “I managed to get the answers that I needed,” Mr Tan said.

The Asia Law Network website that he used launched the phone consultation service this June, targeting small businesses and the man-on-the-street. Founder Cherilyn Tan termed the service a “low-risk” first step to tackling legal disputes.

She said: “We are doing this because we think a lot of ordinary folk and small-and-medium enterprises like us don’t really know where to go to get good and affordable legal advice. We also want to help all the one-lawyer and smaller law firms compete with the big boys on a level footing.”

Right now, there are more than 50 lawyers onboard, covering fields ranging from family law to employment matters. Ms Tan declined to reveal the number of clients so far.

Another website, Singapore Legal Advice, rolled out a similar service in July, with a cheaper fee of S$39 for a 20-minute phone consultation, promising a call-back within two hours of payment.

Behind the scenes, once the payment is made, founder Chan Yuk Lun will send an email to the six lawyers on the scheme. It is a game of fastest-fingers-first, and the quickest lawyer to respond gets the client.

About 10 to 20 clients have used the service, Mr Chan said, and they typically need urgent advice on debt recovery or landlord-tenant disputes.

One of his clients, who wanted to be known only as Cheryl, was curious about drafting a will. “I wanted to ask about the technicalities of drafting one, but most law firms wanted me to pay before discussing, and they charged hourly. I wouldn’t want to pay an hourly fee just to make an enquiry,” said the 26-year-old entrepreneur.

All fees are channelled to the lawyers, and both the above websites do not take a cut from this service.

Via Law Corporation director Wang Yingyu has taken two to three calls through Asia Law Network. While her hourly rate usually starts from S$550, Ms Wang is willing to settle for less due to the convenience of phone consultations and because it is less time-consuming.

“Sometimes, the problems that clients face don’t need long-drawn legal advice… but I charge a minimum rate, starting from an hour (for face-to-face consultation),” she said.

Lawyer Ronald Wong, who runs Covenant Chambers LLC, partners both websites. So far, he has found two clients.

 He said: “At the end of the day, these quick consultations — from a marketing and business development perspective — are a means to a greater end. It gives enough information to the client to make basic decisions about where they want to go from there, and whether they want to pursue the matter further.”

Mulling over the new service, MSC Law Corporation director Michael Chia warned of a possible risk of flouting ethical rules for lawyers, citing professional rules against the sharing of fees with unauthorised persons or paying them a commission, for example.
When referred work, legal practitioners must ensure they communicate directly with the client to obtain or confirm instructions when providing advice and at all appropriate stages of the transaction, he added.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY SIAU MING EN

Copyright 2016 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

A very extravagant way to spread gospel, says judge: City Harvest trial

Straits Times
22 Sep 2016
Danson Cheong

It could have used ads or concerts, instead of spending $24m on Ho's music career, he says

There are cheaper ways to evangelise than the $24 million that City Harvest Church (CHC) spent on Ms Ho Yeow Sun's pop music career.

The church could have bought television or newspaper advertisements. Or it could have organised Korean pop concerts, with CHC senior pastor Kong Hee preaching afterwards.

Instead the way it went about spreading its gospel was "very extravagant", said Justice Chan Seng Onn in the High Court yesterday.

Justice Chan is one of three judges hearing the appeal of the six CHC leaders convicted of misappropriating millions in church funds to promote Ms Ho's career in a mission known as the Crossover Project. Yesterday was the close of the five-day hearing, and a judgment will be delivered at a later, as yet unknown, date.

Of the many ways to evangelise, Justice Chan said: "It can be through Sun Ho singing, (or) it could be engaging, at a much cheaper cost, maybe K-pop (singers) and Kong Hee can come to the concert and then preach."

He spoke as the prosecution was presenting its arguments. It wants longer sentences for all six CHC leaders, who face terms of between 21 months and eight years. It is asking for terms of between five and 12 years instead.

The six CHC leaders are appealing against their conviction and sentences.

In October last year, the lower court found the CHC leaders had ploughed $24 million from CHC's building fund into bogus bonds used to fund the music career of Ms Ho, who is Kong's wife. Another $26 million was used to cover up the initial misdeed.

Justice Chan asked if members had supported the means in which the Crossover was carried out.

They did, said deputy public prosecutor (DPP) Christopher Ong, but "what they didn't know was how much the means was costing and they didn't know who was paying for that cost".

Later, Judge of Appeal Chao Hick Tin also asked if the CHC leaders had been carrying out what they thought was a church purpose - "only they took the wrong route or the wrong means".

But DPP Ong said it was more important for the court to ask if church members supported the Crossover because they were not given the full facts about it.

Offering an analogy, he said: "If I were to offer you a Ferrari and I tell you that it is free of charge, you might well take it because, why not, it's free.

"If I tell you that I'm going to give you a Ferrari but use your money to pay for it, you may not be so supportive of the idea of my giving you a Ferrari."

He also told the court the six had not shown remorse - which ordinarily would be a mitigating factor.

"Restitution amounts to saying 'I am sorry', and this is not something we have heard from the offenders in this case," he said.

During the five-day hearing, lawyers for the five CHC leaders, and former CHC fund manager Chew Eng Han, who is representing himself, delivered impassioned arguments - often before a courtroom packed with over 50 people.

They stressed that the bonds used to fund the Crossover were genuine investments. Furthermore, the Crossover, which aimed to create "a megastar" in Ms Ho - who would attract non-Christians who could be preached to at her concerts - was a project that was supported by the church, said the lawyers.

At the close of yesterday's hearing, Justice Chao adjourned the case to give the judges time to go through the trial's voluminous record.

No date for a judgment was given by Justice Chao, who said: "This is something we need to give special consideration to... we can only promise you a judgment ASAP."


FREE FERRARI, BUT WHO'S PAYING?

If I were to offer you a Ferrari and I tell you that it is free of charge, you might well take it because, why not, it's free. If I tell you that I'm going to give you a Ferrari but use your money to pay for it, you may not be so supportive of the idea of my giving you a Ferrari.

DEPUTY PUBLIC PROSECUTOR CHRISTOPHER ONG, saying church members supported the Crossover Project because they were not given the full facts.

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

After historic process, participants take stock of EP panel’s proposals

TODAY
17 Sep 2016

For only the second time in Singapore’s history, a Constitutional Commission was appointed in February. Its task was to review specific aspects of the Elected Presidency (EP).

Half a century ago, a similar commission was set up as a newborn nation sought to find its way forward: In 1965, a Constitutional Commission comprising 11 members and headed by then-Chief Justice Wee Chong Jin was appointed in December — four months after Singapore attained independence, and amid communal tensions.

The commission was asked to propose ways for the rights and interests of minorities to be safeguarded in the Constitution. Public hearings were held, with the views culminating in a report submitted in August 1966. The recommendations paved the way for the setting up of the Presidential Council in 1970 — later renamed the Presidential Council for Minority Rights.

Fast forward to today, and a nine-member commission, headed by Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, was tasked with studying the eligibility criteria for prospective candidates for the Presidential Election, safeguarding minority representation in the presidency, and the framework governing the exercise of the President’s powers.

The commission’s report was submitted last month, after six months of deliberations involving public hearings and written submissions from the public.

In all, the commission received more than 100 submissions. A total of 19 groups and individuals who had contributed written submissions — including former Cabinet Minister S Dhanabalan, academics, lawyers, professionals, law students and representatives from non-governmental organisations — gave their views on the proposed changes to the Elected Presidency at four public hearings, which were held in April and May.

On Thursday, the Government released its White Paper to set out its proposed changes to the EP and its responses to the commission’s wide-ranging recommendations. The Bill to effect the necessary legislative changes will be introduced in Parliament next month and the House will debate it in November.

TODAY spoke to the people who had presented their views at the public hearings, to get their thoughts on the commission’s proposals — what caught their eye, what they agreed or disagreed with — and their contributions to a historic process.

MR TAN MIN-WEI, RESEARCH ASSISTANT IN THE POLITICS AND GOVERNANCE CLUSTER AT THE INSTITUTE OF POLICY STUDIES

“I was personally surprised that the commission chose to venture outside the terms of reference in regard to removing the Elected Presidency altogether. My expectation when working with (IPS deputy director) Dr Gillian Koh on our submission is that the commission would chose to stay within the set terms of reference laid out by the Prime Minister.

The introduction of the reserved election is problematic. Part of the issue with it isn’t the reserved election itself — it is too early to say how that will work out — the issue is that we’re still uncertain as to what the nature of the problem is.

We have had four elections and seven candidates, of which one was a minority. We have not had a Malay or Eurasian candidate. So the most important question is, why not?

The reserved election appears to solve a problem downstream from this — that is, what happens when minority candidates can qualify, run for office, and cannot be elected for racial reasons. I cannot say that this is not a problem that does not need fixing; all I can say is that there are many other elements to the system that need to be addressed before addressing concerns about how the electorate votes.

Unless what the commission is suggesting or the Government in taking up the “reserved election” idea is that it is because Malays and Eurasians do not believe they have a chance that they do not even try. This, then, is an assumption that Chinese voters vote only on the basis of race — yet another deeply troubling hypothesis or assumption that will need to be dissected.”

DR MATHEW MATHEWS, SENIOR RESEARCH FELLOW AT THE INSTITUTE OF POLICY STUDIES

“It was certainly meaningful to be able to suggest changes to the important institution ... I was among those who defended the need to have provisions for minority representation, which I knew would be contentious. But rather than doing something akin to a Group Representation Constituency system or one where the Elected President (EP) would be rotated among those of the main ethnic communities in Singapore, I suggested a mechanism of safeguards that would kick in only if we are not able to ensure that all of our groups would be represented from time to time. I am hopeful that, over time, an unrestricted election will be able to produce minority EPs.”

ASSOC PROF EUGENE TAN, SINGAPORE MANAGEMENT UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF LAW

“The commission took great care to explain how it arrived at its recommendations. It was a thorough, comprehensive and compelling report.

(The surprising suggestion was) to return to the former system of having an appointed President … There was no indication during the hearings that the Commission was actively considering (this). The suggestion is also almost a non-starter, given the Government’s steadfast position that the President must be elected in order to provide the President with the democratic mandate and moral authority to stand up to the Government.

While I understand the commission’s rationale and reasoning for its proposal for reserved elections, I remain uncomfortable with it as it is a form of affirmative action. To be fair, conceptualised as it is, the reserved election holds promise as a safeguard … But I hope we will never have to resort to a reserved election.

It is worth recalling that our ceremonial Presidents did not become symbols of our multiracialism by virtue of their being minorities. It was what President Yusof Ishak did through his actions, utilising the “soft power” of the office of the President, that enabled him to transform the head of state office into a symbol of our multiracialism … The late President Wee Kim Wee, a Peranakan Chinese, was much beloved and respected by all Singaporeans, demonstrating that being from the majority race is not a barrier to a symbol of multiracialism.

It was a privilege and honour to be part of this important and path-finding review process. This is, after all, only the second constitutional commission in our history, with the first half a century ago! For me, it was also a rare opportunity to encourage my Constitutional Law class students to be part of the review process ... I believe that the experience brought constitutional law alive for the students, and demonstrated how they can play a role in the review process.”

ASST PROF JACK LEE, SINGAPORE MANAGEMENT UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF LAW

“I generally remain unconvinced that it is necessary to introduce a system of reserved elections to ensure that candidates from specified minority communities will be elected as President from time to time. I feel we should give more credit to voters to be able to pick candidates for their abilities, not their ethnicity … Moreover, we risk reinforcing the misconception that minorities are not capable of being elected on their own merit. More should be done to encourage members of minority communities to put themselves up for election under the current system, rather than rushing into having reserved elections.

I feel it is not a good idea for the financial criterion for presidential candidates to be raised beyond what is necessary to take inflation into account, or that we insist that only the head of an organisation is qualified. I fear that these more-stringent criteria will make it more difficult to find suitably qualified minority candidates. The criteria should be pitched at a level to ensure that candidates have adequate experience handling financial matters. They need not be “financial wizards”, especially since the Council of Presidential Advisers exists to assist the President in carrying out his or her constitutional duties.

The part of the commission’s report that I found most surprising was the suggestion — which was actually outside the commission’s terms of reference — that perhaps it would be a good idea to separate the ceremonial and custodial roles of the President ... I agree (with the commission) that this might solve many of the issues that (it) was asked to look into.”

MR MOK ZI CONG, PART OF A GROUP OF SINGAPORE MANAGEMENT UNIVERSITY LAW STUDENTS WHO MADE ORAL SUBMISSIONS

“We agree with the proposals by the commission to regulate the campaign methods and to prevent misinformation by candidates running for the office. In discharging his or her custodial functions, the Elected President may only react to proposals by Parliament, and has no power to introduce proposals of his or her own. It is key that Singaporeans, in choosing their President, are aware of his unique role, and the recommendations by the commission go well towards this.

We disagree with the commission’s decision not to express any views on transitional arrangements for the revised eligibility criteria. While it is true that when the amendments take effect is a matter for Parliament to decide … we felt that there was value in the commission making its views known, with the aim of upholding the integrity of the office of the Elected President.

Our most meaningful contribution would be our submission that there should be a requirement for the President to publicly publish his reasons for vetoing the drawing down on the reserves. The commission agreed with our suggestion, and its ultimate recommendation went even further than what we had originally proposed. Such a requirement will go towards transparency and accountability, and further public debate about the exercise of the President’s powers.”

(Note: In its White Paper published on Thursday, the Government said it has not taken up the commission’s proposal to publish the President’s opinion on all decisions where he exercises his veto. This should not be done where appointment or fiscal matters are concerned. Instead, it could apply to just Supply Bills, Supplementary Supply Bills and Final Supply Bills, which are Bills that involve expenditure.)

MS GRACE TEO, PART OF A GROUP OF NATIONAL UNIVERSITY OF SINGAPORE LAW STUDENTS WHO MADE ORAL SUBMISSIONS

“Changes to the Constitution must be made with a lot of care and precision, and so we appreciate the lengths the commission has gone through to deliberate and arrive upon balanced recommendations.

In particular, we are heartened by the “light-touch” approach employed by the commission in recommending a provision to ensure minority representation in the office. We would just bring up two potentially problematic scenarios with that particular recommendation: The increased possibility of a “walkover” election in reserved elections, and the possibility of candidates who may be “twice-barred” by the stringent conditions for eligibility — once by race, the second time by the date of his leadership experience.

This experience as a whole has elevated national conversation to a new level for us. It is very exciting to think that young Singaporeans can participate on so high a level, armed with what they see for Singapore’s future, and it was even more exciting to be a part of that.

One of the more tangible ways in which our proposals have been acknowledged is in the recognition that the Elected President, as a unifying symbol, should possess the ability to represent diverse interests. During the public hearings, we submitted that … what is significant is not just the candidate’s race, but that this individual is able to represent the diverse interests of Singaporeans.

We recommended that this criterion be recognised … Section (E) of the sample certificate of eligibility application form (proposed by the commission) requires candidates to provide other relevant information that would be relevant for consideration by the Presidential Elections Committee, and it is stated that this would include ‘community activities or initiatives demonstrating your engagement with ethnic groups other than your own’.”

MR RONALD WONG, ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR AT CONVENANT CHAMBERS LLC

“The suggestion ... for a return to a President appointed by Parliament rather than elected, and to leave the custodial functions to a council of experts ... was surprising because it went beyond the terms of reference and was a radical bold suggestion.

I agree with the proposals, which went beyond the terms of reference about considering an appointed President that does not have custodial powers, and assuming the Presidential office is still by election, setting rules on election campaigns — what can be said or not about the Presidential role — and educating the public on the Presidential office. But I think for that to happen, the Government needs to, itself, be clear (on) what exactly the Presidential Election campaigns are or should be about. Surely it’s got to be about character and integrity, in addition to technical expertise.

The raising of eligibility criteria for private-sector candidates is not concomitant with a greater scrutiny of public-sector candidates.

The commission says, for public-sector candidates, not all the public offices can endow the candidates with all the skills for a Presidential role. That’s true. It is also true of the private-sector candidate. But if we expect to raise the private-sector candidate eligibility criteria with respect to the (requirement of having helmed a company with) S$500 million in shareholders’ equity, why is there no comparison for the public office? It is just as easy to set a criteria along those lines.

Whether people agree or disagree on the commission’s proposals, the Government’s intent and decisions on the topic, the fact is that not many people in the world get to participate in such a national institution-building deliberative democracy process like that. So this privilege, which is available to all Singapore citizens, is a heavy one.”

MS JOLENE TAN, HEAD OF ADVOCACY AND RESEARCH AT THE ASSOCIATION OF WOMEN FOR ACTION & RESEARCH

“We are glad that the commission agrees with us that there is an inherent tension between the custodial and representative roles of the office (the first key point of our submission). The design of the office is inherently flawed, lending weight to the call to split the functions and revert to an appointed office.

In our view, the general trend in the recommendations is to arbitrarily narrow the eligibility criteria further, undermining the democratic mandate of the office and making it appear even more exclusionary and even elitist, rather than representative.

We wholeheartedly agree that minority representation matters … But we question whether limiting who people can vote for is the way to address this.

We disagree with the proposal to tighten the corporate criteria further, which makes the office more exclusionary, and may also tend to limit further the pool of potential woman and minority-race candidates.

We also continue to disagree that the Presidential Elections Committee (PEC) should be able to disqualify candidates based on “integrity and character”. What the PEC disapproves, the electorate may accept. The people should not be prevented by … unelected individuals (sitting on the PEC) from making this assessment. One of the most important features of any candidate is their track record of public service and contribution, and as far as possible, all potential candidates should be free to present that to — and be assessed by — the electorate.

We greatly appreciate the detailed and publicly documented review process. In our view, more legal and policy changes should be subject to thorough public deliberation, not necessarily through a commission, but with a similar spirit of consultation and transparency.

We believe we have reinforced the commission’s recognition that the custodial and representative functions of the role sit together uneasily, and we hope that we have generally pushed for greater clarity and nuance in thinking around the office. But we are disappointed that no concrete suggestions have been made to improve the representation of women in the presidential process — for instance, through requiring or even urging more women’s appointments to the Council of Presidential Advisers.”

MR NGIAM SHIH TUNG, MARUAH MEMBER

“The commission appears to view the President as primarily a technocrat and is proposing to convert the Presidential Elections Committee (PEC) into a super Public Service Commission (PSC) that shortlists candidates with “technical competence and expertise” for the custodial functions of the job.

Several portions of the report are contradictory, which perhaps reflects the fundamental tension between the different roles which the President is called upon to play (and which the commission acknowledges). With regard to reserved elections, the commission is proposing a solution that might be activated only once in 30 years, yet the Elected Presidency itself has been in existence for only 25 years. It is not clear that this is even a problem now, and the “solution” may very well turn out to be a land-mine that blows up on a future Singapore many years from now.

(One proposal that Maruah disagreed with was) having elections reserved for members of specific races. This goes against our principles of racial equality and may easily turn out to be more divisive than unifying. (Another is) raising the financial criteria, which will have the effect of narrowing the pool of eligible candidates. Maruah is of the view that financial experience is not a relevant criterion for Presidential candidates.

Considering that the commission did not cite Maruah even once in its report, I don’t think we had much influence in their thinking. However ... our participation did serve as an indicator that there are divergent views in Singapore on the qualifications that a President has to have.”

Copyright 2016 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

Legislate against pitching false promises?

Straits Times
11 Sep 2016
Rachel Au-Yong

Erroneous claims pitched to voters by some candidates during the hotly contested 2011 Presidential Election campaign prompted the Constitutional Commission to go beyond its terms of reference.

To prevent misinformation being bandied about by those in the running at the next presidential election, the panel took the step of proposing that it be an offence for candidates to misinform voters during the campaign.

Apart from requiring candidates to declare explicitly that they understand the constitutional role of the president before they are issued with a certificate of eligibility, the panel wants sanctions to be imposed for breaching election rules.

These should include criminal sanctions, said the commission, without going into specifics. In extreme cases, a candidate's certificate of eligibility could be revoked.

In 2001, some candidates made promises to Singaporeans that went beyond the constitutional functions of a president.

The commission did not name any particular candidate. However, former civil servant Tan Jee Say pitched a $60 billion "national regeneration plan" to build more hospitals and schools, among other things, while former NTUC Income chief executive Tan Kin Lian said he would introduce state pensions for the elderly.

One needs only to look to Britain's Brexit referendum in June to see the dangers of misinformation by campaigners.

A total of 52 per cent of the electorate successfully voted for Britain to leave the European Union, but afterwards some expressed regret. They were bitterly disappointed when "Leave" campaigner Nigel Farage admitted that his camp's pledge to redirect the �350 million (S$629 million) sent weekly to the EU to the National Health Service instead could not be guaranteed.

Especially in a close fight, some candidates may try to "buy" votes predicated on lies or promises that are impossible to fulfil. This is a great disservice to voters, observers tell The Sunday Times.

Most nations or states do not legislate against misinformation during campaigns, but a number do have ground-up initiatives to combat political distortions and lies.

In the United States, for example, independent sites such as FactCheck.org and PolitiFact.com are run by the Annenberg Public Policy Centre and the Tampa Bay Times respectively.

One location that has criminalised misinformation in political campaigns is the state of British Columbia in Canada. Candidates who are found to have made false or misleading statements can be liable to a fine of not more than C$20,000 (S$20,900), imprisonment for a term not longer than two years, or both.

Lawyer Rey Foo, who was among those who gave submissions to the Constitutional Commission, said that establishing rules to prevent misinformation during campaigning "should in fact strengthen the democratic process by ensuring that all candidates campaign on a level playing field".

He added: "Voters are then clear about the views and position of each candidate and will not be misled by empty promises. In any event, the campaign process for an elected presidency should be different from that of a parliamentary one."

But are criminal sanctions really necessary? Some analysts do not think so.

While Sembawang GRC MP and lawyer Vikram Nair welcomes the idea of more "dignified" elections, he thinks it would be hard to enforce sanctions, given the short campaign period of nine days.

