29 June 2017
Text: A | A

Well-known cancer surgeon gets 8-month suspension for professional misconduct

TODAY
29 Jun 2017

Prominent cancer surgeon Ang Peng Tiam’s punishment for giving a former patient suffering from Stage 2B lung cancer false hope about her disease has been upped to an eight-month suspension.

The suspension for his “aggravated” professional misconduct would have been double that, said the Court of Three Judges which heard his appeal, if not for the 4½-year delay in the disciplinary proceedings by the Singapore Medical Council (SMC).

In its grounds of decision released on Wednesday (June 28), the court made clear that the penalty it is imposing had nothing to with whether Dr Ang — a 35-year veteran and medical director of Parkway Cancer Centre — was correct in his treatment plan for the 55-year-old, who died about six months after seeing him.

Rather, Dr Ang had no basis to tell the patient there was a 70 per cent chance of her tumour shrinking with the treatment plan he had. He also should not have taken away her right to choose surgery, even if he assessed it to be an unsuitable course of action.

“A doctor might believe that a particular treatment option is in his patient’s best interests, but ultimately, it is the patient who must make the decision on her treatment,” said Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, delivering the judgment on behalf of the court on Tuesday.

Dr Ang first saw the patient in late-March 2010. She had a 8cm, fast-growing and aggressive tumour, as well as a few smaller growths, in her right lung.

He recommended combining chemotherapy with a drug called gefitinib, telling her, in Mandarin, this treatment would give her “at least a 70 per cent chance that the tumour will shrink”.

Dr Ang also explained to the patient, her husband, and their two daughters that his assessment of her chances was based on her being Chinese, female, someone who had never smoked, and a tumour diagnosed with adenocarcinoma.

But he had no justification for his claim because this rate of success was only applicable to patients with these characteristics who had also tested positive for epidermal growth factor receptor mutation. Dr Ang did not send the patient for a test to determine her status.

He also did not tell her that surgery was an alternative way to treat the cancer.

The patient went with his plan but did not respond well to treatment, dying a little over six months later. Her daughters lodged a complaint with the SMC later.

After a 13-day hearing, a disciplinary tribunal fined him S$25,000 for two counts of professional misconduct, relating to his unjustified claim about the patient’s chances and his failure to provide surgery as a treatment option. Dr Ang appealed against his convictions.

The Court of Three Judges, which included Judges of Appeal Andrew Phang and Judith Prakash, upheld the tribunal’s decisions on both counts.

This was not a case where Dr Ang had made a mistake, misjudged or misinterpreted medical papers on the effectiveness of his treatment plan for the patient, it said. Instead, he made the claims intentionally even though he knew or ought to have known there was no basis for him to do so.

On not giving the patient the option to go for surgery, which was the preferred option with similar conditions as this patient under the National Comprehensive Cancer Network guidelines, Dr Ang argued that as a doctor, he was obliged to exercise his clinical judgment instead of blindly and rigidly following the guidelines.

While they agreed that doctors should not suspend their clinical judgment and slavishly adhere to the guidelines, the judges said doctors were obliged to present the range of viable options and what the pros and cons of each of these were. Patients must get to decide for themselves what treatment they want, the judges added.

“It was not Dr Ang’s role to decide, but to inform,” the judges said.

In deciding on the sentence, CJ Menon said the priority in this case was in general deterrence, rather than preventing reoffending.

Noting Dr Ang’s senior position — he has been president of the Singapore Society of Oncology and Singapore Cancer Society, among others — he is “expected to set an exemplary standard and to serve as a role model for fellow practitioners”, he added.

“Seniority and eminence are characteristics that attract a heightened sense of trust and confidence, so that when a senior and eminent member of the profession is convicted of professional misconduct, the negative impact on public confidence in the integrity of the profession is correspondingly amplified,” CJ Menon said.

Dr Ang’s unblemished record and past contributions to society were also of little relevance. “The law must also not be misconstrued as providing those with an established good track record a free pass for misconduct on the basis that it is out of character,” said CJ Menon.

Copyright 2017 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

Ang Peng Tiam v Singapore Medical Council and another matter [2017] SGHC 143

Singapore inks agreements on tax-information exchange

Business Times
22 Jun 2017
Michelle Quah

Singapore inked two agreements in the Netherlands on Wednesday, signifying that it has moved a step further in its commitment to automatically exchange tax information with other jurisdictions, under global efforts to address issues such as tax evasion and tax avoidance.

The two agreements, known as Multilateral Competent Authority Agreements (MCAAs), will facilitate the Automatic Exchange of Information (AEOI), which Singapore has agreed to implement next year under the internationally agreed framework known as the common reporting standard (CRS).

The MCAAs cover:

AEOI under the CRS; and

the Exchange of Country-by-Country (CbC) Reports.

The Ministry of Finance (MOF), which made the announcement, said these agreements reaffirm Singapore's commitment to international standards on tax cooperation.

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the Global Forum for Transparency and Exchange of Information for Tax Purposes have mounted global efforts to bring about transparency and exchange of information for tax purposes, in order to address risks to tax compliance, such as tax evasion.

With AEOI under the CRS, the taxman will be able to get information, through financial institutions, of account holders who are tax residents of jurisdictions with which Singapore has agreed to exchange tax information.

CbC reports, on the other hand, are aimed at enhancing transparency for tax administrations by giving them the information they need to assess risks related to transfer pricing and other forms of Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS), wherein profits are artificially moved to low or no-tax locations to avoid tax.

Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said of the signings: "As a business and financial hub, Singapore has earned a high level of trust and confidence. We take our commitment to international standards on tax cooperation seriously. Signing both MCAAs will enable Singapore to implement the international standards with our bilateral AEOI partners in an effective and efficient way."

The MCAAs have gained recognition as multilateral framework agreements for bilateral cooperation on AEOI. They enable a signatory to the agreements to enter into AEOI bilaterally with another signatory on a mutual-consent basis.

With the signing of the MCAAs, MOF said, Singapore will continue to abide by the principles for establishing bilateral AEOI relationships for both CRS and CbC; this means the AEOI partner must have the safeguards needed to ensure the confidentiality of information exchanged and prevent its unauthorised use, and that there is full reciprocity with the AEOI partner in terms of information exchanged.

In the case of the CRS, the MOF said, Singapore will also want to ensure a level playing field among all major financial centres. It added that Singapore will consider engaging in automatic exchange of financial account information with regional jurisdictions which have the safeguards to ensure the confidentiality of information exchanged, and have similar agreements in place with relevant financial centres, including Hong Kong and Switzerland.

In the case of CbC, signing the MCAA will enable Singapore to efficiently establish a wide network of exchange relationships for the automatic exchange of CbC Reports, it said.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore's (MAS) assistant managing director for Development and International Leong Sing Chiong said: "MAS welcomes the greater tax transparency and cooperation the CRS represents. Financial institutions in Singapore have been putting in place the systems necessary to implement the CRS in 2018. This higher standard will provide a sound environment for sustained growth of the private banking industry and enable Singapore to remain a clean and trusted financial centre."

Both agreements were signed by Singapore's deputy commissioner for International, Investigation and Indirect Taxes Group of the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (Iras), Chia-Tern Huey Min.

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

Whistle-blowers protected under law: Forum

Straits Times
12 Jun 2017

We thank Mr Francis Cheng for his letter (Improve protection for whistle-blowers; June 8).

The Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) appreciates all feedback, and works with the public to safeguard Singapore's integrity.

We note that Mr Cheng made several suggestions to improve whistle-blower protection, including having a dedicated whistle-blower protection law.

We would like to clarify that under the Prevention of Corruption Act (PCA), there are provisions that safeguard the identity of informers whose information led to the investigation and prosecution of any offences under the Act.

Furthermore, all witnesses, including informants, are protected from potential retaliation or intimidation under the provisions of the Penal Code (Chapter 224).

Any such harassment, as alluded to by Mr Cheng, should be reported to the authorities.

The PCA also guards against malicious complaints, whereby the complainant can be prosecuted for knowingly giving or causing to be given, any false or misleading information to the CPIB.

This is to prevent the misuse of our criminal justice system by those who would make malicious complaints against innocent parties for their own purposes.

We assure Mr Cheng that these incidents are few.

A complainant who provided information that was subsequently verified to be inaccurate, but did so with no malicious intent, would not be taken to task.

Singapore adopts a zero-tolerance approach towards corruption. The CPIB takes a serious view of all complaints or information which may expose any offence under the PCA, and continues to combat corruption through swift, sure and firm, but fair, action.

All complaints, including anonymous ones, will be carefully evaluated so as to ascertain whether a criminal investigation under the PCA is warranted.

The CPIB strongly encourages members of the public to report any suspected corrupt practices in person, as based on our experience, complaints lodged in person are the most effective mode of reporting.

Clare Tan (Ms)

Senior Assistant Director (Corporate Relations)

Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau

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

Protecting patients and doctors alike

Straits Times
29 Jun 2017

The unfortunate case of a man for whom bariatric surgery went wrong should prompt the Singapore Medical Council to consider making insurance coverage for doctors compulsory. It has not done so as yet, although the law allows it to impose that requirement. This would appear intriguing, not least because all public sector doctors are insured and backed by the hospital. The situation is different in the private sector but, even there, the majority of doctors do insure themselves. Since they do so for good reason, the question is: why isn't insurance made mandatory? Surely it cannot be the case that doctors who do not insure themselves are so certain of their professional skills that they consider coverage unnecessary. If that were to be so, insured doctors would be acknowledging a relative lack of proficiency - an absurd idea and one hardly designed to draw patients to their clinics.

Insurance protects doctors from the possibly heavy penalty of lawsuits when outcomes go awry for patients. In the present case, the doctor was insured as a surgeon but he claimed not to have known that bariatric surgery required an additional premium. He has since raised his coverage - making the perfect point for comprehensive insurance in the first place. It gives doctors the financial peace of mind they need so that they can focus their skills and care entirely on the patient's medical condition without having to worry about what could go wrong inadvertently.

For patients, whether doctors are insured can make a substantial difference to their chances of recovering financially from medical catastrophes. The bariatric surgery patient was covered by his right to claim from the doctor or clinic (unless the doctor is bankrupt and not covered by his employer). In his case, the doctor owns the clinic and does not have much money. Hence, the patient settled for less than half the cost of his medical bills. A solution might lie in private sector patients opting for surgery performed only by insured doctors. But most patients would hardly make the effort to check insurance details when, habitually, they trust their doctors' professional expertise and the economic ecosystem in which professionals operate. "Caveat emptor", let the buyer beware, is not a good principle to apply to doctor-patient relationships because they are different from ordinary commercial transactions.

Certainly, Singapore would not wish to encourage the appearance of a litigious society that tempts patients to sue doctors for every perceived fault in treatment. That is an unwanted extreme which could be created by awareness that doctors are covered by adequate insurance. If insurance premiums soar, so will healthcare costs. However, the courts can be relied upon to balance both justice and public policy considerations when considering claims of medical negligence.

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

Nam Cheong tumbles to five-year low on US$10m claims from OCBC

Business Times
22 Jun 2017
Tan Hwee Hwee

Shares in Nam Cheong fell to a five-year low after it emerged from a trading halt on Wednesday, following news released overnight of a writ of summons issued on OCBC Bank's claims against the listed offshore and marine (O&M) group and its subsidiary.

Nam Cheong's share price dived to a five-year low of 1.6 Singapore cents, paring gains from its last spike in late May, before recovering some ground to hit an intra-day high of 2.2 Singapore cents. It closed at 2.1 Singapore cents on Wednesday, down 0.6 Singapore cent.

Over 17.6 million shares changed hands, compared to a three-month average trading volume of over 5.3 million shares.

The group said after Tuesday's trading hours that it and its wholly-owned subsidiary, Nam Cheong International (NCI), had received a writ of summons and statement of claim filed by OCBC in the High Court of Labuan, Malaysia.

OCBC is claiming against NCI as a borrower and its parent group as a guarantor of over US$10 million owed as at April 30 under a credit facility extended by the bank.

This flew in the face of market speculation about the group nearing a debt restructuring deal with its senior lenders, which bolstered its share price.

On May 25, Nam Cheong's share price closed at a one-month high of 2.9 Singapore cents. This was despite the fact that in its May 24 response to an SGX query, the group said that no definitive agreements were on the table with its principal lenders.

The Business Times understands that Nam Cheong had also sounded out holders of its S$90 million notes about the possibility of convening an informal meeting.

Observers consider this a preamble to a consent solicitation exercise to defer principal repayment of the notes and seek any necessary waiver of financial covenants.

Nam Cheong faces time pressure, though, to restructure its balance sheet considering that the S$90 million notes principal will mature this August.

Based on OCBC Credit Research's calculation, the group generated just RM5.1 million (S$1.65 million) in Ebitda (earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation) in the first quarter, which fell short of covering RM6.1 million in interest expense.

In addition, Nam Cheong saw its operating cash outflow widen to RM69.9 million for Q1 compared to RM10.3 million in Q4 FY16, Nick Wong of OCBC Credit Research noted.

Such financial woes are common among listed O&M counters facing the heat from a protracted industry downturn. But for Nam Cheong, one other factor stands in the way of securing a ticket to ride the wave to a sector-wide recovery.

The group had leaned on a "build-to-stock" shipbuilding business model for the bulk of its revenue during the last industry upswing. This involved tapping third-party shipyards to build ships to stock on a speculative basis before they were sold to shipowners.

Drawing on broad-sector references, Pareto Securities Pte Ltd's chief executive David Palmer warned that when taken to the extreme, this business model "can cause major problems when buyers for the ships disappear.

"Build-to-stock is neither appropriate for good and bad markets," he argued.

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

Fund-raising appeals on social media under scrutiny

Straits Times
12 Jun 2017
Janice Tai

The authorities on lookout for misrepresentations, with some online campaigns raising up to six-figure sums

The authorities have made it clear that they will be keeping a close watch on social media and other platforms that facilitate donations, to prevent misrepresentation of claims or monies being used.

This comes at a time when individual appeals online - especially those with heart-rending circumstances presented through compelling narratives - have managed to garner six-figure sums in donations.

Recently, single mother Vivian Pan made an appeal on her Facebook page to raise money for another single mother, who was diagnosed with stage 2 cervical cancer. Ms Pan is now being investigated by both the Office of the Commissioner of Charities (COC) and the police.

Some netizens became suspicious of her fund-raising appeal after their offers of groceries were rejected, and the bank account given for cash donations was said to be hers instead of that of the cancer patient, Ms Tang Zhi Ling, 33.

The COC told The Straits Times that it received feedback about the case and is currently investigating the matter. Police said reports have been lodged and investigations are ongoing.

"We are encouraged to see concerned members of the public stepping up to help others with their time and resources," said a spokesman for the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF).

"However, we would also advise them to exercise due diligence and care in verifying the accuracy of reported accounts before committing significant resources, as there have been cases where reported accounts, including on social media, have not been complete or fully accurate."


Campaigns that struck a chord

Individual fund-raising appeals online that have garnered significant donations:

SINGLE MUM WITH CANCER

Ms Tam Chek Ming, 46, appealed for funds for immunotherapy after she was diagnosed with stage 4 ovarian cancer. She took her appeal to crowdfunding website Give.asia in April.

The single mother said she needed to fight the disease to stay alive for a few more years for her five-year-old son.

Her story was accompanied by an eight-minute YouTube video interview.

Ms Tam said she had sold off everything that she could sell in her two-room flat, and also skipped her meals so her son could have proper meals.

The post raised $771,962 from 7,419 people.

DAD'S MEDICAL EVACUATION

On April 19, Ms Eileen Cheong's father had a heart attack during a family trip to Tokyo to celebrate her mother's cancer remission.

Her father was placed on mechanical support in a hospital in Japan, but it was not clear how long he would stay in a coma. Insurers informed the family that it was "unlikely to have a successful claim as his collapse was attributable to a pre-existing heart condition".

So Ms Cheong, 25, turned to Give.asia to raise money to take him home. The Internet delivered and $239,047 was raised by 3,029 people.

Mr Cheong was medically evacuated back to Singapore but died shortly after.

GIRL WITH RARE DISEASE

Teo Pei Shan was a teenager trapped in a toddler's body due to a rare disease.

Last year, while she was fighting for her life in the intensive care unit, her father - the family's sole breadwinner - could not drive his taxi to earn money as he had injured his ankle. Rare Disorders Society shared her story on Giving.sg.

Donations started streaming in but Pei Shan died on July 19, two weeks shy of her 18th birthday. The appeal ended on July 21 with $26,300 raised.

The MSF said it has been providing "factual clarifications" on some reported cases of vulnerable persons on the MSF Singapore Facebook page or in response to media queries.

For instance, there was a crowdfunding campaign online to raise money for a 20-year-old who had to be the breadwinner for 13 family members.

When The New Paper reported on the family's plight last month, the MSF clarified that the family had been receiving its assistance for the past 51/2 years.

The family also gets cash assistance from ComCare, along with help for utilities and rental bills, though it still struggles.

The COC said fund-raising appeals conducted online are still regulated under the Charities Regulations 2012 if the fund-raising appeals target the community in Singapore.

This means fund-raisers need to fulfil certain obligations such as disclosing clear and accurate information to donors about the beneficiary and the purpose of the donation, the proper use of donations, as well as keeping proper records of donations received and disbursed.

The COC had previously issued restriction and prohibition orders to stop or limit fund-raising activities conducted by organisations and individuals because the activities were deemed improper.

Anyone who flouts the fund-raising laws can be fined up to $5,000 or jailed up to 12 months or both.

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

ICC Court sets up case management office in Singapore

Business Times
29 Jun 2017
Claire Huang

To serve the dispute resolution needs of businesses in the region, the International Chamber of Commerce or ICC Court will set up a case management office in Singapore - the first international arbitral institution to have a physical presence here.

The new office is expected to start operating in the first quarter of 2018 at Maxwell Chambers.

Headquartered in Paris, the ICC Court will take up about 2,000 sq ft in the new Maxwell Chambers Suites - a conserved heritage building - which will be an expansion of Maxwell Chambers when the refurbishment works are completed in 2019.

Singapore is ICC Court's fourth overseas case management office after Hong Kong, New York and Brazil. In 2016, it administered almost 1,000 arbitral cases from around the world.

Senior Minister of State of Ministry of Law (MinLaw) Indranee Rajah said the move "will augment Singapore's offerings and raise our hub status up one notch".

Speaking at the third ICC Asia Conference on International Arbitration on Wednesday, Ms Indranee said: "It is a vote of confidence in Singapore as a base for major players to access and capture opportunities, and to be part of Asia's growth story."

MinLaw and the ICC Court announced their collaboration at the signing of a memorandum of understanding - a milestone agreement - in Singapore on Wednesday.

Under the partnership, MinLaw and the ICC Court will work together to develop and promote Singapore as a seat and venue for arbitration in Asia through advancing thought leadership, developing manpower talent and arbitration services, and undertaking joint marketing.

Said Alexis Henri Louis Mourre, president of the ICC Court: "With its two case management teams in Hong Kong and Singapore, as well as its representative office in Shanghai, the court is now able to offer a unique international arbitration platform across the entire Asian continent."

The new case management office forms part of a growing presence for ICC in Singapore.

Following the establishment of an Asia Regional Office, ICC's first regional office outside of Paris, in 2002, ICC and IE Singapore joined forces in 2015 to establish the ICC Academy, an e-learning platform for trade and banking professionals. Both outfits are currently located at Maxwell Chambers.

Singapore is a key international dispute resolution centre, offering a full suite of services including international arbitration, mediation and litigation. It is one of the top five seats of arbitration in the world and has been the leading seat of arbitration for ICC cases in Asia for the last seven years.

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

Oxley Road dispute: Cabinet cannot avoid responsibility on matters of public interest, says DPM Teo

TODAY
22 Jun 2017
Kenneth Cheng

Responding to questions on the need for a Ministerial Committee to consider options for 38 Oxley Road, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said on Wednesday (June 21) the Cabinet cannot avoid responsibility on matters of public interest, and due process is needed. He added that setting up such a committee is “part of normal Cabinet working processes”, noting that even company boards form committees to examine issues.

Weighing in on the dispute between Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his siblings for a second time, Mr Teo also noted that the differences of views over the Lee family’s home did not arise because of the ministerial committee, which he chairs.

“We still hope that differences of views on private matters can be resolved within the family,” Mr Teo said in a statement. “But ultimately, the Cabinet of the day and its ministers cannot avoid taking responsibility for making the required decisions on matters where the public interest is involved, and due process is required. Mr Lee Kuan Yew himself understood this and would have expected the Government to do so,” he added.

Mr Teo’s latest remarks were in response to a commentary published in The Straits Times yesterday. The writer, the paper’s editor-at-large Han Fook Kwang, suggested disbanding the committee as part of an agreement between PM Lee and his siblings, Dr Lee Wei Ling and Mr Lee Hsien Yang. Another possibility, Mr Han added, is to let the Founders’ Memorial Committee decide on the fate of the Oxley Road house, the birthplace of the ruling People’s Action Party and where founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew had lived since 1945 until his death.

The Founders’ Memorial Committee was set up in 2015 to look into how best to honour Singapore’s pioneer generation of leaders.

Mr Teo, however, said the Cabinet cannot “outsource decision-making”. 

“Ultimately, it is the government of the day which has to be responsible for making a decision on the property, as this is where the powers reside under the law, specifically the Preservation of Monuments Act and the Planning Act in this case … It is therefore incumbent on the Cabinet to consider and decide on the issues,” he added.

But this “does not preclude public consultations or the involvement of some Memorial Committee at an appropriate time”, Mr Teo said.

The public dispute between the Lee siblings over the fate of their family home has escalated sharply over the past week. Besides disagreeing with PM Lee on their late father’s wishes for the house, as expressed in his will, Dr Lee and Mr Lee Hsien Yang had also criticised the setting up of the Ministerial Committee.

They alleged that the committee was set up to allow PM Lee to “get (his) way” with regard to the house. They also slammed the committee as “shadowy” and said they had been kept in the dark about its membership.

In his first remarks on the issue on Saturday, Mr Teo said there was nothing secretive about the committee. Disclosing its membership, he had said the committee’s interest in the late Mr Lee’s will is “confined to the light that it sheds on his wishes for the house”.

Reiterating this on Wednesday, he wrote: “Whoever makes a recommendation, the public or some Memorial Committee, and when the Cabinet eventually makes a decision, (the late) Mr Lee’s thinking is an important factor which we would all want to take into account.”

Mr Teo said it was “only proper” that the committee sought the siblings’ views to grasp the late Mr Lee’s thinking on the matter. “Indeed, the committee had to, since the siblings themselves told us they had different views and challenged each other’s interpretations of Mr Lee’s wishes.”

Saying that all views had been  given “voluntarily”, including those in the form of statutory declarations, Mr Teo added: “This process was conducted through correspondence, and out of the public eye until it was brought out onto a public platform.”

Copyright 2017 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

ADV: Choose to study law with Birmingham City University!

Singapore Law Watch
12 Jun 2017
Kaplan

Security personnel for Pink Dot tripled ahead of event

TODAY
29 Jun 2017
Valerie Koh

Amid the heightened security climate, the organisers of this year’s Pink Dot event, which will be held on Saturday (July 1), has tripled the number of security personnel.

Over 60 security officers and auxiliary police officers will be deployed, and metal barricades will be put up around the full perimeter of Hong Lim Park. Bag and body checks will be conducted on participants at each of the seven access points.

Ahead of new laws to better protect the public from the growing terrorism threat - which will come into force in a few weeks - organisers of the annual lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) event are taking no chances to beef up security. “This is the first year that we’ll have bag and body checks. This is to ensure the safety of participants,” said Pink Dot spokesperson Paerin Choa on Wednesday in an interview with TODAY. “We’re living in different times... security measures are a necessity nowadays.”

While it is the first time that barricades will be put up at the event, security personnel have been deployed for the past three years, Mr Choa said. This is the ninth year that Pink Dot will be held. In recent years, the event has attracted five-figure crowds, with about 28,000 people attending the 2015 event for example. Mr Choa urged those who are attending this year’s event to arrive early in view of the security checks, and to avoid bringing prohibited items such as sharp objects.

On Tuesday, Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam wrote on Facebook that increased security measures for events such as Pink Dot were “absolutely required” in the current environment. Noting that Pink Dot will attract a large crowd, he said that it would be “irresponsible not to take security measures seriously at such events”. “Any large public gathering, with high profile, will be an attractive target... The security requirements will also be imposed at other events, even outside Speakers’ Corner, depending on the estimated crowd size, among other factors,” he added.

In April, Parliament amended the Public Order Act to, for example, require organisers of massive public events to deploy armed auxiliary police officers, put up barricades, and conduct bag and full-body checks. The new laws will take effect next month.

Separately, rules on foreigners’ attendance at Speakers’ Corner events were tightened last November. Revisions to the Public Order (Unrestricted Area) Act barred foreigners from participating in assemblies and processions. This has prompted the Pink Dot organisers to introduce identity checks at the access points to ensure compliance. Attendees will have their identity cards or passports checked before they can enter the area, the organisers had previously said.

Mr Choa said that as a result of the additional measures - which were derived after discussions with the police - the organisers’ security budget has quadrupled to hit a “mid five-figure sum”. Nevertheless, they need not worry about funding, even though the amended laws also explicitly prohibits foreign sponsorship. The organisers have raised at least S$240,000 from 120 local companies, exceeding the target of 100 sponsors. The majority of Pink Dot’s 18 sponsors last year were foreign companies.

“We are fortunate that our 120 local sponsors have come out in full force to support us, allowing us to pay for these added measures while ensuring that we are able to organise the event at a scale that continues to be representative of the significant number of people who wish to... support the freedom to love,” he said.

The support from local companies, mainly small and medium enterprises, has been “nothing short of amazing”, said Mr Choa. While the organisers had approached companies for sponsorship, around 70 to 80 per cent of the sponsors came forward on their own accord through word-of-mouth, he said. In March, Mr Darius Cheung, chief executive of property portal 99.co, set up a website to rally local companies to support Pink Dot. Over two months, the campaign gained traction, and word spread. Small and medium enterprises from the legal, design, food and beverage, and technology sectors chipped in, offering cash, food and drinks sponsorship.

“We knew that there’ll be support from local companies. We didn’t expect it to be so resounding. We were hoping to have 100 companies and we thought it was a little ambitious already. This is a turning point for us,” Mr Choa said.

Some 500 volunteers will be helping out at the event, up from about 400 last year, Mr Choa added. The volunteers will be involved in ushering and traffic control, for example.

Copyright 2017 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

Defamation suit by rifle association starts

Straits Times
21 Jun 2017
K.C. Vijayan

It is suing gun club president for remarks made after shooting centre was closed

The Singapore Rifle Association (SRA) weighed in on recent discussions about fake news in kicking off its defamation suit against the Singapore Gun Club (SGC) supremo Michael Vaz Lorrain in the High Court yesterday.

SRA is seeking damages claiming he defamed it in remarks made after the National Shooting Centre in Old Choa Chu Kang Road was closed in February last year following a police probe.

Mr Vaz, who is president of both SGC and national body Singapore Shooting Association, vigorously denied the claims and urged the court to look at the context in which the words were used.

Drew & Napier lawyer Wendell Wong, in the opening remarks for SRA yesterday, said the "potential to cause harm and damage to a person or an organisation's reputation due to fake news is unparalleled".

"SRA, with over 155 years of history in Singapore's shooting fraternity, finds itself in such a position in the present case," he added, pointing to the "widespread connectivity and ease of communication" online.

SRA alleged that Mr Vaz published two defamatory statements last year, the first circulated to SGC members via e-mail and the second on the SGC website, both of which were substantially similar.

Mr Vaz's lawyer Anthony Lee from Bih Li & Lee countered that the words used "in their natural and ordinary meaning" did not mean or were capable of bearing the meanings imputed in SRA's defamation claim.

He said that the words did not refer to any improper conduct by SRA or blamed SRA "entirely" for the closure of the National Shooting Centre.

SportSG - the national sports governing body - had closed the shooting centre following an arms audit by the Police Licensing and Regulatory Department at the armouries of the SGC and the SRA. The police also seized a number of arms due to serious licensing irregularities.

Mr Vaz's lawyers pleaded defences of justification, fair comment and qualified privilege, if the words are found to be defamatory as alleged.

SRA chairman Eng Fook Hoong, Mr Vincent Pinto, executive director of the International Practical Shooting Confederation, and Mr Bayarsaikhan Munkhuu, secretary-general of the Mongolian Practical Shooting Federation, took the stand in court yesterday.

Hearing before Judicial Commissioner Pang Khang Chau continues today.


IMPACT OF FAKE NEWS

The potential to cause harm and damage to a person or an organisation's reputation due to fake news is unparalleled. SRA, with over 155 years of history in Singapore's shooting fraternity, finds itself in such a position in the present case.

MR WENDELL WONG, Drew & Napier lawyer, in the opening remarks for SRA yesterday.

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

Know your rights as an investor

Straits Times
11 Jun 2017
Lorna Tan

Retail investors should be aware of their rights and choose appropriate advisers who meet their needs and uphold certain professional standards.

This is the advice of the CFA Institute, which has identified 10 basic rights every investor should expect from a financial services professional.

Mr Daryl Liew, co-chair of the Advocacy Committee at CFA Singapore, said: "As investors consider hiring professional help, they should know their rights and what to demand of their financial advisers. What factors should you look out for, and what questions should you ask?"

Here is the CFA's Statement of Investor Rights, which should be used to underpin the questions you can and should ask your advisers.

When engaging the services of financial professionals and organisations, I have the right to...

1. Honest, competent and ethical conduct that complies with applicable law

• Is your practice governed by an ethical or professional code of standards, and may I have a copy?

• Are you and your firm familiar with and willing to abide by the Statement of Investor Rights?

2. Independent and objective advice and assistance based on informed analysis, prudent judgment and diligent effort

• Who will be working on my portfolio, and what are their credentials and experiences?

• What happens to my portfolio if you or members of the team leave the firm?

• Can you provide me with examples of the analysis and process you perform to arrive at investment decisions?

3. My financial interests taking precedence over those of the professional and the organisation

• What regulatory standard, if any, governs our relationship?

• Are you a fiduciary, and would our relationship be held to a fiduciary standard?

• How do you decide which investments to recommend? Are you free to recommend investments sponsored or managed by other firms?

4. Fair treatment with respect to other clients

• What policies are in place to make sure clients receive fair treatment relative to each other?

• How do you ensure clients have appropriate access to products and investment opportunities?

• How do you make sure clients receive adequate support and customer service, especially during a crisis?

5. Disclosure of any existing or potential conflicts of interest in providing products or services to me

• What is your process for identifying and communicating conflicts of interest?

• How are conflicts of interest addressed and mitigated, and can you share an example?

6. An understanding of my circumstances so that any advice provided is suitable and based on my financial objectives and constraints

• How do you get to know your clients and assess their financial needs and goals?

• How do you determine whether recommended products and services are appropriate for my portfolio and can help me achieve my financial goals?

• Will you provide me with a written personal financial plan designated to fulfil my financial needs and goals?

7. Clear, accurate, complete and timely communications that use plain language and are presented in a format that conveys the information effectively

• What means of communication (for example, e-mail, phone, and so on) do you use, and how often should I expect to hear from you?

• How often will we meet in person?

• Can you provide examples of reports, performance statements and other types of communication I may receive from you?

8. An explanation of all fees and costs charged to me and information showing these expenses to be fair and reasonable

• On what basis are you compensated: fee only, fee-based, commission, percentage of assets under management, fixed or flat fee?

• How are these fees calculated, billed and collected?

• Could the proposed fee arrangements lead to conflicts of interest?

9. Confidentiality of my information

• What is your privacy policy for client information?

• How can you certify that my financial and personal information is secure?

• Have you ever had information lost or stolen? If so, how was the situation resolved?

10. Appropriate and complete records to support any work done on my behalf

• How long will my records be retained at your firm, and can I request them at any time?

• Does the firm claim compliance with the Global Investment Performance Standards? (The GIPS is a set of standardised, industry-wide ethical principles that guide investment firms on how to calculate and present results to prospective clients.)

Lorna Tan

•For more information, visit http://cfa.is/rights

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

Options limited as 99-year leases shorten, but homeowners not in rush to sell

TODAY
29 Jun 2017
Tan Weizhen

In three years’ time, the apartment in People’s Park Complex that Mr Goh Boon Teck and his wife and son have been living in since 1980 would be at the mid-point of its 99-year lease.

Although he intends to sell the unit, the 68-year-old shop owner is not rushing into letting go of the place on the cheap. What matters is pocketing a good profit from the S$400,000 he forked out in buying the unit, he said.

“There is a lot of interest from foreigners in this area, who don’t exactly need bank loans,” Mr Goh said, referring to buyers’ difficulty in securing loans for properties that have less than 60 years’ lease remaining.

“And even if I don’t manage to sell, I will have no problems renting it out.”

In contrast, Lakeview Estate resident Teo Kee Eng, 64, is less sanguine about the prospects of holding out for a good price for her unit because of the loan regulations.

The 99-year lease for the Housing and Urban Development Company property in the Upper Thomson area began in 1977, which means the unit would be 50 years old in 10 years.

“I’m definitely motivated to sell my place within the next 10 years, if not five. But I’m still hoping for an en bloc sale, actually,” she said.

The options that owners of ageing leasehold properties face have come under the spotlight after the Singapore Land Authority confirmed last week that there will be no compensation for the owners of the 191 private terrace houses at Geylang Lorong 3 when their leases expire in 2020.

The 2ha residential plot will be the first here to have its lease run out.

Across the island, there are 48 developments that are currently more than 30 years old, or around one-third through their 99-year leases, data from the Urban Redevelopment Authority shows. Of these, 13 will have less than 50 years left in 10 years’ time.

Homeowners at four such ageing properties — People’s Park Complex, Lakeview Estate, Sherwood Towers and Neptune Court — said their options are limited as the leases shorten, because selling would become harder.

Some, like Mr Goh and Madam Teo, hope to monetise their units by finding tenants or accepting lower prices. Others said they intend to live out the rest of their lives in the same place, leaving their children to do as they please with the unit after they are no longer around. Some noted that many of their neighbours sold their apartments earlier, knowing there would be constraints brought about by the lease running down.

But they also said their properties seem to be enjoying a revival of sorts because prices of ageing units have become more accessible to younger buyers.

Madam Lily Chan, who is in her 40s and living in Neptune Court with her mother, is of the mind to sell the place in the near future.

“The place is getting very old and too big for the two of us. In fact, many of my neighbours have moved out in the past 10 years, as they know it’s a 99-year lease only,” she said.

But she hopes to sell only if she can get a good price for the property — located in East Coast and with sea views — which her mother paid S$50,000 for in the 1970s.

Recent transactions on property listings site PropertyGuru showed that a 1,270 sq ft unit went for S$870,000 in June.

However, a 76-year-old retiree, known only as Mr Chen, is one of those looking to live in his Sherwood Towers home for the rest of his life. He had considered selling the place, but changed his mind after finding today’s property prices beyond his reach.

“Anyway, the 99-year lease won’t affect me but my children. They can choose to live here, or rent it out. It is up to them,” he said.

He noted that the Bukit Timah property, completed in 1979, seems to be attracting some new buyers in their 30s and 40s recently, as they are “not very expensive”, considering their relatively big sizes.

A check on PropertyGuru found that a 1,657 sq ft unit, for instance, was listed for S$1.15 million — or about S$694 psf. In contrast, freehold properties or newer ones with 99-year leases are going for around S$1,000 psf.

This observation was echoed by 35-year-old finance professional Shaun Lee, who is living with his wife and parents-in-law at Lakeview Estate. There are still new residents, he noted, as it is a lot cheaper compared with other properties in the area. A 1,615 sq ft unit was listed for S$1.2 million on PropertyGuru.

With three generations living under one roof, what to do with the property is most likely their two toddlers’ decision to make in the future.

But Mr Lee is not too concerned. “They can buy their own homes when they grow up,” he said.

Copyright 2017 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

Govt taking back 191 homes in Geylang when lease ends

Straits Times
21 Jun 2017
Ng Jun Sen

There will be no extension; private terraced houses must be vacated by end-2020

In a first for residential properties in Singapore, 191 private terraced houses in Geylang Lorong 3 will be returned to the state when their leases run out at the end of 2020, with no extension allowed.

For the 33 home owners who are still residing there, time is running out. They will have to hand back vacant units to the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) when their leases run out in 31/2 years, with no compensation.

Each of the 191 units will be assigned a dedicated SLA officer who will be the home owners' point of contact with the authorities, the SLA said in a statement yesterday.

Yesterday morning, 16 SLA officers went knocking on doors of the houses, which were sold to residents on a 60-year lease term in 1960, to introduce themselves to the owners and guide them through the process.

The last transaction, in December 2015, was for an 854 sq ft unit that cost $88,000.

Only 33 units are owner-occupied. The remaining units are used for religious activities or are rented out to foreign workers when the homes' original owners moved out over the years.

