30 January 2015
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New SGX guide on corporate governance

Straits Times
30 Jan 2015
Rachel Boon

Simple Q&A format will help firms and investors grasp disclosure rules

THE Singapore Exchange (SGX) is providing more information to companies and investors in a new and comprehensive disclosure guide released yesterday.

It tackles specific principles and gives guidelines on corporate governance in a question-and-answer format.

SGX said firms are being encouraged to include the guide in their annual reports.

This is in line with listed companies being expected to comply with the Code of Corporate Governance 2012. In cases where they do not, they must explain deviations in their annual reports.

Investors can use the guide to review and compare governance practices, so they can better assess how a firm is performing.

Issues covered include whether new directors are given formal training, remuneration for board members, and remuneration for employees who are immediate family members of a director or the chief executive.

SGX said "investors and interested stakeholders can judge whether a company has provided adequate disclosures and meaningful explanations for any deviations from the code".

It said recent surveys showed that companies were not making meaningful disclosures about remuneration, risk governance, board diversity or sustainability.

Ms June Sim, who heads listing compliance at the exchange, noted yesterday: "Companies with high disclosure standards and sound corporate governance practices will rise above the competition, and benefit from trust and confidence among stakeholders, the outcome of which is a better capital market."

Mr David Gerald, the chief executive of the Securities Investors Association Singapore, welcomed the guide.

He said: "How companies use SGX's new disclosure guide will be a key consideration when we evaluate companies for the Singapore Corporate Governance Awards."

Associate Professor Lawrence Loh at the National University of Singapore (NUS) Business School said that it would include the guide when assessing and ranking listed companies.

He said: "The disclosure guide will put the relevant information in a nutshell for stakeholders to efficiently determine the extent of compliance with the Code of Corporate Governance. It is a most timely initiative."

rachaelb@sph.com.sg

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Blogger Alex Au found guilty of contempt

Straits Times
23 Jan 2015
K.C. Vijayan

Judge rules his first article 'crossed legal boundary' but not his second

BLOGGER Alex Au has been found guilty of scandalising the court with an online article in which he implied that the Chief Justice showed partiality towards a pair of constitutional challenges against the law criminalising sex between men.

The same article also breached the contempt law for imputing there had been "impropriety" on the part of the Chief Justice and another High Court judge in the way the cases were handled.

But the High Court also found that Au's remarks in a second article did not cross the line as he had not suggested that the court as a whole was biased against cases involving homosexuality.

Justice Belinda Ang, in judgment grounds released yesterday, held that the prosecution had not proved beyond reasonable doubt that the second article posed a real risk of undermining public confidence in Singapore's courts.

Prosecutors had taken Au, 61, who is also a gay rights activist, to task for two articles published in his blog, Yawning Bread, in 2013. The first, published on Oct 5, referred to two separate constitutional challenges against Section 377A. One was by Mr Tan Eng Hong in 2010 after he was caught with another man in a toilet. The other, by gay couple Gary Lim and Kenneth Chee, was filed three months after Mr Tan was allowed to proceed in 2012.

In his article, Au wrote that "strange calendaring" allowed the couple's case to be heard first - and reach the Court of Appeal earlier - even though Mr Tan's challenge was launched ahead of it. Au claimed that this was because Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon wanted to be on the three-judge Court of Appeal panel to hear the constitutional challenge against S377A. But he could not do this in the earlier case owing to a conflict of interest, Au wrote, as Mr Menon was the attorney-general when Mr Tan's criminal case was before the courts.

The relevant statements in the first article "crossed the legal boundary and constitute scandalising contempt", said Justice Ang.

The second article referred to legal proceedings brought by a man who claimed he was harassed into resigning from department store Robinsons because he is gay. Au wrote in his blog that he did not have high hopes for the case as his confidence in the judiciary was "as limp as a flag on a windless day".

Prosecutors argued that the second article should be read "collectively" with the first article, but the judge rejected this approach. She said this approach meant that "a weak article when read collectively with a stronger article, might be strengthened and gain notoriety by virtue of the stronger article". She dismissed the charge founded on the second article: "(Au) has not scandalised the court where the second article is concerned and that article is not contemptuous."

She also laid out why there is a need to act against unjustified criticism of the courts. "The court can only effectively discharge (its) function if it commands the authority and respect of the public," she said. While recognising that it was a curb on the freedom of speech, it was a reasonable one. She said Singapore law "recognises that limitations upon freedom of speech are necessary in the public interest..."

She called for further submissions from Au's lawyers Peter Low and Choo Zheng Xi as well as Senior State Counsel Tai Wei Shyong before deciding on the appropriate penalty for Au. Mr Low said he would be consulting his client, while a spokesman said the Attorney-General's Chambers would study the judgment before deciding whether to appeal.

vijayan@sph.com.sg

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Reconstructing company law

Straits Times
17 Jan 2015
Willie Cheng

FOR businesses, the Companies Act is like a hallowed building in which they are housed and from which they operate. After all, the Act defines and regulates the company as the primary legal vehicle to organise and run business.

By and large, it has worked well. Today, companies employ more people and generate more wealth than any other form of organisation.

And like buildings, laws, especially those related to a rapidly changing environment, need to be renewed from time to time. Since it was first enacted in 1967, the Companies Act has undergone some 17 rounds of amendments.

This last round was the most massive ever. The Companies (Amendment) Bill incorporating some 200 sets of amendments was passed by Parliament last October.

These changes were seven years in the making. They were, and are, an ambitious effort to finesse the Act in a way that would ensure an efficient and transparent regulatory framework within which Singapore can grow as an international hub for businesses and investors. The process was extensive: an overarching steering committee, five working groups, 17 focus groups and nine public consultations, not to mention the countless meetings that must have taken place.

There are, however, in my view, two major structural changes which this last reform should have incorporated but did not: the types of directors and the new model of capitalism.

Expectations of directors

THE board of directors is at the heart of the corporate governance of a company. The Companies Act places a heavy emphasis and load on directors to serve the interests of the company.

There are, however, different types of directors. The Act does not seek to distinguish much between them. Specifically, the Act and the amendments do not distinguish between executive directors (EDs) and non-executive directors (NEDs), even though their respective roles and responsibilities are so starkly different.

EDs are part of the management of the company. They work full time for the company and are remunerated for it. They are in day-to-day control of the company. NEDs, on the other hand, can only provide oversight and rely heavily on representations made to them by the EDs. Most NEDs of listed companies are also independent directors, meaning they have no relationship with controlling shareholders, management, and so on, that would likely impair their objectivity.

Despite these differences, the Act holds all directors equally responsible and accountable for all decisions and actions. And the penalties for breach of duty can be severe; they include imprisonment and fines.

In the recent, widely publicised Airocean Group case, non-executive chairman and independent director Ong Chow Hong was fined and disqualified from acting as director because he was found guilty of failing to exercise reasonable diligence in his duty as a director; he had approved the release of a public announcement by the company without reviewing its contents.

Mr Peter Madhavan, another independent director of Airocean, was initially convicted and received a sentence of a fine as well as four months' imprisonment. He was charged with not notifying the Singapore Exchange on the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau's investigation of the company's chief executive, and for releasing a false public announcement to stabilise market prices. His conviction was overturned on appeal by the Chief Justice who found insufficient evidence to show that the non-disclosure would have materially affected the share price of Airocean and that the public announcement was "not materially misleading".

Even though it was subsequently overturned, the imprisonment sentence handed out to an independent director sent shock waves through the director community in Singapore. It demonstrated the onerous burden of a director's fiduciary duty (under Section 157 of the Act) and its consequences. At least, in Britain (from which Singapore inherited its company law), criminal liability has been removed and the consequences of a breach in a director's fiduciary duty is not criminal but civil in nature only.

In fact, decriminalising a breach of duty under Section 157 was proposed to the steering committee. However, it was rejected, "so as not to send the wrong signal". The concern was "that decriminalisation may encourage misconduct". Instead, the signal that has been sent is the disproportionate liability that directors face, which, in turn, will discourage good competent candidates from taking up non-executive directorships.

Changing model of capitalism

FOR the past five decades, the prevailing model of modern capitalism has been based on the mantra of maximum shareholder value. The Companies Act reinforces that mindset by providing shareholders with a comprehensive set of governance rights. It is the shareholders who ultimately appoint the board of directors, and it is they who propose and approve all resolutions on key matters of the company.

There is little, if any, mention in the Act of the other stakeholders of the company: employees, customers, suppliers, and the community. That should not be surprising. Legal scholar Joe Bakan points out that companies are really legal entities created to "valorise self-interest and invalidate moral concern". He concludes that corporations are thus naturally and "pathologically selfish" in their pursuit of profits.

But, increasingly, this model of "brute capitalism" is finding less favour with world leaders, consumers, employees, the public at large, and even investors. Growing income inequality, demonstrations by the Occupy movement and the global financial crisis, among others, are leading to calls for a new form of capitalism.

This new form of capitalism is evolving and goes by different names. However, it has two key concepts: a focus on multiple stakeholders (not just shareholders) in a company, and a focus on not just economic value, but also community and shared values.

Enlightened companies, including many here in Singapore, have begun to embrace these concepts in extended corporate social responsibility programmes. Almost perversely, these elements of social or environmental responsibility are not mentioned in the Companies Act or the amendments.

That said, we can say with confidence that a new informal corporate form is, in fact, emerging.

Known as a social enterprise, this hybrid organisation is a business with a social mission. It conducts ordinary business, such as selling food, providing finance, and washing cars, and at the same time, seeks to make a significant social impact through employing beneficiaries and channelling profits back to the community.

Under the Companies Act today, there is no formal legal construct for such a hybrid entity.

This is why most social enterprises are registered as regular commercial companies (usually exempt private or private limited companies). But this also means that they can operate as most other regular commercial companies and do not need to channel their profits back to the community.

In fact, there are several companies that call themselves social enterprises when they are really not. This situation arises because there are many benefits to being branded a social enterprise, from easy funding and free publicity to support from volunteers, customers and suppliers.

Other jurisdictions have sought to legitimise or encourage the development of true social enterprises through new legal constructs.

For example, in 2005, the British Companies Act introduced a new legal entity called the community interest company (CIC). In a CIC, there are limits to the dividends (maximum 35 per cent of profits) and interest payments that can be made to shareholders and financiers.

In the US, three different types of legal entities have been created in recent years to facilitate the growth of social enterprises: the low-profit limited liability company (L3C), benefit corporation and flexible purpose corporation,

The L3C has been introduced in about 10 states. An L3C focuses on achieving a socially beneficial objective. Profit is secondary and some of its shareholders are limited to a lower than market return.

The benefit corporation governing documents has to identify its socially beneficial purpose and it is the duty of the directors to ensure that the corporation seeks to accomplish that purpose. Further, the benefit corporation must annually measure the company's fulfilment of its socially beneficial purpose against a third party standard such as that of B Lab, a non-profit organisation which certifies sustainable businesses.

California has introduced the flexible purpose corporation, which is similar to the benefit corporation except that it does not require third-party certification, only a self-review of its efforts to be socially beneficial.

The steering committee noted that a separate committee led by the Ministry of Social and Family Development is looking into a vehicle similar to the CIC. For that reason, the committee decided not to include this sub-genre of organisations, at least not "until a workable alternative or regime is formed".

Playing catch-up

THE law is typically known to lag behind real time commercial developments. In part, this reflects its inherently conservative nature.

However, the reality is that the different types of directors, the new model of capitalism and social enterprises have been around for some time now. What's more, other jurisdictions have dealt directly with aspects of these developments.

Hopefully, over the next few years, we will see some of these changes incorporated into the Companies Act while waiting for the next major redevelopment down the road.

stopinion@sph.com.sg

Willie Cheng is chairman of the Singapore Institute of Directors. He is the author of The World That Changes The World.

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City Harvest trial: Priority of advance rent was to ‘secure premises for worship’

TODAY
30 Jan 2015
Ng Siqi Kelly

SINGAPORE — The “advance rental” City Harvest Church (CHC) pumped into Xtron Productions was intended to equip the audio-visual firm with financial strength so that it could secure premises for worship, the church’s former investment manager Chew Eng Han said today (Jan 29).

“(It) was a serious agreement between Xtron and CHC. It was not something that was done at the last minute, Your Honour, to redeem the bonds. Never in my mind was the advance rental all about redemption,” he told the court.

Chew is among six church leaders, including CHC founder Kong Hee, accused of misusing S$24 million of church-building funds in Xtron to boost the pop music career of Ms Ho Yeow Sun, Kong’s wife.

Another S$26.6 million of church funds was then allegedly circulated through complex transactions — which the prosecution refers to as “round-tripping” — to clear the bonds off the church’s books to throw auditors off the scent.

One of these methods involved paying Xtron advance rent — through a licensing agreement worth S$46 million inked on October 2009 — for premises the church could use for its services.

Some of the money from the agreement was used to redeem the Xtron bonds, but Chew described their redemption as “secondary”. This was because he “did not think they were sham bonds and thought (Ms Ho’s) album sales will eventually come in and the bonds will be redeemed”, said Chew, who took the stand for the fourth day in the long-running trial.

He added that the funds were used to redeem the bonds at the church auditor’s “insistence”.

Chew said he had initially been fully supportive of the church’s Crossover project, aimed at reaching out to non-Christians through Ms Ho’s secular music. He even made a joint contribution of S$40,000 with a fellow church member for her travelling expenses in 2006.

 “I told Pastor Kong that we are honoured to play our small part in the great work that God is doing through Sun, because I always believed that the Crossover was a work of God. It couldn’t turn into a conspiracy.”

Chew added that he had “laid down (his) life for the church” since joining CHC in 1995 and had given about S$600,000 in tithes and donations.

He said such “sacrifices” continued even when he was suffering from depression between 2007 and 2009, the time when the alleged conspiracy to cause losses to CHC was hatched.

Chew also shared a three-page spiritual journal with the court, where he related the multiple trials his family members had been going through during the same period, such as his wife’s near-death from deep vein thrombosis and when the United States subprime mortgage crisis caused him to be riddled with losses.

 “Despite my condition, I put in all for the Crossover and property,” said Chew, who left CHC in 2013.

“I thought God was using me for His kingdom ... every day I did it for God and for Kong Hee, whom I thought was a man of God.”

Earlier this week, Chew told the court he only realised in recent years that the track record of Ms Ho’s singing career was “falsified” and that Kong had chosen not to disclose the lackadaisical progress of the Crossover project.

Kong’s lawyer Edwin Tong will cross-examine Chew tomorrow.

kellyng@mediacorp.com.sg

Copyright 2015 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

Handwritten note versus will signed at law firm

Straits Times
23 Jan 2015
Selina Lum

A 60-YEAR-OLD man who is in a dispute with his older sister and niece over his father's will told a court yesterday why a handwritten note represents the patriarch's true wishes.

That note, written in secret in 2012, contradicts a document drawn up in 2010 which the two women insist is the true will of Mr Lian Seng Peng.

Mr Lian Kok Hong said that on a visit to his father in June 2012, the 93-year-old man handed him an envelope containing a will he had written by hand at night so that nobody else at home would know about it or pester him about it.

When Mr Lian, the only son of three children, told his father that the will had to be signed in the presence of two witnesses, the older man told him to arrange it.

Two months later, Mr Lian, the managing director of a chemical company, visited his father with five employees, with the aim of getting two of them to be the witnesses.

Pictures were taken as the old man signed the will in his room with only the two witnesses present. Mr Lian also took pictures of his father with all five employees as a memento.

Mr Lian is contending that this is the valid will of his father, who died in December that year.

In it, the old man left $100,000 to each of his six grandchildren, and called for his house in Siglap, the main asset of his $7 million estate, to be sold and the proceeds donated to charity.

Mr Lian's second sister Lian Bee Leng, 64, and niece Wee Hui Ying, 46, are putting forward the will that Madam Lian had arranged for her father to sign at a law firm in December 2010. In this will, he left the house to his wife of 70 years, and the rest of the estate to his grandchildren.

The defendants contend that the patriarch was gravely ill, not of sound mind and under pressure when he made the 2012 will.

Yesterday, their lawyer, Mr Leo Cheng Suan, asked Mr Lian if he was disappointed that the house would not go to his sons in the will he is propounding. "I'm very happy it's for charity," he replied.

Justice Judith Prakash asked Mr Lian if he thought his father should have left something to his mother. No, he said. "My father always told me that my mother has money... more than enough," he said. Although he did not know how much she had, he said he believed his mother had enough to live on.

Mr Lian also disagreed with Mr Leo's contention that his father was so seriously ill in 2012 that relatives from China had flown in to see him.

The hearing continues.

selinal@sph.com.sg

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Move to amend bankruptcy debt threshold

Straits Times
17 Jan 2015
Chia Yan Min

Proposal to help resolve debts below $15,000 without use of formal process

SINGAPORE'S bankruptcy process may soon be available only for debts of $15,000 and more, up from $10,000.

The move to change the bankruptcy debt threshold, last revised in 1999, is one of several proposals to amend the Bankruptcy Act.

The new threshold is based on the same income-related benchmarks and takes into account the effects of inflation, said the Ministry of Law in a press release.

The proposed amendment seeks to encourage debtors and creditors to resolve debts falling below the threshold, without resorting to the formal bankruptcy process, it added.

This will help debtors "avoid the inconveniences and stigma associated with bankruptcy".

The review was done to create conditions conducive to sustainable entrepreneurship and risk-taking, while preserving responsible debt management and ethical commercial conduct, the ministry said in its statement.

Another proposed amendment is the introduction of a "differentiated bankruptcy discharge framework".

Under current laws, bankruptcy administration can often be a lengthy process that does not necessarily benefit creditors, as bankrupts may not have an incentive to work towards their discharge, the ministry said.

A differentiated discharge framework will introduce a more rehabilitative regime that allows bankrupts, in justified cases, to be discharged within clear time frames.

Another proposed amendment will require an "institutional creditor" to nominate a private trustee to administer a bankruptcy.

Institutional creditors are defined as either banks and finance companies regulated by the Monetary Authority of Singapore, or businesses with annual turnover of more than $100 million and more than 200 employees.

Under the current Act, the Official Assignee (OA) administers the vast majority of bankruptcies in Singapore.

This amendment would allow the OA to focus its resources on administering cases where the applicant creditor is either an individual or a small business.

It would also emphasise the need for institutional creditors to play a more active role in the administration of bankruptcy and undertake better risk assessments before granting credit.

The ministry is inviting views from the public on the proposed amendments to the Act.

The consultation period is from Jan 16 to Feb 24.

The feedback may be sent to MLAW_Consultation@mlaw.gov.sg in electronic form, or in hard copy to the ministry.

chiaym@sph.com.sg

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Bill passed, making health insurance for all a reality

Straits Times
30 Jan 2015
Rachel Chang

Govt to subsidise at least 90% of any premium increase in first year

WITH a chorus of "ayes", universal health insurance became a reality in Singapore yesterday as Parliament passed the MediShield Life Scheme Bill into law.

It is a historic moment that marks the coming together of all Singaporeans to "build a health-care safety net that leaves no one behind", Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said as he announced more government subsidies for the higher premiums needed to support the new scheme.

The Government will subsidise at least 90 per cent of any increase in premium in the first year and at least 70 per cent in the second year, up from the 80 per cent and 60 per cent proposed earlier.

This means those without pre-existing medical conditions will not pay more than $3 a month in higher premiums for the first two years of the scheme, which will replace MediShield.

But even after the five-year transition period, two out of three households will continue to get permanent premium subsidies from a $4 billion fund.

MediShield Life provides lifetime coverage for all Singaporeans and permanent residents, regardless of age or pre-existing health conditions.

It gives the authorities powers to access their medical and income records to calculate premiums and subsidies - although individuals can opt out.

It also lets the authorities recover unpaid premiums through payroll deduction or measures such as barring the defaulter from leaving the country.

Defaulters who wilfully refuse to pay face a fine of up to 17 per cent on outstanding premiums and interest on the amount owed.

Many of the 23 MPs who rose to speak during the five-hour debate yesterday were worried that overly harsh action would be taken against defaulters, noting that this group may include the very poor, the very old and those in sudden financial difficulty.

Mr Gan assured them that a flexible and compassionate approach to defaulters would be taken, promising: "No one, especially our pioneers, will lose their MediShield Life coverage due to the inability to pay their premiums."

Action would be taken only against wilful defaulters - those who can pay but will not, he said.

MPs also stressed the need to safeguard confidential medical and income information, and to keep the list of pre-existing medical conditions as short as possible.

Those with pre-existing conditions must pay an additional premium of 30 per cent over 10 years due to their required treatments.

But on the fundamentals of the Bill, no MP disagreed.

All welcomed what Ms Denise Phua (Moulmein-Kallang GRC) called "the manifestation of the spirit of belonging to a country".

The key issue now, noted MPs like Dr Chia Shi-Lu (Tanjong Pagar GRC), is the scheme's sustainability: Medical costs could spiral as patients demand more expensive treatments, or people slacken in taking care of their health.

Agreeing, Mr Gan said the Government can monitor medical claims only for excessiveness, and the rest of society must step up.

Ordinary Singaporeans should "encourage each other to make healthy choices", he said. "All of us - patients, health-care providers, insurers, family members - need to do our part."

rchang@sph.com.sg

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Ombudsman can tackle graft in civil service: Forum

Straits Times
23 Jan 2015

THE Government's efforts to improve the administrative efficiency of the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau are commendable ("S'pore steps up efforts to stay free of corruption"; Jan 14).

Eradicating corruption, however, rests on the integrity of the civil servants administering the system.

There is no lack of operating and auditing procedures in the public service to keep civil servants in check. Indeed, our ministers regularly highlight our zero tolerance for corruption.

That high-profile corruption cases still occur leads one to wonder if the civil service can be solely relied upon to maintain incorruptibility.

I suggest another independent avenue for reporting the misdeeds of public officers, such as the ombudsman system practised in some countries.

To ensure transparency and fairness, the judiciary or a parliamentary committee comprising ruling party and opposition MPs can be appointed to administer such a system.

The ombudsman should be empowered to deal with not just corruption cases, but also all other legitimate grievances against errant public officers.

This wide-ranging portfolio will enhance the transparency and discipline of the civil service.

Robert Tang Hin Ching

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Defunct sports academy faces legal action from parents

Straits Times
17 Jan 2015
Lim Yi Han

A SPORTS academy for children - whose directors include a former national footballer - is facing legal action from angry parents after it closed down suddenly and allegedly left them thousands of dollars out of pocket.

Former Singapore defender R. Sasikumar was a director of The Guardian Academy, which folded almost a year ago after just 22 months in business.

At least six parents have clubbed together to launch a civil action against the academy, which charged between $2,800 and $4,200 to nurture children from three years old up until the age of 18.

The case is likely to be heard next week - nearly a year since they received an e-mail from The Guardian Academy's River Valley-based office informing them that it was ceasing operations.

It is believed that many parents have yet to receive a refund while some are still paying the fees by monthly credit card instalments.

Claims specialist Jessiy Sugenthiran, 35, who signed up her four-year-old daughter in 2013, is still paying the school as her bank cannot stop the payments unless The Guardian Academy terminates them. She said: "It may not be a lot of money, but many of us are middle-income families and we are very stressed.

"We've gone to the authorities but nothing has been done. We just want justice and our money back. This is our last resort."

Others are still considering whether to take legal action.

Businessman Aloysius Chia, 42, who signed up his 10-year-old son in 2013, said: "We don't want to incur more losses. We thought we were investing in our kids' future but it turned out to be a bad investment."

The parents had previously filed a complaint with the Consumers Association of Singapore, but its executive director Seah Seng Choon told The Straits Times that the academy had not responded to its calls and letters, and urged parents to seek legal advice.

Meanwhile, Mr Sasikumar said that he had offered parents an option of sending their children to a similar sports academy - with different terms and conditions - but they did not take it up.

He declined to comment on the upcoming court case.

Another shareholder is Mr Haridas Letcheman, the academy's former vice-president of sales. He said: "This is a company which ran into a cash-flow situation... I can only go to the court to say what I know, but the company's accounts are not handled by me.

"We never intended to cheat anyone."

limyihan@sph.com.sg

Additional reporting by Joanna Seow

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Better the regulatory performance, better the quality of the market: Mailbag

Business Times
30 Jan 2015

I WOULD like to clarify certain points raised in Mak Yuen Teen's article, "HK lessons for enhancement of SGX enforcement powers" (BT, Jan 16).

First, the proposed widening of Singapore Exchange's enforcement powers will enable disciplinary actions to be calibrated, based on the severity of the rule breach. SGX will have a wider range of disciplinary actions available including composition fines, and requiring remedial actions to be taken. The proposed Listings Disciplinary Committee (LDC) and Listings Appeals Committee (LApC) will also have all sanctions available to SGX. In addition, the committees can issue public reprimands, impose fines and deny the use of market facilities.

The LDC and LApC will comprise members independent of SGX; their structure will be similar to that of the SGX Disciplinary and Appeals Committees, a structure which has worked well.

No member of the LDC or LApC shall take part in a hearing or appeal respectively if he or she has a conflict of interest. Each committee's chairman or deputy chairman will oversee its modus operandi, including conflict resolution and composition of members for meetings. To ensure transparency, written grounds of the LDC or LApC's decisions which result in public sanctions will be published. All listing applications referred to the Listings Advisory Committee (LAC) will be reported half-yearly on SGX.com while an annual report of the matters discussed by the committee will be published.

Finally, I would like to reiterate that SGX's self-regulatory organisation (SRO) model is defined by law. SGX believes that the better we perform as a regulator, the better the quality of our market, and in the long run, the greater the benefit to investors. We therefore invest time and resources in improving our rules to safeguard investor interest and keep governance standards high.

At the same time, we recognise there is a perception of a possible conflict of interest between our regulatory and for-profit roles. This is why MAS supervises SGX's regulatory functions and SGX has measures in place to manage any potential conflicts including a Regulatory Conflicts Committee comprising independent board directors, and the proposed LAC.

SGX values highly the trust the public has in our markets. We know this trust is crucial to our long-term success.

Richard Teng
Chief Regulatory Officer
Singapore Exchange

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Delivery driver jailed for role in fake robbery

Straits Times
23 Jan 2015
Elena Chong

He helped steal over $500k from his boss while pretending to be a victim

A DELIVERY driver who took part in a staged robbery - and even got an accomplice to cut him with a knife - in an elaborate plot to steal more than $500,000 from his employer was jailed for four years yesterday.

Malaysian Suleiman Latiff was meant to hand $200,000 and RM800,000 to two moneylenders here on behalf of JBS Global, a moneychanger based in Malaysia, on Jan 29 last year.

But instead of delivering the cash, a court heard how he went along with the plan with two others as he wanted to "get rich quickly".

Suleiman, 28, pleaded guilty to misappropriating the money and a second charge of giving false information to the police was taken into consideration.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Norman Yew told District Judge Siva Shanmugam that Suleiman's alleged accomplice, Abdul Wahid Zainudin, 33, came up with the plan when he met Suleiman and another man, Suthagar Rajamoney, 28, in Malaysia.

A colleague from JBS handed the money to Suleiman at Woodlands Town Gardens and he set off on his motorcycle to Bukit Timah Expressway, where Wahid and two accomplices were waiting at the roadside.

After he handed the money over to Wahid, the latter gave it to another man, Sukumaran Turasamy, 44, in a black car.

Wahid repeatedly cut Suleiman's body to make it seem as if he had been the victim of a violent robbery.

He then rode off on a blue motorbike with Suthagar, while Sukumaran drove away with the cash in his car.

Suleiman called his colleague to tell him he had been robbed, and he was taken for treatment. The police were called. None of the money was returned.

Suthagar was jailed 12 months last year for intentionally aiding Suleiman. Wahid and Sukumaran are at large. Suleiman, whose sentence was backdated to his arrest on Jan 30 last year, could have been jailed for up to 15 years and fined for criminal breach of trust.

elena@sph.com.sg

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Accused contractor still listed as company's director

Straits Times
17 Jan 2015
Walter Sim

THE shipyard previously owned by Glenn Defense Marine (Asia) (GDMA) was acquired by electronics conglomerate Aztech Group in August last year.

The acquisition of the 251,500 sq ft site, by the group's offshore and marine company AZ Marine, was reported to cost $11 million.

GDMA remains an active company, according to official records obtained from the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (Acra) yesterday.

But it now lists a virtual office at International Plaza as its registered address.

Its website has also been removed and is now listed as "under construction".

Leonard Glenn Francis, who pleaded guilty on Thursday to bribing US Navy officials in the United States, is still listed as GDMA's director on Acra records.

The Malaysian father of five is perhaps best-known for the extravagant Christmas light-ups at his 70,000 sq ft Nassim Road home, which included life-size reindeer, shimmery trees bathed in purple, red and green, and a towering 12m fake Christmas tree.

A security guard at a nearby residence previously told The Sunday Times that Francis moved out in October 2013, "taking everything, including stone lions".

A maid working for the current occupants of the bungalow told The Straits Times yesterday that they moved in last month, and do not know the previous owners.

Meanwhile, listed in Acra records as GDMA's secretary is Madam Rosemary Chng Cheng Oon, who is also director of health supplements firm Elixir Botanica.

She was not at home when The Straits Times visited her Lorong Chuan address yesterday, and her husband declined comment.

waltsim@sph.com.sg

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Ombudsman system ensures independence and fairness: Forum

Straits Times
30 Jan 2015

INJUSTICES committed by public officers exist in all societies. It is a fact of life and Singapore is no exception.

Ms Grace Morgan's suggestion to rely on the "strong public service ethos" to combat injustice is idealistic but not practical ("Ombudsman unnecessary in S'pore"; Tuesday).

Not all injustices are criminal or corruption cases under the purview of the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau. The cause could be negligence on the part of public officers.

Currently, the victims' only recourse is to report such cases to the supervisors of the errant officers. But there is no guarantee that impartiality will be exercised by the supervisors in their investigations of their colleagues and departments.

The rationale for having an ombudsman is to ensure independence, fairness and transparency in the investigation of complaints against public officers.

We can study the ombudsman systems in other countries and develop our own that is empowered to effectively render justice to our citizens.

Robert Tang Hin Ching

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Ex-AG Walter Woon joins RHTLaw Taylor Wessing

Business Times
22 Jan 2015
Claire Huang

[Singapore] SINGAPORE'S eighth largest law firm, RHTLaw Taylor Wessing LLP, on Wednesday said that former attorney-general Walter Woon, who is a senior counsel, has been appointed its non-executive chairman and senior consultant.

In his new roles, Prof Woon will further strengthen the firm's capabilities and scholarship in areas including corporate and securities law, said the law firm. He will also provide strategic counsel and leadership to the management board.

Currently, Prof Woon is the David Marshall Professor of Law and deputy chairman of the Centre for International Law at the National University of Singapore (NUS), as well as the dean of the Singapore Institute of Legal Education.

He brings with him wide experience in academia, law, politics and diplomacy, having served in all functions throughout his three-decade career.

His previous accomplishments include serving as sub-dean and vice-dean of the NUS Lt.w Faculty and being a Nominated Member of Parliament. Prof Woon also served in a number of diplomatic functions as Singapore's ambassador to the European Union, Germany, Greece, Belgium and Luxembourg from 1997 to 2006.

Separately, international law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP announced on Wednesday that Robson Lee will join the firm as a partner in its Singapore office.

Mr Lee, who has 20 years of experience in mergers and acquisitions and capital markets transactions, will continue to focus on his practice in these areas.

Ken Doran, chairman and managing partner of Gibson Dunn, said Mr Lee has deep connections in the Singapore business and legal communities. He added that Mr Lee will help expand the firm's Asia presence.

huangjy@sph.com.sg

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Bloggers to claim trial over roles in Hong Lim Park protest

Straits Times
17 Jan 2015
Walter Sim

Other 4 accused hope to be let off with stern warning

BLOGGERS Roy Ngerng Yi Ling and Han Hui Hui intend to claim trial to charges against them for their roles in a Hong Lim Park protest on Sept 27 last year.

The other four accused in the case, meanwhile, are hoping to get off with a stern warning.

This was discussed yesterday at the case's third pre-trial conference, a closed-door hearing for the prosecution and defence to discuss administrative matters.

A fourth pre-trial conference has been fixed for Feb 13.

Lawyer M. Ravi, who is representing Ngerng, 33, and Han, 23, told reporters after yesterday's hearing that the trial will likely start in April.