For one thing, whether a candidate's statement is considered misinformation has to be determined quickly and punishments meted out soon after. He explained: "If the candidate has already been elected and he's found to have breached some of these rules later, it could be very awkward."

Singapore Management University (SMU) law don Eugene Tan said such sanctions, though made with good intentions, could lead to unintended consequences.

"Would applying the rule book be seen as a heavy- handed method to deal with a person who may not be the government's presumptive choice to be president?" he asked.

"Any attempt to regulate what amounts to misinformation would also be seen as an attempt to interfere with the electoral process."

Others were also not convinced that sanctions were needed, and said that lawmakers ought to have more faith in the electorate.

"What happened during the 2011 Presidential Election was a sufficient way of dealing with the matter - the Government perceived that some candidates had misunderstood the role of the elected president, so the minister for law pointed this out," said SMU assistant law professor Jack Lee.

"We need to trust that voters will assess the matter for themselves and decide whether they trust particular candidates or not, based on the statements that they make."

Rachel Au-Yong

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

Woman, 85, and slimming centre settle lawsuit

Straits Times
22 Sep 2016
Selina Lum

An 85-year-old woman has settled her lawsuit against a slimming centre in which she sought a full refund and damages over a $400,000 weight-loss package.

Madam Gan Siew Hong , who has diabetes and other health problems, visited the Ngee Ann City branch of London Weight Management in July 2013 with her husband and her son after seeing its TV commercial touting a weight-loss trial session for $18. The family, who live in an HDB flat, eventually paid about $400,000 for weight-loss treatments and products.

In a lawsuit filed in the High Court on Aug 3 this year seeking compensation of close to $450,000, Madam Gan alleged that the treatments not only failed to improve her health, but also caused her to suffer diarrhoea, a skin rash and pus discharge. She claimed that the centre pressured her family into signing up for a six-year package.

In its defence filed on Aug 31, London denied this but said it was willing to refund the unused portion of the package amounting to $43,408 out of goodwill. The centre said Madam Gan's family declared only that she had diabetes and that it is not liable for injuries resulting from non-disclosure of medical history.

The centre also said it had advised her to seek medical advice on the suitability of its treatments and products.

In a joint statement to The Straits Times yesterday, Madam Gan and London Weight Management said: "We... have amicably resolved all claims and any claims and/or demands between the parties."

Both parties "further unconditionally withdraw all allegations against each other", said the statement, sent by Madam Gan's lawyers from Lim & Bangras. Financial details of the settlement are not known.

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

Related headlines

Woman, 85, sues slimming centre over $400k treatment, ST, 07 Sep

City Harvest appeal: Former CHC finance manager was kept out of plans on alleged conspiracy, says lawyer

TODAY
17 Sep 2016
Kelly Ng

City Harvest Church’s former finance manager Sharon Tan was only a “mouthpiece” who had “limited understanding” of the alleged conspiracy to misappropriate the mega-church’s funds, or to falsify its accounts, argued defence lawyer Paul Seah on Friday (Sept 16), as he sought to overturn her conviction. 

He stressed that Tan — who was last year sentenced to 21 months’ jail for three counts of criminal breach of trust and four accounts falsification charges — was not involved in the church’s decision to invest in the bonds at the centre of the conspiracy. Her involvement came about after she took over as the church’s finance manager from January 2008. Tan, now 40, had her “entire life built around the church”, said Mr Seah, adding that CHC was the only church she had attended since she became a Christian when she was 15. 

“CHC is the bedrock of her life … She wholeheartedly embraced its mission and vision, including the Crossover Project. Everything she did over the years … was done with the purest of motives in what she thought to be in CHC’s best interests,” he said.

Tan had been working in the church’s accounts department since January 2000 and also met her husband in CHC. “CHC was not merely Ms Tan’s workplace, but was also (her) church and spiritual bedrock, a place where she was taught to believe, and to trust, in both her faith and in her leaders,” said Mr Seah in written submissions presented earlier to the court. 

“The trial judge himself had found that she had no intent to cause harm to the church.”

Tan, church founder Kong Hee, his former second-in-command Tan Ye Peng, former church board member John Lam, former church investment manager Chew Eng Han, and former church finance manager Serina Wee, were found guilty of the unauthorised use of S$24 million in church building funds for the music career of Kong’s wife Ho Yeow Sun, and “round-tripping” another S$26.6 million to cover up the first sum. All are appealing against their convictions.

Mr Seah argued that unlike her five co-accused who either held top leadership positions or sat on CHC’s board at some point, Tan held a low position in the church’s hierarchy and merely “followed instructions”. 

Even when senior pastor Tan Ye Peng and the church’s then-fund manager Chew Eng Han were devising plans to redeem the bonds, Tan was largely left out of the meetings and was only roped in occasionally to “provide facts and figures”. 

“Sharon Tan shows absolutely no understanding of the plans, she doesn’t know how it works … Sharon was merely a mouthpiece, reporting certain things,” said Mr Seah. 

And at each step of this process, Tan showed “eagerness” for the plans to be given the green light by the professionals, and was assured as such, said Mr Seah. “The trial judge erred in tarring Sharon with the same brush as the other co-accused.”

He also questioned if the prosecution had “proved beyond a reasonable doubt” that the accused persons’ alleged wrong use of funds was driven by a “desire to cause a loss” to the church. “If their chief desire was to the advantage of the church, then the criminal breach of trust charges should fail,” he said.

Copyright 2016 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved 

As supply of lawyers lurches from shortage to glut, spotlight falls on policies

TODAY
10 Sep 2016
Siau Ming En

SINGAPORE — For more than two decades, bureaucrats, experts and some practitioners have been tinkering with Singapore’s supply of lawyers.

In 1993, it was proposed that the cap on the annual intake at the National University of Singapore’s (NUS) law faculty — the country’s only law school at the time — was to be lowered gradually from 200 to 150.

Eight years later, it became a situation of too few lawyers and the intake was increased and more overseas law degrees were recognised. Efforts to produce more lawyers intensified in 2006 when a second law school at Singapore Management University (SMU) — focusing on corporate law — was proposed, even as the NUS law school intake was ramped up further.

In 2013, a committee tasked to look into the supply of lawyers — by now in its fourth incarnation — called for a third law school to be set up at UniSIM, prioritising the training of criminal and family lawyers. There were too few practitioners in these areas, it found.
Barely a year later, Singapore was officially facing a potential glut of lawyers, due to a spurt in the number of Singaporeans studying to be lawyers overseas and the expected slowdown in economic growth.

So, what went wrong? Did circumstances beyond anyone’s control change? Or did the moves — albeit with the best intentions — backfire? Some of Singapore’s senior legal minds think so. “I don’t believe in interfering with market forces. Tinkering will lead to a shortage at some point, then there will be calls for further ‘liberalisation’, which will lead to an over-supply in future, et cetera,” said NUS law academic and former Attorney-General Walter Woon.

Lawyer Michael Chia, who is the founding director of MSC Law Corporation, added: “Which profession doesn’t have demand and supply issues? Why are we so special that we need to come up with these special rules to control the supply and demand?”

Others, however, disagreed. Dentons Rodyk & Davidson LLP senior partner Lok Vi Ming felt that some intervention is necessary for a small market like Singapore. Noting that the pursuit of law studies is “aspirational” among young Singaporeans and their parents, he said: “Steps that are implemented to rein in the numbers either at point of entry into law school or point of entry into the profession would cause some unhappiness.”

While he felt that the intervention over the years have worked to a certain extent, he noted the lag effect and difficulty in trying to manage the number of people taking up a law degree, given that the market environment could change by the time they graduate - especially given the shorter economic cycles these days. “How do you crystal-ball gaze six or seven years into the future to decide whether you are going to cut off, how you are going to cut off (the supply),” he said.

Singapore Management University (SMU) law don Eugene Tan reiterated that predicting and managing the demand and supply of lawyers is no exact science. “There will be hits and, more likely, misses as our experience shows,” he said. Still, given Singapore’s ambition to be a legal hub and the legal sector’s important role in supporting the economy, “there is the view that the supply of lawyers is too important to be left to... vagaries of market forces”, he added.

The supply of lawyers came under the spotlight again two weeks ago, after Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon spoke about the issue in his speech at the Mass Call ceremony. He announced that a committee would be set up to tackle the oversupply of lawyers - specifically by reviewing ways in which law firms offer training contracts to fresh law graduates, make decisions to retain them and later nurture them. He also suggested, among other things, that practice trainees who are not offered employment contracts could instead serve as paralegals until their admission to full professional status at a later time. While measures have been taken to address the oversupply, the slowing economy meant that “we should be prepared that the situation for fresh graduates and job-seekers is likely to remain difficult before it gets better”, CJ Menon said.

Nearly 650 graduates competed for some 490 training contracts in 2014. The gap narrowed last year, with around the same number of graduates vying for 550 training contracts. This year, 509 new lawyers were admitted to the Bar, a shade lower than the record 535 last year. In comparison, the figure rarely crept above 250 between 2006 and 2011.

NUS currently takes in about 240 law students a year, while SMU admits about 180 law undergraduates. The third law school at SIM University (UniSIM) will begin classes in January, with an initial intake of 60, which will increase to a steady state of 75.

The problem of oversupply was first flagged by Mr Shanmugam in 2014, when he warned of a “lawyer glut” due to the climbing numbers going overseas to read law. To address the situation, seven of the 18 United Kingdom law schools recognised for admission to the Singapore Bar were dropped starting from this year’s intake.

HOW DID WE GET HERE

The Government’s intervention in the supply of lawyers can be traced back to 1992, when then-Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong warned of the dangers of having too many lawyers: Among other things, this would divert Singapore’s scarce manpower resources to the legal profession and deprive other sectors of talent.

Between 1980 and 1992, the number of practising lawyers more than doubled from 809 to 2,174. As a result, the ratio of lawyers to every 100,000 persons here became higher than in Japan, Hongkong and Switzerland.

The First Committee on the Supply of Lawyers – headed by then Attorney-General Chan Sek Keong – was set up in 1993. The committee concluded that market forces alone might not correct an oversupply of lawyers and it was better for Singapore to err on the side of having too few lawyers than too many as the former can be easily corrected. It recommended capping the annual intake of NUS law students from 200 to 150 over five years. More onerous conditions were also imposed on overseas-trained lawyers to practise law here.
But in 2001, the earlier recommendations had to be reversed when the Second Committee found that demand had outstripped the supply of lawyers.

The NUS law school subsequently increased its annual enrollment from 150 to 200 over the next few years while law graduates from 10 more overseas universities, including Australia and New Zealand, were allowed to practise here should they meet the academic cutoffs.
The supply crunch had been exacerbated by lawyers leaving the practice amid growing demand from foreign law firms which were getting into joint ventures and alliances with their Singapore counterparts.

To further meet the shortfall, the Third Committee in 2006 suggested setting up a second law school in SMU while NUS law school continued to raise its annual enrollment from 220 to about 250 students. The requirement to hold a second-upper honours degree for graduates from the recognised foreign universities was also lowered to second-lower honours degree.
In 2013, the Government announced the setting up of a third law school at UniSIM to address the “critical shortage” of lawyers practising community law, which includes family and criminal law. This was suggested by the Fourth Committee, headed by then-Judge of Appeal V K Rajah.

It was reported in March that there are currently about 1,600 criminal and family lawyers here - this makes up less than half of the 4,800 or so practising lawyers in total.

GOVT’S HAND VS MARKET FORCES

Some lawyers interviewed by TODAY felt that attempts at managing the supply of law graduates have had unintended consequences which partly contributed to the current glut.
SMU’s Assoc Prof Tan said the committees set up over the years have had “limited success in adroitly managing the supply of lawyers but it is not for the want of trying”. They made their recommendations based on the available information and trends, he said. But while the domestic supply has been easier to manage, it was much harder to determine how many students would head to English and Australian law schools, he added.

Noting that the attrition rates in the legal industry are also more difficult to anticipate, he pointed out that the measures proposed by the committees - most of which were subsequently implemented - have an added signalling effect. “Even the best laid plans for the adequate supply of lawyers go awry,” he said.

Prof Woon went as far as to call it a “mistake” to lower the qualifying criteria for overseas-trained lawyers in 2006. “Anyone who chooses to read law must understand that he or she is not guaranteed a job as a lawyer. The top of the cohort will find jobs. The bottom of the cohort will not,” he said. He added: “It’s not possible to manage the supply of lawyers unless we prohibit people from going abroad to study law. This is obviously impracticable. Supply can be choked off only by draconian means which interfere with the free market for services.”

Law Society of Singapore (LawSoc) President Thio Shen Yi recalled how for more than a decade, law firms found it hard to recruit new lawyers after the measures to cut supply in 1993. There was a lot of demand for new lawyers but the supply was artificially low, said the Senior Counsel. This created a salary inflation for new lawyers which distorted the market, he added. “Let the market sort itself out... It’s actually dangerous to manage supply because we’ve seen that lead to market distortion in the past,” he said.

Mr Chia added that due to the measures in 1993, smaller firms were edged out by the bigger firms who can afford higher salaries to attract young lawyers. Over time, the smaller firms stopped hiring new lawyers while bigger firms, in a bid to justify the elevated wages, may have tried to “squeeze every ounce of value” from their young lawyers by increasing their workload and this could eventually have led to more lawyers dropping out of the profession, he said.

Mr Peter Low, who is the managing director of his own law firm, was LawSoc President in 1993. He explained that the society did not object to the recommendations to curb the supply of lawyers because back then, people were expecting an impending glut and there were also concerns with the quality of the legal education provided by certain overseas universities. “Calibrating the supply of lawyers is tricky business,” he said.

However, he conceded that the legal industry had to suffer the repercussions of a “dire shortage” of lawyers for more than a decade.

Still, he said: “From time to time, Government intervention is warranted, even though regulating the optimum supply of lawyers is challenging,” he said. “Perhaps there should be more sensitive and closer monitoring of the supply of lawyers.”

SPIKE IN NUMBERS ‘OUT OF GOVT’S CONTROL’

Responding to TODAY’s queries, a Ministry of Law (MinLaw) spokesman reiterated that the current situation where some law graduates are unable to secure training contracts is largely due to the sharp increase of Singaporeans studying law, mainly those who do so overseas. “These numbers cannot be controlled by the Government and have increased sharply in recent years,” he said.

On the need for a third law school, he noted that demand for places there had exceeded the number of available places. “That demand, if completely unmet, will mean that some students will go overseas anyway. The law school therefore offers an additional choice to these students, and (provide them with) applied training to increase their employability,” the spokesman added.

The intakes at the local universities have been “carefully calibrated”, taking into account available resources and the law schools’ capacities, “while maintaining high standards of education”. The list of overseas scheduled universities is also reviewed by the Singapore Institute of Legal Education every five years to ensure the quality of law graduates seeking admission to the Singapore Bar.

“While these avenues accord Singaporeans aspiring to do law a wide range of local and overseas choices, the demand for legal services and lawyers is market driven, and dependent on the economy and societal needs,” the spokesman said.

He added: “Those wishing to study law should therefore enter (the industry) knowing that competition will be stiff if they wish to pursue a career as a lawyer. This is a point that the Ministry has highlighted since 2014 and made relevant statistics available so that students contemplating law programmes can make informed choices.”

Meanwhile, the Government has played “an active role” in growing the legal sector domestically and to attract legal work from overseas to the country, the MinLaw spokesman said. Citing the area of dispute resolution as example, he noted that measures such as setting up dispute resolution institutions were introduced to develop Singapore as a centre for dispute resolution. All these create jobs and opportunities for law graduates and lawyers, he added.

Minlaw noted that the Committees on the Supply of Lawyers are “periodically formed to look into various needs of the legal sector”. They comprise “wide industry representation from key stakeholders across the legal profession, including legal practitioners, the judiciary and academics”.

Over the years, the committees have looked into various issues including measures on qualifications, ensuring a strong pipeline of lawyers “of the requisite quality”, training of lawyers and “the extent to which foreign lawyers should be able to practise Singapore law”, due to its economic needs.

THE WAY FORWARD

While veteran lawyer Edmond Pereira felt that the Government should leave the supply of lawyers to market forces, he did not envy its position. It is a case of damned if you do and damned if you don’t, he said. Nevertheless, as an immediate measure, he suggested that the authorities be even more selective in the list of overseas scheduled universities.

Mr Lok called for a “light touch” approach by making it harder for lawyers to pass the Bar examinations.

On hindsight, Assoc Prof Tan felt the authorities might have been too focused on the enrollment figures at the local law schools. “Perhaps we need to pay a lot more attention to how the supply of lawyers becomes reduced once the law graduates enter the legal profession. We need to plug the leaking gap here,” he said.

Mr Low believes the current situation is temporary. Over time, small firms will hire more young lawyers. New lawyers, on their part, should not limit their search for positions within large firms. There is an abundance of reputable and experienced senior lawyers in the small and medium-sized law firms who can mentor them, he added.

One suggestion floated by CJ Menon was to have law graduates who did not secure employment contracts to stay with the firms as paralegals - positions which are currently filled by diploma holders - until their admission to full professional status. This would avoid losing “budding legal talent” before they had the serious opportunity to be nurtured, he said. Noting that this is not a new idea, CJ Menon said the UK and Australia have been adjusting to their oversupply situation by creating more room for graduates within their paralegal pool.

But Mr Chia raised a possible side-effect of the proposal: Diploma holders would have to compete with university graduates and they could eventually be crowded out of the profession.

Third-year student Syakiran Yusran from Temasek Polytechnic’s Law and Management said he was worried about the possible scenario. “Most likely our jobs will be taken up by more qualified lawyers,” he said.

Another area that the Government should watch closely is the impact that agreements with other countries could have on the supply of lawyers, said Assoc Prof Tan.

For example, under an agreement recently inked between Singapore and Australia, Singapore will recognise the Juris Doctor degrees awarded by the 10 Australian universities which are already on the list of overseas scheduled universities.

GOING IN WITH THE RIGHT ATTITUDE

Amid concerns of a glut, Prof Woon reiterated that no one is guaranteed a job just because he or she read law. “Ambition is not a substitute for ability. Law firms will hire people whom they assess are competent,” he said. “The ones at the bottom of the cohort will have to take a longer road (for example, work as a paralegal first in order to prove themselves) if they want to break into the field.”

Nevertheless, NUS law dean Simon Chesterman noted that the purpose of a law degree, especially that of an undergraduate degree, “is not and should not be simply to produce a lawyer”.

“The critical and analytical skills that a law degree offers, the mastery of language, are of use in many professions,” he said. “Some of our graduates aspire to public office, others join academia or use their legal training to start new ventures in the corporate world. We also have a number of graduates who go into the arts. Skills acquired at law school serve all our graduates in these varied careers.”

In his speech at the Mass Call Ceremony, CJ Menon also spoke about the “hollowing out” of mid-career lawyers who burn out and leave the profession. Statistics show that mid-tier lawyers with seven to 12 years’ experience consistently make up about 10 per cent or less of the entire profession over the last five years. Flagging a concern that young lawyers are lured by financial rewards and their professional development comes at the expense of the firms’ pursuit of profits, he said: “The purity of that experience is tainted when money is fixed at the back of one’s mind.”

Ms Wong Xun Ai, 28, who is currently a programme executive at the Singapore Council of Women’s Organisations (SCWO), is one of many legally-trained minds who have left the industry. She made the switch six months ago, leaving behind the lucrative world of commercial litigation.

She had gone into law for the right reasons but became disillusioned: “It was a bit disheartening when at the end of the day, you feel that maybe your client never really wins because ultimately, they spent so much time and money on (court cases).”

In her current job at SCWP, Ms Wong administers the non-profit organisation’s progammes. Putting her legal training to use, she also provides legal counselling to those facing matrimonial issues. While she may have taken a big pay-cut, she said she is “definitely happier now”. “It’s fulfilling to be able to feel that I am helping others and putting what I’ve learnt to good use,” she said.

On the legal profession, she added: “If from the get-go it’s not something you want to do or you don’t have a passion for, I think it will be hard for you to last long.”

Copyright 2016 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

Court approves extradition of two suspects in S’pore accused of cheating US Navy

TODAY
22 Sep 2016
Valerie Koh

SINGAPORE — Two former employees of a Singapore-based defence contracting firm look set to be extradited to the United States, where they are wanted for their roles in a high-profile bribery scandal surrounding the US Navy.

This comes after a State Court judge on Wednesday (Sept 21) gave the green light for the extradition of Neil Peterson and Raja Maslindah Raja Shamsad, who were respectively vice-president (global operations) and general manager (Singapore, Australia and the Pacific Isles) at Glenn Defense Marine Asia (GDMA).

The two will be remanded in prison until Law Minister K Shanmugam issues a warrant for their surrender to the US.

There will be a 15-day period before they are surrendered, and they have the option of reviewing the court’s decision.

Over in the US, they have been accused of cheating the navy of more than US$30 million (more than S$41 million) in an elaborate scheme involving fraudulent invoices, contract bid-rigging, and fictitious port authorities with inflated port tariffs that they invented.

In written submissions tendered during the court hearing on Wednesday, Deputy Senior State Counsel Luke Tang said that evidence exists to prove the case, including forged documents, business records and email correspondence agreeing to cheat the US Navy.

The court first heard from the Law Minister about the extradition request from the US on July 19 this year, and issued an apprehension warrant for the pair the following week.

During a Sept 7 hearing, Peterson’s lawyers Hamidul Haq and Thong Chee Kun, and Maslindah’s lawyer Anand Nalachandran, said that their clients would cooperate with the authorities on the extradition.

GDMA — owned by Malaysian businessman Leonard Glenn Francis — is a multinational firm headquartered in Singapore, with offices around the region. For more than 25 years, it managed bids for marine husbandry services during the US Navy’s port visits.

Peterson, 38, a permanent resident here, faces six charges of conspiring to defraud, using electronic or wire communication to obtain money and property fraudulently, and submitting false claims to the US government.