Owners will have to remove all their belongings and terminate their utilities and services. They will also have to pay all outstanding bills, said the SLA.

This is the first time that a residential plot of land will reach the end of its lease.

Unlike land acquisition by the Government, where compensation is given for the remaining lease, Geylang Lorong 3 residents will not get any since the lease will have run out in 2020, said the Law Ministry's deputy secretary Han Kok Juan.

The 2ha plot of land in Geylang Lorong 3 will be earmarked for future public housing, but the SLA did not give a timeline for when the redevelopment process will start or be completed.

SLA's chief executive Tan Boon Khai said: "As a general policy, upon lease expiry, the state land and the property will revert back to the Government. In this case, there are exciting plans to rejuvenate the Kallang area, and this site will be slated for public housing."

SLA said owner-occupants will not be left without options for alternative housing.

Owners can buy a Housing Board flat or private property if they do not already have alternative housing. They can also choose to rent a home.

The Straits Times reported on the impending lease expiry at Geylang Lorong 3 in April, with several residents expressing their concern that they will have no place to relocate to.

One resident told reporters yesterday that she only learnt about the lease expiry issue from the ST report.

Said Madam Tan Whay Seok, 69, who works as a hawker nearby: "We are now very anxious because we don't know where to go after this. Recently, we spent a lot of money on my husband's leg surgery, so we do not have a lot of savings left.

"I now hope that we can be allowed to live nearby."

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

Court orders alleged match-fixer's property, assets frozen

Straits Times
10 Jun 2017
K.C. Vijayan

Ruling follows CPIB report showing accused had amassed $3.8m in 'unexplained wealth'

An alleged match-fixer will not be able to profit from his four properties or deal with cash in three bank accounts after a Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) report found he had amassed $3.8 million in unexplained wealth over six years.

The High Court issued the order against Rajendar Prasad Rai, 43, placing a charge on the properties and preventing him from disposing of the cash, after a three-day hearing.

Rai is being investigated for possible offences under the Corruption, Drug Trafficking and Other Serious Crimes (Confiscation of Benefits) Act (CDSA).

He has a separate match-fixing case currently in the State Courts.

Senior Judge Lai Siu Chiu explained the decision to restrain Rai from disposing of the funds from his four properties and three UOB accounts in judgment grounds issued last week.

He said the State did have "indirect proof" of Rai's "unexplained wealth" of $3,811,127 held between January 2009 and September 2015, which is "likely to be derived from his criminal conduct".

The Public Prosecutor had applied for the order based on the CPIB report analysing concealed income in relation to Rai's financial affairs.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Tan Kiat Pheng said the methodology used to compute the relevant sums was based on established practice used here and in the United States.

Rai, whose criminal activities were suspected to have begun in 2009, worked for only about seven months up to February 2009, and his flight attendant wife stopped working in 2002. He paid income tax totalling some $20,000 for 2013 and 2015.

The 17-page report also factored in the couple's rental income from all their properties and Rai's winnings from Singapore Pools of $546,840 and $790,830 from bets of $279,000 and $362,500 in 2013 and 2015 respectively.

The analysis included his alleged inheritance of $1 million cash from his late father and a unit in Chancery Court in his name, as well as the couple's living expenses.

Senior Counsel N. Sreenivasan and lawyer Jason Lim, in defending Rai, challenged the report, arguing that the court must be satisfied that the benefits had been derived by Rai from drug dealing or from criminal conduct. He contended this requirement was missing in Rai's case, who, he told the court, was a "very successful punter".

The defence also countered with an accounting expert's report against the CPIB analysis and the judge noted the criticisms were "not unfounded".

But "leaving aside the dispute between the parties vis-a-vis the methodology used to calculate (Rai's) assets and liabilities, the court cannot overlook the fact that a person of (Rai)'s reasonably modest means and who of late (with his wife) was not gainfully employed, possessed wealth far in excess of his known means and sources of income", said Judge Lai.

The judge ruled that the court had to take a "pragmatic approach" and found that even if Rai's unexplained wealth of $3.8m was discounted by $1 million, the remaining balance called for credible, documented explanations and his submissions "could not/did not reduce this figure to zero".

Judge Lai added Rai had been charged with match-fixing in September 2015 and the trial took place about 18 months later.

"If (Mr Rai) will indeed be charged under the CDSA, it was incumbent on the (Public Prosecutor) to do so promptly out of fairness to the defendant and in the interests of justice," said Judge Lai.

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

Van Cleef & Arpels can use 'Mystery Set' only for jewellery

Straits Times
28 Jun 2017
K.C. Vijayan

Brand cannot keep trademark for watches as Ipos decides in favour of Franck Muller

For 84 years, famed luxury goods supplier Van Cleef & Arpels has been producing fine jewellery with the trademark "Mystery Set" to describe its own unique gemstone setting, which appears to be invisible.

But in 2015, rival luxury brand owner FMTM Distribution turned to the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (Ipos) in an attempt to revoke Van Cleef & Arpels' use of that trademark for jewellery and watches.

In the case of jewellery, Ms Sandy Widjaja, Ipos principal assistant registrar of trademarks, has found in favour of Van Cleef & Arpels, which will get to keep using "Mystery Set".

But FMTM, which owns the trademark for Franck Muller watches, succeeded in revoking the same "Mystery Set" trademark belonging to Van Cleef for use in relation to watches.

Ms Widjaja, in judgment grounds released last week, found Van Cleef had used the mark here within five years of registration for "jewellery only" but not for watches.

According to its website, "Mystery Set" refers to a unique technique by Van Cleef & Arpels that was patented in 1933.

The technique sets stones in such a way that no prongs are seen and is done by a small number of master jewellers and when completed, " the gems appear to be entirely free-standing".

Because of the complex process involved, only a few pieces are produced each year.

FMTM had applied in October 2015 to revoke the "Mystery Set" trademark, arguing that Van Cleef did not use the mark in Singapore in relation to watches and jewellery, for which it was registered, within five years from its 2008 registration.

Under the relevant laws here, trademarks are open to non-use challenge and liable to be revoked if not used for five years after registration or any continuous period of five years post-registration.

To shore up its case, Van Cleef & Arpels, defended by lawyer K. Sukumar, produced invoicesdated between April 2008 and June 2015 totalling some $8 million in sales of the "Mystery Set" jewellery.

FMTM, represented by lawyer Francine Tan, argued that the mark had been used by third parties and the owners themselves to describe a particular jewellery-setting technique. Hence, there was no genuine use of the trademark as required under the law.

Ms Widjaja found that the technical name of the specific technique described by FMTM is the "invisible setting", where gemstones appear to be set with no prongs visible. She added that the trademark was "coined" by Van Cleef to patent a variant of the technique.

She said "it describes the aura which is exuded" by the gemstones in such a setting where "it looks as though there is nothing holding the gemstones such that there is a mysterious element as to the mounting technique/jewellery".

Ms Widjaja accepted that "Mystery Set" was used in the trademark sense based on the evidence tendered, including three invoices between 2012 and 2015 for the purchase of three sets of the jewellery costing $1.82 million in total.

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

FMTM Distribution Limited v Van Cleef & Arpels S.A. [2017] SGIPOS 06

Fewer losses in shipping industry but challenges remain

Business Times
21 Jun 2017
David Hughes

Marine insurer Allianz says crew negligence and inadequate vessel maintenance are increasing areas of concern, as economic pressures challenge budgets

Marine insurers have as good a perspective as any on the health of the shipping industry, for the very good reason that they have to pay up when things go wrong.

So it is worth paying attention when major insurer Allianz says that, while shipping losses continue to decline, a "perfect storm" of regulation, cost savings and cybersecurity looms.

The Allianz Safety & Shipping Review 2017 says that 85 ships (of over 100 gross tonnage) were lost worldwide in 2016, which was down 50 per cent compared to 10 years earlier. That is good news. The not so good news for The Business Times readers is that South China and South-east Asian waters are the top loss locations, although the East Mediterranean replaces the British Isles as the top incident hotspot.

The insurer says that crew negligence and inadequate vessel maintenance are increasing areas of concern, as economic pressures challenge budgets.

An apparent positive for the insurer is that "new navigational and monitoring technologies could help reduce the impact of human error, which has resulted in US$1.6 billion in losses in five years". "However, over-reliance brings risks," Allianz cautions.

Staying with a positive theme for a moment, Allianz says that the decline in shipping losses has largely been driven by development of a more robust safety environment by shipowners. That has got to be right. A mention of the term 'safety management system' is less likely to be met with baffled silence compared to 10 years ago.

Let's not get carried away though. Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty's (AGCS) global product leader of hull & marine liabilities, Baptiste Ossena says: "While the long-term downward loss trend is encouraging, there can be no room for complacency. The shipping sector is being supported by a number of interconnected risks at a time of inherent economic challenges."

He notes that environmental scrutiny is increasing, with record fines for vessel pollution. Having new ballast water management rules that come into force in 2017 is a good thing, but the cost of complying with these could have a significant impact on already-stressed shippers. Political risk is increasing, with activity in hotspots such as Yemen and the South China Sea having the potential to affect vessel routes. The threat of offshore cyberattacks is also significant. "A 'perfect storm' of increasing regulatory pressure combined with narrowing margins and new risks is gathering," says Mr Ossena.

The insurer also remarks that standards remain an issue in some parts of Asia with bad weather, poor maintenance, weak enforcement of regulations and overcrowding contributing to losses.

The collapse of one of the world's largest shipping companies, Hanjin Shipping, over the past year exposed the perilous state of some parts of the sector. Bankruptcies are rising and when debt levels are high and earnings are low, shipowners often look to make cost savings on maintenance budgets, training and crew levels, all of which can lead to accidents.

"Crew negligence and inadequate vessel maintenance are two potential areas of increasing risk, particularly if shipowners opt to recruit crew with less experience and training, or choose to stretch maintenance work to the longest possible interval in order to save money," says Duncan Southcott, global head of marine claims at AGCS.

However, the issue of over-reliance on technology is ongoing and incidents continue to result, particularly around navigation.

Allianz notes: "Autonomous shipping could be operating on fixed regional routes in the near future." 'Autonomous' means unmanned, or at least with nobody on the bridge taking decisions. With a huge dose of understating, it notes: "Safety considerations will be crucial to development with concerns about collisions and challenges around regulatory and liability issues."

Am I alone in thinking unmanned bridges are beyond crazy? Why aren't all the liability insurers simply saying the idea is madness? No insurer ought to touch 'autonomous shipping' with a bargepole.

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

Woman takes credit firm to court over admin fees on loans

Straits Times
09 Jun 2017
Selina Lum

69-year-old borrowed $128k and repaid $212k, moneylender says she still owes $136k

A businesswoman who borrowed $128,000 from a licensed moneylender has repaid nearly $212,000, but is facing legal demands from the credit company, which says she still owes about $136,000.

Ms Ang Ai Tee, 69, has gone to court to set aside the statutory demand - a precursor to bankruptcy proceedings - served on her by the moneylender, Resource Credit.

Her lawyer, Mr Lee Ee Yang, argued that the case concerns "egregious" acts by the moneylender to pressure his client into repeatedly renewing her loan. She had to pay a 10 per cent "administrative fee" each time she renewed the loan.

Out of the $211,856 that has been paid, $150,800 were for these administrative fees, which ballooned over the span of a year. The rest comprised interest, late interest and late fees.

Singapore's moneylending regulatory regime was strengthened in October 2015 to protect borrowers. Among other things, interest and late fees were capped at 4 per cent a month and moneylenders were allowed to charge an upfront administrative fee of no more than 10 per cent of the principal.

After the rules were implemented, moneylenders began offering short-term loans, charging borrowers administrative fees repeatedly to roll over the existing loan.

The Registry of Moneylenders issued directions last year and this year to denounce such practices.

In Ms Ang's case, she began borrowing sums of between $30,000 and $60,000 from Resource Credit from January 2015.

After the new rules kicked in, she said she was persuaded to take up another loan for $50,000, repayable the next day.

When she could not pay up, Mr Lee said she was pressured into "renewing" the loan, paying 13.92 per cent of the loan each time - 10 per cent in administrative fees for the "new" loan and interest of 3.92 per cent on the "old" loan.

Between October 2015 and September last year, she renewed the loan 16 times, out of which the principal was increased three times.

When she did not pay to renew the loan on October 2015, Resource Credit served a statutory demand on her. Ms Ang applied to set it aside. Her case was dismissed by a senior assistant registrar, and she then appealed to the High Court.

Mr Lee argued that administrative fees are not allowed under the Moneylenders Act. Hence, the money she paid as administrative fees should be set off against the outstanding principal and interest.

Resource Credit, represented by Mr Ting Chi Yen, argued that each of the loans was legally and properly granted. The moneylender's case is that the administrative fee represents its acceptance of risk for that month. So when a loan is refinanced for a fresh period of time, it takes on a fresh risk.

The court's decision is pending.

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

MAS allows banks to invest in some non-financial businesses

TODAY
28 Jun 2017

Banks in Singapore will now be allowed to conduct or invest in “permissible non-financial businesses”, as long as the businesses are “related or complementary to banks’ core financial businesses”, said the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) yesterday.

This would include eCommerce and online shopping portals.

In a speech at the 44th Annual Dinner of The Association of Banks in Singapore, Mr Heng Swee Keat, Minister for Finance, said that “the line between financial and non-financial businesses is blurring”.

“Banks are increasingly facing competition from online and non-financial players that have leveraged their large user base to provide digital wallets, payments and remittance services. The MAS recognises that we can simplify our requirements to enable banks to embed banking services into consumers’ day-to-day activities,” he said.

The proposed measures by the MAS will give banks more flexibility to serve the needs of their customers while ensuring they remain focused on their core businesses, said the financial regulator in a statement.

“The MAS will allow banks to engage in the operations of digital platforms that match buyers and sellers of consumer goods or services, if such services are complementary to the core financial businesses. This recognises that online purchases of goods and services and the use of e-payment services are becoming increasingly integrated,” the MAS said.

Banks will, however, need to seek case-by-case approval as beyond digital platforms, “they should not be engaging in the sale of consumer goods or services as a business in its own right”, noted the central bank.

“The logic is compelling. With the ubiquity of the smartphone, customers increasingly want banking to be seamlessly integrated into their daily lives,” DBS CEO Mr Piyush Gupta said. Mr Gupta takes over as ABS chair from outgoing Mr Wee Ee Cheong, UOB CEO.

Mr Gupta noted that China’s ICBC has a site which is one of the country’s leading online shopping malls. “There are a number of areas where a banking service can be nicely integrated into eCommerce, and we welcome the opportunity to do so,” he added.

Under the proposed new measures, banks will need to notify only the MAS before conducting or acquiring major equity stakes in permissible non-financial businesses instead of seeking prior regulatory approval.

However, the MAS will cap such permissible non-financial businesses to 10 per cent of the bank’s capital funds to limit exposure and ensure that banks continue to focus on their core.

The MAS will continue to require banks to put in place appropriate risk management and governance arrangements to deal with the risks arising from these businesses.

Banks will, however, continue to be prohibited from entering businesses such as property development and the provision of hotels and resort facilities.

The MAS added that it will consult on the operational details of these policy changes by the end of September.

Copyright 2017 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

Workers' Party 'concerned' about allegations against PM

Business Times
21 Jun 2017
Lee U-Wen

Opposition party's MPs file questions relating to abuse of power accusations for July 3 Parliament sitting

The opposition Workers' Party (WP) has expressed concern over the dispute between Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his two younger siblings over their father's Oxley Road house.

In its first remarks on the ongoing saga, the WP suggested that the family resolve the issues surrounding the property privately or in court.

The party wrote in its Facebook page: "We are concerned only with the allegations of abuse of power and the harm these have caused to confidence in Singapore and our political institutions."

Ahead of the upcoming parliament sitting on July 3, six of the WP's Members of Parliament (MPs) have filed questions that they hope will "help clear the air" on the allegations.

PM Lee is due to deliver a ministerial statement that day to refute the many charges levelled against him by his two younger siblings, Lee Wei Ling and Lee Hsien Yang.

In a short address to the nation on Monday, PM Lee urged all MPs in the House, including those not from the ruling People's Action Party, to examine the issues thoroughly and question him and his Cabinet colleagues.

WP chairman Sylvia Lim will ask about the rules to ensure that ministers and senior public office-holders with "personal or pecuniary interests in the subject-matter of government decisions" do not influence or participate in the related deliberations and decision-making.

Pritam Singh, the party's assistant secretary-general, intends to ask PM Lee whether the government would consent to a resolution to convene a special select committee of parliament comprising members of all parties.

This committee would have "public hearings that are broadcast 'live' to look into allegations of abuse of power" by the prime minister made by members of his family, so as to allow his accusers to present all the relevant evidence to parliament.

Aljunied MP Chen Show Mao has two questions, one of which is when a a minister or political appointee should go to court to defend his or her reputation, and when he or she should refrain from private litigation and seek instead to address such allegations publicly, such as in parliament.

Non-constituency MP Leon Perera wants to know the circumstances under which ministerial committees set up without public knowledge are convened to address issues, and the number of such committees that currently exist.

It was revealed last week that Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean had set up and now chairs an internal ministerial committee to study the options for the 38 Oxley Road home.

Also weighing in on the matter is former presidential candidate Tan Cheng Bock, who said that parliament was "not the right place" to settle family disputes.

He wrote on his Facebook page: "It is an institution to make laws and debate national issues.

"Family disputes should be settled in courts. In parliament, MPs have no details of the case and only hear PM telling his side of the case. Wrong platform."

Another opposition party, the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), issued a statement on Tuesday calling for a Committee of Inquiry to be set up to study the dispute.

"It must be reiterated that the saga goes well beyond a private family quarrel and crosses into the realm which involves matters at the very heart of transparent and accountable governance.

"It is in this light that the SDP urges PM Lee to do the right thing and convene a genuinely impartial hearing to get to the bottom of the incident and, in so doing, reform our nation's governing process."

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

Discerning the line when it comes to non-executive directors' duty of care

Business Times
09 Jun 2017
Julie Ly Huan

Non-executive directors (NEDs) owe a duty of care to the company to which they are appointed. In recent years, they have attracted greater scrutiny because of the increasing importance of their roles as watchdogs to monitor the conduct of management. Unfortunately, this has brought with it more litigation where NEDs have been sued for breaching their duty of care.

What responsibilities come under this duty of care? And what considerations - for example, risk versus reward - should prospective or incumbent NEDs take into account? Given that the NED typically has principal commitments outside the company, the dilemma is knowing how closely to monitor the activities of the company to properly discharge his or her duty. A recent legal case may help shed some light on this.

Late in December, the Singapore High Court had to rule on whether two nominee directors (a category of non-executive director) had breached their duty of care. It was undisputed that the two directors had not been aware of the terms of the company's business contracts and had not supervised its delegates. Notwithstanding this, the court ruled that they had not breached their duty of care.

While this judgement may be reassuring to NEDs, there are other cases where NEDs have been found guilty. Hence, the implications of this judgement on the duty of care should be seen in a broader context.

Unlike executive directors, NEDs do not have responsibilities for the day-to-day operations of the company. However, they are still required under the Companies Act to discharge a duty of care to the company.

Be that as it may, when applying this duty to any one director, Singapore's courts have shown an appreciation of the myriad functions that different directors perform. Indeed, while the statute does apply a broad sweep of general principles, it is in the spirit of the law that the courts have discretion to decide how one statutory provision should be applied in order to be fair in each individual case.

In December's High Court case, the two defendants were each the sole director of a company which was specifically set up to purchase and own merchant shipping vessels. Both directors were appointed solely to fulfil the regulatory requirement of having a Singapore resident director; real control lay with three other individuals who represented the shareholders and who had been granted powers of attorney (POA holders) to conduct the companies' business.

When the companies breached an agreement for the purchase of vessels, the seller sued the companies leading to their liquidation. The liquidator then sued the defendants, the two NEDs, alleging they had breached their duty of care as they were unaware of the terms of the agreement, and had delegated every function relating to the agreement to the POA holders without supervising them.

At the outset, the court noted that it is common practice to appoint persons as nominee directors solely to fulfil the resident director requirement, while business decisions are typically left to other more qualified persons. The court added that while "this does not mean that the defendants are relieved of their duties of care . . . it does impact the extent to which they are expected to be informed of the companies' affairs".

Applying that approach, the court concluded that it was entirely reasonable for the defendants to have left all matters pertaining to the purchase agreement to the POA holders. The defendants had not breached their duty of care.

This case can be compared with the saga surrounding Airocean Group Limited some years ago, where legal proceedings were instituted against the company's directors. Among them was the case of Ong Chow Hong, an independent director (a category of NEDs) who was convicted of breaching his duty of care because he neglected to review an announcement that the company made in response to an SGX query. Ong had instead relied on his co-director, a lawyer, to review the announcement.

DIFFERENT STANDARDS

Ong was convicted in the State Courts and, when he appealed against his sentence, not only did he fail - the High Court increased his sentence. In the 2011 High Court judgement, the court stated that "each director of a listed company has a solemn and non-delegable duty of due diligence to ensure compliance with market rules and practices". The court's strict approach in Ong's case has been lauded as setting the right standards for NEDs although his conviction was technically set aside in 2014 for other unrelated reasons.

Faced with these two contrasting cases, what should an incumbent or prospective NED do? Based on these two cases, there are at least two lessons that can be drawn. First, every NED is subject to a duty of care. However, the Singapore courts take a pragmatic view of the reality of the situation by looking carefully at the role that each NED has been given.

Second, the standard of care expected varies according to the nature of the activity. If it is about business decision-making, the standard of care expected may be lower, justifiably because the NED is not as familiar with the business of the company compared to management.

However, if it is about ensuring that the company complies with rules and regulations, the standard of care expected is higher. This is consistent with the corporate governance principle that independent directors fulfil an important role as watchdogs to ensure regulatory compliance. Hence, in this type of activity, the NED must watch out with more vigilance, probe deeper to the best of his ability and exercise his own independent judgement.

At the end of the day, NEDs cannot expect the Companies Act to prescribe all the different situations they may face and how they should act in each of them. Such an approach would be too rigid and constrained.

Nonetheless, by carefully monitoring court judgements, it is possible to draw specific principles to follow and see with greater clarity what is expected of them. Keeping abreast of case law developments is therefore vital. This will go a long way in helping NEDs perform their roles without undue fear of being sued for breaching their duty of care.


The writer is a senior lecturer in the Department of Strategy & Policy at the National University of Singapore (NUS) Business School. The opinions expressed do not represent the views and opinions of NUS.

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

Harassment over views on LGBT issues 'unacceptable'

Straits Times
28 Jun 2017
Linette Lai

Govt opposed to harassment of any group, whether for or against cause: Shanmugam

While people will have strong views on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) issues, the way to deal with it is through discussion and persuasion, not harassment.

Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam made this clear in a Facebook post yesterday evening, in which he said Oogachaga executive director Bryan Choong had told him that sponsors of Saturday's Pink Dot rally had been harassed.

Oogachaga is a counselling group for people in the LGBT community, while the Pink Dot rally is an annual event in support of the community.

"I told him that the Government is strongly opposed to any harassment of any group.

"The Protection from Harassment Act offers civil remedies to those harassed. And if the harassment crosses the line, and is criminal, then the Government will not hesitate to take action," said Mr Shanmugam.

"Subsequently, I met with other people, some of whom are opposed to LGBT lifestyles. They also raised with me the issue of harassment, this time, by LGBT groups against those who don't support the cause. I gave them the same answer: Harassment is not acceptable. If a line is crossed, action will be taken."

The conversation took place in Oogachaga's office in Chinatown, where Mr Choong also spoke on the group's work with those in the LGBT community affected by drug use.

Mr Shanmugam said some people have told him that young people working in foreign financial institutions are subject to a "great deal of pressure" to support the LGBT cause despite their personal beliefs. He said in his post that he had asked them for more details.

The minister also said that the Government's position on Pink Dot is that the rules of the Speakers' Corner allow for the event to be organised, and that should be respected.

"Likewise if anyone wanted to organise an event opposing the LGBT cause, they will have the right to do so, in Speakers' Corner," he said.

"The Government is neutral about the underlying causes. People have the right to organise for whatever cause they wish, as long as the Speakers' Corner rules are complied with."

During the conversation with Mr Choong, Mr Shanmugam explained the need for stricter security rules at the upcoming rally.

"In view of the current security climate, increased security measures are absolutely required," he said. "Any large public gathering, with high profile, will be an attractive target. Pink Dot will attract a large crowd and it would be irresponsible not to take security measures seriously at such events."

He added that similar requirements will be imposed at other events, including those held outside of Speakers' Corner.

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

SGX inks 4 MOUs with industry partners to boost capital access

Straits Times
21 Jun 2017
Marissa Lee

The spate of tie-ups between the Singapore Exchange (SGX) and various industry partners - with more to come - are being forged to act on recommendations of the Government's Committee on the Future Economy (CFE), a senior SGX official said yesterday.

The SGX has been on a signing spree, inking four memorandums of understanding (MOUs) since March with an equity crowdfunding platform, PwC's Venture Hub, the infocomm regulator and A*Star's commercialisation unit.

The goal of these tie-ups is to bolster Singapore's start-up ecosystem by boosting access to growth capital. Mr Mohamed Nasser Ismail, who heads SGX's equity capital market for SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises), shed more light on the moves yesterday.

He told a gathering of reporters and Catalist sponsors: "The CFE has recommended the establishment of a private market... Certain exchanges have positioned themselves as Series B exchanges - is that where we want to be?"

Start-ups that reach a more mature level and have previously raised seed capital and an earlier "Series A" round of funding, proceed to launch a Series B funding round to further build the company.

While they often turn to venture capital and other private funds for the cash, some stock exchanges have stepped in as a platform for such fund-raising efforts.

"We think there are other solutions to that. One of the ways we think that we can be useful is to... play a role in preparing these companies in the right way, which may or may not necessarily mean that they need to go to IPO... These MOUs are designed for that," Mr Nasser added. A couple more MOUs are "in the works", he said.

The SGX is not ruling out the idea of a third board where shares of private companies could be traded. "We are working with some of you, in terms of thinking about how and when and if we should have a private exchange in Singapore," Mr Nasser told yesterday's gathering.

In February, the CFE, led by Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat, released a 109-page report that was a broad-brush plan for Singapore's economic future.

It suggested establishing "a more structured approach for enterprises that had raised capital in the private space to move into the public market" and "creating a private placement platform to better connect Asian SMEs to investors".

A week after the CFE report wrote that dual-class share structures should be permitted in Singapore, the SGX launched a consultation to give the dual-class shares issue another look.

To be sure, the SGX's increasing interest in the private markets also arises from the fact that that is where the action is. Mr Nasser said: "Exchanges worldwide are being disrupted."

But the SGX also used yesterday's bi-annual SGX Catalist Forum to share some encouraging data. Market participation on the Catalist board has risen over the year, giving Singapore's second board a one-year average daily traded value of close to $40 million, up 42 per cent from a year ago.

Participation from institutional investors has also risen, with institutional ownership of Catalist companies recording growth of almost two times since 2010.

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

S'pore not safe from cybercrime: Expert

Straits Times
09 Jun 2017
Tan Tam Mei

Many cases of cyber bank robbery, e-mail hits and ransomware attacks not reported

Singapore is not exempt from three "mega trends" - cyber bank robbery, ransomware attacks and business e-mail compromise attacks - that have plagued the cybercrime world in the last year, said the executive director of the Interpol Global Complex for Innovation (IGCI).

However, many of these cases go unreported, said Mr Noboru Nakatani, one of Interpol's leading experts on cybercrime and security. He spoke to The Straits Times yesterday on the sidelines of a media roundtable ahead of the Interpol World 2017 event next month.

The IGCI represents the collective efforts of the organisation's 190 member countries to come together and pool resources to bring down cybercrime syndicates.

He said: "There's under-reporting because it's quite embarrassing. (But if) a bank robbery takes place on the street, (companies) will 100 per cent go to the police; this is not necessarily the same for cyber bank robbery. Sometimes the cybercrimes are not given sufficient attention."

This comes against the backdrop of the global proliferation of cyber attacks and, most recently, the WannaCry ransomware last month that affected digital signs in some malls and some computers here, with even greater fallout overseas.

PwC's 2016 Global Economic Crime Survey showed cybercrime incidents targeting Singapore-based companies have spiked from 15 per cent in 2014 to 43 per cent last year, becoming the second-most prevalent economic crime here.

Dr M. van Staalduinen, innovation manager for Dark Web, cybercrime and cyber security at the Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research, was also part of the roundtable.

He said: "I see (WannaCry) as an excellent awareness campaign... The world is now awake, this is a global issue... It shows the vulnerability of our society."

Mr Nakatani stressed the need for collaboration between international law agencies, governments and the private sector: "Sometimes, we do not share information because of bureaucracy or competition, then we lose (the) competitive edge to compete with criminals. They do things fast, and we try to catch up."

He added that cybercrime yields high rewards at a low risk, and this could mean that terrorists might turn to it to finance their activities.


10,000 to attend Interpol World

Interpol World 2017 will see more than 10,000 participants - from international law enforcement agencies, government bodies, academia and security companies - get together at the Suntec Singapore Convention and Exhibition Centre.

The event will also feature the Interpol World Congress from July 4 to 6, which will have more than 40 speakers from the public and private sectors address three tracks: cybercrime, safe cities and identity management.

The other element is the Interpol World Exhibition from July 5 to 7, which will feature more than 300 companies presenting the latest solutions and technologies for public safety, biometrics, investigations and cybercrime.

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

Consider dedicated South China Sea commission to settle disputes

Straits Times
28 Jun 2017
Donald R. Rothwell

This commission could be based on a negotiated treaty framework that requires each state to give consent

Since the July 2016 Arbitral Award between the Philippines and China that found unanimously in favour of the Philippines, little appears to have changed in the South China Sea. China has not withdrawn from the disputed islands and rocks and has continued with its island-building activities, further raising concerns over its militarisation of the islands. Last month, the USS Dewey conducted a freedom of navigation operation in the vicinity of Mischief Reef, which resulted in a Chinese rebuke.

But otherwise, the Donald Trump administration has not spelt out any clear strategy for how it will seek to broker a resolution to the region's numerous land and maritime disputes.

Likewise, while the recent Group of Seven summit in Italy reaffirmed a commitment to a "rules-based order in the maritime domain" based on the principles of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos) and expressed concern about the situation in the South China Sea, no concrete proposals were put forward for a way forward in the region.

With no apparent new diplomatic initiative on the table, resolution of the South China Sea's territorial and maritime disputes, therefore, appears to have reached something of an impasse.

Nevertheless, there are some indicators that China and the Philippines may be open to some creative diplomacy to resolve this impasse. For example, China flagged in its 2016 White Paper responding to the award the potential for those engaged in the South China Sea to move forward through "establishing and improving dispute-management rules and mechanisms", including "promoting joint development while shelving differences".

This concession by China to consider joint development in the region could pave the way for a "sovereignty neutral" negotiation in dealing with the region's valuable fishing and hydrocarbon resources.

Some of these options could include joint development, which has been adopted in the Gulf of Thailand by Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam, or referral to arbitration for settlement of the unresolved territorial disputes.

The stalemate since the July 2016 Arbitral Award suggests the time is ripe for innovative diplomatic solutions. Could a dedicated South China Sea Commission be the answer?

A 15-member commission with a mandate to facilitate mediation, conciliation and ultimately arbitration of the disputes would provide both an informal and formal third-party mechanism capable of dealing with the disputes at both a bilateral and regional level. Under this model, each of the six claimants in the wider South China Sea (Brunei, China, Taiwan, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam) would appoint a commission member, with the remaining nine members appointed from outside the region.

The commission's reach could extend to both land and maritime disputes, including islands, rocks and other small maritime features such as reefs and shoals. Its mandate could also extend to determining maritime entitlements and maritime boundaries consistently with Unclos, excepting the continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles that is addressed through a separate UN process.

Commission members would be diplomats and jurists with expertise in territorial and maritime disputes, assisted by a staff of permanent technical experts including geographers, historians, hydrographers and marine scientists.

The commission could be established under a negotiated treaty framework, whereby each state gives its consent. A secretariat would need to be established, preferably located within the region, with an operating budget to which all participants would contribute.

Such a commission would be entirely consistent with Article 33 of the UN Charter, which encourages regional solutions to disputes and would add to the already-extensive range of peaceful means and methods of dispute resolution that are already available. These include the International Court of Justice and Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, and the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea in Hamburg.

However, while all these courts and tribunals have the capacity to resolve all or some of the South China Sea disputes, they have a weak track record with the disputing states. For example, Brunei, China, the Philippines and Vietnam have never appeared in a contentious case before the International Court of Justice or the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea.

A South China Sea Commission, in contrast, would not be located in the heart of Europe, but within Asia. Commission members could predominantly come from within the region. As Singapore does not have a contested South China Sea claim, it could be a neutral regional location for the commission.

There are no new initiatives being promoted to resolve the South China Sea disputes other than a longstanding Asean desire to see a Code of Conduct concluded.

While there is an Asean expectation that the code may be concluded by mid-year, in the absence of creating legally binding obligations, its impact must be questioned. It would, in any event, not resolve underlying territorial disputes.

A South China Sea Commission, in contrast, would allow for creative legal solutions through the flexibility of mediation or conciliation, with legally binding arbitration a last resort. Such an approach could be a regional legal solution for a regional problem.


The writer is professor of international law at the ANU College of Law, Australian National University.

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

Couple lose $20m suit against UBS for 'unauthorised trades'

Straits Times
20 Jun 2017
K.C. Vijayan

This is their second loss in 2 months - $21m suit against another bank was rejected earlier

An Indonesian couple have failed in their $20 million High Court claim against a bank for alleged unauthorised transactions, their second loss in two months after an earlier $21 million suit against another bank was dismissed.

Mr Lucas, who goes by only one name, and his wife, Madam Lenny Halim Liem, were the beneficial owners of Asia-American Investments Group, which had sued UBS AG (Singapore Branch) and adviser Amy Tee.

The firm claimed the bank had purchased accumulators in various shares, including Bank of China, Singapore Petroleum Corporation and Keppel Corp, for their account over eight months from March 2007 without their prior approval.

The accumulator, or discounted share purchase programme, is a financial product that lets investors buy shares at a market discount.

If the price rises by more than a certain percentage, the contract ends and the investor takes a profit. But if the market price falls below the discount price, the investor would be required to continue buying at the same price, which would now be at a premium above the market price.

The company, through lawyer Peter Gabriel and two others, argued that the bank had breached a warranty in their contract by not getting prior approval for the transactions from the authorised representatives, Mr Lucas and Madam Lenny.

But the bank, defended by a team of lawyers led by Senior Counsel Cavinder Bull, countered, among other things, that it had a mandate to act on the investor's oral instructions, regardless of any subsequent written confirmation.

Client adviser Amy Tee had testified that due to the time sensitivity of the market, written instructions were not expected when executing such trades.

High Court Justice Quentin Loh found the couple had failed to make out their case that when they opened the account in May 2006, Ms Tee had told them she would act only on their prior written approval.

"On the contrary, the evidence shows otherwise," added Justice Loh in judgment grounds issued last week, finding the accumulator deals to be authorised.

The judge found Madam Lenny's evidence to be unreliable and self-serving.

Mr Lucas was even more unreliable in his evidence, said Justice Loh, noting he was an experienced trial lawyer.

The couple were also authorised signatories of First Asia Capital Investments, which in April had failed in a $21 million suit against Societe Generale Bank & Trust.

Both were among the last lawsuits from the 2008 financial crisis fallout involving losses from share accumulator deals.

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

Singapore seeks pipeline of bankable projects in region

Business Times
08 Jun 2017
Lynette Khoo

Infrastructure projects need to be bankable so funding will come from sources other than banks: Lawrence Wong

Under its drive to be an infrastructure hub for Asia, Singapore is looking to increase the number of "bankable" infrastructure projects in the region.

The infrastructure needs of the region are huge, but there are not enough bankable projects to attract commercial financing, said Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong on Wednesday.

"Our first priority must be to get more projects bankable. Once we do that, we have more bankable projects to attract sources of funding beyond just bank-based finance.

"In today's situation, the banks are quite comfortable and happy to lend. But with Basel rules tightening and more constraints on credit, especially if interest rates go up, we will need to look out for other sources of funding," he said.

Singapore is doing just that, including for projects arising from China's Belt and Road initiative.

Besides getting more banks to raise infrastructure bonds, another option that Singapore is studying is to have take-up facilities where projects financed by banks that have reached brownfield stage can be funded by other institutional funds and insurance companies; this frees up bank capital to finance new projects.

Mr Wong, in his keynote speech at the Urban Land Institute (ULI) Asia-Pacific Summit, said that Singapore can play a useful role as an infrastructure hub for South-east Asia, or even the broader Asian region.

Having accumulated expertise and experience in urban and infrastructure planning in its past 50 years of rapid urbanisation, the Republic can help others develop their own long-term urban masterplans and implement infrastructure projects.

The country is now home to high-quality professional services, including project advisory, consultancy, project financing, dispute resolution and legal services - all of which are necessary to bring infrastructure projects into being.