He previously represented all six accused, but the cases against the other four have been taken up by lawyer Eugene Thuraisingam since Dec 10.

The four are Janet Low Wai Choo, 54, Chua Siew Leng, 43, Goh Aik Huat, 41, and Ivan Koh Yew Beng, 59.

Mr Thuraisingam told The Straits Times yesterday: "We made representations on Jan 6 to the Attorney-General's Chambers to ask that they consider, and agree, to withdraw the charges against my four clients and instead give them a stern warning." He said the prosecutors at yesterday's hearing had asked for more time to consider the matter.

Both Mr Ravi and Mr Thuraisingam had collaborated in the past on similar cases - for instance, that of alleged hacker James Raj Arokiasamy, which is pending.

Mr Thuraisingam also represented Mr Ravi before a disciplinary tribunal for professional misconduct last year.

Each of the six accused was charged in October last year with being a public nuisance, which carries a fine of up to $1,000.

Han and Ngerng also face one charge of organising a demonstration without approval, which carries a maximum fine of $5,000.

The six are accused of disrupting the YMCA Proms @ The Park charity event for special needs children, held in Hong Lim Park at the same time as the Return Our CPF rally that Han and Ngerng had co-organised.

Their demonstration at the charity event allegedly flouted the law, which states that anyone who wants to organise a demonstration is required to get approval from the Commissioner of Parks and Recreation.

Mr Ravi said yesterday he intends to launch a constitutional challenge against this requirement.

waltsim@sph.com.sg

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Investor confidence not dented by patent battles

Straits Times
30 Jan 2015
Lim Yan Liang

RECENT court battles in Singapore over patents have not affected the confidence of investors and entrepreneurs in the country's intellectual property regime, said Senior Minister of State for Law Indranee Rajah yesterday.

While she did not elaborate, Ms Indranee pointed out that government and related agencies made a total of two patent revocation applications in the last 14 years, both in the context of counter-claims to legal proceedings.

All patents are also potentially open to challenges by other parties, she added in her reply to Non-Constituency MP Gerald Giam.

Mr Giam's question in Parliament follows a recent war of words over a patent infringement lawsuit against the Defence Ministry (Mindef) which local start-up MobileStats Technologies lost.

Earlier this month, MobileStats co-founder Ting Choon Meng alleged online that Mindef had illegally copied his patented concept for an emergency mobile clinic.

Mindef retorted that, in January last year, a court had declared the patent invalid and revoked it.

Said Ms Indranee: "Patent systems in the world generally allow for the validity of patents which have been granted to be contested, and Singapore is no exception."

She also said the granting of a patent does not guarantee that the patent will never be successfully challenged in court, as a patent office grants patents without the benefit of hearing arguments by other parties as to why it should not be given.

"The determination of whether an invention meets the criteria for obtaining a patent depends very much on the relevant body of knowledge and technology that the examiner is able to find in the public domain within the time available and his evaluation of the information found."

Ms Indranee said that, since 2001, there have been two patent revocation applications made by government and government-linked organisations.

Besides the MobileStats case, the Housing Board had also made an application against local inventor Yiap Hang Boon'sexternal clothes drying rack.

The High Court ruled last September that Mr Yiap's creation could not be patented as no "inventive step" was demonstrated.

As for Mr Giam's question of why government agencies go to court instead of the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore to get a patent revoked, Ms Indranee said that in both cases, the applications were made in the context of counter-claims, after lawsuits had been brought against the agencies.

yanliang@sph.com.sg


Background Story

NO GUARANTEE

The determination of whether an invention meets the criteria for obtaining a patent depends very much on the relevant body of knowledge and technology that the examiner is able to find in the public domain within the time available and his evaluation of the information found.

- Senior Minister of State for Law Indranee Rajah, on the granting of a patent

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

Former professor ordered to pay A-G Chambers S$14,000

TODAY
22 Jan 2015
Kelly Ng

SINGAPORE — Former law professor Tey Tsun Hang, who had failed in his bid to retain his permanent residency status, was ordered to pay the Attorney-General’s Chambers S$14,000 in costs for legal fees and related expenses for that case.

The hearing on costs for Mr Tey’s appeal was heard behind closed doors by High Court judge Quentin Loh yesterday morning.

In throwing out the case last December, Justice Loh said Mr Tey’s application for the court to get the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) to review his PR status — which was revoked in 2013 when he left the country without a re-entry permit — and to renew his re-entry permit was an abuse of the court process.

Describing Mr Tey’s conduct as “highly unsatisfactory”, the judge also noted Mr Tey’s lengthy delay in filing the application and how he had skipped the normal procedure of appealing to the Home Affairs Minister.

He also noted Mr Tey’s drastic change in position “at the eleventh hour”, claiming only in November last year that he was unaware of ICA’s decision on the earlier cancellation of his re-entry permit.

kellyng@mediacorp.com.sg

Copyright 2015 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

MediShield Life: Details next week

Straits Times
17 Jan 2015
Rachel Au-Yong

Bill on universal health insurance to be presented to Parliament on Monday

THE details of MediShield Life will be introduced when Parliament sits on Monday, a move that will bring the universal health insurance coverage one step closer to reality.

The proposed scheme - announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong during his National Day Rally speech in August 2013 - aims to provide Singaporeans and permanent residents with basic medical insurance for life, regardless of their health status.

The MediShield Life Scheme Bill is among four pieces of legislation that are to be presented on Monday when the House reconvenes after a one-month break.

The Bill is expected to be passed by end-March and, according to the Health Ministry, the scheme will be implemented from the end of this year.

Another Bill that looks set to attract popular attention is on curbs to liquor consumption.

The Liquor Control (Supply and Consumption) Bill is likely to spell out when and where people can consume liquor in public, as well as the hours allowed for the sale of alcohol.

But before the Bills are presented, the issue of consumer protection here will come under the spotlight during question time.

According to the Order Paper released by Parliament yesterday, MPs have filed 10 questions on it, the most on a topic.

Among their questions are calls to give more teeth to consumer protection agencies and to impose heavier penalties on errant retailers.

Mr Lim Biow Chuan (Mountbatten), who filed two questions, told The Straits Times: "The number of questions is a strong signal from those who represent the people on the ground, that we don't think the current situation is satisfactory, and that we ought to look for other options."

Last year, media reports about a Vietnamese tourist who went down on his knees to beg for the return of his money from mobile-phone shop owner Jover Chew in Sim Lim Square horrified many Singaporeans.

The mall had a reputation for housing shops that allegedly cheat consumers, including tourists.

Another topic of interest is falling oil prices.

Four MPs, including Mr Alvin Yeo (Chua Chu Kang GRC), have filed questions on its impact on Singapore's economy.

Said Mr Yeo: "The conventional wisdom is that an oil-importing country like ours will benefit, but it may not be so clear when we have so many companies in the oil and gas sector.

"I want to know if this will dampen growth."

A total of 72 questions have been filed, including one on the controversial land reclamation projects in the Strait of Johor. They are Forest City near Tuas and Princess Cove near the Causeway.

Both were recently given the green light to restart work.

Mr Ang Wei Neng (Jurong GRC) wants an update on the results of the environmental impact assessment (EIA) carried out by Malaysia.

He said: "I'm concerned about the impact the projects have on our waters and our security.

"I also want to know if the EIA was conducted solely by Malaysia, or if it was a joint one, and if not, whether we plan to do one."

The other Bills are on regulating deep-seabed mining activities and a new tribunal to deal with feuding neighbours.

The House will also debate three Bills, including one on changes to the Industrial Relations Act.

It seeks to let Singapore have a union for professionals, managers and executives, a group that rank-and-file unions cannot represent because of possible conflicts of interest.

rachelay@sph.com.sg


Background Story

What's new

• The MediShield Life Scheme Bill, which aims to provide Singaporeans and permanent residents with basic medical insurance for life, regardless of their health status.
• The Liquor Control (Supply and Consumption) Bill, which is likely to spell out when and where people can consume liquor in public, as well as the hours allowed for the sale of alcohol.
• The other new Bills are on regulating deep-seabed mining activities and a new tribunal to deal with feuding neighbours.

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

Two forex traders charged with cheating

Straits Times
30 Jan 2015
Ian Poh

TWO foreign exchange traders were charged in court yesterday for allegedly duping their respective banks and causing losses amounting to almost $370,000 in all, in unrelated cases.

They are said to have traded for US dollars in November 2009 at rates unfavourable to their banks - either buying American currency at a rate above the market price, or selling at a price below it. These were trades the banks would not have authorised.

The men, both Singaporeans, made all their transactions with trading accounts that belonged to relatives.

Yesterday, Ivan Chng Kian Wee, 46, was slapped with 149 charges under the Securities and Futures Act. Then a senior dealer with HSBC bank, he allegedly transacted with his wife's account and made a wrongful gain of $229,198 after taking into account brokerage fees.

Meanwhile, Toh Hway Khuan, 49, faces 39 charges under the same law.

As a spot trader with Deutsche Bank, he is said to have gained $138,790 by transacting with an account jointly owned by his brother and his wife.

Pre-trial conferences for both men's cases have been fixed for Feb 13.

Chng and Toh are out on bail of $300,000 and $250,000 respectively.

Chng does not have a lawyer, while Toh is represented by Mr Lee Teck Leng.

All the alleged offences were committed between Nov 2 and Nov 30, 2009.

If convicted, they could each be jailed up to seven years and fined up to $250,000 on each count of deceiving their respective banks.

IAN POH

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Forex firm tells S'pore clients to pay up

Straits Times
22 Jan 2015
Grace Leong

MORE than 50 currency speculators in Singapore are being told to pay up potentially millions of dollars in losses, in the wake of Switzerland's dramatic move last week to unpeg its currency, the franc.

A Danish retail foreign exchange trader operating here, Saxo Capital Markets, which is part of Saxo Bank, is said by sources to have issued demand letters to clients.

Saxo is demanding that the clients, some of whom were betting on euro-franc movements, make good on their losses by 4pm Singapore time tomorrow or "face action".

In the letter, it said it had exercised its right to close out open positions, given "adverse movements in the financial markets" on Jan 15.

That was the day the Swiss National Bank (SNB) removed its cap against the euro, causing the franc to soar as much as 39 per cent against the euro.

The SNB had in 2011 fixed its currency against the euro at 1.2 Swiss francs, after its value rose sharply because of its safe haven investment status.

Lawyers told The Straits Times that one key issue is whether Saxo is entitled to requote prices or set different rates, and retrospectively apply those rates to concluded contracts.

Some retail investors are protesting against Saxo's move. One investor told The Straits Times that because of the requote, her losses on €750,000 (S$1.2 million) worth of forex contracts ballooned overnight from €6,250 to €144,000.

When asked why Saxo requoted, Mr Steen Blaafalk, group chief financial and risk officer of Saxo, said: "Liquidity in the market was suddenly almost non-existent following the SNB announcement, and that is why we had to ensure and verify that all orders and execution requests were executed at reliable prices."

Mr Blaafalk declined to comment on the size of trading losses it sustained in Singapore.

"It is expected that some clients will not be able to settle the balance in full and that the bank will incur losses in this respect. However, even in the unlikely event that Saxo will not be able to recover any of the outstanding amounts, Saxo will still fulfil its regulatory capital requirements," he said.

When asked if Saxo is suing clients if they fail to meet the Jan 23 deadline, he said: "I hope not, and we are working hard on recovering funds from our clients."

Meanwhile, the Monetary Authority of Singapore said it is "closely monitoring the situation, and (that) the brokers remain in compliance with the applicable regulatory capital requirements".

gleong@sph.com.sg

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Positioning Singapore as Asia's legal capital

Straits Times
16 Jan 2015
Zaid Hamzah

It builds on a strong brand and should aim to spread use of its law

THE launch last week of the Singapore International Commercial Court (SICC) positions Singapore decisively as a leading city where international commercial disputes can be heard in a court of law.

London and New York, both leading global financial centres, have traditionally been the two leading locations for international commercial dispute resolutions.

English law and New York state law, in turn, have traditionally been the preferred neutral choice of governing law for the international business community, even when the business transactions are done in Asia.

The law follows financial and business flows. With Asia outperforming the global economy and attracting a higher share of international capital as well as trade, the legal services sector in the Asia-Pacific region will grow significantly, as Law Minister K. Shanmugam observed recently. He added that cities in Asia - Singapore, Hong Kong and others - are in a position to service large, growing economies such as India and China.

With the recent launch of the SICC, Singapore courts will provide the necessary institutional framework for disputants to resolve their disputes where the mediation option has been exhausted or where arbitration is not an available or preferred option.

This is where Singapore, as a trusted neutral centre with an established tradition of judicial integrity and efficiency, can fill a natural gap in Asia.

What does the establishment of the SICC mean for the Singapore economy?

First, it can boost the legal industry in Singapore. As the past experience in promoting Singapore as an arbitration centre has shown, more international arbitration in Singapore means more Singapore lawyers being engaged to provide legal support services. More complicated commercial disputes brought before an international court in Singapore will require sophisticated legal services. This will enhance the professional development of the legal industry.

Second, it strengthens Singapore's brand as a premier dispute resolution hub in Asia. The setting up of a court complements Singapore's ongoing effort to provide mediation and arbitration services, not just for Asean but also for Asia.

Third, the setting up of the SICC will eventually help boost the Singapore economy, especially with Singapore emerging as an increasingly sophisticated service economy.

In recent years, the legal industry in Singapore has been growing faster than Singapore's economic growth. According to Mr Shanmugam, the growth rate of legal services compounded over the past six years is about 7 per cent per year, compared with GDP growth of about 5.4 per cent per year.

According to the minister, the value of legal services has grown between 2008 and 2013 by 71.5 per cent, and the nominal value-add of the sector has grown by 40 per cent in the same five-year period. Singapore has seen the legal profession grow in the last five years, not just due to the banking and financial services sector, but as a whole.

Regionalising Singapore law

THE choice of forum is separate from the substantive law governing commercial transactions.

International businesses have traditionally preferred to adopt English law or New York state law because of their historically trusted legal traditions and predictable commercial practices.

There is a compelling case to promote the Singapore law strategy, which if successful, will further advance Singapore's standing as a regional or international legal hub.

As Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon said at the launch of the SICC, the establishment of the SICC might expand the scope for internationalising Singapore law. This, in my view, is a good and necessary move to further bolster the development of Singapore legal jurisprudence to support business growth in Asia and beyond.

Now that the SICC is set up, what's next?

In my view, the next challenge will be to design a preventative regime and create a legal eco-system that focuses on prevention of disputes.

To quote Sun Tze, the ancient military strategist, "to win without fighting is best". Litigation costs money and if disputes can be prevented, all the better.

The existing international forums for mediation, arbitration and litigation in the court system are meant to resolve disputes after they have taken place. With Singapore pushing ahead in the area of analytics, it might be useful to explore how we can leverage technology in the area of legal analytics to prevent disputes from arising. So instead of settling disputes after they have arisen, we process "big data" in the litigation and dispute resolution space to gain insights on the source of disputes and understand the picture better to enable us to take proactive measures to prevent disputes from arising. In the United States, there are already companies and legal practices moving into this new space. As the Singapore economy transforms to become more innovation-driven and knowledge-based, the legal profession and the judicial service will have to address increasingly issues of legal and judicial innovation to push the boundaries further and move up the legal value chain.

The design and development of a preventative regime will require a new paradigm shift in the way we look at the sources of conflict and how we should proactively manage such dispute-related risks from emerging. There is a real opportunity to develop a unique Singapore methodology and development model to manage disputes in the international arena by leveraging our trusted brand, legal and judicial talents and technology.

stopinion@sph.com.sg

The writer is a technology and intellectual property lawyer, author and associate law lecturer at RMIT University.

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Overall crime in S'pore rises for the first time since 2009

Straits Times
30 Jan 2015
Joyce Lim

Increase largely caused by spike in cheating cases involving e-commerce

OVERALL crime in Singapore last year rose for the first time since 2009, fuelled largely by a spike in cheating cases involving e-commerce.

Annual police statistics released yesterday showed there were 32,196 cases recorded last year - a 7.4 per cent increase from 29,984 cases in 2013.

Police said the crime rate remains low at 589 cases per 100,000 people, which is up slightly from a 30-year low of 549 cases per 100,000 people.

Cheating cases involving e-commerce more than tripled from 510 cases in 2013 to 1,659 last year.

Police said the rise in online cheating cases is likely due to an increase in the number of Internet users who do online shopping.

Cases where victims are duped into making multiple payments for Internet purchases surged by 236 per cent, from 269 cases in 2013 to 904 last year.

Police statistics also show that commercial crimes rose by 42.3 per cent to 5,615 cases last year, even as money laundering cases went down from 85 to 80 cases.

Internet love scams jumped from 81 to 197 cases last year, with victims handing over $8.8 million, up from $5.8 million in 2013.

Yesterday, Deputy Commissioner of Police (investigations and intelligence) Tan Chye Hee stressed that the shift to online crimes remains a key concern for police.

"Crimes are shifting online and new scams are constantly emerging, with victims falling prey every day," he said, adding that the police will continue to raise awareness of scams.

Mr Tan, who is also director of the Criminal Investigation Department, cited the rise in the number of youth involved in crimes as another key concern.

Thirty-nine more youth were arrested for rioting last year, up from 283 arrested in 2013 and 239 in 2012. Overall, the number of youth arrested increased by 2.1 per cent to 3,094 last year.

Mr Vincent Lun, senior pastor of Kingdom Community Church, whose work involves reaching out to young people, said the rise "reflects a deeper sense of alienation and purposelessness among many of our youth" that is due in part to "the breakdown of families".

Fundamentally, strong families are needed to provide a nurturing environment for young people to develop their identities and get a sense of belonging, he added.

The number of statutory rape cases rose to 66 last year, up from 51 in 2013 and 52 in 2012. Most of the offenders were youth who knew the victims, police said.

More outrage of modesty cases took place on board MRT trains and in open areas, leading to a 3.2 per cent increase to 1,367 cases last year.

A new type of scam emerged last year, where culprits would ask people to buy gift cards or virtual credits. There were 149 such cases reported last year, with victims cheated out of $138,700.

Meanwhile, the number of harassment cases stemming from unlicensed moneylending continued to fall, from 7,052 in 2013 to 5,763 last year. The number of such cases has fallen since 2010.

Mr Tan said the police will press on with "tough enforcement efforts" against unlicensed moneylending-related activities.

joycel@sph.com.sg


Background Story

Officers to wear cameras

OFFICERS from Bukit Merah West Neighbourhood Police Centre (NPC) will start to use body-worn cameras (above) today as part of a plan to enhance frontline crime-fighting capabilities.

The devices can capture audio and video, and will be worn in a visible manner on the front of an officer's uniform. They will be switched on and be in recording mode when officers perform their duties.

The officers will have the discretion to stop recording in certain situations, for example, when dealing with sexual offence victims.

Police said strict safeguards are in place on the use of footage, which will be deleted after 31 days from the date of recording, unless it is required to aid investigations. The cameras will be in use at all 35 NPCs by June next year.

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Interesting twist in tussle over patriarch's will

Straits Times
22 Jan 2015
Selina Lum

A 60-YEAR-OLD man who is suing his older sister and niece over his father's will found out in April 2010 that his father was having an affair with a young woman from China, the High Court heard yesterday.

Three months later, Mr Lian Kok Hong, who has two sons, took the 91-year-old to his lawyer's office to sign a will leaving his house in Siglap, his key asset, to Mr Lian's sons.

This will was revoked in December 2010 by the patriarch, who was taken to another lawyer by his second daughter to make a new will, this time leaving the house to his wife of 70 years and the rest of his $7 million estate to all six grandchildren.

Mr Lian, the youngest of three siblings and only son, found out about this only in 2011 from his father, when the old man wanted to change his will again, but without letting his wife and daughters know.

According to Mr Lian, his father wrote a will by hand in August 2012, which he told his son to hide so the other children would not pester him.

Under this will, each grandchild was to get $100,000 and the house was to be sold, with five million yuan (S$1 million) of the proceeds to be remitted to his hometown in China and the rest to charity.

The last two wills are now being contested in court to determine which one represents the true wishes of Mr Lian Seng Peng, who died in 2012 at the age of 93.

Mr Lian yesterday denied a suggestion by Mr Leo Cheng Suan, the lawyer representing his sister and niece, that he had asked his father to change the will in his favour in 2012.

"There is no 'in my favour' in this will at all," he replied.

Mr Lian also reluctantly revealed details of his father's affair when questioned on the revoked July 2010 will.

He testified that he had confronted his father and told him to stop seeing the woman, whom he gauged to be in her 20s based on a photo.

Mr Leo, linking Mr Lian's discovery of the affair and the July 2010 will he initiated, suggested that he was concerned that his father's mistress could inherit the property.

Mr Lian, the managing director of a chemical company, said he was not worried about assets so much as the woman blackmailing his father.

Mr Lian wants the court to declare that his father's handwritten will in August 2012 is valid. His sister, Madam Lian Bee Leng, 64, and niece Wee Hui Ying, 46, are putting forward the December 2010 will as the valid one.

Mr Leo played video clips of the patriarch speaking from his hospital bed in 2012 to show that he was unhappy with his son and daughter-in-law.

But Mr Lian said his father was trying to please the other parties to have peace in the family. He added that his father had also complained to him about his mother and sisters.

selinal@sph.com.sg

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Related headlines

Family tussle over late patriarch's two wills, ST, 21 Jan

Singapore law ready to influence development of law elsewhere

Straits Times
16 Jan 2015
Goh Yihan & Paul Tan

CHANGE is here. If this was not evident from the speech of Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon at his welcome ceremony three years ago, it is now.

In three short years, Singapore is leading Asia - possibly the world - in the provision of not only legal services but also intellectual capital and resources. The speed of these developments should not be surprising. As Attorney-General V.K. Rajah observed at the Opening of the Legal Year this month, Singapore's law and legal system has come a long way in a short time. The story of the Singapore legal system thus far can be told in three phases: consolidation (1965-1990), refinement (1990s-2000s) and internationalisation (today).

Consolidation

THE Singapore legal system underwent a process of consolidation shortly after Independence. There were serious challenges in setting up a truly Singapore legal system so soon after the British departed. Perhaps the most important was infusing the fledgling legal system with the rule of law.

Looking back, the consolidation years guaranteed the Singapore legal system its legitimacy, laying the foundation for future refinements.

Refinement

THE most significant development in the refinement period was the establishment of an autochthonous legal system and jurisprudence.

Institutionally, Singapore rejected the automatic reception of English law by passing the Application of English Law Act in 1993 and abolishing all appeals to the Privy Council in 1994.

Our empirical research undertaken for a forthcoming monograph on the development of Singapore law has shown multiple-fold citation of our own judgments during this period. This suggested a conscious effort to develop our own jurisprudence.

One example is the development of an effective criminal justice system on its own terms. Singapore has not shied away from divorcing itself from unsuitable models elsewhere by, for example, abolishing the jury system in 1969.

Singapore's criminal justice system has also of late moved from a model of deterrence and punishment to individualised sentencing and rehabilitation.

Part of the refinement to the Singapore legal system focused on transforming Singapore into a legal services hub. The centrepiece of this effort was the gradual liberalisation of the legal market, including the eventual abolition of any restrictions on the ability of foreign lawyers to appear in international arbitrations conducted in Singapore. These measures paved the way for the next chapter of the Singapore legal system.

Internationalisation

THE next leap will very much be one of the internationalisation of our laws and legal infrastructure. Plans announced by CJ Menon left no doubt that Singapore will be the "premier destination" in Asia for legal services and dispute resolution.

As Asia is expected to triple its gross domestic product to US$34 trillion (S$45 trillion) between 2010 and 2020, the number of complex cross-border commercial disputes will increase.

Singapore's advantages of neutrality, a strong judiciary and a supportive legislative framework will cement its role as a centre for arbitration. In fact, the Singapore International Arbitration Centre handled a record 259 new cases involving multinational businesses in 2013. Singapore is now entrenched among the top five arbitration centres worldwide, together with London, Paris, Geneva and New York.

Two institutions set up this year give businesses more options for seeking an appropriate and neutral forum for dispute resolution.

The Singapore International Commercial Court creates a court-based dispute resolution forum. The Singapore International Mediation Centre uses qualified mediators, allowing disputants to avoid the more costly arbitration or court processes. The two institutions build on, and indeed enhance, the strong international reputation of the Singapore judiciary and its pool of international jurists.

These developments come at a time when the development of Singapore law has started to exhibit an increasingly internationalist outlook.

Our study reveals that our judgments today tend to consider a wider diversity of foreign judgments. In 2013, Singapore courts considered over 1,500 foreign cases, five times as many foreign cases compared with 20 years ago.

This dovetails with existing efforts within Singapore to try and harmonise business laws in Asia, in hopes of making this a regional and international endeavour.

It is crucial that the courts are adept at analysing issues through a comparative lens, while retaining a strong corpus of law that is both uniquely suited to local circumstances and useful as a point of comparison for foreign jurisdictions.

Indeed, more Singapore courts' judgments are also being considered elsewhere. A recent example is the adoption by an English court of a Singapore judgment endorsing the enforceability of agreements to negotiate in good faith. These developments show that Singapore law is ready to influence the development of law elsewhere.

stopinion@sph.com.sg

Goh Yihan is an associate professor at Singapore Management University Law School and Paul Tan is a partner of Rajah & Tann Singapore LLP.

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Law to penalise unauthorised use and sale of police items

Straits Times
30 Jan 2015
Lim Yi Han & Isaac Neo

Move follows cases of abuse of such items to commit crimes

THE sale of police badges and uniforms at Beach Road's Army Market could soon be a thing of the past.

Under the Police Force (Amendment) Bill introduced yesterday by Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs Masagos Zulkifli, it will be an offence for someone to use police items like badges, uniforms and car decals to falsely represent himself as an officer.

The unauthorised distribution and sale of such items will also be illegal. Many such items can now be easily bought online or at the Army Market. Some online sites also offer Traffic Police car decals, which some people put on their vehicles in the hope of influencing parking wardens.

The proposed changes to the law are "to reflect the seriousness of anyone attempting to falsely present himself as...the police", the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said in a statement after the Bill was introduced.

The unauthorised use of such items carries a fine of up to $2,500 and a jail term of up to six months. Those who distribute and sell such items may be fined up to $10,000 and jailed up to three years.

It is already a crime to impersonate a police officer. Those convicted may be jailed up to two years and fined.

Mr Edwin Tong, deputy chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Home Affairs and Law, said: "Over the last couple of years, there are cases where people commit offences as victims are duped into believing someone is an officer.

"Abuse of police logos and so on has a far greater effect than just the particular offence itself. It is possible that the rise of such cases has led to this amendment."

Shopkeepers at the Army Market in Beach Road yesterday told The Straits Times they have been informed of the proposed changes by the authorities. Most of their customers are full-time national servicemen, they said.

Mr Soh Yiam Teck, 52, said: "Police told us we can finish clearing our stock. The suppliers were also told that they can't deliver the items to us anymore."

But some are worried that they may not be able to clear the stock before the law kicks in.

Madam Guan Ying, 65, said: "I have 1,000 shirts in stock. How can I clear them? Now where can the recruits go if they need to buy extra shirts?"

Other proposed changes in the Bill include allowing police NSmen to voluntarily serve beyond the present statutory age - 50 years for senior officers and 40 years for junior officers. There are no details yet on how long they can continue serving for, but the MHA noted that their "knowledge and experience will be valuable".

Under the Bill, forensic specialists will also be given powers to secure and search a crime scene and seize evidence.

Individuals may be appointed as "community wardens" to help the police in cases involving disputes over noise.

The Bill will also clarify the powers of auxiliary police officers, such as those from Certis Cisco, on when they can detain or arrest offenders.

The Bill also proposed stiffer penalties for those who evade police roadblocks. They can be fined up to $5,000 and jailed up to a year, compared with the current fine of up to $1,000 and a jail term of up to six months.

The proposed changes are expected to be debated next month.

limyihan@sph.com.sg

isaacneo@sph.com.sg

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Law don accused of assaulting cabby over change

Straits Times
22 Jan 2015
Ian Poh

70-year-old taxi driver needed many stitches and 17 days of medical leave

AN ASSISTANT law professor with the National University of Singapore (NUS) assaulted a cabby over the change for a $20 fare, leaving him bloodied and in need of multiple stitches, a court heard yesterday.

Sundram Peter Soosay, 43, had vomited in Mr Sun Chuan Hua's vehicle in the wee hours of Christmas Day in 2013.

He got out near King Albert Park in Bukit Timah and started to walk away without paying, but handed over a $50 note after the 70-year-old cabby chased him.

It is alleged that Soosay then attacked Mr Sun from behind as he returned to the vehicle to retrieve the change, knocking him to the ground and punching him several times in the face and body, an incident that was seen by an eyewitness.

In a trial that began yesterday, Mr Sun told the court he could smell alcohol on the breath of Soosay, who had boarded the cab along Serangoon North Avenue 1 to go to Clementi Road.

To get the passenger to pay, Mr Sun said he asked him several times and touched him "lightly" on the arm. Soosay paid when Mr Sun threatened to make a police report.

As he was walking back to his cab, someone hit him in the head, causing him to fall face down, said Mr Sun.

He tried to get up but Soosay forced him back on the ground, sat astride him, and continued punching him in the face, the cabby claimed.

Mr Sun, who needed 17 days of medical leave, told the court in Mandarin that he had got his taxi licence in 1983 and this had never happened to him before.

The eyewitness claimed he saw the two men scuffle before the alleged assault.

In his cross-examination of the witness, defence counsel Amarjit Singh said his client had walked away after the scuffle and did not attack the cabby. He suggested that the cabby had provoked Soosay by pushing him repeatedly in the back and throwing a punch of his own.

Mr Sun will stay on the stand when hearing resumes on Feb 5.

If convicted, Soosay, a permanent resident here, could be jailed for up to two years and fined up to $5,000.

An NUS spokesman said Soosay joined the university in 2008. "NUS will await the conclusion of legal proceedings before determining what action, if any, should be taken."

pohian@sph.com.sg

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Ex-law prof fails in bid to challenge NUS

Straits Times
16 Jan 2015
Selina Lum

Application for judicial review on decisions to suspend, sack him rejected

FORMER law professor Tey Tsun Hang has failed in his bid to launch court proceedings to challenge his sacking from the National University of Singapore (NUS) in 2013.

High Court judge Quentin Loh yesterday refused to grant the 43-year-old permission to start judicial review proceedings seeking to quash NUS' decisions to suspend, and later fire, him.

The judge also highlighted how Mr Tey wasted the court's time and resources in his attempted challenge.

Mr Tey was suspended with full pay on July 27, 2012 after he was charged with corruptly accepting gifts and sex from a student.

He was sacked on May 28, 2013, the day he was convicted.

Mr Tey, a Malaysian, was eventually acquitted in February last year on appeal to the High Court.

Last June, he applied for permission to start judicial review proceedings against the decisions of NUS to suspend and sack him.

Yesterday, Justice Loh ruled that the suspension and sacking were not subject to judicial review, a procedure in which the courts are asked to evaluate the decisions of public bodies.

The judge said that NUS' power to suspend and sack Mr Tey came not from written law, but from the employment agreement between them.

The decisions did not involve NUS exercising any public law function, said Justice Loh, accepting the arguments of NUS' lawyer, Senior Counsel Cavinder Bull, that it was a purely contractual matter between an employer and an employee.

The judge also noted that a person should exhaust all other avenues before seeking judicial review.

But Mr Tey failed to pursue alternative remedies, such as telling NUS that he wanted to be reinstated or suing the university for breaching the employment contract.

The judge also chided Mr Tey for the "cavalier" way in which he conducted the case.

In his 24-page written judgment, Justice Loh detailed the "unsatisfactory conduct" of Mr Tey - an Oxford graduate and former district judge - throughout the current proceedings.

Among other things, Mr Tey had sent written submissions to the judge's personal e-mail address instead of filing them in the court's electronic system as required under the rules.

Mr Tey had also e-mailed the Chief Justice and the Attorney-General, contending that Justice Loh should disqualify himself from hearing his case.

His reason was that Justice Loh had, in 2012, failed to produce a written judgment for dismissing an application relating to Mr Tey's criminal case.