Maslindah, a 43-year-old Singaporean, has been slapped with seven similar charges.

Around June 2011, the US Navy struck a deal with GDMA for three regional contracts: the company would provide exclusive husbanding services for US ships and submarines at ports in South-east Asia, Australia and the Pacific Isles, and East Asia.

Before arriving at each port, a US Navy ship would send GDMA a list of supplies and services required. An invoice would be submitted and the ship would then issue a cheque in payment.

However, instead of submitting competitive quotes for these supplies and services, GDMA allegedly fabricated quotations, such that the firm appeared as the lowest bidder. It would then inflate the charges that would be submitted to the US Navy.

Among other things, Peterson allegedly created a shell company and submitted an inflated quotation for tug boats in 2012. A lower-cost quotation from a competitor was deliberately kept out of sight, and the US Navy ended up accepting the shell company’s quotation.

Francis — better known as Fat Leonard within the business circuit — admitted in January last year to his role in the scandal, where he provided navy officials with prostitutes, hotel stays and cash in exchange for contracts and tip-offs. He informed investigators about the roles Peterson and Maslindah played in the conspiracy.

Copyright 2016 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

City Harvest appeal: ‘Church money meant for a mission cannot be counted as wrong use’

TODAY
17 Sep 2016
Amanda Lee

In trying to appeal against his conviction and sentence, a former church leader asked if using the church building fund for a missionary purpose is considered “wrong use” or “dishonest misappropriation”, and if it then meant that there was wrongful loss.

Chew Eng Han, 55, who used to be the fund manager at City Harvest Church (CHC), put forth these questions in his written submissions in the High Court on Friday (Sept 16).

His appeal is being heard by a three-judge panel. Last year, he was found guilty on six counts of criminal breach of trust and four charges of falsifying the church’s accounts, and was sentenced to six years’ jail.

Chew, who is unrepresented, said that the prosecution’s case during the trial pointed to the church’s building fund as a restricted fund that could be used only for building-related expenses or for investment. In the “Crossover Project” — fashioned to push the pop music career of founder-pastor Kong Hee’s wife, Ms Sun Ho — the use of this fund was not an investment, the prosecution had argued, so the money was used for an unauthorised purpose that constitutes “wrong use” of the fund, which is tantamount to dishonest misappropriation.

Chew said that the trial judge had adopted the prosecution’s core argument above and “gravely erred in ruling that there was dishonest misappropriation”, basing it on a flawed definition of the word “misappropriate”, which was tied to “wrong use”. 

During the three-hour hearing on Friday, Judge of Appeal Chao Hick Tin questioned whether the church had something to hide regarding the use of the church fund. “It definitely looked like it was some secret project, because it was a secret project,” Chew replied.

Asked by Justice Woo Bih Li on why the building fund had to be invested in music production company Xtron instead of going directly into the Crossover Project, Chew said that the church wanted a “holding company” that could be used as a “special purpose vehicle” through which it directs the money to projects like the Crossover, and to bid for a property in 2009. 

Chew and his family had donated S$1 million to the church, and he was told in 2008 that Ms Ho’s English album was to be delayed for another year. Kong said then that the project was going to get bigger, they would make money from concerts and merchandise, and Ms Ho’s album launch would be a success. 

“I believed that she was going to be a superstar,” Chew told the court. “Whatever Kong Hee tells us, we believe. We never thought it was a sham.”

Chew pointed to an email Kong wrote in 2005 after he announced to the church that his wife secured a US$5 million (more than S$8 million) contract. He said that church members should be “super proud” of Ms Ho because there was a “singing diva” in their church. Kong also said that his wife was going to be the “next Whitney Houston”.

“If (Ms Ho was to be the) next Whitney Houston, how (can it) not be a profitable vehicle for us?” Chew said. 

Justice Chan Seng Onn asked Chew: “So you were brainwashed?” Chew replied: “Yes. I was.” 

The court was also told that the church bought unsold stocks of Ms Ho’s albums. “If this were a conspiracy, it is the worst-thought-out conspiracy ever,” Chew said.

It looks that way to me, too,” Judge of Appeal Chao said, prompting laughter from the packed public gallery. 

The appeal hearing will continue on Monday with the church’s former second-in-command Tan Ye Peng and former finance manager Serina Wee.

Copyright 2016 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved 

The long and short of affidavits: Forum

Straits Times
10 Sep 2016

My heart goes out to five-year-old Keryan Gabriel Cedric Graffart, who might still be alive if his father had not become affected by his mother's affidavit filed in custody proceedings ("Belgian gets 5 years' jail for killing son"; Aug 23).

Affidavits are sworn statements filed by parents to give their version of facts in court.

It is treated as evidence by the court, which would then consider, give due weight and make orders in hearings.

So parents would want the court to know everything and would pour out the facts and their feelings into the affidavits, which can run into hundreds of pages.

In custody battles, parents may also obtain affidavits from their relatives, neighbours, school teachers, friends and even domestic helpers.

Affidavits are not biographies. Lawyers should advise their clients on what evidence is relevant.

In custody battles, the main issue is which parent the child lives with and is being cared for by.

Numerous witness affidavits do not help a parent to obtain care and control of a child.

Furthermore, it is not possible for the court to read all the documents in just one hearing.

Affidavits ought to be short, precise and deal with the salient points only.

There are rules in the family court judicial process limiting the number of reply affidavits a party can file.

The court can go further by prescribing the precise evidence it requires, limiting the length of affidavits, managing the number of witness affidavits a party can file, and deciding on the necessity of such documents during the case conferences in the Family Justice Courts.

Experiencing a whole range of negative feelings after reading the other party's affidavits is common. It takes time for the client to recover from the shock and anger.

I have clients who tell me that their spouse threatened to kill their children or commit suicide with them.

Often, these are only threats. But, like child abuse complaints, they ought to be reported and investigated with care.

Action needs to be taken to protect our children and preserve family units.

Rajan Chettiar

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

Short-selling: when is regulatory action warranted?

Business Times
22 Sep 2016
R. Sivanithy

HOW should regulators deal with short-selling attacks, if at all? It's not an easy question to answer. There is hardly ever any clamour for regulatory intervention when strong "buy" reports with sky-high target prices send stocks shooting up. But there are always calls for gatekeepers to take action when a short-seller swoops into the market with a sell that (a) uses inflammatory language to make sensational claims about the target being worth much less than the current market; (b) causes worry and panic; and (c) is usually aimed at a high-priced stock that everyone thought was financially solid.

The reason for this disparity in the way buys and sells are perceived is, of course, purely emotional - rising prices are comforting because of their wealth enhancement, while crashing prices bring dismay, wealth destruction and, inevitably, calls for justice to be served.

In Singapore, regulators have not acted in the admittedly small number of sensational short-selling cases encountered by the local market over the past few years. This could be because although short-sellers are viewed by some quarters as market pariahs, there is reason to view them as part of the market's ecosystem. If so, then they have every right to voice their opinions as anyone else.

Over in Hong Kong too, there has not been any regulatory intervention - until now. Last month, short-seller Andrew Left of Citron Research was found guilty by Hong Kong Securities and Futures Commission's Market Misconduct Tribunal of publishing a "false and misleading" report on developer China Evergrande Group.

"The SFC investigation found Left made a profit of about HK$1.7 million by shorting 4.1 million Evergrande shares before issuing a scathing report on the company on June 21, 2012," said South China Morning Post on Aug 26. "Shares in Evergrande slumped 19.6 per cent following the release of the report before closing the day down 11.4 per cent, against a 1.3 per cent drop in the benchmark Hang Seng Index."

According to news reports, the maximum penalty for such misconduct is a ban from trading Hong Kong's stocks for up to five years and a fine equal to the profit made.

However, as noted earlier, there is a school of thought that short-sellers have a valid place in today's market - either as whistle-blowers, price stabilisers or playing a role in exposing accounting shenanigans. On this premise, governance and freedom of speech advocates have leapt to Mr Left's defence, arguing that the tribunal failed to differentiate an honestly held but incorrect opinion on one hand, and a statement of fact on the other.

Should the HK authorities have bothered? Maybe or maybe not, but without full knowledge of the issues, nuances of the case and the deliberations by the tribunal who presumably were fully aware of the flak it would draw with a guilty verdict, it would be difficult to draw firm conclusions.

One thing we do know for sure though - officialdom always finds itself in "damned if you do, damned if you don't" situations. Ignoring the case would have brought criticism from those who think short-sellers are squalid bottom-feeders who should all be flogged and hung out to dry; taking action brought as it did the complaints described earlier from those who think it was important not to obstruct a diversity of views in the market.

If, however, a short-seller acts in bad faith by spreading untruths and knows that he or she is doing so, and if there is a significant market impact as a result of those untruths, then maybe a case can be made for the authorities to step in. The difficulty, however, would be proving recklessness and intent to make a profit from others' misery and fear.

Note also that in a presumably efficient and sophisticated market, any resulting stock price weakness upon release of an untruthful report should not last too long. After a knee-jerk sell-off, a rebound should quickly ensue - there is, after all, a lot of truth to the saying that fundamentals will always assert themselves. Moreover, if a short-seller gets it wrong, or fails to cover the position in time, his or her loss can be very painful since share price rises are in theory unlimited.

When that happens, even regulators are relegated to the role of observers as it is the market that takes over as the ultimate disciplinarian.

Source: Business Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

High Court stays all action against Hanjin

Straits Times
16 Sep 2016
K.C. Vijayan

The High Court has temporarily frozen all Singapore proceedings against troubled South Korean industry giant Hanjin Shipping and its Singapore subsidiaries, pending a full hearing for all parties here on whether the freeze should continue until next January.

Judicial Commissioner Aedit Abdullah approved the interim stay order last week sought by Hanjin's president and chief executive, Mr Suk Tai Soo, who is the company's custodian in its court-mandated rehabilitation proceedings in Seoul.

The interim orders, which recognise the rehabilitation proceedings in Seoul designed to protect the firm against bankruptcy, also restrain any enforcement action against any of its assets here, among other things.

"The imperative for orderly rehabilitation and restructuring of a company running a global business across jurisdictions, and the need to ensure that the company's assets could be marshalled and collected for such effort, both provided sufficiently strong grounds for the exercise of the inherent powers of the court to grant the restraint and stay orders," said the judge in brief decision grounds released yesterday.

The difficulties of debt-ridden Hanjin, the ninth-largest container-shipping firm in the world, have led to serious disruptions in goods transport globally.

Hanjin filed for rehabilitation proceedings to the Korean Bankruptcy Court in Seoul last month, preserving its assets.

A Seoul district court on Sept 1 approved the rehabilitation process, entailing a plan expected to take about four months to complete for a court review. Hence, Mr Suk's application here seeks the stay order to remain till Jan 25 next year.

Mr Suk's lawyers, Mr Sim Chong and Ms Yap Hao Jin, argued that the application for restraint and stay orders here mirrored similar moves across the world "to prevent piecemeal and haphazard resolution of the company's difficulties".

They added that the application underscored the global scope of the rehabilitation, in which all creditors, including Singaporean interests, would participate. Among other things, Hanjin's 112 employees based here risk job loss without the rehabilitation, said Hanjin.

The judge found the proposed steps in the rehabilitation proceedings to be fair to Hanjin's foreign creditors and ruled that court assistance to the proceedings be extended to prevent the arrest of Hanjin ships, except for the Hanjin Rome, which was earlier arrested on the application of creditors.

The judge, who noted that British and United States courts had recognised the South Korean rehabilitation proceedings, said he was satisfied "that the Korean rehabilitation orders should be recognised and assistance rendered".

A High Court case management conference for all parties was held yesterday.

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

Yang Yin trial: Prosecution disputes photos shown in court

Straits Times
10 Sep 2016
Carolyn Khew

Yang's lawyer says they show he treated widow well; DPP says they were taken on same day after he was sued

To support his case that former tour guide Yang Yin had treated elderly widow Chung Kin Chun well, his lawyer submitted several photographs in court yesterday.

One shows Yang with Madam Chung and a trolley full of groceries at a supermarket.

Another shows the 42-year-old in T-shirt and shorts, trimming the toenails of the childless widow he said he called "grandma".

Other photos show them eating char siew (barbecued pork) rice and him in the driver's seat of a car with her next to him.

Yang, who pleaded guilty to misappropriating $1.1 million from the 89-year-old Madam Chung, maintained that he was her companion, and wanted to "fill a void in her life" when he moved in to live with her from 2009 to 2014.

The photographs were submitted to underscore the point that he took care of her and took her to places where she wanted to go.

The prosecution did not buy this.

Instead, it pointed to the time- stamp on the photos: All of them were taken on Aug 20, 2014 - after Madam Chung's niece Hedy Mok sued him for unduly influencing her aunt into handing over her assets.

Among the photographs submitted by Yang’s lawyer to make the point that the former tour guide took care of Madam Chung and took her to places where she wanted to go, is one of the two of them with a trolley of groceries at a supermarket.

"I think the inference is quite clear," said Deputy Public Prosecutor Sanjiv Vaswani, who questioned the purpose of the pictures.

The prosecution asked that the Chinese national be sentenced to 10 to 12 years' imprisonment for misappropriating a total of $1.1 million belonging to the elderly and "vulnerable" victim over two separate occasions- offences which call for a deterrent sentence.

Yang's lawyer, Mr Irving Choh, however, asked for a sentence not exceeding three years. His client, he argued, was a first-time offender and the sole breadwinner of his family.

Moreover, Yang shared a "warm relationship" with the widow who was diagnosed with dementia in 2014. She was lonely and her relatives rarely visited her, the lawyer said.

The $1.1 million Yang took was to pay off his grandmother's medical bills, said Mr Choh. "He does not want to deny that he did indeed take the $1.1 million... His actions were not for personal gain, but a misguided attempt to lift a financial burden which was taking a toll on his family."

According to bank statements, Yang had around $1.1 million in his bank accounts - which was not part of the charges - but he did not abscond even though he had the chance to, said Mr Choh.

DPP Vaswani, however, pointed out that the accused did try to withdraw the money, but was unable to do so as it had been frozen under a court order.

He also highlighted that the $500,000 and $600,000 which Yang had misappropriated from the widow in 2010 and 2012 remained unaccounted for.

The accused had "intentionally fostered an environment of unquestioning trust with Madam Chung", said the DPP. He capitalised on her age and lack of immediate familial support such that his actions were "free from the scrutiny of the eyes of outsiders".

"We urge the court to impose sentences reflecting both the harm and culpability involved in the offences," said DPP Vaswani.

"The lies and cover-ups pursued by the accused at length, years after the actual act of misappropriation was executed, demonstrate the depth of his commitment to deceit and fraud."

Yang's guilty plea should also be "given no weight". He did so only after undergoing 21/2 days of cross- examination, during which he showed numerous inconsistencies.

By this stage, the accused was well aware of the evidence against him, said DPP Vaswani.

Mr Choh said his client changed his mind about pleading guilty due to pressure from his family.

In the dock yesterday, Yang looked solemn as the prosecution and defence gave their submissions. He shook his head at times and turned to look in Madam Chung's direction when he was being led away by the police. Madam Mok, her aunt and other friends were present at the hearing.

Apart from criminal breach of trust charges, Yang had in May pleaded guilty to 120 other charges, mostly related to the falsification of receipts to make it appear that a business he set up was real.

The hearing for his criminal breach of trust charges will resume on Sept 21 for further submissions.


$500k Amount Yang Yin siphoned from Madam Chung Kin Chun in 2010

$600k Amount he siphoned in 2012

$1.1m Total amount he took, which is still unaccounted for

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

Former tour guide to be sentenced next Friday

Straits Times
22 Sep 2016
Carolyn Khew

Prosecution calls for 10-12 years' jail for CBT but defence says three years would suffice

A former China tour guide who pleaded guilty to misappropriating $1.1 million from an elderly Singaporean widow is expected to be sentenced next Friday.

At the close of yesterday's hearing, Principal District Judge Bala Reddy said he needed time to consider the sentencing after both the prosecution and Yang Yin's lawyer made further submissions.

Last month, Yang, 42, pleaded guilty to two charges of criminal breach of trust (CBT) for misappropriating $500,000 and $600,000 from Madam Chung Khin Chun in 2010 and 2012, respectively. The 89-year-old was diagnosed with dementia in April 2014.

Yesterday, deputy public prosecutor Sanjiv Vaswani said 10-12 years' imprisonment for Yang was a fair sentence, taking into account his conduct at trial and the need to send a "strong deterrent signal".

"This case brings to the forefront of public consciousness the potential vulnerability of such individuals, and aptly illustrates the difficulty of detecting and deterring financial crime perpetuated against these victims," said DPP Vaswani.

"A resounding signal is necessary to indicate a zero-tolerance position towards any predators of the vulnerable elderly."

Moreover, in this case, large sums of money were involved. Previous cases, he said, showed a correlation between the amount misappropriated and the sentence imposed.

During the hearing, Yang rocked back and forth in the dock while the submissions were read out to him in Mandarin by an interpreter.

A medical report showing the Chinese national had suffered acute stress disorder last month should be taken as a mitigating factor, said his lawyer, Mr Irving Choh.

He reiterated that a sentence of three years would suffice and urged the judge not to depart from the "normal sentencing" for criminal breach of trust cases.

"This is really just a case, nothing extraordinary," said Mr Choh.

"His scheme, in hindsight is quite foolish, Sir. I am sorry to say that... but... he has pleaded guilty."

As for Yang's conduct at trial, the court had not found his behaviour to be in contempt of proceedings or scandalous, added Mr Choh.

In May, Yang pleaded guilty to 120 other charges, mostly of falsifying receipts made to his company.

The other charges involved cheating, immigration offences and breaking Companies Act laws.

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

Govt makes two key modifications to eligibility proposals

Business Times
16 Sep 2016
Kelly Tay

THE government has wholly accepted the Constitutional Commission's recommendation to ensure representation of all races in the presidency, it said in a 49-page White Paper released on Thursday evening.

It has also agreed to update the eligibility criteria for applicants - albeit with certain modifications that depart from the Commission's proposals.

Two key differences in eligibility requirements have to do with how long one must have served in a qualifying office, and how recent that experience must have been. For one, the government is opting to retain the existing eligibility criteria of three years, instead of the doubled duration of six years as recommended by the panel.

And while the government agrees that a currency requirement should be instituted - essentially a "look back" period to ensure that the applicant's leadership experience is relatively current - it thinks the length of time should be extended to 20 years, instead of the proposed 15.

"In the government's view, as long as an applicant's qualifying tenure falls wholly or partly within 20 years of the relevant presidential election, his experience may be considered suitably current," said the White Paper.

This is also a departure from the Commission's recommendation, which said the entire period of the applicant's qualifying tenure should fall within the 15 year window.

Speaking to the media after the release of the White Paper, Law Minister K Shanmugam said that the Commission's original recommendations would have reduced the pool of potential candidates too drastically.

Said Mr Shanmugam: "What (the Commission's proposal) means in practice is that if you call it a certificate of validity, it expires in nine years effectively. He's got to have six years of experience (and) within nine years he should stand for the presidency. We think that might narrow down the field too much, might be too drastic."

This is especially since the 15-year look back period is a significant change from the current position, where no such currency requirement exists. As such, Mr Shanmugam said the government prefers to take a "slightly more cautious" approach.

"We think we maybe start at 20 years, and we decided that instead of six years, keep it to three. Let's see how it works," he added.

Other eligibility criteria, particularly those applicable to private-sector applicants, were accepted. This means future presidential hopefuls must have held the most senior executive position in a Singapore-incorporated company, with shareholders' equity of at least S$500 million. This new threshold - to be periodically reviewed - marks an increase from the current criterion, where candidates must head companies with a paid-up capital of S$100 million or more.

The applicant's company must also have been profitable through his entire period of office, and there must not have been an insolvency process within three years of him ceasing to hold office.

In addition, the government agreed with the Commission's view that while experience in leading a publicly-listed company would be valuable, such a requirement need not be introduced right now. "The issue can be revisited later, after we have seen how the other modifications to the eligibility criteria have operated in practice," said the White Paper.

As for the public sector track, the Commission had proposed to remove the Accountant-General and Auditor-General from the list of public-sector offices that would automatically qualify a person for a presidential contest. It cited how these officeholders arguably play an ancillary and comparatively narrow role in the delivery of public goods and services.

While the government thanked the panel for "rais(ing) valid points", it said that it would like to consider this recommendation more carefully, and will retain the existing position for now. It added, however, that it will reconsider whether the two offices should be removed at a future point in time.

As for the idea to reserve elections for a racial group if it had not been represented for five terms to ensure multi-racial representation, the government wholly accepted the Commission's recommendations.

In its White Paper, the government noted that the "'hiatus-triggered' safeguard mechanism" has the benefit of being race-neutral, in that it guarantees the representation of all racial groups in the presidency.

Said the White Paper: "Practically, it is most unlikely that a five-term hiatus will ever arise vis-a-vis the Chinese community, which constitutes a significant majority of our population. But the approach is significant at a symbolic level, as it underscores the importance of ensuring that all races are represented in the presidency."

It also noted that multi-racial representation in presidential offices is not unique to Singapore, citing Switzerland, Canada, and New Zealand as examples.

With regard to the role and composition of the Council of Presidential Advisers (CPA), the government generally agreed with the Commission's recommendations.

This includes the proposal to increase the number of CPA members from six to eight, and the suggestion that the president be obliged to consult the CPA before exercising all of his custodial powers over the reserves.

This also applies to all his powers pertaining to key public-service appointments. (Currently, the president has a duty to consult the CPA before exercising only some, not all, these powers.)

But in the matter of overturning a presidential veto by a parliamentary override, the government disagreed with the call for a more calibrated approach - one that tiers the Parliament majority required for an override, against the level of support from the CPA. The government said it prefers to retain the present arrangement, where the override mechanism continues to adopt a binary approach, depending on whether the president's veto is supported by a simple majority of the CPA.

