02 August 2015
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New rules require auditors to highlight issues like valuations

Business Times
31 Jul 2015
Melissa Tan

Acra and accountants' body say 'key audit matters' section goes beyond usual pass/fail audit opinion

[Singapore] WRITEDOWNS on the valuations of investments could soon be on the cards for some Singapore-listed companies in commodities and other sectors, which are treading more carefully in the wake of new rules on audit report disclosures unveiled by the accountancy regulator on Thursday, market observers said.

But they pointed out that the upcoming changes to auditor reporting here - aimed at boosting transparency for investors and other stakeholders - may not necessarily help to avert future accounting furores similar to the recent Noble saga.

Some Singapore-listed companies may theoretically be able to escape the new requirements. The changes apply only to Singapore-listed companies with Singapore auditors, so it is now unclear whether Singapore-listed firms with foreign auditors, such as commodities trader Noble Group, will have to comply.

The main change to auditor reporting standards for Singapore-listed companies will be in the introduction of a "key audit matters" (KAM) section in the company's audit report, said a joint statement by the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (Acra) and the Institute of Singapore Chartered Accountants (Isca).

In this new section, auditors will be required to disclose significant audit-related issues beyond their usual "pass/fail" audit opinion, the two bodies said. For instance, auditors may point out the parts of a listed company's financials that are most susceptible to mis-statement; they may also highlight the company's major transactions during the year that required "extensive" auditing efforts, or areas that depend on management estimates such as the valuation of investments.

The topic of valuation has been in the limelight ever since mainboard-listed commodities trader Noble Group came under fire earlier this year from Iceberg Research; the research outfit had accused Noble of accounting malpractice and claimed that the value of some of Noble's assets had been inflated.

Noble's auditors are Ernst & Young in Hong Kong, where regulators have not said yet that they will require a KAM section. Singapore is the first economy in the Asia-Pacific to mandate that.

Market observers said on Thursday that the introduction of the KAM section may make listed companies here more careful with their valuations. Firms that might be affected include those in commodities, real estate and banking - sectors with a lot of intangibles or assets that are difficult to value, they added.

Corporate governance specialist Mak Yuen Teen, an associate professor at National University of Singapore Business School, said: "It (the KAM section) may make companies and auditors more conservative, so I do expect more writedowns. Of course, this then begs the question of whether some companies have been too aggressive in their valuations and auditors have been too accommodating."

Noting that greater disclosure tends to make companies more accountable, Singapore Institute of Directors chairman Willie Cheng said: "More gaps will be closed as a consequence of this, especially if the company hasn't been as careful."

David Gerald, president of the Securities Investors Association of Singapore, said that in the case of Noble or Olam, auditors "will probably spend a lot of time looking at the valuation of the commodities or the biological assets" when pinpointing the key audit matters.

That said, Prof Mak pointed out that how well the KAM section works in practice will depend partly on the auditor's independence and whether regulators will hold auditors accountable for their audit reports, especially if the company is later found to have accounting problems.

"There is a risk of the boilerplate short-form report that currently exists being replaced by boilerplate long-form reports and clients may exert pressure on auditors on disclosures of key audit matters," he said. "Client-friendly auditors may yield, although they will need to be more careful now," he added.

On their end, auditors said on Thursday that they did not expect listed companies here to revalue their investments or assets solely due to the KAM section, adding that companies ought to have already been doing their valuations properly.

Hans Koopmans, assurance partner at PwC Singapore, said in a phone interview: "If you have a company that was fairly aggressive, then they may have another look at valuations, but I would be surprised if they did it just because of the new regime."

Taking a writedown just because of the KAM section also "really shouldn't be the case if auditors have done their job properly", he added.

KPMG Singapore audit head Roger Tay echoed this, saying in an e-mail: "Companies which have not revalued their investments previously are unlikely to do so because of the new auditor reporting requirements."

Shariq Barmaky, audit partner at Deloitte Singapore, noted that KAMs were a matter of judgment on the auditor's part, and it was "very subjective" as to whether having a KAM section would improve the quality of valuations.

An Acra spokesman said in an e-mail on Thursday that auditors will be held responsible if a matter that should have been reported as a KAM was not included.

However, she acknowledged that an auditor's report would not need to have a KAM section if the listed company is foreign, is audited by foreign auditors and the audit is conducted under the standards of a jurisdiction that does not require a KAM section.