But these grounds were untrue, said Justice Loh, adding that Mr Tey "must have forgotten" what transpired then.

Justice Loh said he had read out his decision in open court and told counsel that they could get written copies from his secretary.

He also noted that Mr Tey had failed to tell Mr M. Ravi about the e-mail calling for his disqualification, resulting in the lawyer being "taken aback" at the hearing when told about it.

"It is indeed sad that someone with Tey's legal background should put forward grounds for a judge's recusal which have no factual truth or legal basis," he said in his judgment.

"The least he could have done was to check his facts and the law before making these grave allegations."

selinal@sph.com.sg

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To view the judgment, click <here>.

More turn to mediation centre to settle spats

Straits Times
29 Jan 2015
Janice Tai

MORE people are going for mediation in place of lawsuits to solve disputes as it saves them time and hefty legal costs and gives them a say in the outcome.

Last year, the Singapore Mediation Centre saw its highest number of cases mediated since its inception in 1997. A total of 337 cases were resolved through mediation, more than double the number in 2012.

"Mediation has gained much traction with businesses and individuals, especially when they realise the amount of costs and time they save by settling disagreements out of court," said the centre's executive director, Mr Loong Seng Onn.

"As awareness of mediation and its benefits spreads, we expect more businesses to choose mediation as a means of conflict resolution."

During mediation, a neutral person works with feuding parties to resolve their differences. The people involved make their own decisions, usually with the help of their lawyers.

A subsidiary of government agency Singapore Academy of Law, the centre helps with a variety of disputes but tends to deal with bigger cases such as commercial ones.

Last year, disputes on construction matters rose by 75 per cent from the previous year. Disputes brought up by companies or shareholders and disagreements over the sale and supply of goods and services also saw significant increases.

"My clients from the construction industry generally prefer to have their cases mediated as the cases are held on a confidential basis and can have very much faster results than going to the courts," said lawyer Lawrence Tan, a partner at Eldan Law.

"The quick resolution of disputes through mediation will enable my clients to focus their energies on the next project. Earning new money can be better than fighting over old money," he added.

For instance, a trial can drag on for weeks and cost each party $100,000 or more in legal fees and hiring expert witnesses, lawyers said. Mediation usually costs less than $10,000.

Said Mr Kevin Kwek, director at Legal Solutions LLC, who handled a banking dispute: "By going through mediation, my client saved at least $400,000 in legal and court fees, along with a lot of time and mental stress that is usually associated with a trial."

Parties who go to the centre to mediate have a three-in-four chance of settling their disputes. More than 90 per cent of the centre's successful cases were resolved in a day.

One of the cases that saved significant resources by employing mediation was a dispute between the management corporation of a condominium and its developer and contractors.

The corporation started legal action against them after cracks on the carpark floor surfaced and water began to accumulate on the driveways, among other issues.

The contractors felt these were due to wear and tear over time and inadequate maintenance of the property.

After mediation, the developer and contractors agreed to pay the corporation $560,000, avoiding a 20-day trial that was initially scheduled. The amount contested at first was $2.6 million.

jantai@sph.com.sg


Background Story

BENEFITS

• Mediation usually costs less than $10,000
• More than 90 per cent of the centre's successful cases were resolved in a day

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Seminar on financial market regulation

Straits Times
22 Jan 2015

AS FINANCIAL markets and financial institutions come to grips with the tougher regulatory reforms after the global financial crisis, regulators have a difficult balancing act to manage.

They have to balance the need to strengthen the international financial system, while ensuring that rules are appropriate for their markets.

The chairman of the US Commodity Futures Trading Commission, Mr Timothy Massad, will be speaking on these topics at a conference tomorrow.

He will be delivering the keynote address at a seminar, titled The Future Of Financial Market Regulation: A Global-Asia Perspective, organised by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) and the Singapore Academy of Law.

The conference will bring together policymakers, regulators, business leaders and legal practitioners from the region to discuss the issues and provide critical insights.

Justice Steven Chong and MAS managing director Ravi Menon will deliver the opening addresses.

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

Deutsche Bank sued by TPV founder over $32 million loss

Business Times
16 Jan 2015
Andrea Tan

This Bloomberg article was first published on 15 January 2015 in the Singapore English broadsheet, The Business Times.
SLW obtained permission to reproduce the article to give the legal community a broader view of legal reports from various news syndicates.

He claimed trading losses due to alleged false representations by the bank

Deutsche Bank AG was sued in Singapore by Stanley Pan Fang-Jen, a co-founder of Hong Kong-based TPV Technology Ltd. (903), over a $32 million trading loss due to alleged false representations. The bank denied wrongdoing.

The bank advised the retired Taiwanese businessman to buy complex and high-risk structured products including accumulators and foreign-exchange derivatives in 2008, according to his lawsuit in the Singapore High Court. Accumulators commit investors to buy securities at preset prices for a specified time.

Pan was a “speculative and aggressive investor” prepared to risk more than half of his assets for greater returns, the Frankfurt-based bank said in its defense filed last month. Pan told the bank he would make trades on his own terms, rejected some investment products and was firm in his view the U.S. dollar would weaken in 2008, Deutsche Bank said.

The bank will defend against the lawsuit, which has no merit, said Michael West, a Hong Kong-based spokesman at Deutsche Bank. Pan’s lawyer, Christopher Chong, declined to comment.

Pan sold most of his stake in TPV (TPV), a Hong Kong and Singapore-listed maker of computer screens and televisions for $231 million in 2003, according to court papers. He also had businesses in coal mining, cotton, lumber, golf courses and real estate and maintained private-banking accounts with JPMorgan, Citibank and UBS.

Pan, who had $360 million with Deutsche Bank in accounts for his companies Zillion Global Ltd. and Fields Pacific Ltd., said it had a team that wined and dined him, including arranging for a meeting with a feng shui master who told him he made the correct decision to invest with the bank.

Feng shui, which translates as “wind and water,” is the Chinese belief about energy and harmony. The bank said it had no record of the meeting with the feng shui master.

The case is Zillion Global Ltd. v Deutsche Bank AG (DBK), Singapore Branch. S716/2014. Singapore High Court.

atan17@bloomberg.net

Used with permission of Bloomberg L.P. Copyright © 2015. All rights reserved.

Singapore poised to block all roads to unlicensed gambling websites

Straits Times
29 Jan 2015
Lim Yi Han

FROM Monday, punters in Singapore will no longer be able to access a host of unlicensed online gambling sites.

That is when the new remote gambling law, which was passed last October to clamp down on unregulated online betting, takes effect, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) announced yesterday.

It is understood that the ministry has drawn up a list of online sites, including those for sports betting and casino games. Internet service providers will start blocking these sites from Feb 2.

The authorities, however, assured developers of online social games such as Candy Crush that the curbs will not impact them, as long as they do not include facilities which allow players to convert tokens into actual money or prizes in real life.

The online gambling industry here is estimated to have raked in some $500 million last year.

The Remote Gambling Act criminalises a host of remote gambling activities, which includes phone betting. Gamblers may get up to six months in jail or a $5,000 fine, with stiffer penalties for those guilty of luring people under 21.

Internet service providers and financial institutions which fail to abide by a blocking order will face punishment. There is also a ban on online gambling ads.

MHA said those providing remote gambling services have had sufficient notice of the regulations.

Since the law was passed, major foreign online gambling sites such as bet365.com have already asked Singapore customers to close their accounts. At least three banks here - DBS, OCBC and UOB - have already blocked payments to such sites.

The new law has raised concerns that social games would be hit. But the Media Development Authority said legitimate social media gaming would not be impeded.

Leader-boards which reward top players, or tournaments where players can win prizes or money in real life, will also be allowed, as long as these are not casino-style games.

The Act allows not-for-profit operators here to apply for a remote-gambling licence, with the takings going to social causes. But MHA said it has not received any applications yet. Lottery operator Singapore Pools said yesterday that it was waiting for more details.

Associate Professor Lim Yee Fen of the Nanyang Business School said the curbs are a timely response. "Those who have been banned from casinos are likely to go online to gamble."

limyihan@sph.com.sg

Additional reporting by Aw Cheng Wei

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Do Not Call rules hit SMS marketing

Straits Times
22 Jan 2015
Irene Tham

THE use of text messages in direct marketing has been dwindling since the introduction of the Do Not Call (DNC) rules and registry a year ago, telephone companies say.

So far there have been just two violations with fines imposed, one involving a real estate agent and the other by a tuition agency and its boss, who is now facing further investigations.

The DNC rules, which kicked in on Jan 2 last year, forbid organisations to send marketing text messages to individuals without first checking against the DNC registry, which contains the numbers of people who opted to block unwanted phone, SMS or fax marketing offers.

Local low-cost phone service provider Hoiio said its business customers, most of whom are property agents, now send an average of 40 per cent fewer marketing SMS messages than they did in late 2013.

Singtel, M1 and StarHub do not break down the nature of SMS activities over their networks, but their traffic has been declining due to factors such as customers switching to messaging apps like WhatsApp and a reduction in marketing texts.

Total SMS traffic in Singapore tumbled from an all-time high of 2.46 billion in September 2011 to 1.11 billion in the same month last year, according to the latest statistics on the Infocomm Development Authority website.

Lawyer Rajesh Sreenivasan, technology partner at Rajah & Tann, said a drop in indiscriminate SMS marketing has contributed to the decline.

"Every company that is credible has taken steps to comply," said Mr Sreenivasan, whose clients include small and large companies.

Enforcement action taken against Star Zest Home Tuition and its sole director Law Han Wei, 35, also served as a stern warning to all.

Last August, Mr Law and Star Zest became the first to be fined for marketing the services of its tutors to numbers listed on the registry and had to pay $78,000.

At present, the authorities are again probing Star Zest as well as two businesses linked to Mr Law - Cherry Education and Novo House Cleaning. The Straits Times reported last Thursday that 300 complaints were filed against the companies over texts offering job opportunities for potential tutors and cleaners.

Ms Angie Tay, vice-chairman of the Contact Centre Association of Singapore, which represents call centres in the Republic, said: "Apart from the occasional spam, SMS has evolved to become mainly a delivery channel for notifications."

These include notice for overdue payments, service updates and one-time passwords for securing online accounts.

Singapore Business Federa-tion's chief operating officer Victor Tay said that most progressive companies have moved away from SMS to social media platforms such as Facebook for direct marketing.

He added: "Facebook allows marketers to capture consumers' evolving profiles.

"But with SMS, you lose the contact when people change their number."

itham@sph.com.sg

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HK lessons for enhancement of SGX enforcement powers

Business Times
16 Jan 2015
Mak Yuen Teen

Much can be learned in a study on the impact of public reprimands in HK - examining their impact on stock returns and board turnover, and also on other directorships held by directors who have been reprimanded.

ON SEPT 17, 2014, the Singapore Exchange (SGX) issued a consultation paper with details of proposed measures and rule amendments to reinforce the SGX listings and enforcement framework. This was a follow-up to the joint consultation paper issued by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) and SGX in February 2014 on the review of the securities market structure and practices, including the listings and enforcement framework.

Currently, the range of enforcement powers available to SGX against issuers and their directors and management include, among other actions, the issuing of letters of advice, private warning letters, and public reprimands. SGX believes that "the current range of enforcement powers is inadequate in cases where the issuance of warning letters or reprimands is not severe enough, while the removal of an issuer from the Official List is too harsh". SGX is therefore seeking the power to impose "a greater range of sanctions, which are commensurate with the severity of the breach".

Even though SGX already has the power to issue public reprimands, it has used it only sparingly, based on regulatory actions published on the SGX website and newspaper reports. There were only eight cases of public reprimand of issuers or directors between 2001 and 2009, mostly for poor disclosures. The only directors who were reprimanded during that period were the late tycoon Khoo Teck Puat's two daughters, for failing to disclose their father's stake in several companies in which they were directors. That was in July 2005, after the court had already fined them for those offences and they had voluntarily undertaken to not take up any directorship in listed companies for five years. In that case, the public reprimand was arguably symbolic.

Public reprimands of issuers and/or their directors peaked in 2010 when SGX reprimanded three issuers and blacklisted 10 executive directors in six other issuers. 2010 also was the year that SGX started targeting directors in their reprimands. In all the public reprimands associated with 14 issuers from 2010 to 2013, SGX singled out directors (and, in some cases, other employees). In seven cases, only the directors and not the issuers were reprimanded, and these were all executive directors. In six other cases, the issuers and some or all of the directors were reprimanded, while in one case, the issuer was reprimanded while the directors were named (although not specifically reprimanded).

The latest public reprimand - apparently the only public reprimand for 2014 - was issued on Dec 30, 2014 against New Lakeside Holdings, one of its former executive directors and the former group CFO. This public reprimand came four years after a review commissioned by the audit committee had revealed breaches of listing rules and corporate governance failures dating as far back as 2006. The company has since changed its name, and restructured its business, board and management. This and other cases also raise issues about the timeliness of public reprimands by SGX.

In contrast, Hong Kong has had a long history of using public reprimands against issuers and directors. There, the Listing Committee ("the Committee") is responsible for the Stock Exchange of Hong Kong's (SEHK) enforcement actions. The Committee has at least 28 members nominated by the Listing Nominating Committee made up of three non-executive directors of the Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing Ltd (HKEx) and the chairman and two executive directors of the Securities and Futures Commission (SFC). The Committee's remit is wide, and includes responsibilities for enforcement and certain listing matters.

The Committee employs a dual approach in its enforcement. First, it punishes conduct of issuers and directors through a range of disciplinary actions, including but not limited to a private reprimand, a public criticism and a public censure. A censure is more serious than a criticism.

Second, SEHK can instruct the issuer to take remedial actions to improve corporate governance, such as appointing an adviser to conduct an internal control review and implement the recommendations; appointing a compliance adviser to advise the issuer on listing rules compliance; and director training on relevant laws and regulations.

In deciding whether to take disciplinary action, the Committee first considers whether the breach was reckless or deliberate and the degree of culpability. It then evaluates the seriousness of the breach, in terms of the impact on the orderliness and reputation of the market, and risk of prejudice to investors.

The Committee can reprimand the issuer alone, the directors alone, or both the issuer and directors together. In deciding whether to reprimand directors, SEHK considers whether they are liable for substantive breaches of listing rules by the issuer or if they have failed to create and maintain adequate internal controls to achieve compliance.

Together with my colleague Ho Yew Kee and former student Gladys Lee, we recently completed a study on the impact of public reprimands in HK. We examined their impact on stock returns and board turnover, and also on other directorships held by directors who have been reprimanded. We also examined whether the two different types of reprimand - censure and criticism - had different impact, and whether the impact differs based on parties censured (that is, issuer, issuer and directors, and directors only) and nature of the breach. Our initial sample included all enforcement notices published on the Exchange's website from 1999 to 2012. During this period, SEHK reprimanded 174 issuers and between 1999 and 2010, it reprimanded 434 directors.

Rather surprisingly, we found that only criticised issuers experienced significant negative market reaction on announcement of the reprimand, while we did not observe significant market reaction for censured firms in spite of censures being more severe. We also found some evidence that the market reacted more negatively when issuers were reprimanded for failure to obtain independent shareholders' prior approval for related-party transactions. Overall, however, the evidence on impact of reprimands on stockmarket returns is, at best, mixed - perhaps because the market had already impounded them into stock prices.

Reprimanded issuers had a significantly higher board turnover in the years surrounding the reprimand, relative to a comparable sample of issuers that were not reprimanded. This increase was especially pronounced when the directors were individually reprimanded, and where the reprimand was in the form of a censure. In other words, reprimands did appear to cost some directors their directorship in the issuer associated with the reprimand. However, censured directors did not evidently suffer a greater loss in other outside directorships than criticised directors, even though censures are supposed to be the more severe form of reprimand. Rather, there is evidence that reprimanded directors who left the issuer suffered a greater loss in other outside directorships than reprimanded directors who remained. What this means is that a reprimand by itself does not appear to affect the ability of a director to retain or obtain other directorships.

So, what can we learn from the Hong Kong experience? First, there should be a clear and transparent enforcement policy, which explains the enforcement process and the factors taken into consideration in administering enforcement actions. SGX can also consider calibrating reprimands according to degree of seriousness of the breach and the culpability, and it should carefully consider under what circumstances it would reprimand issuers, issuers together with directors, or just specific directors. It is important that SGX is seen to be fair, transparent and consistent in its enforcement.

Second, in establishing the Listings Disciplinary Committee (LDC) and the other committees, there should be a proper nominating process. The last thing we want is the lack of proper governance in establishing structures that are designed to enhance governance. The proposals are silent on the number of members on the LDC although it specifies a minimum quorum of five members for each hearing. There should be a sufficiently large number of members on the LDC to be able to select the appropriate members for each hearing. This will allow proper implementation of conflict-of-interest rules that ensure that members who are conflicted are not asked to make decisions on disciplinary matters. Given the close-knit business community here and the fact that experienced industry professionals will be serving on the LDC, the risk of conflicts should not be underestimated. It is also important to manage the workload of committee members by sharing it among different members, given that they are essentially going to be volunteers who are paid only an honorarium to ensure that their independence from SGX is not compromised.

Third, based on the HK experience, reprimands alone may have limited real impact on directors who are responsible for breaches, given that they appear to at most lose their directorship in the issuer associated with the reprimand. In this regard, the proposals to allow SGX to object to the appointment of directors or executive officers in specified circumstances for a period not exceeding three years, and for the LDC to require the resignation of a director or executive officer from an issuer and to issue an order prohibiting his appointment or reappointment in any issuer for a period not exceeding three years, can increase the deterrent effect of public reprimands and other sanctions.

Increasing the range of sanctions and giving SGX more teeth in enforcement can potentially improve enforcement. However, I believe that the creation of the three committees to improve the listings and enforcement framework is a second-best option, which may not be sustainable in the longer term. When we have to augment an existing structure with appendages to address perceived weaknesses in that structure, we have to ask whether the basic structure itself should be changed. Can and should important responsibilities such as enforcement be essentially outsourced to committees made up of part-timers? Given the committees' reliance on SGX (such as for investigations) and on the secretariat supporting them, how "independent" and involved will these committees really be?

Although the use of a separate Listing Committee in HK for enforcement and listing matters appears to have worked reasonably well, only time will tell whether it will work here - and the transparency and governance of the committees themselves will be important. In the longer term, an arguably better and more sustainable option to improve investor protection and enforcement is to place the enforcement role under a separate regulatory body and establish a separate securities regulator.

The writer is associate professor of accounting at the NUS Business School, where he teaches corporate governance and ethics. The research on Hong Kong discussed in this piece is based on the article 'The Impact of Public Reprimands' by Ho Yew Yee, Gladys Lee and the writer

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Niece's lawyer to meet accused in remand: Tussle over widow's $40m assets

Straits Times
29 Jan 2015
Carolyn Khew

IN AN unconventional move, Madam Hedy Mok's lawyer will next week pay a visit to former China tour guide Yang Yin while he is in remand.

The lawyer, Mr Peter Doraisamy, revealed this yesterday after a closed-door hearing regarding an application to recognise a new will made by Madam Mok's aunt, Madam Chung Khin Chun.

Her earlier will left all her assets, believed to be worth $40 million, to Yang, who has been accused by Madam Mok, a 61-year-old tour agency operator, of taking advantage of her aunt.

Madam Chung, 87, a widow who has no children, was diagnosed with dementia last year.

Her new will leaves nothing to Yang, 40. Instead, it leaves most of her wealth to charity.

Mr Doraisamy told The Straits Times that he had applied to the Prisons Department to meet Yang and inform him about the application to get the new will recognised by the courts. Yesterday, he received approval for the visit, which has been scheduled for next week.

The lawyer said he made the application after Yang's counsel did not receive approval to see their client, which means they could not take instructions from him about the new will.

Yang's lawyer Daniel Zhu confirmed that he has not been told how to proceed regarding the will application. Yang, who has been in remand since Oct 31 last year, faces more than 300 charges. Two involve criminal breach of trust for allegedly misappropriating $1.1 million from Madam Chung.

Yang, a Singapore permanent resident, has already raised questions about the new will, arguing that Madam Chung's medical condition precludes her from creating one. "I do not see how a fresh will, purportedly executed by Madam Chung, age 87, was validly made, if at all," he said in court documents.

kcarolyn@sph.com.sg

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Anti-graft boost a good chance to plug enforcement gaps

Business Times
22 Jan 2015

THE announcement last week that Singapore is strengthening its anti-corruption stance may have come as a bit of a surprise to some. After all, the republic is relatively free of the scourge of graft - both locals and foreigners know that palm greasing isn't the modus operandi here, particularly in the public sector.

Yet, for all its famed "squeaky clean" image, the reality is, as the Prime Minister said in announcing the moves, the problem of corruption "will never disappear completely". The prosecution last month of four former senior executives of shipbuilder Singapore Technologies Marine for bribery offences is but the latest in a recent string of corruption scandals that came to light.

The moves to tighten anti-graft enforcement will see a review of the Prevention of Corruption Act (PCA); an increase in the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau's (CPIB) manpower; and a new corruption reporting centre being set up. The legislative review is more than overdue: The PCA - Singapore's main anti-corruption law that governs and defines the primary offences of corruption and their punishments as well as outlines the CPIB's powers to fight corruption - was enacted in 1960. While the Act has undergone amendments over the years, today's tech-driven world and globalised business environment is a different universe from that of the 60s - where money-extorting triads and secret societies once wreaked havoc, the potential for corrupt wrongdoing today lies often, among others, in the onslaught of pressure to boost the bottom line, and in complex corporate structures with business activities conducted through a web of subsidiaries, associates, special-purpose vehicles around the world. What hasn't changed, then and now, is a fundamental lack of ethics and integrity in the key players behind a legal breach for pursuit of profit or power. But these days, in many cases, the "rogue" individuals in the middle of the scandal represent a big corporation.

The impending enhancements to Singapore's anti-corruption regime would thus be a good opportunity to plug any enforcement gaps, particularly in the corporate arena. Specialists in this field see the establishment of corporate liability as one area for potential reform. In most prosecutions, the charges fall on the individual in the dock. While corporations can be legally liable, in practice it is hard to prove intent and act on the part of the company: the accused individual would need to be shown to be the "embodiment of the company", for instance. Other shortcomings in Singapore's graft-busting powers include the limited extraterritorial scope of the PCA, given the practical difficulties of probes and enforcement in foreign jurisdictions, and not least, the lack of whistleblowing protection for employees who expose wrongdoings in their firms. The upcoming central corruption reporting centre is meant to facilitate whistleblowing, but more can and should be done to ensure protection for informers against retaliation.

Fighting graft in society and inculcating ethical values in Singaporeans will go a long way beyond upholding Singapore's reputation for cleanliness and maintaining its place in the top rungs of Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index. The index's top tier has been consistently dominated by the Scandinavian nations, New Zealand, Switzerland and Singapore. These are also the usual suspects that would top the country competitiveness rankings every year. That's probably no coincidence.

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79 complaints received since Protection from Harassment Act came into force

TODAY
16 Jan 2015
Neo Chai Chin

Majority relate to causing harassment, alarm or distress

SINGAPORE — Two months after laws targeting harassment came into force, the State Courts have received 79 magistrate’s complaints, including six that involve unlawful stalking.

The majority of the complaints, numbering 69, relate to causing harassment, alarm or distress, while seven cases involved causing fear or provocation of violence, statistics released by the State Courts showed.

A single case might have involved more than one type of harassment, said a spokesperson.

Thirteen applications for protection orders have also been made as of Wednesday — of which three have been granted — by way of originating summons filed, the spokesperson said. The other applications are ongoing.

Originating summons are for civil actions, while magistrate’s complaints relate to criminal matters.

The Protection from Harassment Act came into force on Nov 15 and provides a range of responses to harassment. The new law was passed by Parliament to resounding support in March last year and the Ministry of Law worked with the Ministry of Home Affairs and social welfare agencies, as well as spoke to victims of harassment, to develop detailed rules and processes for dealing with various forms of harassment.

Applications under the new law can be made at counters located in the Crime Registry in the State Courts Building at Havelock Square.

In a media release yesterday, the Law and Home Affairs ministries said victims of harassment can apply directly to the court for a protection order to stop the harassment and the spread of harassing communication by others who republish the content. In urgent cases, the court may grant an expedited protection order on the spot. Breaches of both types of orders may amount to criminal offences.

Victims of false statements of facts can also go to the court to seek a direction for the publication of a suitable notification — which will be at the court’s discretion — to alert readers that the statements are false.

Criminal penalties under the Protection from Harassment Act include fines of up to S$5,000 and/or jail terms of up to 12 months, with more severe penalties for repeat offenders.

Fees to file documents in the Magistrate’s Court have been kept low, with the typical cost to get a protection order at about S$300 to S$500.

chaichin@mediacorp.com.sg

Copyright 2015 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

I should have started asking questions: Chew

Straits Times
29 Jan 2015
Hoe Pei Shan

But defendant says his faith, especially in church founder Kong, blinded him

CITY Harvest Church's fund manager Chew Eng Han yesterday conceded that he should have started asking questions when the budget for the Crossover project, fronted by Ms Ho Yeow Sun, ballooned to almost double.

But his faith, particularly in church founder Kong Hee, blinded him. "No one does due diligence on his own spiritual father," declared Chew in court, as he continued to defend himself against charges of falsifying accounts and criminal breach of trust.

The 54-year-old and five other church leaders, including Kong, have been accused of misusing some $50 million of church funds to boost Ms Ho's pop music career and then to orchestrate a web of "sham" financial transactions to mask the alleged wrongdoing.

Chew said he had initially been fully behind the Crossover project, which aimed to evangelise through the secular music of Ms Ho, Kong's wife.

When the budget swelled from $13 million to $24 million, he assumed the increase was simply due to the project "getting bigger" through the hosting of more concerts and recording of albums.

But in hindsight, Chew, who left the church in 2013, admitted that a normal fund manager would have grown suspicious.

"Was there a reason for me to doubt? Actually, yes, Your Honour... But with the experience I had with Kong Hee and Sun (Ho), and the spiritual authority and relationship, and the trust that I had developed in him, I think that was more overwhelming than my own natural mind," he said.

"I never believed that the monies would be unwisely spent or recklessly spent."

After all, Chew said, Kong and his wife had shown his family "love and care", even sending a team of pastors down to Palembang, Indonesia, after Chew's brother-in-law perished in the 1997 SilkAir Flight 185 crash.

Chew yesterday also continued to insist that what he did for the church as its fund manager was above board and according to "common" market practices.

The allegations that he had falsified accounts "puzzled" him, he said, claiming he had made no effort to hide the transactions in question, and that they had, in fact, been "made known to the auditors".

The prosecution, he went on, had used the term "round-tripping" to describe the way in which he had set up transactions allowing City Harvest Church (CHC) to lend to his own investment firm AMAC, which in turn would "on-lend" the money to Ms Ho's manager Ultimate Assets (UA).

"UA lends to (glass manufacturer) Firna, and Firna then redeems the money, the bonds back to CHC, Your Honour, this is a practice that is common in the financial markets that I come from," said Chew.

Noting that his understanding of "round-tripping" is in "money leaving the owner and going one round and coming back to the same owner of the money", Chew argued that he should not have been charged with criminal breach of trust (CBT).

"And that is where I also wonder why is there a charge for CBT? Because I understand CBT to be a misappropriation of money, with the intention to cause loss to the owner of the money. But if money goes one round from CHC to AMAC, to UA, to Firna and back to CHC, surely there can be no loss to the church."

The trial continues today, with Chew expected to wrap up his defence.

hpeishan@sph.com.sg

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Clearing the air on common doubts: Liquor Control (Supply and Consumption) Bill

Straits Times
22 Jan 2015

THE Liquor Control (Supply and Consumption) Bill, which was introduced in Parliament on Monday, has garnered wide-ranging reactions with some expressing support for the Bill, while others criticised it.

Under the Bill, people will not be allowed to drink in public places between 10.30pm and 7am. Retail shops will also have to stop selling alcohol after 10.30pm.

Many netizens have also raised questions about the proposed law. The Straits Times answers some commonly asked questions.

If I throw a pool party at my condominium, is it considered a public place? Can I consume alcohol beyond 10.30pm?

No, it is not considered a public place. A public place is where people have free access, such as parks, beaches and HDB void decks. But a condominium management may impose restrictions on drinking in the common areas within the premises.

If I queue up at a retail shop to buy alcohol at 10.25pm, but reach the cashier only at 10.35pm, will I be able to buy the liquor?

No, retail shops are not allowed to sell alcohol after 10.30pm.

But shops may apply for an extension under their liquor licence, and this may be granted on a case-by-case basis.

Will duty-free stores have to stop selling alcohol by 10.30pm?

Yes, the ban applies to duty-free stores, which are considered retail outlets. But they may also apply for an extension which will allow them to sell beyond the permitted hours in the Bill.

Can I drink alcohol at hawker centres and coffee shops after 10.30pm, if they are closed?

No. These are considered public places, and drinking is not allowed from 10.30pm. It is only permitted if the coffee shop is open and has a licence to sell liquor beyond 10.30pm. But customers have to drink there and are not allowed to take it elsewhere.

If I conceal the alcohol in a cup or bottle and drink it in public, will I be penalised?

The rules are unclear on this point but if the person appears drunk or rowdy, police can ask to check if he is indeed drinking alcohol.

Under the Bill, police can order a person who appears drunk or is a nuisance to dispose of the liquor and to leave. If he complies with police orders, no further action will be taken.

But if the person ignores the advice or is a repeat offender, the police may consider tougher action, such as issuing a composition fine or even making an arrest.

A first-time offence will carry a fine of up to $1,000, while repeat offenders could be fined a maximum of $2,000 and may face a jail term of up to three months.

LIM YI HAN

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Help for adults who cannot help themselves

Straits Times
16 Jan 2015
Janice Tai

Vulnerable Adults Act will cover self-neglect cases, victims of abuse

A NEW law to be introduced this year to protect vulnerable adults will cover not only those abused by family members, but also those who cannot care for themselves, said Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing yesterday.

"The new legislation being drawn up will go beyond cases of abuse and neglect by third parties to self-neglect cases in which people can't care for themselves or inflict harm on themselves," he said at a family violence conference.

Self-neglect cases could involve those who do not feed or clothe themselves, or seek medical help adequately. Such behaviour can be deliberate or unintentional, such as when a person loses his mental capacity.

Under the proposed Vulnerable Adults Act, social workers and other professionals will get the powers to enter the house of a suspected victim to assess the person and remove him to safety if necessary.

It will protect people aged 18 and above who are incapable of protecting themselves from harm, due to mental or physical incapacity or disability.

The proposed law will complement other key pieces of legislation used for family violence cases, such as the Children and Young Persons Act and the Mental Capacity Act.

While there are not many such cases now, Mr Chan said it is crucial to develop the legal framework to tackle them as the number is expected to rise significantly as the population ages.

By 2030, it is estimated that Singapore will have 900,000 elderly people.

Singapore sees a few hundred cases of elder abuse every year, likely the tip of the iceberg, considering that more than 400,000 people are aged 65 and above.

Ms Grace Lin, centre director at Thye Hua Kwan Moral Charities, said: "Without such a law, social workers now can't do anything other than monitor these cases, especially if a person suspected of self-neglect refuses to let us in to help."

Dr Alex Su, a senior consultant at the Institute of Mental Health (IMH), said vulnerable adults can be helped earlier with the new law.

For example, a case referred to IMH involved three single sisters in their 50s and 60s who lived in a one-room rental flat.

The oldest sister, who had swollen, infected legs from a condition called elephantitis, was struggling to support her intellectually disabled sisters.

They hardly had visits from anyoneand became a concern as they were hoarding so many things that they had to sleep in the corridor.

After social workers spent months persuading them to get help, they were eventually treated for mental health issues.

Though social workers cleaned up their flat, they had to move into a nursing home as they could not care for themselves or the flat.

Dr Su said: "Such cases can be detected earlier and be given help earlier if there are legal powers and proper protocol on how the different agencies can work together to identify and handle such scenarios."

Mr Chan said the challenge was to decide when to intervene - stepping in too early might be seen as depriving the adult of his civil rights, while doing so too late might result in harm coming to him.

jantai@sph.com.sg

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New agency to direct S'pore's cyber defence

Straits Times
28 Jan 2015
Irene Tham

Top-level body set up to coordinate IT security of 10 critical sectors

A HIGH-LEVEL central agency will be set up to coordinate public- and private-sector efforts to protect national systems, such as those in the energy and banking sectors, from cyber threats.