Mr Wong noted that multilateral banks like the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and the World Bank have mechanisms to minimise the risk in infrastructural projects.

Project structuring is also critical and Singapore-based banks and companies that provide project advisory here can help improve the project structure.

Some 60 per cent of projects in South-east Asia are now financed through Singapore-based banks, thanks to Singapore's high concentration of banks that undertake project financing and the range of services from legal to arbitration and professional services.

Almost all AIIB projects use arbitration clauses with Singapore as the seat of arbitration.

The Asian Development Bank has estimated that developing Asia will need US$1.7 trillion a year in infrastructure until 2030 to meet its growth momentum, tackle poverty and respond to climate change.

With the region now investing only about US$900 billion annually, a significant shortfall stands to be plugged.

But Mr Wong observed that cities everywhere often find their need for big - and sometimes, even bold - infrastructure initiatives facing opposition.

This opposition can come from the "not-in-my-backyard" mindset, resistance by various interest groups or government budget constraints.

Singapore, however, is investing significantly in new infrastructure to stay competitive. The pipeline of major projects include the doubling of the capacity of its airport and seaport, enhancing land connectivity through the high-speed rail from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore and the Rapid Transit System from Johor Bahru to Singapore; new growth centres, such as the new business district in Jurong and the northern clusters in Woodlands and Punggol are also being developed.

For residential precinct Kampong Bugis, Singapore is experimenting with the master-developer concept; this entails allowing a private-sector developer to plan for a large land parcel, as opposed to carving out the precinct and putting out individual sites for sale. By doing this, the government hopes that the master-developer will take on a long-term commitment to the project.

In response to a question from the audience on whether there will be higher costs to be borne by the master-developer, which in turn may be passed down to end-users, he replied that he does not foresee higher costs; in fact, potential cost savings arising from economies of scale stand to be reaped.

On Wednesday, the minister also witnessed the signing of the memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the Centre for Liveable Cities (CLC), which is under the ambit of the Ministry of National Development, and global non-profit institute ULI to renew their commitment in research collaboration.

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

Shipping sector has reasons for cheer

Business Times
28 Jun 2017
David Hughes

However, with the Hanjin collapse and the ongoing Rickmers insolvency, this optimism has to be tempered with caution

Last week's column looked at the opinion of a major marine insurer, who said that shipping faces a "perfect storm" of regulation, cost-savings and cyber-security risks.

The view may be valid, but it appears the decision-makers in the industry are taking a more upbeat view, as shipping confidence strengthens. The latest Shipping Confidence Survey by international accountant and shipping adviser Moore Stephens has found shipping confidence at its highest in the three months to end-May - as high as the highest it has been in the last three years.

The average confidence level expressed by respondents to the survey measured 6.1 out of 10.0, up from the 5.6 recorded in the preceding survey done in February 2017.

Increased confidence was recorded by all main categories of the survey's respondents.

Moore Stephens says that a number of respondents expressed cautious optimism about the industry's fortunes over the next 12 months, based largely on perceived increased levels of ship demolition and a rationalisation of over-ambitious new-building plans. This contributed to raised expectations of major investments being made over the next 12 months.

But concern persisted over political uncertainty, overtonnaging in certain trades, depressed oil prices and a potential dearth of quality seafarers.

One respondent was reported as saying: "Shipping people are eternally optimistic, with one week of good news seeming to help them forget eight terrible years of hardship and financial loss."

Importantly, the likelihood of respondents making a major investment or significant development over the next 12 months was up from 4.9 out of 10.0 in the previous survey to 5.4 - the highest level since August 2014.

In the container-ship sector, the numbers expecting higher rates rose from 31 per cent to 46 per cent. Among those anticipating lower container ship rates, there was a six percentage-point fall to 12 per cent.

Net sentiment was up in the tanker market from -3 in February survey to +16 in the latest survey. Sentiment in the dry-bulk trade went from +33 to +50, and in the container-ship trade, from +13 to +34.

The latest Multipurpose Shipping Market Review& Forecast report published by global shipping consultancy Drewry also struck an optimistic note.

It noted that many key drivers for dry cargo demand reported a significant uptick for this year, "resulting in improving conditions for all vessels in the multi-purpose shipping sector". This sector is interesting because it can be an overall indicator of what is happing in the shipping industry.

When cargoes are hard to come by, both container lines and bulk-carrier operators tend to eat into the project and specialist cargo areas that sustain the multi-purpose fleet.

In the Moore Stephens' survey, respondents were asked to estimate the level they expected the Baltic Dry Index (BDI) to be at in 12 months.

This key index stood at 855 on Monday this week. More than half those questioned believed that the BDI would reach a level of between 1,000 and 1,499; a quarter put the likely figure at between 1,500 and 1,999. One respondent said: "Healthy volumes of cargo are being moved, but there are too many ships around."

Moore Stephens partner for shipping and transport Richard Greiner said: "The survey was launched in 2008, on the very cusp of one of the most protracted and severe global economic downturns, with a confidence rating of 6.8. In our latest survey, the figure stood at 6.1, which, given geopolitical, economic and industry developments, must be seen as a robust rating.

"Moreover, confidence today of making a major new investment is the highest it has been for almost three years. The positive sentiment on freight rates is welcome, although this must be weighed against the lows to which they have fallen and from which they must continue to recover."

He added: "Even for an industry which is familiar with the volatile nature of international commerce, shipping's ability to survive adversity is worthy of comment. Our latest survey found many of our respondents in watchful mode, mindful of the fact that there are still too many ships, but encouraged to believe that increased demolition and more pragmatism by industry stake-holders will help to redress this imbalance.

"Respondents also remain cognisant of the impact which geopolitical developments can have on shipping, and it will be instructive to see what effect all this will have on industry confidence in our next quarterly survey."

With the Hanjin collapse fresh in the memory and the Rickmers insolvency ongoing, optimism needs to be tempered with caution - and shipping must still weather that 'perfect storm'. Nevertheless, the outlook appears better than it has for some considerable time.

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

Feedback sought on proposed changes to Income Tax Act

Business Times
20 Jun 2017
Claire Huang

The Ministry of Finance is seeking feedback from June 19 to July 10 on the proposed changes to the Income Tax Act, following a periodic review of the income tax system.

The draft Income Tax (Amendment) Bill 2017 was announced earlier this year in the 2017 Budget statement, the ministry said on Monday.

To help companies cope with the economic uncertainty and continue restructuring, a key change suggested was to enhance and extend the corporate income tax rebate for year of assessment 2017 (YA17) and 2018.

For YA17, the corporate income tax rebate cap has been raised to S$25,000 from S$20,000. It would be extended to YA18 but at a reduced rate of 20 per cent of tax payable, capped at S$10,000.

Another proposal was for every tax resident to receive a 20 per cent personal income tax rebate capped at S$500 for YA17.

Tax deduction for payments under cost sharing agreements for research and development (R&D) projects has also been liberalised with the enhancement of the 75 per cent safe harbour rule announced in Budget 2017.

Taxpayers would be able to claim tax deduction for the full cost sharing agreement payments without having to provide a breakdown of the expenditure covered by the cost sharing agreements.

The proposed Bill also includes an amendment to strengthen the transfer pricing regime and introduce a mandatory transfer pricing documentation (TPD) requirement.

To this end, the mandatory TPD requirement would only apply to companies with turnover of more than S$10 million and significant related party transactions so as to ease compliance burden for smaller businesses.

The ministry said that most companies would not be affected as this change would only be relevant to fewer than 5 per cent of all businesses, many of which have already been maintaining TPD.

Besides these changes, the Income Tax (Amendment) Bill 2017 sets out 25 other refinements to existing tax policies and tax administration, including changes to third-party voluntary contributions to the Medisave accounts of private sector employees and the self-employed.

The ministry said: "With effect from Jan 1, 2018, the maximum amount that an employer can contribute to his employee's Medisave account that is not treated as income of the employee under the Additional Medisave Contribution Scheme will be raised from S$1,500 to S$2,730 per year. There will be an increase in the tax deduction allowable to the employer for these contributions from S$1,500 to S$2,730 per year."

It also said that the maximum tax exemption that a self-employed person can receive on contributions to his Medisave account by an eligible company he works with will be increased from S$1,500 to S$2,730 per year. The maximum tax deduction allowable to an eligible company for its contributions to the self-employed person's Medisave account will also be increased from S$1,500 to S$2,730 per year. All other conditions for granting tax benefits in respect of such voluntary contributions remain unchanged.

Another tweak under the amended Bill was to enable the Minister for Finance to implement Singapore's obligations under the Multilateral Convention to Implement Tax Treaty Related Measures to Prevent Base Erosion and Profit Shifting, which Singapore signed on June 7 this year.

The ministry said that the public can access the detailed consultation documents for the draft Bill on its website (www.mof.gov.sg) and the Reach consultation portal (www.reach.gov.sg). Written comments can be sent to the ministry's Tax Policy Directorate (100 High Street #10-01, The Treasury, Singapore 179464) or preferably via e-mail to pc_itabill@mof.gov.sg.

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

Jail for brains behind biggest fake casino chip scam

TODAY
08 Jun 2017

The mastermind behind the largest counterfeit casino chip scam here, which caused Marina Bay Sands (MBS) casino to suffer about S$1.29 million in losses, was sentenced to 88 months’ jail on Wednesday (June 7).

After a 14-day trial, Toh Hock Thiam, 55, was convicted of 13 counts of engaging in a conspiracy with three others to exchange counterfeit chips for cash at the MBS casino.

Another 161 similar charges under the Casino Control Act and one charge under the Immigration Act were taken into consideration for sentencing.

The court heard that between the evening of Nov 22, 2015, and the early hours of the following day, a total of 1,291 counterfeit casino chips — with a face value of S$1,000 each — were exchanged for cash at the MBS casino.

Deputy Public Prosecutor (DPP) Asoka Markandu said the counterfeit chips were of such high quality that no one noticed they were fake until a cashier noticed a slight discolouration in one of the chips. Police investigations revealed that a syndicate was behind the scam, he added.

DPP Markandu noted that Toh was the mastermind as he had introduced the chips to Chia Wei Tien, one of the co-accused, and instructed the latter to recruit runners. “These runners were directed by Chia, based on instructions given by Toh, on how to go about carrying out the exchange of these counterfeit chips at MBS without raising alarm or being detected by MBS cashiers,” the DPP said.

Chia had recruited 16 runners. Toh also roped in his close friend Seow Piak Long to distribute the counterfeit chips and collect the cash from Chia. A total of 420 fake chips, worth about S$420,000, were traced to Toh.

Chia was sentenced to five years’ jail, while Seow was given one year in prison.

In urging the court to impose a jail term of not less than seven-and-a-half years, DPP Markandu cited several aggravating factors, including how Toh was the mastermind who coordinated the exchange of the counterfeit chips, and directly recruited Seow and Chia for the scam.

The losses suffered by MBS were also significant, including the “unquantifiable losses” that saw the casino’s surveillance team review CCTV footage, disruption to gaming activities when the S$1,000-denominated cash chips were recalled for a review.

Toh had also taken active steps to evade detection, such as illegally crossing the border into Malaysia after withdrawing all the money in his bank account. No restitution has been made, added DPP Markandu.

In meting out the sentence, the district judge said the offences were premeditated and well-planned. He also noted that the evidence from the trial showed the pivotal role Toh played in the scam.

Several cases of counterfeit casino cash chip scams have come to light in recent years, following the opening of two casinos in Singapore in 2010. In that year, for example, four people agreed to act as runners for a transnational counterfeit casino chip syndicate to convert 48 counterfeit S$1,000 chips into genuine ones of smaller denominations before exchanging them for cash.

Another case in 2011 saw several runners for a transnational syndicate placing bets using fake chips, each with a face value of S$1,000. The genuine chips that they won were exchanged for cash. A total of 287 counterfeit chips were seized.

Copyright 2017 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

Most law firms likely to renew leases

Business Times
27 Jun 2017
Tan Jia Hui

With an eye on containing costs, most law firms here are likely to renew their office leases in the months ahead, rather than relocate or expand their premises.

Pressures of stiffer competition and a dip in the amount of legal work have meant that cost control is a significant priority for both local and foreign legal practices in Singapore.

CBRE Research's "Asia Pacific Legal Sector Trends" June 2017 report noted that given that rental costs are estimated to account for about five per cent of many regional firms' total revenue, it is one area the firms can have cost savings.

Most law firms have tended to renew their leases, the report said.

In the past 12 months, global law firms in Singapore like Clifford Chance, Linklaters, and Mayer Brown have renewed their leases.

Legal sources told The Business Times that rental costs for bigger law firms in Singapore in prime areas can be as high as 10 to 20 per cent of revenue.

Office rentals have been declining in recent years, CBRE said. Core central business district (CBD) rents averaged S$8.95 per square foot (psf) a month in the first quarter of 2017, a 9.6 per cent fall from S$9.90 psf per month a year ago.

Given the current low point in the office rental cycle, "any new lettings are likely the result of opportunistic lease acquisitions", the report said, adding that the window for good deals is closing as the market enters a recovery phase.

The report said firms should lock in terms beyond 2021 to avoid escalating rents in the medium term.

With a strong focus on containing costs, law firms globally have started to move towards setting up agile workplaces by better using existing and new office premises.

Hybrid spaces are seen to be the new norm as law firm offices evolve into open plan spaces with flexible workstations that enhance collaboration and integration.

Said David McKellar, senior director, advisory and transactions at CBRE: "This rising concept addresses the more mobile working styles we have today, where an increasing number of people work on the move, resulting in an under-utilisation of office space. By making space more dynamic, this recaptures the latent under-utilised space, which also helps drive greater cost efficiencies."

The report added that while law firms in Asia Pacific are generally still conservative towards workplace planning, a growing number of international law firms like Freshfields are slowly adopting these new space-maximising formats.

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

Give priority to respecting a person's will: Forum

Straits Times
20 Jun 2017

Facebook is the vogue media for reaching the masses. Like it or not, it is used for fighting any cause, private or public (Time to reflect, and seek the common good; June 17).

The Lee family dispute is currently aired publicly and watched internationally.

The drama is intriguing only because of the characters involved - the founding father of Singapore, an incumbent Prime Minister who is his son, and some members of the present Cabinet.

Stories pertaining to wills are mostly of the same ilk - dissatisfaction over unequal distributions, disagreement on the will's execution, and suspicion about its preparation.

This ongoing feud is a disagreement over whether to demolish Mr Lee Kuan Yew's house or preserve it.

Such tussles and allegations are usually contested in court.

It is no secret that legal issues are better handled by lawyers and judges than politicians.

While the intention to preserve the house and site for heritage purposes is noble, respect for a man's will should rank above all options.

Mr Lee had stated publicly that he wanted his house demolished after his death.

If a great man has no attachment to brick and mortar, let no mortal being override his wishes.

George Kuan

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

Improve protection for whistle-blowers: Forum

Straits Times
08 Jun 2017

To encourage more people to blow the whistle on corruption, the law must do more to protect them (Singapore must stay corruption-free to succeed: PM Lee; ST Online, June 6).

In 2014, a man who blew the whistle on a crime ended up being harassed after the court case was over because his name, identity card number and address were allegedly included in an open-court document used in the case.

Cases like this make people hesitate to report and appear as witnesses in court.

Warnings that people who give false and misleading information will be jailed and/or fined also discourage whistle-blowing.

It is the duty of the court and Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau to protect whistle-blowers.

Perhaps the court could consider allowing informants to testify anonymously via video.

The process of investigating corruption is not a short one.

During the process, a dedicated whistle-blower protection law should apply to both public and private sector whistle-blowers.

Having strong legislation instead of ad-hoc protection will encourage more reporting.

Whistle-blowers can also be rewarded for the risks they take, once a conviction takes place.

After all, they put their jobs and reputation at stake to blow the whistle.

The fear of financial consequences for themselves and their families can lead to a culture of silence and a continuation of immoral corporate behaviour. Financial incentives can remove this fear.

No country is immune to corruption, but an inclusive and highly transparent culture in public and private institutions makes it easier to hold politicians or companies responsible for irregularities.

Francis Cheng

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

Singaporean couple in $52m divorce case

Straits Times
27 Jun 2017
K.C. Vijayan

A local couple are locked in a marital split in Canada involving one of the highest sums for a Singaporean case abroad.

At stake in the split-up, set to be settled in a 30-day trial next January, is some C$50 million (S$52 million) in properties in Canada, Singapore and even Thailand.

Justice Shelley Fitzpatrick said in judgment grounds issued in Vancouver last week: "The family is very wealthy and has a lavish lifestyle. The financial engine for that wealth has been the (husband)'s Singapore medical practice, which by all accounts has been very successful."

She ordered the husband to pay interim spousal and child support as quantified and some C$400,000 interim distribution from his frozen Canadian bank account.

The couple, who were born and bred in Singapore, started an affair in 1984 when they were both already married. They had their first child three years later.

They rekindled their relationship in 1993, divorced their spouses two years later and married in Singapore in 1997.

Six years later, they relocated to Canada and, by then, had a second child, a girl who is now a teen - and the subject of child support.

The judge noted that the doctor never did emigrate to Canada despite his initial intention, as "it was more practical and lucrative for him to continue his medical practice in Singapore", while the family lived in Canada.

He supported the family with income taxed in Singapore and visited it from time to time.

The judge observed that over the years, the wife and daughter had "enjoyed the many benefits of Canadian society, including (the daughter's) attendance at the local public high school".

Justice Fitzpatrick listed the large real estate portfolio at stake acquired over the years that included a large home in West Vancouver, a downtown Vancouver condominium unit and three other condo units elsewhere. There is also a ski chalet, a ranch, five properties in Singapore, in addition to the unit where the medical practice operates in Singapore.

"All told, the estimated value of these properties is C$50 million," she said.

The 53-year-old housewife had filed for divorce last year in Canada, seeking a parenting order in relation to their daughter, spousal and child support, property division, and a protection order against her husband.

The court there in August last year issued the protection order and a Mareva injunction ordering an asset freeze pending the case outcome.

The husband failed in his application before Justice Fitzpatrick to set aside the protection order.

The judge also dismissed his bid to set aside the Mareva injunction with some amendments.

The court recorded that the husband had started two proceedings in Singapore - one to remove the caveats on the Singapore properties and the other for divorce.

"The overall tenor of the (husband)'s current evidence is that he is adamant that the family issues should be resolved in Singapore," said Justice Fitzpatrick.

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

PM Lee lifts party whip for parliamentary session on allegations

Business Times
20 Jun 2017
Lee U-Wen

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has apologised for the ongoing family dispute involving him and his two younger siblings, admitting that the episode has affected Singapore's reputation and Singaporeans' confidence in the government.

In a statement to the nation that was also recorded on video, he announced that he will deliver a ministerial statement when Parliament sits again on July 3 to "refute the charges" levelled against him by his siblings Lee Wei Ling and Lee Hsien Yang.

In a rare move, PM Lee, who is also the secretary-general of the ruling People's Action Party (PAP), has instructed that the PAP party whip be lifted that day.

He said that all members of Parliament will have the opportunity to raise questions for themselves and their constituents.

PM Lee urged all MPs, including those who are not from the PAP, to examine the issues thoroughly and question him and his Cabinet colleagues "vigorously".

"Over the last week, Singaporeans have been disturbed and confused by news of the private dispute between my siblings and me," he said.

"I deeply regret that this dispute has affected Singapore's reputation and Singaporeans' confidence in the government.

"As your Prime Minister, I apologise to you for this."

As the eldest of the three children of the late former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, PM Lee said it grieved him to think of the anguish this incident would have caused his parents if they were both still alive.

The saga began in the wee hours of last Wednesday morning when Dr Lee Wei Ling and Mr Lee Hsien Yang posted a lengthy statement on their Facebook pages declaring they had "lost confidence" in PM Lee and do not trust him as a brother or a leader.

The two siblings also claimed they feared the use of the organs of state against the both of them, as well as Mr Lee Hsien Yang's wife Suet Fern.

The main issue in the siblings' statement was about the 38 Oxley Road home that Mr Lee Kuan Yew had lived in, and whether it should be demolished (in accordance with his wishes) or preserved.

The dispute, which carried on in a series of exchanges over Facebook and other public statements, began when PM Lee was on overseas leave for a week. He returned to Singapore last Saturday.

In his statement on Monday, the Prime Minister said that he "had done everything possible" to avoid this state of affairs.

"My father left the property at 38 Oxley Road to me as part of my equal share of his estate, but my siblings were not happy about this. I tried to deal with their unhappiness privately," he said.

He spoke of how his offer to transfer the home to Dr Lee for a nominal amount of S$1 failed, and that he later sold the property to Mr Lee Hsien Yang at a "fair market valuation". PM Lee also donated all his proceeds to charity.

"I had hoped that this would satisfy them. There should be no reason for any further quarrel since I no longer own the house and I do not take part in any government decisions on the house," said PM Lee.

"However, my siblings have decided to go out and make serious allegations publicly. For example, they say that I am using my position as Prime Minister to influence the ministerial committee chaired by Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean," he added.

This committee was set up to discuss options for the house and their implications. These include looking into the historical and heritage significance of the house, as well as to consider Mr Lee Kuan Yew's thinking and wishes in relation to it.

The allegations by his two siblings, PM Lee stressed, go beyond private and personal matters, and extend to the conduct of his office and the integrity of the government.

"Much as I would like to move on, and end a most unhappy experience for Singaporeans, these baseless accusations against the government cannot be left unanswered. They must be and will be dealt with openly and refuted," he said.

PM Lee hoped that this "full, public airing" in parliament will dispel any doubts that have been planted, and strengthen confidence in Singapore's institutions and the system of government.

He assured all Singaporeans that this matter would not distract him and the rest of the Cabinet from their responsibility to govern Singapore, and to deal with more important national issues, including the pressing economic and security challenges that the country faces.

"As public servants, my ministers and I will always protect the integrity of our institutions, and uphold the strict standards separating private affairs from our public duties," said PM Lee.

"We are determined to repair the damage that has been done to Singapore. We will continue to lead our nation and serve you to the best of our ability."

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

Singapore signs instrument on tax treaty-related measures

Business Times
08 Jun 2017
Jacquelyn Cheok

Singapore on Wednesday signed the multilateral instrument that is aimed at facilitating the implementation of tax treaty-related measures to prevent base erosion and profit shifting.

It was signed in Paris by Sim Ann, Senior Minister of State for the ministries of Culture, Community and Youth, and Trade and Industry. The instrument is known as the Multilateral Convention to Implement Tax Treaty Related Measures to Prevent Base Erosion and Profit Shifting.

"This will be the first signing ceremony for the multilateral instrument, with over 60 jurisdictions signing it," Singapore's Ministry of Finance said, addding that Singapore continues to build on its commitment to the principle behind the Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS) project. That is, profits should be attributable to the jurisdiction where the substantial economic activities giving rise to the profits are conducted.

Commenting on the signing, Minister for Finance Heng Swee Keat said: "(This) allows Singapore to swiftly update its wide network of Avoidance of Double Taxation Agreements (DTA) to internationally agreed standards."

Singapore is among the earliest non-OECD, non-G20 jurisdictions to have joined the Inclusive Framework on BEPS in June 2016. It had participated in the Ad Hoc Group formed under the aegis of the OECD and G20 to develop the multilateral instrument, the negotiation of which was concluded on Nov 24, 2016.

Signatories to the multilateral instrument can update their DTAs to incorporate the tax treaty-related measures, without the need to re-negotiate each DTA.

Measures include BEPS minimum standards on preventing treaty abuse and enhancing dispute resolution.

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

Demolition, conservation among four options for 38 Oxley Road

TODAY
27 Jun 2017

Indranee also outlined implications of each of the choices in a Facebook post

There are four possible options when a decision is taken on what to do with Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s former home, said Senior Minister of State for Law and Finance Indranee Rajah yesterday.

These are demolition, preservation, conservation and compulsory acquisition, she said in a third Facebook post, weighing in on a family feud that was made public by a joint statement by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s younger siblings two weeks ago.

In the post published around 9.30pm, Ms Indranee outlined the implications of each of the options.

Demolition, which is what Dr Lee Wei Ling and Mr Lee Hsien Yang want, would mean the land is cleared of the house.

This is the only option out of the four that allows for possible redevelopment.

The owner of the freehold plot —currently Mr Lee Hsien Yang — can apply for re-zoning and/or increase the plot ratio, which would increase the land value “well beyond” the current estimated market value of S$24 million, and attract many developers.

Should a 20-storey luxury condominium be built on the site, for instance, with one unit per floor, allowing all owners to have the address of 38 Oxley Road, the development could be “marketed as a unique trophy address”, said Ms Indranee.

“Demolition is irreversible. Once demolished, there is no going back. Demolition removes once and for all any possibility of future preservation, conservation or compulsory acquisition of the property,” she added, noting that demolition of a building requires approval from the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) and the Building and Construction Authority.

A second option of designating the century-old house as a national monument under the Preservation of Monuments Act would bar redevelopment, or even any works to be done to it without permission from the National Heritage Board, the Minister said.

Under the Act, a residence that is preserved will be compulsorily acquired by the Government within one year of the preservation order, or the order would lapse.

Ms Indranee said a less restrictive third option is to conserve the building under the Planning Act, which would allow for works to be done to the building as long as these fall within the URA’s guidelines.

Similarly, the land cannot be redeveloped.

The last option is to compulsorily acquire the house under the Land Acquisition Act, said Ms Indranee.

Because the Government is acquiring the property in this scenario, there is “no possibility of redevelopment”, she added.

The owner of the house will get compensation at market rates at the time of acquisition, valued on the basis of it being a two-storey landed property.

Ms Indranee said the Government would have “several further options”.

She added: “It could, for example, choose to demolish the house and build a tasteful memorial or symbolic marker in a park setting.”

This was the third time Ms Indranee was commenting via Facebook on the ongoing dispute between PM Lee and his two younger siblings over their family home over the last three days.

In her first two posts, Ms Indranee challenged what she said was an assumption that the late founding Prime Minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, had contemplated demolition as the only eventual outcome to the house.

Copyright 2017 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

Shanmugam: Law to be introduced next year to combat fake news

Business Times
20 Jun 2017
Judith Tan

Singapore faces issues such as misinformation exploiting racial and religious fault lines, and rumours that confuse and promote distrust

Rumour mongers beware.

A new law to fight fake news will be introduced next year and the government will be consulting stakeholders on the issue in the second half of this year.

Revealing this in his keynote address on Monday at a conference on the issue, Singapore's Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam said the government has to maintain a strong climate of trust, and be able to counter misinformation spread online.

He said the authorities must be equipped to deal with current challenges and that society, the media and Internet companies also have a role to play.

Mr Shanmugam was speaking at the conference titled Keep It Real: Truth And Trust In The Media.

There are limited remedies to deal with falsehoods under current laws, the minister had told Parliament in April when he announced a review to tackle the problem then.

Mr Shanmugam told participants at the conference on Monday that an earlier survey showed more than nine in 10 Singaporeans supported stronger laws to ensure fake news is removed or corrected.

Misinformation, he said, is more serious now than before, and is an "easy and effective" way to advance agendas.

Members of the public and of civil society, therefore, have to help foster a culture where the truth is protected, and that is why media literacy is extremely important - so people can spot fake news and deal with it, he said.

He added that there are teams in Germany and the United Kingdom to study what those countries are doing on that front. For instance, Germany is considering laws that would require social networks to take down various types of "unlawful content".

The media plays an important role in being a trusted source of news, while companies such as Facebook, Google and Twitter also "bear a significant responsibility" in tackling misinformation, and some of these firms have given their voluntary commitment to remove reported hate speech within 24 hours but this may not be enough, Mr Shanmugam said.

He added that the government cannot merely rely on the standards of media companies as the negative impact of false narratives is amplified by "echo chambers" online.

He said Singapore has been "particularly vulnerable" to foreign influences harnessing fake news for their own ends. The country also faces issues such as misinformation exploiting racial and religious fault lines, and rumours on social media like WhatsApp that confuse and promote distrust.

"If the distrust becomes deep-rooted, people will have serious doubts about the institutions, about leadership, about governance," said Mr Shanmugam.

Tripti Lochan, CEO, SEA & India of VML, said: "Brands must be proactive about protecting themselves against fake news because of the negative impact this would have on brand image.

"Being in a position of vulnerability means they cannot rest on their laurels even with the new legislation in place.

"Trust is integral to the relationships that brands and consumers share, and is one of the most important factors contributing towards building customer loyalty. Fake news would mean an erosion of consumer trust at a time when consumer trust is already not at its strongest."

At a doorstop on Monday, Mr Shanmugam told reporters what the new laws should do: "We know what the end point should be: to delegitimise fake news, help people identify what is and what is not fake news, and to deal with the perpetrators of fake news."

When asked why wait till 2018 to introduce the law, a spokesman for MinLaw said that with digital technology and social media, the effects of misinformation have become more potent than before.

"Recent events around the world have demonstrated the serious harm that online misinformation can do, and how it is often driven by agendas that are against the public interest.

"The government's aim is to ensure we are equipped to deal with the new digital reality in the long term. We do not intend to react with short-term measures."

Adding that the problem of online fake news is "complex and does not lend itself to simple solutions", finding an effective one requires "a thorough understanding of how misinformation is spread online, the motivations for creating and circulating misinformation, and the impact of misinformation on what people believe".

"It will also require the support and cooperation of all the stakeholders involved to ensure that the Internet is kept a safe place for people to stay informed and connected across the world. We therefore need to do a careful and comprehensive review, working closely with relevant stakeholders to develop solutions," said the spokesman.

The two-day conference at the new Singapore Management University (SMU) School of Law Building on Armenian street was organised by The Straits Times and the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (Wan-Ifra), in partnership with the Canadian High Commission, Facebook, Google, German political organisation Konrad Adenauer Foundation, National Library Board and SMU.

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

Future-proofing Singapore for the robotic age

Business Times
08 Jun 2017
Johan de Villiers

The rise of automation and robots, or the Fourth Industrial Revolution, is usually viewed in one of two ways: either it will lead to mass unemployment in an increasing winner-takes-all market; or it will create effortless growth where time and wealth are redistributed as mankind reaps the benefits of its mechanical workforce.

Both visions are extreme, and they ignore the real synergies that can be created when a progressive government and a thriving private sector work in tandem. This fertile middle ground is where Singapore wants its future businesses and industries to grow.

In his May Day Rally speech, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was precise when he identified what Singapore needs to do to continue to prosper. Helping businesses create new jobs, placing displaced workers in alternative roles and training workers to grow in their jobs are vital policies if we are all to meet the changing landscape of the 21st century.

While automation and artificial intelligence can provoke both admiration and anxiety in equal measure, citizens should not fear change but embrace the opportunities presented. Automation is not a zero-sum game. Research by the International Federation of Robotics (IFR), the leading international authority on robots, states that countries with the highest robot density, (the average number of robots deployed in a country per 10,000 factory workers), ie Japan, the US Korea & Germany also have the lowest unemployment rates.

Technology will create new industries and jobs, and the key is agility, flexibility and openness to change.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution - a wave of technological advancements that are fusing the physical, digital and biological worlds, and impacting all disciplines, economies and industries - is ushering in big changes to how people work and the skills they need to succeed.

There will be an impact on the workforce. However, the impact will not be a shortage of jobs, but rather a shortage of the skills needed to capitalise on our digital tool-box.

Whilst digital innovation will be driven by the private sector and primarily by millennials, government policy can support the drive significantly by focusing on producing a talented workforce of the future, ready for the innovation economy. Education systems will have to respond to changes by shifting away from knowledge-transfer to models that promote learnability (as well as re-learnability) and creative thinking.

We also have to look at those already in the workforce, our mid-career employees, so that we can optimise their experience and knowledge, and complement this with the benefits that digitalisation affords.

SKILLS DEVELOPMENT

Take for example, SkillsFuture, which functions as much as a national reskilling platform as it is a strong and loud signal that the Singapore government is already on the case, looking ahead, investing and securing the future of the economy, and importantly, ensuring that its people are central to that.

Complementing this is the Ministry of Manpower's initiative to set up a tripartite workgroup in partnership with the labour union and businesses to study the issues faced by workers in the "gig" economy, to address the very real concerns of income security and retirement financing, while the Committee on the Future Economy, which ABB participated in, makes clear what needs to be done: strengthen the nexus between acquisition and utilisation of skills so that the industry can promptly employ the skills obtained and further develop them.

The ethos of these point to a government committed to getting the fundamentals right - and already actively engaging in long-term planning for the demands of the future economy.

But we cannot expect the government to face this challenge alone. As business leaders, we have a critical and bigger role to play in identifying trends and skills gaps so that curricula and approaches can be adapted accordingly. This is already done on several levels, through industry engagements with educational institutions, labour unions and the government, but must deepen further.

Is this new for Singapore? Hardly. Given that over the last 50 years, Singapore has learnt the art of reinvention, time and time again. Our values of education, resilience and adaptability means we have a strong tradition of never resting on one's laurels and being open to questioning fundamentals - values to help us future-proof Singapore whatever comes our way.


The writer is country managing director of ABB in Singapore.

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

City Harvest ruling guides judge in similar case

Straits Times
26 Jun 2017
K.C. Vijayan

In the wake of the High Court ruling on City Harvest Church founder Kong Hee and five others, a district judge has acquitted a company director of criminal breach of trust (CBT) as an agent, and convicted him of the least aggravated form of CBT.

District Judge Lee-Khoo Poh Choo, who found Ng Kee Wee guilty in April, jailed him for 30 months last month for unlawfully transferring company shares to himself.

The judge, in decision grounds issued last week, said the prosecution and defence referred her to the High Court decision on the case of Lam Leng Hung and five others which considered the scope of Section 409 of the Penal Code.

Lam was one of the five convicted with Kong Hee earlier this year. The six had their charges reduced from the aggravated charge of CBT under Section 409 of the Penal Code - which is CBT by a public servant, or by a banker, merchant or agent - to a simpler CBT charge under Section 406.

Judge Lee-Khoo said that in the City Harvest case, the High Court held that "a director who was entrusted with the property of the company by virtue of his capacity as a director did not fall within Section 409". She added: "Bound by the High Court's decision, I acquitted the accused of the offence under Section 409 and convicted him of the offence of CBT simpliciter under Section 406 of the Penal Code."

The prosecution is appealing against the judge's decision to switch charges, a move that may entail a potential review of the relevant law as interpreted by the High Court in the City Harvest Church case.

Ng's case is the first involving a charge reduction for CBT after the High Court decision.

Ng, 49, was managing director of Singalab, a wholly owned subsidiary of Singalab International (SIPL), a joint venture investment company. He was entrusted to manage SIPL as its sole director from June 2005 to August 2009.

In July 2006, he passed a resolution for SIPL to transfer three million Singalab shares to himself. This meant Singalab was no longer owned by SIPL but by himself.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Joel Chen said Ng transferred the shares without the knowledge and approval of other SIPL shareholders and that his subsequent conduct showed he enriched himself with no regard for other shareholders.

Ng's lawyer Lim Chee San countered that Ng held the shares in trust for SIPL, having declared the trust status three years after the share transfer. This was after the shareholders found out the shares were in his name.

District Judge Lee-Khoo said Ng's claims were "absurd". She found "(Ng) raised the sham defence that he was holding the shares in trust after he ran out of excuses".

The judge also took issue with Ng's evidence, noting it was "riddled with lies, inconsistencies and unbelievable excuses". "He flip-flopped, then re-flipped and re-flopped in many aspects of his testimony."

The judge found that, among other things, Ng had withdrawn large sums of money from Singalab's bank account, transferred assets and talent from Singalab to a company incorporated in his mother's name, then sold the company to another firm for $5.46 million.

Based on the evidence, District Judge Lee-Khoo found Ng guilty of dishonestly misappropriating the Singalab shares for his own benefit. Ng is appealing against this.

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

More local law firms willing to take in trainees, but without pay

Business Times
19 Jun 2017
Claudia Chong

This comes amid glut in law graduates in Singapore; unpaid trainees are often grads who read law overseas

Following the glut of law graduates in Singapore, more local law firms are taking in practice trainees who are unable to secure placements elsewhere - on the condition that they do not receive an honorarium during their stint.

Both foreign and local law graduates are required to complete a six-month practice training contract at a Singapore law practice before being called to the Bar.

Senior partner Tan Chong Huat told The Business Times that his firm, RHTLaw Taylor Wessing, typically has different schemes for the practice trainees that it takes in.

Trainees in the first scheme are those that the firm intends to retain - "mature students" or those with a "very good track record". Trainees in the second scheme have their pay varied and have not been identified for retention. The last scheme comprises trainees who were unable to find a place at other law firms to complete their training.

"They come around and say, 'Can you offer us a place here?' Mostly these will be business associates' referrals," said Mr Tan. "So we take them on and they might just have no pay."

Honorariums for training contracts can range from S$800 to S$1,600 a month, according to a listing on the Law Society of Singapore website.