A Singapore Exchange spokesman told The Business Times on Thursday that it was "not ruling out" extending the KAM rule to companies with foreign auditors.

Besides KAM, the other audit reporting change that will be imposed is that auditors must make sure a company has disclosed enough information on its viability if any major mishap such as the loss of a big customer occurs, Acra and Isca said.

Both changes will take effect for audits of financial statements for periods ending on or after Dec 15, 2016.

melissat@sph.com.sg

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Ex-NTUC president Phey Yew Kok faces 28 more charges

Business Times
24 Jul 2015
Claire Huang

[Singapore] FORMER Member of Parliament Phey Yew Kok who was on the run for 35 years now faces 28 additional charges, taking the total number of charges against him to 34. The additional charges were read out to the 81-year-old in court on Thursday. Of the total, 25 relate to criminal breach of trust involving an amount of more than S$425,000.

The former NTUC president also faces three misappropriation charges involving more than S$27,000, two charges of using the trade union's funds to purchase shares in a supermarket without the Minister's approval, two counts of abetting provision of false information to an investigator, one count of abetting the fabrication of false evidence to be used in a judicial proceeding, and one count of failing to attend court.

Phey, represented by senior counsel Sant Singh and partner Chen Chee Yen from Tan Rajah & Cheah, allegedly committed the offences between April 1973 and January 1980.

He is accused of doing so in his various capacities including the periods when he was general secretary and chairman of the Singapore Industrial Labour Organisation (Silo), as well as general secretary of the Pioneer Industries Employees' Union (PIEU).

The first six charges - four counts of criminal breach of trust and two counts under the Trade Unions Act - were tendered against him in court on Dec 10, 1979. He jumped bail of S$100,000 three weeks later, fleeing by train to Kuala Lumpur. He evaded attempts to track him down in Thailand but on June 22 this year he surrendered at the Singapore Embassy in Bangkok and was brought back to Singapore the next day.

The former unionist had a phenomenal rise after becoming an industrial relations officer with NTUC in 1964. At just 35, he was picked to head NTUC, as well as Silo and PIEU in 1970. Two years later, he was elected member of parliament for Boon Teck on a People's Action Party ticket. In 1979, after assuming the role of NTUC chairman, Phey was investigated and by the end of the year, he was facing serious charges.

If convicted of criminal breach of trust as a public servant, he faces a maximum penalty of seven years' jail and a fine on each count. For misappropriation, Phey is looking at up to three years' jail and a fine, while he could be fined up to S$1,000 if found guilty of misusing the trade union's funds.

For providing false information to an investigator by abetment, Phey faces jail of up to six months and a fine of S$1,000. The highest penalty for abetting the fabrication of false evidence to be used in a judicial proceeding is seven years in jail and a fine. The highest penalty for jumping bail is six months' jail and a S$1,000 fine.

The case will be heard in court on Sept 3.

huangjy@sph.com.sg

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Auditor-General flags conflicts of interest

Straits Times
16 Jul 2015
Lim Yan Liang

Lapses uncovered in handling grants, tenders; NLB's e-book procurement referred to police

Singapore's Auditor-General Willie Tan has signalled his concern over the way government agencies handle conflicts of interest, or related-party transactions, in business matters.

Also, some ministries and statutory boards were found to have been lax in the way they administered grants. They failed to ensure that the correct amount was paid out and conditions adhered to.

Lapses were uncovered as well in the handling of tenders for contracts and purchases.

These weaknesses in governance were set out in the latest annual report of the Auditor-General's Office (AGO) released yesterday. It focused on the failings at four ministries and 11 statutory boards.

Most notable among them was the National Library Board (NLB), which comes under the Ministry of Communications and Information.

The way it procured electronic resources such as e-books and databases has led the ministry to refer the matter to the police for further investigation.

The AGO noted that in all seven cases of procurement, no documentary evidence could be found on why NLB chose one vendor over another. Its subscription to an e-resource was also renewed twice, although its evaluators had recommended its termination and NLB's guidelines found usage to be too low for renewal.

"By procuring the e-resources without going through a proper process of sourcing, selection, evaluation and justification, NLB may not have availed itself of the best offer from the market and may be subject to allegations of bias, unfair and inappropriate procurement processes," said the report.