The new Cyber Security Agency (CSA), formed under and funded by the Prime Minister's Office, will oversee the cyber security of 10 critical sectors, including power, transport and telecommunications, from April.

CSA will also be in charge of developing the nation's cyber security master plan, taking over the role from the Infocomm Development Authority (IDA).

Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim will be the minister in charge of cyber security.

Announcing the new agency yesterday, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said it was important to have central oversight in an interconnected world where vulnerabilities in one sector affect the entire ecosystem.

"It is important to protect each of these sectors (and) have an overview to make sure that the interconnectivities between these sectors - and the vulnerabilities there - are also covered," he said.

The move follows attempts to bring down government websites, and the defacement of the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) and Istana web pages in November 2013. They exposed vulnerabilities and underscore the need for such a body.

The new agency will plug current cyber defence gaps, such as breaches involving obscure companies that could potentially compromise the security of citizen data, given that computer systems are more connected today.

It will be headed by Mr David Koh, 50, who will retain his position as deputy secretary of technology at the Ministry of Defence.

Mr Aloysius Cheang, Asia-Pacific managing director of global computing security association Cloud Security Alliance, said the move would remove a key hurdle: cyber security information sharing among critical sectors.

"Without sharing, countermeasures cannot be developed," he said. "The agency will provide a unified approach to cyber defence planning, watching even the weakest links in the public sector. We all know that security is only as strong as the weakest link."

At the start, the new agency will have 60 dedicated technical and policy development staff, with most to be transferred from the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and IDA.

It will work with existing security set-ups by IDA such as the Cyber-Watch Centre and the Monitoring and Operations Control Centre (MOCC) to fend off attacks.

The Cyber-Watch Centre monitors critical public-sector IT installations while MOCC was set up late last year to monitor telco and government networks round the clock, and coordinate government agencies' responses to cyber attacks.

The CSA will subsume agencies such as MHA's Singapore Infocomm Technology Security Authority, and IDA's Singapore Computer Emergency Response Team.

itham@sph.com.sg

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Family tussle over late patriarch's two wills

Straits Times
21 Jan 2015
Selina Lum

IN 2010, a 91-year-old businessman willed his house to his wife and the rest of his $7 million in assets to his six grandchildren.

But in 2012, four months before he died, he made a will that left $100,000 to each grandchild, called for the house to be sold and for the proceeds to be used to set up a charity fund.

The two wills are now put before the High Court to determine which is the valid one that represents the true wishes of Mr Lian Seng Peng, who died in December 2012 at age 93. On one side is second daughter Lian Bee Leng and granddaughter Wee Hui Ying, who were appointed by the patriarch as trustees and executors of his 2010 will.

On the other side is youngest son Lian Kok Hong, who filed a caveat in 2013 to stop his sister and niece from distributing the assets based on the 2010 will.

Mr Lian, represented by lawyer G. Raman, sued them last year, asking the court to declare that the handwritten will made in August 2012 is valid.

His sister and niece, represented by Mr Leo Cheng Suan, contest his claim, pointing to "suspicious" circumstances surrounding the 2012 will.

The senior Mr Lian married Madam Soh Seat Hwa in 1942 and they had three children. Madam Soh, who turns 90 this year, still lives in the family home in Jedburgh Gardens in Siglap.

In a will prepared by a lawyer and witnessed by the family doctor in December 2010, the patriarch left the house to his wife and the rest of his estate to his six grandchildren in equal shares. The grandchildren are believed to be between 16 and 46 years old.

According to court papers, after his death, Madam Lian asked her brother if he had any will made by their father. Mr Lian produced only a July 2010 will that had been cancelled. But Mr Lian later produced a will handwritten in Chinese in which the patriarch revoked the December 2010 will.

Apart from providing for the grandchildren, he wanted the house sold and the proceeds to set up a charity fund in his and his wife's names.

He wanted $1 million to be donated to Thong Chai Medical Institution and 5 million yuan (S$1 million) to be donated to a school in his hometown in China.

The defendants contend that the patriarch was ill and under pressure when he signed the 2012 will. They noted that it was witnessed by two employees of Mr Lian's, who made sure photos were taken of his father signing the will, which he then hid from the family. Mr Lian is expected to take the stand today.

selinal@sph.com.sg

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Introduce laws to protect rights of disabled people: Forum

Straits Times
16 Jan 2015

MR ONG Soon Kiat suggested ways to deter illegal parking in spaces reserved for disabled drivers ("Enforce law on handicap parking more strictly"; Dec 29).

The Disabled People's Association agrees that more needs to be done to ensure that people who need these spaces are able to access them.

These larger parking spaces, which allow more space for disabled people to get in and out of their cars, are only for those who display the SG Enable-issued label.

The abuse of parking spaces reserved for persons with disabilities is just one example of how these people are discriminated against.

We often see the improper use of reserved seats on public transport and toilets for persons with disabilities, to name a few instances of everyday abuse by those who are selfish or simply apathetic.

To stem such inconsiderate behaviour, we call on the authorities to adopt a more holistic and effective approach to ensure that persons with disabilities are afforded the same opportunities as those without disabilities.

Singapore has taken great steps towards becoming more inclusive, yet discriminatory behaviour continues to hinder the ability of those with disabilities to properly integrate and participate in society.

Public education campaigns can only go so far towards changing people's behaviour, and we call on the Government to implement laws to protect the rights of those with disabilities.

Such laws do not afford persons with disabilities special privileges, instead they are needed to ensure that these people have the same opportunities and protection as everyone else in Singapore.

Nicholas Aw

President

Disabled People's Association

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Lawmakers divided over EU's push to break up too-big-to-fail banks

Business Times
28 Jan 2015

The blueprint sought to ban the lenders from proprietary trading and investing in hedge funds

Brussels

EUROPEAN Union plans to ban proprietary trading and break up the bloc's biggest banks are faltering as lawmakers clash over fundamental principles of the bill.

The European Commission, the EU's executive arm, presented its bank-structure overhaul a year ago to address the threat posed by too-big-to-fail banks. The bill has proven divisive in the European Parliament and among national governments, leading some legislators to say its days may be numbered.

"The chances of any serious progress on the proposal for structural reform of the banks are diminishing rapidly," Richard Reid, a research fellow for finance and regulation at the University of Dundee in Scotland, said by e-mail. "In part it's because quite a few governments see no real need to substantially reshape their banking systems." The push for an EU-wide law lags behind the UK, whose so-called Vickers rule will force Britain's biggest lenders to split off core consumer banking from trading activities. Other countries such as France, Germany and Belgium have also developed their own measures.

The bill would cover banks that have assets exceeding 30 billion euros (S$45 billion) in three consecutive years and trading activities of more than 70 billion euros or 10 per cent of assets. It specifically captures the European banks labelled as globally systemic by the Financial Stability Board, including HSBC Holdings and Deutsche Bank.

The commission's blueprint sought to ban the lenders from certain activities, such as proprietary trading and investing in hedge funds, while also forcing supervisors to assess whether the banks should have to separate off some trading activities into separately capitalised units.

This separation would take place if the investment banking surpassed certain thresholds and if the lender couldn't demonstrate that the move was unnecessary.

The bill requires approval from the EU parliament and the Council of the European Union, the institution that represents national governments. Both bodies are currently trying to settle on their negotiating positions on the draft law.

The lead lawmaker on the file in parliament, Sweden's Gunnar Hoekmark, has put forward an amended version of the law that faced pushback during a debate last week. In the council, nations have called for further explanation of proposals put forward by Latvia, which holds the bloc's revolving presidency.

Mr Hoekmark, a member of the assembly's largest centre-right group, proposed giving supervisors more freedom to decide if separation is necessary, and to focus the legislation more narrowly around making sure a bank can be wound down if it fails. This approach ran into opposition from lawmakers seeking more far-reaching measures.

Focusing the legislation solely on whether a bank is resolvable is "problematic," Jakob von Weizsaecker, who represents the parliament's Socialist group in the discussions, said in the public debate. Even if a bank can, on paper, be safely wound down if it fails, this might still "cause a lot of collateral systemic damage", he said.

"If we end up with a hung parliament, 50-50, and a hung council, don't forget what happens then, and the commission has already said it - they will withdraw the proposal," said Philippe Lamberts, co-leader of the assembly's Green group.

Jonathan Hill, the member of the EU commission responsible for financial-services policy, said last year in a private letter that "withdrawal could be an option" if support from national governments doesn't pick up.

Mr Hill later said publicly that he supports EU legislation in this area and urged quick progress in adopting it.

The Latvian EU presidency has put forward a plan to national governments that would replace the ban on proprietary trading with a mandatory separation requirement, according to documents dated Jan 19 and obtained by Bloomberg News. BLOOMBERG

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Tribunal with more teeth to settle feuds

Straits Times
21 Jan 2015
Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh

WARRING neighbours could be hauled before a planned tribunal that will have more teeth to settle their disputes.

It would be presided over by a judge with powers to compel the neighbours to go for mediation and issue orders that must be obeyed, according to the Community Disputes Resolution Bill introduced in Parliament on Monday.

Now, neighbours embroiled in disputes can speak to grassroots leaders or seek help at the Community Mediation Centre (CMC), which cannot issue legal orders.

The new Community Disputes Resolution Tribunals is intended as a final resort to resolve longstanding arguments, after community mediation efforts have been exhausted.

This feature was stressed by Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong last March when he announced plans to set up the tribunal.

The move for a tribunal is partly prompted by the lack of success in resolving some of the rows, which is in part due to the high rate of one or more parties not turning up. The current no-show rate is 60 per cent as attendance is not compulsory.

But cases of neighbourly strife have remained constant: In 2013, the CMC handled 525 cases, down from 610 in 2012. In 2011, there were 593 cases.

Common disputes include dripping laundry, rowdy pets and the use of common areas. Noise complaints top the list, with over 70,000 complaints received annually by the authorities, including the Housing Board and police.

asyiqins@sph.com.sg

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Murderer back on death row after landmark ruling

Straits Times
15 Jan 2015
Selina Lum

Court overturns life sentence for man who bashed robbery victim to death

A CONVICTED murderer who was sentenced to hang, then given a reprieve with a life sentence, is now back on death row after a landmark ruling yesterday.

A five-judge Court of Appeal gave a split 3-2 decision in favour of sending 31-year-old rag-and-bone man Jabing Kho to the gallows for the brutal way in which he repeatedly bludgeoned a construction worker with a tree branch while trying to rob him.

Judge of Appeal Chao Hick Tin, Judge of Appeal Andrew Phang and Justice Chan Seng Onn were "completely satisfied" that the way Kho rained blow after blow on the head of Chinese national Cao Ruyin, even after he was lying on the ground, meant he deserved the death penalty.

"The sheer savagery and brutality displayed by (Kho) shows that during the course of the attack, (he) just simply could not care less as to whether the deceased would survive although his intention at the time was only to rob," said Justice Chao.

However, the dissenting judges, Justice Woo Bih Li and Justice Lee Seiu Kin, said there was not enough evidence to conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that Kho had struck Mr Cao three or more times, or that he had used such force that it caused most of the 14 fractures in Mr Cao's skull.

This is the first case of its kind to reach the apex court since the law was changed in 2013, giving judges discretion to opt for a life sentence in certain murder cases.

In 2008, Kho and his accomplice Galing Kujat - both 25 and from Sarawak, Malaysia - set out to rob Chinese nationals Cao and Wu Jun near Geylang Drive.

While Kho was armed with a tree branch, Galing used a metal belt buckle in the attack.

Mr Cao, 40, was robbed of his mobile phone and died from brain injuries six days later. Mr Wu, 43, escaped with minor injuries.

Both attackers were sentenced to death in 2010.

The next year, Galing escaped the gallows after the Court of Appeal convicted him of a lesser charge of robbery with hurt. He was sentenced to 181/2 years in jail and 19 strokes of the cane.

Kho's appeal was dismissed.

After changes to the law in 2013, Kho applied to be re-sentenced and was given life imprisonment. But the prosecution appealed against the decision.

Given the novelty of the case, the judges had to figure out when the death penalty was warranted in murder cases where there is a discretion to impose a life sentence. They agreed a key question to ask is whether the murderer "exhibited viciousness or a blatant disregard for human life".

The three concurring judges found that Kho had approached Mr Cao from behind and struck his head without any warning. After the victim fell, Kho struck him at least two more times and his skull was shattered.

They also pointed to Galing's initial statement that said he saw Kho hit the deceased several times. "After the first blow, there was effectively no more struggle. Why was there a need to rain further blows on the head of the deceased then?" said Justice Chao.

Justice Lee said in his dissenting judgment that even though Kho's blows would have been of considerable force, it was "unsafe" to conclude that he acted in a way which showed a blatant disregard for human life.

But the majority said that even if they were to accept that it was unclear how many times Kho struck the victim, it had to be borne in mind that Mr Cao's skull was completely shattered.

"What (Kho) did underscores the savagery of the attack which was characterised by needless violence that went well beyond the pale," said Justice Chao, noting that the duo's intention had been merely to rob.

After the verdict, Kho's assigned lawyer Anand Nalachandran said that the next step was to prepare a petition of clemency to the President.

selinal@sph.com.sg


Background Story

Why the case is significant

JABING Kho's case is the first of its kind to reach the Court of Appeal since laws were changed in 2013 to give judges the discretion to decide if a murderer should be sentenced to death or be given a life sentence in certain cases.

As Justice Chao Hick Tin put it: "At the very heart of this appeal lies a critical legal question - for an offence of murder where the mandatory death penalty does not apply, in what circumstances would the death penalty still be warranted?"

To answer the question, the five judges considered three things: parliamentary debates, foreign cases and local ones.

They considered how in several jurisdictions, including India and the US, judges applied the death penalty in "rarest of rare" cases. But they rejected this test, saying it was based on whether the offender's actions are "rare", compared with previous cases.

The more appropriate principle to follow was the one laid down in a local 1970s case of kidnapping for ransom - whether the actions of the offender would outrage the feelings of the community.

This will be determined by considering whether "the offender has acted in a way which exhibits viciousness or a blatant disregard for human life", Justice Chao wrote.

For instance, the number of stabs or blows, the area of the injury, the duration of the attack and the force used would all be pertinent factors to be considered, yesterday's judgment said.

SELINA LUM

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To view the judgment, click <here>.

Four in five support late-night alcohol ban, survey shows

Straits Times
28 Jan 2015
Lim Yi Han

THERE is strong backing from all segments of Singaporeans, including young people, for the proposed laws to clamp down on late-night public drinking.

This finding in a phone survey commissioned by government feedback unit Reach after a plan to ban drinking in public from 10.30pm to 7am, and stop retail shops from selling alcohol after 10.30pm, was presented in Parliament last week.

Overall, 81 per cent of the 1,145 polled said they were in favour of the Liquor Control (Supply and Consumption) Bill, which is expected to be debated at the end of this week.

In the group aged between 15 and 29, at least seven in 10 backed the Bill.

The survey polled around 200 people from that age group.

The support was even stronger among older respondents, peaking at 92 per cent among those aged 60 and above.

Reach said that those polled from Jan 20 to Jan 26 were chosen randomly and were "representative" of the national population in terms of gender, age and race.

More than eight in 10 of those surveyed did not think that their lifestyle and activities would be affected by the possible new regulations.

Former Nominated MP Eugene Tan said: "I believe the majority don't feel the restrictions are a curb since they don't drink very much. And the hours - 10.30pm to 7am - are when many of them are indoors. But for the younger ones, perhaps it will present an inconvenience. It is a drastic change from what they are accustomed to."

Some people online had described the new laws as too strict.

Institute of Policy Studies senior research fellow Gillian Koh suggested that the views of some may have been over-represented online.

"It's a medium the young are very comfortable with so that's where you will find their views," she said. "The older folks can afford to drink in pubs and restaurants, and in their own homes. But the young certainly prefer to party away from the scrutiny of their parents."

Eighty per cent also agreed that the ban would help to reduce cases of public drunkenness. Housewife Alice Lee, 66, hopes that the curbs will help to cut down noise and litter as well.

But student Xu Jing Wei, 20, hopes that if the Bill is passed, the authorities will carve out public areas where young people can drink in public after 10.30pm, since the alcohol in clubs is too costly for them.

He said: "We just want a nice place outside to chill over drinks."

limyihan@sph.com.sg

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Fair Tenancy Framework launched with room for refinement

Business Times
21 Jan 2015
Mindy Tan

[Singapore] THE Fair Tenancy Framework launched on Tuesday, which aims to help small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) negotiate fairer tenancy agreements, is a work in progress, says the working group behind it.

The Rental Practices Working Group (RPWG) of the SME Committee (SMEC) says more can be done to refine the guidelines in the framework, which has already won the backing of CapitaMall Trust and Ascendas.

Ho Meng Kit, chief executive of the Singapore Business Federation (SBF), which is leading the push for the voluntary adoption of these guidelines by the industry, said getting buy-in from landlords was critical, and noted that support had already come from CapitaMall Trust, a major retail landlord, and Ascendas, a major industrial landlord.

He said the government had also indicated its support for the framework, "so we do not see that, fundamentally, in terms of principles, that landlords won't want to be on board".

The Fair Tenancy Framework contains guidelines for transparency of rental data across all areas and types of commercial properties.

On the education front, it offers the industry templates of the terms typical rental contracts should contain.

The third plank of the framework entails the promotion of mediation as a preferred channel for resolving disputes between landlords and tenants.

Jannie Chan, president of the Singapore Retailers Association, said that as landlords, Reits are in a position of power, and tenants have often found themselves in a "take it or leave it" situation when negotiating or renegotiating rental contracts.

Suggesting that the framework be given more bite to provide a bigger platform for rental-dispute resolution, she also called for work to be done to deepen the industry's understanding of how Reits operate and interface with their retail tenants.

The RPWG is already looking to strengthen the mediation platform.

Cynthia Phua, who chairs the RPWG, said she is looking to work with the Singapore Mediation Centre to create a fast track for lease agreement and rent disputes.

"We can also create a panel of experts in this area so that you can do more with mediation, and it is faster and more efficient in terms of the settlement. So this is a start - one, to build up the process, and two, to build up the expertise."

R Dhinakaran, managing director of Jay Gee Melwani Group, agreed that the tenancy framework as a whole still had some gaps, but described the launch of the framework as a "first step".

Many more steps may be needed, but an overly complicated guide might discourage adoption by the industry, said Mr Dhinakaran, who is also vice-president of the Singapore Retailers Association.

For now, there are no plans to back the framework with legislation.

Teo Ser Luck, Minister of State for Trade and Industry and advisor to the SMEC, said the government will keep tabs on the acceptance levels of the framework, and consider feedback from the business community.

"We have to see how this first step is rolled out, what acceptance levels are, how well or effective its been executed," he said.

"We are coordinating with various government agencies to consider using these guidelines in their tenancy practices and lease agreements. The feedback has been positive so far and they are supportive of the principles laid out in the framework."

tanmindy@sph.com.sg

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Doc's captions on videos of spat spark harassment case

Straits Times
15 Jan 2015
K.C. Vijayan

WHAT began as a petrol station spat between two men has escalated into an anti-harassment case involving YouTube videos.

A district court yesterday ordered Dr K. Paramesvaran, who is better known as Dr Param, to remove the captions he had put into two videos that he uploaded detailing his run-in with Frenchman Yannick Pierre Yves Le Borgne at a Caltex station last April.

The order is an interim one until the case is settled in court.

This is believed to be the first time that a court has issued an expedited protection order (EPO) under the Protection from Harassment Act, landmark legislation passed last year which, among other things, seeks to curb online harassment.

Unlike a protection order, an EPO is issued on a temporary basis to prevent further alleged harassment until a case is settled.

The court has also ordered that the captions cannot be printed by any other parties.

The videos seem to have been taken from closed-circuit television footage at a petrol station in the Holland Road area.

In one 6.5-minute video, Dr Param, managing director of Medical Imaging, which runs a chain of radiological clinics, is seen paying at the petrol kiosk's counter.

A Caucasian man then approaches the doctor from behind, and starts talking to him.

He points his finger several times, and is also seen patting Dr Param on the shoulder.

In another three-minute video, the 36-year-old Frenchman is seen stopping his car alongside that of Dr Param's as he is pumping air into his tyres. He steps out of the car and again gesticulates towards Dr Param and engages him in some kind of argument.

It is unclear what started the spat but the entire episode seems to have left Dr Param aggrieved.

He lodged a Magistrate's Complaint shortly after the incident and the case was probed by the police as a case of intentional harassment.

But last November, police informed him that after considering the facts and circumstances of the case and with advice from the Attorney-General's Chambers, no further action would be taken against Mr Yannick.

Last month, the doctor, who is in his 60s, posted the two videos to air his grievances.

Mr Yannick, who is represented by lawyer Choo Zheng Xi, claimed the text and commentary accompanying the videos, which could have gone viral, was a continuing source of harassment to him. He applied to have the text removed.

The judge ruled that the videos have to be renamed "Incident at Caltex on 20 April 2014". But Dr Param, who was defended by lawyer Foo Soon Yien, is free to state on the videos that the previous comments had been removed pending a trial.

According to the ruling, failure to obey the court's order could result in a contempt of court action or a Protection of Harassment Act offence which carries a fine of up to $5,000 and/or a jail term of up to six months.

Responding to queries, a State Courts spokesman said yesterday that since the new Act came into force last Nov 15 till Jan 7 this year, there have been 79 Magistrate's Complaints for harassment.

There were also 13 applications for Protection Orders under Originating Summons.

Magistrate's Complaints relate to criminal cases while Originating Summons are civil remedies.

Three Protection Orders have been issued by the State Courts, and the remainder of the cases are ongoing, she added.

vijayan@sph.com.sg

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Bankruptcy cases from licensed lending on the rise

Straits Times
28 Jan 2015
Olivia Ho

The proportion of bankruptcy orders with proofs of debt filed by licensed moneylenders jumped from 7.3 per cent in 2012 to 10.5 per cent in 2013

MORE bankruptcies here are arising from licensed moneylending activities, according to a report submitted to Parliament by the Estimates Committee yesterday.

The report showed the proportion of bankruptcy orders with proofs of debt filed by licensed moneylenders jumped from 7.3 per cent in 2012 to 10.5 per cent in 2013.

There were 210 of these bankruptcy orders in 2013, up from 128 in 2012 and 80 in 2011.

Marine Parade GRC MP Seah Kian Peng said this trend might be due to the number of licensed moneylenders here peaking in 2011, when they numbered 249.

As of 2013, there were 200 licensed moneylenders.

"Due to the increased access to licensed moneylenders then, the number of bankruptcies arising from that naturally increased, following a time lag," said Mr Seah.

He said the Estimates Committee is concerned that the "amount of lending was on the rise" and stressed the need for measures, such as restricting access to lenders and lowering interest rates, to ensure that "vulnerable groups who need the service of moneylenders are adequately protected".

He added that "licensed moneylenders still have an important role to play", as the alternative would be for people to borrow from unlicensed lenders, which would be harder for the Government to monitor.

The report expressed concern that the growth of businesses such as pawnbroking and moneylending, especially in the heartland, might indicate a growing number of such transactions among vulnerable groups like lower-income Singaporeans.

It noted that although the number of licensed moneylenders had declined from 2011 to 2013, the total value of loans has dipped only slightly from $480 million to $478 million in the same period.

The number of pawnbrokers has also almost doubled since 2006, and the value of loans they have granted increased from $1.6 billion in 2006 to $7.1 billion in 2012, before declining to $5.5 billion in 2013.

Mr Maximilian Koh, director of Thye Hua Kwan Problem Gambling Recovery Centre, said: "We have seen more of those seeking help for gambling turn to licensed moneylenders, thinking there is some form of control there.

"Many of them, at the point of desperation, borrow without realising that the interest rate is as high as (those offered by) loan sharks."

In November last year, a government advisory committee proposed a 4 per cent cap on interest rates, which moneylenders protested against as being too restrictive.

Mr David Poh, president of the Moneylenders' Association of Singapore, said: "The previous lack of a cap might have led to the rise in bankruptcies, with high interest rates going off the hook."

He added that the association was working with the Ministry of Law on instituting a 4 per cent interest rate cap with an additional 4 per cent late charge.

"If there's no cap at all, it's not fair on borrowers," said Mr Poh. "But if you don't have a late charge, borrowers won't pay on time."

oliviaho@sph.com.sg

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Refuse to pay MediShield Life premiums? You could be jailed

Straits Times
21 Jan 2015
Salma Khalik

Tough stance to address shortfall caused by those who can afford to pay but do not

SINGAPOREANS or permanent residents who refuse to pay MediShield Life premiums once the universal health insurance is launched later this year could find themselves behind bars if they try to leave the country.

The premiums will be compulsory - not just for people living here but also those who are living overseas for long periods - under proposals introduced in Parliament on Monday by Health Minister Gan Kim Yong.

Singaporeans and PRs living overseas will be entitled to coverage should they fall sick in the future and decide to return here for treatment.

The Bill also gives the insurance administrator the power to have money from a defaulter's wages and bank accounts diverted to pay the premiums.

The maximum penalty for defaulters who try to flee the country, spelt out in the MediShield Life Scheme Bill, is a fine of up to $5,000 and imprisonment of up to a year, or both.

The person would be allowed to leave the country on payment of the outstanding premium to an immigration officer or the police.

But he might also have to pay a 17 per cent penalty for late payment, as well as any costs incurred in recovering the money.

The planned tough stance is to cover the shortfall caused by people who can afford to pay their premiums but refuse, resulting in a heavier burden on other policyholders.

The MediShield Life scheme provides everyone with protection against huge subsidised hospital bills for all their life, and reflects a caring society where everyone pulls together to help those in need.

But such penalties would not apply to people who have difficulty paying the annual premiums, which range from $130 for the young to $1,530 for people older than 90.

Most people will not have a problem paying the premiums as they can be deducted in full from their Medisave funds.

People from families with a per capita income of $2,600 or less - that is, a total income of $13,000 a month for a family of five - will also receive subsidies.

The lower the family income, the higher the subsidies - which range from 15 per cent to 50 per cent.

Pioneer Generation residents who were aged 80 or older last year will have their premiums covered fully by subsidies and Medisave top-ups.

Younger pioneers - those 65 and older last year who have been citizens since 1986 - regardless of their incomes, will also get heavy subsidies and top-ups that should cover more than half the cost of their premiums.

People who still have difficulty paying their premiums on top of these discounts can apply for additional help from the Government.

The Ministry of Health has stressed that penalties are intended only for those with the means but are recalcitrant about paying their premiums.

The MediShield Life Scheme Bill will be debated at the next sitting of Parliament.

The scheme is due to launch by the end of the year.

salma@sph.com.sg

www.facebook.com/ST.Salma

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Blogger Roy Ngerng to testify: Lawyer

Straits Times
15 Jan 2015
Walter Sim

BLOGGER Roy Ngerng, who was found to have defamed Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, will testify at a hearing to assess the amount of damages payable, his lawyer M. Ravi said yesterday.

In a statement to the media, Mr Ravi also denied saying at a closed-door hearing on Monday that his client "did not want to be cross-examined" - a point Mr Lee's press secretary Chang Li Lin had made in a statement to the media on Monday.

His remark drew a rebuttal from Ms Chang, who said: "Despite what Mr Ravi said in court, he has now publicly confirmed that Mr Ngerng is prepared to give evidence and to be cross-examined at the hearing to assess damages." She added: "The Prime Minister looks forward to that."

Yesterday's exchange is the latest development in the continuing saga on what was said at the hearing on Monday when Justice Lee Seiu Kin ordered Mr Ngerng to pay PM Lee $29,000 in costs for legal fees and related expenses, with damages to be assessed later.

At issue is the point Ms Chang made in a media statement on Monday that Mr Ngerng "did not want to be cross-examined''.

This, she said the following day, was indicated in the notes on the hearing taken by law firm Drew & Napier - whose Senior Counsel Davinder Singh is representing Mr Lee.

Yesterday, Mr Ravi, referring to the same notes, said they "seem to me to be accurate, precise and complete as far as they go". But nowhere do they say that his client "did not want to be cross-examined", he added.

Responding, Ms Chang said: "Mr Ravi accepts that the notes are 'accurate, precise and complete'. But in quoting from them, he has carefully and selectively omitted his own words to the Court."

She said he did not cite the fact that he had told Justice Lee: "Therefore, I won't be filing (an affidavit). Enough Your Honour, I won't be filing."

That, she said, was the "clearest admission of his indication to the Court that Mr Ngerng did not want to be cross-examined".

Mr Ravi, however, said he made the remark "to protect my client's right to have the final say (over whether to testify)".

His move followed Mr Singh's statement at the Monday hearing that he would cross-examine Mr Ngerng should he testify at a subsequent hearing to assess damages to the PM.

Mr Ravi also said the notes indicate he would be taking instructions from Mr Ngerng on whether the blogger would be giving evidence.

The hearing dates to assess damages have not been announced.

But Justice Lee had directed Mr Ravi to confirm by Jan 30 if Mr Ngerng would be giving evidence.

Last November, the High Court judge ruled in a summary judgment that Mr Ngerng had defamed PM Lee by suggesting he had misappropriated Central Provident Fund savings.

waltsim@sph.com.sg

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City Harvest trial: Former fund manager says he was bound by confidentiality

Straits Times
28 Jan 2015
Hoe Pei Shan

SINGAPORE - One of the six members of City Harvest Church accused of criminal breach of trust told the court on Tuesday that he would have done things differently and more openly, had he not been bound by a "duty to confidentiality".

Former church fund manager Chew Eng Han, 54, in his second day on the witness stand, tried to show that the secrecy had been because of church founder Kong Hee.

"Kong Hee was stressing on confidentiality," he said.

The church's apparent lack of disclosure over funding, and lackadaisical progress of its evangelising project through the music of pastor Kong's wife Ho Yeow Sun, has been questioned repeatedly by the prosecution, which has alleged that $50 million in church funds were misused.

Yesterday, Chew said: "As a professional fund manager, we do have a duty to confidentiality, for instance, the Government of Singapore Investment Corporation (GIC) is appointed to government officials, and owes a duty to government officials to only reveal what the people appointing them agree to, although the monies belong to the public."

He was thus similarly "bound by the professional requirements not to even tell the church executive members" about investments made on behalf of the church through bonds.

Had he not been "under authority", Chew said he would have held a meeting to tell church members about the bonds and evangelising project.

"If I had a choice, I would have disclosed, because after all it was people's money, but for the sake of privacy, and for the sake of preserving the project...I went along with it," said Chew.

He added that he had taken Kong's instruction "as spiritual wisdom" and not "part of a conspiracy".

hpeishan@sph.com.sg

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Licence will be needed for deep seabed mining

Straits Times
21 Jan 2015
Charissa Yong

SINGAPORE is taking legal steps to protect the marine environment from any harm caused by mining for minerals on the ocean floor. On Monday, Trade and Industry Minister Lim Hng Kiang introduced a Bill in Parliament to regulate such mining.

The Deep Seabed Mining Bill will cover parts of the seabed, ocean floor and subsoil that lie outside territorial waters. If it is passed, Singaporeans and companies based here will be forbidden from mining in the open sea unless licensed to do so.

The Ministry of Trade and Industry said in a statement later that the Bill will introduce a licensing regime for deep seabed mining activities. Individuals found guilty of unauthorised mining can be fined up to $300,000, or jailed for up to three months, or given both punishments. Companies convicted of the same offence may be fined up to $300,000.

The proposed law is in accordance with Singapore's obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, the ministry said.

CHARISSA YONG

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Do Not Call rules: Tuition agency faces probe again

Straits Times
15 Jan 2015
Irene Tham

Firm and its boss had been the first to be fined for breaching regulations

JUST five months after a tuition agency and its boss became the first to be fined for breaching "Do Not Call" rules here, they have come under fire again from hundreds of angry consumers.

Star Zest Home Tuition and its sole director Law Han Wei, 35, are said to have again sent unwanted text messages to numbers listed on the Do Not Call (DNC) Registry, potentially violating rules under the Personal Data Protection Act.

The Personal Data Protection Commission, which administers the registry, said yesterday it is investigating about 300 complaints against Star Zest and two businesses linked to Law.

"We will determine if these messages are permitted," said a spokesman, adding that it will prosecute organisations found breaching its rules.