Said the White Paper: "The calibrated approach may unintentionally emphasise or even politicise how individual members of the Council, particularly its chairman, have voted, instead of the collective judgment of the Council as a whole. The analogy is with the Cabinet, where ministers may have different views on issues, but take collective responsibility for the decisions of the Cabinet to which they belong, and do not differ publicly from these decisions."

The government reiterated its view that the president should be elected, not appointed, and that a custodial, elected president remains "the most workable and effective solution for Singapore for the present".

It added that it will study the Commission's proposals to improve the rules on campaign methods and preventing misinformation, and decide on the necessary changes later.

Mr Shanmugam noted that there were other recommendations of the commission under study; those will not form part of the Bill and will be taken up later.

The release of the White Paper comes after the Constitutional Commission published its report on Sept 7. Following community dialogues and engagement sessions, the Bill to amend the Constitution will be tabled and debated in Parliament this year.

 


 

Entrenchment provisions to be revised, says government

FOR a Constitution to be workable, it must remain a living document over time - one that continually evolves and keeps pace with changing conditions, said the Singapore government on Thursday in a White Paper.

For this reason, the government will revise entrenchment provisions related to the elected presidency - but bring changes into force only after some time. This would allow an assessment of how the institution works over time, so that further refinements can be made if necessary.

The government was responding to the Constitutional Commission's report, which had flagged how provisions entrenching the president's discretionary powers are still not in force - despite entering into law more than two decades ago.

Entrenchment refers to specific mechanisms that safeguard potential curtailment or circumvention of the president's discretionary powers. It grants the president, for example, an effective veto over any proposed amendment of certain core provisions, which can only be overridden by Parliament if it acts with the support of two-thirds of the electorate voting at a national referendum.

Parliament had earlier suspended the entry into force of these entrenching provisions, so that constitutional amendments could be made to fine-tune the elected presidency - without the potential hurdle of having to convene a national referendum each time.

Noting that these provisions should not be suspended indefinitely, the Commission said in its report: "After 25 years, the government should decide whether to bring these provisions into force or repeal them in whole or in part. This, too, is ultimately a matter for political judgment."

In response, the government said it intends to introduce a recalibrated entrenchment framework - one that "aims for a workable balance between preserving the adaptability of the Constitution to changing circumstances, and providing the stability through a sufficiently rigid Constitution".

Law Minister K Shanmugam added: "We think we need to redraft the entrenchment provisions in a way that will be difficult to amend, but not impossible."

The new framework comprises two tiers: the first applies to the elected presidency as an institution; and the second, the president's core custodial functions relating to financial reserves and key appointments (see flow chart).

Provisions that do not relate to these core areas will be subject to the normal constitutional amendment process - where a two-thirds Parliamentary majority vote must be met, before any amendment can be made.

The revised framework will also accord "appropriate weight" to the advice and recommendations of the Council of Presidential Advisers (CPA). This is in contrast to the current entrenchment framework, which does not accord any constitutional or legal weight to the advice of the CPA.

The government noted in its White Paper: "The next question is when the entrenchment provisions should come into operation. The government has explained previously that it is best to let some time pass, see how the institution works over time, before entrenching.

"The fact that there are good reasons for revising the entrenchment provisions now shows that it was wise to have not entrenched them. Likewise, the question of when to bring into force the revised entrenchment provisions should be considered some period after the upcoming set of amendments have been in operation."

 

 

Source: Business Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

 

Former A*Star employee jailed for taking bribes

Straits Times
10 Sep 2016
Elena Chong

He gets 31/2 years for taking over $200k, lying about passport

A former Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star) employee who accepted bribes of more than $200,000 has been jailed for 31/2 years.

Yu Jiarong, 39, was also ordered to pay a penalty of $202,430, or 40 weeks' jail in default. He did not pay the penalty and will serve the default sentence.

The former facilities engineer with the Institute of Microelectronics (IME) pleaded guilty on Thursday to five corruption charges and one of lying that he had misplaced his Singapore passport. Thirteen other corruption charges were considered during his sentencing.

Yu's duties included recommending quotations for services to the IME for his supervisor's approval.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Chong Yonghui said Yu's scheme of corruption started in 2011 when he asked Mr Soh Kok Choy, then a project manager in Contech Engineering, if he could be given "commission'' in exchange for future jobs. Mr Soh - in charge of some of Contech's clients including the IME - and a director of Contech later agreed.

Between 2012 and 2013, Yu engaged in a further scheme of corruption involving the advancement of the business interests of three companies - Techfield Engineering Services (TES), Yield Engineering Solutions (YES) and Techfield Solutions (TSPL) - with IME.

In early 2012, Yu asked Mr Ang Yew Heng, who owned TES, if he and Mr Soh, a partner of TES, could give him a sum of money as "commission'' for each job he arranged to award to TES. The duo later agreed.

Yu obtained bribes of $9,500 to $49,700 from Mr Soh and Mr Ang as reward for advancing the business interests of the three companies with IME in 2012 and 2013. The 68 contracts awarded to the three companies was valued at $698,887.

The Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau started investigations into the case in February 2014.

That month, Yu called Mr Soh and told him: "You all don't be so honest. I will not admit too much. I will at most admit that I take ten- plus thousand." In September that year, he told the bureau that he had borrowed $4,000 each from Mr Ang and Mr Soh and would return the money when, in fact, he had never borrowed any money.

DPP Chong said while Yu was released on investigation bail and had his passport impounded, he applied for a new passport on Sept 5 last year. He lied to the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority that he had misplaced his passport and got a replacement. He booked a flight to Shanghai on Sept 24, but was arrested at Changi Airport.

Yu's lawyer, Mr Amarjit Singh Sidhu, said his client came from China to work here in 2000. In 2008 he joined the IME and both he and his wife became citizens. He said Yu greatly regrets his actions.

Yu could have been fined up to $100,000 and/or jailed for up to five years on each corruption charge. The maximum penalty for the Passports Act offence is a $10,000 fine and 10 years' jail.

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

SBIO: corporate governance at the edge

Business Times
22 Sep 2016
Mak Yuen Teen

SBI Offshore (SBIO) and its boardroom tussle challenge the boundaries of good corporate governance and raise important questions about independence, competencies and attributes of directors, and difficulties that small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) often face in putting together a skilled and diverse board, as well as the role of sponsors in contributing to good governance of Catalist companies.

Before the recent appointment of new directors, SBIO had a five-member board - a little small (as the board itself acknowledged) but not unusual for an SME. Its small board size was helped by having only one executive director (the CEO) and only one major shareholder with a seat on the board (the non-executive chairman), allowing it to still have a majority of independent directors. Among its four non-executive directors, three have backgrounds in accounting, finance and insurance, while the other is a lawyer. What appeared to be lacking among the non-executive directors was any significant prior experience in the business that the company was in or was attempting to diversify into.

It may be difficult for SMEs like SBIO to attract good independent directors at reasonable fee levels. In FY2015, the total fees paid to SBIO's non-executive directors was S$126,000, or an average of S$31,500 per director. This is probably about 15-25 per cent of the average for the larger listed government-linked companies (GLCs). Yet, the job of an SME director can be more demanding than for a GLC director. For SMEs, the potential pool of good independent directors may be rather small, and they often end up with directors who lack the desired skills, experience, commitment, and other personal attributes.

THE FOUR PROPOSED DIRECTORS

The three requisitioning shareholders proposed the appointment of four directors. Two of them - Hui Choon Ho and Lau Yoke Mun - were to assume executive director positions. As a former executive chairman and CEO of the company, Mr Hui would bring relevant industry and senior management experience.

He could have been a suitable replacement for current CEO Chan Lai Thong or otherwise added something to the board - from the skills and experience standpoint. The board was not questioning the relevance of his skills and experience, but his alleged interference in the operations of the company as a shareholder and his alleged involvement in two contradictory acquisition agreements which had potentially serious implications.

In this regard, I was rather shocked that Jen Shek Voon, former audit committee (AC) chairman of SBIO - an experienced AC chairman and former senior partner of a Big Four firm - was quoted as saying: "We have heard enough about PwC (its report). This whole report is a red herring." ("Shareholder move to oust SBI Offshore CEO stalls", BT, Sept 17).

In the case of Mr Lau, he is said to have over 30 years of experience in finance and accounting, although he also has some general management and other experience, and had a short stint in the company as an employee and service provider, where his responsibilities included finance, business development, and corporate matters. He does not have any experience as a listed company director. The value he adds to the board from a skills and experience viewpoint is less clear to me. In his case, the board has concerns about his conduct and performance as a former employee and service provider.

As for the other two proposed directors - Ong Nai Pew and Geoffrey Yeoh Seng Huat - the board felt that they would bring relevant experience. Dr Ong was considered to have "relevant experience, skills and expertise in the area of investment strategy planning and economics research", while Mr Yeoh had "relevant experience, skills and expertise in the area of project financing, and could contribute to the diversity of the skills and expertise required of the board in view of the recent diversification into the solar energy business". The board deemed them to be independent.

Given that Dr Ong owns 5.7 per cent of the total issued shares, he is "technically" independent from a shareholding perspective, based on the 10 per cent shareholding threshold set out in the Code of Corporate Governance 2012. The fact that Dr Ong and Mr Yeoh have been proposed by Mr Hui and Tan Woo Thian - who own 11.7 per cent and 13.8 per cent respectively - also does not necessarily mean that they are not independent as the Code deems a director to be prima facie non-independent under such circumstances only if there is a direct association between the nominated director and the "10 per cent shareholder". However, in practice, it is often difficult to establish whether there is a "direct association".

A more thorough assessment of the independence of Dr Ong and Mr Yeoh should consider relationships between them and Mr Hui and Mr Tan - and whether they are independent in character and judgement. However, most companies here make only rudimentary assessments of director independence.

Independence aside, if Dr Ong and Mr Yeoh are appointed, the board may still lack sufficient diversity in competencies, as these two directors would add mostly finance-related expertise and experience.

The day before the EGM, the company appointed four new directors, increasing the number of directors to nine. They are: James Kho Chung Wah, Lawrence Kwan Hon Kay, Ling Yew Kong, and Mark Edward Pawley. Mr Kho and Mr Pawley have a finance and investment-related background, and Mr Kwan has a corporate secretarial background. Mr Pawley does not have prior experience as a listed company director.

Mr Kho and Mr Pawley's background looks similar to that of several of the current directors and those proposed by the requisitioning shareholders. Mr Ling's background is described as "strategic advice and chart new directions" for the various companies that he has been involved with over the last few years. He is executive director and CEO at China Sky and also became executive chairman at Anwell Technologies in 2015 when it went into judicial management. He has also been executive chairman at Firstlink Investments Corporation since 2005 and still retains the position after the company was delisted at the directive of the Singapore Exchange (SGX) in 2011. In total, he holds 23 directorships, although mostly in private companies. In Mr Ling's case, my main concern is his ability to commit time.

Basil Chan - who joined the board last year and who was the audit committee chairman and lead independent director - has since resigned, bringing the board size back down to eight directors.

Under normal circumstances, a board appointing new directors just before an EGM called by shareholders to appoint and remove directors may be seen as a blatant attempt to frustrate shareholders' right to change the board. It is certainly not a blueprint for companies facing shareholder revolt. However, I can understand why the SBIO board did it, especially given the questions surrounding two of the proposed directors. Further, shareholders proposing to appoint or remove directors may be acting in their own interest rather than that of the company's, and shareholders do not owe fiduciary duties to the company, unlike directors.

Nevertheless, given the speed with which the four new directors were parachuted into the company, the newly constituted board may not be fit for purpose.

Rule 226 of the Catalist Rulebook sets out certain responsibilities of sponsors. Rule 226(1) states that "a sponsor taking on sponsorship of an existing issuer must . . . investigate and consider the suitability of each director and proposed director of the issuer and consider the efficacy of the board as a whole for the company's needs . . .". It appears that this rule applies to a continuing sponsor when it first takes on the sponsorship of an existing issuer. Rule 226(2) states that a sponsor, in undertaking continuing activities for an issuer, must "advise its issuer on the suitability of directors arising from proposed changes in the issuer's board of directors". This clearly is an ongoing responsibility of a sponsor and would be expected of SBIO's sponsor, Prime Partners Corporate Finance (PPCF).

ASSESSING DIRECTOR SUITABILITY

As mentioned in my earlier commentary ("Stand taken by SBI Offshore sponsor highly disappointing", BT, Sept 14), I do not agree with how the sponsor handled the proposed appointment of the two directors which the board had concerns about. However, this case raises wider issues as to whether sponsors are really equipped to fulfil their responsibilities, including advising on the suitability of directors. Do sponsors like PPCF have internal guidelines and policies for assessing the suitability of a director? To what extent do they assess the suitability of each director based on their character, competencies and ability to commit time?

At the EGM, a number of shareholders present in person or by proxy expressed that the EGM resolutions should be considered and voted upon only after shareholders are presented with clear outcomes of the investigations arising from the PwC report and the report to the Commercial Affairs Department. The shareholders present then voted on the adjournment of the EGM.

Catalist Rule 730(A)(2) states that all resolutions at general meetings shall be voted by poll. Under the Companies Act, shareholders can demand a poll and any provision in a company's articles excluding this right shall be void. However, there are two exceptions: the appointment of the chairman of the meeting, and the adjournment of the meeting. SBIO relied on its articles to vote to adjourn the meeting based on a show of hands.

Was it fair that the adjournment of the meeting was voted based on a show of hands, even though it is in accordance with SBIO's articles? No and yes. No because, in general, shareholder decisions should be based on one-share-one-vote. However, arguably yes in this case because there is a pending investigation relating to one of the proposed directors and the sponsor had asked the board to seek further professional opinion or legal advice for two of the directors. More generally, one can argue a case for decisions to be based on number of shareholders, rather than number of votes, where there is a real risk of minority shareholder interests being trampled over by dominant shareholders.

However, like the appointment of the four directors before the EGM, what happened at SBIO's EGM could be abused by unreasonable minority shareholders trying to disrupt meetings and thwart shareholders who own much larger stakes.

Unfortunately, in SBIO's case, ideal governance is off the table and we have to make do with pragmatic governance.

The writer is an associate professor at the National University of Singapore (NUS) Business School, where he teaches corporate governance and ethics.

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City Harvest appeal: Kong Hee acted in good faith, says lawyer

Straits Times
16 Sep 2016
Danson Cheong, Ng Huiwen

Even if City Harvest Church (CHC) founder Kong Hee had put church funds to the wrong use, he did so in good faith and there was never any dishonesty behind it.

Moreover, he did not obtain a single cent for his own gain.

That was the case put forth yesterday by Kong's lawyer, Senior Counsel Edwin Tong, in arguing for overturning the pastor's three convictions for "dishonestly misappropriating" church money.

He also called Kong's eight-year jail sentence excessive.

Kong, 52, and five other CHC leaders at the centre of a long-running high-profile financial scandal involving $50 million in church funds are in the High Court for what could be the final stage of the legal process.

The prosecution, on its part, is asking for longer deterrent sentences.

In October last year, the six were convicted of misappropriating church funds to fuel the pop music career of Kong's wife, Ms Ho Yeow Sun, in a church mission known as the Crossover Project.

The court found they had invested $24 million from CHC's building fund in bogus bonds - money that was in fact used to fund the Crossover Project. Another $26 million was used to cover up the initial misdeed.

Yesterday, in front of a packed public gallery of about 50 mostly church supporters, Kong and John Lam, 48, a former CHC finance committee member, presented their cases. The panel comprises Judge of Appeal Chao Hick Tin, and Justices Woo Bih Li and Chan Seng Onn.

Addressing the court, Mr Tong said the lower court had wrongly conflated the "wrong use" of CHC's building fund with having a dishonest intention."The intention to put the funds to wrongful use is not the same as the intention to cause wrongful loss," said Mr Tong, adding that "dishonesty" is defined in the Penal Code as having the intention to cause wrongful gain to one person, or wrongful loss to another.

He said in this case, the bond proceeds were applied "in good faith" to CHC's advantage, going towards a project that had "almost the entirety of the church supporting it".

Mr Tong also reiterated Kong's defence that he had "almost religiously" consulted lawyers and auditors about the bond transactions.

"As far as Kong Hee is concerned, he does not have a shred of paper that said his colleagues were not to give anything but the true facts to the lawyers or auditors," he said.

The six CHC leaders arrived in good spirits yesterday. All of them - except former CHC fund manager Chew Eng Han, who is representing himself and was seated with the defence lawyers - were smiling and laughing in the dock before proceedings began.

Lam's lawyer, Senior Counsel Kenneth Tan, reiterated his client's defence that he had only limited involvement and knowledge in the bond transactions, agreeing at one point with Justice Woo, who had asked if Lam was an "innocent pawn" being used by the others. Lam faces three years in jail.

"We are saying John Lam was being used to facilitate the plan without knowing the full picture," said Mr Tan.

There was a moment of levity just before the morning session ended, when prosecutors requested a break for the transcriber, after Mr Tan spoke for 21/2 hours. Justice Chao quipped: "We can keep quiet and say silent prayers."

The appeal continues today, with Chew and former finance manager Sharon Tan presenting their cases.

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

'Strong support' for Vulnerable Adults Bill

Straits Times
10 Sep 2016
Kok Xing Hui

A Bill that gives the authorities more power to protect vulnerable adults in Singapore has enjoyed "strong support", said the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF).

In a public consultation from July 27 to Aug 23, the MSF received 43 responses, which were mostly positive, to the proposed Vulnerable Adults Bill expected to be tabled in Parliament by year end.

The responses were from individuals and groups, including family service centres, the Law Society of Singapore, the Singapore Medical Council and Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware).

"They acknowledged the Bill's importance in preparing for the country's ageing population, as well as the longer lifespans of those with disabilities. Many contributors felt that the Bill complemented the roles played by the family and community in looking after its vulnerable members," said the MSF in a press statement yesterday.

While the number of abuse cases involving vulnerable people has remained less than 200 a year, the authorities want to put in more safeguards as there will be more than 900,000 Singapore residents aged 65 and above by 2030.

The Bill will allow the state to enter private premises to assess a person's well-being, and to move vulnerable adults temporarily to safe places such as sheltered homes.

Currently, the community and government agencies can rely only on moral suasion to enter homes to provide assistance. A vulnerable adult is defined in the Bill as a person aged 18 years and above who, as a result of physical or mental infirmity, disability or incapacity, is incapable of protecting himself from abuse, neglect or self-neglect.

The Bill also proposes to raise the penalties by 11/2 times for those who abuse or neglect such adults.

While most were supportive of the Bill, some said that the Government should not take over the family's role in caring for vulnerable members of society.

The MSF said it will involve families where appropriate, and that statutory powers will be exercised only "when attempts to engage the vulnerable adult and/or his family members have failed, leading to deep and urgent concern for his safety".

The ministry said it agrees that the state's powers cannot be unchecked, thus the Bill has "sought a balanced middle ground".

Vulnerable adults who are mentally able must give their consent to state intervention. They may also refuse help.

Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin wrote in a blog post that he was glad that many had written in to support the Bill and even provide suggestions to improve certain aspects.

"With strong families and strong communities, we can help each (other) better, and earlier," he said.

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

ADV: Singapore Mediation Centre - Adjudication Conference, Oct 25 2016

Singapore Law Watch
22 Sep 2016
Singapore Mediation Centre

SBI Offshore files CAD report, beefs up board ahead of shareholder revolt

Business Times
16 Sep 2016
Anita Gabriel

AHEAD of a crunch shareholder vote on a boardroom shakedown on Friday, SBI Offshore has muscled up its board with four new members and lodged a report with Singapore's white-collar crime buster on a possible breach of securities laws and other offences.

The report lodged with the Commercial Affairs Department (CAD) is in relation to the purchase and sale of a 35 per cent stake in China-incorporated Jiangyin Neptune Marine Appliance Co (NPT), said SBI Offshore chairman Mirzan Mahathir in an announcement to the Singapore Exchange.

"The full extent of the possible breach of securities laws or other offences, or other potential breaches has yet to be determined," said Mr Mirzan, who owns 11.6 per cent of SBI Offshore and is the eldest son of Malaysia's former premier Mahathir Mohamad.

Following the shock findings of a review by Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PwC) on the NPT transactions that was publicly released on Sept 10, the board has also appointed a special investigation committee to lead the investigations on the matter and "other connected matters".

The committee comprises four newly-appointed independent non-executive directors - James Kho Chung Wah, Mark Edward Pawley, Ling Yew Kong and Lawrence Kwan Hon Kay.

Their appointments, which took effect on Wednesday, were announced separately earlier in the day when it was also announced that they would lead the investigations into the "grave and very serious" PwC findings as well as actions, if necessary, to recover properties and moneys and to seek redress against breaches of duties.

The latest developments at the ailing offshore company that made losses of US$1.5 million for the first half year ended June are unfolding a day before the feud between the company's founder and major shareholder, Tan Woo Thian, and its chief executive, Chan Lai Thong, comes to a head at an extraordinary general meeting (EOGM) on Friday.

Mr Tan, together with two other requisitioning shareholders, Hui Choon Ho and Ong Nai Pew are seeking to appoint four new directors to the board as well as oust Mr Chan from the board. The four prospective directors are Mr Hui, Dr Ong, Lau Yoke Mun and Geoffrey Yeoh Seng Huat. The three shareholders collectively own just over 31 per cent of the company.

If the proposed resolutions on the new appointments are passed, despite the board having flagged the suitability of two individuals as directors before backtracking on one of them, the troubled Catalist-listed company would end up with a 13-member board.

This is way more heft than the average board size of 5-7 of a small cap company on SGX and more than the board's own recognition previously that a board size of six or seven directors would suffice given its current operations and diversification into the solar business.

SBI Offshore said: "While the board had previously thought that the addition of one or two directors should be adequate, the gravity and implications of PwC's NPT Findings make it imperative for the board now to introduce a larger number of new and independent directors who were previously uninvolved with the company."

The damning PwC report, which was first reported by The Business Times, points to the existence of two sets of agreements each on the purchase and subsequent sale of NPT.