Another senior partner practising at a large local law firm said that for the past two years, his firm has taken in one or two such trainees per year. But these arrangements are kept private between the trainee and the management to avoid stigmatisation, and the trainees perform the standard rotation work and are exposed to the same kinds of cases as ordinary trainees, he said.

These unpaid trainees are often graduates who read law overseas; returning overseas graduates might face difficulties securing a training contract if they had not previously interned at law firms here.

"How we, as a firm, hire trainees nowadays is nearly always through (structured) internships. We very seldom hire trainees through direct applications," said the senior partner, who spoke to BT on condition of anonymity.

Students reading law at the National University of Singapore (NUS) and the Singapore Management University (SMU) are encouraged to pursue internships during semester breaks. While NUS Law does not make internships mandatory for students, SMU requires undergraduates undergoing its bachelor of laws programme to complete 10 weeks of internship with either a law firm or a legal department, or a combination of both.

The issue of the glut of lawyers here has become a hotly debated topic in recent years. While the number of students accepted yearly by NUS and SMU's law schools has remained fairly constant, the annual number of returning overseas law graduates rose from around 210 in 2011 to around 310 in 2015, said the Ministry of Law (MinLaw) in response to queries from BT.

The increase in students reading law overseas prompted MinLaw in 2015 to axe eight UK universities from the list of foreign universities approved for graduate admission to the Singapore Bar. The move was implemented from Academic Year 2016/17 onwards; there are now 11 UK universities on the list.

In the meantime, it appears that returning graduates will continue to struggle to get a training contract placement. Statistics from MinLaw show that from 2011 to 2015, around 70 per cent of overseas-trained graduates secured training contracts, compared to around 90 per cent of local graduates.

In response, the Singapore Institute of Legal Education in December 2015 made changes to the number of practice trainees that a senior practitioner can supervise, easing the quota from two to four.

"There has been an influx of law graduates in the past few years and not enough training places to absorb them all," said Stefanie Yuen Thio, joint managing director of TSMP Law Corporation. "Firms that previously did not take in trainees have started doing so, partly to do their bit for law graduates who cannot otherwise get contracts."

Small-sized firm Exodus Law Corporation typically has two to four trainees working with it at any given time, though the firm's managing director Daniel Xu said that it does not need more than two trainees.

The firm gives its trainees an allowance of S$300 to S$500 a month to cover their basic expenses, depending on the applicant's previous work experience.

"I am not paying the best allowance in town. I am one of the lowest among the rest, but I can't afford more," said Mr Xu. "As far as I'm concerned . . . I'm doing a form of National Service - providing these graduates with an opportunity to complete their training so that they can go on and become lawyers in the near future."

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

MAS proposes moves to support growth of robo advisory firms

Business Times
08 Jun 2017
Genevieve Cua

It suggests that such firms be given concessions, but calls for safeguards; it aims to widen investor choice and access to low-cost investment advice

Low-cost, efficient portfolios for retail investors willing to take the digital or robo advisory route could soon become more widespread.

More than a handful of digital advisory firms have already obtained licences as financial advisers or fund managers. Based on initial indications, portfolio fees are a fraction of those charged by unit trusts and investment-linked insurance funds.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) has proposed to facilitate the offering of digital advisory services, while still adhering to the regulatory framework that governs financial advisors and fund managers.

Based on the consultation paper it released on Wednesday, digital advisory firms will not be separately licensed. Instead, they will be offered significant concessions; it has been proposed that digital advisers who go the fund-management route and target retail investors be exempted from meeting the track record and minimum assets under management (AUM) requirements.

Traditional fund managers who cater to retail investors need to have AUM of S$1 billion and a five-year corporate track record in order to earn a licence to provide full capital-markets services (CMS).

However, digital advisory firms must comply with some safeguards. One is that portfolios must be diversified and comprise non-complex assets. Another is that the firms must have key management staff with relevant collective experience in fund management and technology. They must also undertake an independent audit of the business within a year of operation.

Digital advisers who operate as licensed financial advisers will also be allowed to execute investment transactions and rebalance client portfolios in collective-investment schemes without the need for an additional licence under the Securities and Futures Act.

Non-digital advisers will also be exempted from this.

Digital advisers can also seek exemption from the requirement under the Financial Advisers Act to collect the full suite of information on clients' financial circumstances, such as details of their income level, subject to a number of safeguards.

These safeguards include the provision of advice only on exchange-traded funds (ETFs), controls to filter out unsuitable clients and identify inconsistent responses, and the provision of a risk-disclosure statement that alerts clients to the limitations of the advice.

In a statement, MAS said that it has received "indications of interest" from new entities seeking to offer digital advisory services to retail investors, and that the proposals seek to support innovation in financial services by recognising the unique characteristics of digital platforms.

"The availability of digital advisory services will widen investor choice to low-cost investment advice."

Existing licensees do not need to obtain MAS approval to offer digital services. OCBC recently announced its plan to launch a robo advisory service in partnership with WeInvest, targeted at accredited investors.

MAS said technology risks such as erroneous algorithms and cyber threats must be managed. It has set out expectations on the governance and management oversight to be adopted by digital advisers, including the need for a robust framework to govern the design, testing and monitoring of algorithms. The public consultation ends on July 7.

Varun Mittal, EY Asean fintech leader, said robo advisory has the potential to reach client segments under-served by financial institutions. "In light of all advantages, one also needs to be cautious of implications of reliance on machines, which are ultimately designed and controlled by humans, to keep the interests of investors at the highest priority."

Ow Tai Zhi, chief executive of Autowealth, was heartened, in particular, by the greenlight given to rebalance clients' portfolios and the waiver of a corporate track record requirement. "Most fintech companies are start-ups. If we don't have a licence, how would we be able to bring innovative technology to benefit people?"

Autowealth started offering its digital service to early adopters in the second quarter of last year. 2016.These investors had to invest a minimum of S$30,000, but now that it is able to cater to retail investors, the minimum investment size has been brought down to S$3,000. In the last 12 months, the average investment performance was 9.9 per cent net of fees. The annual portfolio fee is 0.5 per cent.

The firm's engine takes a rules-based approach, emphasising diversification across asset classes, geographies and industries. The underlying instruments are ETFs.

Said Mr Ow: "We estimate that the annual management and front-end fees of unit trusts are probably around 2 per cent per annum, which goes to fund managers and sales people. Digital advisory capitalises on technology to replace processes that are costly, such as financial middlemen, and pass on the savings to investors."

Stashaway has received a CMS licence and expects to begin to offer its services within a few weeks. The firm's co-founder and chief executive Michele Ferrario said "a few thousand" people are on Stashaway's waitlist. The firm does not set any minimum investment amount. Annual fees start at 0.8 per cent for a total investment of S$25,000. This dials down to just 0.2 per cent for amounts above S$1 million. "Our product services the needs of those who are just starting out and have not saved much so far, as well as more sophisticated investors who can put together a few hundred thousand or a couple of million dollars, and appreciate the sophistication of our framework and low fees." Stashaway portfolios will be invested in ETFs.

Mr Ferrario said the objective is to try to whittle down Singaporeans' exposure to cash. "Rather than compete with banks, we provide a different value proposition. We hope to make it easier for Singaporeans to take a more proactive approach to their savings."

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

Upholding truth and trust in news

Straits Times
26 Jun 2017

Many would agree the consequences of disinformation, misinformation and hate speech can be disastrous for communities and nations. Such devices are capable of provoking widespread public alarm, street violence and civilisational wars. They can lead to misguided choices made at the polls or give a foreign power a strategic advantage. Hence it would be folly to do nothing to curb this viral menace, given the speed at which blatant lies and worked-up passions can travel.

Just what steps should be taken to safeguard societies, however, is a matter of considerable debate. A heavy-handed approach might curb the freedom of expression. At the other end of the scale, token measures will have no deterrent effect. In an ideal world, the giants of the digital world would practise a code of conduct to expunge extreme content within hours of a legitimate complaint. And people would be critical about dubious claims and not rush to pass it on to others. But being imperfect, the world is seeing "fake news" proliferating like a cancer instead.

Germany and Britain are among the nations looking at legal measures to tackle this problem. Singapore too is preparing to introduce laws next year to rein in excesses. Admittedly, whatever rules are emplaced will apply only within a country's borders. But if the outcomes are favourable, such initiatives might spur more countries to take action.

If drafted crudely, disinformation laws might be circumscribed by the courts or be rejected by the community for being overly restrictive. Blunt provisions might suppress whistle-blowing to expose wrong-doing, and put the lid on the responsible reporting of circumstantial evidence. These are useful in drawing out further information and spurring investigation. When the truth is not black and white or is convoluted, false-news laws might make sources clam up. Then, some matters could take months or years to come to light, if at all. Further, when opinions are construed as false facts, legislation could have the unintended effect of suppressing viewpoints.

Thus, the law must be clear about its target. The aim could be to get the likes of Facebook, Google and Twitter to separate the wheat from the chaff. If the test of falsehood in cyberspace is content that breaks existing laws, private companies will have to judge the truth and the legality of posts which Facebook insists is unreasonable. It's true the volume of digital content to be monitored is huge. But a hands-off approach would turn the Internet into a sanctuary for insurgents, criminals and cranks. Fact-checkers must be part of a media ecosystem that builds rather than destroys trust in legitimate news sources. Whether it is to delete or tag extreme content, or to provide verified data to counter falsehoods, all must act speedily to counter the corrosive effects of false news.

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

Insurance for doctors here not required by law

Straits Times
19 Jun 2017
Salma Khalik

Patient settles for less than half the cost of medical bills over surgery gone awry as surgeon was uninsured for procedure

A man who went for surgery found out when the procedure went awry that doctors in Singapore are not required by law to be insured.

All public-sector doctors are insured and backed by the hospital, but the same is not true in the private sector.

The Singapore Medical Council (SMC) told The Straits Times that while the law allows it "to require that doctors take out and maintain insurance when applying for the grant or renewal of their practising certificates", it has not "exercised this at present".

When asked what happens to patients when things go wrong, the SMC spokesman said the majority of doctors do insure themselves. Patients can also claim from the doctor or clinic "unless the doctor is bankrupt and not covered by his employer".

This was almost the case facing Mr Loh Yuen Chun, 59. The doctor owns the clinic and does not have much money. So the patient ended up settling for less than half the cost of his medical bills.

Obese and diabetic, he thought he had found the perfect solution to tackle both problems at once. He said he was assured by the doctor that bariatric surgery, which reduces the size of the stomach so a person feels full with far less food, would also cure him of his diabetes.

The procedure and recovery was supposed to take only two days. Instead, Mr Loh almost died and spent more than two months in hospital, with most of the time in intensive care. He even needed a hole in his throat to help him breathe. This has since been closed up.

On the advice of his lawyer Kuah Boon Theng of Legal Clinic, Mr Loh settled for $200,000 for the pain he suffered, and a public apology from the doctor, which was published in The Straits Times and two Chinese dailies last month.

Even then, Mr Loh has received only $100,000 so far. He will get the rest in $3,000 monthly instalments over 33 months starting end-August, with $1,000 in the 34th month.

Mr S. Selvaraj of Myint Soe & Selvaraj, the doctor's lawyer, said that given his client's circumstances, he did not charge for his time.

Speaking in Mandarin, Mr Loh said he was not covered by private insurance and had to borrow money to pay his bills. He was very upset that the doctor did not have insurance, so winning the case might cost him more money than settling. He was surprised that such insurance is not a requirement here.

The doctor told The Straits Times that he was insured as a surgeon with the London-based Medical Protection Society.

He claimed not to have known that bariatric surgery required another $10,000 a year in premiums. He has since raised his coverage.

For Mr Loh, then 53, it all started in November 2011 when he went to see the surgeon at Paragon Medical Tower. The doctor recommended the procedure to Mr Loh, who then had a body mass index of 36, putting him in the obese range.

This was done on Dec 2 at Gleneagles Hospital. That was when a straightforward operation turned into a nightmare.

Within days of his surgery, he had pain in the abdomen, a racing heart beat, chest pain, breathlessness, a drop in blood pressure, and blood clots coming through the tube leading from his nose to his stomach. A scan found that he was leaking fluid internally at the surgical site.

On Dec 6, the surgeon tried to repair it through keyhole surgery. This failed and he had to open up the abdomen to stop the leak.

But Mr Loh did not recover. Instead, on the morning of Dec 12, a significant amount of greenish fluid leaked from the wound.

The surgeon then operated a third time. By then, damage was done to his organs, he had septic shock, breathing difficulties and his racing heart almost caused a heart attack.

His condition did not improve and by Dec 24, blood from the operation site was again coming through the tube in his nose. His family asked to transfer him to Singapore General Hospital.

All this while, he needed mechanical aid to breathe. On Dec 29 at SGH, a hole was created in his throat to help him breathe. He was operated on twice at SGH before he was discharged on Feb 20, 2012 for continued home rehabilitation.

He said since then, his health has been poor and he is still diabetic.


On the advice of his lawyer Kuah Boon Theng of Legal Clinic, Mr Loh settled for $200,000 for the pain he suffered, and a public apology from the doctor, which was published in The Straits Times and two Chinese dailies last month.

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

Levelling the legal landscape for surveyors

Business Times
07 Jun 2017
David Hughes

The ASG/ITIC 10 addresses the imbalance between owners' and surveyors' responsibilities typically encountered under existing indemnity agreements

Surveyors play a hugely important role in ensuring the safety of the world fleet. They have a tough job to do.

There are, of course, different types of surveyor, or sometimes the same surveyor doing different things. Surveyors supervise bunkerings and check cargo loading and inspect damage but the most vital and, crucially, they assess the general condition of the vessel and its watertight integrity. In other words, they often perform, on behalf of a flag state or classification society, an assessment of the ship's seaworthiness. That is a very big responsibility.

Unfortunately, things can go wrong. Ships can sink, sometimes very quickly if there is a structural failure, or suffer severe damage when the power of the sea overwhelms the ability of the ship to resist it. That is when lives can be lost and massive financial losses can be incurred.

When disaster strikes, everybody will be asking why. And, human nature being what it is, the next question is very likely to be: "Who is to blame?" Then the surveyor's professional judgement is likely to be subject to intense scrutiny.

So, unsurprisingly, a marine surveyor needs liability insurance and one of the providers of such insurance is the mutual insurer International Transport Intermediaries Club (ITIC).

ITIC says that surveyors are invariably asked to sign a waiver and indemnity by the master of a vessel before they are given approval to board. Such documents will frequently stipulate that surveyors must waive all rights to make a claim against the owner and the vessel in respect of any personal injury or loss of or damage to their equipment which they suffer, even if it is caused by the fault of the owner. Conversely, surveyors are also asked to indemnify the owner if any of the vessel's crew suffer death or personal injury, or if there is any loss or damage to the vessel itself or its equipment. Occasionally, the indemnity will even extend as far as claims made against the owner by third parties.

Mark Brattman, ITIC legal director, says: "These waivers and indemnities are usually presented to surveyors as they are climbing aboard the vessel. Surveyors therefore do not have a realistic opportunity to read such documents and invariably just sign them, in order to gain access to the vessel to perform their jobs."

In other words, the pressure and responsibility is heaped on from the beginning. ITIC does not say so, but other pressures can come to bear on the surveyor too. He may have to make judgement calls when the master is himself under pressure from the owner to keep the ship sailing on schedule. Stopping a vessel even for a short time is an expensive business.

Signing indemnities

Returning to the indemnities a surveyor must sign, Mr Brattman says: "ITIC has seen many owner-produced wordings over the years, all of them unfavourable to the surveyor. The Admiralty Solicitors Group (ASG) had a wording which was a significant improvement on the owner-produced documents, but ITIC felt that this could be made more balanced. With the agreement and cooperation of the ASG, a new wording, the ASG/ITIC 10 has been produced.

Now, ITIC and the ASG have launched a new surveyors' indemnity wording designed to address the imbalance between owners' and surveyors' responsibilities typically encountered under existing indemnity agreements.

Mr Brattman says: "Both ITIC and ASG agree that the new wording represents a far more equitable apportionment of liability when surveyors are asked to attend a vessel, whether by a P&I club (mutual insurer) on behalf of an owner or by charterers, cargo interests or insurers."

Meanwhile, ITIC has cited an example of what can go wrong. It has reimbursed a marine surveyor accused of negligence by the owner of a ferry which sustained significant machinery damage while being towed to a shipyard. The ferry, which operated in North American waters, was due to be towed to a shipyard to undergo a refit. A marine surveyor was engaged by the shipyard to undertake a "fit for tow" survey and to provide a certificate of approval confirming that the towage arrangements between the tug and the ferry were satisfactory.

The surveyor completed his survey and issued the certificate of approval. Three days later, however, the ferry took on water during the course of the tow and sustained considerable damage to its main machinery compartment. The owner of the vessel brought proceedings against the shipyard, the tug company and the marine surveyor for repair costs of US$750,000. The owner alleged that the surveyor had been negligent in confirming that all watertight openings were closed, whereas expert evidence suggested that water had entered the vessel via open air vents. The surveyor maintained that these air vents were a rarity, that it was outside the scope of the survey to inspect them, and that liability should fall on the company undertaking the tow.

ITIC says that mediation proceedings took place at which the owner acknowledged contributory negligence on its part and agreed to reduce its claim to US$500,000. All three defendants, including the marine surveyor, contributed to a settlement in this amount. Apart from anything, the case shows why a surveyor needs good insurance.

Let's hope the the new agreement makes the surveyor's lot a slightly happier one.

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

Rising number nabbed at checkpoints

Straits Times
26 Jun 2017
Tan Tam Mei

The number of drug users arrested at checkpoints has steadily increased over the years, with 81 cases last year, nearly double the 49 cases in 2012.

In 2013, 47 Singaporeans and permanent residents (PR) tested positive for drug consumption during random checks at entry points including Changi Airport and Woodlands Checkpoint,

It was a slight drop from the 49 recorded in 2012. But Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) figures show it has been on a steep climb since.

Lawyers tell The Straits Times that many of those caught are youth who tested positive after returning from trips to places such as Bali, Thailand and Europe.

A CNB spokesman said young people in Singapore, and indeed globally, are displaying liberal attitudes towards drugs, especially cannabis.

These attitudes can lead to tragic outcomes.

Early last month, a Singaporean undergraduate died after falling from a hotel room in Bali. He had reportedly consumed "magic mushrooms" - psilocybin mushrooms which have hallucinogenic effects - mixed with orange juice before expressing an urge to jump from the fifth-floor room, reported Indonesian media.

A CNB spokesman said: "Some Singaporeans think they can evade detection and prosecution by going overseas to consume drugs. They are mistaken. "

Lawyers said many of those caught claimed they were not aware of the law - that even if the drug is consumed overseas, Singaporeans and PRs can still be dealt with as if the offence is committed here.

A comprehensive list of controlled drugs is in the Misuse of Drugs Act.

Lawyer Amarick Gill said he now sees at least twice the number of clients caught for consuming drugs overseas, compared with two years ago. Many of them are above 18.

They include undergraduates, full-time national servicemen and young working adults.

He said: "They have the money to travel and some of them even organise 'drug trips' overseas with the intention to try drugs and have a good laugh. They think that as long as they wait a few days after taking the drugs, it will be gone from their system and they won't get caught."

Others picked up the drug habit while studying overseas and continued to use drugs when they returned, said lawyer Ray Louis, who recently had two clients who were arrested for trying to buy marijuana in Singapore.

Dr Lambert Low, an associate consultant at National Addictions Management Service, said: "The reasons for the use of drugs overseas were many, including the stress of staying alone abroad and adjusting to a new culture.

"The easy availability of drugs, the lack of supervision and the permissive attitudes of their peers towards drugs helped to push those individuals towards drug use, which they subsequently regretted and sought treatment for."

Dr Low shared details of a case involving John (not his real name), who became hooked on cannabis while studying abroad. A roommate introduced him to it.

John developed psychotic symptoms after one year of smoking cannabis, but has since stopped. He is recovering with the help of counselling, and parental and peer support. John's psychotic symptoms are also in remission, said Dr Low.

Lawyer Daniel Atticus Xu had a polytechnic student as a client. He tested positive for drugs and was arrested at Changi Airport after returning from a trip with his schoolmates. He is now behind bars.

Lawyer Josephus Tan said that besides getting caught for consumption, there is always the danger that one might be sold a "bad hit" overseas.

He said: "You never know what's in the drug; it might be laced with other substances which could be even more harmful to the body."

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

IHC given court approval to amend pleadings in Crest lawsuits

Business Times
19 Jun 2017

The High Court has granted medical property developer International Healthway Corporation's (IHC) applications to amend its pleadings in two lawsuits, the company said in a Singapore Exchange filing late on Friday night.

The lawsuits pertain to ongoing action against Crest Funds and Crest Receivers.

In one of the suits, co-founders Fan Kow Hin and Andrew Aathar have been added as defendants.

The company has also discontinued the action against the Crest Receivers, upon the Crest Receivers' confirmation that they would abide by any order made by the court.

With respect to the progress of sale of the Australian properties, there are no material developments thus far since its last update.

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

Make legal services more accessible and affordable to clients: Voices

TODAY
07 Jun 2017

The legal fraternity must embrace advances in information technology as a continuing process, with no let-up, to enhance the performance of lawyers, paralegals and legal executives (“S’pore must keep its laws up-to-date to stay competitive: PM Lee”; May 30).

Online libraries of the judgments of our courts, as well as those in the United Kingdom and Australia, would promote quick comparative research and evaluation, and would assist lawyers greatly in the preparation of work undertaken for clients.

A lawyer’s first duty is to the court, but his clients deserve respect too. The latter put their fate and faith in the hands of their lawyers, who must be mindful of this responsibility and work diligently in their clients’ interests.

I suggest that a website giving initial information on legal issues, criminal and civil, be set up, managed and maintained by the Law Society or the Academy of Law.

Anyone can then get a feel of how his or her case may proceed, without having to pay a lawyer just to find out the legal process or how to handle an issue.

The site should create awareness of probable legal fees — and where fee scales are available, these must be uploaded as a guide — and also provide sentencing precedents for common criminal offences and a listing of all law firms here.

I believe that potential clients who visit a law firm should not be charged for the first consultation, but if a fee is requested, then it should be no more than S$500 regardless of the duration of the meeting.

Of course lawyers can limit it to one hour, if they prefer, but the objective is to make legal service affordable for clients’ initial understanding of their matter, so that they can make good decisions on how to move ahead.

More can then come forward to get the advice needed and not be deterred by legal fees, usually charged by the hour, even for the first consultation.

Lawyers are not the same as businessmen and have a higher calling: To serve our judicial system and their clients. They must readily appreciate that so as to do the right thing by the courts and their clients.

Prem Singh

Copyright 2017 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

Treatment critical but challenging, say experts

Straits Times
26 Jun 2017
Theresa Tan & Tan Tam Mei

To better tackle the growing drug problem among young people, doctors and drug counsellors say one critical challenge is to get them to seek treatment before they sink deeper into their drug habit.

They are fearful of going to a doctor here as under the law, doctors are required to inform the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) if they are treating anyone for drug addiction. CNB may act on the information to ensure the person has stayed off drugs, and provide additional intervention if necessary.

Dr Munidasa Winslow, a veteran psychiatrist in treating addictions, said: "No one trusts that their doctor wouldn't report them to the CNB. It's a no-brainer why people don't seek help."

He feels the policy of requiring doctors to inform CNB about their drug patients has to be relooked to tackle this fear of seeking rehabilitation here.

However, lawyer Rajan Supramaniam said the policy was important for CNB to trace drug abusers to their peddlers and perhaps even the drug syndicates.

"The youth abusing drugs are the 'small fry' offenders. Reporting the offence would allow the authorities to take appropriate follow-up action, and maybe get the big syndicates which are on the run," he said.

While he believes doing away with the law could mean people would be more willing to seek help, it could also mean all these cases remain "in the dark".

Experts also point out that there are more rehabilitation options now for those under 21 years old.

The options depend on their risk of re-offending, which is assessed based on factors such as social circles, family background and criminal history, said Miss Yong Kaiqi, a CNB specialist in drug risk assessment. Those considered to be of low risk are placed on the Youth Enhanced Supervision (YES) scheme and undergo urine tests and counselling.

Moderate-risk offenders are sent to the Community Rehabilitation Centre (CRC) - a residential programme under which they can go to work or school in the day but must return in the evenings. High-risk youth offenders are sent to the Drug Rehabilitation Centre (DRC) for up to three years. Youth under 21 sent to the YES scheme, CRC or DRC do not have a criminal record, a CNB spokesman said.

Mr Anson Yoo, director of the HCSA Highpoint Halfway House, said that separating youth by rehabilitating them at the CRC, instead of the DRC, where drug offenders of all ages are housed, prevents "contamination" - when older abusers teach younger ones bad habits.

Drug counsellors also noted that some international schools test their students randomly for drug use as a form of deterrence. Some feel this practice could also deter local students from abusing drugs if implemented widely in Singapore schools.

A spokesman for Tanglin Trust School said it tests random hair samples of students aged 11 to 18 from its senior school."The random drug test is only a small part of our education programme on harmful substances. It is a deterrent and gives our students a good reason to say 'no' (to drugs)."

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

SMU law don defamed 3 at condo's AGM

Straits Times
18 Jun 2017
K.C. Vijayan

Gao Shu Chao ordered to pay $120,000 in total damages

A Singapore Management University law professor was ordered to pay $120,000 in total damages after defaming three people during an annual general meeting of the management corporation (MC) of Duchess Residences in the Bukit Timah area.

The trio who sued Prof Gao Shu Chao for defamatory remarks comprised MC chairman Tan Kok Quan, who is a Senior Counsel and has been a director of several banks and public-listed companies, Mr Kuah Kok Kim, chairman of public-listed MTQ Corporation, and Mr Gn Hiang Meng, a deputy president of the UOL Group before retirement and now an independent director on several public-listed boards including Haw Par Corporation.

The Sunday Times understands that the defamatory remarks affecting the three office bearers relate to information about monies received from owners at 13 sub-divided lots and the relevant accounts.

At the time the comments were made from the floor on March 4 last year, Mr Kuah was serving as the MC's treasurer and Mr Gn, as the secretary. Prof Gao was a resident and unit owner.

In assessing damages, District Judge Chiah Kok Khun factored in Prof Gao's standing. "As an associate professor, the words spoken by him carried more weight than if they were spoken by someone not schooled in the law," he said in judgment grounds released on Friday.

There was a group of about 16, including other unit owners and staff of the managing agent, at the AGM.

The plaintiffs' lawyers, Mr Raymond Wong and Ms Os Agarwal, argued that Prof Gao refused to apologise even when offered opportunities to retract the words he used.

Prof Gao, who defended himself in court, did not dispute that the words were uttered but denied they were defamatory. He also counter-sued the plaintiffs for breach of statutory duty, among other things.

District Judge Chiah found his "improper" motive in speaking up at the AGM was to avoid paying a special levy that had been approved and that other owners had already paid. "The defendant had used the occasion of the 4th AGM to question and pressure the council into withdrawing its claim against him for the special levy," said District Judge Chiah, adding that it amounted to "express malice".

The judge, who found defamation was established in the case, ruled that "in totality", a sum of $40,000 in damages for each of the plaintiffs, which included $10,000 in aggravated damages, would be appropriate.

The judge said the harm caused by the "sting of the defamation" was moderated by the fact that the three plaintiffs were impacted as a group and not as individuals. It followed the quantum of damages awarded was also correspondingly lowered.

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

Half of Singapore charities weak in risk management: Report

TODAY
07 Jun 2017

About one in two, or 50.9 per cent, of the charities and institutions of a public character (IPCs) here do not have a defined policy or way to manage risk, or are unsure if such a policy exists.

In this area, the top three challenges they face are a lack of experience or expertise in risk management (79.3 per cent), human resources to carry out risk-management activities (70.3 per cent), and financial resources to put in place risk-management practices (59 per cent).

These are the findings of a survey conducted by the Charity Council, audit firm KPMG in Singapore, and the National University of Singapore (NUS) Business School.

The report, released on Tuesday (June 6), places these charities and institutions under the “emergent” stage when it comes to their attitudes towards risk management.

Also launched on Tuesday was a new Enterprise Risk Management Toolkit to guide them towards a more robust system of risk management, and to provide practical insights and best practices.

Both the report and toolkit will be made available online for free.

Apart from this, training programmes and workshops are being organised to support charities in adopting the recommendations in the toolkit.

Mr Gerard Ee, chairman of the Charity Council, said at the launch that good risk management is “part and parcel of good stewardship, and serves to protect the interest of the beneficiaries, employees and volunteers”.

Senior lecturer Susan See Tho, from the Department of Accounting at NUS Business School, said that more has to be done by charities “to set the tone and inculcate a stronger risk governance culture throughout all levels of staff and management”.

“Education will play a vital role in enabling charity-sector employees to better understand the benefits of risk management, so that they are motivated and empowered in making it a priority in their day-to-day work,” she said.

In recent years, steps have been taken to improve the corporate capabilities and governance among voluntary welfare organisations (VWOs), such as the Corporate Development Funding Scheme rolled out in 2015.

Under the scheme, each VWO would be awarded S$150,000 to S$300,000 a year to hire three to five qualified professionals in finance, information technology and human resources to help it comply with corporate governance requirements.

Copyright 2017 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

Governments strike back with rebuttals and new laws

Straits Times
25 Jun 2017
Tham Yuen-C

Any information about the Central Provident Fund, which holds the retirement savings of Singaporeans, is sure to attract attention - and now, fake news perpetrators.

Earlier this month, a message on WhatsApp, SMS and social media falsely warned: "Everybody please note that when we kick the bucket, all our balance CPF money will not be automatically deposited into our nominated NOK (next of kin) bank account in cash."

It claimed that the CPF Board would instead transfer the balance funds to a nominee's CPF Medisave account, which is restricted in use to medical expenses.

As the message spread, the Government swung into action to debunk it. An explanation was posted on government website Factually: "What happens to your CPF savings when you die? By default, the money will be given to your nominees in cash via cheque or Giro."

The site, set up in 2012, is one of the ways the Government is tackling phoney news and misinformation that mislead people and could potentially harm the social fabric.

Over the years, it has countered inaccurate assertions on issues such as the water price hike and what ministers reportedly said.

With the rise of fake news, governments have set up services and departments to counter it. The Czech Republic, for instance, has formed a special media unit under its Interior Ministry that is charged with debunking false reports, in order to counter interference in the upcoming general election in October.

GIVING LAW MORE TEETH

But as governments around the world recognise that bogus information must be actively fought, more are looking to legislation and regulation as more effective weapons.

Singapore is among a handful of countries to announce plans for new laws to curb fabricated stories.

Law Minister K. Shanmugam said last week at The Straits Times and the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers conference on fake news that officials here have visited Germany and Britain to help shape new legislation to be introduced next year.

Germany has unveiled a landmark Bill to take social networking sites to task - with fines of up to €50 million (S$78 million) - if they do not swiftly remove content that is fake, defamatory or incites hate.

Britain has set up a parliamentary committee to look into the matter.

One difficulty is how such laws can be implemented. "It is not only difficult to define 'fake news' in a consistent manner, the varying context in different countries may cause confusion and conflict," said Singapore Management University law don Eugene Tan at a forum workshop during the conference.

Other participants said governments themselves are sometimes part of the fake news problem and cannot be both "the judge and the jury".

Ms Maria Ressa, chief executive officer of Manila-based online news site Rappler, told a panel the Philippine government sometimes allowed inaccurate news reports to spread when they served its purposes.

Associate Professor Tan suggested setting up independent regulatory bodies that are not tied to the interests of big corporations or the state and could be objective.

Straits Times editor Warren Fernandez said governments can make a difference by safeguarding the media landscape against those who seek to exploit readers for profit, out of mischief or for political gain. He noted that efforts by Mr Shanmugam to expose those behind sites like The Real Singapore, which routinely put out fake news for profit and make it a point to undermine mainstream media, have raised awareness about the issue and helped people become more critical of what they read.

Mr Fernandez added: "But I'm also conscious of the points made by many about how in some cases abroad, when governments try to be part of the solution, they sometimes can end up being part of the problem."

INDEPENDENT FACT-CHECKERS

Around the world, independent fact-checking organisations have sprung up to fight the problem. In the recent British elections, two such organisations, Full Fact and First Draft, started an initiative to educate voters about fraudulent news, with fact-checkers scanning the Internet for reports with misleading claims and debunking them, reported The Guardian.

According to the Duke Reporters' Lab at Duke University in the United States, there are around 114 such groups globally today.

And while some are attached to news organisations, others are set up by non-profit organisations.

Forum panellist Karolin Schwarz, founder of Hoaxmap.org, which seeks to debunk rumours about migrants, said collaboration between journalists and fact-checking organisations is crucial.

In Germany where she comes from, fake news is not as common as falsehoods circulated on social media, such as falsely attributed photos, videos and quotes. Hence, she said, it is important to work with local agencies and others to verify the truth.


HARD TO PIN DOWN

It is not only difficult to define 'fake news' in a consistent manner, the varying context in different countries may cause confusion and conflict.

SINGAPORE MANAGEMENT UNIVERSITY LAW DON EUGENE TAN, on the challenges in implementing laws to tackle fabricated news.

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

Will may be challenged after grant of probate, say lawyers

Straits Times
17 Jun 2017
K.C. Vijayan

But they say special reasons are needed if six-month timeframe has elapsed

Can you challenge the validity of a will after probate has been granted?

Mr Lee Kuan Yew's younger son, Mr Lee Hsien Yang, maintains that his father's will - which is at the centre of a dispute between him and his older brother, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong - is "final and legally binding" as no challenge was lodged.

Lawyers whom The Straits Times spoke to said that six months, as spelt out in the Wills Act, is a guideline, but a challenge beyond that is possible depending on the reasons.

"If it's after the six months, you have got to give special reasons and it is at the court's discretion," said Dr G. Raman, a veteran probate lawyer.

This is the legal process of probate, when the concerned parties prove in court that a will is a valid public document that is the true last testament of the deceased.

Probate for the late Mr Lee's will was granted on Oct 6, 2015.

Lawyers suggest that if new evidence surfaces, it is still possible to mount a challenge.

WongPartnership lawyer Sim Bock Eng cited the example where a subsequent will of the testator surfaces, or where there is fraud or other reasons.

The will has become a focal point of the dispute between the siblings after PM Lee, in a summary of his statutory declaration made public on Thursday, raised serious doubts about whether his father was properly and independently advised on the contents of his last will before he signed it.

On why he did not challenge it earlier, PM Lee said he had hoped to settle the matter within the family.

Mr Lee Hsien Yang, however, maintained that the will is "final and legally binding" as PM Lee raised no legal challenge in court and should not use a ministerial committee to try and do so now. He was referring to the committee that has been tasked to look into options for the late Mr Lee's home at 38, Oxley Road.

Paragraph seven of the last will is the main sticking point. It relates to the late founding prime minister's wish to have the Oxley Road home demolished immediately after his death, or after his daughter, Dr Lee Wei Ling, moves out.

PM Lee said this clause had been removed from two earlier versions of the will and reinstated in the final one under "troubling circumstances".

He added that the clause was now being used by his siblings to claim their father was firm in his wish that the house be demolished, and that he was not prepared to accept its preservation or contemplate options short of demolition.

Another issue raised by PM Lee was a possible conflict of interest with Mrs Lee Suet Fern's involvement in any preparation of the will in which her husband, Mr Lee Hsien Yang, was a beneficiary.

According to lawyers, there is no absolute prohibition against a law firm using its lawyers to attest a will where a member of the firm is related to the testator.

Ms Sim said that although there is a practice direction that discourages doing such work, "it is not uncommon to have staff of a firm asking for assistance in this regard".

Dr Raman added: "There is no prohibition, but it is not prudent to witness or attest to the will when there is a relationship."

Ms Sim explained that there is good reason for this - it ensures that the will reflects the testamentary intent of the testator and that he or she is not under the undue influence of a family member.

PM Lee also noted that the lawyers who witnessed the will signed by his father had spent 15 minutes at the house, and said they "plainly came only to witness Mr Lee signing the last will and not to advise him".

Lawyers pointed to a 2009 case in which the Court of Appeal underlined the serious professional responsibilities that lawyers must "uncompromisingly observe and discharge".

Among other things, the court reminded lawyers to "confirm with the testator, prior to the execution of the will, that the contents of the will as drafted accurately express the latter's intention".

The court had further explained that the lawyer concerned should also "conscientiously seek to avoid being in any situation where a potential conflict of interest may appear to exist. If the solicitor might be perceived as anything less than a completely independent adviser to the testator, he ought not, as a matter of good practice, to be involved in the explanation, the interpretation and the execution of the will".

As to how long it takes to settle such matters, veteran lawyer V. Ramakrishnan said it can be very short or protracted, "depending on the circumstances of the case".

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

Parent sues school over confiscated mobile phone

Straits Times
07 Jun 2017
K.C. Vijayan

Should a school hang on to a confiscated phone for three months?

This issue has reached the courts after a parent felt that the penalty was too harsh. The parent is suing a secondary school principal for damages, but has not succeeded in getting the school to return the phone.