While Star Zest and Mr Law sent marketing messages previously, they are now accused of sending SMSes offering job opportunities for potential tutors.

Many people complained on local forums such as HardwareZone and Snap Club, with some questioning why they received the messages even after they had listed their numbers on the registry.

"And I've never had any past dealings with Star Zest," a 25-year old bank analyst called Flaria told The Straits Times.

Operations manager Leonard Ho, 42, who received Star Zest's SMS this week, asked: "How did they get my number?"

He also received a similar message this week from Cherry Education, another tuition agency linked to Mr Law, going by a check of its registration details with the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority.

Just last August, Mr Law and Star Zest were fined $78,000 for marketing the services of its tutors to numbers listed on the DNC Registry, which lets people block unwanted phone, SMS or fax marketing offers.

Organisations must check against the 757,000 or so numbers listed in the registry before marketing to consumers, or risk a fine of up to $10,000 per offence.

Privacy experts said that the tuition agencies in question may be exploiting a DNC exemption which allows job-offer messages to be sent.

"The companies may be trying to pass off their marketing messages as job offers," said engineer Ngiam Shih Tung, 47, who had complained to the authorities about the agencies' messages.

He also received a message from an unknown sender offering business opportunities for part-time and full-time cleaners.

The Straits Times' checks found that the number displayed on the unidentified message is used by Novo House Cleaning, which has Mr Law as a director. Mr Law could not be reached by phone and did not reply to e-mail queries from The Straits Times.

Lawyer Bryan Tan, a technology partner at Pinsent Masons MPillay, argued that these messages offer business opportunities rather than employment, and would thus fall under the DNC regime. "How different is it from 'Make some cash in your spare time' or 'Work from home' type of messages?" said Mr Tan.

Lawyer Gilbert Leong, a partner at Rodyk & Davidson, agreed. "Employment would need to be understood in the normal course of things such as the tutor receiving Central Provident Fund contributions, leave and medical benefits from the agency," he said.

itham@sph.com.sg

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Creating a good PDPA compliance framework

Business Times
27 Jan 2015
Sia Nam Chie

Internal auditors can help with advice as well as through independent reviews

PRIVATE organisations have had to comply with the Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA) since it came into effect in Singapore on July 2, 2014. The PDPA governs the collection, use and disclosure of personal data such as a customer's name, age and e-mail address that is collected in the course of delivering goods and services.

While most organisations know that violating the PDPA can result in severe punishment, many are unsure about compliance. This is where internal auditors can help, not just with advice on an overall framework for compliance but also through independent reviews.

Here are eight tips to creating a good compliance framework:

1 Appoint a data protection officer

Organisations have to appoint a data protection officer to ensure compliance. The data protection officer needs to be very familiar with the scope, requirements and expectations of the PDPA.

This knowledge has to be shared company-wide, as compliance with the PDPA involves everyone.

2 The weakest link

It only takes one employee to violate the PDPA to undo all the efforts by an organisation. As the saying goes: "You are only as strong as your weakest link". Employees have to be aware that any data misuse, such as selling customer data to marketing firms or downloading personal data before leaving a company, could result in severe consequences. Internal auditors can help organisations ensure that PDPA training is rolled out to all relevant staff.

3 Track all personal data

Next, organisations have to be aware of what they have in the way of personal data. Data can come in different forms, such as paper-based contracts, letters, purchase orders and invoices. Data could also have been stored electronically, such as in the accounting system or those residing in documents and applications.

An inventory should include personal data stored in shared folders, personal computers and mobile devices. Internal auditors can help organisations by checking that the data inventory is comprehensive.

4 Discard irrelevant data

After collating the inventory, organisations have to assess whether the appropriate data is being collected, as collecting excessive information will violate the PDPA. For example, a company responsible for delivering food may ask for the date of birth, marriage status, age or even details of family members of its customers, when it only needs a name, address, mobile number, details around payment methods and preferred time of delivery. In addition, organisations must disclose how the personal data collected will be used. In this regard, auditors could look at the types of personal data collected by organisations and provide an independent view of the data collection process. Internal auditors could also check if data is used as publicly disclosed.

5 Secure the data

Computer security is an essential aspect of protecting personal data. Hackers have become more sophisticated and reports of successful attacks are increasingly common. Internal auditors can help to check the robustness of installed security. The security should extend to personal data being transported electronically, such as through e-mail, or physical storage that is moved from destination to destination. Often overlooked is personal data that is sent to the printer for printing, as it remains in the printer memory after printing.

Internal auditors can review the IT infrastructure thoroughly to ascertain if an organisation's IT systems can withstand cyber-attacks.

Internal auditors can also help organisations to review the machine disposal procedures to ensure that data stored in printers and computers is completely removed before they are sent for recycling or disposal.

6 Managing archives

Retention policy is another area to review as the PDPA expects organisations to dispose of all personal data if there is no legitimate reason to keep them, such as details of job candidates who did not get the job. Internal auditors can review the policy and challenge the management if there is risk that personal data may be stored for excessive periods.

7 Data access privileges

Access to personal information should be granted to employees on a "need to know" basis. For example, while a credit officer needs personal information to assess customers' creditworthiness, a receptionist may not require such information and should not have access to it. Auditors can review the access matrix to ascertain if organisations are controlling information access appropriately.

8 Outsourced data counts, too

If companies outsource some of their non-core functions, such as the hosting of IT servers, mailing of customers' invoices or statements of account, auditors can also help to evaluate the service providers to determine if equally stringent and robust controls are enforced over the treatment of personal data.

The internal audit function can help to keep the entire organisation on its toes, not only for compliance but also for risk management and corporate governance.

Sometimes independent observers can spot potential gaps where others can see none. This is where internal auditors can add value, not just for PDPA compliance but also for continued company success.

The writer is governor of The Institute of Internal Auditors Singapore

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China Yuanbang chairman's 'private matters' under probe

Business Times
21 Jan 2015
Joyce Hooi

[Singapore] THE executive chairman of China Yuanbang Property Holdings Limited (China Yuanbang), Chen Jianfeng, has reportedly been asked to assist the Chinese authorities in their investigation of his "private matters".

In a filing to the Singapore Exchange on Tuesday, China Yuanbang said that it had been told of this development by Mr Chen's spouse, who also told the board that Mr Chen had been required by the Shenzhen City People's Procuratorate of the People's Republic of China to "stay at a designated residence" since Dec 29, 2014, in order to assist in the investigation.

"As at the date of this announcement, there is no information or evidence that the investigation is related to the group," China Yuanbang said.

"The company has not received any legal documents in connection with the investigation from any government authority. Save for the aforesaid information provided by the spouse of Mr Chen, the directors are not aware of any other information on the investigation."

In the meantime, the day-to-day operations of the group are being managed by the group's CEO, Zhou Xiaoxiong, who is "supported by the senior management team". The group said it will keep shareholders informed of any material developments. China Yuanbang's share price closed 0.2 Singapore cent lower at seven Singapore cents on Tuesday, before the announcement was made.

joyceh@sph.com.sg

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Accountant in dock over $40m swindle

Straits Times
15 Jan 2015
Ian Poh

AN ACCOUNTANT specialising in insolvency cases was tasked with liquidating 21 companies and managing the finances of another. It is alleged that he took them to the cleaners instead.

He is accused of pocketing more than $40 million from these firms, and using most of the money to gamble and pay off his creditors, a court heard yesterday.

Ewe Pang Kooi, 61, allegedly misappropriated $40,622,169 and US$147,000 ($196,300) in all.

The licensed liquidator and managing partner of certified public accounting firm Ewe, Loke & Partners was slapped with 693 charges yesterday.

These involved offences that he allegedly committed between February 2002 and July 2012, including multiple counts of criminal breach of trust, forgery and cheating.

To conceal his acts, he allegedly made false declarations to a commissioner of oaths in 236 instances. He is said to have cashed in at least $1,114,195 of the money for gambling chips at Singapore's two casinos.

Ewe was liquidating several subsidiaries of technology giant Hewlett-Packard (HP). The case came to light when he tried to put off convening the final meetings, after which, dividends would have to be paid out.

HP, Technology Partners International (TPI) and a partner of Ewe's firm made police reports about him.

In 2007, TPI engaged E&M Management Consultants, where Ewe was a director, to manage its accounting needs and Singapore bank account. Ewe is said to have misappropriated $10,581,000 and $678,981 from TPI and E&M's clients' account respectively.

He has been remanded in Changi Prison as he is unable to raise the $4 million bail on offer.

A bail review hearing will take place today and his case will next be heard on Feb 5.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Hon Yi said that in the meantime, the prosecution will write to the High Court to have the matter transferred there, in view of the amount involved in the charges.

Ewe, a permanent resident from Malaysia, is represented by Mr Peter Doraisamy.

Ewe could be jailed for life or up to 10 years and fined for each count of criminal breach of trust as an agent, if convicted.

For using the benefits of criminal conduct, he could face a maximum penalty of seven years' jail and a $500,000 fine on each count.

pohian@sph.com.sg

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Fund manager blames Kong Hee, deputy for alleged sham bonds

TODAY
27 Jan 2015
Neo Chai Chin

SINGAPORE — If the bond transactions at the centre of a criminal trial involving six City Harvest Church leaders are indeed a sham, then the blame must lie with church founder Kong Hee and his deputy Tan Ye Peng, contended its former fund manager Chew Eng Han (picture) yesterday.

This is because they controlled the use of bond proceeds, which went to fund the singing career of Kong’s wife Ho Yeow Sun, said Chew as he took the witness stand for the first day.

Chew, who left City Harvest in 2013 and has no lawyer, said he had structured the bonds according to market practice and ensured fair returns to the buyers and issuers. He also said he had little contact with the church’s auditors and had never conspired to hide the bonds from them.

The six accused persons face three to 10 charges each.

Kong, Tan Ye Peng, Chew, former accountant Serina Wee and former board member John Lam are accused of misusing S$24 million of church-building funds via sham bond investments in two companies, Xtron Productions and PT The First National Glassware. Xtron was a church-linked entity that managed Ms Ho’s career, while the latter is an Indonesian glassware company owned by a church member.

Tan, Chew, Serina Wee and former finance manager Sharon Tan also face charges for alleged misuse of a further S$26.6 million through a series of transactions to cover up the first amount.

Chew said he did not understand why the bonds have been called sham. The only reason why they could be so was that proceeds had been misused and this would be through decisions Kong and Tan Ye Peng made on Ms Ho’s English album expenses, which would have caused losses or gains, he said.

Individuals not involved in these judgment calls cannot be accused of intending to cause losses to the church, Chew argued.

Kong, in his defence last year, said he had done budgeting for Ms Ho’s English album — part of the church’s Crossover Project to evangelise — but left its financing to Tan Ye Peng and Chew.

chaichin@mediacorp.com.sg

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MPs want law to cover all foreign worker dorms

Straits Times
21 Jan 2015
Amelia Tan

A NEW law which aims to improve the living conditions of foreign workers left several MPs asking why it applied only to large dorms housing 1,000 or more workers.

They also pressed Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin to extend the scope of the Foreign Employee Dormitories Bill to cover smaller dorms and other places where foreign workers live.

Wrapping up the debate in which 11 MPs spoke, Mr Tan said the Manpower Ministry (MOM) chose to impose stricter regulations on dorms with 1,000 or more workers as it is ramping up construction of more purpose-built dorms in the next few years.

"We will expect the proportion of foreign workers in larger dormitories within the (licensing) threshold to increase," he said.

Under the new law, operators of large dorms will need to get a licence which requires them to take steps to control the movement of workers, provide social and recreational facilities and have quarantine plans in place, in case of an infectious disease outbreak, among other requirements.

There are now some 40 dorms offering 200,000 beds for foreign workers. Another nine large dorm complexes will be built in the next two years, adding 100,000 beds.

While larger dorms will be held to higher standards, it does not mean the MOM is not looking out for workers living elsewhere.

Mr Tan said existing regulations require all types of foreign worker housing to meet standards in the areas of fire and structural safety, hygiene and subletting.

These include some 700 factories that have been converted into dorms with some 100,000 workers. Other workers live in shophouses, apartments and makeshift quarters on construction sites.

Mr Yeo Guat Kwang (Ang Mo Kio GRC) cautioned MOM against applying "double standards" by imposing stringent rules on large dorms and allowing standards at other places to slide.

Mr Pritam Singh (Aljunied GRC), Mr Christopher de Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC), Mr Gan Thiam Poh (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC) and Mrs Lina Chiam, a Non-Constituency MP, said that living conditions in places with fewer workers tend to be poor.

They cited recent media reports on filthy and dangerous conditions in some shophouses, apartments and construction sites where workers were housed.

Mr Singh said the large number of continuing violations suggests that Singapore does not have a sufficiently robust framework governing foreign worker housing.

Mr Yeo, who chairs foreign worker group Migrant Workers' Centre, suggested that the authorities apply similar standards for all types of worker accommodation.

He was among several MPs concerned about costs, noting that rents in dorms have risen from around $170 per bed in 2009 to about $350 today.

Dr Fatimah Lateef (Marine Parade GRC) noted that land prices have risen, while Ms Foo Mee Har (West Coast GRC) asked if the move would see large players dominating the market.

Mr Singh also asked whether MOM has considered bringing smaller foreign worker quarters under the licensing framework.

Mr Tan said MOM would bear in mind the possibility of having different classes of licence in future, if needed.

He also acknowledged the anecdotal examples of poor living conditions, but stressed that this does not mean the situation is dire across the board. "I think it is important for the House not to have the wrong impression that there is widespread mistreatment of foreign workers," he said.

ameltan@sph.com.sg


Background Story

NO WIDESPREAD MISTREATMENT

I think it's important for the House not to have the wrong impression that there's widespread mistreatment of foreign workers in Singapore... (MPs) highlighted cases of workers being housed in poor, unhygienic conditions. I do know because I accompany my officers when they go for inspection and I've seen many of such similar cases. Does it mean that every single accommodation in Singapore is in that fashion? No. Are there egregious cases? There are.

- Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin

SAME STANDARDS FOR ALL

The large operators are concerned that the uneven treatment towards these two groups (of dormitories) might pull down overall migrant housing standards in general.

I would, therefore, suggest that our authorities guard against over-regulation of any one segment of the industry and, as far as possible or appropriate, apply the standards and conditions as generally as possible to all.

- Labour MP Yeo Guat Kwang (Ang Mo Kio GRC), chairman of advocacy group Migrant Workers' Centre, who wants the new law to apply equally to all dormitories, not just to those with at least 1,000 beds

REST WELL, WORK WELL

Such well-equipped dorms, if run well, would provide foreign workers with a better living environment and the motivation to give their best in their jobs here. Like other human beings, they have their legitimate needs and aspirations, to rest, to play and to be treated with dignity and respect.

- Ms Irene Ng (Tampines GRC), on the importance of having adequate housing for foreign workers

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

PM's press secretary refutes blogger's claim that she lied

Straits Times
14 Jan 2015
Walter Sim

Allegation over media statement about hearing 'baseless', she says

THE press secretary of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday refuted allegations by blogger Roy Ngerng that she had lied in her media statement on a closed-door hearing on Monday, saying they were "baseless".

Mr Ngerng also accused the media of lying when reporting about the statement by Ms Chang Li Lin.

The hearing was to assess costs in a defamation suit that Mr Lee filed against Mr Ngerng for a post the blogger made in May last year.

Ms Chang said in her statement on Monday that "Mr Ngerng's lawyer indicated at the hearing that Mr Ngerng did not want to be cross-examined".

She added that the judge directed his lawyer to confirm whether he would be giving evidence by Jan 30. Mr Lee stands ready to be cross-examined, she said.

Mr Ngerng, 33, took issue with the statement in a post on his blog later on Monday evening.

It was followed by an exchange between his lawyer M. Ravi and Ms Chang yesterday.

Mr Ravi said in a media statement that Ms Chang's comments were "inaccurate" and that she had been "misinformed".

Responding, Ms Chang said in a statement that "Mr Ravi is wrong, and Mr Ngerng, who was not present during this part of the hearing, has made yet another baseless allegation".

In her five-page media statement, she cited notes taken by law firm Drew & Napier, whose Senior Counsel Davinder Singh is representing Mr Lee, during the High Court hearing.

At the Monday hearing, Justice Lee Seiu Kin ordered Mr Ngerng to pay $29,000 in costs for legal fees and related expenses.

He also directed Mr Ravi to confirm by Jan 30 if Mr Ngerng would be giving evidence.

Justice Lee ruled in a summary judgment in November that Mr Ngerng had defamed Mr Lee by suggesting that the Prime Minister had misappropriated Central Provident Fund (CPF) savings. Damages for defamation will be assessed in later hearings.

Yesterday, Mr Ravi said that, from his recollection, he did not tell the court that Mr Ngerng did not want to be cross-examined.

He also said that it would be "illogical" for the court to ask him to confirm by Jan 30 if Mr Ngerng would give evidence had he already said his client would not.

But Ms Chang, citing the notes by Drew & Napier, said Mr Ravi had made a "hasty U-turn".

She wrote: "Mr Ravi had informed the court that Mr Ngerng would rely on the affidavit filed by him in the earlier summary judgment application as his evidence for the purposes of the assessment of damages.

"Mr Davinder Singh then gave Mr Ravi notice that if Mr Ngerng was going to give evidence... Mr Singh would be cross-examining Mr Ngerng.

"Whereupon Mr Ravi promptly changed his position, and informed the court that Mr Ngerng would 'therefore' not be filing any evidence."

This, she said, was the "clearest indication" Mr Ngerng did not want to be cross-examined.

Ms Chang also addressed Mr Ravi's question about whether it was appropriate for the Prime Minister's press secretary to issue statements on the case, as Mr Lee was suing in his personal capacity.

"He appears to have forgotten that, as the court has found, Mr Ngerng falsely alleged 'the Prime Minister of Singapore... is guilty of criminal misappropriation of the monies paid by Singaporeans to the CPF,'" she said. "It is therefore entirely proper for me to deal with this matter as the Prime Minister's press secretary."

waltsim@sph.com.sg

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

Ombudsman unnecessary in S'pore: Forum

Straits Times
27 Jan 2015

MR ROBERT Tang Hin Ching ("Ombudsman can tackle graft in civil service"; last Friday) suggested having an ombudsman to deal with complaints of corruption in the civil service.

In jurisdictions with such an office, citizens aggrieved by the action of any public servant may lodge a complaint with the ombudsman. The ombudsman is usually empowered to investigate the complaints, advise on corrective actions and recommend prosecutions.

Unlike the judiciary, however, the ombudsman is usually not able to make binding and enforceable decisions. This may prompt some to question the efficacy of such a system. Nonetheless, to carry out investigations well, the ombudsman is usually independent of Parliament and the civil service.

In Singapore, an office of the ombudsman would be unnecessary in the light of existing and proposed measures.

Under the Constitution, the director of the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) is able to conduct investigations that the Prime Minister does not consent to, as long as the President, in exercising his discretion, agrees to such probes.

This affords the CPIB some degree of independence from the Prime Minister, Cabinet and civil service in carrying out investigations. Also, the President may veto the appointment of the CPIB director if he does not agree with the recommendation by the Cabinet or minister in charge.

The recently announced measures, such as the one-stop corruption reporting centre, a review of the Prevention of Corruption Act and an increase in the CPIB's manpower, would certainly strengthen our stance against corruption ("S'pore steps up efforts to stay free of corruption"; Jan 14).

Still, our best defence is perhaps the strong public service ethos of our officers, and their recognition of the need to act in the best interests of Singapore.

Grace Morgan (Ms)

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

Woman who poisoned hubby to lose part of divorce assets

Straits Times
20 Jan 2015
K.C. Vijayan

Apex court orders 7% cut, ruling that her crime must be taken into account

A WOMAN who went to prison for a year for poisoning her husband will suffer a 7 per cent cut in her share of their matrimonial assets in their divorce.

The Court of Appeal, in a novel decision, ruled that her crime had to be taken into account in deciding how to split the assets between them.

"It was plain to us, on the facts of the present case, that the wife's misconduct was so extreme and undisputed that it fell to be considered in determining what would be a just and equitable division of the matrimonial assets," wrote Judge of Appeal Andrew Phang in the grounds released yesterday.

Madam Fong Quay Sim, 72, was convicted in 2010 of lacing husband Chan Tin Sun's food with arsenic between 2004 and 2005. He was so ill at one stage that he could not move his limbs.

The couple were married for 34 years and have a 36-year-old son who is a veterinarian in Hong Kong.

Mr Chan, 74, a retired contractor, sued for divorce in 2011, and Madam Fong, who was said to have suffered a long history of chronic spousal emotional and verbal abuse, made a counterclaim against his unreasonable behaviour. A family court granted an interim divorce to both in 2011.

Last year, the High Court awarded Madam Fong 35 per cent of the couple's $2.1 million in assets plus another 7 per cent when Mr Chan failed to account for $705,000 withdrawn from his bank account which would have been part of their joint assets.

Senior Counsel N. Sreenivasan, citing English cases in arguing Mr Chan's appeal, urged the court to ascribe a negative value to Madam Fong's crime and said his client was prepared to give her a 20 per cent share of their total assets.

But Madam Fong's lawyer, Ms Wong Chai Kin, countered that to factor a negative value for her misconduct was tantamount to punishing her twice as she had already served a jail term.

The Court of Appeal stressed that in ascribing a negative value, the court is "not seeking to punish the wrongdoing spouse. Rather the court does so as part of the exercise of valuing the spouse's contribution to the marriage".

It made clear that if it ignored the misconduct, "the public might think that we had taken leave of our senses", quoting an English judgment dealing with a somewhat similar case.

The apex court clarified that no one factor can be paramount and various factors must be taken altogether to ensure assets are fairly distributed between spouses.

The court, comprising Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, Judge of Appeal Phang and Justice Judith Prakash, ordered the 35 per cent share of the matrimonial assets for Madam Fong be cut to 28 per cent to reflect the "negative value" of her misconduct.

The court also ordered the sum undisclosed by Mr Chan, computed at $645,960, to be added to the assets, which would then total $2.745 million.

Madam Fong was therefore entitled to 28 per cent of this - a total of $768,582.

The court did not award costs as she was legally aided.

vijayan@sph.com.sg

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

To view the judgment, click <here>.

$1m in bank accounts is mine, says ex-tour guide

Straits Times
14 Jan 2015
Carolyn Khew & Toh Yong Chuan

Yang Yin now says money was a gift from wealthy widow

IN A fresh twist to the fight for control of a widow's wealth, former China tour guide Yang Yin insists that the $1.13 million sitting in four of his OCBC bank accounts was a gift from Madam Chung Khin Chun.

Previously, he had said he was holding on to the money on the 87-year-old's behalf.

The 40-year-old Yang is also arguing that Madam Chung does not have the mental capacity to change a will in which she had left everything to him to one in which most of her wealth will go to charity.

Her assets, including a $30 million bungalow in Gerald Crescent, are believed to be worth $40 million.

In another development, he is urging the courts to lift a freeze on his assets after accusing Madam Chung's niece, Madam Hedy Mok, of not sticking to a deal in which he will be allowed to withdraw a monthly sum of $12,000.

Madam Mok, a 61-year-old tour agency owner, last August accused Yang of manipulating her aunt into handing over control of her assets.

Madam Chung met Yang in 2008 when he was her tour guide during a trip to China. The next year, he moved into her bungalow. In 2010, the widow made a will leaving Yang all her assets, including her bungalow. Two years later, she granted him a Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA). Yang says the childless widow treated him like a grandson.

Madam Mok has since sued the former tour guide for damages and for allegedly breaching his duties under the LPA, which was revoked last November.

Last August, the High Court ordered a freeze on Yang's assets, except for a monthly allowance of $12,000 to be released for his personal and legal expenses. However, Yang's lawyer, Mr Joseph Liow, told reporters before a pre-trial conference yesterday that his client has not been able to withdraw money from his bank accounts. "They have not honoured it," he said.

He revealed that a court application was filed on Monday asking for the freeze to be lifted or for Yang to be allowed to withdraw the money.

In court documents, Yang, who also faced more than 300 criminal charges including two for allegedly misappropriating $1.1 million from Madam Chung, said he had sent letters to Madam Mok's lawyers last September and October asking to withdraw funds. But he was told he was not allowed to do so.

"During this time, all my ordinary living expenses and expenses for legal advice and representation have been financed by personal loans that I managed to obtain from my family and friends in China," he said, adding that such avenues have now been "exhausted".

In separate court papers, Yang, who has been in remand since Oct 31, also said the $1.13 million in cash that he has in four OCBC bank accounts belonged to him as it was a gift from Madam Chung in December 2010.

As to why he previously said in court papers that he was merely holding on to the money, he explained: "I am not proficient in English."

Madam Mok's lawyer, Mr Andrew Lee, declined to comment on the new developments, saying he was still taking his client's instructions. The next court session will take place on Feb 24.

kcarolyn@sph.com.sg

tohyc@sph.com.sg


Background Story

Widow's new will questioned

IN COURT papers dated last Friday, Yang Yin cast doubts on whether Madam Chung Khin Chun is capable of making a new will.

"The mental capacity of Madam Chung has been a topic of severe scrutiny from the courts, the media and public," Yang said.

"I do not see how a fresh will purportedly executed by Madam Chung, age 87, was validly made, if at all."

In a previous will made on Dec 16, 2010, when Yang was living with her, Madam Chung named him "the sole executor and trustee and also the beneficiary" of her entire estate, which is believed to be worth $40 million.

But last month, according to Madam Chung's niece, Madam Hedy Mok, her aunt signed a new will which was drafted according to the widow's wishes. The new will does not mention Yang and leaves most of the elderly woman's money to charity.

Madam Mok's lawyer, Mr Peter Doraisamy, yesterday confirmed that the new will was filed with the Family Court on Monday. They are now waiting for the court to accept the application and execute it on Madam Chung's behalf.

"It was what my aunt had always wanted - to leave her assets to charity," Madam Mok said about her aunt's new will.

As for Yang's objections, she said: "We'll see him in court."

Madam Chung's mental capacity came under scrutiny last September, when she applied to revoke a Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) she granted Yang in 2012, which gave him control over her financial matters.

Two months later, the Family Court ruled that the widow was mentally capable of revoking the LPA.

TOH YONG CHUAN and CAROLYN KHEW

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

Avoiding moral hazard of MediShield Life

Straits Times
27 Jan 2015

THE MediShield Life Scheme Bill, introduced in Parliament last week, gives the authorities wide-ranging powers to check the income and health status of all Singaporeans and permanent residents. At first glance, the lack of privacy demanded by this legislative exercise would appear onerous. Financial and health details are extremely personal matters, and few would want to make them available to others, except for a very good reason. In that light, the power to check a person's income with the taxman and his health status through medical records at hospitals, without his explicit consent, is not a negligible issue. There is a clause which would allow those who find the checks too intrusive to prohibit them, but they would lose out on certain benefits of the scheme. Consequently, most probably would prefer to go along with the requirement of implied consent to verify personal details, if the Bill is passed.

However, it would be sad if they saw the new scheme in merely this light. The rationale of MediShield Life, which distinguishes it from the current raft of insurance schemes, is that it is a national effort to provide universal health coverage. To that end, it will cover everyone regardless of whether he is healthy or sick, and for his entire life. A scheme of this ambitiously inclusive nature requires the insured to pull their weight fairly so that they do not pass on the burden of unpaid premiums to other policyholders. In less extensive schemes, the consequences of freeloading would be restricted to a limited number of people. With MediShield Life, the national fabric, on the strength of which socially progressive programmes are possible, would be affected.

This is why the Bill gives the Health Minister the same powers as the taxman to recover unpaid premiums, such as by obliging employers to deduct the amount from a worker's salary or by getting banks to do the same from a person's account. What this suggests is that, just as taxes represent the civic responsibilities of citizenship and residence, premiums reflect the responsibilities that come with the enjoyment of a national health-care system.

MediShield Life is new territory for Singaporeans accustomed to private health insurance schemes that might encourage a buffet mentality of consuming all that is offered. To avoid raising costs for all, one should take only what is necessary. Thus, agencies must continuously explain why the new scheme's advantages have to come with commensurately more stringent standards of responsibility. In the final analysis, its success will depend on the extent to which the vast majority of Singaporeans are willing to invest their support for health care for all.

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

Defamation suit: Judge reduces damages awarded

Straits Times
20 Jan 2015
Elena Chong

A DISTRICT judge yesterday slashed the $50,000 damages awarded to each of two former committee members of the Singapore Swimming Club (SSC) who had sued ousted president Freddie Koh for defaming them.

Mr Koh, 68, who was voted out in 2012 in an extraordinary general meeting, had appealed against the decision of the Deputy Registrar of the State Courts last July. A one-day hearing was held the following month.

Yesterday, District Judge Foo Tuat Yien allowed the appeal and reduced damages awarded to Mr Gope Ramchand to $22,500, and to Mr Gary Oon Hong Siang, to $30,000.

She also reduced the total costs awarded to the two former SSC management committee members to $17,000 from $20,000. Mr Ramchand was the membership chairman while Mr Oon was the marketing communications and water sports chairman in the management committee prior to Mr Koh taking office in 2008.

Four other members of the same committee had sued Mr Koh in 2009 and got damages of $50,000 each. While in office in 2008, Mr Koh made defamatory remarks at two management committee meetings about the previous committee's decision to purchase a water-filtration package for two Olympic-sized swimming pools.

Mr R.S. Bajwa acted for Mr Koh while Mr Ramchand and Mr Oon were represented by Ms Chang Man Phing from WongPartnership.

ELENA CHONG

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S'pore steps up efforts to stay free of corruption

Straits Times
14 Jan 2015
Tham Yuen-C

SINGAPORE is reviewing its anti-graft laws and will hire more officers to fight corruption, as the nation seeks to maintain its clean image.

It will also set up a one-stop centre for people to report incidents of graft.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, in announcing the moves yesterday, said that while Singapore's system is generally "clean and maintains high standards", the problem of corruption "will never disappear completely".

He also referred to the drop in Singapore's ranking on Transparency International's annual list of countries seen as being the least corrupt in the world. Singapore fell two notches to No. 7 last year.

The slide, Mr Lee said, could have been due to recent high-profile corruption cases involving senior civil servants.

These included a sex-for-contracts case of a top officer in the civil defence force and the misappropriation of funds by a head of a branch of the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB).

Mr Lee was speaking at a conference organised by the CPIB and Civil Service College on maintaining integrity in the public sector.

He told the 600 public servants at the session that since Singapore's rankings on corruption and transparency can affect investors' confidence and the country's world standing, it must not only uphold but also enhance its reputation for cleanliness.

To achieve the goal, the Government is reviewing the Prevention of Corruption Act, Singa-pore's principal anti-corruption law enacted in 1960.

It will also increase the CPIB's manpower by more than 20 per cent as corruption cases have become more complex, some with international links.

The bureau's current staff strength is about 120, according to last year's Budget estimates.

In addition, a corruption reporting centre will be set up in an accessible place in the city, to make it easier for people to make complaints.

In his speech, PM Lee also reminded the officers that integrity was key in helping Singapore stay exceptional in the next 50 years.

"If any of you does something wrong, and breaches that trust, you not only let down the public service and yourself, but you are also letting Singaporeans down, and you can do a lot of damage."

Public servants, he said, have been able to do good work because of the trust Singaporeans have in them.

Maintaining this trust, through a policy of zero tolerance for corruption, is crucial.

Singapore is a "shining exception" in a world where corruption is a problem in many countries, Mr Lee noted. But, he said: "This level of trust the Singapore Public Service enjoys, and this degree of cleanliness in the public service, is a most unnatural state of affairs.

He urged them: "So work doubly hard to maintain the trust you've earned."

To do so, the public service mustpunish culprits, regardless of rank and seniority.

Its leaders must also lead by example and abide by high standards.

Mr Lee said integrity is not just a public service value, but one firmly ingrained in Singapore society. "This is the real achievement for us... that we have created an anti-corruption culture in Singapore."

Following his speech, the officers had a closed-door dialogue with PM Lee, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean and CPIB director Wong Hong Kuan.

yuenc@sph.com.sg

SEE TOP OF THE NEWS

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Responsible taxation - the impact on Singapore's hub status

Business Times
27 Jan 2015
Ben Pickford

As Beps project is still in development stage, it won't be wise for S'pore to take proactive unilateral steps now which would impact on its competitive position

INTERNATIONAL taxation and taxation of multinational corporations (MNCs) is a topic that continues to attract growing interest within the business community, specifically the Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (Beps) project being carried out by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which continues to push ahead at a rapid pace with the target completion date of December 2015.