The two sets of agreements contain conflicting key details (dates and pricing) which allegedly bear the signatures of Mr Hui (for the NPT purchase) and Mr Tan (NPT sale) from the official disclosures made by the company in relation to the acquisition of NPT and its subsequent sale in 2015.

SBI Offshore's board have urged shareholders to vote against Mr Hui's appointment given his involvement in the NPT transactions and his conduct which has raised doubts on his suitability as a director. It has also recommended that shareholders vote against the removal of Mr Chan from the board.

The "eleventh-hour" move by the board to bring in new members could signal the likelihood - and worry - that the requisitioners, two of whom are former key executives of the firm, could just get their way at the shareholder meeting.

Mr Chan, who was the company's independent director at the time of its listing on Catalist seven years ago, has clearly fallen out with Mr Tan and Mr Hui, which has led to a shareholder revolt against him and is culminating in Friday's showdown that promises to be nothing less than nail biting.

Source: Business Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

PwC review of SBI Offshore's deals casts spotlight on 2 ex-CEOs

Business Times
10 Sep 2016
Anita Gabriel

Company calls for trading halt pending an announcement following BT report on board tussle

[Singapore] THE findings of a review into the past transactions by SBI Offshore (SBIO) involving an associate company could well shake things up at the beleaguered offshore-and-marine firm.

The company called a trading halt on Friday, pending an announcement, following a report by The Business Times on a tussle between the company's founder and its chief executive over a yet-to-be-released report by Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PwC).

The counter was last traded at 15 Singapore cents.

SBIO founder and majority owner Tan Woo Thian has called for an extraordinary general meeting (EOGM) together with several other shareholders, to remove CEO Chan Lai Thong.

Mr Chan was the firm's chairman until March this year, when he became CEO, succeeding Mr Tan who had stepped down.

Those who are requisitioning the EOGM are also seeking to appoint four directors; among the four is Mr Tan's business partner and SBIO's former chairman and CEO Hui Choon Ho, who is also a major shareholder of the firm.

But things could get a little delicate for Mr Tan and Mr Hui, whose names crop up several times in the PwC report.

SBIO's audit and risk management committee had commissioned the report in July, following a number of troubling deals involving an associate company.

BT reported on Friday that the PwC report - so far, there has been neither word about its release nor a statement by SBIO - has unearthed two sets of conflicting agreements on the purchase and subsequent sale of China-incorporated company Jiangyin Neptune Marine Appliance Co (NPT).

Depending on which agreement is deemed valid, the two sets of documents raise the possibility of breaches in the rules binding Singapore's securities, SGX and Catalist listings - and even China's tax laws, said the PwC report.

Based on a disclosure in the company's prospectus for its 2009 Catalist listing, SBIO said it acquired a 35 per cent stake in NPT on March 3, 2009 for US$1.75 million.

The first of the two agreements PwC found for this transaction stated the purchase price as US$1.75 million; the document was undated, save for the year 2008 below the signature block.

The other agreement, dated Oct 20, 2008, stated a purchase price of merely US$350,000.

The first agreement was signed by Mr Hui on behalf of the firm, while the second was signed by both Mr Hui and Mr Tan, said the PwC report.

Similarly, in relation to the sale of NPT for US$3.5 million in August 2015 - a development announced by SBIO - there was a second agreement dated Dec 8 that year, stating the disposal price as US$1.75 million. This second document bore Mr Tan's signature.

The existence of two sets of agreements on the purchase and sale of NPT "raises serious concern" on which one is valid, said PwC, which has recommended that the board seek legal advice to review its findings.

Source: Business Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

Third-party funding regulation impeding Asian legal market

Business Times
21 Sep 2016
Matthew Secomb

THIRD-PARTY funding - which offers an alternative way to fund a legal claim - has traditionally been met with suspicion and scepticism. Third-party funding allows a commercial fund with no prior connection to the case (the "third party") to finance the cost of legal proceedings, whether in litigation or arbitration. In return, they receive a share of any damages. This is contrasted with traditional funding methods, in which the party or a related company pays these costs.

For hundreds of years, funding another party's claim was a crime, with concerns that the third party in question may take the opportunity to inflame damages, suppress evidence or suborn witnesses. The notion of a party "gambling" on the outcome of litigation was considered problematic, as third-party funding could distort justice and damage the integrity of the judicial process. While England abolished the common-law crime in 1967, it remained largely unlawful in Singapore and Hong Kong.

In recent years, we have seen this type of funding become increasingly popular across jurisdictions in Europe, the United States and Australia. One argument in favour of third-party funding is that it provides access to justice by enabling a party to enforce its rights in a dispute. Even when a party to a dispute is solvent, this funding method offers commercial options for how risk is allocated, and the claim is collateralised. This frees up capital which may have been tied to the dispute for other business objectives.

Asia's legal landscape is now responding to the increasing global prevalence of third-party funding of international arbitration. Singapore closed the consultation for draft legislation legalising third-party funding for international arbitration in July. Hong Kong's Law Reform Commission has recommended legislative reform.

These reforms have been the topic of ongoing discussion in recent years and have been the subject of some controversy. In many jurisdictions, there has been a level of consensus around the development of third-party funding. The prevention of this type of funding initially made sense for various policy reasons. However, there has been an about-face with many now seeing that the use of third-party funding actually supports the development of a society governed by the rule of law.

In both Hong Kong and Singapore, the judiciary has made some headway in tackling the old common-law prohibition. Third-party funding is permitted in Hong Kong when it is being used by liquidators to pursue claims on behalf of insolvent companies. In Singapore, the Court of Appeal decided that the prohibition applies to arbitration, but also recently suggested that third-party funding might be possible in certain situations.

White & Case's 2015 International Arbitration Survey, conducted with Queen Mary University London, showed that Singapore and Hong Kong are now the third and fourth most preferred venues for international arbitration. Both jurisdictions need to maintain this momentum; it is becoming apparent that third-party funding is an area in which reform is needed to stay ahead of other arbitration centres. Singapore, while recognising the need to protect its judicial system from abuse, also sees that third-party funding work is currently going to other international arbitration centres.

Singapore's path to reform would require that the common-law restrictions on third-party funding be abolished. It would also specify that third-party funding in international arbitration and related court and mediation proceedings would not be "contrary to public policy or otherwise illegal".

This is a significant legal reform; normally, funded parties would face risks arbitrating in a jurisdiction in which third-party funding is prohibited. Following reform, lawyers would be able to recommend third-party funders and negotiate these funding agreements. By publishing draft legislation, Singapore could be seen to have leapfrogged into the lead ahead of Hong Kong for now - but this advantage is unlikely to last. Hong Kong's Law Reform Commission issued its consultation paper on third-party funding for arbitration in late 2015 and ended the consultation period in February, with draft legislation expected in Hong Kong by the end of this year.

These are long anticipated and welcome developments for international arbitration in Asia - although for now, nothing has changed and the nature of the expected amendments remains unclear. But law firms, parties and funds should prepare for the changes to come. In 2015, several major funds launched offices in Hong Kong, and we expect to see the same in Singapore. At this stage, we do not know how these jurisdictions will regulate third-party funding, with Singapore expected to impose a duty to disclose the identity of any third-party funders. The current form of third-party funding regulation in Asia is holding the market back. When this barrier is released, we anticipate rapid growth in how this market develops.

The writer is a Singapore-based partner at White & Case international law firm

Source: Business Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

Use amnesty to ensure tax affairs are in order: MAS

TODAY
16 Sep 2016

The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) has urged banks operating in the Republic to encourage their clients to use the opportunity accorded by tax amnesty programmes to ensure that their tax affairs are in order.

“Banks are required to adhere to the Financial Action Task Force standard of filing a suspicious transaction report (STR) when handling tax amnesty cases, similar to the practice in other jurisdictions,” said an MAS spokesperson yesterday.

“Participation in a tax amnesty programme, in and of itself, would not attract criminal investigation in Singapore. The expectation for an STR to be filed on account of a client participating in a tax amnesty programme should therefore not discourage clients from participation. A police investigation is commenced in Singapore only when there are reasons to suspect that a criminal offence under our laws has been committed,” she added.

The MAS statement comes after Reuters yesterday reported anonymous banking sources saying that private banks in Singapore are sharing with the Commercial Affairs Department (CAD) the names of clients embracing an Indonesian tax amnesty, a move that could undermine the amnesty and damage the banks’ business with their biggest client pool.

The CAD, a police division that deals with financial crime, told banks last year they must file a report whenever a client takes part in a tax amnesty scheme, the sources told Reuters. After initial resistance from the banks, worried they might lose clients, that message was reinforced this year by the MAS, when Indonesia launched a tax amnesty aimed at wooing back some of the cash its wealthy citizens have stashed in Singapore, said the sources.

“The moment the client tells you he is participating in the amnesty, you have a suspicion that the assets with you are not compliant, and so you have to report to the authorities,” Reuters reported a senior executive at a Singapore-based wealth manager as saying.

Singapore made tax evasion a criminal offence in 2013, and is toughening up the implementation of the law after a money-laundering investigation into state-backed fund 1MDB in Malaysia exposed how some of its biggest banks failed to impose robust controls on suspicious money flows. Indonesians account for an estimated US$200 billion (S$273 billion) of private banking assets managed in Singapore, or about 40 per cent of the total.

A second person with direct knowledge of the matter said banks had started sending to the police STRs related to Indonesian clients who have participated in the amnesty regime. The police website says it has used such filings to detect financial crime. That means if there is any evidence of wrongdoing from these filings, authorities can further probe clients or banks.

The fear of such scrutiny could deter Indonesians from considering the amnesty, which runs to March and has had a tepid uptake. The Indonesian tax office said 393 trillion rupiah (S$41 billion) of assets had been declared as of Sept 13, of which at least 30 trillion rupiah are in Singapore.

 

WITH AGENCIES

 

Copyright 2016 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved 

Moving towards dual-class listings would be ill-advised

Business Times
09 Sep 2016

WHEN Britain voted to leave the European Union (EU) in the June referendum, shocked and unhappy "Remain" supporters reacted by proposing radical reform of the "one man, one vote" system which has been in force for centuries and which has served democratic nations well throughout history.

The rationale for considering such drastic change was that ignorant and foolish voters ought to be protected from their own folly, and that by vesting proportionately greater voting power in presumably smarter and savvier hands, future economic and social disaster would likely be averted. Thankfully, now that the dust has settled on "Brexit" and more level heads are in control, that clamour has died down and the country is preparing to fulfil the wishes of its voters and extricate itself from the EU.

Local investors are now presented with a not dissimilar proposal, one which seeks to grant higher voting power to a privileged few. Last week, a Singapore Exchange (SGX) independent listings committee has proposed that the exchange amend its listing rules to allow dual-class (DC) shares, whereby certain shareholders of a firm may hold a small proportion of their company's shares but wield greater voting power.

Such structures are common for companies whose owners or founding families wish to retain a bigger say in voting matters while owning a small portion of the capital - in the Ford company for example, the family controls 40 per cent of the voting power while owning only about 4 per cent of the company's total equity.

It is hoped that by opening the door to these listings, SGX would be able to attract big names such as Alibaba and Manchester United, which opted to list in the US where DC structures are allowed, instead of Hong Kong or Singapore, where they are currently not. Given that daily market volume on the SGX has dipped sharply this year and with retail interest in local stocks weak, the proposal is not without its merits.

A vigorous debate has therefore ensued in the media, one that essentially boils down to profit versus governance. Proponents believe that with proper safeguards to ensure shareholder rights are not compromised, the commercial benefits on offer make for a compelling case that should not be ignored. Moreover since Hong Kong decided, after a review, not to allow DC listings, SGX should act swiftly to seize the opportunity.

Opponents, on the other hand, believe that it is impossible to build watertight safeguards and that when faced with grey areas, rulings will likely be made on commercial grounds, to the detriment of non-controlling majority shareholders.

Should SGX allow DC companies to list here? As with many contentious areas, it depends on who you ask. Like quarterly reporting for example, ask those who have to do the actual work, namely the corporate sector, and the reply would be that it is a waste of resources, adds to share price volatility and so should be scrapped. Yet, ask shareholders and investors and the view is very different - financial updates every three months are welcome and deemed very necessary in decision-making.

Similarly, the majority of the investment banking/corporate finance sector would favour DC shares here because of the money to be made while those who assess such matters from a governance standpoint would not. In the final analysis, it is the latter which should prevail - like voting in a national referendum or general election, tinkering with a system where votes carry the same weight and everyone is treated equally would be ill-advised.

Source: Business Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

Authorities move to ensure illegal downloaders get fair process

TODAY
21 Sep 2016
Tan Weizhen

SINGAPORE — In a first, the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (IPOS) and the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) are applying to the courts to intervene in proceedings involving rights owners of two movies going after illegal downloaders here, to ensure a fair process. If allowed, they want to put in safeguards and conditions to avoid “allegations of abuse”, they said in a joint statement on Tuesday (Sept 20).

For example, in some countries, conditions are imposed on the letters of demand issued to subscribers, to ensure that the content is phrased in a way that does not cause undue alarm.

Last month, TODAY reported that the owners of the movies, Queen of the Desert and Fathers & Daughters, had started legal proceedings to go after those who illegally downloaded the movies here, the second such case here. Film studio Voltage Pictures, which produced Fathers & Daughters, had also gone after illegal downloaders of Dallas Buyers Club, which it produced, last year. Queen of the Desert is produced by QOTD. Both are represented by Samuel Seow Law Corporation (SSLC), which acted for Voltage Pictures in the Dallas Buyers Club case, and had drawn complaints over how two of its former lawyers had handled the proceedings. 

In the statement, IPOS and AGC said: “(We) are of the view that whilst content owners have the right to enforce their intellectual property, this should be done in a way that builds legitimacy and respect for the entire process, and is not susceptible to allegations of abuse.”

Abusive practices include “speculative invoicing”, also known as “copyright trolling”, where a party pursues quick settlements from alleged copyright infringers, by launching legal action against them and taking advantage of their reluctance to pursue their rights fully before the courts, said IPOS.

Adding that they had reviewed the positions taken in Australia, Canada, the UK and the US in similar cases, IPOS and AGC said: “We will be asking the courts to consider imposing similar safeguards and conditions, if we are allowed to intervene.” IPOS said it was inappropriate to comment on the precise safeguards and conditions being sought at this point. But it noted that in the Australian case involving the producers of Dallas Buyers Club and Internet service provider iiNet, the court ordered that the draft of the letters to be sent to iiNet’s subscribers be submitted to the court for its consideration.

In April last year, SSLC succeeded in getting the court to compel telcos to give up details of their customers who purportedly downloaded the movie Dallas Buyers Club, and filed civil claims against these customers.

But two months later, the Internet Society (Singapore) filed a complaint with the Law Society of Singapore (LawSoc), alleging that Mr Robert Raj Joseph and Mr Lee Heng Eam, who were with SSLC then, had issued letters threatening criminal proceedings against the alleged downloaders, to advance the civil claims. This goes against the LawSoc’s Practice Directions and Rulings Guide, which states that it is improper for a solicitor to “communicate in writing or otherwise a threat of criminal proceedings in order to achieve a stated objective in any circumstance”. In May, LawSoc said it was taking action against two lawyers over their conduct in dealing with illegal downloaders of Dallas Buyers Club, without naming the lawyers.

Intellectual property lawyers who spoke to TODAY welcomed it as a move to ensure a fair process.

Mr Jason Chan, director of Amica Law, said: “If the court makes certain orders arising from the positions taken by AGC and IPOS ... future rights owners will definitely have to be aware of what happened in this case here.”

Mr Bryan Tan of Pinsent Masons, who became president of the Internet Society (Singapore) last month, agreed, noting that the latest case with Queen of the Desert and Fathers & Daughters has a similar modus operandi as the Dallas Buyers Club case.

Other safeguards that could be introduced in such proceedings include setting a limit on the amount of damages that could be claimed, said the lawyers.

A pre-trial conference on the Queen of the Desert and Fathers & Daughters case was held on Tuesday morning, during which the deadlines for the parties — Samuel Seow Law Corporation and M1, Singtel and StarHub — to exchange information were set, as well as directions for the progress of the case.

TODAY understands that the case will likely be heard again in November.

Turn glut of lawyers into opportunity for legal industry: Voices

TODAY
16 Sep 2016
Edwin Teong Ying Keat

I refer to the thought-provoking article “The Big Read: As supply of lawyers lurches from shortage to glut, spotlight falls on policies” (Sept 10).

While we recognise the potential pitfalls of ignoring the glut of lawyers, we need not perceive it as being detrimental to our legal landscape, given the need for an available talent pool to ensure a constant supply of legal professionals.

A burgeoning supply could be beneficial, given the need to sift the best out of the yearly injection of fresh blood into the system.

Other legal systems are in a similar predicament. For instance, The Guardian reported in 2011 that the number of solicitors in England and Wales was growing at four times the rate of the population.

The aspirations of man will often compel many to study law, but the perennial interest in joining a specialised profession to challenge one’s mental faculties should not be seen as a crisis.

Policies should therefore be engineered to plug gaps in fields such as family and criminal law.

Beyond meeting the need for this talent pool via UniSim, we should strive for a paradigm shift and adjust the “aspirational” view of the profession associated with the notions of prestige and lucrative interests.

The legal profession should, rather, be construed as one premised on traits such as sound ethics and the ability to think and analyse critically.

Also, this perceived glut of lawyers can be an opportunity to brainstorm ideas for utilising lawyers for pro bono efforts similar to those of the Criminal Legal Aid Scheme and the Legal Aid Bureau.

Jobs could also be created as a result, so that law graduates who are unable to attain training contracts have viable alternatives.

We should go beyond the fear of a glut and garner benefits from it. In the spirit of progress, every perceived crisis can be an opportunity.

 

Copyright 2016 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

 

 

Delay of penalty for rapist and molester

Straits Times
09 Sep 2016
Elena Chong

Prosecution to appeal against reform training for now 20-year-old who violated 2 teens

A teen molested a 16-year-old girl whom he met for the first time and then raped a mutual friend who had tried to matchmake them.

Loew Zi Xiang, now 20, who was 18 and a student at the time, was yesterday sentenced to reformative training, a strict regimen of 18 months to three years in the Reformative Training Centre.

He was convicted last month - after a 10-day trial - of kissing the first victim on her lips between 6pm and 7.05pm in his flat on Sept 8, 2014, and of raping the second victim, then 16, between 7.10pm and 7.40pm.

District Judge Jasbendar Kaur yesterday allowed a delay of the punishment pending an appeal by the prosecution against the sentence.

Arguing for at least six years' jail and six strokes of the cane, Deputy Public Prosecutor Michael Quilindo said Loew could not have committed the offences but for the trust the second victim had in him.

The pair had met three or four times over four years and had a "brother-sister" type of relationship.

The DPP said Loew betrayed her trust when he raped the student, now 18, causing her great disappointment.

The court heard that the trio met that afternoon in 2014 to chat and play with Loew's dog at a sheltered hut near his block. The girls then left to meet a friend at a community centre.

Loew later invited them back to play with his dog. They subsequently followed him to his flat where he lived with his mother, a divorcee, who was at home that day.

He led the girls to his bedroom, saying the floor in the living room was not clean. They sat on his bed, chatting with one another.

The first victim testified that she was not too pleased when Loew later snatched her cellphone and tried to pull her to the bed on the pretext of shaking her hand.

After the first victim was on the bed, Loew showed the second victim a message to get her to leave and play with the dog. He then molested the first victim.

He later raped the second victim, who refused to leave the flat when the first victim pleaded with her to do so.

Judge Kaur found the rape victim's evidence unusually convincing. It was also corroborated by Loew's statement to the police.

Loew's lawyers, Mr Kalidass Murugaiyan, Ms Cheryl Ng and Mr Ahmad Firdaus Daud, had defended him citing "mistake of fact".

But the judge said: "The fact that he did not express any confusion or regret after the second victim asked him why he had treated her this way also showed, without doubt, that the accused could not have mistaken any signals when he had the unwanted sexual intercourse with the second victim."

Loew, who has been remanded since Nov 6 last year, had a third charge of rioting taken into consideration.

The maximum penalty for rape is 20 years' jail. The offender may also be fined or caned.

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

Don’t split the legal pie but expand it: Voices

TODAY
21 Sep 2016

I refer to the letter “Limit working hours for lawyers called to the Bar” (Sept 19).

The writer suggested that one of two possible ways to address the oversupply of lawyers is to limit, by statute, the working hours per week for lawyers called to the Bar.

As a fellow member of the legal fraternity, I would argue that his proposed solution might not achieve its intended purpose. A statutory limitation on working hours could harm the profession.

Most lawyers charge by their billable hours. Understandably, they work long hours to earn as much as possible, whether for their firms to justify their salaries or for themselves. To limit working hours is to limit their earning capacities.

There would probably be two undesirable consequences for the profession and the public: Members of the fraternity may treat one another as rivals for their earnings; and legal fees would be hiked to adapt to the limited working hours.

Realistically speaking, lawyers and law firms need to maintain their level of income and revenue.

The intention of the writer’s proposal would be to let more lawyers share the same market. The underlying assumption is that the size of the market remains unchanged. But we could expand the legal market by creating more demand.

In the book Getting to Yes, the authors addressed the principle of “expanding the pie”. While splitting the pie may become a zero-sum game, expanding it could create a win-win situation for all parties.

This principle is well-accepted in mediation and applies here too. More demand for legal services creates more legal work, which means more jobs and earnings for lawyers.

The establishment of the Singapore International Commercial Court, the promotion of Singapore as a regional dispute resolution centre, and more, are examples of the attempts to create new demand for local legal professionals.

While these long-term plans may not resolve the oversupply issue immediately, they are the correct approaches. Any tactical measure to alleviate the oversupply is momentary. We should exercise caution where legislation is involved, especially when the side effects are obvious.