The parent's request to have the phone returned immediately was turned down by District Judge Clement Julien Tan. The judge ruled that the principal was justified in holding on to the phone, as the school rules had made it clear that any student caught using a phone during school hours will have it confiscated for at least three months.

The boy met the principal on March 21 and admitted that he had used an iPhone 7 during school hours on March 8. It was confiscated and the SIM card returned along with a receipt stating that it could be retrieved in three months' time.

Later in the evening of March 21, the parent wrote to the principal to say that the phone was his and he wanted it back.

He added that "a three-month confiscation is disproportionate to the offence", and his son had assured him that he would not break the rule on phone use again.

Failing to get a reply, he took the principal of the well-known secondary school to court.

The father, represented by lawyer Andrew Hanam, is claiming that retaining the phone amounts to the tort of conversion - which involves denying a person's rights to his property. He asked the court to get the school to return the phone while the case is being decided.

The principal's lawyer Alfonso Ang said that the claim is "frivolous and vexatious", and pointed out that the principal is responsible for overseeing student discipline based on regulations.

He also highlighted that the parent and son had both been told that the use of phones was banned.

District Judge Tan, who heard the application on April 28, said the principal was simply following the rules. He also rejected the parent's contention that he, personally, is not bound by the school rules as there is no contract between him and the principal.

"Such a position is , in my view, untenable," said the judge, in dismissing the application. The parent, he pointed out in judgment grounds obtained by The Straits Times yesterday, knew about the rules on phone use and if he had an issue with it, "could have enrolled his son in another school".

The judge added that the father had not " established any special circumstances in the present case" to enable the interim injunction to succeed. He also pointed out that having the phoned returned early defeats the school's rule.

"I accept that there may be a risk that until the matter is fully and finally disposed of, the school may be faced with demands from parents or guardians for the return of confiscated phones. This may also send a wrong signal to the students that they can use their mobile phones during school hours with impunity, thus rendering the phone rule otiose (ineffective), however temporarily this might be so."

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

Simpler rules to draw more venture capital managers

Straits Times
25 Jun 2017
Lorna Tan

The booming venture capital industry here is set to grow further in the coming months as new rules kick in to allow start-ups easier access to funding.

The slimmed-down and simpler framework outlined by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) will allow venture capital (VC) funds to get a licence within weeks instead of the average of about 2½ months under the existing process.

The proposed changes, which aim to cut red tape and lower compliance costs, will also relieve VC funds of having to do independent valuations and submit audited financial statements to the MAS.

The aim is to attract more VC managers here and spur them to play a greater role in supporting entrepreneurship and innovation. There are about 30 VC managers here now.

Mr Sam Phoen, co-founder of investment management firm Wateram Capital, welcomed the initiative, although he questioned why the proposals were limited to helping newly incorporated firms of five years or less.

"What we are seeing in Singapore is that companies in later stages of growth (roughly between the fourth and eighth year of incorporation) are facing a dearth of funding and financing options. This is the time when they need the most money to grow the company," he said. "Unfortunately they would be at a stage where they are not so small to appeal to VCs, but at the same time not large or profitable enough to get financing from financial institutions."

He said start-ups in successful VC markets such as the United States and China have good access to finance across the entire life cycle from seed funding right through to the IPO market.

"MAS should consider extending this relaxation to the entire funding value chain and simplify regulations to nurture the development of the entire value chain," Mr Phoen added.

He also suggested that VC firms be allowed to invest in other VC managers, much like a fund of VC funds. Mr Phoen said: "As long as funds eventually help the start-ups, it doesn't matter whether it is direct or indirect."

Currently, VC funds are restricted to accredited or institutional investors. Accredited investors are those with net personal assets exceeding $2 million or whose income was not less than $300,000 in the preceding 12 months.

While retail investors need additional protection, they are also restricted from participating in good long-term VC or private equity deals simply because they do not qualify as accredited investors.

Mr Phoen noted that just as accredited investors may not mean they are sophisticated enough to take care of themselves, being categorised as non-accredited investors does not mean they are financial illiterates.

"Opening up to retail investors will provide an additional source of investment diversification for retail investors, as well as additional funding support for start-ups," he added.

"Criteria that could be introduced before retail investors can participate might include suitability assessments and a limit to their total investment amounts to be no more than 20 per cent of their investable assets."

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

Lee Suet Fern no longer law firm's Singapore head

Straits Times
17 Jun 2017
Grace Leong

Global law firm Morgan Lewis & Bockius has said that Mrs Lee Suet Fern, the managing partner of its combined practice in Singapore, has stepped down from that role.

But Mrs Lee - the wife of Mr Lee Hsien Yang - will continue to play a key role in its global strategy from offices here and in Hong Kong.

The couple said earlier this week that they are preparing to leave Singapore - but have not said where they intend to live.

Responding to queries from The Straits Times, a spokesman for the firm in Washington said yesterday that "the firm does not anticipate any material change in our Singapore team or practice".

She added that Mrs Lee will "continue to spend a significant amount of time in Singapore as well as travel to Hong Kong, as she already does in support of her strong client relationships there, and as head of our international leadership team".

Morgan Lewis & Bockius merged in 2015 with Stamford Law - founded by Mrs Lee - and became Morgan Lewis Stamford, a Singapore law practice where the partners are concurrent partners of the global firm. Mrs Lee, a top corporate lawyer, then became managing partner of the combined practice here.

The Straits Times understands that Mr Ng Joo Khin, Mrs Lee's deputy and a Morgan Lewis Stamford partner, has been made office managing partner as part of a long-planned transition, which allows Mrs Lee to keep a key role in its global strategy.

Mrs Lee remains on the advisory board of Morgan Lewis & Bockius and will continue to be the head of the international leadership team. The team is made up of, in part, office managing partners of Morgan Lewis' international offices worldwide. Sources said Mrs Lee will be based in the Singapore and Hong Kong offices.

On Wednesday, Mr Lee Hsien Yang issued a statement with his sister, Dr Lee Wei Ling, saying they felt closely monitored and feared the use of state organs against them. The dispute centres on the house of their late father - former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew - at 38, Oxley Road.

On Thursday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong raised questions over Mrs Lee's role and that of her law firm in preparing the last will of the late Mr Lee. Mr Lee Hsien Yang has said that Stamford Law did not draft Mr Lee's final will.

The Straits Times understands that Morgan Lewis said it "stands by that account, and notes that no objections had previously been made to the final will, or the provision about demolition of the house, which was a well-known wish of Mr Lee Kuan Yew".

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

Twin brothers get jail, caning for assault

Straits Times
07 Jun 2017
Shaffiq Idris Alkhatib

Two brothers who are twins will each serve the same amount of time behind bars and receive the same number of strokes of the cane for attacking a man at a dormitory.

Indian nationals Lakshmanan and Raman Pothiyappan, 24, were each jailed for five months and ordered to receive three strokes of the cane yesterday.

The construction workers pleaded guilty to one count of causing grievous hurt to their fellow countryman and colleague, Mr Thevvan Velayutham, 41.

They committed the offence at a Shaw Road dormitory near Upper Paya Lebar Road on Oct 29 last year.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Soh Weiqi said Mr Thevvan, who is also a construction worker, was sitting in the front porch of the dormitory at around 10.20am that day when the two brothers started punching and kicking him.

Lakshmanan, who had consumed alcohol shortly before the attack, also threw a chair at Mr Thevvan and it struck his head and body.

DPP Soh said: "Raman had informed that the victim and Lakshmanan were not on good terms, and that he had joined in the assault to support his brother."

Court papers did not reveal what sparked the attack.

Other workers who witnessed the incident managed to break up the scuffle.

But about 45 minutes later, Lakshmanan suddenly rushed towards Mr Thevvan and kicked him again.

His brother followed suit and also rained blows on their victim.

The other workers intervened for the second time and police arrived at the scene at around 11.15am.

Mr Thevvan later went to Changi General Hospital, where he was found to have injuries, including a broken nose and a fracture near an eye.

DPP Soh told District Judge Samuel Chua that the victim has since fully recovered from his injuries.

Stressing that Mr Thevvan had to fend himself against two men, she urged the judge to sentence the brothers, who were unrepresented, to at least five months' jail with caning.

Before handing out the sentence, Judge Chua told the brothers: "The injuries were severe... Such offences will not be tolerated in Singapore."

For causing grievous hurt, each attacker could have been jailed for up to 10 years and fined or caned.

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

Why robots won't steal accountants' jobs

Straits Times
24 Jun 2017
Lee Fook Chiew & Loke Hoe Yeong

A doctor's empathy and an accountant's integrity are prized qualities difficult to automate

It is hard to blame the students of today for feeling added angst over their future careers. They constantly read reports about the prospect of automation putting jobs at risk.

We certainly do need to prepare for the future workplace, in which the impact of digital disruption will be felt deeply. But rather than dwell on the fears of robots stealing jobs, professionals such as accountants should look instead to the opportunities afforded by the latest digital developments.

The American economist Philip Auerswald underscored in his book The Coming Prosperity that in the course of history, whenever machine and tools substituted one type of human capability, new human experiences and capabilities actually emerged. This happened when humans made the transition from hunter-gatherers to farmers, and then from farming to more industrial modes of work.

Likewise, the boundaries of the accountancy profession are shifting, and the skills which it calls for are evolving. The advance of technology has freed accountants from the drudgery of menial and mundane tasks such as the manual data entry of invoices, to pursue higher-value work that may bring in higher incomes. That includes accountants harnessing technology like data analytics tools to provide more in-depth and timely financial expertise to help their business outfits navigate today's volatile business landscape.

To give a simple example, records of point-of-sale transactions can be used to project future patterns of consumer behaviour. Accountants can move from having a "hindsight view" to having more "predictive foresight". One of the possible outcomes of predictive foresight is that companies know what inventories to hold, which frees up capital and lowers costs such as rental - since less storage space is now required - and obsolescence.

Accountants in business can also use data analytics to understand and discover patterns in customer behaviours and advise businesses on the best course of action in a competitive market.

In time to come, accountants may be involved in the design of the systems and machines that take over some accounting tasks. Auditors will need to be trained to audit the reliability, rigour and accuracy of these systems and machines.

At the end of the day, it is no longer just about what profession one belongs to, but what skills one possesses. The impact of digital disruption will be keenly felt in all professions and jobs.

VALUE OF HUMAN PROFESSIONALS

What then is the value of human professionals? Take medicine as an example.

Most people, we would hazard a guess, would prefer not to have a robot replace their doctor.

That is not in any way to belittle the tremendous progress in artificial intelligence research in the medical industry. With the possibility of voluminous medical research knowledge being fed into a machine, a robot can realistically diagnose a patient much more accurately than a human doctor can.

However, a patient's interface with a human professional is important for a number of reasons. The human doctor provides person-to-person psychological care that includes empathy and the soliciting of patients' concerns to enable the best diagnosis. A robot's "clinical" approach could solicit a different set of concerns and issues from the patient compared with a human doctor's "softer" approach.

Furthermore, Professor Richard Lilford, the University of Warwick's Chair in Public Health, highlighted the importance of human intuition where "you've got to act in medicine before you've got any certainty and that sort of thing the doctor will have to do". He concluded that a computer "may become a second opinion, or perhaps even a first opinion, but the doctor will still make the final call".

Then there are the issues of ethics, in medicine as in other professions, including accountancy. In a joint report released last year on "The Future of Professional Learning and Entrepreneurship" by the Institute of Singapore Chartered Accountants (ISCA) and the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW), born out of conversations with a range of professionals, there was unanimous consensus that the real value of the accounting profession lies in its members' integrity and ethics. Some participants were of the view that clients would have more trust in audit opinions issued by a human auditor as compared with a robot.

So, rather than robots replacing medical or accounting professionals, the latter need to work hand in hand with robots to continue raising the value of work within their profession.

According to a study of over 2,000 work activities in more than 800 occupations by the McKinsey Global Institute released this year, the easiest jobs to automate are those involving predictable physical activities such as assembly line work in manufacturing. The next easiest jobs to automate include data collection and processing activities.

At the other end of the spectrum, the hardest activities to automate are those that involve managing and developing people or require deep expertise in decision-making and planning.

Rather than being a monolithic role, the accountancy profession similarly covers a spectrum of activities from routine ones such as data entry to analysis and judgment. Routine activities can be and already are being automated with accounting software like Xero and QuickBooks. The implication of this would be job losses especially for accountants doing mainly routine accounting work, unless they can move on to higher value roles.

When the accountant analyses, applies judgment and then explains the issues relating to quality financial management to his clients or employers, he is actually assuming a role akin to an educator - an activity which the McKinsey study identified as among the most highly resistant to automation in the foreseeable future.

The accountancy profession involves more than bookkeeping roles today. The core competencies and skills of an accountant provide a strong foundation to go into many other high-growth fields of specialisation and trades, and even as entrepreneurs. The use of analytics, as discussed earlier, is but one example of how the accounting professional can work hand in hand with technology to raise the value of their work in the near term.

There is little reason to believe that the accounting profession will die out as a result of technological disruption. The profession has not only survived but also transformed itself since the onset of the digital revolution, and will continue to do so. There are also bountiful opportunities in the region. Businesses in the Asean region will need accountants and finance professionals to support their growth, and most emerging markets are short of these professionals. Singapore accountants are well equipped to take on these roles.


Rather than robots replacing medical or accounting professionals, the latter need to work hand in hand with robots, to continue raising the value of work within their profession.


Lee Fook Chiew is chief executive officer and Loke Hoe Yeong is manager of insights and intelligence at the Institute of Singapore Chartered Accountants.

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

Lee Hsien Yang says wife's firm did not draft will

Straits Times
17 Jun 2017
Charissa Yong

The late Mr Lee Kuan Yew's will was not drafted by the law firm of his daughter-in-law Lee Suet Fern, said his younger son Lee Hsien Yang yesterday afternoon.

He added that his wife's firm, Stamford Law Corporation - now known as Morgan Lewis Stamford LLC - did not draft any of his father's wills.

"The will was drafted by Kwa Kim Li of Lee&Lee," he said, referring to the sequence of events surrounding the final will. Ms Kwa is his cousin and managing partner at Lee&Lee, the firm his parents had co-founded.

But when contacted last night, Ms Kwa told The Straits Times: "I did not prepare the last will."

She declined to comment further.

Mr Lee Hsien Yang had three posts on Facebook throughout the day in response to a statement issued the night before by his elder brother, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, on the dispute between the Lee siblings over their father's house at 38, Oxley Road.

In the statement issued through his lawyers, PM Lee had said their father's final will was made in troubling circumstances, and asked if there was a conflict of interest when Mrs Lee helped prepare it since her husband Lee Hsien Yang stood to gain from the removal of his sister Lee Wei Ling's extra share in the will.

Mr Lee Hsien Yang said the will's seventh paragraph, in which his father stated he wanted his house to be demolished after his death, "was drafted at LKY's (Lee Kuan Yew's) direction".

It was "put into language by Lee Suet Fern, his daughter-in-law, and when he was satisfied, he asked Kim Li to insert it into his will", said Mr Lee Hsien Yang.

He did not explain how this clause, drafted earlier for previous versions of the will but subsequently deleted, came to be reinstated in the final will.

His account was at odds with that given by PM Lee in his statutory declaration made to a ministerial committee. PM Lee has questioned why the clause was in the final will when it was not in the fifth and sixth will.

He also said he had "grave concerns" over the way in which the final will came to be made, and the role played by Mr Lee Hsien Yang and his wife.

PM Lee detailed the e-mail exchanges his brother and sister-in-law had with Mr Lee on the evening of Dec 16, 2013, and wondered at the haste with which they had moved to get changes made to the will, rather than waiting for these to be done by Ms Kwa, who had worked on the earlier wills.

He pointed to the possible conflict of interest of Mrs Lee's involvement in this process, when her husband stood to gain from the changes made.

PM Lee also asked why his sister-in-law said at the reading of the last will in April 2015 that the late Mr Lee asked her to prepare the will, but she got a lawyer from her law firm to do so instead as she did not want to get personally involved.

The lawyer was Mr Ng Joo Khin, who was present at the reading of the last will on April 12, 2015, after Mr Lee died.

PM Lee had asked who instructed Mr Ng on the last will. His brother Lee Hsien Yang replied: "The estate of LKY instructed Stamford Law to extract probate. Ng Joo Khin's role in that was to read the will to the beneficiaries." To extract probate is to have the will recognised as final and legally binding.

Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Dr Lee are executors of their father's estate. He said in a Facebook post yesterday morning that he and his sister made similar points on Feb 28 this year to a ministerial committee set up to look into options for 38, Oxley Road.

"LHL's secret committee ignored it," he added.

In another Facebook post in the evening, he said that "this secret committee is entirely uninterested in exploring options for the house, instead focusing solely on challenging the validity of the demolition clause in LKY's will".

He said that "personal family disputes" were matters for the family courts, not a ministerial committee, and his father's wish to demolish the house was well-known.


NOT INVOLVED

I did not prepare the last will.

MS KWA KIM LI, managing partner of Lee&Lee, in response last night to Mr Lee Hsien Yang's statement that she had drafted the last will, and not the law firm of his wife.


We are bigger than our troubles, stronger than our differences: Chok Tong

Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong, commenting on the Lee family dispute in a post on his MParader Facebook page last night:

"Singapore has prevailed through crises and adversity. We are a hardy people, built our family and nation from humble beginnings. What is happening in public between Lee Kuan Yew's children is not us and should not be allowed to define who we are. We are bigger than our troubles, stronger than our differences.

Whatever damage Singapore may suffer, wilfully inflicted or otherwise, I know Singaporeans will not lie meek. We will not be dragged down by a family's petty disputes. We will always look forward, to fight real battles and create a better future for ourselves and our children."

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

All S'poreans play role in fight against corruption: PM

Straits Times
07 Jun 2017
Danson Cheong

He urges everyone to do their best to protect legacy of clean system

Singaporeans play an important part in ensuring that corruption does not become a social norm, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

While the courts, the Government and public servants need to maintain the highest levels of professionalism and integrity, the people must also actively reject corruption to prevent the scourge from taking root here, he added.

"Our founding leaders left us a clean system, built up over more than half a century. It is a legacy that we can be proud of, and we should do our utmost to protect it," he said at the official opening of the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau's (CPIB) Corruption Reporting and Heritage Centre in Whitley Road.

The centre, which has been running since Jan 9, is another location where people can complain in person about corruption. Previously, they had to do it at the CPIB headquarters in Lengkok Bahru.

Reiterating Singapore's zero-tolerance approach towards corruption, Mr Lee said a clean system, which is necessary for the country's success, is not a natural state of affairs.

"We have a system that works, and we must keep it that way," he added.

This is unlike many countries, where corruption is accepted as the "natural state of affairs" and is impossible to eradicate, he said.

Singaporeans demand and expect a clean system, and do not condone giving or accepting bribes, said Mr Lee, noting that they also trust that the law will be applied transparently and fairly to all.

"People believe that they can make it because they work hard, not because they have special connections or are paying extra 'fees', and that is the way things should be."

He said that Singapore also has a professional public service that is paid "fair and realistic wages" benchmarked against the private sector. This, he added, reduces the temptation to accept bribes.

Elections in Singapore also do not cost a lot of money, unlike in other countries, where clean candidates and political parties stand no chance of being elected if they do not have the resources, he said.

Turning to the new CPIB centre, Mr Lee said it shows that the Government treats complaints about corruption seriously.

He called on people who know or suspect corrupt behaviour to report it, pointing out that many successful investigations arise from such tip-offs.

"We will investigate any complaint on corruption thoroughly," he said.

The number of corruption cases fell 11 per cent last year from the year before, hitting a 32-year low - with the CPIB investigating 118 cases.

Singapore was ranked the seventh least corrupt country in the world last year by graft watchdog Transparency International.

After touring the centre, Mr Lee presented prizes to students who won a short-story writing competition organised by the CPIB.

Nanyang Polytechnic student Corwin Pek, 17, one of the award winners, said: "Not many Singaporeans know how the CPIB works, and this gallery will help people get a better understanding of it."

The centre also houses a heritage gallery, where visitors can view artefacts about old cases and learn of the CPIB's history through quizzes played on interactive screens.

CPIB director Wong Hong Kuan said it creates "an accessible space for the public to report and learn about corruption".


118

Number of corruption cases investigated by the CPIB last year - a 32-year low.

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

Rethink labelling of children as illegitimate

Straits Times
24 Jun 2017
Kok Xing Hui

A baby's arrival into the world should be welcomed with joy by all around her. But for some babies born out of wedlock, stigma and the label "illegitimate child" stick with them, sometimes for life.

Illegitimacy and its consequences were thrown into the spotlight recently when The Straits Times reported on May 11 that a single woman was adopting her biological daughter to legitimise the child's birth.

When a child is adopted, she receives a new birth certificate with her adoptive parents' name. Her relationship with the adoptive parents will be as though she was "born to the adopter in lawful wedlock", according to the Adoption of Children Act.

The mum was hoping that this change in little Lorraine's status would give the family access to subsidised public housing and a Baby Bonus cash grant - things that married parents are entitled to.

After the article was published, a few unwed mothers wrote to me, asking about the procedure. Some wanted benefits; most were eager to do away with the "illegitimacy" label for their child. Women's rights group Aware received calls as well, and is setting up a legal clinic this month so unwed mothers can find out more from a lawyer with experience in such cases.

In 2015, 863 babies were born to unwed mothers here - a drop from the 1,099 in 2010.

Two weeks after the story ran, the Ministry of Social and Family Development wrote to The Straits Times Forum page. The letter pointed out that babies - regardless of their parents' marital status - already get access to many benefits in childcare, education and healthcare. But housing benefits and the Baby Bonus cash grants are benefits tied to the parent's marital status: "The benefits will not be extended even if an unwed mother adopts her own child, as they are meant to encourage parenthood within marriage," it said.

As a young reporter writing about this issue, I find two things troubling. One is that, in this day and age, we still label children illegitimate when it does not seem to serve much purpose; two is that housing is used as a carrot when it really is a basic need.

HOW ILLEGITIMACY CAME ABOUT

Some Singaporeans who responded to the ST article thought it was archaic, unnecessary, even chauvinistic, to have a concept of illegitimacy for children born out of wedlock.

In fact, National University of Singapore law professor Leong Wai Kum has argued that illegitimacy was an alien concept to Chinese, Malay and Hindu cultures when it was foisted on Singapore under common law, which was inherited from the English when Singapore was a colony and many Chinese marriages were polygamous.

In a 2011 paper, Prof Leong wrote: "An acknowledgment of paternity by a Chinese father would seal his relationship with a child in the view of the community. No one would question they were father and son."

Legitimacy became law here when a 1911 case known as the Six Widows' Case decided that, of the six women who had survived a wealthy Chinese man here, only the four whose marriages had been solemnised would get equal shares of the estate.

Today, more than 100 years later, an illegitimate child still loses out on his or her inheritance to the legitimate children of the parents.

But over the years, changes have been made to whittle down differences between legitimate and illegitimate children.

One change in 1934 enabled a child to be made legitimate if the parents subsequently married. And since 1996, the Women's Charter has made it such that a parent must provide maintenance for a child - whether legitimate or not, biological or adopted.

I would argue that, since the only difference right now is in the way a child inherits - something that can be circumvented by a will - Singapore might as well do away with this concept that was never ours to begin with.

We got this law from the United Kingdom but, in 1987, the UK changed its law to specify that, when a person dies without a will, all of his or her children inherit - regardless of whether they were born in or out of wedlock. New Zealand too abolished the concept of illegitimacy, in 1969.

DOING AWAY WITH BASTARDY

One possible issue with doing away with legitimacy here is that children born of marriages could have to contend with splitting their inheritances with surprise siblings they might never have known about.

Would getting rid of illegitimacy then clog up the courts with inheritance disputes?

Family lawyer Sim Bock Eng does not think so because such disputes usually happen only with high-net-worth individuals. In any case, any potential harm to a small group has to be weighed against the immediate good that a change in law could do for people affected now, who really need help, she said.

Across the board, the eight professors, lawyers, social workers and politicians I spoke to thought it was time to drop illegitimacy and to extend more benefits to unwed mothers. So did some members of the public who wrote in to the Forum page.

Understandably, some fear that giving unwed mums and their children access to subsidised housing would lead to more pregnancies out of wedlock. For instance, such access could make it easier for men to maintain extramarital families; and some have argued that young girls might see having a baby as a ticket to home ownership.

It is true that public housing is a precious commodity in land-scarce Singapore. Meanwhile, Singapore still faces the issue of how to house an unwed mum and her kids. Some with incomes below $1,500 get access to subsidised rental housing. Others can afford to buy or rent on the open market. Many find shelter with their families or friends. But there are still families who are left bereft.

I think the Government should relax its stance and let these families rent a subsidised flat from the Housing Board if it does not want to allow them to buy a flat.

At least then the innocent children with no say in mum's marital status would have a roof over their heads and a conducive environment to grow up in.

And it's 2017. Time to have a serious discussion on getting rid of a dated Victorian moral code that illegitimises children.


Would getting rid of illegitimacy clog up the courts with inheritance disputes? Family lawyer Sim Bock Eng does not think so because such disputes usually happen only with high-net-worth individuals. In any case, any potential harm to a small group has to be weighed against the immediate good that a change in law could do for people affected now, who really need help, she said.

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

Some condo laws prevail over data protection needs

Straits Times
17 Jun 2017
K.C. Vijayan

Info on home owners that is publicly available can be displayed on voter lists

When it comes to protecting your personal data, there is a limit to what owners can do if their personal information is available to the public and the management at their private estate chooses to display it.

This emerged after unit owners at three private estates took issue with their individual management corporations (MCs) and managing agents displaying their personal information, including addresses, on notice boards and a website which can be accessed by many others.

All three cases were brought to the Personal Data Protection Commission, which issued a consolidated decision on Monday because of a few identical issues involved.

The commission said the managing agents and MCs were covered by the Building Maintenance and Strata Management Act (BMSMA), which authorises and requires the names of people entitled to vote at a general meeting to be displayed.

This is because other laws like BMSMA prevail over data protection obligations under the Personal Data Protection Act 2012 (PDPA).

The commission acknowledged that the BMSMA did not note that residents' unit numbers and voting shares may be disclosed in voter lists, along with other details.

But it said that as such data was publicly available, it can be disclosed without obtaining consent or notification, as in this case. The commission said such data can be found in the strata roll generally available to the public, and there are few restrictions under BMSMA when it comes to accessing the strata roll.

The issue came to light after the management of condos Prive in Punggol, The Mornington in St Michael's Road and Seletaris in Sembawang displayed owners' names, unit numbers and voting shares via voter lists. The commission received the complaints last year.

Three Prive residents had complained that the managing agent had posted copies of the voter list containing their details on notice boards and the Prive EC Web portal, without notifying residents or getting their consent.

At Mornington, a resident took issue with the management corporation for leaving a voter list with their details on the publicly accessible notice board for about two months, which was allegedly longer than necessary after the council meeting was held.

And at Seletaris, a unit owner questioned the need for multiple display of the data on at least two notice boards and for keeping it there for an "unnecessarily long period of time" of two days. He also complained that the data was used without consent or notice.

Under the PDPA, disclosure required notifying and obtaining the consent of the affected parties. But the BMSMA trumps protection of personal data. And this applies even to minutes of meetings.

The commission said it is "implicit" that a full and accurate recording of the meeting can contain relevant personal data. But "this position should not be construed to mean that MCs and managing agents may include personal data of their residents without restriction".

The commission stressed that any data recorded in such minutes should be necessary to the proceedings, and if not, the commission may take appropriate enforcement action. It also said keeping the voter list on display for two months was "not so unreasonably long".

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

Lawyer says sorry for statements

Straits Times
06 Jun 2017
Charissa Yong

Critic of death penalty had cast aspersions on officials after drug-trafficker client was hanged

Lawyer Eugene Thuraisingam apologised to the court and the public yesterday for making statements about the execution of a drug trafficker that were in contempt of court.

The 41-year-old had represented Singaporean Muhammad Ridzuan Md Ali, 31, who was found guilty of trafficking in heroin and was hanged at Changi Prison on May 19 after exhausting all avenues of appeal.

On the same day, Mr Thuraisingam criticised the death penalty and Singapore's legal system in a post on his Facebook page that has since been taken down.

In the post, he implied that ministers, judges and lawyers have, because of financial gain, turned a blind eye to what he deemed as "cruel and unjust" death penalty laws.

On Monday, he wrote on Facebook that he unconditionally apologised for making the statements and unequivocally withdrew them.

Said Mr Thuraisingam: "There is no basis for me to have insinuated that judges have subordinated their judicial duty to financial greed or that they are more concerned, or preoccupied, with acquiring financial wealth and material goods which causes them to turn a blind eye to the injustice of the law they apply."

Mr Thuraisingam, who is an outspoken critic of the death penalty, told The Straits Times that he was told by the Attorney-General's Chambers and the Law Society that his original post was in contempt of court.

He said: "I agree. I have made a mistake. I have therefore apologised and withdrawn my statements."

He added that he was not asked to apologise or to take down his post.

Over the years, he has represented accused people facing the gallows on a pro bono basis under the Legal Assistance Scheme for Capital Offences (Lasco).

He received the Lasco Award last year for his commitment and service to the scheme.

His client, Ridzuan, had been found guilty of trafficking 72.5g of pure heroin in 2013.

Under the Misuse of Drugs Act, those convicted of trafficking more than 15g of diamorphine can be sentenced to death.

Ridzuan had filed an appeal and also sought a court review in 2014 of the decision by the Public Prosecutor not to grant him a certificate of substantive assistance, which would have made him eligible for a life sentence. He also took his case to the Court of Appeal for the third time by way of a criminal motion.

He was unsuccessful on all three attempts. He was also unsuccessful in his bid for clemency from the President.

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

PM Lee given deed of gift in official capacity: Minister

Straits Times
24 Jun 2017
Royston Sim

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was given a deed of gift relating to his late father's items in his official capacity, said Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong.

The deed for the donation and public exhibition of items belonging to the late founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew has become a point of contention in a dispute between his children over the future of his house at 38, Oxley Road.

In a Facebook post yesterday, Mr Wong said the items were for a major exhibition on Singapore's founding fathers - a matter the Government has to deliberate on. "It would therefore be normal and in order that the Prime Minister be kept informed about the contents and presentation of the exhibition," he said.

Dr Lee Wei Ling and Mr Lee Hsien Yang have accused their brother, PM Lee, of abusing his power to obtain the deed of gift directly from the National Heritage Board (NHB).

In a Facebook post on Monday, Mr Lee Hsien Yang said it is a "clear abuse of authority" if PM Lee acquired the deed in his public capacity. And if it was in his private capacity, he asked how other private citizens could go about acquiring confidential deeds of gift from NHB.

Yesterday, Mr Wong said PM Lee would also have been entitled to know of the exhibition and items from the estate if he asked in his private capacity, being Mr Lee's eldest son and a beneficiary of the estate.

Mr Wong added that the deed from the Lee siblings came with "several unusual conditions", unlike most donated items covered by NHB's standard agreement.

First, it stated that the executors of the estate could buy back all the items for $1, so long as the house at 38, Oxley Road was not demolished.

It also required NHB to prominently display the first part of the demolition clause from Mr Lee's will throughout the exhibition and its publicity materials. The first part of the will sets out Mr Lee's wish for the house to be demolished.

The siblings did not ask for the second part of the clause, in which the late Mr Lee asks for the house to remain off-limits to the public if it could not be demolished due to any changes in the law, rules or regulations, Mr Wong noted.

He said that after discussing the issue with Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, "we were concerned about the partial quote of the demolition clause from Mr Lee's will".

But they eventually decided not to pursue the matter and let NHB proceed with the exhibition, which opened in September 2015 and has been extended until now, he said.

Mr Wong, who was Minister for Culture, Community and Youth at the time, said he put out some facts yesterday to address the "misperceptions circulating around" and will give a fuller explanation on the issue when Parliament sits on July 3.

Mr Lee Hsien Yang responded to Mr Wong last night, saying the latter was "not telling the whole truth" and omitted to mention the deed was signed with then NHB chief executive Rosa Daniel on June 8, 2015.

NHB accepted the "unusual" conditions, and lorries came to collect the items on June 9, he said. But the next morning, he said, Mrs Daniel notified him that Mr Wong had "changed his mind".

"This was an important gift to the people of Singapore. Someone clearly did not want them reminded of Lee Kuan Yew's wish to demolish his house," he said. He included a copy of an e-mail he sent to Mrs Daniel summarising the events surrounding the deed of gift and the sibling's disappointment over the outcome.

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

M. Ravi's legal challenge against EP dismissed

Straits Times
16 Jun 2017
Charissa Yong

High Court judge finds human rights lawyer has no legal standing to bring challenge

A constitutional challenge to the elected presidency mounted by human rights lawyer M. Ravi was dismissed by a High Court judge yesterday.

Justice See Kee Oon found that Mr Ravi had no legal standing to bring the challenge.

The judge also found that recent changes to the elected presidency, as well as the entire scheme itself, which Mr Ravi had said were unconstitutional, had been validly passed and were legally effective.

Therefore, they did not contravene the Constitution.

On Facebook, Mr Ravi wrote that he was ordered to pay legal costs of $6,000, as well as reimburse the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) about $2,000 for their cost of filing court documents.

Deputy Attorney-General Hri Kumar Nair represented the AGC in the case, which was heard behind closed doors.

Mr Ravi, a non-practising lawyer who brought the case as a private citizen, argued that the entire elected presidency scheme set up in 1991 was unconstitutional.

He argued that the criteria which people must meet to run for president deprive citizens of their right to stand for public office.

He also contended that the changes to the elected presidency to ensure minority representation, which Parliament approved last November, discriminate on the grounds of ethnicity.

But Justice See found that Mr Ravi did not have the legal standing to bring the challenge as he did not meet at least one of the three criteria for a private citizen to mount a challenge relating to public law.

The three criteria are: He must have personal interest in the matter, he must prove there are special damages to him and there must be serious illegality going on.

Mr Ravi has a week - until June 22 - to file an appeal.

He had previously said on Facebook that he would appeal if he lost.

Earlier in the day, the court also dismissed three applications filed by Mr Ravi.

The first application was to disqualify Mr Nair, a retired People's Action Party (PAP) MP who has since left the party, from arguing the case. Mr Ravi contended that Mr Nair was partisan, and had a conflict of interest between representing the people and representing the PAP-led Government.

The second was to have the case heard in open court.

The third was to adjourn the hearing to a later date, pending another legal challenge related to the Constitution that he filed, Mr Ravi wrote on Facebook.


On Facebook, Mr Ravi wrote that he was ordered to pay legal costs of $6,000, as well as reimburse the Attorney-General's Chambers about $2,000 for their cost of filing court documents.

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

Looking back on S'pore's law scene

Straits Times
06 Jun 2017

As the Law Society turns 50 this year, top lawyers talk about the most memorable cases they have handled. Senior law correspondent K.C. Vijayan reports.

The latest issue of the Law Gazette gives the reader a front-row view of the last 50 years of Singapore's rich legal history, as told by the lawyers involved in some of the cases.

The special edition of the magazine is one of the highlights as the Law Society marks its Jubilee year with a host of events spread over this year.

Senior Counsel (SC) Lok Vi Ming, who chairs the 50th anniversary celebrations committee, said: "It is important that we celebrate the contributions of the men and women who quietly, but faithfully and generously, make time to teach, train and encourage young lawyers to love and respect the practice of law."

Several senior lawyers shared their experiences and views in the issue, as well as their most memorable cases. Fortis Law Corporation lawyer Patrick Tan, for instance, talked about how he had defended a man who "probably became the first known person in Singaporean history to get charged for trespassing onto the island of Pedra Branca". He recalled that the case happened in 2008, at about the time that Singapore and Malaysia were contesting ownership of the island at the International Court of Justice.

His Singaporean client, Mr Roger Lee, 39, was living in Batam at the time and wanted to return here.

"But he was broke, so he hired a boatman on a one-way trip. The plan was for the sampan to loiter... and wait for the Singapore Navy or Police Coast Guard to spot them, rescue my client and fetch him back to Singapore," said Mr Tan.

But the weather turned bad and the boatman got impatient, which meant the client had no choice but to land on Pedra Branca. He was arrested by the guards for criminal trespass, convicted and jailed for six weeks. "I did my best and mitigated for my client," said Mr Tan.

Veteran lawyer Malathi Das recalled the seven Law Society presidents she had worked with - Mr Chandra Mohan Nair, SC George Lim, SC R. Pala Krishnan, Mrs Arfat Selvam, SC Philip Jeyaretnam, SC Michael Hwang and SC Wong Meng Meng. She noted, for instance, that the late Pala Krishnan could persuade a person "by the sheer force of his personality". "People just could not refuse Pala because no excuse would work," she said.

She added that serving under the different presidents was a study in leadership that had "a tremendous influence" over her own leadership style.

In his message in the issue, Law Society president Gregory Vijayendran flagged three critical challenges - time-based charges, technology and talent. He said: "The backward look before the forward gaze is particularly apt."