Put simply, Beps refers to instances where the interaction of different international tax rules leads to some part of the profits of MNCs being shifted to locations where there is little physical activity combined with a low tax burden - meaning those profits are taxed at a low rate or, in some situations, not at all.

The reality is that this is rarely illegal, as it is often a matter of differences between the tax rules in different tax jurisdictions and because internationally developed standards have not kept pace with the "globalisation" of the economy and MNC business models.

As tax is a major business expense, Beps is a business problem and a global issue that requires global solutions.

In Deloitte's recent global survey of MNCs which studied nearly 600 clients' views on "responsible tax" and Beps and the resulting impact on their organisations (including respondents from Singapore), many important findings surfaced:

• Nearly 90 per cent of respondents anticipate that their income tax compliance burden will substantially increase as a result of the additional reporting from the Beps recommendations.
• Over 50 per cent of respondents anticipate significant unilateral legislative changes to protect the tax base that is not coordinated with what the other countries are doing, which will contribute to uncertainty, risk of double taxation, and other potential cross-border trade and investment barriers.
• Almost 50 per cent of respondents anticipate significant legislative and treaty changes as a result of the Beps initiative.

What does this mean for Singapore's competitive position in the global economy?

While Singapore is not an OECD member country, the government is paying close attention to developments at the OECD. There is a growing recognition that should the recommendations from the OECD be implemented, this could potentially make "hub" locations such as Singapore less viable for foreign investors. The issue is not necessarily what Beps measures Singapore itself may choose to implement, rather what tax measures other countries may implement which could negate the benefits of locating a hub in Singapore or create double taxation.

In addition, Singapore-headquartered groups that invest overseas need to pay closer attention to reactions to Beps in countries where they invest. We are already starting to see law changes being announced on a unilateral basis in countries including the UK, China and Australia.

REAL RISK

Singapore is widely recognised as being one of the easiest places in the world to do business, and receives regular accolades to this effect. Along with its highly competitive tax regime and deep pool of skilled labour, it is therefore logical that MNCs will want to continue to invest here. Although it does compete with other locations for investment including Hong Kong and Malaysia, Singapore often comes out on top.

Relatively speaking, as long as Singapore continues to seek to maintain its competitive edge and continues to evolve its tax framework and economy in line with or ahead of changes in global investment trends, there is no reason to think that Singapore cannot maintain its edge over its competitors.

However, is the real risk to Singapore that the age of the hub in MNC business models is coming under pressure and potentially to an end? A number of the Beps proposals could make having a hub in somewhere like Singapore less palatable if it means higher taxes on a global basis. For example, MNCs could end up paying more in taxes when paying dividends from profitable subsidiaries with a hub in Singapore than if they had just paid to the headquarters directly. In that case, would this negate the operational benefits of having the hub in Singapore?

In a more extreme scenario, MNCs could choose to just invest into territories directly rather than through a hub location such as Singapore. This could be bad news for Singapore.

What can the Singapore government do about this or is it out of their hands? Well, we know that Singapore has representation as an "observer" at the OECD so they are close to developments in the Beps project on a real-time basis. In reality as a small nation, Singapore's ability to influence the Beps project is limited but having an inside track on developments is surely the next best thing.

We also know that Singapore's Ministry of Finance, the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore, the Monetary Authority of Singapore and others are consulting business and other stakeholders in Singapore on a regular basis to take input as to what they should be doing, if anything. They are also changing tax policy in certain areas such as transfer pricing documentation and the way that tax incentives are awarded and assessed to move more into line with the OECD's preferred approach.

Aside from trying to ensure their view is at least communicated at the OECD, the wait-and-see approach seems most appropriate for Singapore at the moment. The Beps project is still in development and it would not be wise for Singapore to take any proactive unilateral steps at this stage which would impact on its competitive position. In particular, we do not see any significant action being taken by other countries which promote themselves as hub locations in Asia (such as Hong Kong and Malaysia), so Singapore should be conscious to remain competitive. In addition, Singapore can continue to promote other activities which we are seeing, for example, as an offshore clearing house for Chinese renminbi and as a global gold trading hub.

Where the Beps process will end up is anyone's guess, but one thing is sure: Change is inevitable. We are seeing it already and Singapore needs to stay aware and on top of developments to ensure that its competitive position is not eroded.

  • The writer is tax director of Deloitte Singapore

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

Firm sanctioned for 'passing off' as privacy watchdog

Straits Times
20 Jan 2015
Irene Tham

FIVE months after becoming the first person to be fined for breaching "Do Not Call" rules in Singapore and just a week after facing fresh probes by the authorities, Mr Law Han Wei is back on the law enforcement radar.

A firm called DNC Register, where Mr Law is the sole director and shareholder, is being sanctioned for potentially passing itself off as Singapore's privacy commission.

For a small fee, DNC Register helps organisations screen their call lists against the official Do Not Call Registry, which contains the phone numbers of consumers who do not want to receive phone, SMS or fax marketing offers.

But the contention is not over its business model, which the authorities allow.

It is over the use of its official-sounding name, which could potentially cause confusion among members of the public.

DNC Register's website, www.dncpdpc.com.sg, which was still working last Friday, has since been deleted by the Singapore Network Information Centre (SGNIC), which governs domain names ending with ".sg".

SGNIC acted on the instructions of the Personal Data Protection Commission (PDPC).

The commission enforces the Personal Data Protection Act and the Do Not Call rules here.

"The company and website are not associated with, endorsed (by) or approved by the PDPC," the watchdog said in a strongly worded statement yesterday, in response to queries from The Straits Times last Tuesday.

"Organisations should not adopt names that impersonate the PDPC or its official platforms, or that may mislead the public into thinking that their companies or websites are associated with the PDPC," it said.

Another domain name registered by Mr Law - www.dncpdpc.sg - was also deleted.

"The PDPC takes a strong view against such conduct," said the commission, urging organisations and consumers to visit its official website at www.dnc.gov.sg instead.

"There is certainly a case for passing off as the authority," noted intellectual property lawyer Cyril Chua of ATMD Bird & Bird.

Last Thursday, The Straits Times reported that Mr Law and three firms linked to him - Star Zest Home Tuition, Cherry Education and Novo House Cleaning - were facing probes after about 300 complaints were filed against them.

They had been accused of sending SMSes offering job opportunities for potential tutors and cleaners to numbers listed on the registry.

Mr Law and Star Zest Home Tuition received a $78,000 fine last August for marketing the services of its tutors.

itham@sph.com.sg

 

*****************Background Story *****************

 

DON'T MISLEAD PUBLIC

Organisations should not adopt names that impersonate the PDPC or its official platforms, or that may mislead the public into thinking that their companies or websites are associated with the PDPC.

- The Personal Data Protection Commission (PDPC), in a statement yesterday

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

ADV: A STEP closer to understanding Estate Planning

Singapore Law Watch
14 Jan 2015
Rockwills Institute

Teen in HDB rooftop graffiti case gets 15-month probation

Straits Times
27 Jan 2015
Elena Chong

A TEENAGER who abetted his four friends in vandalising the rooftop of a Toa Payoh Housing Board block was placed on 15 months' probation yesterday.

Probation was recommended for David William Graaskov, 18, after he pleaded guilty to three of six charges - theft of four spray cans as well as criminal trespass at Marina Bay Suites and a construction site in Balestier.

His alleged accomplices - Boaz Koh Wen Jie, Reagan Tan Chang Zhi, Chay Nam Shen and Goh Rong Liang, all 18 - will have their cases mentioned in the Community Court tomorrow.

The court had heard that the group stole the spray cans worth $12 from a lorry parked in the carpark of Block 54, Toa Payoh Lorong 5, at about 11.45pm on May 6 last year. It was then suggested among the group that they should go and spray the rooftop of Block 85A in Lorong 4.

Although Graaskov had agreed to take part in the vandalism, he did not do so. He realised it was getting late and left the group to catch the last bus home.

The next morning, a resident called the police hotline to report that there was graffiti at the top of Block 85A. It was directed against the People's Action Party and splashed across a large, flat wall panel.

Further investigation showed that Graaskov was also involved in other offences. He trespassed on the Marina Bay Suites condominium with three others on March 29 last year. They managed to access the condo lobby, and took a lift to the highest floor. From there, they climbed a staircase to the rooftop to chat and smoke for about an hour.

Some time between October and December 2013, the four climbed over the gate of a construction site in Jalan Rajah to get onto a crane where they stayed for about two hours.

District Judge Lim Keng Yeow yesterday told Graaskov he was prepared to accept the probation officer's recommendations and give him one chance to undergo probation.

The teen could have been jailed for up to three years and/or fined for theft. For criminal trespass, he could have been jailed for up to three months and/or fined up to $1,500 per charge.

The judge ordered Graaskov, who was in court with his family, to stay indoors from 10pm to 6am and perform 80 hours of community service. Both his parents were each bonded for $5,000 to ensure his good behaviour.

elena@sph.com.sg

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PMEs can be represented as group by unions

Straits Times
20 Jan 2015
Toh Yong Chuan

PROFESSIONALS, managers and executives (PMEs) will get more help and protection from unions when they run into disputes with their employers.

The amendment in the Industrial Relations Act (IRA), which was passed in Parliament yesterday, will allow rank-and-file unions to also represent executives as a group.

This means that the unions can bargain for collective salary agreements and represent PMEs individually in employment disputes.

Before the amendments were passed, the unions could represent PMEs only as individuals without collective bargaining rights.

Besides collective representation, older PMEs who face individual re-employment disputes after they turn 62 can also get help from their unions.

Currently, unions can take up disputes individually for PMEs only when they involve salaries, retrenchment payouts, breaches of employment contracts and workplace victimisation.

Apart from boosting protection for PMEs, the changes will make Singapore's three-way partnership between unions, employers and the Government "even more inclusive", said Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin in Parliament yesterday.

"This will, in turn, strengthen Singapore's model of tripartism and benefit employees, unions and employers."

The changes in the IRA are meant to keep up with the evolving workforce. PMEs now make up over 30 per cent of the workforce and their numbers are expected to grow in the years ahead.

The amendments to the law drew support from most of the nine MPs who rose to spoke yesterday. Leading the charge were six MPs affiliated with the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC), who praised the move as being relevant and timely.

The changes will make Singapore more attractive to investments, which will, in turn, create good jobs for workers, said NTUC deputy secretary-general Heng Chee How.

Drawing more executives into unions can also beef up union leadership ranks, said NTUC assistant secretary-general Zainal Sapari, adding that having stronger union leaders who work with employers can add to workplace harmony.

But Workers' Party's Ms Lee Li Lian noted that there were some PMEs who were still excluded from the law and asked where they could seek help.

Those holding senior posts and performing human resource jobs are among those still excluded from union representation to avoid conflicts of interest.

Responding, Mr Tan said: "The upcoming employment claims tribunal... will cover all employees, including executives earning above $4,500 and regardless of job responsibilities."

The only employer who spoke at the debate was Ms Jessica Tan, who is the managing director of Microsoft's Singapore office. She said that employers are concerned about the impact on business operations and managerial effectiveness, points which Mr Tan acknowledged.

Nominated MP Randolph Tan, a labour economist, suggested that unions be also allowed to represent PMEs during the hiring process to ensure that they get a fair shot at PME jobs.

But Mr Tan dismissed the idea, saying that union representation is "not quite the right mechanism to deal with the issue of fair competition for jobs". There are already measures such as the national job bank that have been put in place.

The changes to the law passed by the House will take effect from April.

tohyc@sph.com.sg

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Justice Tan Siong Thye appointed Singapore’s first Deputy Attorney-General

TODAY
13 Jan 2015
Kelly Ng

Law academics say new role will distinguish between dual roles currently filled by Attorney-General

SINGAPORE — After only over a year on the High Court bench, judicial veteran Justice Tan Siong Thye has been appointed as Singapore’s first-ever Deputy Attorney-General, a role law academics TODAY spoke to said would not only alleviate the increasingly complex legal work of the Government, but also distinguish between dual roles currently filled by the Attorney-General.

Justice Tan, 61, will assume his new appointment from Feb 2 for a three-year term. Appointed a High Court judge last year, he had also served as the top judge in the then-Subordinate Courts — now the State Courts.

Among the closely-watched cases he has heard are the sex-for-grades trial of former National University of Singapore law professor Tey Tsun Hang and the Committee of Inquiry for the Little India riot in December 2013.

As Deputy Attorney-General, he will be responsible to the Attorney-General and will discharge duties of the Attorney-General as assigned, said the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC).

“(The new office) reflects the increasing volume and complexity of the legal work of the Government and the need for sufficient apex positions in the Executive for those pursuing a legal career in the public sector,” the AGC said in a statement.

The Attorney-General — a position presently filled by Mr V K Rajah — currently wears two hats: He is the Government’s legal adviser and at the same time a chief public prosecutor, a role in which he is guaranteed independence by the Constitution.

“Given that the two roles sometimes lead to confusion regarding the Attorney-General’s independence, it makes sense to separate the two functions,” said National University of Singapore law professor Walter Woon, who served as Attorney-General from 2008 to 2010.

Justice Tan’s experience in the AGC’s Commercial Affairs Department and as Chief District Judge leaves him well-placed to oversee the prosecution function, Prof Woon said. Introducing the role of a Deputy Attorney-General that holds the status of a High Court judge will also help retain some of the best advocates in the public service.

“Before this step, once a (legal officer in the public service) had risen through the ranks of the Senior Counsel, his next promotion would have been to the bench, and his or her services would have been lost to the legal service,” Prof Woon said.

Professor Simon Chesterman, Dean of NUS’ law faculty, said the new office would allow the Attorney-General to devote more time in setting the strategic direction for his Chambers, in addition to managing an expanding body of work.

Singapore Management University law professor Law Goh Yihan added that the Republic has in recent years seen an increase in civil litigation cases against the Government, thus the appointment of a deputy will help “take part of the burden off the Attorney-General’s shoulders”.

Justice Tan started his career as a Deputy Public Prosecutor in 1979, before heading the Commercial Affairs Department from 1999 to 2008. He was later appointed Chief District Judge in the then-Subordinate Courts, before becoming Judicial Commissioner in October 2013 and a High Court judge in July last year.

In a statement, Mr Rajah said that the new constitutional appointment has “considerable significance”.

“As Deputy Attorney-General, (Justice Tan) will work closely with me and the Solicitor-General Lionel Yee to raise professional standards in the AGC and to better serve Singapore.

“He brings with him unique insights on the administration of justice and a tremendous wealth of experience in many areas, especially in criminal law and in management.

“His decades of experience will be particularly valuable in guiding and mentoring AGC officers as they handle increasingly complex and challenging cases. The AGC will be enormously strengthened by his appointment.

“I can think of no better person to serve as Singapore’s first Deputy Attorney-General,” he said.

kellyng@mediacorp.com.sg

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Foreign law firms eye Indonesia market

Straits Times
26 Jan 2015
WAHYUDI SOERIAATMADJA INDONESIA CORRESPONDENT IN JAKARTA

Global players drawn in by opportunities as Jakarta pursues investment deals

INDONESIAN law firms are facing rising competition from global rivals lured by Indonesia's growing economy and the increasing number of corporate clients needing advice on major deals, such as infrastructure projects.

President Joko Widodo's government has made investment in South-east Asia's largest economy and infrastructure, such as roads and railways, a priority. For example, the country's Investment Coordinating Board is targeting 932.9 trillion rupiah (S$103 billion) in investment within the next five years, as part of the government's push to boost gross domestic product (GDP) growth by 7 per cent, The Jakarta Post reported recently.

This means potentially big fees for law firms that specialise in these sectors. The government also wants more investment in agriculture, energy, mining and heavy industry.

Most foreign law firms have formed an alliance with local law firms. Both parties commit to sharing information and expertise as well as referring potential clients. Some global firms have acquired small local law firms, but operate under the acquired party's name. Under Indonesian law, foreign lawyers are allowed to be only consultants to local lawyers as they cannot represent clients in court or set up their own offices.

For example, Assegaf Hamzah & Partners, Indonesia's second-largest law firm by number of hired lawyers, recently teamed up with Rajah & Tann, one of the largest law firms in Singapore and South-east Asia.

Another Jakarta-based law firm, Nurjadin Sumono Mulyadi & Partners, recently tied up with Bird & Bird from Britain. Indonesia's largest law firm, Hadiputranto, Hadinoto & Partners, has long had an alliance with US firm Baker & McKenzie.

"Forming an alliance with Rajah & Tann is a way to fend off competition from those global law firms which make a billion dollars a year," said Mr Ahmad Fikri Assegaf, managing partner at Assegaf Hamzah & Partners. It would give his firm access to Rajah & Tann's networks in Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and China.

Each country has its own expertise, Mr Fikri said, pointing out that Malaysian lawyers, for example, would help their Indonesian counterparts in railway deals as they have had abundant exposure in such projects. Indonesian lawyers are familiar with mining transactions, so they can share their expertise with counterparts in Myanmar, for example. Indonesia is the world's largest thermal coal exporter and also a major nickel exporter.

Mr Fikri also said smaller firms in South-east Asia have more than ever been venturing into new and unfamiliar markets, something that only big multinationals did in past decades. "They need reliable legal and market advice that is not just confined to their own jurisdiction," he said.

Indonesia stands out for its sheer market size and potential economic growth, Rajah & Tann managing partner Lee Eng Beng said, referring to the tie-up. "We anticipate many Indonesian companies expanding into the region where business associations and potential for partnerships will continue to be strongest," he added.

Australian lawyer Luke Devine, a Jakarta-based foreign legal consultant with Hadiputranto, Hadinoto & Partners, said the investment climate for projects has improved substantially in recent years, and the hope was for greater investment under Mr Joko. "The new government is very focused on trying to remove as much of the bureaucracy as realistically possible for the roll-out of new developments," he said.

Some local lawyers, though, are worried by the influx and have appealed to the government to apply stricter rules. They allege that foreign lawyers typically overcharge their clients.

But Mr Otto Hasibuan, chairman of Indonesian Advocates Association (Peradi), argued that foreign lawyers bring in much needed expertise, particularly about the law in their own countries.

He stressed, however, that foreign lawyers wishing to practise in Indonesia must get a recommendation letter from Peradi, which requires them to sit a lawyer's code of conduct exam.

Asked about Indonesia's regulatory environment, Mr Peter Fanning, a noted Australian legal consultant, said: "It is workable, it takes time for lawyers to get approval but... there is no specific obstacle in the way."

Mr Todung Mulya Lubis, a lawyer for 40 years, said it would be hard to apply tougher rules to foreign lawyers.

"A foreign lawyer can come to Indonesia for a day or two for work and then leave the country. Or they can even work through e-mail," said Mr Todung. "It is a consequence of globalisation."

wahyudis@sph.com.sg

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Errant retailers to be blocked from starting new companies

Straits Times
20 Jan 2015
Cheryl Faith Wee

Govt working to boost consumer protection laws: Minister of State

CONSUMER protection laws will be strengthened to prevent errant retailers from starting new companies, said Minister of State for Trade and Industry Teo Ser Luck yesterday.

He was fielding questions in Parliament about recalcitrant shop owners and trading practices - issues that have come under scrutiny since last October after incidents involving questionable sales tactics, particularly in Sim Lim Square, made local and international headlines.

The Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) and the Singapore Tourism Board currently have authority under the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act (CPFTA) to take up court orders against errant retailers to get them to stop unfair business practices.

But such retailers tend to close down their businesses and reopen under a different name before they face any penalties.

MPs yesterday asked for tighter restrictions and questioned whether existing laws had enough teeth.

Mr Teo said the Government was moving to act against retailers who affect consumer confidence and dent Singapore's reputation. "The Government will review the legislation to strengthen the provisions, so that quicker action can be taken to deter unfair trading practices and prevent errant retailers from sidestepping restrictions under CPFTA by forming new companies."

The laws are being reviewed and the Ministry of Trade and Industry is looking into the possibility of appointing an agency to investigate cases and enforce these changes, said Mr Teo.

Several of the nine MPs who spoke on the issue also had suggestions on how to step up efforts against dishonest shops.

Non-Constituency MP Lina Chiam suggested that a blacklist of such retailers be put up at the airport and major commercial hubs to warn shoppers.

But Mr Teo felt this might give visitors the wrong impression that many shops here are dishonest when, in fact, the vast majority are bona fide operators. "It is more appropriate to tackle these issues at the local level."

Mr Liang Eng Hwa (Holland- Bukit Timah GRC) suggested that enforcement officers act as shoppers to check on shops that have many complaints made against them. This is so they can gather evidence for further action to be taken if necessary.

Ms Denise Phua (Moulmein-Kallang GRC) said that, as an interim measure before changes to the laws are made, there should be police officers in civilian attire at malls such as Sim Lim Square and Lucky Plaza so that shoppers can make reports more easily.

Responding, Mr Teo said it was important to first assess whether there is an element of criminality before escalating a matter to the police.

Mr Lim Biow Chuan (Mountbatten), president of Case, also asked whether the police will investigate complaints against errant retailers in Sim Lim Square and prosecute those who have cheated tourists and consumers.

Second Minister for Home Affairs and Trade and Industry S. Iswaran said investigations into the Sim Lim Square cases are ongoing, adding that the police can investigate only if a report or complaint suggests that a criminal offence has been committed.

cherylw@sph.com.sg


Govt, private sector involved in review of consumer law

THE review of the law to protect consumers in Singapore against errant retailers involves both government agencies and the private sector, Minister of State for Trade and Industry Teo Ser Luck said yesterday.

They include officials from the Home Affairs and Law ministries as well as the Attorney-General's Chambers, plus shopping mall operators and the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case).

When the review is done, probably by the middle of this year, a public consultation will be held among merchants and mall operators for greater acceptance of any proposed changes, Mr Teo added, in his reply to Dr Lim Wee Kiak (Nee Soon GRC).

He acknowledged that stiffening the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act is "a matter of urgency" and pledged that it will be hastened. But care has to be taken in introducing penalties under the Act, to avoid causing distress to the majority of merchants, who are legitimate, he added.

"You don't want it to open up so much that, in every little case, it will affect the business operations as a whole," he told Mr Hri Kumar Nair (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC), who had asked about the types of breaches his ministry will consider making a criminal offence. Mr Teo added: "As you know, the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act covers all things, buy and sell, at the retail sector, so we are not just talking about selling electronics but every other thing, so we have to consider it carefully."

Meanwhile, his ministry will continue to work with Case to engage mall operators and retailers through education and training programmes.

They will also keep an eye on the nature and number of complaints to Case, said Mr Teo. Case gets about 4,000 consumer complaints a year. Of these, about 15 per cent are from tourists.

LIM YAN LIANG

yanliang@sph.com.sg

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Surety 'can't use funds from another party for bail'

Straits Times
13 Jan 2015
K.C. Vijayan

CJ says this is to prevent accused with the means from 'buying freedom'

A BAILOR who stumps up the cash to free an accused person cannot do so if that money comes from another party, the High Court has clarified.

Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon made this ruling in explaining the high-profile case of former China tour guide Yang Yin, whose bail was revoked because his surety in Singapore was actually using money from Yang's family in China.

"If a court does not duly consider the source of a surety's funds, it may lead to the invidious situation where an accused person who has the means can effectively purchase his freedom," wrote the Chief Justice.

Yang, 40, faces 331 counts of falsifying receipts in relation to his company, Young Music and Dance Studio.

His civil case drew attention after he was sued by the niece of 87-year-old widow Chung Khin Chun, for allegedly manipulating the old woman into giving him control of her estimated $40 million assets.

Yang, a Chinese national, was remanded last month after prosecutors successfully appealed to revoke his $150,000 bail.

The Chief Justice, who heard the appeal, held that the district court had failed to take into account the fact that the $150,000 bail money would be provided by Yang's family in China, which meant his Singapore guarantors would stand to lose nothing financially if Yang decided to flee.

Chief Justice Menon said: "In all the circumstances, including the fact that the respondent faced a number of charges disclosing offences that were by no means trifling in nature, there was a significant flight risk."

He added that the case does not mean foreigners accused of crimes here will not get bail, saying the decision to grant bail will be made on the particular facts of each case.

The decision grounds, released yesterday, come in the wake of judgment grounds released last week for another case, in which the High Court declined to interfere with a district judge's decision to grant bail.

It involved a car workshop manager facing 81 charges of faking road accidents for insurance payouts. Prosecutors failed in their move in the High Court to revoke his bail and keep him in jail until his criminal trial begins.

Justice Tay Yong Kwang upheld a district court's decision to grant Sollihin Anhar $70,000 bail, finding there were "no errors" in the earlier decision, and that there were no exceptional circumstances to warrant revoking his bail.

Sollihin, 41, allegedly schemed with others to cheat insurance companies into processing claims for staged road accidents between 2011 and 2013.

The prosecution had asked for his bail to be refused on each of three occasions when he was charged last year, alleging that Sollihin had breached bail conditions by contacting five potential witnesses on 10 separate occasions.

But the district court ruled that the allegations had to be "treated with caution", as they were made by others who had allegedly been part of the scam.

Sollihin's lawyer Thangevelu denied in the High Court that his client breached bail conditions, saying allegations of "witness tampering" were traced to a phone number of an unidentified foreigner whom Sollihin did not know.

He argued that there was no serious injustice to justify the High Court's interference.

Justice Tay found there was "no apparent illegality or serious miscarriage of justice shown".

Prosecutors have filed a motion asking the Court of Appeal to clarify the scope of the High Court's revisionary powers in such cases, and the standard of proof required to revoke or vary bail conditions.

vijayan@sph.com.sg

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To view the judgment, click <here>.

City Harvest trial resumes today

Straits Times
26 Jan 2015
Hoe Pei Shan

THE high-profile criminal trial of six City Harvest Church (CHC) members resumes today, with its former investment manager - which the church recently sued in a separate case - expected to take the stand first.

Chew Eng Han is conducting his own defence in the long-running trial that began nearly two years ago on May 15, 2013.

The case had unfolded dramatically as church founder Kong Hee, Chew, and four others fight various charges of criminal breach of trust and falsifying accounts, with some defendants turning on others.

The defendants allegedly misused some $50 million of church funds, half of which was funnelled through sham transactions to boost the pop music career of Kong's wife Ho Yeow Sun, say prosecutors.

The defence, however, have argued that Ms Ho's secular music career was part of the church-approved Crossover Project. This aimed to attract non-Christians through her songs and spread the Gospel among them.

Three of the six accused - Kong, longtime CHC Board member John Lam, and church finance manager Sharon Tan - have already taken the stand.

That leaves three others: Chew, former church finance manager Serina Wee, and CHC management board vice-president Tan Ye Peng.

They are likely to give testimony in that order, and hearing dates have been set all the way till mid-June.

The trial, which goes into its 89th day today, has been punctuated by emotional outbursts, and the tension may heighten as Chew enters the witness box.

A member of the church since 1995, Chew held various positions on the CHC Board until his resignation in 2007 when his company, Amac Capital Partners, was appointed as the church's fund manager.

He left the church completely in 2013, later telling the court that one reason for his departure was because Kong "deceived the people closest to (him)".

Throughout his cross-examinations of the other defendants who have testified, Chew had painted Kong as a liar and tried to distance himself from any schemes he claimed had been hatched before he got involved.

The megachurch filed court papers against Amac in October last year, and is suing Chew for almost $21 million in unreturned investments, including $4.6 million in interest.

Chew had rejected the claims in his written defence filed on Nov 18.

hpeishan@sph.com.sg

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Singapore's anti-graft laws: 5 possible areas for reform

Business Times
20 Jan 2015
Wilson Ang

The 55-year-old anti-corruption laws here are some of the most aggressively enforced, but they need to keep pace with global developments. The set-up of the Asean Economic Community is a catalyst too

IN A move to arrest Singapore's slide in Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index and restore its leading reputation for non-corruptibility, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced a week ago that the Prevention of Corruption Act (PCA) will be reviewed, steps will be taken to boost the manpower of the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) by more than 20 per cent and a central corruption reporting centre will be set up for complaints to be made.

In the past couple of years, the island state had been rocked by a series of prominent scandals involving senior public officials and high-level executives from well-known private enterprises. While Singapore's anti-corruption laws are some of the most aggressively enforced in the world, those laws which were enacted in 1960 also need to keep pace with international developments. It is therefore timely for the PCA to be reviewed.

While it remains to be seen which aspects of the law will be revamped, we gaze into the crystal ball and outline five key areas for potential reform:

CORPORATE LIABILITY

Prosecutions in Singapore for bribery-related offences have primarily focused on individuals. While Singapore law allows corporations to be prosecuted, and international obligations under the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention require corporations to be legally liable for corrupt practices, the reality is that it is evidentially difficult to prove that a corporation had the requisite intent and had perpetrated the said corrupt act. This is usually proven by showing the individual who committed the crime can be regarded as the "embodiment of the company" or its "directing mind and will" - not an easy task in an era of large multinational corporations with complex decision-making trees.

Any reform to the PCA may do well to take a leaf out of the pages of Singapore's own anti-money laundering law - the Corruption, Drug-Trafficking and Serious Crimes (Confiscation of Benefits) Act (CDSA). The CDSA renders money laundering by a corporation a criminal offence that can be proven through the state of mind as well as the conduct of any "director, employee or agent" who was acting within the scope of his or her actual or apparent authority. In other words, the evidential threshold is significantly lowered and the outdated "directing mind and will" test is done away with.

COMPLIANCE DEFENCE

If the threshold for proving corporate liability is lowered, some balance can be restored by introducing a compliance defence. A corporation that is found liable for bribes paid by its "director, employee or agent" can be absolved of legal liability if it can show that it took reasonable steps to prevent such corrupt practices from taking place. Such a compliance defence provides a legal impetus for companies to adopt prudent business practices and foster ethical corporate cultures through the implementation of anti-corruption compliance programmes.

This notion of a compliance defence finds support in the form of the "adequate procedures" defence enshrined in the recent UK Bribery Act 2010, and has been the subject of a movement in the US to introduce a similar affirmative defence in the context of the reform of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

EXTRATERRITORIAL EFFECT

It has been observed that while the level of corruption in Singapore may be relatively low due to the authorities' strict domestic enforcement approach, the behaviour of Singaporeans and Singapore companies abroad may not necessary mirror that of their conduct back home. This could be partly due to the limited legal effect of the PCA on corrupt conduct abroad, and the practical difficulties of enforcement and investigations in foreign jurisdictions.

The PCA, as it currently stands, provides for limited extraterritorial effect in respect of the acts of bribery of Singapore citizens abroad. Such acts will be dealt with as if the bribe had taken place in Singapore. Notwithstanding this provision, non-citizens such as Singapore permanent residents and corporations are not subject to the extraterritorial scope of the law. If the non-corruptible image of Singapore is to be maintained, it should be burnished based on conduct at home and abroad. The PCA should be expanded to address this discrepancy.

WHISTLEBLOWING PROTECTION

While the establishment of a central corruption reporting centre could be a helpful facility, more can done to address the concerns surrounding reporting of complaints, particularly protection against retaliation. The PCA currently provides for the right to anonymity and protects informers' identities by prohibiting the disclosure of information such as the informer's name or address. However, given that there is no overarching whistleblower law in Singapore, unlike some other jurisdictions, there is no statutory protection afforded to employees of companies who may lodge complaints against their supervisors and lose their jobs as a consequence.

Singapore could also consider going a step further by giving monetary rewards to genuine whistleblowers whose timely complaints could help to prevent corruption or fraud. This may be a controversial idea since some consider that complaints should be made out of a sense of civic-mindedness and not because an incentivising carrot was dangled; this approach was taken in the US although it was not adopted in the UK. Singapore may, however, already have set a precedent in giving monetary rewards since the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore operates a scheme which rewards whistle-blowers for information which leads to tax being recovered.

PRIVATE-SECTOR OUTREACH

If reform were to be instituted in the key aspects of corporate liability, compliance defence and extraterritoriality, an extensive private-sector outreach programme should be rolled out to prepare Singapore corporations and international corporations with a regional base in Singapore, to address corruption challenges internally and in their dealings with business partners and intermediaries both domestically and regionally. The advent of the Asean Economic Community provides the catalyst for Singapore Inc to take on the scourge of regional corruption with a robust approach to compliance which sets apart ethical, well-run, sustainable businesses from those which operate on dubious practices and questionable relationships.