Shaun Wong

Copyright 2016 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

Good for laws to keep up with technology: Forum

Straits Times
16 Sep 2016

I agree that legal but well-regulated online betting will be the best way to deal with illicit gambling ("Legal online betting may be available soon"; yesterday).

First, the outright ban of online gambling sites has not managed to eradicate the problem of people gambling online.

This is because while the ban has made it less convenient, the existence of virtual private networks and other means of changing one's Internet Protocol address means it is still possible to access most online betting sites.

In fact, this makes it harder for the authorities to track the identities of those involved in online gambling. This makes it difficult to prevent underage gambling and problem gambling.

By legalising but limiting online gambling to a few sites, the authorities and the companies offering such services can exchange information to minimise these problems.

This can be done by insisting that those registering for an online betting account must provide their personal identity details. This will ensure that people on the exclusion list are not able to gamble.

Second, allowing Singapore Pools and the Singapore Turf Club to take bets online will likely mean increased revenues to fund various social causes.

Since some gamblers would continue trying to gamble online despite a ban, it would be better for this money to stay within Singapore rather than flow overseas through other online sites.

This money can be used to support our local athletes, who have received a tremendous boost since Team Singapore's spectacular performance at the Rio Olympic and Paralympic Games.

To conclude, when a ban is difficult to enforce across the board, we should consider turning to regulation to deal with this persistent problem.

The casinos are a case in point.

While the Government continues to discourage gambling by imposing a $100 levy for Singaporeans and permanent residents, the casinos offer a legal avenue for those who might have turned to illicit gambling otherwise.

By ensuring our laws keep up with global advancements in technology, we will be well equipped to minimise the impact brought on by vice activities to our society.

Lionel Loi Zhi Rui

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

Rape suspect tells court that cops hit him

Straits Times
09 Sep 2016
Selina Lum

A man on trial for raping his mother told the High Court yesterday that he had been slapped and threatened before he gave two "untrue" statements on the day of his arrest, an allegation firmly refuted by the two police officers in question.

The Criminal Investigation Department officers - Deputy Superintendent (DSP) Burhanudeen Haji Hussainar and Inspector Thinagaran Krishnasamy - interviewed the accused for two hours before he was handed back to the investigating officer for his statement to be recorded on Oct 4, 2013.

The 33-year-old accused, who has a chronic ear infection, alleged that when he denied raping his mother, Insp Thinagaran slapped him twice on his left ear until pus oozed out and then pushed him against a wall.

He said that DSP Burhanudeen told him: "No mother would come to a police station to complain that her son raped her." The accused said he then raised his voice and retorted: "If you have evidence against me, I would accept the charges."

After saying this, he was slapped on the back of his head and neck by Insp Thinagaran, he alleged.

"I begged them to stop beating me," he said. He said DSP Burhanudeen threatened more beatings if he did not cooperate with the investigating officer, Assistant Superintendent (ASP) Thermizi Tho, who recorded his two statements.

He said he complained about the beating to ASP Tho but the officer told him they were in "his team". He said he gave the two statements because he felt helpless, was in pain and wanted to be granted bail.

While the contents of the statements have yet to be disclosed in court, the accused said that he felt so helpless at the time that he "imagined some porn story", before his lawyer Andy Lem stopped him from elaborating further.

Both officers took the stand and denied the accused's allegations.

Asked if he had offered any threat, inducement or promise to the accused, Insp Thinagaran replied: "Your Honour, I only offered him a drink."

Dr Wong Kia Boon, who examined the accused before and after his statements were taken, testified that the man answered no when asked if he had been handled roughly by the officers. To this, the accused said he chose not to reveal the assault as he believed the doctor was part of the "team".

The man is accused of raping and molesting his mother, then 53, after he returned home at about 2.30am on Oct 4, 2013.

When he took the stand in July, he denied the charges, although he admitted to having lifted up her nightdress while she was asleep.

On Wednesday, he challenged the admissibility of the two statements, claiming he had been threatened into giving them. The trial continues.

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

Customers in a bind after furniture seller goes missing

TODAY
21 Sep 2016
Toh Ee Ming

SINGAPORE — Several customers have been left in the lurch after furniture retailer Royal House (The Rome Gallery) disappeared with thousands of dollars in paid deposits for items that were never delivered.

The Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) is looking into four cases filed from January, on top of 48 cases of feedback and enquiries, involving payment contracts ranging from S$500 to S$6,500.

Royal House had set up a booth at Singapore Expo in June and July, its customers told TODAY, and they paid between S$500 and S$2,288 as deposits for furniture they had bought. Calls by TODAY to the company were unanswered, and its office was empty.

Customers claim that the company’s managing director gave “excuses” for the delay, citing delivery problems and a backlog of orders, before he eventually could not be contacted.

One customer, a 50-year-old engineer who gave his name only as James, said he was shopping for a new sofa set at Expo in early June and was served by two salesmen. He was told the sofa would arrive the following month, and made a full payment of S$2,288.

Closer to the delivery date, around the Hari Raya Puasa period, he was directed to the firm’s managing director Gary Chia, who claimed there were problems with delivery because staff members at the factory in Malaysia were not working. Later, he mentioned other issues such as securing an export permit and having a “backlog” of orders as reasons for the hold-up.

This went on until early August, until Sept 2 when Mr Chia sent out a text message saying that the company had run into “financial difficulties” and it “could no longer operate”.

James, who lodged a police report, said that Mr Chia did not answer calls, but he heard that the company was still hosting fairs in August. The police do not have sufficient evidence to take further action, he added.

Another customer, a 30-year-old global recruiter who did not want to be identified, paid an S$800 deposit for a S$1,500 sofa in end July at Expo. She later learned that the company closed down, and found others in a similar bind when she went online. “I wouldn’t have expected this thing to happen in Singapore, let alone at Expo .... how come there’s nothing (the authorities) can do?”

Mr Seah Seng Choon, executive director of Case, said: “Case’s powers are limited to negotiation and mediation, and this cannot be done if the company does not respond to us.”

To ensure that consumers do not fall prey to “questionable practices”, he urged furniture-fair organisers to play their part in checking their exhibitors’ credentials, or to explore imposing checks and safeguards against furniture exhibitors, such as having a policy to look into the background of newly registered vendors.

He also advised consumers to pay only upon delivery of goods, or to pay a low deposit because “there is no way to guarantee that the business delivers on (its) promise”.

This is especially if the business or the fair organiser does not have the mechanism to protect prepayments by consumers. Case is advising the affected consumers to consider filing a claim with the Small Claims Tribunals, or to file a police report if they suspect fraud is involved.

Mr Steve Liew, 35, an aviation engineer who placed a S$1,388 deposit for a dining table and a bed frame, and even went down to the company’s warehouse (which is now empty), said: “It’s a big sum of money, and as a small consumer, it’s already (too expensive) for us to get a lawyer … That’s why I think these (companies) are getting away (scot-free).”

Last week, Parliament passed changes to consumer laws — to take effect by the end of 2016 — giving Spring Singapore, a statutory board under the Trade and Industry Ministry (MTI), more powers to go after errant retailers. The agency can order shops to hand over information for investigations and enter their premises to take evidence. Case will be able to inform Spring on problematic retailers for investigation and Spring can submit injunction applications against the retailers to the courts.

In July, Case president Lim Biow Chuan told TODAY that Case has recommended that the MTI regulate the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act for collection of prepayments, because of increasing cases of “businesses being liquidated after taking large amounts of deposits” and consumer protection is inadequate. MTI said that it would review the feedback on prepayment protection.

Copyright 2016 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

Ethics code for doctors expanded, updated

TODAY
15 Sep 2016
Tan Weizhen

Document addresses new areas such as telemedicine, more complex medical environment

SINGAPORE — After six years in the making, the Singapore Medical Council has updated — and expanded substantially — its 14-year-old ethical code and guidelines for doctors.

Taking into account developments in medical care, the 64-page document, which is twice as long as the 2002 edition, was released on Wednesday (Sept 14) and takes effect in January. It is the primary document that the SMC’s disciplinary process refers to, together with other legislation like the Medical Registration Act. The council assesses the appropriateness of a doctor’s professional conduct based on peer review, which is also applicable in civil or criminal courts, SMC said.

The revised code and guidelines address new areas such as telemedicine, alternative medicine and end-of-life care while existing guidelines on granting of medical certificates (MCs) and doctor-patient conduct, for example, were beefed up.

A 150-page handbook — covering diverse topics such as relationships with patients, social media and Internet presence, business ties and advertising — has also been published to explain the application of the revised code and guidelines and provide advice on best practices.

SMC said the materials were developed after extensive consultation with the medical community and the process started in 2010 with the establishment of a working committee to review the ethical code and guidelines. The council said the work was guided by principles including relevance to modern medical practice, adapting to the complexities and variations of medical practice, protecting patients’ best interests while being fair to doctors and regulating behaviour rather than imposing blanket prohibitions.

SMC said the guidelines are “intended first and foremost to guide SMC-registered doctors practising in Singapore”. Adding that doctors who are registered with SMC “carry the reputation of Singapore doctors”, the council said: “However, as cross-border medicine becomes more prevalent certain aspects, such as telemedicine conducted in Singapore for overseas patients, may become subject to (the code and guidelines), in addition to the laws and rules that apply in the overseas jurisdiction.”

In recent years, trials have been held here and abroad on replacing doctor visits with video conferencing sessions, for example. The guidelines state that the quality of care in performing robotic surgery remotely, for instance, should be no different from performing the procedure in person. Doctors must also ensure that patients are sufficiently trained to operate telemedicine equipment from their locations and prompt assistance is available if the equipment fails, or the patients cannot operate them.

Dr Tan Chi Chiu, who chaired the working committee, said the environment today has become more complex as compared to 2002: The evolution of technology, greater ways of interaction between doctors and patients and a more complicated medical legal environment. “In an era of increased complexity, it is easier to get tripped up easily. The opportunity for error has become greater. In 2002, the number of complaints to SMC was not so high, and lawsuits for medical negligence not so prevalent,” he said. Last year, there were 141 complaints filed with SMC against 161 medical practitioners. In 2002, 69 complaints were lodged against 73 medical practitioners.

He stressed, however, that the intent of the revised guidelines is not to “tie down doctors’ hands” in what they do. The guidelines are not more elaborate than those in places such as the United Kingdom, Australia and Hong Kong, which the committee studied. Over the past six years, the committee met more than 30 times. It held dialogues with various sectors of the medical community, as well as two profession-wide consultation in 2014 and last year.

Based on the feedback, there was concern about whether the code and guidelines would lead to doctors “not treating patients according to their best interests by practising defensive medicine”, according to SMC. Defensive medicine refers to the practice of ordering medical tests, procedures, or consultations of doubtful clinical value in order to protect the prescribing physician from malpractice suits.

In response, SMC said it was “illogical to equate abiding by ethical guidelines to practising defensive medicine and increasing healthcare costs”. “It should be to the contrary, since ethical handling of patients should lead to reduced complaints and litigation and thus lower insurance and indemnity costs,” said the council, adding that doctors should use clinical guidelines “in context and not blindly”.

Tanjong Pagar GRC Member of Parliament Chia Shi-Lu, who chairs the Government Parliamentary Committee for Health, said the guidelines were balanced. He noted the discussion among the community whether the guidelines should be kept simple and broad, or should they be more prescriptive and run the risk of being outdated quickly.

On the issuance of MCs, the SMC asked doctors to have a “detailed conversation” with the patients about what types of light duties are available at their workplace before certifying them to be fit for such work. “Leaving it to employers to decide is insufficient and risky to patients. The lightest duty available may exceed what patients ought to perform without aggravating their conditions,” the SMC said.

“It is not right to expect employers to have the medical knowledge to calibrate what duties are given to their employees who are given ‘light duty’ medical certificates.”


What’s new in the SMC’s ethical code for doctors

Fees for services

•Doctors must not charge fees of a level that would bring the profession into “disrepute”. The appropriateness of fees is subject to peer review

•They must not take additional fees for if they have not provided any part of the services to a patient by other doctors

•Fees or range of fees you set must be transparent and made known to patients in advance, But patients’ acquiescence to fees does not absolve doctors of the responsibility of charging reasonable fees

Relationships with patients

•Doctors must not breach professional boundaries by initiating social media relationships with patients

•They can choose to accept such relationships initiated by patients, but cannot compromise relationship by sharing anything that would breach patient confidentiality or through inappropriate words or behaviour towards patients

•Doctors active on social media must ensure that they do not diminish their professional standing, or bring the profession into disrepute

Aesthetics

•Doctors must take reasonable care to ensure patients do not have psychological or psychiatric illnesses involving self and body image before performing procedures

•For more invasive and surgical procedures, a reasonable “cooling off” period is needed between patients giving consent and the treatment

•When obtaining consent from patients, doctors must disclose risks “beyond those that are more common”, compared to that required of conventional medicine

Complementary and alternative medicine

•Restricted to only modalities approved by SMC, ie needle acupuncture

•Must have medical reasons for offering SMC-approved CAM services to patients

•Cannot be used in disregard of medical needs of patients that are better met through conventional medicine

Telemedicine

•Doctors must ensure they have sufficient training and information to manage patients through telemedicine, or state the limitations of their opinions

•Doctors still retain responsibility for overall management of a patient who undergoes robotic procedures performed by other doctors

•Ensure confidentiality of medical information shared through technology

•Ensure that patients operating telemedicine equipment from their locations are properly trained

Copyright 2016 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

Ex-IT director, businesswoman charged with graft

Straits Times
09 Sep 2016
Elena Chong

A former IT director of a transport and logistics company, accused of obtaining bribes of more than $200,000, spent part of the money on a car and a condominium.

Leong Chee Shian, then employed by Schenker (Asia Pacific), faces 28 charges, including six counts of receiving bribes amounting to $238,243, and three of attempting to get bribes of $248,046 from Malaysian businesswoman Chuah Hooi Fong, 54.

Chuah was also charged yesterday with nine counts of corruption.

Leong, 46, is said to have converted $50,240 into a down payment for a Nissan Teana car on July 20, 2009; and $114,200 for a La Regal Condominium in Geylang Road sometime between November 2011 and January 2012.

A court heard yesterday that Leong allegedly received the bribes from Chuah, a director of Asia Management Link and AML Managed Services, between 2008 and 2011 in exchange for advancing the business interests of the two firms with Schenker.

Leong also faces 17 charges of abetment by engaging in a conspiracy with one Leong Chee How to falsify invoices and/or payment vouchers belonging to the latter's companies 361 Degree Consultancy, 361 Degree Management, and 361 Degree Communication for consultancy services which were never rendered.

Leong Chee Sian was represented by Mr M. Kalidass and Chuah by Mr T.M. Sinnadurai.

Bail for the duo has been extended until the next mention of their case on Sept 29. Their passports have been impounded .

In a statement yesterday, the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau said Singapore adopts a zero tolerance approach towards corruption and any criminal activity. The bureau said it takes a serious view of any corrupt practices and will not hesitate to take action against any party involved in such acts.

The maximum penalty for corruption is a $100,000 fine and five years' jail.

Elena Chong

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

City Harvest leaders deceived members, auditors, lawyers: DPP

Straits Times
21 Sep 2016
Danson Cheong

They subverted church's internal governance bodies, used positions of trust to misspend funds, court hears

The six City Harvest Church (CHC) leaders deceived church members, auditors and lawyers, and subverted the church's internal governance bodies, the High Court heard yesterday.

They used their positions of trust to misspend millions of dollars in charity funds - the largest amount in such a case in Singapore's legal history - on a pop singer's music career, according to Deputy Public Prosecutor Christopher Ong.

He was responding to the arguments against conviction put forth by the six CHC leaders at the centre of the financial scandal.

In October last year, the six were convicted of misappropriating millions in church funds to fuel the pop music career of CHC senior pastor Kong Hee's wife, Ms Ho Yeow Sun, in a church mission known as the Crossover Project.

The court found that they had invested $24 million from CHC's building fund in bogus bonds from music production firm Xtron and glass-maker Firna, and the money was used to fund the Crossover Project. Later, another $26 million was used to cover up the initial misdeed.

The six, including Kong, are appealing against their convictions and sentences - ranging from 21 months' to eight years' jail - while the prosecution is appealing for longer sentences.

DPP Ong said the CHC leaders knew the bonds were "excuses to expend building fund money on (Ms Ho's) music career" and not investments.

Addressing the arguments by the CHC leaders that there was a need for secrecy in carrying out the Crossover Project in order to avoid uncomfortable public scrutiny, DPP Ong said it was strange since the only thing needing to be "secret" was the fact that Ms Ho was funded by the church's building fund - which was "buried so deep that even the auditors don't know about it".

He said it was public knowledge that Ms Ho was "famous pastor Kong Hee's wife", and Kong would come out to preach at the end of her concerts.

"Where is the secrecy in this?" asked DPP Ong, adding that Kong and his conspirators also controlled the bond proceeds, choosing to spend them on the Crossover Project and deciding how and when they would be repaid to the church.

Justice Chan Seng Onn asked: "If I put out the money and eventually pay back to it myself, just sweeping around, playing around it myself, having full control of it, how can you call it an investment?"

DPP Ong replied: "Yes, your Honour, that is exactly our point."

Another issue discussed in court yesterday was whether the offences committed by the six CHC leaders fell under the ambit of Section 409 of the Penal Code that they were charged under.

This is the most aggravated form of criminal breach of trust, and sets out the offence as one committed by a person "in the way of his business as a banker, a merchant, a factor, a broker, an attorney or an agent banker, merchant or agent".

In this context, Justice Chan asked if "the church, as a society, is in the business of courting donations", with agents of the church then being seen as agents carrying out such business. DPP Ong disagreed. But he said Section 409 concerns individuals who "customarily and regularly are entrusted with funds which they are then supposed to take responsibility for".

Judge of Appeal Chao Hick Tin said that if the elements of Section 409 are not satisfied, the charges could be reduced. Arguments for the appeal will continue today.

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

Takashimaya wins rent dispute with landlord

Straits Times
15 Sep 2016
Selina Lum

The court fight between Takashimaya and its landlord Ngee Ann Development (NAD) over the way to calculate rent has concluded in favour of the department store.

By ruling in favour of Takashimaya, the High Court has denied NAD's claim that it could charge Takashimaya a far higher rent because, hypothetically, the department store could cut back its own area and increase the area it sublets to speciality shops.

NAD had sued Takashimaya - the anchor tenant at its Ngee Ann City complex on Orchard Road since 1993 - last year after both sides reached a deadlock on the meaning of "prevailing market rental value" in the lease agreement.

Takashimaya, represented by Senior Counsel Alvin Yeo and Ms Lim Wei Lee, contended that the rental rate should be valued based on the existing space configuration.

Out of the 56,000 sq m leased to it, Takashimaya uses 38,000 sq m for its department store and the rest is sublet to speciality shops. Takashimaya says this use of space reflects the business model of its parent company in Japan.

But NAD contended that the rent should be valued based on the highest potential of the property.

This method would be based on reducing department store space as speciality shops command higher rent.

In a written judgment released yesterday, Judicial Commissioner Debbie Ong accepted Takashimaya's interpretation.

She found that when they entered into the lease agreement, both parties had intended to have a long-term relationship - Takashimaya would run its department store as Ngee Ann City's anchor tenant and NAD would enjoy strong property values as a result of Takashimaya's presence and ability to attract customer traffic.

She noted that the relationship between NAD and Takashimaya was more like a joint business partnership rather than the typical landlord-tenant relationship.

She noted that Takashimaya Japan has a 26.3 per cent stake in NAD and has four directors on NAD's board.

"Given this foundational context to the relationship, it would be inconsistent with the parties' core understanding and agreement for NAD to obtain rent based on the highest and best hypothetical use of the demised premises even while Takashimaya continues to use nearly 70 per cent of its leased space for its departmental store," she said.

The consequence of using NAD's basis is that Takashimaya would pay far higher rent based on a hypothetical configuration with reduced area for its department store use.

If Takashimaya does indeed reduce the size of its department store in order to maximise profits, that would run contrary to its main business.

"It is doubtful whether Takashimaya would have entered into the lease if it contemplated that it may one day have to run a property leasing business instead of operating its departmental store," she said.

The lease between the parties was initially for 20 years, with Takashimaya given six options to renew for 10 years each.

The rental rate is to be reviewed every five years.

In 2013, after Takashimaya exercised its first option, NAD proposed to revise the rent to $19.83 per sq ft (psf) a month, more than double the existing rate of $8.78 psf. This was based on a valuation report that reduced the space for department store use.

Takashimaya rejected it.

After months of negotiation, both sides agreed in April 2014 to each appoint a valuer and take the average of the two rental values.

Ten days later, unbeknown to Takashimaya, NAD wrote to the two valuers, noting that they are not constrained by the existing space use.

Takashimaya found out only after the two reports - based on hypothetical configurations that reduced department store space - were issued.

NAD explained the failure to send Takashimaya a copy of the letter as an administrative oversight.

Both sides then reached an impasse on how to continue with the valuation exercise.

In her judgment, the judicial commissioner urged both sides to "resolve their disputes amicably" in the light of their long-term business relationship.

Contacted for comment, NAD said in a statement: "We will seek our lawyer's advice and come to a decision thereafter".


38k

Out of the 56,000 sq m leased to it, Takashimaya uses 38,000 sq m for its department store. The rest is sublet to speciality shops.

20

Initial number of years of the lease between the parties, with Takashimaya given six options to renew for 10 years each.

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

Ngee Ann Development Pte Ltd v Takashimaya Singapore Ltd [2016] SGHC 194

Aware says suicide laws ‘worsen distress’; calls for changes

TODAY
09 Sep 2016

SINGAPORE — Noting that the criminalisation of suicide can further distress those already in need of help, the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware) yesterday renewed its call to repeal Section 309 of the Penal Code, which makes attempted suicide an offence.

It also urged the authorities to amend the Criminal Procedure Code such that attempted suicide is no longer a seizable offence or an offence that triggers mandatory reporting.