TRIBUTE

It is important that we celebrate the contributions of the men and women who quietly, but faithfully and generously make time to teach, train and encourage young lawyers to love and respect the practice of law.

SENIOR COUNSEL LOK VI MING, who chairs the 50th anniversary celebrations committee.

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

Two parts to demolition clause in will: Indranee

Straits Times
24 Jun 2017
Royston Sim

Second part recognises that the Oxley Road house might not be demolished, she says

Mr Lee Kuan Yew's final will specifically accepts and acknowledges that demolition of his Oxley Road house may not take place, said Senior Minister of State for Law and Finance Indranee Rajah.

In a Facebook post yesterday, she cited a clause on demolishing 38, Oxley Road in the will, saying it shows demolition is not the only option the late Mr Lee considered.

The question of whether to demolish the house lies at the heart of a public feud between Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his siblings, Dr Lee Wei Ling and Mr Lee Hsien Yang.

Yesterday, Ms Indranee noted that there are two parts to the demolition clause.

The first part expresses the late Mr and Mrs Lee's wish to demolish the house, but the second recognises that the house may not be demolished for a number of reasons, she said.

She cited the second part, which states: "If our children are unable to demolish the house as a result of any changes in the laws, rules or regulations binding them, it is my wish that the house never be opened to others except my children, their families and descendants."

Ms Indranee said: "Much of the recent public discussion on this issue has been premised on the assumption that the seventh will only contemplates one outcome - demolition. But this is not the case. The will specifically accepts and acknowledges that demolition may not take place."

She also sought to clarify three other issues about the dispute, which became public on June 14 when Dr Lee and Mr Lee Hsien Yang issued a statement saying they had lost confidence in PM Lee, feared the use of state organs against them, and accused their brother of misusing his power, among other allegations.

As to why the Government is involved in the fate of the house, Ms Indranee said that while the inheritance of the late Mr Lee's estate is a private matter, what happens to the house is a matter of public interest.

Dr Lee and Mr Lee Hsien Yang have criticised the formation of a ministerial committee, chaired by Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, to consider options for the house. They alleged that the committee is focused solely on challenging the validity of the demolition clause in their father's will.

Ms Indranee said the Government has to be involved because the house is "not just any old piece of property. It is intertwined with the history of the nation".

It was where the country's founding fathers met to make important and historical decisions that led to internal self-government, merger and eventually independence, she said.

"The strategies to outflank the communists were developed there. It is where the People's Action Party was formed," she added.

After Mr Lee died on March 23, 2015, there were many calls to turn 38, Oxley Road into a museum or memorial, she noted.

The Government thus has a duty to consider the public interest and the historical and heritage perspective while "taking very seriously into account" the late Mr Lee's wishes, she said.

In any case, the house cannot be demolished now, she noted, because Dr Lee is still living there - as stipulated in Mr Lee's will.

It may be decades before a definite decision needs to be taken, and the Cabinet at that time will have to decide, she said.

"Most of the current Cabinet ministers are unlikely to be in the Cabinet then," she added.

Ms Indranee also reiterated that PM Lee was not involved in government deliberations on the house.

PM Lee had stated in Parliament on April 13, 2015 that as a son, he would like to see his parents' wishes carried out.

"However, as Prime Minister, he would have to consider whether it is in the wider public interest to demolish the house given its historical significance. The answer to this may be different from his parents' or his own personal wishes," she said.

"It is a very difficult dilemma for him. For this reason, the Prime Minister has recused himself from taking part in any government consideration or decisions regarding 38, Oxley Road."


What the clause in final will states

There are two parts in a clause to demolish the 38, Oxley Road house in the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew's final will, which are at the heart of the dispute between the Lee siblings. Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Dr Lee Wei Ling have focused on the first part, but the second part shows that the late Mr Lee had considered the possibility that the house might be preserved. The clause states:

"I further declare that it is my wish and the wish of my late wife, Kwa Geok Choo, that our house at 38 Oxley Road, Singapore 238629 be demolished immediately after my death, or if my daughter Wei Ling would prefer to continue living in the original house, immediately after she moves out of the house. I would ask each of my children to ensure our wishes with respect to the demolition of the house be carried out.

If our children are unable to demolish the house as a result of any changes in the laws, rules or regulations binding them, it is my wish that the house never be opened to others except my children, their families and descendants.

My view on this has been made public before and remains unchanged."

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

PM questions the role of brother, wife in making of final will

Straits Times
16 Jun 2017
Charissa Yong

Document differed markedly from its previous version, which did not have a clause on demolition of Oxley Road house

SINGAPORE - Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong raised questions about the role of his brother Hsien Yang and sister-in-law, lawyer Lee Suet Fern, in preparing the seventh and final version of the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew's will, in a lengthy statement issued by his lawyers on Thursday (June 15) night.

The document differed markedly from its previous version, in that it gave equal shares of their father's estate to all three of his children.

This was a reversal of a decision that the late Mr Lee had made in his second-last will, in which Dr Lee Wei Ling, his only daughter, was given an extra share of the estate.

The other key difference was the inclusion of a clause stating that the late Mr Lee wanted his house at 38, Oxley Road demolished after his death.

The clause had been in the first, second, third and fourth wills, but was not in the fifth and sixth ones.

In his statement, PM Lee quoted e-mails exchanged by his family members, and recounted the series of events that "led him to be very troubled by the circumstances surrounding the last will".

He also disclosed his sister Wei Ling once held "grave suspicions" that the removal of her extra share of the estate was "instigated" by her brother Hsien Yang and his wife.

PM Lee said his father changed his mind on giving Wei Ling an extra share after discussions with Mr Lee Hsien Yang and his wife.

Unlike all the previous wills, the final one was not prepared by their cousin, Ms Kwa Kim Li, a lawyer at Lee & Lee, the firm co-founded by the late Mr Lee and his wife Kwa Geok Choo.

Instead, it had been prepared by lawyers from Mrs Lee's law firm.

This happened after Ms Kwa was removed from an email list regarding the last will on Dec 16, 2013, by Mr Lee Hsien Yang.

He told his father he could not get in touch with Ms Kwa and believed she was away.

He also said he thought it was not wise to wait for her to return and suggested having lawyers from his wife's law firm, including a partner of the firm, prepare the will and witness the signing.

On Thursday (June 15), PM Lee questioned the decision, saying that it was unclear what efforts his brother had made to get in touch with Ms Kwa.

Ms Kwa had also said to Mrs Lee that she did not receive an email sent by her immediately before being removed by her husband from the email chain.

PM Lee said it was not clear why his brother thought there was an urgency to the signing of the last will.

"It is however interesting that he suggested that his wife, clearly an interested party, and her partners would prepare the new will," he said.

He also cited emails showing that in the space of 41 minutes at night, Mrs Lee had seen to the preparation of the new will and had one of her colleagues to be on standby to get it signed by the late Mr Lee.

The next morning, he signed the final will in the presence of two lawyers from Mrs Lee's law firm, then called Stamford Law Corporation. It is now known as now Morgan Lewis Stamford LLC.

PM Lee noted that the two lawyers, Mr Bernard Lui and Ms Elizabeth Kong, were present at his father's house for "15 minutes only, including the time for logging into and out from the property".

"They plainly came only to witness Mr Lee signing the last will and not to advise him," he said.

Neither he nor his sister were copied in the emails on the last will.

PM Lee also questioned the re-insertion of the demolition clause into the final will, when the change the late Mr Lee had wanted only concerned the share of the house which Dr Lee was to get.

He also recounted how he went to look up old family emails, after he and his brother disagreed over whether the house should be immediately demolished during the reading of the last will.

At PM Lee's request, his brother forwarded him copies of other emails which had nothing to do with the last will.

But PM Lee said his brother "cut out and did not send me the incriminating exchanges in the email chain that followed".

These deleted parts showed Mr Lee Hsien Yang's and his wife's involvement in the making of the last will in December 2013.

PM Lee said that he continued to have grave concerns about the events surrounding the last will.

He also said he was not aware of any facts that suggested his father was informed or advised about all the changes that were made when he signed the last will.

"In fact, there is no evidence that Mr Lee even knew that the demolition clause had been re-inserted into the last will," added PM Lee.

In his statement, he listed a series of questions he had, including whether his father gave specific instructions to re-insert the demolition clause in the last will, and if so to whom.

He also asked about what role Mrs Lee played in the preparation and signing of the last will, and whether she, her fellow lawyers, and her law firm had a conflict of interest.

Said PM Lee: "Without proper and complete answers to these questions, the serious doubts about whether Mr Lee was properly and independently advised on the contents of the last will before he signed it cannot be cleared."


EXTRACT OF PM LEE'S STATUTORY DECLARATION

The Demolition Clause in the Last Will is now being used by Dr Lee Wei Ling ("LWL") and Mr Lee Hsien Yang ("LHY") to claim that Mr Lee was firm in his wish that the house at 38, Oxley Road (the "House") be demolished, and that he was not prepared to accept its preservation or contemplate options short of demolition. There is no basis for these claims, not least because of the deeply troubling circumstances concerning the making of the Last Will...

LSF's (Lee Suet Fern's) e-mail distinctly and clearly gave Mr Lee the impression that the new will would change only the division of shares, with the result that each child would have an equal share, just like in the First Will. Yet, the Last Will that LSF and her law firm prepared and got Mr Lee to sign went beyond that. Significantly, they re-inserted the Demolition Clause, even though that clause does not appear to have been discussed at the time of the making of the Last Will and had in fact been removed by Mr Lee from his immediately prior two wills (the Fifth and Sixth Wills)...

My concerns are heightened by what appears to be a conflict of interest: LSF was involved in the preparation and/or signing of the Last Will, while her husband, LHY, was a beneficiary under the Last Will and stood to gain by the removal of LWL's extra share in the Estate under the Last Will.

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

$1,400 car sale dispute in 1973 became a landmark case

Straits Times
06 Jun 2017

For emeritus lawyer Michael Hwang, fighting a case involving only $1,400 in 1973 through three courts holds special meaning.

Dr Hwang's client, a second-hand car dealer who sold an eight-year-old BMW to a Royal Air Force officer, took the buyer to court for rejecting the car after about two weeks' use.

The buyer, a Mr Kerr, had given his client a post-dated cheque for March 1, 1970, for $1,400 but stopped payment on Feb 28, claiming the car was not roadworthy due to some mechanical problems.

Dr Hwang's client sued and won in the District Court for $1,400 and costs, but lost when Mr Kerr appealed to the High Court, which ruled the car was not roadworthy.

The client insisted on a further appeal to the top court presided by then Chief Justice Wee Chong Jin. Dr Hwang, a Senior Counsel, said he was "fearful the Court would reprimand me for bringing such a trivial case to the Court of Appeal".

Instead, the court heard him out "quietly" and ruled for his client, holding the defects complained of were to be expected of a second-hand vintage car.

"The case was a landmark in the law of the sale of a second-hand vehicle," said Dr Hwang, who was a former judicial commissioner.

He explained that if the car was not rejected after two weeks, the buyer would be deemed to have accepted the car unless defects making the car unroadworthy were not discoverable within the two weeks.

"The case represents my first positive contribution to the case law of Singapore and is a memory I will always treasure," he said.

Dr Hwang is also a former Law Society president. He runs his own firm here and is a non-resident Chief Justice of the Dubai International Financial Centre Courts.

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

Two ways to preserve buildings and sites

Straits Times
24 Jun 2017
Tham Yuen-C

The discussion on the late founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew's house has put the spotlight on heritage and conservation.

Since the 1970s, the Government has gazetted more than 7,000 buildings for conservation, and 72 as national monuments.

These are the two main ways by which buildings, structures and sites with historical significance are preserved.

Conservation, done as part of urban planning, comes under the Urban Redevelopment Authority. It has said in the past that it consults advisers - from architects to tour guides - on these old buildings.

When a building is marked for conservation, the owner cannot change its external facade, original structure and defining features, but the interior can be modified.

Conservation buildings comprise largely shophouses and bungalows. But in recent years, warehouses, a former market and even bridges have made the list.

Designating a building or site as a national monument is the highest preservation status here. Besides the architectural merits and historical value of the building, factors such as social significance and importance to the country's heritage are considered.

The Preservation of Sites and Monuments, a division under the National Heritage Board, is the national authority that advises the Government on the matter. It is responsible for identifying worthy buildings, commissioning research on them and determining the best method of preservation. Its advisory board consists of people from the public and private sectors. The Preservation of Sites and Monuments derives its powers from the Preservation of Monuments Act.

When such buildings are private dwellings, the authorities will seek the owners' consent. The Government can also acquire the property under the Land Acquisition Act if the owners are unwilling.

An example of a house gazetted as a national monument is the House of Tan Yeok Nee, built by the wealthy merchant between 1882 and 1885. It is one of four houses built in the traditional southern Chinese style, with large internal courtyards and decorative wood carvings. Gazetted as a national monument on Nov 19, 1974, it is still privately owned.

The Istana Kampong Gelam, where descendants of former sultan Hussein Shah lived, was gazetted for conservation in 1999, and as a national monument in 2015. The sultan was the 19th-century ruler of the Johor Sultanate, which Singapore was part of. Beneficiaries and tenants who moved out when the 174-year-old building was conserved were awarded a total of $350,000 a year for 30 years.

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

Noble stock sinks as ex-CEO sues founder for HK$450m

Business Times
15 Jun 2017
Hoe Pei Shan

Yusuf Alireza, who did not name Noble as a defendant, alleges shares due to him were not transferred

SINGAPORE mainboard-listed Noble Group's stock sank on Wednesday as news broke of a lawsuit filed by former CEO Yusuf Alireza against company founder and chairman emeritus Richard Elman over HK$450 million (S$79.2 million) in shares related to alleged contract breaches.

Mr Alireza, who was appointed CEO in 2012 but abruptly left the Hong Kong-based embattled commodity trader in May 2016, filed the suit with Hong Kong's High Court, according to a Bloomberg report published on Wednesday.

Noble is not named as a defendant in the writ of summons, which mainly lays out claims against Mr Elman, the trader's largest shareholder with an 18.5 per cent stake.

According to the writ, Mr Elman gave Mr Alireza six months' notice of termination after the latter raised "concerns over the future viability" of Noble Group and made various recommendations in May 2016.

Mr Alireza claims he had a deal that would have seen him receive about 63.9 million fully-paid shares in Noble for starting work at the company, and an additional 52.3 million shares when his employment was terminated, but alleges those shares have not been transferred.

When contacted by The Business Times on Wednesday, Mr Elman's Hong Kong office said he would not be able to respond before press time.

Noble Group's stock fell 6.2 per cent to close at 30.5 Singapore cents, near the lowest since 2000.

The trader's shares have collapsed 83 per cent over the past year, extending the company's troubles since antagonist outfit Iceberg Research first raised questions about Noble's accounting methods in February 2015.

Iceberg's initial report accused Noble of having inflated its bottom line through over-bullish price projections, claims which Noble rejected and dismissed as work of a disgruntled ex-employee.

But the trader has since been hit by a series of setbacks, including significant losses, a collapse in its securities, downgrades to its credit rating and uncertainty over its ability to fund its debt.

Last year, Noble tried to reset its business with the sale of its US energy solutions unit after Mr Alireza left, an exit from European power and gas and a reduction in its metals business.

The company's market value has slumped to just over S$400 million from more than US$10 billion at the end of 2010.

Amid what appeared to be a worsening crisis, Mr Elman stepped down from his position as executive chairman last month, citing the need to make "changes to the board to ensure that it is 'fit for purpose' to oversee our emerging slimmer business profile".

Less than two weeks later, Reuters reported that Sinochem International Corporation was no longer pursuing an investment in Noble due to concerns over the finances and business outlook of the loss-making commodity trader, quoting three sources familiar with the matter.

Mr Alireza's lawsuit, which also names Fleet Overseas (New Zealand) Ltd as a defendant, is the second suit from a former Noble CEO. His predecessor, Ricardo Leiman, filed a lawsuit in Singapore five years ago over claims that US$12.9 million in bonus and rights to 67.7 million restricted shares and options in a trust had been wrongly withheld.

Noble has said that Mr Leiman was not owed compensation because he had been in discussions to set up a rival business while still on a US$350,000-a-year advisory contract with Noble.

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

Doctors are not expected to mind-read: Forum

Straits Times
06 Jun 2017

There has been some confusion about the new medical negligence test set out by the Court of Appeal recently.

One of the misconceptions is that the patient's opinion in hindsight will trump the expert views of the doctor and his peers, and that doctors will now have to be mind-readers and guess what obscure information the patient could possibly want to know, even if he does not bring it to the doctor's attention.

In his letter (Engage patients? Yes, but don't expect doctors to mind-read; May 27), Mr Edmund Khoo Kim Hock states that a doctor cannot be expected to read his patient's mind, so he must not be held responsible for not predicting the inner concerns of a patient which were not divulged at the clinic.

This is erroneous, as it suggests that the Court of Appeal has unfairly placed an impossible burden on doctors without bearing in mind the practicalities of medical practice.

The Court held that doctors must give relevant and material information to a patient, and information they know would be important to a reasonable patient in that patient's shoes, even if the patient does not require it.

The information must be given in a way that the patient can understand. This is to ensure the patient can make an informed decision.

It is also incorrect to suggest that the new test for medical negligence focuses on the patient's judgment of the doctor's advice in hindsight.

In its judgment, the Court of Appeal specifically warned against "hindsight bias" and "outcome bias".

It has pointed out the critical importance of ensuring that the courts, in evaluating whether the doctor has met the requisite standard of care in any aspect of his interaction with the patient, should apply the relevant tests with reference only to the facts that were known at the time of the material event.

The Court has also emphasised that the doctor's duty is to take reasonable care, and that he is not expected to meet "unrealistic standards of behaviour".

This means that consideration must be given to the situation of the doctor, who is "not required to ensure that the patient fully comprehends the information given, but only to take reasonable care in this and other respects".

Terence Seah

Partner

Virtus Law LLP

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

Republic lauded for efforts to help troubled firms

Straits Times
23 Jun 2017
K.C. Vijayan

Singapore's efforts to be positioned as a major restructuring and insolvency hub received a boost in London on Wednesday when it was named the Most Improved Jurisdiction, fending off the likes of Germany, India and other nominees at an international awards event.

The inaugural award by the Global Restructuring Review (GRR) recognised recent ground-breaking legislative changes made by Singapore to its debt restructuring framework, resulting in a hybrid regime that incorporates the best features of the world's leading regimes, said the Law Ministry yesterday.

Senior Minister of State for Law Indranee Rajah said the recognition was significant because "we are positioning Singapore as a restructuring centre in Asia and it is the first time we have won these awards".

She added on the sidelines of the ground-breaking ceremony for Maxwell Chambers Suites: "In the past few years, we've seen many companies which have had difficulties. There's Swiber, there's Ezra, there's Hanjin Shipping. There's clearly a need in Asia for a place where such companies can be restructured, and Singapore has positioned itself to be such a place."

GRR is a daily information service providing cross-border insolvency and restructuring news, features and events.

Singapore also received the award for Most Important Overall Development, for the guidelines on cross-border insolvency matters that were drawn up and released by the Judicial Insolvency Network (JIN).

The JIN, made up of judges from 10 jurisdictions, including the Singapore Supreme Court, met in Singapore last year to discuss and draw up the guidelines.

Two Singapore High Court decisions were also nominated for Most Important Recognition Decision and Cross Border Cooperation in a Specific Insolvency or Restructuring Matter.

The inaugural GRR Awards celebrate the most important firms, cases and marketplace developments in cross-border restructuring and insolvency, said the ministry.

In awarding Singapore the Most Improved Jurisdiction prize, accepted by Justice Kannan Ramesh at the event, the organisers noted that the Republic had made changes to its Companies Act relating to restructuring and insolvency. It had also introduced refinements to its scheme of arrangement incorporating elements from abroad.

The Law Ministry thanked all local and international contributors who had made the results possible. and said it "looks forward to extending these strong partnerships as we continue to strengthen Singapore as a centre for international debt restructuring in Asia".


GROWING NEED FOR SUCH WORK

In the past few years, we've seen many companies which have had difficulties. There's Swiber, there's Ezra, there's Hanjin Shipping. There's clearly a need in Asia for a place where such companies can be restructured, and Singapore has positioned itself to be such a place.

SENIOR MINISTER OF STATE FOR LAW INDRANEE RAJAH

Additional reporting by Prisca Ang

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

Actor Edmund Chen and consultant sue each other over defamation claims

Straits Times
15 Jun 2017
Shaffiq Idris Alkhatib

Working relationship goes awry after Edmund Chen hires her to promote and sell a book

A popular local actor and a woman who worked with his company are now locked in defamation claims against each other.

Local celebrity Edmund Chen, 56, has accused public relations and marketing consultant Karen Ho Kai Lun of sending defamatory WhatsApp messages to at least 11 people, including his business clients, between February and April.

The actor, who is known as Mr Tan Kai Yuan in court papers, is director of event production company Asiatainment.

Ms Ho, 30, is accusing him of defaming her via Facebook posts.

According to court documents obtained by The Straits Times, Mr Tan felt Ms Ho allegedly defamed him after she was told they would no longer be working together.

He is claiming damages for libel from Ms Ho and filed the case against her on April 28.

Ms Ho is accusing him of repeatedly publishing comments she alleged were defamatory to her on his Facebook page in April.

She is also claiming damages and filed the case against him on May 17.

The court documents for both parties do not specify the amounts each is seeking.

Mr Tan is represented by lawyers Samuel Seow Theng Beng and Shaun Marc Lew from Samuel Seow Law Corporation.

His amended statement of claim dated May 4 states that Mr Tan is the author and illustrator of a book titled My Little Red Dot.

The claim says: "In or about (September last year, Asiatainment) agreed to engage (Ms Ho) for her services to promote and sell (the book) on behalf of the company in exchange for valuable consideration." But the company subsequently took issue with how Ms Ho represented herself to third parties when promoting and selling the book.

On Feb 14 this year, Mr Tan told her that they would no longer be working together from the following day. The claim states: "At all material times, (Ms Ho) was never an employee of (Asiatainment) and no notice period was therefore necessary." It also says that after this, she allegedly sent out the WhatsApp messages which Mr Tan claims were defamatory.

Mr Tan's claim stated that he came across as having "acted irresponsibly" and was "avoiding" his company's clients.

Ms Ho is represented by lawyer Nicolas Tang Tze Hao from Farallon Law. Her statement of claim states that Mr Tan posted alleged defamatory remarks against her on Facebook on four occasions between April 11 and 21.

Her claim states that some of the words on his Facebook post made it seem that she was a criminal and a cheat. The claim goes on to say: "At the relevant times, Facebook had millions of users, all of whom had free and open access to the words.

"It can be inferred that a large and unquantifiable number of users in Singapore and around the world read the articles."

Her claim also states that the words were republished on other platforms such as the national press and on various websites.

She then demanded, through her lawyers, that he publish an apology on his Facebook page, and several newspapers are to be alerted to the posting. The cases are pending.

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

Of care and control

Business Times
06 Jun 2017
Sharanjit Kaur & Philippa Hewitt

Getting parents to act in their children's best interests will remain a challenge in the courts and in society

How to minimise the impact of a relationship breakdown and separation on children is a concern of family judges the world over. Research shows that children do better if they have regular contact with both parents and if they witness as little conflict as possible. This is of course easier said than done, and even when parents believe they are acting in the best interests of their children, conflict and arguments over how much time and the quality of time each parent then enjoys with their children, continue to be a source of contention.

This has recently been highlighted by the High Court in Singapore in the case of BNS v BNT. This case involved an expatriate couple and their children, aged 10 and 11 at the time of the hearing. In Singapore the court can make orders for custody, care and control and access in respect of children. In this case, the parties were able to agree on joint custody, which reflected the fact that both parents had and wanted to continue to have, an active role in the children's lives, and which gave effect to the principle in Singaporean legislation of joint and enduring parental responsibility. The question before the court was whether the order should be made for sole care and control and defined access as requested by the mother, or shared care and control as requested by the father. Care and control means the day-to-day care of the children and generally defines with whom they live with.

Although there are some differences with Hong Kong and England and Wales, the comments made by the High Court in this case reflect sentiments which are very familiar in all three jurisdictions and some comparison was made with English jurisprudence in support of the father's position. The court in each jurisdiction has the best interest of the children at the heart of their considerations. All three jurisdictions also grapple with the problems that arise from parents feeling as if they have "lost" or "won" the children. Terminology, therefore, has become an important element of the law relating to children in order to reduce this negative sentiment. Courts in all three jurisdictions often try to explain to the parties that each play an important role in raising their children, despite the fact that court orders have to be made on their behalf.

This is very evident in the judgement in BNS v BNT where the judge says "as a practical matter, it is inevitable that each parent, loving and concerned, comes into the parenting space with different skills, thought processes, values and approaches". "It is thus their common responsibility to ensure that their children benefit from the full measure of their differentiated abilities."

Therefore, the modern approach in the three jurisdictions is to recognise the benefits of both parents and thus to provide as much time with both as possible, within reason and within the practical limits of the children's schedules, but with the benefit of the child in mind at all times.

In this case, the father was successful in his application for a greater degree of access, which included more time during the week, including staying access. Thus, in real terms the week was divided between them, as were the weekends and the holidays. However, the court did not go so far in this case to make an order for shared care and control.

The father argued that shared care would send a message to the mother that his time was as important and that she should not do anything to undermine this. The mother on the other hand argued that this was a case where the parties had not been able to agree on anything in respect of the children and therefore an order for shared care was simply unworkable and impractical.

The judge agreed with the mother in this respect. Note was duly given to the fact that this mother had been the primary carer of the children under an interim order for the last six years. It was in the context of the mother's primary care that increased access was allowed by the court. The parties did not have "de facto" shared care and control, but rather this was a case where it was more appropriate to give care and control to one parent and liberal access to the other.

Where, as here, there were significant and palpable dislike and disagreement, the court found that arguments over day-to-day issues could have potentially a significant and negative longer-term impact on the children. Shared care and control would not aid the father as he thought it may and in fact could be disruptive to the children's sense of stability.

Terminology

In Hong Kong, the terminology of custody, care and control and access is the same, but there is no concept of parental responsibility enshrined in the legislation, and disputes as to custody are regularly before the courts as well as arguments as to care and control. As in Singapore, care and control means the day-to-day care of a child and involves the mundane but important aspects of a child's life including a host of decisions that arise out of the fact that the parent has physical control of the child and the responsibility of attending to the child's immediate care. The law in relation to children in Hong Kong is under review.

In one case before the Family Court, the mother sought joint custody with joint care and control, and the father sought sole custody with defined access to the mother. During the hearing the parties agreed that "care" of the children should vest in whichever parent was looking after the children at that time which reflected the wishes of the children that whoever had them at any given time "had the go". The final order was sole custody to the father (so he made final decisions for the children) with "an order that the care of the boys be shared between the parents". The order then set out the manner in which the care should take place. There was no separate order for access.

With joint care and control, both parents would be involved in the schooling and extracurricular activity schedule, and time would be shared, although not necessarily on a 50/50 basis. Such an order would normally denote a high level of cooperation between the parents.

Family Court judges have considerable discretion when it comes to children and a variety of orders can be made, but a judge is unlikely to give joint custody or shared care where there is significant conflict, unless giving an order which did not denote a party winning or losing is in fact in the best interests of the children. Then an order setting out the arrangements can be made without reference to care and control and access in an attempt to avoid emotive terminology.

Family law in England and Wales has taken consideration of terminology in children's matters to another level in an effort to encourage parents to adopt less rigid positions. The Children's Act in 1989 did away with the old terminology of custody, care and control and access and replaced it with parental responsibility, residence and contact.

As it was found that parents still viewed themselves as winners and losers even after the change in terminology, this was in turn amended in 2014 by the Children and Families Act (CFA) with the introduction of Care Arrangement Orders. The origin of this was from the Family Justice Review in 2011 which was commissioned to review family law as a whole in an attempt to reduce delays in court. It was recognised that one of the most contentious areas was in respect of shared parenting.

The review concluded with the warning that any future legislation should not give the impression in respect of a particular amount of time with the child - the point was quality not quantity of time. There is therefore no presumption of shared care in the CFA and the Children's Act was amended to specifically reflect that.

The new law set out that there was a presumption of parental involvement: not shared care but a message that each parent has a valuable role to play in the child's life, and the introduction of care arrangement orders which specified with whom the child was to live and when the child was to live with any other person. These orders should be made following compulsory mediation which came in at the same time.

Therefore, the judge in BNS v BNT was right to state that English cases reflect a different statutory context, but in real terms parents behave in similar ways the world over and the difficulties faced by the judiciary in Singapore, Hong Kong and England have much in common. Terminology is helpful where it reduces emotive language, but persuading parents to truly act in their children's best interests is likely to continue to be a challenge in the courts and in society as a whole.


Sharanjit Kaur is Partner, Withers KhattarWong; and Philippa Hewitt is Professional Support Lawyer, Withers Worldwide

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

Singapore law firm in global top 30

Straits Times
23 Jun 2017
K.C. Vijayan

WongPartnership became the only Singapore firm ranked on the Global Restructuring Review's (GRR) global top 30 law firms list for insolvency and restructuring.

Called the GRR30, these firms top a list of 100 firms identified by GRR in its guide to the world's best cross-border practices "as a safe pair of hands for carrying out insolvency and restructuring work with an international dimension".

WongPartnership, the only national firm from Asia in the top 30, was selected based on its track record, value of current cross-border restructuring and insolvency cases and the number of such active matters handled in the last two years.

The Singapore giant was also nominated for two other awards at the GRR Awards dinner held in London on Wednesday.

Mr Manoj Pillay Sandrasegara, the joint head of the firm's restructuring and insolvency practice who attended the London event, said: "The innovative legislative amendments by our Government has been a game changer in strengthening Singapore's ability to help troubled companies in the region rehabilitate effectively."

He said the firm was honoured by the international recognition of its practice, which he said was on the forefront of developments shaping Singapore's restructuring and insolvency laws. "For this, we thank our valued clients who continue to entrust to us, their most complex and important cross-border insolvency matters."

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

Watchdog: Pink Dot ads have not breached code

Straits Times
15 Jun 2017
Tan Tam Mei

Asas explains request to remove tagline after its move sparks debate online

Singapore's advertising watchdog yesterday clarified that Pink Dot advertisements at Cathay Cineleisure Orchard have not breached its code, specifically the section dealing with family values.

Instead, the Advertising Standards Authority of Singapore (Asas) requested the tagline "Supporting the freedom to love" on the banners to be removed as advertisements in public spaces should be "prepared with a sense of responsibility to public sentiments" and avoid contributing to "heightened public sensitivities".

Asas also explained it made the request after receiving feedback on the ads. Meanwhile, the organisers of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rally said there are no plans to change the ads.

Asas' explanation came after its request last Thursday for Pink Dot and Cathay to remove the tagline ignited debate online.

The ads for the annual LGBT rally are up on the front door panels and along an escalator inside the mall, and had drawn complaints from a Facebook group which is opposed to the event.

In a statement yesterday, Asas' chairman, Professor Tan Sze Wee, said the council makes decisions through a vote when it receives feedback on advertisements.

He added that Asas had received public feedback on the Pink Dot advertisements, but it could not disclose the source of any feedback it receives.

Prof Tan said: "Members will have one vote, and all decisions will be (made) by a simple majority of the members present. In the event that the votes are divided, the chairman will have a casting vote.

"Any member of Asas who has a vested interest in a dispute must immediately declare that interest and be absent from all deliberations."

Asas had voted after receiving feedback on the Pink Dot advertisements and concluded it did not breach the Singapore Code of Advertising Practice (Scap), and made the suggestion for the tagline to be removed.

The advertising watchdog, which comes under the Consumers Association of Singapore, was set up to promote ethical advertising while reflecting community standards. There are currently 27 council members who are appointed by their respective organisations, representing industry players such as advertising agencies, media owners and government agencies.

It is able to rule on disputes and can issue sanctions on advertisers or agencies who breach the code by withholding advertising space or time, and withdrawing trading privileges through its members.

Asas can also name errant advertisers and refer matters to Case for action under the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act when it encounters recalcitrant advertisers who make false, misleading or unsubstantiated claims.

In 2015, Asas ordered eatery OverEasy Orchard at Liat Towers to remove an ad that was deemed indecent and in breach of the Scap. The ad that featured three scantily clad women exposing their buttocks and the tagline "Seriously sexy buns. Two are better than one. Smack that, Aug 2015" was taken down soon after.

When contacted yesterday, Pink Dot organisers said that Asas had not reached out to them and reiterated that they were open to having a "frank discussion" on the matter.

A Cathay spokesman had earlier said it was not in the position to decide on the removal of the tagline as ownership of the ad belonged to Pink Dot.


Asas' explanation came after its request last Thursday for Pink Dot and Cathay to remove the tagline ignited debate online. The ads for the annual LGBT rally are up on the front door panels and along an escalator inside the mall, and had drawn complaints from a Facebook group which is opposed to the event.

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

Questions raised over new unemployment insurance platform

Business Times
06 Jun 2017
Claire Huang

How does Bandboo ensure consumer protection? How is it accountable?

The business model of new peer-to-peer (P2P) insurance platform Bandboo has come under the spotlight, with insurance players and observers having raised questions about consumer protection and accountability.

Founded last year, the startup launched its blockchain-enabled unemployment insurance platform - Singapore's first - in May.

Bandboo works on the basis of individuals coming together to insure one another against job loss. The startup had said that premiums and payout records would be transparent, a situation "made possible through the open blockchain ledger".

A blockchain is a digital ledger of economic transactions that distributes information but which cannot be copied or corrupted.

To be covered under Bandboo's unemployment insurance contract lasting a year, a consumer pays a monthly membership fee on top of a monthly premium of S$35.

Those who are retrenched will receive three months' salary capped at a total of S$18,000, spread over five months.

But there are conditions attached. For example, there has to be a no-claim period and a minimum employment period before the job loss.

Based on the interest of applicants, Ashley Kee, Bandboo's co-founder and chief executive, said he expects to successfully get 1,000 customers on board by next month.

But, as enterprising as some observers think the concept is, they are asking how Bandboo will manage the payouts if there is massive retrenchment and most of its customers make claims.

These observers say unemployment is a risk that is difficult to assess and quantify, so insurers typically do not provide such coverage; they add that when retrenchment hits, it can affect a good number of workers.

A senior executive pointed out that the challenge for Bandboo is to "gain enough scale to sustain liabilities", given that those who paid for the claims made would likely feel "short-changed".

When asked, Bandboo said the yearly premium of S$420 "is forecasted to sustain a claim rate that is approximately three times the national average retrenchment figures".

If the retrenchment rate rises, Bandboo will seek to revise the premiums on a quarterly basis. For example, the current retrenchment rate is one per cent, but if it rises to two per cent, Bandboo would have to raise the premiums accordingly, in relation to the risk.

Mr Kee said: "We on-board customers through a proprietary algorithm which takes into account many factors to determine their risk profiles. Our role as platform administrator is to ensure that the platform takes in users across multiple industries to balance out the risk. If we have too many applicants from a certain industry or a particular applicant is flagged to be high-risk, we may, at our discretion, delay on-boarding these customers till we have more applicants from other industries. This is not a new concept and is a common practice across the insurance industry."

The platform is running on a flat-fee model for the first year, but there are plans to turn to dynamic pricing, similar to that of the Uber and Grab private-hire car services. This will mean that premiums would be adjusted according to a customer's risk profile, for instance.

As an additional safety net, Bandboo said it would insure itself and is now in talks with two European reinsurers.

Another key issue raised was regulation and accountability of the firm.

Bandboo states clearly on its website that it is not regulated by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) as an insurer; therefore, its members are not covered under the Policy Owners' Protection (PPF) Scheme.

In Singapore, insurers are licensed and supervised by MAS, which requires them to have sound risk-management systems and adequate internal controls. For example, insurers must set aside mandatory capital as a buffer, in case they wind up.

The PPF scheme, which is on top of the capital-adequacy requirement, essentially protects existing and future policyowners, in case a life or general insurer, which is a member of this scheme, fails. For example, policyowners receive 100 per cent protection for the guaranteed benefits of their life insurance policies, subject to maximum caps where applicable.

Asked about accountability, Bandboo told The Business Times that the premiums collected are placed in an escrow account held by a trust. Mr Kee and Ou Zhiqi, co-founder and chief operating officer, said: "Funds held in the client trust account are not able to be withdrawn unless the proper authorisations have been granted, with joint signatories and a third-party trust administrator."

Asked why Bandboo, which uses insurance terms to market itself, was not assessed to be an insurer, MAS replied that the P2P platform does not "assume the insurance risks of individuals by making good any shortfall when claims exceed pooled contributions; nor does it arrange for contracts of insurance between the individuals and external insurers".

"A P2P platform that chooses to additionally undertake either of these two types of activities will have to be licensed as an insurer or as an insurance intermediary respectively," MAS said. It added that this regulatory approach is similar that in other jurisdictions.