As for related-party transactions not carried out at arm's length, it noted that substantial sums of money were involved.

These related parties were not charged or were charged below market rate for goods and services provided by the public-sector agencies, said the AGO. "In effect, they were given hidden subsidies."

The three organisations cited were People's Association (PA), Institute of Technical Education (ITE) and Singapore Polytechnic.

At the PA, there were seven instances in which the chairman of the Citizens Consultative Committee of Admiralty ward approved his own claims, totalling more than $114,000. But PA investigations found no dishonesty on his part.

In the ITE's case, it made a $2.43 million interim payment for construction work its consultants had certified as completed, even though no work had been done. Since the audit, ITE has excluded the item from its final account.

Singapore Polytechnic leased a plot of land to a related party for $12 a year when it was leasing it from the Land Office at $2.19 million a year. The lease was to the polytechnic's Graduates' Guild for its alumni and industry leaders to network.

The school said it would consult the Education Ministry on this arrangement.

Those found to have been slack in administering grants and handling tenders included the Education Ministry, Health Ministry, National Population and Talent Division, National Research Foundation and Infocomm Development Authority.

Another is the National Parks Board (NParks). The AGO found that managers of the Gardens by the Bay project had awarded contracts of more than $20 million that waived competition without compelling reasons. NParks cited a tight timeline as the main reason for the waiver, but there was no evidence that it was caused by unforeseen events, said the AGO.

"Among other things, NParks had breached the government procurement principle of open and fair competition for consultancy services contracts and there was no assurance that value for money was achieved for the services procured," it said.

NParks admitted that it should have called for an open tender.

yanliang@sph.com.sg

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Mothership.sg first news site to operate under individual licence

TODAY
31 Jul 2015
Siau Ming En & Holly Matthews

MDA move 'can be seen as a tightening of control over reporting before GE'

SINGAPORE — Current-affairs site Mothership.sg is to be individually licensed under a framework for websites with local news content, making it the first such site to be registered under the Media Development Authority (MDA)’s new licensing regime.

Under the regime, which was introduced in 2013 by the MDA, an individually licensed website will have to comply, within 24 hours, with the authority’s directions to remove prohibited content, including material that incites racial or religious hatred. The site will also have to put up a S$50,000 performance bond.

The licensing framework applies to websites that meet two criteria: They publish an average of at least one article a week on Singapore’s news and current affairs, over a period of two consecutive months, and they are accessed from at least 50,000 unique  Internet Protocol addresses in Singapore each month, also over two consecutive months.

Since 2013, 10 sites, including seven by Singa­pore Press Holdings, two by MediaCorp and one by Yahoo! Singa­pore, have been operating under individual licences.

Mothership.sg, which reports on current affairs and lifestyle topics, said it plans to accede to the requirements of the licence.

In a statement today (July 30), Mothership.sg said it was told by the MDA that the site met the threshold that requires a website to be licensed under Section 8 of the Broadcasting Act.

“One of the considerations we had as we were mulling over the decision on whether we should comply was that S$50,000 is a big sum of money for a small team like ours,” said the site’s spokesperson.

In response to TODAY’s queries, the MDA said: “There are no other websites identified at this point for individual licensing ... Until such time that the MDA is satisfied that a website qualifies for individual licensing, it will continue to be class-licensed.”

All websites are automatically class-licensed, but some websites are required to register because they are involved in the propagation, promotion or discussion of political issues in Singapore. This registration, which comes under the Broadcasting (Class Licence) Notification, requires the people behind the website to declare their identities, and allows the MDA to extract undertakings from the registrant, such as providing a statutory declaration of non-receipt of foreign funding.

Mothership.sg was first told to register last year. Other class licensees that have registered includes The Online Citizen, and most recently, the company behind The Middle Ground was told to do so.

Meanwhile, the individual licensing regime places a stronger onus on online news websites that have a significant reach and impact on Singa­poreans. “This is necessary, as the content of these online news websites is relied upon by members of the public to make informed decisions or to form judgments on matters of public interest,” said an MDA spokesperson.

Technology blogger Alfred Siew noted that with the General Election widely expected to be held this year, the timing of the MDA’s move could be seen as that of the authorities tightening control over the reporting of political news and commentaries.

Singapore Management University law don Eugene Tan felt the move also reflected the MDA’s “fairly extensive” definition of news content, which typically comes from the traditional media.