Aware’s call for suicide law reform was made in a press release issued ahead of World Suicide Prevention Day on Saturday.

The gender equality group said there is a need to develop an institutionalised response system for suicide attempts, such as training all police officers in psychological first aid, or setting up a specialised unit within the police force to respond to suicide attempts.

Greater mental health support for people experiencing suicidal thoughts, as well as ensuring awareness and training for those who work with vulnerable populations, such as teachers and other school staff, are also needed.

Singapore has seen an average of 400 suicides and 1,000 cases of attempted suicides each year between 2010 and 2014.

While attempted suicide incidents led to five criminal cases being filed and one person charged in 2014, arrests in such cases were frequent, Aware said. There were 901 in 2014, up from 862 in 2013.

The fear of the law coming after them can also deter people who self-harm from seeking help, since police officers may misconstrue, or wrongly equate, deliberate self-harm with suicide attempts, even though these people might not have suicidal intentions.

“While the law does not criminalise non-suicidal self-harm in itself, investigating potential cases of attempted suicide draws more vulnerable people into criminal justice processes and places additional demands on police resources,” said the group.

In its press release, Aware cited the experience of an 18-year-old student, Z, who struggled with depression. After inflicting a severe cut on herself in the school toilet in early 2015, she was sent to the hospital.

Z recounted how two police officers told her that attempting and considering suicide was illegal. When she cried harder, fearing imprisonment, they warned her to stop crying, or she would be sent to jail.

Addressing misconceptions that police investigation and arrest would provide emergency intervention, Aware said such moves were “extremely intimidating”, and could best be left to another agency, such as a specialist support team trained in psychological first aid.

“Suicide is a matter for social support and public health, not criminal law,” said Ms Jolene Tan, Aware’s head of advocacy & research.

“Treating people as criminals worsens their distress, rather than resolving the underlying difficulties that lead to suicide attempts.”

Counsellors, however, said the law remains more of a safeguard, rather than heavily enforced in actual practice.

Dr Brian Yeo, a consultant psychiatrist in private practice at Mount Elizabeth Medical Centre, said the law was used to deter those who did “impulsive” acts. “We could argue that the interview (following suicide attempt cases) itself is traumatic ... But what I’ve seen so far in my (16) years of practice, I don’t see the police taking punitive action ... ,” he added.

Mr Daniel Koh, a psychologist at Insights Mind Centre, felt by having the police in charge of these cases, those who attempted suicide could be directed to get proper help.

“(Police) can’t take a risk, they have to follow protocols to make sure the person is safe, bring them to the right (place) to get help … But sometimes the client doesn’t see it as being helped, but as being arrested,” he said.

While acknowledging that the current system can be further improved, Ms Christine Wong, executive director of Samaritans of Singapore (SOS), noted that “continual efforts” have been made to tweak it by various parties.

The SOS collaborates with the Singapore Police Force, which refer cases of attempted suicide to the organisation.

Citing the Appropriate Adult Scheme, which involves “specially trained volunteers” to complement police work when handling vulnerable suspects, Ms Wong said the greater attention given to them was “encouraging”. “ ... SOS believes that a collective effort to further fine-tune current processes through collaborations and provision of training can be further explored instead of (being) ruled out,” she added.

Copyright 2016 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

Holding charities to high standards

Straits Times
21 Sep 2016

The guidelines proposed to improve the governance of charities ought to be welcomed as the sector handles vast sums of money. Tax-deductible donations came to about $1.4 billion last year, propelled by the 300 per cent tax deduction allowed for the Golden Jubilee. Total annual receipts (including government grants) amounted to $14.6 billion.

With a steadily growing pool of registered charities (now over 2,200) one cannot rely on a sense of responsibility alone to ensure that the duty of care is exercised diligently and office holders are faithful to the charity's mission. At a basic level, for example, one would expect those at the helm to refrain from paying themselves excessively. That was an issue in Britain when the Charity Commission's chief called into question "disproportionate salaries", while others asserted "charities shouldn't be ashamed of paying people what they are worth". In America, it is said there are "too many charities" chasing the same pool of donors, leading to higher costs of fund raising that might not be fully disclosed.

It is to avert these and other risks in the charity sector that its code of governance deserves to be tightened. Excessive red tape, of course, could weigh down organisations but high standards of governance should never be compromised. Risks can abound when management is weak or dominated by a few individuals, there is no ceiling on how long board members can remain in office, and no transparency on how they are performing their duties.

Public views are being sought for the latest refinements to the code. Whatever views are expressed about the nature of the new guidelines, few would contest the objectives of the code. These are to help charities become more efficient and effective by sharing good practices, ensure board members conduct themselves properly, and boost public confidence in charitable bodies.

Given the diversity within the sector, the guidelines are applied differentially across groups. Over half of charities are relatively small and almost as many have a religious character, which might make internal and external oversight difficult. Whatever their characteristics, it is incumbent on all charities to abide by the spirit of the entire code. Alongside the attention given to their strategic direction, financial planning, compensation policies and fund-raising practices, there should also be adequate disclosure of all dealings. Public generosity calls for a high standard of integrity to be demonstrated by all charities to ensure that donors' good intentions are delivered upon. According to the World Giving Index, almost six in 10 Singaporean donate to good causes. However, fewer than three in 10 serve as volunteers. By raising their game, charities could inspire more to contribute and play an active role in them.

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

City Harvest appeals start today

Straits Times
15 Sep 2016
Danson Cheong

Prosecution will seek stiffer penalties, while defence fights against convictions, sentences

They have filed their papers.

Today, the six City Harvest Church (CHC) leaders at the centre of a multimillion-dollar financial scandal will return to face the courts.

The marathon City Harvest trial begins again in the High Court, with both the defence and prosecution appealing. The appeal will continue tomorrow and for the first three days of next week.

It will be heard by Judge of Appeal Chao Hick Tin, and Justices Woo Bih Li and Chan Seng Onn.

The six who have been convicted - including CHC founder Kong Hee, 52 - are arguing against their convictions and sentences, while the prosecution is appealing for longer deterrent sentences.

In October last year, the six were convicted of misappropriating millions in church funds to fuel the pop music career of Kong's wife, Ms Ho Yeow Sun, in a church mission known as the Crossover Project.

The court found that they had invested $24 million from CHC's building fund in bogus bonds from music production company Xtron and glass-maker Firna, but this money was, in fact, used to fund the Crossover Project. Later, another $26 million was used to cover up the initial misdeed.

For their crimes, the six were handed jail terms ranging from 21 months to eight years.

Kong, fingered as the key man behind the scandal, was given the stiffest sentence.

Presiding Judge See Kee Oon had choice words for the charismatic church pastor, whom he said "acted consciously and dishonestly".

"One does not need to be an expert in legality to appreciate certain fundamental aspects of honesty, truth and integrity," said Judge See in his written judgment.

Former CHC fund manager Chew Eng Han, 57, was handed a six-year term. And as Kong's right-hand man, deputy senior pastor Tan Ye Peng, 43, was given a sentence of 51/2 years.

Former church finance manager Serina Wee, 39, was given a five-year term. Former CHC finance committee member John Lam, 48, was sentenced to three years in jail.

Former church finance manager Sharon Tan, 40, received a sentence of 21 months' jail - the shortest.

Calling the case unique and without precedent, Judge See had agreed with the defence that the church suffered no wrongful loss, but still found them guilty of serious offences - including falsifying church accounts and breaches of trust involving large sums of charity money.

But the prosecution has described the jail terms as "manifestly inadequate".

During the trial, it called for harsher sentences - highlighting the fact that the case involved the largest amount of charity funds ever misappropriated in Singapore's legal history, which has shaken public confidence in the charity sector.

Said Deputy Public Prosecutor Christopher Ong: "It must be made clear that those leading charities, entrusted with the funds, must adhere to the highest standards of integrity and transparency."

The session starting today could be the final avenue of appeal open to the six church leaders.

If their appeals fail, they can refer the case up to the Court of Appeal, with its permission - and only if there is a point or question of law to argue.

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

Board tussle at SBI Offshore as PwC submits troubling report

Business Times
09 Sep 2016
Anita Gabriel

[Singapore] SBI Offshore (SBIO) is facing turbulent times as its founder and its chief executive lock horns amid a yet-to-be released audit alleging possible breach of securities laws in past transactions involving an associate company.

The firm, which counts the son of Malaysia's former premier Mahathir Mohamad as chairman, will be holding an extraordinary general meeting (EGM) next Friday requisitioned by several shareholders including its largest shareholder Tan Woo Thian - SBIO's founder and CEO up until March this year - to force out Chan Lai Thong, the firm's current CEO and Mr Tan's successor, from the board and appoint four new directors.

The shareholder challenge by Mr Tan and his business partner-turned-rival, according to observers, and now evidently friendly again, Hui Choon Ho, comes four months after a board revamp at the ailing offshore firm that is banking on its new solar energy business to yank it out of the doldrums. Mr Tan and Mr Hui own nearly 14 per cent and 12 per cent respectively of the company, according to Bloomberg data.

Dr Mahathir's eldest son Mirzan Mahathir, who emerged as a substantial shareholder of SBIO two years ago following a private share placement and owns 11.6 per cent currently, was appointed chairman in March. It was also announced that Mr Chan had relinquished his chairman position to take over the CEO post from Mr Tan, who stepped down from the post he had held since 1997.

The requisitioning shareholders face some hurdles in their pursuit of the board changes.

In what is quite possibly a rarity in corporate Singapore, SBIO's board, in a letter to shareholders dated Sept 1, had raised doubts on the suitability of two of the four individuals - Mr Hui and Lau Yoke Mun - that the requisitioners are seeking to place on the board and recommended that shareholders vote against their appointments to an executive position.

SBIO's board also called on shareholders to vote against the removal of Mr Chan from the board after it discovered nothing adverse from findings by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) on several allegations that were levelled against him.

Following its receipt of the requisition notice, the board claimed that Mr Hui, who resigned as the firm's executive chairman and CEO four years ago, had interfered in the company's business and affairs, causing "confusion" and disrupting its operations which has affected staff morale.

As for Mr Lau, the group's service provider who was designated as vice-president (finance & corporate) of its wholly owned Solar Energy's South African unit, the board opined that he had not "sufficiently discharged" his duties as vice-president and has no experience as a director in a Singapore-listed firm.

The company's Catalist sponsor, Prime Partners Corporate Finance, on the other hand, holds a differing view and has advised the board that "nothing materially adverse has come to its attention that would prevent the appointment" of these proposed directors.

These events have caused anxiety among some minority shareholders who have reached out to the Securities Investors Association of Singapore (SIAS). When contacted, SIAS president and chief executive officer David Gerald confirmed that the advocacy group for minority rights received written complaints in relation to the potential board changes and that he too, has "serious concerns" over the matter.

Mr Gerald said he was "baffled" by the sponsor's advice, particularly given the board's remarks about the two prospective directors and that in fact, the EGM should not be allowed to proceed by the board.

All that, however, may soon be overshadowed by a report that has been done, dusted and only two days ago submitted by PwC to SBIO's audit and risk management committee (ARMC).

In the letter to shareholders, it was disclosed that the ARMC had instructed PwC to review the firm's transactions - some of which involved Mr Hui - involving Jiangyin Neptune Marine Appliance Co (NPT), a China-incorporated company that manufactures lifeboats and davits.

Based on a copy of the report that was obtained by BT, PwC has recommended that SBIO's board seek legal advice to review its findings which point to the existence of two sets of conflicting agreements each (in terms of the sums involved and the dates) on the acquisition of a 35 per cent stake in NPT in 2009 and subsequent disposal of the stake in August 2015.

SBIO's IPO prospectus stated that the stake in NPT was acquired in 2009 for US$1.75 million. Last year, the firm announced that it sold the stake for US$3.5 million.

Depending on which agreement is deemed valid, the report flagged that it could raise the issue of possible misstatement in the firm's prospectus and questions on whether Singapore's securities and listing rules may have been breached.

It is believed that another copy of the report has also landed on Singapore Exchange for further action.

Source: Business Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

Hard to limit working hours for young lawyers: Voices

TODAY
20 Sep 2016

I refer to the letter “Limit working hours for lawyers called to the Bar” (Sept 19).

As a senior practitioner, I have always asked my young lawyers to either take their work home and not be at the office after hours or to return to the office at the weekend.

It is not a case of senior management making them work overtime but of young lawyers taking it upon themselves to work longer.

They take their work seriously and thus spend more time to ensure that they produce top-quality work for clients. I appreciate the care and passion young lawyers put into their work.

As young lawyers, they would also take time because they lack the experience to complete their work faster; they spend much time on research and redrafting and fine-tuning their work.

In my law practice, my senior lawyers usually leave on the dot at the end of office hours.

Using that as a guide, I see these young lawyers learning the ropes fast and becoming wiser in time management and sharper in knowing what needs to be added in affidavits.

Thus I disagree that a statutory limit on working hours is a straightforward fix.

Gloria James-Civetta

Copyright 2016 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

Accountant struck off rolls gets second chance

Straits Times
15 Sep 2016
K.C. Vijayan

Court finds the punishment excessive for her offence and suspends her for 2 years instead

An errant public accountant who was struck off the professional register within a year of being registered has been given a second chance, when the High Court allowed her appeal and suspended her for two years instead.

The court, which noted that Leow Kwee Huay had worked for more than 25 years as "an unregistered clerk without blemish" before qualifying as an accountant, ruled that the punishment was "manifestly excessive".

Justice Choo Han Teck, in judgment grounds released yesterday, said: "To finally be admitted as a certified public accountant and be struck off the register within a year of finally becoming a certified public accountant appears harsh in the context of the wrong that she did."

Leow, formerly an audit manager at accounting firm Er & Co, was convicted in 2013 on seven charges of forgery and jailed a total of five days. In September last year, after a disciplinary inquiry, the Public Accountants Oversight Committee deregistered her as her convictions involved dishonesty. Her offence involved appending her signature to the firm's name on audit reports without authorisation.

Through lawyer Daniel Chia Jin Chong, Leow appealed to the High Court, arguing that the oversight committee was flawed in giving insufficient weight to the special facts of the case. For instance, there was no harm suffered by the victim and no evidence that the audited financial statements were inaccurate. No one was put at risk and there was no market impact.

Mr Chia pointed out that Leow was jailed for two to three days on each charge - well below the six-month term imposed for forgery crimes.

Counsel Lim Jen Hui of the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority called for the cancellation to be upheld, arguing that there were no "compelling mitigating factors".

Justice Choo said the integrity and honesty of the accountant, as well as the manner in which the offences were committed, are significant factors in sentencing but "all these factors must be considered on the facts of each case".

He said while the signature on the statements was forged, the contents were not false or inaccurate.

Leow was said to have done it because the owner of Er & Co was until then the only person who could sign the statements. "This is thus more like an unauthorised signature than a forgery as commonly understood," said the judge.

While he agreed she should be punished, he found the dishonesty involved limited. But he warned that her career will end for good if she repeated the misconduct.

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

Leow Kwee Huay v Public Accountants Oversight Committee [2016] SGHC 180

Major changes proposed to elected president system

Business Times
08 Sep 2016
Lee U-Wen

Govt to respond in White Paper on Sept 15; Full debate in parliament after constitutional amendments are tabled

[Singapore] THE report by a group of nine Singaporeans tasked to review the elected presidency system was made public on Wednesday, containing a raft of proposals that are likely to significantly change the landscape of future elections for the highest office in the land.

The Constitutional Commission, headed by Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, took six months to complete its work and submitted the 154-page document to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong three weeks ago.

The government is studying the recommendations and will publish a White Paper with its detailed responses on September 15. The plan is to later table a Constitutional Amendment Bill in parliament and have a full debate in the House on the issue.

In a letter to CJ Menon on Wednesday, PM Lee thanked him and the commission once again for their work and said the government "accepts in principle" the main recommendations of the report.

Among the commission's many proposals is to have a mechanism in place to guarantee that people from all racial groups in Singapore have the opportunity to become head of state.

If any racial group has not been represented after five consecutive full terms, the next election will be reserved exclusively for candidates from that particular racial group. The racial groups categorised by the commission are the Chinese, Malay, and Indian & other communities. Each presidential term in Singapore lasts a maximum of six years, so a period of five terms would be about 30 years.

A crucial point made by the committee is that the eligibility criteria for candidates in a reserved election should not be lowered for any reason, as doing so would undermine meritocracy. "So long as these criteria remain sufficiently stringent, they will continue to serve their critical function of allowing only persons with the necessary experience and expertise for the job to qualify for the office of President," the commission said in its report.

Another significant proposal on the table is to beef up the eligibility criteria for prospective candidates, to factor in the growth of Singapore's economy and the size of its reserves over the past 25 years since the elected presidency was first introduced.

The report stated that private sector candidates, who currently must be a chairman or CEO of a Singapore-incorporated company with at least S$100 million in paid-up capital, should be the "most senior executive" of a company with a minimum of S$500 million in shareholders' equity in order to make the cut.

This new threshold of S$500 million "should be reviewed periodically" to adjust for changes in the economic environment, the commission said.

Based on this new criteria, only two of the four candidates at the last presidential election in 2011 - the eventual winner Tony Tan Keng Yam, and former NTUC Income chief Tan Kin Lian - would have qualified.

The other two candidates that year were former People's Action Party member of parliament Tan Cheng Bock and former senior civil servant Tan Jee Say.

BT understands that Dr Tan Cheng Bock's tenure as non-executive chairman of Chuan Hup Holdings would not have met the criteria of being a senior official who actively runs the company. He also did not manage the company, and it also did not have S$500 million in shareholders' equity.

As for Mr Tan Jee Say, he had cited his experience as regional managing director of AIB Govett, which he said at the time did not have paid-up capital of S$100 million, but managed assets in excess of that amount.

Under the revised criteria, he will not qualify because he didn't manage the company and it didn't have S$500 million shareholders' equity.

In 1993, 158 companies in Singapore met the S$100 million paid-up capital requirement. Raising the qualifying threshold to S$500 million shareholders' equity will include at least 691 companies, with the actual number possibly being much higher.

This is because about 80 per cent of Singapore-incorporated companies, some of which may also have S$500 million shareholders' equity, do not file their financial statements with the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority.

Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, who is Acting Prime Minister as Mr Lee is in Laos for the Asean Summit, said it is "timely" to update the eligibility criteria now.

"Our GDP has grown more than five times and our economy is more complex compared to 25 years ago. Our CPF balances and official foreign reserves are now seven times larger. The scale and complexity of the president's responsibilities have therefore consequently grown," he said in a statement.

The third and final aspect that the commission was asked to study was how to strengthen the role and powers of the Council of Presidential Advisors (CPA), the high-level body that advises the president in the exercise of his custodial and discretionary powers.

The commission proposed that the president be required to consult the CPA before exercising discretion on all fiscal matters related to Singapore's reserves, as well as on key public service appointments. Currently, the president need only do so for some such matters.

In the event the president's final decision goes against that of the CPA's advice, the commission also proposed that the decision be subject to a parliamentary override.

On this note, the commission wants the council's views to be given more weight because "the stronger the CPA's support for the president's decision, the more difficult it should be for parliament to undo that decision".

As the CPA would have a much larger role, the commission feels it should have two extra members, which would take the total to eight. And when these members are re-appointed, it should be for a six-year term, rather than the four years currently.

While PM Lee has said the government "accepts in principle" the main recommendations of the report, he expressed some reservations about the commission's suggestion that the government revert to a system where the president is elected by parliament. He noted that this is a matter beyond the commission's original terms of reference.

"While I appreciate the commission's reasons for this suggestion, as the government has pointed out even when the scheme was first conceived, it would be difficult for a president to exercise custodial powers over the reserves and public service appointments, and veto proposals by the government, without an electoral mandate," he said.

Source: Business Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

Union files appeal over sacking of SMRT staff

Straits Times
20 Sep 2016
ADRIAN LIM

The National Transport Workers' Union (NTWU) yesterday submitted an appeal to rail operator SMRT against the dismissal of two workers who were involved in a fatal track accident earlier this year.

Train driver Rahmat Mohd, 49, and another SMRT employee who has not been identified, were sacked over the incident in which two trainees were killed.

NTWU executive secretary Melvin Yong said the union had reviewed the cases and raised further queries in its appeal to SMRT.

"As we await the reply from the company on their decision, we will continue to render the necessary support and assistance to the affected employees during this difficult time," he said in a statement.

Mr Rahmat, who was dismissed last Tuesday following an internal inquiry, was driving the train that hit and killed the two men near Pasir Ris MRT station on March 22.

Mr Nasrulhudin Najumudin, 26, and Mr Muhammad Asyraf Ahmad Buhari, 24, were part of a 15-man team sent to investigate a possible fault with track equipment.

The other employee who was fired is believed to have been part of the work team on the tracks.

SMRT said in April that several safety lapses were found, including allowing the train to ply in automatic mode. Watchmen who were supposed to keep a lookout for trains were also not deployed.

Besides the dismissals, warnings were issued and performance grades were "recalibrated downwards across various levels of the Trains team, including senior management", the company told staff.

SMRT said it will be examining the appeal in accordance with "established processes", but did not elaborate on what these are.

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

ADV: Singapore Mediation Centre - Adjudication Conference, Oct 25 2016

Singapore Law Watch
15 Sep 2016
Singapore Mediation Centre

Commission calls for bigger CPA - 8 members, up from 6

Business Times
08 Sep 2016
Kelly Tay

It also proposes calibrated thresholds for Parliamentary overrides of a Presidential veto

[Singapore] THE Council of Presidential Advisers (CPA) should be bumped up from six to eight members, with the Prime Minister and the President each appointing one of the two additional members.

This would enable the CPA to better handle its "expanded scope of work", said the Constitutional Commission set up to review the Elected Presidency.

The commission's report was released to the public on Wednesday evening.

Under the proposed changes, the President will be obliged to consult the CPA before exercising all of his custodial powers over the reserves, and all of his powers pertaining to key public-service appointments.