The regulator said it expects platforms like Bandboo to disclose "clearly and prominently" their unregulated status and their consumers' lack of access to safeguards such as the Financial Industry Dispute Resolution Centre (Fidrec) and PPF.

MAS said it is planning in the coming months to raise consumer awareness of P2P models through its financial-education arm, MoneySense.

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

Strong take-up drives expansion at Maxwell Chambers

Business Times
23 Jun 2017
Lee Meixian

The Ministry of Law (MinLaw) on Thursday announced that 65 per cent of the new office space at 28 Maxwell Road has already been taken up even before refurbishment works begin.

To meet the strong leasing demand, the ministry will build a second annexe block to add 3,500 square feet (sq ft) of office space, on top of the 120,000 sq ft expansion that was originally planned.

The whole development has also been renamed Maxwell Chambers Suites to reflect its new role as an integral part of Singapore's dispute resolution ecosystem, Indranee Rajah, Senior Minister of State for Law and Finance, said in her keynote address at the groundbreaking ceremony.

When completed in 2019, Maxwell Chambers Suites will also provide a 24-hour public thoroughfare to allow easier pedestrian access between Tanjong Pagar MRT station and the Chinatown area.

In all, Maxwell Chambers Suites will provide about 50 new offices over four floors for international dispute resolution institutions, arbitration chambers, law firms and ancillary legal services.

Existing tenants have also decided to expand their floor plates, with The Arbitration Chambers and One Essex Court more than doubling the floor space of their offices.

MinLaw in January this year said it would be taking over the conserved building at 28 Maxwell Road, where the Red Dot Traffic Building once stood, for the expansion of Maxwell Chambers.

This is in line with the ministry's plans to take dispute resolution work in Singapore up another notch. It has identified investor-state dispute settlement as a new growth area for dispute resolution work in Singapore.

This refers to resolving investment disputes between foreign investors and host states. For example, if an investor put his money in a highway project, and the host government did something to impede the construction of the infrastructure, this matter would require arbitration to resolve. Such work typically involves complex and high-stake cases.

As at June 2017, around 10 investment arbitration hearings were held or are going to be held in Singapore this year, double the number in 2013.

Ms Rajah said: "Locally, we already have expertise in this area. A couple of our senior counsels, Mr Andre Yeap and Mr Alvin Yeo, have already been involved in cases like these, and there are others as well who have been advising...

"There are also international practitioners in the space who are doing it elsewhere at the moment. We would like to attract them to come here and do their arbitrations here. And with the expansion of Maxwell Chambers Suites, it will be a very conducive environment for investor-state arbitration," she told reporters.

Maxwell Chambers is the second most preferred hearing centre in the world for arbitration, after the Hong Kong International Arbitration Centre.

At the event, Philip Jeyaretnam, chairman of Maxwell Chambers, also described the genesis of the idea - how it first occurred to him that the former Red Dot building could become an extension to the existing Maxwell Chambers.

While walking around the Red Dot building one day, he ventured up to the upper floors and was struck by the two courtyards and clustering of small offices around them.

"To me, this strongly evoked the warrens and courtyards of legal London. Small offices clustered around open spaces fit the instincts of barristers and advocates who need their own offices to prepare for cases and write opinions, while having opportunities to interact with their peers including over meals and, dare one say, drinks. Think of the buzzing beehives of the Inns of Court."

The building at that time, however, was being used by design-type firms and many units were unoccupied.

It seemed to him that the design companies felt cramped by the small spaces rather than liberated. He became convinced that the building would be much better suited to lawyers than designers.

In the bigger picture, Maxwell Chambers Suites is expanding alongside a wave of other new projects in the vicinity, including Frasers Tower, Tanjong Pagar Centre, OUE Downtown Gallery, as well as the redevelopment of the CPF building by an Ascendas-Singbridge consortium.

All this is part of the government's effort to transform Tanjong Pagar. When completed, these developments together will create 300,000 square metres (sq m) of office space, 60,000 sq m of retail and F&B offerings, 1,200 hotel rooms and more than 1,000 homes.

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

Home of former PM Lee Kuan Yew at centre of dispute

Straits Times
15 Jun 2017
Royston Sim

A long-running question over what to do with the home of the late former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew at 38, Oxley Road has come into focus again after two of his children, Dr Lee Wei Ling and Mr Lee Hsien Yang, issued a statement on the matter yesterday.

In their statement, they reiterated their father's wish that the house be demolished upon his death.

The two siblings, who are joint executors and trustees of their father's estate, also said that their elder brother, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, and his wife Ho Ching had opposed this wish as "the preservation of the house would enhance his political capital".

The issue of the house made the news back in 2015, several weeks after Mr Lee Kuan Yew died at the age of 91 on March 23 that year.

On April 12, 2015, Dr Lee and Mr Lee Hsien Yang stated publicly that the late Mr Lee had asked for his house to be demolished after his death, and asked Singaporeans to respect this wish.

In his will, Mr Lee Kuan Yew said that the house should either be demolished immediately after his death or after Dr Lee moves out of it.

If demolition is made impossible owing to changes in the law, rules or regulations, it was the late Mr Lee's wish that the house should not be open to anyone except his children, their families and descendants.

There had been calls after his death to turn the pre-war bungalow, which he had lived in since the 1940s, into a museum or heritage site.

PM Lee told Parliament at a sitting on April 13, 2015 that Mr Lee Kuan Yew knew about calls from the public to turn his Oxley Road home into a museum and a memorial to him, but was adamant that the house should be demolished after his death.

Mr Lee Kuan Yew had written formally to the Cabinet at least twice to put his wishes on record, PM Lee said.

The first time was soon after his wife, Madam Kwa Geok Choo, died in October 2010, and the second time was after he stepped down from the Cabinet in May 2011.

In his statement delivered in Parliament, PM Lee said that his father's position on 38, Oxley Road was unwavering over the years, and added that Singaporeans should respect his wishes.

PM Lee explained that his father was averse to the idea of preserving his home as he had seen too many houses of famous people "kept frozen in time... as a monument with people tramping in and out", and they invariably "become shabby".

The Prime Minister also said that a decision on the fate of the house was not required yet as his sister, Dr Lee, continued to live there.

Three MPs had tabled questions on ways to honour Mr Lee Kuan Yew during that Parliament sitting in April.

PM Lee replied that decisions on how best to honour the late Mr Lee should not be rushed into so soon after his death.

He also told Parliament that he had asked Esplanade chairman Lee Tzu Yang to head a committee to conceptualise a Founders' Memorial that honours not just Mr Lee but also his core team, including Dr Goh Keng Swee, Mr S. Rajaratnam, Mr Othman Wok, Mr Hon Sui Sen and Mr Lim Kim San.

The 15-member Founders' Memorial committee began work on how to honour Singapore's first generation of political leaders in June 2015.

Since then, it has made recommendations on two possible sites for the memorial: Fort Canning Park and Bay East Garden at Gardens by the Bay. A final decision on the site has not been made.

In December 2015, PM Lee and his two siblings said in a joint statement that they hoped the state would honour their late father's wishes regarding the house.

It also announced that PM Lee and Mr Lee Hsien Yang had each agreed to donate half the value of Mr Lee Kuan Yew's Oxley Road house to eight charities, in honour of their father.

The December 2015 statement also stated that PM Lee has recused himself from all government decisions involving the Oxley Road house.

In their statement issued yesterday, Dr Lee and Mr Lee Hsien Yang revealed that the house was bequeathed to PM Lee, but he sold it to Mr Lee Hsien Yang in late 2015. The brothers also agreed on the donations to charities.

In the statement, Dr Lee and Mr Lee Hsien Yang said they were disappointed when National Development Minister Lawrence Wong wrote to them in July last year to inform them that a ministerial committee had been set up to consider options for 38, Oxley Road and their implications.

An online poll released in December 2015 by Hong Kong- based market research firm YouGov had found that a majority of those surveyed supported demolishing the house.

Of the 1,000 people it polled, 77 per cent said they backed Mr Lee's wish, while 15 per cent wanted the house preserved.

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

P2P insurance does not make one an insurer

Business Times
06 Jun 2017
Claire Huang

There's a new fad in town and it's called the peer-to-peer (P2P) insurance platform that looks like an insurer and behaves quite like one, except that, to the regulator, it isn't.

Take the month-old startup Bandboo, a blockchain-enabled unemployment-insurance platform where its members pool money to insure one another and split the claims when a fellow member loses his/her job.

In explaining its business model and products, common insurance terms including premium, claim and insurance, are used liberally. The startup also compares itself with a traditional insurer but adds that its block chain technology promotes transparency, something the latter lacks.

Thing is, Bandboo's platform is not determined as an insurer by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), which first screens the startup. This is because it does not insure individuals and works on the premise that its members share risks and split the payout amount when a fellow member makes a claim. And because it does not assume the insurance risks of individuals by making good any shortfall when claims exceed pooled contributions, nor arrange insurance contracts between the individuals and external insurers, the platform is not viewed as an insurer.

It is worth noting that MAS requires such P2P platforms to disclose clearly their unregulated status and to let consumers know that they have no access to typical safeguards such as the Financial Industry Dispute Resolution Centre (Fidrec) or the Policy Owners' Protection (PPF) Scheme.

To that end, Bandboo has stated this clearly on its website. But even with such disclaimers, confusion remains for some consumers.

To the laymen out there, such P2P platforms are naturally seen as insurers. With that, the misleading view that they come under the purview of MAS and that there are safeguards in place.

Upon comparison, the layers of regulatory compliance the insurance industry is subjected to are massive and costly.

Insurers in the life or general business segments are watched over by MAS and have to adhere to mandatory capital requirements under the risk-based framework to ensure they are financially sound in the event of a failure. They also have to be a PPF Scheme member that is on top of the capital adequacy requirement. This scheme aims to protect existing and future policyowners should a life or general insurer, which is a member of this scheme, winds up.

When asked, Bandboo had said that besides plans to buy insurance from reinsurer, the premiums collected from members are placed in an escrow account held by a trust. It said the funds are held in the client trust account and cannot be withdrawn unless proper authorisations have been granted.

Advocates of disruption and new business models would argue that platforms like Bandboo need room to develop so as to serve the needs of consumers that are not traditionally covered. The space provides a lower entry barrier and maybe even licence to be creative. Overly limiting rules on these startups would only suffocate them and, in some cases, snuff them out before they even have a chance to take flight.

Others, however, say the "policy inconsistency" could prove to be a potential problem. They question if such space paves the way for fraudsters to come to Singapore and set up a company, claiming, for instance, to be a fintech insurance startup but only to make away with consumers' monies when they gain traction and grow sizeable, given that they are not regulated. In such an event, whatever recourse there is for consumers could be too little, too late.

While both camps touch on valid concerns, the sure thing is that a grey area exists as newer business models come into the market. And this would only likely grow bigger in future.

Given that the lines are increasingly blurred, consumers, on their part, need to be conscious of the fact that there are businesses that can market themselves with insurance terms but are not deemed insurers and thus, not bound by the Insurance Act.

As with all transactions, consumers would do well to note that the bottom line is this: go in with your eyes open.

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

S'pore and Japan in competition law tie-up

Straits Times
23 Jun 2017
Lee Xin En

The Competition Commission of Singapore (CCS) has signed an agreement with its Japanese counterpart to increase cross-border enforcement of competition laws.

This marks the first cooperation agreement formalised between the CCS and a foreign competition authority.

The move will allow the two parties to deepen cooperation through mutual notification of enforcement activities.

It will also allow for the exchange of information between the CCS and the Japan Fair Trade Commission , and help them to coordinate in enforcing cases of mutual interest.

CCS chief executive Toh Han Li said the Japanese body has a track record of taking vigorous enforcement against international cartels.

He added that the agreement "will strengthen both authorities' efforts to tackle cases which are increasingly complex and taking on a cross-border dimension".

"The memorandum of cooperation will further help CCS not only to impose more consistent and effective sanctions or remedies, but also to provide businesses with greater regulatory certainty."

The CCS was set up under the Ministry of Trade and Industry in 2005 to investigate allegedly anticompetitive activity and impose remedies, directions and financial penalties where appropriate.

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

Double-edged court ruling in three-year child custody tussle

Straits Times
14 Jun 2017
K.C. Vijayan

After a three-year tussle over child custody, an unwed couple who split on their wedding day will have to live with a double-edged decision by a Hong Kong court.

The judge shifted existing care and control of the girl from the Australian father to the Singaporean mother but turned down her application to relocate here.

"The main obstacle to a shared or joint care and control order at this stage is the complete lack of trust and respect, the high conflict and lack of collaboration and compromise between the parties," said Hong Kong High Court Judge Bebe Pui Ying Chu.

"The fact remains the litigation between the parties is now in its third year, mediation had failed, the parties had to go through a five-day trial and litigation is ongoing with financial matters not resolved. All this speaks for itself," said the judge in decision grounds released in Hong Kong on Monday.

The Australian insurance country manager, 38, and the Singaporean psychologist, 35, met in the Chinese city in 2010, started cohabiting in 2012, and had the baby in May 2013. But the Hong Kong permanent residents quarrelled on their big day, June 21, 2014, and cancelled the wedding.

Two days later, the mother left with the baby for Singapore. The father applied in Hong Kong for custody, care and control of the girl and also for her to be returned and made a ward of the court. The city's court made an interim order on access and made the girl a ward.

The mother subsequently started custody proceedings here. The father came here to stay the court proceedings in favour of Hong Kong, which High Court Judicial Commissioner Debbie Ong allowed in February 2015, ruling it was the appropriate forum.

In May 2015, the father obtained a Hong Kong order which ruled the couple would have joint custody but care and control was given to him. Mother and child returned to Hong Kong in March last year.

By then, the father had wedded a Hong Kong-based fitness trainer and both have a son. It also emerged the mother has a partner.

At issue in the recent Hong Kong hearing was who should have care and control, whether mother and daughter should be allowed to relocate to Singapore, and whether the girl should be de-warded.

The judge accepted that the mother's bid to relocate to Singapore was "genuine and not motivated by some selfish desire to exclude the father from the child's life".

But she held it best at this stage for the girl to remain in Hong Kong, given uncertainties in relocation, including the mother's relationship with her current partner.

The judge said, after " weighing up the factors", that the mother, being the primary caregiver, be granted sole care and control, with regular access for the father, who will have the girl stay with him every other weekend and on Father's Day, among other things.

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

Global transparency

Business Times
06 Jun 2017
Leonardo Drago

Investors should understand the impact of a transparent financial system on their investments

Many investors hold investment assets offshore, often under investment holding companies. Such structures were seen to have benefits such as avoiding lengthy probates, as well as giving an additional level of confidentiality, among other benefits. However in recent years, significant changes in global finance regulations mean that every investor should re-examine their personal need for such offshore structures.

In 2010, the US enacted new legislation called the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA), which was the US government's way of ensuring that all US citizens, especially the ones living overseas, pay all relevant US taxes on their investment income and capital gains. The US is one of the few countries that taxes individuals based on citizenship, not residency.

FATCA brought significant implementation challenges to the financial industry globally, as institutions had to put additional safeguards in place to identify whether any individuals had US dual-citizenship, or a US Green Card. Many Asian investors were out of scope and simply had to sign an additional declaration to their financial institutions, certifying that they were not a US Person.

However, other governments watched the results from this new regulation with interest, as many other countries, particularly Europe, were also struggling with identifying European Union (EU) residents who held undeclared accounts offshore. The EU levies tax based on residency, not citizenship so, for example, a Singaporean living in Europe would be subject to global disclosure of all investments, which would be subject to EU income and capital gains taxes.

Common Reporting Standard

Voluntary disclosures, as would be expected, did not have the result that EU governments wanted. Seven years after FATCA, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) developed the Common Reporting Standard (CRS), which is now in effect globally and impacts every investor. In essence, CRS will mean that countries will exchange reportable accounts information.

This includes personal information as well as account balances. The exact details of the implementation of CRS are complicated and vary from country to country, but these regulations will result in significant transparency on every investor's financial position.

This is not purely a US/European issue, as many governments already have seized on this opportunity to get more disclosures directly, as Indonesians did with the tax amnesty implemented earlier this year. The world will see more such initiatives in the future.

All these regulations mean that multi-jurisdiction investment holding structures may end up with details being automatically reported to different countries. Let's take the example of a Singapore resident and beneficial owner, who holds their investments via a BVI company with an account booked offshore in Hong Kong or Switzerland, itself held by a Guernsey trust with a Protector that resides in Australia.

In the past, such a holding structure could have offered a higher degree of confidentiality and anonymity. However, under the current CRS regulations, the bank accounts' information may end up being reported to every country that is involved in the holding structure.

While every country will be able to decide on a case-by-case basis which information will be exchanged, a possible interpretation is that a Protector holds considerable power over a trust, and therefore the assets would also be reportable to the Protector's country of citizenship or residence.

One of the likely outcomes of CRS is for individuals' financial transactions to increasingly move from offshore to onshore, and in simplified holding structures.

Investors should take this opportunity to consult their financial advisers, and obtain legal advice where needed, on the current implications of older investment holding structures as the world transitions to a transparent system of financial transactions and reporting.


The writer is Co-founder of AL Wealth Partners, an independent Singapore-based company providing fund management and advisory services to accredited investors

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

Geylang plot action a wake-up call for property owners, buyers: Experts

TODAY
23 Jun 2017
Tan Weizhen

With the authorities recently affirming the policy stance that no compensation will be awarded to residential property owners upon lease expiry, private home buyers and sellers will soon need to brace themselves for a reality check.

Over the coming decade, thousands of condominium or apartment unit owners here, for example, will find themselves sitting on properties with leases shorter than 50 years — making these properties highly undesirable, going by current buyer sentiments.

On Tuesday, the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) confirmed that, as a general policy, there will be no compensation for the owners of the 191 private terrace houses at Geylang Lorong 3 — a 2ha piece of land that will become the first residential plot to be returned to the state upon the expiry of its lease in 2020. Apart from Geylang Lorong 3, there are no other 60-year private residential leases issued by the state.

The next major private housing estate affected by lease expiry will be Fuyong Estate in 2046, according to the SLA.

When its comes to condominiums and mixed-use developments, there are 13 projects in Singapore — built between 1972 and 1977 —with leases that will run out in less than 60 years. In other words, by 2027, they have less than 50 years of lease left — the point at which private property values in general would plummet, property experts said.

Across the island, there are 48 such 99-year lease developments that are currently more than 30 years old, the youngest of which — the 21-unit Cardiff Court and the 116-unit Katong Park Towers — were built in 1987, based on Urban Redevelopment Authority data compiled by associate professor Sing Tien Foo from the Department of Real Estate at the National University of Singapore School of Design and Environment.

Some of the oldest developments include the 288-unit People’s Park Complex (built in 1972), as well as the 752-unit Neptune Court and the 280-unit Pearl Bank Apartment which were completed in 1975 and 1976, respectively.

As remaining tenures get shorter, property sellers have to lower their asking prices, and buyers will find it harder to get loans from banks. For a young country such as Singapore, the situation where a glut of private residential units with relatively short leases will come onto the market in the coming years is unprecedented, said the experts.

While Singapore is also facing a situation where the leases of public flats will start to run out, the impact on the private residential market could be more keenly felt, given that private property purchases are seen by many as a form of investment, and prospective buyers are less keen on units with low resale value.

Owners of private homes with dwindling leases have limited options — they can either rent out the units, or typically sell at a loss. The best scenario is a collective sale, but such an opportunity may not always be available. Pearl Bank, for instance, has undergone three en-bloc sale attempts in 2007, 2008 and 2011, but all failed.

Finance professional Brandon Huang, 37, grew up in Pearl Bank, and his parents still live there. He felt that far from being assets, properties with leases that are running out could become a liability. “My parents want en-bloc sale, of course. The property is really old, the lease is running down, making it less easy to finance for prospective buyers,” he said.

The experts reiterated that in a land-scarce country such as Singapore, there will always be demand for residential properties. And if sellers are realistic about their asking price, there will be takers — just as second-hand cars with only a few years left on their Certificates of Entitlement (COEs) are still able to find willing buyers.

Assoc Prof Sing said: “There will be a segment of buyers who don’t have a large sum of money upfront, or don’t wish to take up a big mortgage. And paying S$300,000 for a place with 10 years left, for instance, could be a viable option.” He added: “There is no investment potential ... (but) it is just like paying for COE, which runs out after 10 years, and that’s it ... or buying cars with just two to three years left, but you’re able to get it cheap.”

Mr Colin Tan, director of research and consultancy at Suntec Real Estate Consultants, reiterated that as long as sellers are realistic about the asking price, they will be able to offload their properties — no matter how short the leases are.

Renting out the homes is another viable option. “As long as the properties are of good quality and location, homeowners in Singapore will always be able to rent them out,” said Mr Alfred Chia, chief executive of financial advisory firm SingCapital.

As a cosmopolitan city, Hong Kong’s property market has similarities with Singapore’s. Over there, there are concerns over a lease “cliff”, which the local government is still figuring out how to deal with.

In Hong Kong, the leases of virtually all land will expire in 2047. This was after the government renewed all the leases for 50 years when Hong Kong was returned to China in 1997.

“They don’t have freehold residential or commercial properties available. So, the lease expiry will affect everyone at about the same time,” said Mr Nicholas Mak, head of Research & Consultancy Department at SLP International Property Consultants.

Singapore buyers and sellers will have to adapt to the market, just like the Hong Kongers have done, the experts noted. For one, buyers here need to adjust their mindset and see property purchases as less of an investment.

Mr Chia said: “Property value in Singapore ... will not appreciate as much as it did in the past. Homeowners should aim to pay off their housing loans before they are 60 or 65 years old.

“Then, they can focus on building their retirement funds, and even have options such as renting out their rooms, or downsizing (their homes).”

Copyright 2017 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

True Fitness' unpaid Thai staff turn to court

Straits Times
14 Jun 2017
Tan Hui Yee

Singapore-based fitness chain closed ops last week; spokesman says staff will be paid

At least five employees of True Fitness in Thailand have filed complaints with the kingdom's labour court over unpaid wages after the chain's sudden closure last week.

According to some of the employees, the amount owed in salaries and commissions is estimated to total several million baht.

The Singapore-based fitness chain abruptly shut its Thai and Malaysian operations last week, citing challenging business circumstances and the unwillingness of landlords to allow other operators to take over its business.

But it appears to have left in its trail dozens of unpaid employees, some of whom are now in increasingly desperate circumstances.

"Some of the lower-level staff, like those working at the reception, cannot get into their (rental) apartments because they can't pay their landlords," Mr Nonvaris Sappasiriyohin, one of its senior employees, told The Straits Times. "Right now, they are very confused, and don't know what to do."

Mr Nonvaris said he has not been paid since April.

"They did not tell us anything," another senior employee, who has worked with the company for over a decade, said just before filing her complaint at Bangkok's Central Labour Court yesterday.

True opened its first outlet in Thailand in 2006. Its two gyms - in Bangkok's Exchange Tower and in Esplanade Ngamwongwan-Khae Rai, just outside the capital - have some 7,000 members, she said.

Contacted in Singapore, a True Group spokesman told The Straits Times that it has made arrangements to cover all outstanding salaries "and hope this can be paid out this week or early next week".

"Business in Thailand over the past two years has proved to be challenging," said the spokesman, citing social disturbances caused by flooding, terror attacks and military interventions. "The local consumer market is still struggling."

True Group's businesses in Singapore, Taiwan and China were subsidising the losses in Thailand, she said. "Before we could arrange for the business to be restructured and funded, we were shut down by the landlords, leaving us with little time to make the necessary arrangements to keep the business going. With our offices shut, we have not been able to make any payments to anyone."

She stressed: "All will be paid in full once we can get our office open to make the payments this week."

As for compensation for the sudden termination of employment, she said: "We are looking into what we can do but we have also suffered due to the abrupt closure."

True Group, set up in Singapore 13 years ago by chief executive Patrick Wee, touts itself as one of Asia's largest fitness and wellness groups. It sealed a partnership agreement with China-based Tongfang Kontafarma Holdings last month, and maintains that the closures in Thailand and Malaysia will not affect its expansion plans in Singapore, China and Taiwan.

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

Court okays seizure of $124m of bankrupt Japanese director's assets

Straits Times
05 Jun 2017
K.C. Vijayan

Before going bankrupt in Japan last year, a Japanese company director parked US$90 million (S$124 million) in assets in three banks here. One bank account was in the name of his wife and son.

But in a ground-breaking case, Japanese debt-recovery officials succeeded last month in obtaining a Singapore High Court order to seize those assets hidden by Masahiko Nishiyama, 70.

Justice Woo Bih Li granted a declaration that the Japanese bankruptcy order, together with the Japanese court-appointed trustee in bankruptcy, Mr Hiroshi Morimoto, be recognised here.

The judge further ordered that the bank accounts and assets beneficially owned by Nishiyama, worth US$90 million in total, be vested in Mr Morimoto.

This is the first time a Singapore court has recognised a foreign trustee in the bankruptcy of an individual by a foreign court.

Lawyer Eugene Thuraisingam, who represented Mr Morimoto, argued: "Recognition of the bankruptcy order would be aligned with the universalist approach to cross-border insolvency and it would be entirely sensible to assist in the bankruptcy proceedings initiated in Japan."

When Nishiyama was made a bankrupt last year, the Japanese court tasked Mr Morimoto as his trustee-in-bankruptcy to administer all assets seized.

Nishimaya's woes arose after he guaranteed several housing loan debts amounting to 43 billion yen (S$538 million), which the Resolution and Collection Corporation (RCC), a government-owned subsidiary of the Deposit Insurance Corporation of Japan, sought to salvage.

RCC sought to trace and recover his assets across several countries in a bid to recover the debts from failed housing firms.

The debts arose from 13 groups of loan and quasi-loan agreements made between RCC's predecessor and Japanese company Pexim, between 1989 and 1992, that were underwritten by Nishiyama, according to court documents.

Kyoto-based Nishiyama was Pexim's director from 1971 to 2003 and held some 16,850 firm shares worth 16.85 million yen. He was also president and chief financial officer for Pexim Inc Hawaii.

In 2012, a Kyoto court ordered him and Pexim, which was dissolved in 2004, to pay the outstanding loans, which stood at over 43 billion yen, including interest, last year.

It then emerged that Nishiyama had dissipated his assets on a massive scale. He is serving sentence after he was convicted by a Kyoto court last June of concealing assets for the purpose of thwarting RCC's debt recovery.

Said Mr Thuraisingam: "This is relevant to explaining why there are assets belonging to Nishimaya in Singapore and why those assets are held through corporate entities or the joint names of his son and common-law wife."

Among the four accounts in three banks seized here was a Credit Suisse account in the name Greatest Assets Ltd, a company incorporated in Samoa in September 2014 with Nishiyama as the sole beneficial owner.

Documents seized by the authorities showed he stashed millions abroad, including in Standard Chartered Bank, Bank Julius Baer and Credit Suisse accounts in Singapore, as well as other accounts in Hong Kong and Canada.

The case comes in the wake of moves here to develop the Judicial Insolvency Network, mooted last year by Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, to promote cooperation in cross-border insolvency matters among different jurisdictions.

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

Fintech can help banks with stiffer compliance

Business Times
23 Jun 2017
Jamie Lee

For a match, swipe right.

That used to apply only to online matchmaking apps such as Tinder, but banks can tap this similar method for its clients to network in a new way, as they apply more financial technology (fintech) for a competitive edge.

HSBC has one such example with its latest service known as Connections Hub. It offers Singapore clients here a chance to interact with potential overseas partners who are already part of the international bank's network.

HSBC's business customers in Singapore, Canada, mainland China, Hong Kong, India, Mexico, the UK and the US can now sign up for the new service. The digital platform, said HSBC, allows the bank's customers to make use of HSBC's global network to connect with trusted buyers and sellers around the world. HSBC's customers create a business profile to represent their brand, and an automated search engine will fish out potential buyers and sellers. Users can then send a private message to their target business partners via the platform.

The service in itself is meant to make relationship building among banking customers more efficient through the use of technology.

And indeed, while Asian banks in Singapore typically host annual informal meals among clients - usually around Chinese New Year - to help clients network, technology can help customers reach out to potential partners in a different location and timezone, but with a common goal to make more money.

But what's also interesting is that banks are now leveraging off the heightened regulatory scrutiny to ensure that HSBC customers are matching up to other HSBC customers that have also been under the same regulatory radar. Indeed, HSBC had noted that this "exclusive global networking platform" brings together customers that have gone through the same due diligence checks and vetting.

Compliance costs would vary from bank to bank, but suffice to say, they have been a headache for banks, and are not expected to go away.

OCBC's CEO Samuel Tsien said late last year that compliance-related expenses have risen by 35 per cent in each of the past three years. The bank also expects this as the "guiding pace" for growth in such expenses in the coming years.

Even as there are brightening prospects for the global economy - with several analysts ruling out a trade war at this point - cautious banks are chasing up top-tier corporate customers that are either large and diversified, or backed by healthy sovereigns. That competition is likely to make it difficult for banks to pass on all of the compliance costs to their customers at this point.

But such a service from HSBC may raise the value that customers would get from sticking with the bank. If a bank can't cut regulatory costs fully for more profit - though some banks are said to be shedding compliance staff already - it would have to grow by boosting the top line.

Some observers would even argue that having clients matchmake themselves may keep clients out of internal turf wars among local units of a global bank, as bankers from the same bank can also fight over the same global client that has businesses in many parts of the world.

The escalating compliance costs also explain the pressing need for fintech to be applied by banks in the area of regulation. Citi recently concluded in Singapore its global demo day challenge for fintechs, with an aim of finding fintechs that "promote integrity, accountability and transparency in the public sector and beyond".

The awards went to fintechs that mainly offered stronger security and identity features, as well as those that offered ways to detect financial crime through anomalous behaviour sussed out through data analysis.

To be sure, fintech firms have also used digital platforms to try to profit from matchmaking services. For example, Finquest offers a subscription service in Singapore and Hong Kong to matchmake private equity investors and M&A advisers with mid-sized Asian companies.

But the difference lies in that Finquest does not do due diligence on the companies. Investors can engage M&A advisers such as lawyers and bankers from several boutique firms to ensure that the deals are sound.

If done right, a networking service from a global bank such as HSBC can trump such fintech services that do not wash out friction and inefficiency posed by stiffer due diligence.

HSBC said this service could especially help SMEs in Singapore expand their markets beyond their home turf, citing numbers that showed last year some 37,000 internationally focused Singapore companies - 80 per cent of them SMEs - approached IE Singapore for help in understanding overseas markets and to connect to the right business partners.

What's to be said then is that even in the flurry of bad news for financial firms - nearly 10 years after the crisis - they still have some fighting spirit left in them. It also explains why fintechs would increasingly chummy up to banks. Banks are likely now to be acquiring their technology, rather than compete directly against fintech firms, which while nimble, still lack scale.

No doubt, fintechs can still challenge banks, but they would be foolhardy to write them off today.

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

Lawyers are keeping up with the times: Voices

TODAY
13 Jun 2017

I am perturbed by the letter “Make legal services more accessible and affordable to clients” (June 7), and write in defence of lawyers. As we do owe a duty of care to clients and the court, we discharge it honourably.

We strive to do our best and to hold the Bar in esteem. Yes, the times and the legal landscape are changing, and technology is advancing, so the demands on lawyers are escalating. And we are keeping up.

Gone are the days of snail mail and giving lawyers a breather from responding to clients’ instructions, which we now receive via email and WhatsApp/text messages. We are always under pressure to meet court deadlines and clients’ needs.

Nevertheless, many lawyers and law firms have been providing information on their services, writing articles and posting on their blogs.

My firm’s website outlines services and areas of practice, with just enough information on the law for the public, and our blogs about divorce, criminal law, probate and estate matters expand on the law and its process.

We keep the laws and information on our website and blogs current. We have also developed mobile applications providing information to the public.

I must add that there is information readily available on the websites of the Supreme Court, State Courts, Family Justice Courts, Legal Aid Bureau and the Law Society of Singapore for public awareness.

The Community Justice Centre provides access to counsel by capping the cost of a basic legal package; further, there are 54 free legal clinics in Singapore for the public to approach.

For many lawyers and firms, the first consultation is free; subsequent meetings are chargeable. If a potential client is, however, seeking an opinion on an agreement or contract papers at the first meeting, surely that cannot be free.

I myself waive consultation charges if my services are engaged on the same day, and I believe that many lawyers do the same.

The public should not be sent the wrong message. Lawyers do their utmost to serve the needs of potential clients too.

Gloria James-Civetta

Copyright 2017 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

Commercial diving code to be revised

Straits Times
05 Jun 2017
Ng Jun Sen

Move to rein in firms hiring recreational scuba divers to do work that may be hazardous

Instead of using divers who are certified for commercial diving, some dive companies here are taking shortcuts and saving costs by hiring experienced divers without proper qualifications.

To close this and other loopholes, the Singapore Standard Code of Practice for Commercial Diving, or the SS 511 code, will be revised later this year, said Mr Abdul Malik, chairman of the Commercial Diving Association of Singapore (CDAS). The SS 511 code was last revised in 2010.

The latest revision follows a court case last year where a local diving company was fined $125,000 over the drowning death of one of its staff, a former Indian navy diver.

Mr Malik told ST that the commercial diving industry is facing a serious problem with companies hiring recreational scuba divers to do underwater engineering or construction work.

He estimated that only half of the 200 commercial divers here are trained to meet the SS 511 code.

The rest hold recreational scuba or military diving certifications, which are not meant for underwater work. This is even though it has been more than a decade since the national standards were set.

Mr Malik, whose association has been championing proper training and certification, explained that firms are reluctant to meet the standards due to the higher cost of specialised training and equipment.

"A lot of people in the industry still think of the code as a guideline, not regulation. They do not recognise it as a minimum standard for diving work," said Mr Malik.

In January last year, Cutech Marine Services was fined $125,000 for breaching the Workplace Safety and Health Act over the May 12, 2012 drowning of a diver. The company had not provided two-way communications to the man, who had been sent to clean the hull of a crude oil tanker.

The diver was also using only scuba equipment instead of the required Surface-Supplied Diving Equipment (SSDE) for the type of underwater job when he died.

The case was significant as it was the first time the code of practice was brought up in court, said Mr Darren Brunton, group managing director of KB Associates, the only local training provider for inshore commercial divers in Singapore.

Mr Brunton, who is a member of the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) working group tasked with the SS 511 code revision, said: "It takes 42 days to train a commercial diver but three days to train a leisure diver - this speaks volumes about why proper training is necessary."

Compared to scuba equipment where divers carry their own air canisters, SSDE allows for unlimited air supply pumped via "umbilicals" to the tethered diver.

Said Mr Malik: "I know of no fatalities that involve SSDE, but nearly all commercial-diver deaths involved recreational-style scuba."

He explained that in countries like the United Kingdom and Australia, those who want to join the trade would pay to enrol in accredited diver training schools.

But Mr Malik believes the SS 511 code's effectiveness will be limited if diving firms and those who hire them do not pay heed to it.

"Shipping firms should not be oblivious to what their contractors are doing, and diving companies must also be responsible for the workplace safety of their staff," he said.

A MOM spokesman said commercial divers should meet the standards stipulated by the Workplace Safety and Health Council in consultation with the CDAS.

Said the spokesman: "All commercial divers should have the competencies to carry out diving activities safely."


Underwater diving methods

Recreational scuba (self-contained underwater breathing apparatus), commercial scuba (CSCUBA) and Surface-Supplied Diving Equipment (SSDE) are different ways of underwater diving:

RECREATIONAL SCUBA

Not suitable for commercial work

Air capacity: One scuba diving cylinder

No voice communications

Equipment cost: From $2,000 to $10,000 for personal equipment only, excluding compressor

Maintenance cost: $150 per year

CSCUBA

Suitable for some types of commercial work up to 30m, including underwater inspection and photo- graphy, environmental management, scientific diving, aquaculture

Air capacity: One scuba diving cylinder, with a backup cylinder

Wireless voice communications

Equipment cost: From $6,000 to $20,000 for personal equipment only, excluding compressor

Maintenance cost: $400 per year

SSDE

Suitable for most types of commercial work up to 30m, including underwater engineering and construction

Air capacity: Unlimited air supplied via umbilical from vessel, with a backup cylinder

Wired voice communications

Equipment cost: More than $20,000 for personal equipment, umbilical, control panel and communication equipment, excluding compressor

Maintenance cost: $1,000 per year

Source: Advanced Marine, CDAS

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

Special ministerial committees ensure national interest prevails: Tharman

Business Times
23 Jun 2017
Lee U-Wen

They help ministers assess difficult choices before these come to Cabinet

The practice of setting up special ministerial committees began many years ago and this is how the government ensures that important issues are given in-depth attention, said Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam on Thursday.

Commenting on the Oxley Road saga for the first time, he said these committees also ensure that the government is not one that "operates in silos", and that the national interest prevails even where there are valid sectoral or private interests.

At the centre of the dispute involving Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his two younger siblings is what should happen to the 38 Oxley Road bungalow that belonged to their late father.