“Increasingly, people are gravitating towards these sorts of new media sites. So if the licensing rules are just catering to the established players, then I think it will not meet the legislative intent or, rather, the whole rationale for the licensing framework,” he said.

Copyright 2015 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

Dovechem: Liquidators' fees raised on appeal

Straits Times
23 Jul 2015
K.C. Vijayan

Judge makes point about the need to explain bills, with no formula for calculation in law

Liquidators whose bills come under court scrutiny should substantiate the rates charged. They should also show how the bills were made up or at least explain the policy behind the rates.

A reason for this is that there is no formula in law to calculate their fees.

A High Court judge made this point when she raised liquidator fees from $667,678 to $750,000 on appeal, in the case of the winding down of holding company Dovechem in 2011.

"The issues before me involve the accuracy and reasonableness of the bill presented and raise questions as to the basis on which liquidators should charge for their services," Justice Judith Prakash said in judgment grounds released earlier this month.

The bills were for about 18 months of work done from September 2011 by liquidators Cosimo Borelli, Hamish Christie and Jason Kardachi on Dovechem Holdings.

Dovechem is a holding company of various businesses, mainly in the chemical and paint industries, built up by Mr Ng Joo Soon, his brothers and nephews.

In 2008,disputes began between Mr Ng and the majority shareholders - his brothers Joo Tian and Ju Aik, as well as his nephews Anta and Andrew. Mr Ng obtained a court order in 2011 to wind up Dovechem and the liquidators carried out their duties until 2012.

However, the majority shareholders were unhappy with their bills which the liquidators took to court to be assessed . Lawyers said it was rare for liquidators' fees to be the subject of court scrutiny.

The liquidators explained that their work included resolving disputes between Ng and the majority shareholders as well as trying to realise the company's assets .

However, the majority shareholders, through their lawyers Denis Tan and Thomas Ng, claimed that the liquidators had done "a great deal of unnecessary work" and the bill was "exhorbitant".

The liquidators had wanted $1.2 million for their work.

A High Court Assistant Registrar (AR), after hearings last year, cut the sum sought to $667,678 and the liquidators appealed .

Their lawyers, then Senior Counsel Kannan Ramesh, Marina Chin and Keith Tnee, argued that the AR erred in principle.

But the majority shareholders cross-appealed for an even lower sum of $350,000.

Justice Prakash held that, based on the practice in England, liquidators should not be allowed to include time charges in their bills for the work done by administrative and support staff.

This should be treated as overheads and "factored into the general remuneration charged by a liquidator", she said.

The liquidators had said there were three layers of professional fee earners comprising accountants and associates, managers and liquidators.

However "the difficulty here is that there is no recognised body of insolvency practitioners that could prescribe who, other than a professional accountant and approved liquidator, could qualify to be recognised as a professional insolvency practitioner and fee earner", said Justice Prakash.

"The liquidators criticise the AR's reduction in their bill as being arbitrary but do not appear to recognise that their rates are, in the absence of any evidence as to how they were derived, equally arbitrary."

The court did not accept the liquidators' charge-out rates at face value and held $750,000 to be "fair and reasonable" sum for the work.

"I am cognisant that the liquidators, and perhaps others, may consider this figure to be arbitrary but, as the law does not provide or support mathematical formula for the calculation of a liquidator's fee, any award made would be open to the same criticism."

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Liquidators of Dovechem Holdings Pte Ltd v Dovechem Holdings Pte Ltd (in compulsory liquidation) [2015] SGHC 167

SGX should identify overseas firms and risks of investing in them: Mailbag

Business Times
16 Jul 2015

I REFER to the announcement by Noble Group on July 14 that it has appointed David Yeow, a lawyer who is resident in Singapore, as a new independent director.

On June 20, I wrote to the Singapore Exchange (SGX) asking if Noble was granted a waiver from rule 221 of the Mainboard Rulebook. Rule 221 states: "A foreign issuer must have at least two independent directors, resident in Singapore." As I pointed out in my commentary ("Noble should pay heed to its corporate governance", BT, June 24), all the independent directors of Noble appear to be based in, or closely connected to, Hong Kong. I could not find any Singapore-resident independent directors. According to the appointment templates for Noble available on SGXNET from 2010 onwards, all the independent directors who were appointed prior to David Yeow have Hong Kong as the country of principal residence. The lack of Singapore-resident independent directors may partly explain why Noble pays lip service to the Singapore Code of Corporate Governance.