  • The writer is a Singapore-based partner at global legal practice Norton Rose Fulbright

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2015 bail review: Striking the right balance

Straits Times
13 Jan 2015
Remy Choo Zheng Xi

Broaden the way bail is granted: consider non-monetary conditional releases, like curfews, for non-violent offenders assessed to be of low flight risk

ONE of the more interesting legal developments to look forward to this year is a review of the bail framework. This was announced recently by Law Minister K. Shanmugam in the wake of the Sydney hostage-taking on Dec 15 last year.

Far from being a knee-jerk reaction to a one-off event, the review should be seen in the light of an earlier statement by Second Minister for Home Affairs S. Iswaran in July 2012 that the bail framework is reviewed regularly and is an ongoing process.

The last time the bail framework was tweaked was in January 2012, when Parliament passed the Statutes (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill prescribing that no bail would be granted when a person is charged with an offence punishable with death or imprisonment for life.

The recent announcement of a review by the Ministry of Law provides a ripe opportunity for a more comprehensive re-look at the entire system of bail.

In the media and academic writings, less ink has been spilled on the question of bail, compared with issues such as sentencing and the trial process.

The paucity of literature is a pity, because every person who is being investigated and/or charged with a criminal offence will invariably have to grapple with the issue of whether or not bail is offered and, if so, in what amount.

At the heart of any comprehensive review must be an attempt to strike the best balance between the rights of an accused, who is innocent until proven guilty, and the state's interest in securing the accused person's attendance in court.

Additionally, there is a public interest in ensuring that any potential injury to the public, from the possibility that potentially dangerous individuals are set loose upon the public, is minimised.

Understandably, to the extent that bail is discussed in public discourse, it is the latter half of this equation that is more often in the spotlight. Media reports often focus on cases in which accused persons abscond while on bail.

For instance, in the last six months alone, there were four news items on accused persons who had absconded while on bail. High-profile cases involving the issue of abscondment (actual or potential) include that of Singaporean football match-fixer Wilson Raj Perumal, who jumped bail in 2010 over an assault charge, and more recently issues of adequacy of bail relating to Chinese national Yang Yin. In 2013, 122 persons absconded while on bail and, in 2012, the figure was 99.

However, it is equally important that the upcoming bail review give some serious consideration to the question of the right of accused persons to be released on bail pending trial.

Article 9 of the Constitution guarantees the right of liberty of the person, and the presumption of innocence is accepted without question in our criminal cases as the "golden thread" that binds this corpus of law.

The practical impact of the availability of bail to accused persons is significant.

The last publicly available statistics on this were cited in a 2005 article by then Assistant Registrar of the Supreme Court Low Siew Ling, which showed that of 13,436 cases in which bail was granted in 2004, only 5,734 persons availed themselves of bail. The remaining 7,702 persons (57.3 per cent) were presumably unable to raise the bail amounts. Unless the statistics have been reduced dramatically in the intervening decade, such numbers are a cause for concern.

Persons who are remanded pending trial because of their inability to provide bail are at a disadvantage: They are less able to prepare for trial, and may also feel additional pressure to plead guilty, particularly where the period they may spend in remand prior to trial is potentially longer than a possible sentence. I have personally taken on such cases involving foreign workers, who do not have bailors and who elect to plead guilty out of convenience.

In some cases, individuals who are not on bail may be deprived of their liberty for longer periods than they are eventually sentenced to by the courts.

This danger was highlighted in the 2005 case of Yeo Eng Siang v Public Prosecutor, in which former chief justice Yong Pung How heard a case where the accused person was acquitted despite having been imprisoned for several months before his appeal was heard.

Having large numbers of persons in pre-trial remand also strains the resources of the state unnecessarily.

To reduce the numbers of persons in pre-trial remand because of an inability to post bail, one area of possible reform could be to consider providing the courts with broader powers to order non-monetary conditional releases in lieu of bail. This is known in some jurisdictions such as Scotland, Hong Kong, Canada and the United States as "release on one's own recognisance".

Conditions of such release can be flexible but as effective as monetary bail, as it allows courts to granularly assess and take into account the individual circumstances of accused persons. For instance, the Pennsylvania Rules of Criminal Procedure Code allows a bail authority to order curfews and reporting requirements in the case of young accused persons with poor family supervision, or to order regular drug testing for accused persons on drug charges.

While it might be overly ambitious to expect the 2015 bail review to provide the final word on a more flexible and effective system of bail, it might not be too controversial to extend a broader scheme of non-monetary conditional releases to a limited class of non-violent offenders who are assessed to be of low flight risk.

This would be of particular comfort to individuals who come from lower socio-economic backgrounds and are unable to find persons of sufficient means to post bail for them.

Hopefully, such a scheme could demonstrate that in the pursuit of justice, the balance between effectiveness and principle does not need to be a zero-sum game.

stopinion@sph.com.sg

The writer is a director in the law firm Peter Low LLC.

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Unit owners sue management of 101 building

Straits Times
25 Jan 2015
Joyce Lim

The owners of a pair of units in The 101 building on Beach Road are involved in a tangle of legal disputes with their property's Management Corporation Strata Title (MCST) and two of its council members.

They are suing the MCST, council chairman Mei Wai Luen and treasurer Tan Fung Chuan, over issues concerning the removal of air-conditioning compressors, unjustifiable fees and abuse of power.

The 101, a six-storey mixed residential and commercial property, had previously been in the news for illegal short-term leasing there.

Mr Tan, who owns several units, was accused of running the condo like a hotel, by subdividing his properties and renting them out on short-term leases. A Straits Times report in 2009 prompted an investigation by the Urban Redevelopment Authority and led to action being taken.

The latest legal saga to hit the building began in August 2013, when Mr Lim Kim Seng and four of his siblings went to court claiming that they could no longer tolerate the unreasonable conduct of the two current council members.

The five siblings bought the unit at 01-01 in September 2006 and are currently leasing it to a steamboat restaurant.

Court documents stated that it was only after Mr Tan and Mr Mei - both of whom could not be reached despite multiple attempts - were elected into the management council some time in May 2010 that problems started cropping up.

In March 2011, the defendants removed four air-conditioning compressors belonging to Mr Lim's tenant. Mr Lim alleged that, without air-conditioning, business at Tian Tian Steamboat was badly affected and the tenant, in turn, asked for a reduction in rent.

More problems arose when the defendants hacked the floor outside the restaurant, sealed up the surrounding walkway and threatened to remove the restaurant's gas cylinder, exhaust pipe and fire control panel.

Mr Lim said that did not stop the MCST from imposing a rent of $8,000 each month for the restaurant's use of the walkway on level one. The extra rent, which has been left unpaid, has increased to $244,193, inclusive of the arrears, according to court documents.

In his lawsuit, Mr Lim, 60, is seeking close to $500,000 in compensation from the defendants for the loss of rental income as a result of the defendants' wrongful conduct.

A court did give an injunction ordering that the MCST reinstall the compressors, remove the wooden boarding outside Mr Lim's unit, repair and install the floor tiles that were hacked, and refrain from removing other items the restaurant needs to operate.

However, Mr Mei was ordered to pay a penalty of $10,000 for contempt of court last October for failing to comply. He was also ordered to pay Mr Lim for costs of the committal proceedings, fixed at $15,000. When The Sunday Times visited the building last Friday, the obstructions were no longer there.

Said Mr Lim: "I have seen people moving out and selling their homes because they could not tolerate such unreasonable behaviour."

In another lawsuit, 68-year-old Leung Wai Chee, who owns a unit at the 101, is seeking damages from the defendants for allegedly stealing her air-conditioning compressors, forcing her to move out.

Both she and Mr Lim have also filed a complaint with the Strata Titles Board, asking for the removal of Mr Tan and Mr Mei from the council.

joycel@sph.com.sg

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Extensive powers for administrators with MediShield Life Scheme Bill

Business Times
20 Jan 2015
Claire Huang

[Singapore] SINGAPOREANS and permanent residents are one step closer to having a universal health coverage. The MediShield Life Scheme Bill, which makes provision for the scheme's implementation and administration, was tabled in parliament on Monday

To make it easier for the national insurance administrator to check the eligibility of individuals for MediShield Life premium subsidies, authorised personnel administering the scheme will be allowed to access financial and medical information in government and administrative databases. These would include basic information registered with the government, such as residential addresses, the annual value of residences, as well as financial data such as income.

Those who choose not to allow access to their financial data will have to apply manually to be assessed for premium subsidies.

To help Singaporeans with their MediShield Life premiums, the government is spending almost S$4 billion over the next five years in premium subsidies and other forms of support. The relevant administrators will also be able to access medical records to identify those with serious pre-existing medical conditions.

Those who fall in this category will have to pay an additional 30 per cent in premiums per year for 10 years to reflect their higher risks, after which they will pay the same amount as those in their age group. Individuals who choose not to allow access to their medical information will have to pay the additional premiums.

Anyone who access, use or disclose such information without authorisation faces a fine of up to S$5,000 and 12 months' jail.

Recovery of premiums from defaulters is also another key feature of the Bill. It provides powers adapted from existing income tax legislation to impose penalties on outstanding premiums of up to 17 per cent, including any interest on late premiums.

The government can also recover unpaid premiums through employers or banks, as those who can afford to pay but default would increase the load of other policyholders.

Singaporeans and permanent residents living overseas for long periods will also have to pay premiums.

A MediShield Life Council, which will have the powers to review and make recommendations to the Health Minister on related issues and to review the scheme's administration, will be set up. Its details will be announced later this year.

Under the Bill, provision of false or misleading information or omission of material information constitutes an offence. The maximum punishment is S$5,000 fine and 12 months in jail. Offenders will also be required to pay penalties pegged to the amount of premiums undercharged or benefits or claims overpaid. Those who obstruct investigators conducting investigations into offences under the Bill can be fined a maximum of S$20,000 and jailed 12 months.

The Bill will be tabled for the second reading at the next available sitting of Parliament.

huangjy@sph.com.sg

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HK businessman sues MBS over use of pooled chips

Straits Times
13 Jan 2015
Elena Chong

A BUSINESSMAN from Hong Kong has sued Marina Bay Sands (MBS), claiming that he suffered loss and damage when he was not allowed to take over a baccarat game from a combined pool of chips he shared with a friend at MBS.

Mr Cheung Che Kin, a patron of the integrated resort, is seeking damages from it for wrongdoing and breach of contract.

MBS denies that Mr Cheung has suffered loss and damage and has filed a counter-claim for an outstanding credit amount of $1.96 million, plus 12 per cent interest, from Mr Cheung.

Represented by Drew and Napier, MBS started an action in Hong Kong last July to recover the debt from Mr Cheung, but the suit has been put on hold with both parties' consent.

According to Mr Cheung's statement of claim filed in the Singapore High Court last year, he signed a credit agreement with MBS in March 2011.

Mr Cheung, who is represented by Tan Kok Quan Partnership, said he and Mr Qian Si Jie patronised MBS on Dec 14 and 15, 2012.

Before that, he had informed an MBS staff member that they would be playing together from a combined pool of chips.

The employee later told him arrangements had been made, giving Mr Cheung grounds to believe that MBS had no objection.

Over the two days, Mr Cheung was given $2 million in chips on credit under the credit agreement. The $1.96 million figure took into account a commission, or a kind of discount, given to Mr Cheung.

Mr Cheung and Mr Qian started playing baccarat in one of the VIP rooms on Dec 14 that year.

They continued playing on Dec 15 and placed their chips in a combined pool in the presence of the MBS staff.

On the evening of Dec 15, Mr Qian was allowed to bet from the combined pool without objection from MBS staff. He later stopped as he was feeling unwell.

When Mr Cheung wanted to take over playing from the combined pool, MBS staff would not let him. In so doing, the defendant denied him the benefit of the use of his chips, he claimed.

Frustrated and upset, Mr Cheung left the VIP room, leaving Mr Qian, who carried on playing. Mr Qian eventually lost all the chips through those bets.

Mr Cheung said as MBS prevented him from accessing his chips, it was akin to forced repayment, and he was thus not liable to the defendant.

It is not known if it is common for casino players to share chips. No date has been set for the trial yet.

elena@sph.com.sg

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Calls for condos to lift ban on safety grilles

Straits Times
25 Jan 2015
Hoe Pei Shan & Lynette Lai

Lawyers, experts, MP say safety should come before aesthetics of buildings' facades

Condominium management bodies need to stop banning residents from installing safety grilles on balconies and windows just because it may spoil the look of the building, said lawyers and real estate experts.

If they insist on a uniform look for the estate, then they should come up with a set of approved grille designs instead.

This was the reaction to a ruling last week by the Strata Titles Board, which let a family with two young children install grilles in the balcony of their Buona Vista condo unit after their estate's management corporation (MC) twice refused to let them do so.

Members of the board ruled that "children's safety must be paramount, even if the grilles may affect the appearance of the building". This, they said, has been part of the Building and Construction Authority's (BCA) rules since 2005.

Ms Lee Bee Wah, who heads the Government Parliamentary Committee on National Development and Environment, hopes the latest case will serve as a precedent for management committees, that "if they were to insist and go to court, they would still lose".

"All condos should put safety before aesthetics," she said. "They should stop banning grilles based on appearance - we don't want to wait till somebody falls down, because then it would be too late."

Mr Toh Kok Seng, a strata dispute specialist who represented Dr Sujit Singh Gill in last week's case, also hopes other MCs which have said "no" to grilles in the past will "change their policies". MCs are made up of residents elected by their neighbours.

Mr Tang Chee Charn, executive director of real estate management services at Colliers International, said the condos his firm deals with typically agree on a standard grille for their residents.

"But I do know that some are very strict about maintaining the facade. I suppose they think that an ugly facade will result in a devaluation," he said, urging both residents and management committees to be more aware of the rules.

Ms Lee, an MP for Nee Soon GRC, believes there should be more dialogue between those running condos and the relevant authorities, such as the BCA. She said: "Some management committee members are not sure what they can and cannot do."

Disputes over grilles have been a longstanding issue. In 2012, the Urban Redevelopment Authority and the BCA wrote to The Straits Times to clarify that a unit owner shall not be prevented from installing safety devices to prevent harm to children.

Firms which install "invisible" grilles - typically made up of thin wires that do not obstruct views and are hard to detect from afar - said more condominiums have been approaching them for their services.

But the general manager of grille company Legate, Ms Jenny Goh, said some older condominiums typically are more restrictive. "Certain MCs can be very stubborn."

Just last month, a two-year-old boy fell to his death from an eighth-storey bedroom window in Kovan Melody condo.

For Dr Singh, a vascular surgeon, the waist-high glass wall at the balcony of his 13th-floor unit was not enough to prevent his four-year-old daughter from trying to climb it. "As parents, the safety of our children is extremely important," he told The Sunday Times yesterday. "I hope other MCs will follow this ruling and allow their residents with small children to protect them."

hpeishan@sph.com.sg

linettel@sph.com.sg

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New pawnbroking laws prompt concerns of low valuations

Straits Times
20 Jan 2015
Rachel Au-Yong

STRICTER laws on pawnshops were passed in Parliament yesterday, but some politicians worried they were insufficient to protect people from rogue pawnbrokers.

MPs also voiced concerns about the rise in pawnbroking activity in recent years, asking whether this signalled more financial difficulties among Singaporeans.

Mr Hri Kumar Nair (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC), Dr Fatimah Lateef (Marine Parade GRC) and Non-Constituency MP Lina Chiam feared that the new Pawnbrokers Bill, which replaces the Pawnbrokers Act, fails to guard against pawnshops giving unfairly low valuations for pawned items.

Under the old laws, unredeemed pawned items would be put up for auction. If the auction sale price exceeded the item's valuation, the surplus would go to the person who had pawned it.

With auctions now scrapped, pawnbrokers can sell unredeemed items and pocket the surplus gains. This may incentivise them to depress valuations so as to maximise the potential surpluses they can keep, Mr Nair suggested.

But Senior Minister of State for Law Indranee Rajah said the competition among pawnshops would be an effective check against them offering overly low valuations.

Pawnbrokers who consistently offer low valuations are also likely to suffer reputational damage and go out of business, she said.

She added that only 5 per cent of pawnbroking loans go unredeemed. Of those, only 10 per cent may yield an auction surplus.

Thus very few people received surpluses under the auction system, whereas the cost savings from removing auctions would benefit the whole industry and its customers, Ms Indranee added.

Responding to questions from Mr Nair and Non-Constituency MP Yee Jenn Jong about why pawnbroking loans have risen - from $856 million in 1993 to $5.47 billion in 2013 - Ms Indranee said this trend depends on the demand for credit and the price of gold.

Most pledges are gold items, she said, and the price of gold has shot up in the past five years.

She added that people pawn items for a variety of reasons. For those in genuine financial distress, government aid is at hand.

The new laws passed yesterday aim to ensure pawnshops keep up with evolving trends. Pawnbrokers must now maintain a minimum paid-up capital of $2 million for the first branch and $1 million for each subsequent branch, and put up a higher security deposit for each branch. They must also take steps to prevent money laundering, among other things.

rachelay@sph.com.sg

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Blogger Roy Ngerng ordered to pay PM Lee $29,000 in costs

Straits Times
13 Jan 2015
Walter Sim

BLOGGER Roy Ngerng, who was found to have defamed Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, was yesterday ordered by the High Court to pay Mr Lee $29,000 in costs.

The sum is for legal fees and related expenses incurred up to the conclusion of the application for summary judgment, said Mr Lee's press secretary, Ms Chang Li Lin.

Damages have yet to be assessed. Ms Chang said the dates for subsequent hearings, which will determine the amount of damages payable to Mr Lee, have not been confirmed.

In a summary judgment last November, Justice Lee Seiu Kin ruled that Mr Ngerng, 33, had defamed Mr Lee by suggesting that the Prime Minister had misappropriated Central Provident Fund savings. A summary judgment means the court makes a ruling without the case going to trial, as it agrees with the applicant that the defence arguments are baseless.

Mr Ngerng had, in a post on his blog, The Heart Truths, on May 15 last year, compared Mr Lee to the City Harvest Church leaders prosecuted for allegedly misusing $50 million of church funds.

Justice Lee noted of that post: "The allegation that 'money is being misappropriated' is unconditional and unequivocal."

The post, he added, implied that Mr Lee was not willing to be transparent about the finances of the Government and its investment arm GIC "because he wants to conceal the evidence of the criminal misappropriation".

Mr Ngerng is represented by lawyer M. Ravi, and Mr Lee, by Senior Counsel Davinder Singh of Drew & Napier.

Ms Chang said Mr Ravi had indicated that Mr Ngerng did not want to be cross-examined at yesterday's hearing, and was directed to confirm if he would be giving evidence by Jan 30.

But Mr Ravi told reporters Mr Ngerng would take the stand, a decision that he said was made after the hearing. Ms Chang said: "PM Lee stands ready to be cross-examined, a position he has earlier communicated to the court."

Mr Ngerng told reporters following yesterday's three-hour closed-door hearing: "The court has been relatively fair and I'm quite pleased with the outcome."

waltsim@sph.com.sg

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MAS to step up oversight of financial sector compensation

Business Times
24 Jan 2015
Kenneth Lim

Singapore

MONETARY Authority of Singapore (MAS) managing director Ravi Menon has urged the financial industry to build a culture of responsibility and ethics to regain the public's trust.

Speaking at the MAS-Singapore Academy of Law conference on Friday, he announced that MAS would conduct more detailed supervision of financial firms' compensation and risk practices, but that the industry should come up with a way to hold firms accountable to standards on behaviour and conduct regular surveys to detect blind spots.

"Reform of the financial industry will not be complete until this issue of trust and ethics is addressed," he said. "This requires getting the culture right. And by culture, I mean shared values, attitudes and norms that guide actions."

Mr Menon said that MAS has adopted an "intensive supervisory" approach to risk governance instead of a prescriptive model, in which regulators acquire a detailed understanding of each firm's practices on the ground. "We intend to conduct deeper-dive reviews, to examine how a firm makes compensation decisions in practice, as well as the extent to which the firm's board and management deal with issues relating to compensation and risk culture."

However, he laid some responsibility at the door of industry as well: "Industry may want to consider a mechanism or process by which firms could be benchmarked against and held accountable to industry standards on ethical behaviour and professional conduct.

"Industry may want to conduct periodic surveys on stakeholders' view of risk culture, governance and market conduct, to help identify potential blind spots and emerging areas of risk."

OCBC Bank chief executive Samuel Tsien, who chairs the Association of Banks in Singapore (ABS), pointed to past industry initiatives such as the Code of Consumer Banking Practice. "The emphasis on ethics and culture is something that the ABS certainly agrees with. ABS will study the recommendations of the MAS and explore ways for the industry to continue working collectively to maintain the highest standards of ethical behaviour."

Also speaking at the conference, US Commodity Futures Trading Commission chairman Timothy G Massad identified clearing and clearing houses as a key priority for reform. "Now that we are requiring more clearing, we must make clearing house supervision a top priority. We must make sure that clearing houses themselves do not pose risk to the stability of the financial system."

He also urged harmonisation of regulations around the world, especially for data reporting and margin rules for uncleared swaps.

"The Asian financial crisis and the global financial crisis illustrate the speed with which capital can move and markets can fall when problems hit. These crises remind us that the economies of the United States and Asia are strongly intertwined. What we do affects you, and what happens here affects us. We are all in this together."

READ MORE: Full text

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Bill seeks to curb public drinking late at night

Straits Times
20 Jan 2015
Lim Yi Han

It also proposes ban on selling liquor at shops after 10.30pm

DRINKING in public places, including parks and common areas in Housing Board estates, will no longer be allowed after 10.30pm under a new Bill introduced in Parliament yesterday.

The proposed islandwide curbs will last through the night till 7am.

The Liquor Control (Supply and Consumption) Bill, introduced by Second Minister for Home Affairs S. Iswaran, will also stop retail shops from selling alcohol after 10.30pm.

There will be stricter rules for Little India and Geylang, which will be designated as Liquor Control Zones - places where there is higher risk of public disorder associated with excessive drinking.

The tougher measures will be similar to the temporary rules put in place in Little India following the Dec 8, 2013 riot there.

Drinking is currently banned in public places in Little India from 6am on Saturday to 6am on Monday, and from 6am on the eve of public holidays to 6am on the day after the holiday. The retail sale of alcohol is banned from 8pm till 6am on weekends, and on the eve of public holidays and public holidays.

In the Bill, those found guilty of drinking after 10.30pm in a public place will face a fine of up to $1,000. A repeat offender may be jailed for up to three months.

A shop which sells alcohol after permitted hours may get a fine not exceeding $10,000.

Flouting the rules in Liquor Control Zones will carry 11/2 times the penalty.

Consultations by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) showed broad support for regulations on the sale and public consumption of alcohol.

The Bill, however, has drawn a flurry of strong reactions. Liquor shops in Geylang and Little India expressed worry that their businesses would be badly hit.

Younger clubbers, meanwhile, said the rules could kill the nightlife scene at entertainment places such as Clarke Quay, where many gather on weekends to drink on pavements and open areas.

MP Hri Kumar Nair, who chairs the Government Parliamentary Committee for Home Affairs and Law, said that the laws may appear strict but they represent the "best compromise".

He said: "If you look at it as a whole, the overall benefits far outweigh the disadvantages."

Exceptions will be allowed on a case-by-case basis.

Those holding events in public places, whether it is a barbecue for friends at East Coast Park or bigger functions such as ZoukOut, the annual outdoor dance music festival, can apply for a permit allowing drinking after 10.30pm.

Explaining why it decided on 10.30pm as the cut-off point, the MHA said it is the time that community events, such as getai and grassroots programmes, end, to minimise noise and disturbance. Most shops in residential areas will also be closed by then, it added.

In many cities, liquor rules are tougher than the ones proposed here.

New York, Oslo and Brisbane bar alcohol consumption in public at all times.

In Brisbane, Sydney and Britain, retail sale hours for takeaway alcohol generally end at 10pm.

National University of Singapore sociologist Paulin Straughan asked whether there had been enough incidents and complaints due to alcohol to warrant such laws.

She said: "If there is no problem, and something like this is slapped on us, of course, it will be interpreted as (being) very harsh."

limyihan@sph.com.sg

Additional reporting by Hoe Pei Shan


Industry calls for more clarity on extension of liquor sales hours

THE alcohol industry has called for more clarity on when liquor retail sales hours can be extended, just hours after a Bill was introduced in Parliament yesterday to curb public consumption and the sale of alcohol.

It also asked the Government to work with the industry to tease out details on what businesses needed to do to make the transition to the new set of regulations.

The Liquor Control (Supply and Consumption) Bill, if passed, will bar retail shops islandwide from selling takeaway liquor after 10.30pm.

Currently, many do so till midnight. An extension for such sales may be granted on a case-by-case basis, although no other details were provided.

In a joint press statement yesterday, 13 major retailers and manufacturers - including 7-Eleven, and Asia Pacific Breweries (APB) - said they supported the regulations and even called for a "high-level and visible enforcement" of the restriction on liquor consumption in public places.

But in the same breath, they called on the Government to be circumspect in applying the law, as "addressing the relevant social issues need not result in disproportionately penalising responsible consumers who are the majority in Singapore".

When contacted separately, APB - which helped to facilitate a government visit to Australia last year to study how the government there worked with the industry to tackle alcohol-related issues - said business would not be impacted greatly as "consumers in Singapore are generally responsible drinkers".

Supermarket chain Sheng Siong expects a "knee-jerk reaction" in the market initially. "But as more consumers become more aware of the new restrictions, they can plan ahead and carry on as usual," said its spokesman.

Cheers, however, expects alcohol sales at its 165 outlets here to dip by as much as 15 per cent to 20 per cent as "it has more stores that operate 24 hours". Their central outlets are likely to be hit hardest, said its spokesman.

The industry members have also come up with ways to work with the Government.

They offered, among other things, to volunteer a liquor retail licence up for suspension for a period of time if a public liquor consumption offence was traced back to their store.

They also offered to work with the police to identify problem hot spots and post information to alert the public to the new restrictions and penalties.

JESSICA LIM

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Ensuring justice is within reach of all

Straits Times
13 Jan 2015

IT GOES without saying that justice, as a foundational ideal, needs to be within everyone's grasp if it is to not ring hollow. The means to that end, however, continues to test society in the sphere of legal relations. To put it baldly, when money is a prerequisite of a rule-bound process, a well-off litigant stands at a distinct advantage against someone of modest or no means - as the latter might well be cowed into either withdrawing or settling out of court for much less.

Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon had put forth proposals, this time last year, aimed at making justice more accessible. These included curbing high fees, creating less adversarial and more affordable avenues to resolve family matters, and making legal costs more transparent. Gratifyingly, steps have been taken since then, like the setting up of the Family Justice Courts and the streamlining of civil processes in State Courts. The latter is expected to lower costs by reducing laborious steps and cat-and-mouse tactics.

Of all the cost factors, it's the fee of legal counsel that tends to hog the limelight. Examples are the $4 million in lawyers' fees arising from the Horizon Towers collective sale appeal and the millions in legal fees associated with Dr Susan Lim's professional misconduct hearing. In the latter case, what left a strong impression on the public was the court's drastic trimming of one large legal bill - from $900,000 to $180,000.

Of course, the court's assessment of party-party costs must be separated from the reasonableness of solicitor-client costs. The latter reflects specialised skills and knowledge sought by the client, the complexity of an issue, the value of disputed property as well as the labour, time and urgency demanded - some of the relevant factors listed by the Law Society.

Nonetheless, the public would expect lawyers to make every effort to contain costs. This obligation arises from the high standing of the profession, the monopoly it enjoys and the ethical standards it must uphold. Legal costs ought to be "truly proportionate", as the CJ noted, to the purposes to be achieved, the sum at stake and any larger issues invoked.

There has been further discussion of late on the use of contingency fees to help curb costs - by allowing lawyers to take a regulated percentage of damages, if awarded. The scheme has merit. A conditional fee arrangement, unlike a time-based one, can help ensure that exertions are efficiently directed for the benefit of clients, and worthy causes of indigent litigants are supported.

Justice demands that those who are forced to turn to the courts are not obliged to pay an arm and a leg to pursue their legal rights.

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Family wins case to install grille in condo balcony for child's safety

Straits Times
24 Jan 2015
K.C. Vijayan

MC had been "unreasonably difficult" with request to install and  ignored concerns for children's safety, as provided for under Building Maintenance (Strata Management) Regulations 2005: Strata Titles Board.

THE Strata Titles Board has ruled in favour of a family who were twice refused permission to install a grille in the balcony of their 13th-level condominium unit after seeing their four-year-old daughter try to climb over it.

It held that the management corporation of 7 One North Residences (ONR) in Buona Vista was wrong in refusing permission to a family to install grilles above the glass wall of their 13th-level balcony.

In judgment grounds of the test case, released this week, it said: "The children's safety must be paramount, even if the grilles may affect the appearance of the building or if they constitute an alteration on common property and therefore are prohibited under ONR's by-laws."

Dr Sujit Singh Gill's application was turned down twice by the ONR's management corporation (MC), which claimed it would affect the building's unique and uniform appearance.

The MC suggested instead that grilles be placed at the edge of the living room to prevent child access to the balcony.

Dr Singh applied to the board last July to overrule the MC.

At issue was the rationality of the MC's decision and whether it could bar the installation based on the relevant building regulations.

The MC's lawyers, Mr Subramaniam Pillai and Ms Venetia Tan, argued that the grilles did not keep up the building's appearance as provided under ONR's by-laws and would obstruct maintenance of the glass wall, among other things.

Lawyers Toh Kok Seng and Daniel Chen for Dr Singh countered that the relevant ONR by-laws took effect only last July and Dr Singh could not have been aware of them as he had bought the unit in 2010. They argued that the ONR by-laws had to be consistent with the prescribed 2005 Building Maintenance (Strata Management) Regulations, which allow owners to install safety structures or devices to prevent harm to children - even if they affect the building's appearance under certain circumstances.

The board comprising Mr Alfonso Ang, Mr Chua Koon Hoe and Mr Lim Gnee Kiang found that the MC had been "unreasonably difficult" with Dr Singh's request and had ignored the concerns for children's safety, as provided for under the 2005 regulations. It added that the grilles would have minimal impact on the building's appearance.

The board made clear that children's safety must be the overriding concern and the MC should support other such applications.

It called for the MC to provide guidelines for the installation of such safety devices to ensure they keep to the rest of the appearances of the building.

"Having grilles is not an attempt to abdicate parental responsibility. Instead, it serves as a safety precaution from leaning or climbing over the balcony glass wall. After all, it only takes a split second for the child to climb and fall over the glass, especially since it is only waist-high and easy to climb over," said the board.

Law firm Lee & Lee said on its case update website that "this is the first case in which the prescribed by-law of the Building Maintenance (Strata Management) Regulations 2005 has been considered in depth and will undoubtedly be of consequence to most, if not all, management corporations in Singapore".

vijayan@sph.com.sg

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UOB suit: former agents' sons, daughter, nephew also named

Business Times
19 Jan 2015
Lynette Khoo

Lending bank claims conspiracy by 8 defendants in purchase and mortgages for 38 Sentosa condo units

[Singapore] TWO former real estate agents and their related parties have denied allegations by United Overseas Bank that they were involved in a "conspiracy" to mislead the bank into offering them inflated housing loans.

Goh Buck Lim, a former employee of ERA Realty, and Aurellia Adrianus Ho, a former freelance property agent, said in their statement of defence that they are not liable to the plaintiff for any alleged purchase price misrepresentations of 38 condo units at Marina Collection (MC) in Sentosa.

The other five defendants - all closely related to either of the agents - also filed their defence with the court last week, saying that they have no knowledge of the matters pleaded in UOB's claims.

They are Mr Goh's sons Clarke Goh and Ewis Goh, Ms Ho's daughter Jennifer Janeth, Ms Ho's nephew Erfan Syah Putra and his wife Theodora Budi Halimundjaja. All five of the younger defendants were in their 20s and 30s at the time of the transactions.