Currently, the President has a duty to consult the CPA before exercising only some - not all - of these powers.

Beyond being a group of trusted advisors, the CPA's secondary role is to act as a counterbalance - weighing in when the President decides to exercise his veto against a proposed action of the government.

In some cases, and if certain conditions are met, a Presidential veto could be overturned by Parliament if the President had exercised his veto without the agreement of a majority of the CPA members.

The commission has recommended refinements to this Parliamentary override process by calibrating the Parliament majority required for an override against the level of support from the CPA.

"Put simply, the stronger the CPA's support for the President's decision, the more difficult it should be for Parliament to undo that decision," said the nine-member Commission in its 183-page report.

For example, if the President exercises his veto even though the majority of the CPA disagrees, Parliament can override the veto with a simple majority.

But if the CPA is evenly split, and the CPA chairman uses his casting vote in the President's favour, Parliament can override the veto only if it achieves a two-thirds majority.

Still, the commission emphasised, the CPA's role is only ever relevant when the President disagrees with the government.

Said the report: "Where the President agrees with the government's proposal ... the advice rendered by the CPA has no legal or constitutional significance whatsoever. This is so even if it is collectively opposed to the position that the government intends to take.

"In this sense, the CPA has far less power than does the President."

The commission also recommended standardising the terms of CPA members to a uniform six years each, even upon re-appointment.

CPA members are now appointed for a term of six years, but can be re-appointed only for successive terms of four years.

For the purposes of continuity, the panel suggested that CPA members' terms be staggered.

The commission does not see the need to raise the CPA eligibility criteria to levels comparable to those of Presidential candidates. It noted that CPA members are not elected, but appointed by the President, Prime Minister, Chief Justice or the chairman of the Public Service Commission - "all of whom can be expected to exercise the requisite judgment" before making their nominations.

Still, given the CPA's "pivotal role", the commission suggested that constitutional provisions be enacted to spell out certain criteria for CPA membership. This includes the requirement that each CPA appointee should add to the group's diversity of experience as a collective body.

Source: Business Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

Man jailed 7 years for killing brother

Straits Times
20 Sep 2016
Selina Lum

23-year-old who stabbed older sibling to death at home suffered from major depressive disorder

Bad blood between two brothers turned into a family tragedy when the mentally ill younger sibling stabbed his older brother to death in the bedroom they shared, a day after the pair exchanged angry words.

Yesterday, Ng Yao Wei, 23, was handed a seven-year jail term after he pleaded guilty to a charge of culpable homicide.

After Ng was sentenced in a courtroom packed with family and friends, his 87-year-old grandmother told him she would pray for him. "Whatever food they give you, just eat, so that you will be healthy," she said in Hokkien.

Ng's parents, Mr Ng Soon Guan, 64, and Madam Gan Chai Min, 55, appeared distraught. They declined to comment when approached by reporters.

Ng's lawyer Josephus Tan said in court earlier that Ng's parents regretted not being able to protect the brothers from each other and not having discovered their younger son's depression earlier.

"The real victims are the parents," he said. "They have lost one son and, today, they are here to see the other one get sentenced."

Ng was a 21-year-old Singapore Polytechnic student on April 13 last year when he stabbed 26-year-old graphic designer Ng Yao Cheng to death at the Windermere condominium in Choa Chu Kang, where they lived with their parents, eldest brother and domestic helper.

The accused called the police at about 11pm to report a murder on the night of April 13.

Paramedics arrived 10 minutes later to find the victim with multiple knife wounds on his neck and body.

Ng was arrested at the scene. He was charged with murder two days later at Changi General Hospital, where he was treated for injuries.

The charge was later reduced to culpable homicide as Ng was assessed to be suffering from major depressive disorder, which reduced his mental responsibility for the killing.

Yesterday, the High Court heard that the two brothers had an acrimonious relationship and would often quarrel over trivial matters.

On the evening before the incident, two friends of the accused went to his home to play computer games. The older Mr Ng became agitated over the noise they were making and shouted at his brother. In response, Ng called his older brother "a dog" in Mandarin. Their father intervened before the two came to blows.

In the middle of the night, Ng took a knife from the kitchen and hid it under his pillow.

The following night, Ng confronted his older brother for embarrassing him in front of his friends. Angry words were exchanged. When Ng called his brother "an a***hole", the older man lunged at him.

The younger man stepped back, reached for the knife and repeatedly stabbed his brother with the weapon, which had a 20cm blade.

On hearing the commotion, their mother and domestic helper went into the room. The domestic helper took the knife to the kitchen while their mother tried to stem the bleeding on the older Mr Ng with a towel.

An autopsy found that the victim suffered 22 stab wounds.

Yesterday, Ng's lawyer, Mr Tan, asked for a jail term of not more than seven years. He argued that his client, a timid and quiet individual, had been subjected to longstanding physical and verbal abuse by his older brother since he was young.

As they shared a room, his client had no choice but to suffer in silence, he added.

The older brother had also made death threats towards Ng, resulting in the accused hiding the knife under his pillow, said Mr Tan.

Their parents agreed that the older brother was "a hot-tempered and unreasonable individual" who had differences with all his immediate family members but especially with Ng, said the lawyer.

In November 2014, Ng walked into the Institute of Mental Health to seek help but kept it from his family.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Ma Hanfeng sought seven to 10 years' jail, to ensure that the accused is sufficiently treated before his release back into society.

The maximum punishment for culpable homicide is life imprisonment and caning, or jail of up to 20 years and a fine or caning.

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SGX confirms Swiber probe

Business Times
15 Sep 2016
Tan Hwee Hwee

[Singapore] THE Singapore Exchange has confirmed investigations into developments at Swiber Holdings, saying that the probe is ongoing.

It said this on Wednesday in response to BT's query on the outcome of its probe into possible disclosure breaches, as contained in an Aug 16 letter addressed to Swiber's pre-July 28 board of directors. July 28 was the day when the offshore & marine (O&M) company announced its shock application for a wind-up, which it subsequently withdrew in favour of an application for judicial management.

BT, which obtained a copy of the Aug 16 letter, had earlier this week reported on the potential breaches.

SGX said that it would not comment on any ongoing investigations as they are confidential. But it noted that "a series of announcements from Swiber, including the one on July 8, came only after queries from SGX".

On July 8, Swiber issued several SGX filings including one flagging the delay of a US$710 million project off West Africa. Swiber first announced this project in an SGX filing on Dec 15, 2014, and laid claims to clinching contracts totalling US$1.03 billion.

Swiber's July 8 announcement on the project delay came after a private SGX query and 18 months after the project award was first disclosed under the SGX filing.

In the letter dated Aug 16 obtained by BT, SGX made reference to the disclosure lapses on the delay of the US$710 million project and two other litigation claims made against Swiber by Likpin International Ltd and Green Energy Group Asia Pacific Pte Ltd.

The letter indicated that such disclosure lapses are being considered as potential breaches of the exchange's Rule 703 relating to disclosure of material information.

SGX said in the response to BT that the due process of investigation into any company for a possible breach of the Listing Rules involves issuing show cause letters to the relevant persons so that they can understand the exchange's concerns, can assess their cases and provide responses to the exchange.

This ties in with the context of the Aug 16 letter, in which SGX invited named parties at Swiber to make representations within 14 days from the date of the letter to the alleged breaches of Rule 703.

SGX also highlighted on Wednesday that material rule breaches occurring after Oct 6, 2015, will be referred to the Listings Disciplinary Committee (LDC). The LDC has a wider range of sanctions than the exchange on parties found to be in breach of the listing rules, including imposition of monetary penalty in excess of S$10,000 per breach, in excess of S$100,000 in aggregate for multiple breaches, issuance of a public reprimand and an order for denial of facilities of the market.

SGX said it will keep the market informed of all public enforcement and disciplinary actions.

Source: Business Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

'Reserved' elections to guarantee a minority president

Business Times
08 Sep 2016
Lee U-Wen

[Singapore] THERE must be a mechanism that can be triggered if Singapore has not had a minority president after five consecutive full terms, said the constitutional commission set up to review the elected presidency in its report.

As each presidential term here lasts up to six years, a period of five full terms will span 30 years.

Even as the group noted the "strong justifications" to ensure minority representation by Singapore's head of state, it also made two key points: Having such a safeguard in place would not undermine meritocracy, and that the eligibility criteria for prospective candidates from any race should never be lowered.

The commission, headed by Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, "agrees emphatically" that while a race-blind society is the only legitimate aspiration for Singapore, there is a "pressing need" to ensure that no ethnic group is shut out of the presidency even as the country progresses towards that ideal.

"Singapore cannot yet be considered a post-racial society. This is a reality that must be faced, even if it is one that is not to be endorsed," the commission said.

During the public hearings earlier this year, one contributor who strongly disagreed with the introduction of safeguards to ensure minority representation accepted that it was "worrying" that Singapore has not had a Malay president in two generations.

The last Malay president was the late Yusof Ishak, who was Singapore's first head of state from 1965 until he died while in office in 1970.

The last minority president was the late SR Nathan, an Indian who served for two terms from 1999 to 2011. The current president is Tony Tan Keng Yam, a Chinese.

The commission categorised the relevant racial groups in Singapore as such: Chinese, Malay, and Indian and other communities.

In its proposal, the commission suggested that if a person from one racial group has not been elected as president after five straight terms, only candidates from that particular racial group will be allowed to contest the next election. However, if there aren't any qualified candidates during that election, the contest will then be opened to people from all racial groups.

The reserved election for that particular minority would then be deferred to the next election, and the practice of holding a reserved election will continue until a candidate from that racial group is eventually elected as president.

Provisions should also be made to cater for a situation where more than one racial group is eligible for reserved elections at a given point in time, the commission said.

This is a situation which should be recognised and catered for by prioritising among the groups that have not been represented in the presidency.

The commission also made the point that candidates from the Malay, Indian or other communities can still stand in open elections when the minority mechanism is not triggered.

The proposed mechanism need not be triggered at all if free and unregulated elections are able to produce presidents from different ethnicities.

In a statement issued shortly after the report was published, Law Minister K Shanmugam said that the government had asked the Attorney-General for advice on certain aspects of the commission's proposals to ensure representation of all the major races.

He added that the government would announce its position once it has received and considered the attorney-general's advice.

Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, who is Acting Prime Minister as Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is overseas, said in a statement that he was "heartened" that some, including Singaporeans from minority races, have argued passionately and sincerely that meritocracy should be upheld by electing the best person, regardless of race.

"This response shows how far we have come in recognising the importance of the concept of meritocracy in Singapore. Nevertheless, we have always made sure that even as we practice meritocracy, all races in Singapore feel that they have a place and equal opportunities," he said.

"Most people will accept that our GRC (Group Representation Constituency) system, ensuring a minimum number of minority race members of parliament, was the right thing to do, and has indeed contributed to maintaining our harmonious multi-racial society, though some had objected when it was first introduced. Similarly, every community in Singapore must feel that a member of their community has a chance to become president."

Source: Business Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

Court throws out woman's negligence claim against doc

Straits Times
20 Sep 2016
SELINA LUM

She said treatment affected her mobility but was seen in video using stairs without difficulty

She had sued a surgeon over nerve injuries suffered after undergoing laser treatment on her legs, claiming her mobility was affected and that her legs hurt when they came into contact with clothes.

But video surveillance carried out by a private investigator hired by lawyers for the vascular surgeon being sued showed the 50-year-old woman walking and climbing stairs without difficulty or signs of pain.

During one journey, she was seen choosing to walk up a flight of stairs at Orchard MRT station instead of looking for a lift or escalator.

Yesterday, Madam Rathanamalah Shunmugam, a financial services director at an insurance company, lost her medical negligence suit in the High Court.

She sought at least $2 million for medical expenses incurred, future medical expenses, income losses suffered and future income losses.

Madam Rathanamalah alleged that Dr Chia Kok Hoong, who has a private practice at Mount Elizabeth Medical Centre, had not advised her about the risks and complications of the treatment, known as endovenous laser therapy.

She insisted that she saw Dr Chia to treat pigmentation on her legs and would not have agreed to undergo the procedure - used to treat varicose veins - had she been warned that she risked nerve injuries.

She claimed the constant pain and hypersensitivity in her legs have curtailed her ability to provide sound financial advice to clients. This has led to her clients being disappointed with her service and her being unable to grow her customer base.

Dr Chia, who was represented by Mr Christopher Chong, contended that he had told her of the risks, including possible nerve injuries, before carrying out the procedure to treat her varicose veins in July 2010.

Yesterday, Judicial Commissioner Aedit Abdullah dismissed Madam Rathanamalah's claim.

He found that while Dr Chia did not maintain a complete contemporaneous record of his consultations with the patient, she had signed the consent form acknowledging that the risks had been explained to her.

There was also evidence from Dr Chia's witnesses, including the doctor who had referred her to the surgeon, that he had given her advice and obtained her consent.

The judicial commissioner commented that based on video surveillance, the extent of her injuries may not be as bad as she claims. He also noted that she had tried to claim for medical expenses which were already covered by her insurers.

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

Former housing agent fined for cash offence

Straits Times
15 Sep 2016
Janice Heng

It's illegal to handle cash but he used $93,000 of client's money to pay debts

A former property agent has been fined for handling $93,000 of his client's money in cash - the largest amount to date for which an agent has been prosecuted.

Goh Chung Yong, 48, had told his client that he would pass the cash to the client's conveyancing lawyers. Instead, Goh used the money to pay off debts he owed to loan sharks, and lied that it had been stolen from him, according to a Council for Estate Agencies release yesterday.

He was convicted yesterday and ordered to pay a $10,000 fine (in default, seven weeks' imprisonment).

It is illegal for property agents to handle transaction monies for or on behalf of anyone involved in the sale and purchase of a property, and in leasing Housing Board (HDB) properties.

The law took effect in 2010. Seventeen agents - including Goh - have been prosecuted since then.

Goh was previously a PropNex Realty agent. In 2014, a flat owner engaged Goh to sell his Sembawang HDB flat and look for another flat to buy.

In January last year, the flat was sold for $360,000. The owner had earlier agreed to buy a flat in Yishun for $308,000.

Goh asked the owner for $106,000 in cash - $93,000 to pay the conveyancing lawyers handling the purchase, and the rest as commission. Goh said he would pass the money to the lawyers since his office was near theirs.

The owner gave him the cash. But when the lawyers contacted the owner soon afterwards, it emerged that the money had not made it to them.

On March 12 last year, the owner lodged a complaint with PropNex, saying he could not complete the purchase of his new flat in time.

PropNex advanced the sum of $93,000 to the owner, and helped to get an extension from the HDB. The purchase was completed on March 27 last year.

PropNex terminated Goh as one of its agents. Investigations revealed that Goh initially lied to PropNex that the cash had been stolen from his car. He promised to return the money out of his own pocket.

He later admitted he had used the money to pay off debts. On April 16 last year, Goh repaid PropNex after selling his own condominium.

The Council for Estate Agencies advises consumers not to hand transaction monies to their property agencies and agents.

In a sale transaction, such monies include the option fee, downpayment, stamp duties, deposits and sales proceeds. Valuation fees and commission are not considered transaction monies.

Real estate agencies said clients might not realise that it is illegal for agents to handle cash.

Cheques and cashier's orders are more commonly used by clients in such deals, said PropNex chief executive officer Mohamed Ismail Gafoor. He said if a client requests the use of cash, the agent should advise him to get a cashier's order instead.

"Even though it's the law, not everyone may know. I think consumer education still has to catch up," said ERA Realty key executive officer Eugene Lim.

The council said it will continue to take action against those who commit the offence.

The public can report cases of property agencies or agents who handle transaction monies to CEA by calling 1800-6432555 or e-mailing feedback@cea.gov.sg.

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

Threshold increased for candidates from private sector

Business Times
08 Sep 2016
Kelly Tay

Presidential hopefuls must have held most senior executive position in a company with shareholders' equity of at least S$500m

[Singapore] UNDER new eligibility criteria proposed by the Constitutional Commission, individuals who have held the most senior executive positions in at least 691 private-sector companies - including 94 listed companies - could run for President.

With the revised terms, presidential hopefuls must have held the most senior executive position in a Singapore-incorporated company with shareholders' equity of at least S$500 million. This marks an increase from the current criterion, where candidates must head companies with a paid-up capital of S$100 million or more.

It is also no longer enough for a person to hold the job title of chairman or chief executive officer to qualify; the Commission believes a stipulation such as "the most senior executive position in the company, however that office may be titled" would be more appropriate. This means that in each company, at any given time, there would generally be only one person who would be eligible.

"(This) would capture those who might variously be titled as CEOs, managing directors, or executive chairmen but would exclude, for instance, a non-executive chairman who might have been invited to lead the board but who does not in fact actively run the company," said the Commission.

According to BT's checks of available annual reports, listed companies that would meet the new S$500 million shareholders' equity cut-off range from heavyweights like Singtel, DBS and Keppel Corp, to emerging companies like Olam, and even homegrown names like Yeo Hiap Seng and Super Group.

Also known as shareholders' capital or shareholders' funds, shareholders' equity equates to a firm's total assets minus its total liabilities. It represents a company's net value, or the amount shareholders would receive if a business were to liquidate. In contrast, paid-up capital is the amount of money a company has received from shareholders, in return for equity.

In its report, the Commission said it favours replacing paid-up capital with shareholders' equity, since it believes this is a better proxy for a company's size and complexity.

It said: "Unlike paid-up capital, shareholders' equity reflects the company's current (and not just its historical) recorded worth. A company might have had substantial paid-up capital at its inception, but its reserves may have significantly depleted over time if its growth stagnated and liabilities accumulated."

The nine-member Commission added that the S$500 million sum was not derived through a mathematical or formulaic exercise. Instead, the figure takes into account several realities - including how potential drawdowns which the President may have to scrutinise can be huge, and so candidates must have both the financial knowledge and confidence to handle such large sums.

The report added: "In the Commission's view, companies which meet the shareholders' equity threshold of S$500 million are more likely than not to be sufficiently large and complex, such that persons who helmed these companies would likely possess the requisite technical skills, experience, and expertise in financial matters that would make them suitable candidates for the presidency."

Based on data from the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA), 691 firms met this revised threshold as at March 2016. However, the actual number is likely to be larger, since roughly 80 per cent of Singapore-incorporated companies do not file their financial statements with ACRA.

The Commission took care to indicate that there will not be a shrinking of the pool of eligible private companies. In fact, it emphasised that more companies would meet the revised threshold now, than those which met the original S$100 million paid-up capital requirement when it was first introduced in 1993. This is true in both absolute (158 firms then, 691 now) and percentage terms (0.2 per cent then, 0.23 per cent now).

As for presidential candidates from the public sector, the Commission said that if the new S$500 million shareholders' equity criteria is accepted as the new threshold, the quantitative threshold for public sector candidates should "correspondingly be adjusted to the same level".

It also proposed to remove the Accountant-General and Auditor-General from the list of public-sector offices that would automatically qualify a person for a presidential contest. It left the rest of the list intact, which comprises persons who have held the office of minister, Chief Justice, Speaker of Parliament, Attorney-General, chairman of the Public Service Commission, or permanent secretary, for at least three years.

Source: Business Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

Ho's music career a genuine investment: Defendants' lawyers

Straits Times
20 Sep 2016
Danson Cheong

Putting church money into the music career of Ms Ho Yeow Sun was a genuine investment and City Harvest Church (CHC) leaders had every right to do so.

That was the argument put forth by the lawyers of both former CHC finance manager Serina Wee, 39, and CHC deputy senior pastor Tan Ye Peng, 43, at their appeal hearing in the High Court yesterday.

In October last year, Wee and Tan were among six CHC leaders convicted of misappropriating millions in church funds to fuel the pop music career of Ms Ho - the wife of CHC founder Kong Hee - in a church mission known as the Crossover Project.

The court found that the six CHC leaders - including Kong - had invested $24 million from CHC's building fund in bogus bonds used to fund the Crossover Project.

Later, another $26 million was used to cover up the initial misdeed.

Wee and Tan were the last two CHC leaders to present their cases. All six are appealing against their convictions and sentences. The prosecution, for its part, is asking for longer sentences.

Said Wee's lawyer, Senior Counsel Andre Maniam: "My client did not think she was doing anything wrong - if there was an element of financial return, it was an investment."

The lower court had ruled that the bonds were not a genuine investment - in part because it found that the proceeds from these financial instruments were, in fact, controlled by the CHC leaders.

Mr Maniam told the court that there was nothing wrong with the investments having a dual purpose of both funding Ms Ho's music career and having an expectation of a financial return.

"(Wee's) point is (they) are not expensing the building fund for missions but also investing it," said Mr Maniam.

He had earlier referenced album sales projections for Ms Ho's United States album that showed profits would be made.

However, the album was never launched in the end - Kong told the court previously this was because of ongoing investigations in 2010.

Dressed in a black blouse and skirt, Wee, like the other accused, sat emotionless in the dock.

She faces a five-year jail term.

Wee, like the other five CHC leaders, took issue with the lower court's finding that using the building fund to finance the Crossover was a "wrong use" of the money.

Tan's lawyer, Senior Counsel N. Sreenivasan, told the court the Crossover was a mission of the church.

"(Tan's) mind was very, very clear, the Crossover was legitimate and supported by church members," said Mr Sreenivasan.

Tan, Kong's right-hand man, faces a 5�-year jail term.

Mr Sreenivasan said his client had provided "important and relevant information" to both the auditors and lawyers, and they knew that the bond proceeds would ultimately fund the Crossover Project.

Yet, no red flags were raised, he said.

Referring to Tan and the other CHC leaders spending CHC's money on the bonds, Mr Sreenivasan said: "They did not have knowledge that they were not legally entitled to do so."

Having said that, Mr Sreenivasan said Tan had made his peace with whatever finding the court would make.

"At the end of the day, if the court feels that it is legally wrong, then that is their will and (he) will let it be," he said.

The prosecution is expected to respond and present its case today. The appeal will also continue tomorrow.

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