In a lengthy statement last week, Dr Lee Wei Ling and Mr Lee Hsien Yang accused their elder brother of abusing his powers to prevent the demolition of the house.

One key issue is the removal and subsequent re-insertion of a clause in the late founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew's will, which stated his wish that his home be demolished after his death.

Dr Lee and Mr Lee Hsien Yang also questioned the need for the government to set up a ministerial committee - comprising ministers such as K Shanmugam, Grace Fu and Lawrence Wong - to study options for the house.

Writing on his Facebook page, Mr Tharman noted that Singapore has "never got it perfect" and the government of the day has had its share of policies that have turned out "quite wrong" at different points in the country's history.

"But we have a system of preserving the rule of law, and of policy-making that balances public against private interests, and the long term against the short term. That's still a rarity in the world, and is at the core of how Singapore has succeeded," he said.

When it comes to ministerial committees, Mr Tharman said the options on a particular issue are weighed up by the ministers involved before the Cabinet makes it decisions and takes collective responsibility.

He revealed that committees are formed to look at a whole range of issues, and they help the ministers think through difficult choices in government before they come to Cabinet, and to canvas views outside when appropriate.

Mr Tharman said he chairs several of these committees himself, in particular those that concern social or economic issues. Over the past month, he has met with five different committees set up to develop policies on key issues.

He noted how some committees could sit for a few months, while there are others that stay engaged for years to discuss areas such as foreign worker policies, and how to fund healthcare and retirement needs.

Mr Tharman cited an example of a ministerial committee on Changi East Developments that has been active since 2014. This group coordinates plans for Singapore's airport expansion, its manpower and security needs, the relocation of Paya Lebar airbase, industrial opportunities, land transport provisions, and housing development.

"It brings several ministers together, supported by their civil servants, to find the best balance between different demands and plan our options for 10, 30 and 50 years ahead. That's how long-term our planning has to be," said Mr Tharman.

He called on Singaporeans to "have confidence" despite the ongoing family dispute involving the Lee siblings.

"We have a system of governance that Lee Kuan Yew and his team built, and it isn't going away. You can count on PM Lee and all of us in his team for that," he said.

"You can count on the fourth generation leaders to keep to a system that upholds the laws of the land, prioritises the common good and looks to the long term, never thinking the government has got everything right, but always wanting to do right for Singapore. And count on Singaporeans to ensure the government sticks to those principles, and to play our part collectively to keep Singapore united and inclusive."

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

Condos, owners tussle over fixtures

Straits Times
13 Jun 2017
K.C. Vijayan

Strata Titles Board hears cases involving trellises, balcony grilles

One condo home owner wanted to install "invisible" grilles at his balcony as a safety precaution because he has young children.

A group of 22 home owners at another condo wanted the trellises in their balconies to be covered. For some owners there, it was about preventing killer litter.

In both estates, their respective management corporations (MCs) said no. And when mediation talks failed to resolve the matter, the owners took their cases to the Strata Titles Board (STB).

The owners had some success. But in one case, STB also pointed out that the relevant law does not allow it to force the MC to allow owners exclusive use of common property.

The 22 owners of 12 units at Sunglade condo in Serangoon had applied to have their trellises covered; their MC rejected this. The trellises are part of the original design.

During mediation talks before STB in February, the MC and the owners of nine of these units, all located on the ground floor, agreed that by covering the trellises, safety would be improved by preventing killer litter.

In its decision grounds last month, STB said the spat with the nine units was settled following the mediation talks. However, it could not grant permission for the owners of the three units located on the 13th storey, the highest level.

The question STB grappled with: Would anchoring the coverings for the trellises to building walls be deemed as use of common property?

Lawyers Toh Kok Seng and Daniel Chen, who represented the owners, argued that the wall to be used was within the owners' lot and was not common property. The trellis would not be used in the installation of the coverings, they added.

The MC's lawyers Subir Singh Grewal and Jacqueline Teo countered that the wall was maintained by the MC and was common property, not open to exclusive use by owners.

STB, comprising deputy president F.G. Remedios and two board members, Dr Lim Lan Yuan and Mr Lawrence Ang, found that there would be exclusive use of common property if the trellises on the three 13th-storey units were covered.

In rejecting the applications for these owners last month, STB explained that "an order granted by the Board would equate to the Board ordering the (MC) to permit the applicants to have right to exclusive use of the common property for an unlimited period of time".

Separately, STB in March ordered the MC of a condo known as 19 Shelford Road to allow a unit owner to install "invisible" grilles at the balcony. This had to be done in accordance with the MC's proposed design, based on the design of the building facade.

The unit, on the top floor of a four-storey building, has a balcony with railings that have gaps of 20cm between each of three horizontal bars. The owner was concerned his two children aged below five would go through or over the railings and fall. He applied to STB last year to get the MC to agree to him installing "invisible" safety grilles.

STB - comprising Mr Alfonso Ang, Professor Teo Keang Sood and Mr Lim Peng Hong - overruled the MC, finding it did not provide the owner with "practical and feasible alternatives" when it refused the applicant's proposal for invisible grilles.

Law firm Lee & Lee, which represented the unit owner, said in a case update on its website that the STB decision "affirms the legal position that safety is paramount".

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

Competition watchdog doing more market studies

Straits Times
05 Jun 2017
Tiffany Fumiko Tay

Singapore's competition watchdog has broadened its scope in recent years. It does more market inquiries, such as the recently released infant formula study.

While its bread and butter is to probe anti-competitive practices, market inquiries help to plug a gap, Competition Commission of Singapore (CCS) chief executive Toh Han Li told The Straits Times.

"Sometimes there are situations where players in the market may not have infringed the law, but there are some features in that market which are not making it work as well as it should be and I think the formula milk study is a good example."

Mr Toh, 50, created the Policy and Markets division in 2013 to specialise in these studies and to advise government agencies on competition matters.

The CCS, a Ministry of Trade and Industry statutory board, employs 39 lawyers, economists and accountants for case work. It handles about 40 inquiries and investigations at any one time. If anti-competitive behaviour such as price-fixing is found, it has the authority to fine firms up to 10 per cent of their annual business turnover in Singapore, up to a maximum of three years.

The year-long formula milk inquiry, which began in 2015, looked at the supply chain here to establish the cause of the high prices, which have more than doubled over the last decade. CCS found manufacturers raising wholesale mark-ups.

Rather than competing on price, companies build "premium" brand images and target private hospitals to encourage early adoption and cement consumer loyalty, it found.

The CCS' recommendations to increase price competition were broadly accepted by the Government, which has formed a task force to implement key measures by the end of the year.

Said Mr Toh: "High prices in itself is not an infringement of the Competition Act... we are not a price regulator. But it's important to understand the reasons behind high prices."

The CCS chooses areas to look into based on available evidence and market impact, with more cases now arising from guilty parties who step forward under its leniency programme, which grants the first to come forward full immunity.

There were six such cases completed over the last year, compared to two the year before. The programme is a big help in detecting infringement cases, said Mr Toh.

Its work appears to be paying off - Singapore was ranked fourth in effectiveness of antitrust policy in last year's World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Report.

The CCS is now doing a market study on big data, and putting together a handbook on competition in e-commerce to share with its Asean counterparts. "It's important to be forward-looking and understand some of these fast-moving developments so that when cases come, you're better equipped."

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

Watchdog penalises firm for data breach

Straits Times
22 Jun 2017
K.C. Vijayan

Staff negligence at DataPost led to leaks of two persons' personal financial information

The Personal Data Protection Commission imposed a $3,000 financial penalty on DataPost, a business printing and mailing solutions provider, for a data breach that led to leaks of personal financial information.

The commission, which probed the case, said the sensitive nature of the data was an aggravating factor. But it was mitigated by the small scale of the breach as personal data belonging to only two persons was disclosed to a single recipient.

"The data breach could have been avoided if DPL (DataPost) had taken some simple additional measures," said the commission in decision grounds issued on Tuesday.

In a statement to The Straits Times yesterday, the firm said: "Since the incident, we have enforced measures to tighten the procedures. The incident happened in May 2016, (and was) caused by negligence of a staff member.

"We acknowledged the outcome of the case and as a responsible company, we take this very seriously."

DataPost was tasked to print and mail out financial statements relating to a bank's Supplementary Retirement Scheme (SRS) to its customers. But one customer received two additional statements belonging to two other bank customers along with her own SRS statement last June.

Data disclosed in the statements comprised names, addresses, cash balances and details of asset holdings.

At DataPost, the SRS statements were printed on A3 sheets, as formatted, and an enveloping machine was used to cut the statements and insert them individually into their respective mailer envelopes.

The firm's internal investigations showed that human error by the duty operator caused the breach.

The operator had manually checked the first envelope generated by the test run but mistakenly concluded that three statements contained in the first envelope belonged to the same person when they actually belonged to three different persons.

The statements had been placed in the same envelope due to an "operating peculiarity" but he had moved the envelope from the reject bin to the main bin which meant two additional layers of checks were bypassed.

The commission found the processes DataPost had in place "did not meet the reasonable standards expected of it" and directed the company to review its relevant internal working procedures, among other things.

DataPost said yesterday that it will adopt the commission's recommendations to review its procedures, staff training and data protection policies.

It added: "We are committed to constantly reviewing our procedures and working with our customers to prevent such incidents from happening."


The commission found the processes DataPost had in place "did not meet the reasonable standards expected of it"and directed the company to review its relevant internal working procedures, among other things.

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

DataPost Pte Ltd [2017] SGPDPC 10

First woman held under ISA for pro-ISIS activities

Straits Times
13 Jun 2017
Danson Cheong

22-year-old Singaporean was infant care assistant and wanted to be 'martyr's widow'

A 22-year-old Singaporean who planned to travel to Syria with her child has become the first female here to be detained for radicalism.

Syaikhah Izzah Zahrah Al Ansari was not planning any attack here, but she had visions of becoming a "martyr's widow" for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). She was detained earlier this month under the Internal Security Act (ISA).

Izzah was a contract infant care assistant with a PCF Sparkletots Preschool, which is run by the PAP Community Foundation, and worked with infants aged between two months and 18 months old.

But she was also becoming deeply radicalised - a process that started in 2013. From 2014, she started to actively post and share pro-ISIS material online.

"Several of her social media platforms were taken down by administrators because of the pro-ISIS content," said the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA).

Her parents, both freelance Quranic teachers, and her sister got to know of her radical views in 2015. They tried to dissuade her but did not alert the authorities.

Instead, when Izzah was being investigated, "important evidence was destroyed by a family member relating to her plans to join ISIS", said the MHA.

This was done to minimise the seriousness of her acts. The authorities are looking into taking action against this family member.

The MHA has pointed out in recent weeks that sharing information about an individual who is becoming radicalised could prevent a terrorist act - and help the person too.

"In Izzah's case, her family members did not bring her to the attention of the authorities when she was younger and could have potentially been turned back from the path of radicalisation," the MHA said.

As matters turned out, her radicalisation grew over time. She developed a wide network of foreign online contacts, including ISIS militants and their supporters, some of whom have since died fighting in Syria. Izzah also supported ISIS' use of violence.

Since 2015, she had been looking for an ISIS supporter to marry and settle down with in Syria with her young child. She believed that, if her husband died fighting, her status as a "martyr's widow" would help her marry another ISIS fighter easily.

"She also said that she was prepared to undergo military training and engage in armed combat to defend ISIS if called upon by the terrorist group to do so," said the MHA.

She boasted to a contact in April that the authorities here had not detected her. She was detained barely two months after that.

Last year, another woman, Dian Faezah Ismail, was placed under a Restriction Order after her husband was detained for being radicalised. But Dian herself was not detained and just had her movements and activities curtailed.

Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim said it was important to seek help early from the religious authorities in cases of radicalisation.

"We are not here to condemn the individual. We condemn the act but we want to save the individual. We want to help him or her, who has gone astray. We want to bring him or her back to the straight path," said Dr Yaacob in a video posted on Facebook.

Acting Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean called on all communities to remain united and support the efforts of security agencies.

"While we are not immune from an attack, we must not let those who advocate or seek to commit acts of violent extremism divide us," he said in a Facebook post.

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

More deliberation needed in naming public buildings: Forum

Straits Times
05 Jun 2017

It seems rather common nowadays to have public buildings named after individuals and corporations (The ethics of naming buildings after luminaries; June 3).

For commercial entities, the purpose is clear - namely, it serves to raise the profile of the organisation. This motivation is transparent and generally acceptable.

On the other hand, naming a public building or institution after an individual is quite a different matter. For instance, the naming of a public institution, such as a faculty in a university or a hospital, should lead one to remember and be inspired by the contribution of the individual in that specific sphere of work.

This contribution, which is often the culmination of a life's work, is truly what makes for a meaningful christening.

Positive examples include Tan Tock Seng Hospital, the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy and, most recently, the EW Barker Centre for Law and Business.

The naming of various university faculties and buildings after the late philanthropist Lee Kong Chian - the founder of the Lee Foundation, which has consistently provided financial aid to students and to the cause of education in general - is also appropriate.

On the other hand, if the naming is for an individual to gain some sense of "immortality" and publicity, then it would make sense for the governing bodies to have a serious rethink, as there are surely other ways to acknowledge an act of philanthropy.

Moreover, some philanthropists prefer to remain discreet, believing that "when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing".

Finally, assigning names without due care or deliberation inadvertently denigrates the memory of those who have been bestowed such a solemn honour on account of their work.


The naming of a public institution, such as a faculty in a university or a hospital, should lead one to remember and be inspired by the contribution of the individual in that specific sphere of work. This contribution, which is often the culmination of a life's work, is truly what makes for a meaningful christening.

Daniel Ng Peng Keat (Dr)

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

Old Supreme Court does justice to its artistic calling

Straits Times
22 Jun 2017
Aaron Chan

From places of worship and educational institutions to the former residences of prominent figures, 72 buildings have been gazetted as national monuments

The impressive grey colonial building with its imposing giant columns and distinctive 65m tall copper-clad dome has been transformed from the highest Singapore court to the repository of the Republic's best art.

Now, instead of accused persons walking into the Supreme Court to be dispensed justice, visitors amble in to enjoy the ambience of classical architecture and the largest public collection of modern Singapore and South-east Asian art .

The former Supreme Court houses the National Gallery Singapore (NGS) together with the adjacent former City Hall.

The court started out within the Old Parliament House and former Empress Place building (now the Asian Civilisations Museum).

In 1939, the Supreme Court moved into its St Andrew's Road premises, which was built at a cost of 1.75 million Straits dollars.

Buried beneath its foundation stone is a time capsule, to be opened in the year 3000, containing six Singaporean newspapers dated March 31, 1937, and a handful of coins of the Straits Settlements.

In modern times, the court has seen the highest-profile cases in local history, including the Adrian Lim case, where a medium killed two children in Toa Payoh, and the "body parts murder", where tourist John Martin Scripps killed a stranger he had met at Changi Airport.

Mr S. Kathiarasan, 69, a senior assistant director of the legal directorate, who has worked at the Supreme Court for 38 years, recalled: "The 'Adrian Lim' and 'body parts murder' cases drew particularly large numbers of people. We had to issue passes and manage the huge crowds that turned up to witness the hearings."

Mrs May Hui was 28 years old when she sat in at the Adrian Lim trial, and the passing of the death sentence left her "utterly shocked". She vowed never to set foot in the courts again. But more than three decades later, the 63-year-old NGS guide now shares her experiences with visitors.

Lawyer Jonathan Tan, 56, remembers litigating shipping law cases at the building.

"It was a very stately and grand-looking building," he said. "Not just visually but also olfactory - you could smell the lacquered wood that lined the courtrooms."

He compares it with the current Supreme Court building, which he said is a lot more clinical.

National University of Singapore professor Kevin Tan, 55, who specialises in Singapore's legal history, also remembers doing research in the court's Rotunda Library in the 1980s.

"The building was intimidating. And if one were to step into the building, they could immediately sense that justice was meted out (here)."

But there were lighter moments, too. During office breaks, the staff turned the building's airwell into a de facto lounge.

"We would head there for our lunch breaks, sitting around playing chess or carrom," said Mr Kathiarasan. "There was also a makeshift badminton court there!"

Inspired by the Old Bailey in London, the former Supreme Court features impressive Corinthian and Ionic columns, a tympanum, and the dome.

Beyond these classical elements, the building, designed by Frank Dorrington Ward, also showcased some major architectural innovations of its time. "Shanghai Plaster" - a composition of sand, cement, and crushed granite often mistaken for quarried stone - clads the building's exterior. Cheap, durable and easy to maintain, the material was chosen to keep within the building's tight budget.

Inside the building, faux marble tiles, locally made from rubber, lined the corridors to not only give the foyer an Art Deco effect, but also to help dampen the noise from human traffic.

But, perhaps, the biggest innovation was a series of concealed passageways that led prisoners from their holding cells directly to the courtrooms' docks. This was to keep them away from the public eye and media flurry.

In 2005, the Supreme Court moved next door to its current air-conditioned complex and, six years later, a $530 million restoration and construction effort commenced, converting the two civic district buildings into a single arts venue.

Spearheaded by French architectural practice studioMilou and CPG Consultants, it saw the courtrooms transformed into art galleries, and the holding cells and passageways turned into office space. The old Rotunda Library now showcases research materials used by curators to develop the National Gallery's South-east Asia exhibition.

Mr Jean Francois Milou, managing director at studioMilou, said that careful attention was paid.

"Given the historic, symbolic and aesthetic importance of these rooms, the main challenge was to find a balanced approach between preserving their historical feel and features, while integrating them within the wider scheme of a contemporary art gallery," he said.

Visitors can still feel the "solemn" atmosphere of this edifice, said Mrs Hui. So, whenever she conducts her tours, she is sure to set the scene of the space, hoping to put visitors in a "happy mood".

"I am so proud and happy with this building, and want to share it with everyone," she said.

"I want people to see beyond its facade, the transformation from the Supreme Court to the Gallery, and be touched by the building's many stories."

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

Should CFOs have a seat on the board?

Business Times
12 Jun 2017
Irving Low

Companies should weigh the pros and cons, including having stronger financial oversight against board independence

IN the current era of heightened risk and increased regulation, the role of the chief financial officer (CFO) has never been more important.

CFOs with strong financial knowledge and experience can be the difference between a high-performing company and an average one. CFOs are taking on more roles within the company - overseeing mergers and acquisitions, digitisation and cybersecurity. In organisations that do not have one, CFOs are now often acting as de facto chief risk officers.

With the more roles that CFOs are taking on within their companies, one natural question to ask is this: Should they also sit on the board?

The benefits

The first and most obvious reason why the CFO should be on the company's board is that they are primarily responsible for the financial statements of the company, a key document that a company produces on a regular basis for investors and the general public.

The board approves the financial statements, which means that the members are liable for any issues that may arise. There have been cases where directors were found to be in breach of their duties for failing to notice errors in the company's accounts.

A case in point is Centro Property in Australia where the directors relied on the finance team and the external auditors, but the court nevertheless convicted them for not exercising the degree of care and diligence required when reviewing the financial statements. In this case, having the CFO on the board may be useful to ensure that he (or she) is held directly accountable as a director for the accounts that he was responsible for producing.

In 2013, the Singapore government said that it was studying ways to make CFOs and chief executive officers (CEOs) liable for the accuracy of financial statements, regardless of whether they are on the board or not. But so far, no legislation has been enacted on this front.

There is also stronger financial oversight with the CFO on the board. A 2010 study by academics from Northwestern University of companies listed on the New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq showed that those with a CFO as an executive director tended to have a lower incidence of material weaknesses in their financial statements.

Apart from the CEO, the CFO probably has the clearest oversight of the company, its operations and its strategy. If he can help contribute to the company's business strategy and play a crucial role in big decisions such as major mergers and acquisitions, then having a CFO on the board becomes a significant advantage.

The downside

So far, the number of companies with their CFOs on the board is small. According to a 2012 study by executive recruitment firm Spencer Stuart, just 19 CFOs of the Fortune 500 companies sit on their boards. This was down from 37 in 2005.

In Singapore, less than one per cent of the companies listed on the Singapore Exchange have their CFOs siting on the board.

The reluctance of more companies to appoint their CFOs to the board could point to a few issues.

The most problematic of these is that of board independence. The key role of the board is to lead and control the company, and part of this role is to oversee management and ensure the company is run in the best interests of shareholders and other stakeholders.

The Singapore Code of Corporate Governance (the Code) recommends that while executive directors can be part of the board, the Code limits their number and requires a minimum proportion of independent directors.

Most of the time, the CEO already sits on the board, and acts as the main representative of the management on the board. Placing another executive director, such as the CFO, on the board could end up diluting the independence of the board.

Similarly, the audit committee, whose role has expanded in recent years, may find it difficult to function independently with the presence of the CFO on the board. The role of the audit committee includes overseeing the financial statements of the company and implicit in this role is overseeing and evaluating the CFO's performance.

In any case, when faced with important decisions that require sound financial analysis, CFOs can always be called up to sit in at select board meetings to provide counsel. He or she does not need to be part of the board to fulfil this important role.

At the same time, it is also common for companies to appoint former CFOs to their boards, including their own former CFOs. This combines both the knowledge and experience of having a finance chief as a non-executive director but takes away the conflict of interest inherent in appointing a current CFO as a director.

Should CFOs sit on boards? There is no clear answer except that companies who are considering appointing their CFO to the board will have to weigh the benefits and disadvantages of such a decision.

The writer is a member of the Governing Council of the Singapore Institute of Directors

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

Exotic, cool ... and illegal

Straits Times
04 Jun 2017
Matthew Mohan & Aqil Haziq Mahmud

Exotic pets are finding homes and thriving in high-rise Singapore, despite strict laws and stiff fines against ownership. Insight examines the scene here

Fatty the bearded dragon crawls around a Housing Board executive flat on its stubby legs. The blotchy orange beast belongs to a species of lizards named for its "beard" - the underside of its throat that turns black when it is stressed.

Four leopard geckos curl up nearby under plastic rocks in tanks.

"Fatty's very docile," says their owner, 23-year-old undergraduate Nina, as she strokes the scaly animal. (All names of exotic pet owners, smugglers and sellers have been withheld owing to the illicit nature of the industry.)

The half-metre-long bearded dragon is so well behaved that even Nina's mother can handle it.

However, under the Wild Animals and Birds Act, it is illegal to keep, trap or kill wild animals such as Fatty without a licence. If found guilty, Nina could face a fine of $1,000 per animal and have her five reptiles confiscated.

If the animals are protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites), offenders without a Cites permit can be fined up to $50,000 per specimen (up to $500,000 in total), and/or be jailed for up to two years.

On Wednesday, Tai Qi Hui, 32, was fined $6,900 for having illegal wildlife in her possession, including 14 exotic lizards, a snake, an ornate horned frog and an endangered veiled chameleon.

The only live animals allowed for sale and possession in Singapore are dogs, cats, small rodents, licensed fish and birds, as well as three species of reptiles and amphibians - red-eared terrapins, green tree frogs and Malayan box turtles - and land hermit crabs.

However, the keeping of exotic animals as pets, and the trade in them, is on the rise. The number of cases involving their possession or sale doubled from 10 in 2014 to 20 in 2015, says the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA).

Cases involving illegal live wildlife seized in Singapore have also gone up. The number more than doubled from 12 in 2014 to 25 in 2015, according to news reports. Last year, 31 cases were reported.

And it can be a lucrative trade. One Singapore dealer says he sold a tiger for $40,000 and a clouded leopard for $12,000.

The AVA notes that animals such as reptiles, amphibians and primates are unsuitable as pets because they disrupt the ecosystem and affect Singapore's biodiversity if released into the wild.

Yet, some are calling for the laws to be relaxed, claiming that the authorities are lax in enforcing them. The AVA could not immediately be reached for comment.

Others say the high demand in the region for the exotic animals is driving them to extinction, and want enforcement stepped up.

SINGAPORE A 'SMUGGLING HUB'

Wildlife trade monitoring network Traffic has ranked Singapore among the world's top 10 wildlife smuggling hubs. Traders exploit the Republic's efficient transport links and strategic geographical location to fuel the desire for exotic pets in the region.

This is in spite of the country being a signatory to Cites - an international agreement signed in 1986 to ensure that trade does not threaten wildlife species with extinction.

What's more, exotic pet ownership among Singaporeans means the Republic is more than just a conduit for illegal exotic animals, say wildlife activists.

"A lot of the animals are stopping here," says Mr Kalai Vanan, deputy chief executive of wildlife rescue group Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Acres).

Last year, Acres handled 133 wildlife trade cases, including those involving live animals and animal parts. It also receives two to three illegal exotic pet-related calls per week. In cases where exotic pets are abandoned, the non-profit group houses them at its Wildlife Rescue Centre before repatriating them to their countries of origin.

"It's definitely a problem," says Mr Kalai. "We've no idea how many out there are being owned. The numbers are probably staggering."

WHAT'S THE APPEAL?

Sneaked across the Causeway last year, Tako the hedgehog was a surprise gift for 24-year-old barista Jo, who keeps the eight-month-old creature in her HDB flat.

"I just made a random comment like, 'I wish I had a hedgehog'. Then, I went overseas and came back, and my friend was like, 'I bought you one'," she says.

Experts note that people are motivated to own the animals by a variety of psychological factors. These include the prestige factor, or the desire to be different, says Dr Michael Gumert, a psychology professor at Nanyang Technological University.

"If you have something that is rare and unique, that's more valuable than something common," he says."(Also) some people like exotic things more than others. They want something cool."

This resonates with owners such as Dut, 41, who has been keeping exotic pets for the past 15 years.

"If you look at the people who keep reptiles, there's a certain type. It is because they don't like the mainstream," notes the graphic designer, who owns two bearded dragons and a black tarantula from Brazil.

PROBLEMS IN CAPTIVITY

The welfare of exotic pets in captivity is a concern that the authorities and animal rights groups share.

According to the AVA, exotic pets are likely to be subjected to "unsuitable living conditions, poor diet and pet owners' lack of knowledge of proper care".

Acres founder and Member of Parliament Louis Ng agrees. "In the vast majority of cases we see, these animals are housed in appalling conditions."

But Nina insists: "Reptiles die easily because of irresponsible people. You have to be disciplined as an owner."

Fatty swivels its chunky head to stare at her as she explains how she paid close to $1,000 for it: "Its former owner was about to emigrate, and if I didn't take Fatty, he would have let it go in the wild."

However, the AVA points out on its website that there is the risk that exotic pets might sneak out and traumatise neighbours.

Indeed, a metre-long ball python owned by Li, who is in his 60s, escaped. "I forgot to put the weight on top of its tank, and the snake came out and caused my talking mynah bird to have a heart attack."

According to Moses, the 25-year-old owner of three snakes and a baby caiman, ball pythons are "escape artists". Just three years ago, his juvenile pastel ball python, which he had kept in a plastic box, slithered out of his flat.

Residents in his estate say they are wary of such pets. One said she would be concerned if her neighbour owned a pet snake that might threaten her daughter's well-being.

But Nina's 15-year-old neighbour has no qualms about visiting Fatty. The secondary school student says: "Reptiles are cool."

CAN MORE BE DONE?

So is the current ban on keeping exotic pets necessary?

Acres thinks it is. "Somewhere along the line, they were all wild caught, bred in horrible conditions just to cater to those people trying to make money," says Mr Kalai.

Some say more could be done to enforce the ban. They claim that the AVA does not prioritise clamping down on the illegal pet industry.

"Because the pet trade is one of our big industries, the AVA doesn't want to rock the boat," says wildlife consultant Subaraj Rajathurai. "So, they are not as efficient in the enforcement as they should be."

Traffic South-east Asia's regional director Chris Shepherd, meanwhile, says the local authorities "have been doing a lot more than other countries in the region, but still could do more".

"We really need to see these wildlife traders put in jail," he adds, urging enforcement agencies to impose stricter penalties and conduct more thorough investigations.

When it comes to enforcement, the AVA works with Acres to conduct raids in illegal wildlife cases, especially after receiving tip-offs.

During raids, AVA officers can also seize laptops and mobile phones belonging to those suspected of operating large-scale illegal wildlife businesses.

In 2014, Acres called for harsher reprisals against a man who illegally kept 32 wild animals. He was fined $41,000, an amount Acres said was less than a tenth of the maximum he was facing.

A year later, Acres also proposed tackling the trade by using sniffer dogs at border checkpoints, but the AVA said it was less cost-effective than existing methods like routine or random checks.

Mr Bernard Harrison, who was executive director of the Singapore Zoo for nearly two decades, says the authorities could do better: "If they felt it was important, they would."

Addressing the problem will take more than just a change in mentality, though. Mr Ng says the AVA's wildlife section does not send a "very strong deterrent message to would-be offenders or traders" because it has insufficient resources.

"I want to increase the number of enforcement officers - there are only three senior inspectors to manage the entire wildlife trade in Singapore," he says, adding that he will take the issue to Parliament.

SHOULD BAN BE EASED?

Despite the argument against keeping exotic pets, however, some experts feel that it is time to review the current wide-ranging ban.

Dr Fred Chua, a veterinarian who has treated exotic pets for more than a decade, wants exceptions for certain animals like Indian star tortoises. He explains that reptiles like tortoises are not big eaters, so they will not affect local biodiversity if released. They also have little chance of survival in the wild because of Singapore's tropical environment, he adds.

Sugar gliders, too, can be kept at home, provided they are given ample space, says Mr Harrison. "You can keep exotic animals pretty well in captivity, and if you treat them well, there isn't a problem with the animal welfare side."

He calls for serious exotic pet enthusiasts to lobby for legalisation. "If they worked out some strategies that would allow them to abide by certain protocol, and breed these pets so they'd be disease-free, I'm sure it could be done."

Together with the National Parks Board, the AVA studies how an escaped pet would affect native wildlife before permitting an animal to be kept. Nearly a decade ago, the green tree frog and Malayan box turtle, both previously banned, were legalised as pets.

CONTINUING TO BREAK THE LAW

Until efforts are stepped up, illegal pet dealers and owners continue to be one step ahead of the authorities.

Retired army commando Freddy, 50, once whisked seven African helmeted turtles from under the noses of three AVA officers.

His friend, who kept the turtles illegally, called him for help and stalled the officers. Before they could return later that evening, Freddy went to his friend's flat and stuffed the turtles into a bag. The AVA officers returned that evening to find nothing illegal. "I was puzzled. If the AVA really wanted to check, they would have stayed."

Some owners show off their illegal pets on social media without fear of getting caught. Marketing executives Charlotte and Rachel, both 24, own a Mexican kingsnake, corn snake and two ball pythons. The close friends have no qualms about sharing photos of their serpents on Snapchat and Instagram.

Charlotte says: "There are friends who ask if I'm scared of getting caught, but I can say that I'm in Malaysia or at my friend's house."

She suggests introducing a permit system that requires exotic pet owners to pass a rigorous course on handling such animals. After permits are issued, she says, the authorities could conduct routine checks on the pets.

"Then again," she concedes, "this is not exactly a 'must-have'."


This feature is adapted from a final-year project by three journalism students from Nanyang Technological University's Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information.

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

New rules mooted for travel agencies

Straits Times
22 Jun 2017
Lim Min Zhang & Revathi Valluvar

Move to protect public by raising penalties and beefing up the investigative powers of authorities

To protect consumers from errant travel agencies, including those which close down abruptly, the Government is proposing a number of changes to regulations governing travel agents.

These include heavier penalties for those carrying out unlicensed activities, more investigative powers for authorities and stricter requirements concerning proof of financial sustainability. For example, a banker's guarantee will no longer be accepted when applying for a licence.

Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry Sim Ann said in a statement yesterday: "The majority of our travel agents are professional and conduct their businesses responsibly. But as the travel industry transforms and consumer expectations evolve, we need to update the regulatory framework to safeguard the interests of consumers and also ensure that the business environment allows travel agents to innovate and grow."

There are a total of 1,200 licensed travel agents in Singapore. The Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) said it received 607 complaints against travel agents last year, making it the 10th most complained about industry.

Just last month, an established agency, Misa Travel, shut down abruptly. Customers were left with about $28,000 worth of unfulfilled packages.

Under the recommendations, new licence applicants will no longer have the option to provide a banker's guarantee in lieu of the $100,000 net worth requirement.

The Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI), explained that a banker's guarantee does not provide assurance that the travel agent is financially sustainable, and does not provide any direct recourse in the event the agency goes bust.

MTI and Singapore Tourism Board (STB) are also proposing heavier penalties for those found guilty of carrying out unlicensed travel agent activities. They want the maximum fine per contravention to go up from $10,000 to $25,000.

Under the proposal, STB will also get more investigative powers, such as the authority to take photographs, audio and video recordings that may serve as evidence of wrongdoing.

To reduce the period that consumers are exposed to risk when dealing with potentially errant agents, the ministry is also planning to reduce the time that agencies are given to produce a defence if accused of wrongdoing from 21 days to 14 days.

It added that it may soon also become mandatory by law for travel agents to inform travellers about travel insurance options and keep a record of this.

Mr Ang Eu Khoon, 50, managing director of San's Tours and Car Rental, said: "It's good to have the industry standards spelt out explicitly so that there will be fewer unlicensed tour guides that damage the industry's reputation. This is especially important when other countries in the region have also started cleaning up their act."

Mr Michael Chiam, 56, senior lecturer on tourism at Ngee Ann Polytechnic, said: "It is a step in the right direction. The spirit of the changes to this Act is to uphold the norms in the industry, some of which are already being practised by the established players."

He said that touting and accepting payments via bank accounts, which are some of the other proposed legislation under the new Act, are both rare occurrences in the industry.

Executive director of Case Loy York Jiun, said that while it supports the move to strengthen consumer protection measures, more could be done.

"We would like to reiterate our call for travel agents to look into insuring their tour packages so that all consumers are covered."

More competition - and innovation - expected

Proposed regulatory changes to the travel industry may foster a more pro-business environment, but not all welcome them.

The Ministry of Trade and Industry is proposing a new restricted travel agent licence with a lower requirement of $50,000 in paid-up capital, for agents which sell local tours that include transport, but come without accommodation.

However, firms offering tours within Singapore without "passenger-carrying conveyance", such as those offering walking or cycling tours, will no longer need a travel agent licence.

Said Mr Ng Boon Kheng, who owns Singapore City Explorers, a small agency which runs walking and cycling tours: "If anyone can just set up a website and run a walking or cycling tour without a licence, then where's the accountability? It's just going to be easier for people to scam tourists."

He said he started off selling tour packages without a travel agent licence and was told by the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) that what he was doing so was akin to being a travel agent, for which he needed a licence.

He then applied for a tour agent licence 1½ years ago, which required him to have proof that he had $100,000 in the bank.

"After all the effort that I have gone through, now it seems like it was all for nothing."

STB's travel agent licence webpage says a registered business must have a minimum paid-up capital of $100,000 and a net worth of the same amount but the fee to be paid to STB for the licence is $300.

But not all share such a pessimistic view.

Mr Clifford Neo, outbound chairman of the National Association of Travel Agents Singapore, said: "The proposed legislation will promote young entrepreneurs to come into the trade, which will bring in new travel ideas with the lower barriers of entry."

Senior lecturer in tourism at Ngee Ann Polytechnic Michael Chiam, 56, said the changes are not just a boon for tourists, but also for retirees and students here who might want to offer their own tours part time.

A representative at Dynasty Travel said that while the proposed changes may increase direct competition, it may also bring about opportunities and new innovations."We are willing to work with the new start-ups that may come about because of these amendments so that together we can provide more innovative services."

The proposed amendments are a result of 17 discussion sessions with more than 180 participants from the travel industry, including the National Association of Travel Agents Singapore (Natas), and Case. The public consultation period, which started yesterday, will end on July 12. More information may be viewed at http://reach.gov.sg, and feedback sent to mti_feedback@mti.gov.sg.


Proposals

Some key proposed changes to create a pro-business environment include:

A new tiered licensing regime. Businesses that sell tours without "passenger-carrying conveyance", such as walking or bicycle tours, do not need a travel agent licence. Those offering tours with transport but without accommodation can apply for a licence with a lower paid-up capital requirement of $50,000, compared with $100,000 for a full licence.

Travel agencies would not have to purchase fidelity insurance as this does not provide direct recourse to consumers but is more for the agency's own protection.

Travel agencies will be allowed to provide pro-rated refunds in cases where some travel products have already been consumed.


Plans to protect consumers and give regulators more power include:

A "show cause" period of 14 days, instead of 21 days. Travel agents issued with a notice of suspension or revocation have a shorter time to explain why they should be allowed to retain their licence.

The additional licensing condition (ALC), implemented in 2015, will become law. The ALC requires travel agencies to inform customers to consider buying insurance that covers travel agency insolvency and record their decisions.

The Singapore Tourism Board will gain more ainvestigative powers, such as to collect evidence from third parties, take photographs, and gather audio and video recording of those suspected of errant behaviour.

The maximum fine for unlicensed travel agent activities will be increased from $10,000 to $25,000.

Travel agents will no longer have the option to provide a banker's guarantee in place of meeting the $100,000 net worth requirement to obtain a licence.

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