In what is seen as an unprecedented lawsuit, UOB is suing a Lippo Group subsidiary (first defendant) and the seven individuals for allegedly misleading the bank into granting inflated housing loans for 38 MC units between late 2011 and July 2013. The bank claimed that they failed to disclose substantial furniture rebates amounting to 22-34 per cent discounts on the purchase prices averaging S$6 million.

"As a result, the Housing Loans exceeded the maximum permissible amount of loan stipulated in the MAS Notice 632 in relation to Residential Property Loans, and indeed, the actual purchase prices in all instances," UOB said in its statement of claims.

The bank also alleges that many of the buyers procured by Mr Goh and Ms Ho were "fronts for the second to eighth defendants and did not in fact have the financial means to service the housing loans".

Of the 38 units, 37 have defaulted. Two buyers have since admitted to the bank that their purchases of the units were not genuine, UOB claims.

Mr Goh and Ms Ho revealed in their statement of defence that six purchasers were direct buyers, in other words the intended beneficial owners, while the other 32 purchasers were nominees for various investors based in Indonesia.

"Such nominee arrangements are common in Indonesia and amongst Indonesians and were not wrongful or unlawful to (their) knowledge and belief," they said.

But they claim that their role in the housing loan application "was that of liaison between the Plaintiff and the Purchasers" and that they provided no input on how the forms were to be filled.

Mr Goh's sons were studying in Singapore during the material time when the alleged conspiracy took place. They explained that their father "would request that they sign blank cheques" from their bank accounts but they did not know what the signed cheques were for.

As for Ms Janeth, she said in the statement of defence that she was not involved and did not have knowledge of details concerning the purchase of an MC unit, except that she was informed by her mother Ms Ho that they were going to buy an MC unit under her name and that Ms Ho would service the loan. Since Ms Janeth was studying in the US, Ms Ho would ask her to "pre-sign blank cheques when she was in Singapore".

Mr Goh and Ms Ho are represented by Straits Law Practice; Mr Goh's two sons and Ms Janeth are represented by Eugene Thuraisingam LLP. The youngest defendant Clarke Goh was around 22 years old when the transactions in question took place.

Mr Putra and his wife, represented by Mallal & Namazie, say in their statement of defence that they each secured housing loans from UOB to buy MC units, after Ms Ho approached her nephew Mr Putra "with the opportunity to invest in property in Singapore, specifically, at the MC".

But the couple claim that they were not aware of the furniture rebates. Neither do they have knowledge of cheques being issued by them to any of the 28 other buyers.

UOB alleges that the several deposit payments made via personal cheques issued by Mr Goh and his two sons, Ms Janeth, Mr Putra and his wife are evidence that the purchases of 28 buyers were actually purchases by the second to eighth defendants, acting individually or collectively.

There were also funds transfers between the accounts of the purchasers and the accounts of Mr Goh and his sons so that there would be sums ranging from S$200,000 to S$1.2 million in the bank accounts of the purchasers at the time of their housing loan applications. UOB claims that they did this knowing that having S$200,000 in assets under management with the bank was one of the criteria for loan approval.

Meanwhile, Lippo Marina Collection asserts in its filing of defence that financing of the units is a matter solely between the purchasers and their bank.

lynkhoo@sph.com.sg

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Related headlines

UOB lawsuit unlikely to impact developers, BT, 10 Jan

A salute to Singapore's Robin Hood

Lianhe Zaobao
13 Jan 2015
Poh Lay Hoon

This article was first published on 9 January 2015 in the Singapore Mandarin broadsheet, Lianhe Zaobao.
SLW commissioned a translation to give the legal community a view of legal reports from different Singapore news outlets.

I was busy dealing with more than a hundred pages of legal documents when I received a text message telling me of the death of Subhas Anandan. I was slightly stunned and asked the sender to confirm that this was true. This was even though I was expecting this moment to come.

It was only when I raised my head that I realised that it had started raining. The heavens were grieving too. This saying is somewhat of a cliché, but used on someone like Subhas, it conveyed not one bit of false sentimentality.

In recent years, when I found out that he was in failing health, I became concerned that he could fall any time. That was why I would always give thanks when I saw him in court. He was still around and the accused persons who managed to find him were fortunate indeed.

The legal fraternity was heartfelt in praising him when news spread of his passing two days ago. They exalted him for his kindness and compassion, his eloquence and wit, his humour and generosity. Please bear with me as I attempt to express my deep respect for him here.

"Robbing the rich" to help the poor

Making money is most difficult with criminal cases. The hours required are long and many young lawyers would rather choose corporate law. However, Subhas chose this less travelled path and made it his mainstay for decades.

He often acted pro bono for accused persons with financial difficulties or charged them low fees. He has been called Singapore's "Robin Hood" for this spirit of robbing the rich to help the poor, standing up for justice and helping the weak, and being resourceful and courageous.

It was almost as if he treated pro bono service as his main job. He set up the Association of Criminal Lawyers of Singapore ten years ago and encouraged fellow lawyers who specialised in criminal law to offer pro bono services to the needy. He also often allowed volunteer lawyers to meet for meals and discussions at his house.

One time, Subhas represented an Indian accused from a well-off background. It is not uncommon for the accused and the accused's family to be hostile to the media. However, in this case, the sheer arrogance of the family compelled one to rail: So what if you have some money?

I later aired my grievance to Subhas. "This client of yours..." Before I could complete my sentence, he cut in to say that he understood. "But I don't have a choice. Sometimes, you represent people like this and charge them more to balance the needy accused who have no money to pay."

I had laughed uproariously at his magnanimity.

Bold but cautious

Lawyers generally act on the side of caution. It is not easy to have the courage and cautiousness that one associates with Subhas.

In court, he argued strongly on just grounds and focused on small details, sometimes bringing up evidence that even the prosecution might not have thought of. His pleas of mitigation to the court were never long-winded; he would simply tell the judge that he had submitted a mitigation plea, highlight the main points and leave it at that.

He was treated with respect and courtesy by all, from the prosecutors holding opposing positions, to the judges of the State Courts, High Court and the Court of Appeal, reflecting the position that he had in their hearts. Subhas was humorous by nature and occasionally cracked jokes in front of judges. However, he maintained a sense of propriety and decorum and never meant to offend.

Whether rich and powerful or just a man-in-the-street, he treated all his friends with the utmost sincerity, reflecting his genteel nature and depth of character.

Subhas became the chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Holy Tree Sri Balasubramaniam Temple in 1972. One time, he invited then-President S.R. Nathan to attend a temple activity. The President subsequently indicated that he would like to visit again and asked if this was possible.

"I told him, you're the President; who's bigger than you? Do you need a permit from me?" Without a fake bone in his body, he was forthright and bold, but had no difficulty winning the hearts of others.

Stuck to his principles

In 2011, Subhas led 88 lawyers in calling for an Extraordinary General Meeting of the Law Society over the issue of the president and vice-presidents travelling on business class. He wanted a vote of no-confidence in the leadership.

At the time, he told me that the issue was one of principle and not money. The decision had come at a time when the Law Society said that it lacked funds and wanted to raise its $200 membership fee. "How can you say you have no money on one hand and approve travel on business class on the other? When you say there is no money, then you should try to economise and not spend."

Subhas not only stood by his principles but had no compunction about living by them. The business class saga was later resolved.

Treated everyone equally

Most lawyers do not understand the Chinese language and do not read the Chinese newspapers. Some only take the English media seriously and naturally are less pro-active when responding to questions from the Chinese media.

Though not Chinese, Subhas treated all media outlets the same way. This was rare in the realities of Singapore. It is worth mentioning that he was not averse to the Chinese language and even allowed his only son studying in Britain to take up the language from childhood.

When lawyer Ung Gim Sei worked at KhattarWong and RHTLaw Taylor Wessing, he would arrange media lunch gatherings regularly and his colleague Subhas would invariably find time to join in.

Mr Ung said that when he became too busy to organise these gatherings, Subhas would repeatedly urge him to do so, saying that he missed his journalist friends and would like to meet them soon.

Last evening, when I sent him off at Mandai Crematorium, the rain never stopped falling.

To the Robin Hood who spent your life championing the cause of justice, I wish you a smooth journey.

pohlh@sph.com.sg

Source: Lianhe Zaobao © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

Penalties for neighbours from hell 'a last resort'

Straits Times
24 Jan 2015
PRISCILLA GOY

MPs welcome compulsory mediation

A PROPOSED law that sets out penalties for those who cause unreasonable disturbance to their neighbours would help deal with severe disputes, but only as a last resort, said MPs interviewed.

Under the Community Disputes Resolution Bill introduced in Parliament on Monday, offenders may be fined up to $5,000 or jailed for up to three months for a first offence.

But these would be meted out only if the offender breaches a court order issued by a tribunal proposed under the Bill. It will have the power to order the offender to pay damages of up to $20,000, or apologise, for instance.

Offensive actions cited as examples in the Bill include causing excessive noise or smell, or allowing one's pet to urinate near a neighbour's home.

The Bill is designed in a "step-wise fashion", said Jurong GRC MP Desmond Lee, who is Minister of State for National Development. "We want the neighbours to be able to solve problems among themselves first, and the penalties are only for situations that escalate to an acrimonious level."

MPs said they trust that judges have the discretion to mete out penalties fairly. Sembawang GRC MP Vikram Nair, for instance, said it was unlikely for a first-time offender to be jailed. Mr Zaqy Mohamad, MP for Chua Chu Kang GRC, added that it would be fair for neighbours to pay compensation if a resident's home has been damaged as a result of an offending neighbour's actions.

Mr Nair and Tampines GRC MP Irene Ng said having such legal sanctions was important.

Currently, neighbours can seek help at the Community Mediation Centre (CMC) if they cannot resolve disputes either on their own or with the help of grassroots leaders. But the centre cannot issue legal orders, and there is little the authorities can do if neighbours do not want to make up.

Said Ms Ng: "The critical point is that people know that they can be hauled to court for causing unreasonable disturbance to neighbours and, hopefully, this will help shape behaviour."

More importantly, if the law is passed, the tribunal can order neighbours to go for compulsory mediation - a key move, given the dismal attendance at the CMC. Currently, attendance is not compulsory, and the no-show rate is 60 per cent.

Mediation helps: The resolution rate is 75 per cent for cases where the neighbours show up.

"I've had residents tell me they don't want to go for mediation because their blood pressure will go up or they will have a heart attack if they meet the other party," said Mr Lee.

"With the Bill compelling neighbours to mediate, at least there would be an opportunity for the community mediator to try and work things out between the neighbours."

The Bill will likely be debated in Parliament early next month.

goyshiyi@sph.com.sg

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

Court says 'no' to upkeep claim for IVF mix-up baby

Straits Times
17 Jan 2015
K.C. Vijayan

Birth of healthy child 'should not be treated as matter for compensation'

A WOMAN who sought damages in order to raise her child conceived through an in-vitro fertilisation sperm mix-up will not get her claim, the High Court has ruled.

Justice Choo Han Teck held that if she was allowed to claim for upkeep, every cent spent in bringing up the child would remind her it was "money from a compensation for a mistake".

"Baby P should not ever have to grow up thinking that her very existence was a mistake," he said in judgment grounds released yesterday.

Baby P, who turned four last October, was conceived by mistake with another man's sperm instead of the woman's husband's - the result of a mix-up at Thomson Medical where she received IVF treatment. Thus the girl she gave birth to is biologically unrelated to her husband.

The 39-year-old woman sued Thomson Medical, its fertility centre and two embryologists, seeking damages for pain and suffering, medical costs, income loss and upkeep for the baby. Upkeep is understood to be a major part of the sum sought.

The defendants accepted liability for the mistake, but a preliminary issue before damages could be assessed was whether they should pay for the baby's upkeep.

This issue of whether Baby P was entitled to such expenses as a matter of law made this a test case here.

The upkeep expenses included her pre-school needs in Beijing where she now lives with her parents, further education in Germany, her father's home country, as well as daily necessities until she is financially self-reliant.

The parties cannot be named to protect her identity.

Senior Counsel N. Sreenivasan and lawyer S. Palaniappan argued that the mother should be compensated, as the damage from the mistake could have been prevented had she been told early enough so she could abort the pregnancy.

Not allowing the claim would afford immunity to the defendants, among other things.

But Senior Counsel Lok Vi Ming and lawyer Audrey Chiang countered for Thomson that this was about a child born healthy, which is a "blessing" and not a "liability".

To allow compensation for the wrong or injury in the birth of a healthy child is "morally repugnant and against public policy", they said, among other things.

Justice Choo made it clear that a parent is obliged to maintain a child, regardless of whether the child is adopted or natural, noting the mother had "all along" wanted the child. "When a parent has accepted his role in respect of that child, the obligation is his (and his spouse's). He cannot be a parent and have someone else pay to bring up the child."

The judge acknowledged that the issue of whether an upkeep claim for a wrongful birth should be allowed is a contentious one, noting the divergence of views in legal cases spanning Australia, Britain and the United States.

He conceded that legislative intervention may be needed but expressed no definite views on this as it was not needed to settle this case.

Justice Choo said there are "cogent policy considerations" for not making a defendant liable for upkeep and said he shared the views of an English judge who said the parent who is placed in a predicament but does her duty cannot be at an advantage compared with the parent who falls in love with her child at birth and reconciles herself to her fate.

He cited another English judge saying there was something distasteful, if not morally offensive, in treating the birth of a normal, healthy child as a matter for compensation.

Justice Choo noted that the Women's Charter allowed people who had accepted a child into their family to seek a court order compelling the father or mother to pay for the child's upkeep.

But under such a scenario, the only person who may be liable would be the sperm donor.

"I doubt he would have been ordered by any court to pay for Baby P's upkeep, given the circumstances of the case," said Justice Choo.

vijayan@sph.com.sg

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

To view the judgment, click <here>.

Flat owners must ensure subletting rules are followed: Forum

Straits Times
13 Jan 2015

WE THANK Mr Francis Cheng ("Step up checks on flat subletting"; Jan 1), Ms Ada Chan Siew Foen ("Social impact of subletting flats"; Jan 3) and Ms Linda Tan ("Flats shouldn't become dorms"; last Tuesday) for their feedback.

HDB flat owners who are granted approval to sublet their whole flats have the responsibility to ensure that only authorised occupants are staying in their flats and that there is no overcrowding.

Flat owners must also ensure that their sub-tenants do not further sublet the flat.

To safeguard their own interest, we advise flat owners to be vigilant and conduct regular checks on their sub-tenants.

The HDB conducts regular planned inspections and spot checks for any breach of the subletting rules (including overcrowding). We also investigate all cases arising from public feedback.

We will not hesitate to take stern action against the flat owner if the subletting rules are found to have been flouted. This includes imposing a financial penalty, or compulsorily acquiring the flat for unauthorised subletting.

HDB residents and members of the public play an important part in enforcement against unauthorised subletting and misuse of flats.

We urge them to contact us on our dedicated hotline 1800-555-6370 if they come across suspected cases. All feedback will be kept strictly confidential.

Foo-Ho Yoke Ming

Director (Branch Operations)

Housing & Development Board

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

Ensure no over-collection of personal data for verification: Forum

Straits Times
24 Jan 2015

Ensure no over-collection of personal data for verification

THE Personal Data Protection Commission agrees with Mr Leong Kaiyan that organisations should take security measures to protect personal data in their possession or control, which is one of the obligations under the Personal Data Protection Act ("Still long way to go in beefing up cyber security"; Jan 4).

In addition, when collecting, using or disclosing an individual's personal data, organisations have to notify and obtain the consent of the individual, unless an exception applies.

When providing customer support services, organisations may request that customers provide certain personal data in order to verify their identities. As a good practice, organisations should explain to their customers, when speaking to them over the phone, the purposes for which they require their personal data.

Organisations should also ensure that they do not over-collect personal data during the verification process.

Under the Act, organisations also have to make information about their personal data protection policies, practices and complaint processes available on request.

The Commission has been reaching out to organisations to inform them of their obligations under the Act through briefings, workshops and seminars for the past 18 months, even before it came into full effect in July last year.

Individuals can contact the data protection officers of organisations to find out more about their personal data protection practices. Should they have further concerns, they can contact the Commission at info@pdpc.gov.sg

Evelyn Goh (Ms)

Director, Communications, Planning & Policy

Personal Data Protection Commission

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

Soilbuild Reit manager to take JTC to court

Straits Times
17 Jan 2015
Jacqueline Woo

It says move follows numerous attempts to resolve rent issue

THE manager of Soilbuild Business Space Reit (Soilbuild Reit) is taking legal action against industrial landlord JTC Corporation over a rent dispute.

The move comes after "numerous attempts" to resolve the issue, said SB Reit Management in a statement yesterday.

The Reit manager claimed that when it acquired the Solaris building in Fusionopolis Walk in August 2013, the annual rent for the land was set at $405.10 per square metre (psm) and $23.48 psm for the underground space.

JTC Corporation told it last April that there was an error on the rent charged.

It said it should be $855 psm a year for land rent and $70 psm a year for the underground space rent.

SB Reit Management also said in court documents that JTC Corporation wants to adopt the revised rates and claim back payment to make up for the difference between the two rates from when the purchase was completed.

The additional rent would amount to $3.5 million a year, excluding goods and services tax.

The Reit manager objects to the revised rates as it had "relied on JTC's determination on the (first set of rental rates) and proceeded to complete the acquisition of the property".

If SB Reit Management were to pay the additional rent, the value of Solaris would drop from $300 million to $275 million, according to a valuation by Colliers International Consultancy & Valuation, it said.

Solaris is a 15-storey commercial building in one-north, a business park and a high-tech research and development hub on about 200ha.

Soilbuild Reit's net asset value per unit would decrease accordingly as well, from 80 cents to 77 cents, based on its results as at 30 Sept last year, said the manager.

However, there would be "no impact" on the Reit's distributable income up to Aug 15, 2018 as Solaris is leased to SB (Solaris) Investment for five years under a triple net lease basis, where it is required to pay all the land rent.

SB (Solaris) Investment is a subsidiary of Soilbuild Group Holdings.

That would mean Soilbuild Reit would not be required to pay the additional rent during the lease term, added the manager.

Soilbuild Reit's portfolio also includes Eightrium @ Changi Business Park, Tuas Connection and West Park BizCentral in Pioneer.

Its units closed unchanged at 78 cents yesterday.

tsjwoo@sph.com.sg

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

Singapore's newest international commercial court set to thrive

Business Times
12 Jan 2015
Claire Huang

SICC boasts a panel of prominent international jurists and joins the successful arbitration sector in the Republic

[Singapore] WITH a panel of eminent international jurists and a successful arbitration sector in place here, the Singapore International Commercial Court (SICC) - which has positioned itself as the neutral venue for dispute resolution in the region and is the Republic's newest - is expected to take off in three years' time.

The confidence was expressed by Justice Vivian Ramsey of the United Kingdom, who has had active English and international practice in the areas of construction, engineering and technology disputes, and is one of the 11 jurists on the SICC international bench.

Poised to hear cross-border disputes, the SICC, launched last Monday, is the finishing piece of the arbitration framework that will gear Singapore up to be Asia's dispute resolution hub. There are the Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC), set up in 1991, and the Singapore International Mediation Centre launched last November.

The idea of an international commercial court here was first floated by Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon in 2013, said Justice Quentin Loh, one of 15 judges from the SICC local bench.

CJ Menon had conceptualised a court that deals with international cases without the disadvantages of international arbitration as he saw tremendous prospects in Asia, given the region's trade inflows and economic growth, said Justice Loh.

"If you look at Singapore, we're very well-placed, right in the middle, China to the north, India to the west, Indonesia below us, and the whole of Southeast Asia around us. There's a tremendous amount of infrastructure that has to be built and infrastructure, freight and contracts bring with them inevitable disputes, so they need a venue in which they can resolve their disputes."

The SICC is seen by some as a competitor of the established SIAC. And as international arbitration faces increased criticism that it has gotten more costly, taking longer to resolve cases and lacking transparency due to confidentiality, the SICC is seen to have an edge.

"I see the two as reinforcing each other and I don't see competition which erodes each," said Justice Ramsey, who made the point that any overlap between SIAC and SICC is not big.

Justice Carolyn Berger from the United States, another member of the SICC international bench, pointed out that there is a need for disputes to be attended to in a timely fashion so that businesses will not suffer unneccessarily, and the SICC fits the bill.

While arbitration has its perks - people can tailor the procedures to suit their case - Justice Loh noted that arbitration judgements are binding on two parties and one cannot have multiple arbitrations for the same project, even when several different parties are involved. This spells room for the SICC to grow.

As for the issue of international enforceability of the SICC judgements, the three judges said they are, in practice, rarely resisted.

"Experience will show that the number of cases where you have to take enforcement proceedings are very limited because either party complies because it's a contractual agreement to have their dispute resolved either in the courts or by arbitration," said Justice Ramsey.

And there are provisions to enforce the judgements, said Justice Loh.

Citing the reciprocal enforcement of the Commonwealth judgements, he noted that the whole of India, except two states, has reciprocal enforcement with Singapore. Likewise, similar mechanisms are in place in a few Australian states, Malaysia, England and Hong Kong.

There is also the hope that the Hague Convention on the recognition and enforcement of foreign judgements to be rolled out individually by June this year, will gain currency.

"That means you've got another 26 countries in the world signing on ... I can't see Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Hong Kong not signing up. So, that's another ground for reciprocal enforcement," Justice Loh said.

Given that the judges hail from different jurisdictions, how will a "just resolution" be delivered?

Using the example of the reception of evidence which differs vastly between different jurisdictions, the judges said the SICC has adopted a compromise worked out by the International Bar Association that takes the best of civil law and criminal law and does away with the worst aspects.

Closer to home, the SICC is expected to improve the level of dispute resolution here as local lawyers work more closely with international counterparts, which will in turn broaden their horizons.

While it is not known when the new court will receive its first case, one thing is clear in the minds of the judges - that its success lies in resolving disputes fairly.

huangjy@sph.com.sg

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

Fewer people detained without trial

Straits Times
24 Jan 2015
Amir Hussain

FAR fewer people were being detained without trial last year.

From 200 in 2013, the number fell by a third to 136 in 2014. There were 242 people detained under the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act in 2012.

The Act goes back 60 years to a time when secret society activities and drug trafficking were rife.

It is designed to keep criminal elements out of the community, especially in cases where witnesses are unwilling or afraid to testify.

Out of the 136 in detention last year, 99 were held for their involvement with secret societies, according to prison statistics released yesterday.

Another 22 were in remand for unlicensed money-lending, 10 were detained in relation to drug trafficking, and five for other types of criminal activities. Two of the detainees are women.

The Singapore Prisons Service, in its statistics yesterday, also revealed that two people were executed last year - both for drug offences.

Tang Hai Liang, 36, and Foong Chee Peng, 48, were hanged last July.

Tang was convicted in 2010 of trafficking in 89.55g of heroin.

Foong was found guilty of trafficking in 40.23g of the same drug in 2011.

The duo decided not to be considered for re-sentencing after changes to the death penalty regime took effect from January 2013, giving judges the discretion to impose a life sentence instead for certain cases of murder and trafficking.

In July 2011, a moratorium on executions took effect as the Government reviewed the mandatory death penalty.

AMIR HUSSAIN

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

High Court raises sentencing benchmark for match fixing

Straits Times
17 Jan 2015
Selina Lum

DEMONSTRATING that Singapore has no tolerance for football match-fixing activities, the High Court yesterday raised sentencing benchmark for such offences.

The court increased the jail term of match fixer Eric Ding Si Yang, 32, who bribed three Lebanese football officials with prostitutes, from three years to five years.

Justice Chan Seng Onn agreed with the prosecution that a "sharp upward recalibration" of sentencing norms is timely and merited, given the increased lucrativeness and anonymity of match fixing and the potential for reputational harm to Singapore.

He said the prosecution, which appealed for Ding to be given a heavier sentence, has put forward a convincing case that in the last decade, match fixing has become easier to commit, more lucrative and harder to detect.

This justifies adjusting the punishment upwards to ensure that the element of deterrence is properly maintained, said Justice Chan.

The judge said that under the current circumstances, an appropriate sentence for a "standard offender" is between 11/2 and 31/2 years' jail per charge for bribing players, referees or other football officials to fix matches.

A person who fixes a more important game would be more culpable, as more harm is caused, said Justice Chan. So, 31/2 years is for a "standard offender" who fixes a Fifa World Cup game and 11/2 years for an S-League game.

A "standard offender" refers to a fairly seasoned match fixer, neither at the top nor the bottom of an organised syndicate, facing the law for the first time, the judge said.

The appropriate sentence would have to be considered in the context of a sentencing guideline framework that Justice Chan provided. This means the sentence can go lower or higher, depending on whether there are factors that mitigated or aggravated the offence.

For instance, a repeat offender who tries to fix a World Cup game will get a sentence close to the maximum five years' jail.

However, Justice Chan stressed that the framework is intended to be a useful starting point to guide judges in future match-fixing cases and not a binding "straitjacket" on judges.

"The framework should be used with a healthy dose of common sense and not in a rigid and unthinking manner," he said.

In Ding's case, he faced three charges and was given 11/2 years' jail per charge last July by a district court. The terms of two charges were to run consecutively, making a total of three years' jail.

Justice Chan said Ding's sentence was manifestly inadequate and raised the individual terms to 21/2 years. With two terms running consecutively, the total is five years' jail.

selinal@sph.com.sg

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

To view the judgment, click <here>.

Compliance crucial for SGX-listed foreign firms

Business Times
12 Jan 2015
Eugene Kang

ACCORDING to the 2014 Singapore Exchange (SGX) annual report, 40 per cent of the exchange's 766 listed companies are based outside of Singapore. This makes the Singapore Stock Exchange a world leader in foreign listings, well on its way to being the "Asian gateway for companies seeking to tap international capital markets".

While the strategy of internationalising the local exchange is a sound move given the small size of our domestic market, one concern is whether these foreign firms have implemented adequate governance mechanisms to safeguard the interests of local shareholders.

A key finding of SID-ISCA's Singapore Directorship Report 2014 was that Singapore-registered firms demonstrated a higher level of compliance with several guidelines of the 2012 Code of Corporate Governance (Code) compared to firms which are registered overseas.

This specific finding deserves to be further examined.

Before we do so, it is first useful to note that firms on the SGX may be categorised as either primary or secondary listings and second to understand the governance frameworks applicable to these two categories.

Primary and secondary listings

A primary listing can be viewed as referring to a firm that launched its initial public offering (IPO) on SGX, with Singapore as its home regulator. If a foreign firm launched its IPO in another country's exchange (known as the home exchange) but still chooses to list its shares on SGX (known as the host or secondary exchange), then it is a secondary listing. There were only 35 secondary listings on SGX as of Oct 8, 2014.

Primary listings have to fully comply with all of SGX regulations including the Listing Manual and the "comply or explain" guidelines of the Code.

For secondary listings, SGX generally relies on the home exchanges to regulate them according to the rules and regulatory frameworks in their home countries. As such, companies already comply with equivalent rules on their home jurisdictions, they generally do not have to comply with continuous listing obligations other than Rules 217 and 751 of the SGX Listing Manual. However, additional continuous listing obligations, such as chapters 9, 10 and 13 of the Listing Rules, may be imposed if these foreign firms originate from home exchanges in countries classified as "developing markets" (for example, Malaysia, Thailand and Korea).

The regulatory framework for secondary listings exempts these firms from complying with the guidelines in the Code, in favour of equivalent Code in their home jurisdictions. This partly explains why secondary listings registered overseas have a lower level of compliance with the Code when compared with Singapore-registered firms.

Most of the foreign firms are primary listings, which mean they should fully comply with SGX regulations.

Foreign firms' compliance with the Code

The Singapore Directorship Report 2014 compares the level of compliance with certain aspects of the Code by foreign firms versus that of Singapore-registered firms. Foreign firms score lower on these corporate governance practices as compared with local firms:

• Local firms have more independent chairmen than foreign firms (21 per cent versus 3 per cent) and fewer executive chairmen (54 per cent versus 79 per cent);

• Local firms have many more independent director seats (49 per cent versus 40 per cent) and fewer executive director seats (33 per cent versus 39 per cent);

• Local firms have a higher level of separation of the board chairman and CEO positions (71 per cent versus 59 per cent);

• Local firms have a higher level of compliance (55 per cent versus 40 per cent) with Guideline 2.2 when compared with foreign firms that are primary listings, which requires that independent directors make up at least half of the board when the chairman is not independent.

The last set of statistics highlight a need for foreign firms with primary listings to appoint more independent directors in due course so as to comply with Guideline 2.2 of the Code, which is effective for firms with financial years beginning on or after May 1, 2016.

Adding safeguards

A source of comfort for shareholders, in particular minority shareholders, lies in having independent directors. The listing rules already require foreign firms with primary listings to have at least two independent directors who are residents of Singapore. However, a more crucial consideration should be to ensure that the resident independent directors are able to effectively discharge their monitoring duties.

This is because resident independent directors of foreign firms are likely to experience non-trivial information asymmetry problems. After all, they are domiciled in Singapore and it would be counter-intuitive to expect them to monitor top executives located in geographically distant countries with different institutional environments.

This makes it all the more critical for the appointment of resident independent directors who have the competence and drive to seek and obtain the requisite information to effectively monitor foreign top executives. This will mitigate shareholder concerns with irregularities occurring in these foreign firms.

It would also be useful if SGX clearly identifies foreign firms with primary listings. Currently, only secondary listings and their home exchanges are identified on the SGX web portal. This is, in itself, useful because secondary listings, while being exempted from the Code, would be complying with the rules and regulations of their home exchanges which are different from SGX.

With the challenges of governing firms with primary operations located in foreign jurisdictions, local shareholders would benefit from additional safeguards and disclosure practices to close the information gap between shareholders, resident independent directors and foreign top executives of these firms.

•The writer is a member of the Advocacy & Research Committee of the Singapore Institute of Directors.

•For more articles, go to btd.sg/BMatters

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

Jamiyah, PA setting up online legal clinics

Straits Times
24 Jan 2015
Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh

iCounsel kiosks on trial at Kaki Bukit, Eunos community centres

ONE of Singapore's oldest free legal clinics will set up computer facilities at two community centres to bring its service to the backyard of residents.

Its iCounsel kiosks will be found at Kaki Bukit Community Centre and Eunos Community Club, where residents of any race, and particularly the needy and frail, can speak to the lawyers via video-conferencing.

The move is a first by the clinic's organiser, Muslim voluntary welfare organisation Jamiyah, which is partnering the People's Association (PA) for the pilot project - Singapore's first online legal clinic for the community.

Said Dr H. M. Saleem, a vice-president of Jamiyah: "The clinic has been around for almost 40 years and we need to look at how we can help people in a different way. This is one of the ways."

The service will start next month, on Feb 24.

Those seeking advice can first register online at Jamiyah's website and submit details of the case.

They can also pick one of Jamiyah's volunteer lawyers and state whether they prefer, say, a Malay- or Mandarin-speaking lawyer, or one who knows syariah law to handle Muslim divorce and inheritance cases. A video-conferencing session will then be fixed at the community centre of their choice.

The iCounsel clinics will run every second and fourth Tuesday of a month, from 7.30pm to 9.30pm.

Jamiyah president Mohd Hasbi Abu Bakar told reporters ahead of the launch yesterday evening that he hopes the new service will help about 40 people every month.

Both the Kaki Bukit and Eunos community centres are in opposition-held Aljunied GRC.

According to Kaki Bukit grassroots leader Wong Yang, about 70 per cent of the ward's residents live in three-room or smaller flats. Many are elderly.

One in four residents is also Malay, compared with one in seven nationwide.

Should the pilot project prove popular, the PA plans to work with Jamiyah to expand the service to more community clubs across Singapore, said the senior director of PA's membership and community partnership division Jasmine Kwok.

"The partnership between PA and Jamiyah in providing the first online legal service in the community is the perfect example of how community partners value-add to the efforts of PA and its grassroots networks to benefit the residents."

Meanwhile, Jamiyah's 38-year-old legal clinic will continue to hold its face-to-face sessions at its headquarters in Geylang Lorong 12 twice a week for people who prefer to see a lawyer in person.

The clinic, open to any member of the public, has drawn people of various races and faiths.

Since it opened in 1976, more than 11,000 people have turned to it for help.

Dr Hasbi hopes that with iCounsel, "more lawyers will come forward to provide their time and expertise to give back to the community".

asyiqins@sph.com.sg

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