In its reply to me, SGX mentioned that Noble was listed in 1997 while rule 221 was introduced in 2006. However, SGX did not say that Noble was granted a waiver.

In the interest of providing greater clarity to the market on the application of its rules, I would urge SGX to answer the following questions:

(a) Prior to the appointment of David Yeow, did Noble have two Singapore-resident independent directors as required under rule 221?

(b) If Noble did not have two Singapore-resident independent directors, was rule 221 not applicable to it, and if so, why?

(c) Was Noble granted a waiver from rule 221, and, if so, what is the basis for the waiver?

Noble is just one of the many overseas companies listed here that have run into problems, raising questions about the SGX's aggressive pursuit of such listings and the effectiveness of its regulation of such companies.

SGX should emulate the approach taken by Hong Kong Exchange (HKEx) in relation to overseas companies. First, HKEx highlights on its website the different risks of investing in overseas companies. These risks include differences in corporate laws; enforcement of shareholder rights; regulatory enforcement; and laws, standards, restrictions and risks when a company's principal operations and assets are outside its place of incorporation or Hong Kong. We have seen these risks crystallising in scandals involving overseas companies listed here.

Second, HKEx enables investors to identify if a company is an overseas company. In contrast, while the SGX website clearly identifies secondary listings, it does not identify overseas companies that have a primary listing here. SGX should include a link identifying all overseas companies and the type of listing, or at least provide an easy means for investors to identify them.

Third, HKEx requires all overseas companies, regardless of type of listing, to publish a Company Information Sheet on HKEx website. Some of the information to be included in the information sheet include:

"(a) a summary of the waivers and exemptions that it has been granted;

(b) a summary of the provisions in the laws and regulations in its home jurisdiction and primary market that are different to those required by Hong Kong law regarding:

(i) the rights of its holders of its securities and how they can exercise their rights;

(ii) directors' powers and investor protection; and

(iii) the circumstances under which its minority shareholders may be bought out or may be required to be bought out after a successful takeover or share repurchase"

Admittedly, the number of companies from outside Hong Kong and mainland China that are listed on HKEx is small. In contrast, SGX has the highest percentage of overseas companies among all the major exchanges around the world, with such companies currently comprising 37 per cent of all listings. However, this makes it even more important for investors to know whether a company is an overseas company and to understand the risks involved in investing in such companies.

If SGX does not shed its regulatory function as it arguably should, it needs to be more transparent and robust in discharging it.

Mak Yuen Teen

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Pathways to reconcile claims over South China Sea isles

Business Times
31 Jul 2015
Frank Ching

TWO and a half years after the Philippines first sought international arbitration in its disputes with China over the South China Sea, the first hearings were finally held in The Hague this month by the Permanent Court of Arbitration, despite China's refusal to take part and its contention that the tribunal lacks jurisdiction. China's Foreign Ministry last December published a "position paper" explaining its rejection.

On July 13 this year, at the end of its week-long hearings, the arbitral tribunal issued a press release saying that although China refuses to participate, the five-man tribunal "considered the communications by China to constitute, in effect, a plea" that the Philippines' submissions fall outside of the tribunal's jurisdiction. It promised to rule on the jurisdiction issue soon and, in any event, no later than the end of this year.

The next day, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman reasserted that "China will never accept any imposed solution or unilaterally resorting to a third-party settlement". However, a senior American official, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Russel, said in a major speech last week that if the tribunal rules that it has jurisdiction and subsequently makes a decision on the case, then "both the Philippines and China are obligated to abide by whatever decision may be rendered in the case, whether they like it or not".

China clearly did not like what Mr Russel said. A Foreign Ministry spokesman accused the United States of acting like an "arbitrator outside the tribunal" designating the direction for the arbitral tribunal. China, it seems, is feeling the heat. Clearly, even if the tribunal rules that it has jurisdiction and decides in favour of the Philippines, China will ignore the ruling. Still, such a development will be a major blow to China.

If the tribunal rules that China's "nine-dash line" - which encompasses almost the entire South China Sea - is inconsistent with international law, China's standing will suffer a major blow as it will be seen as an international scofflaw. Other countries, such as the Philippines and Vietnam, will likely feel emboldened to develop resources in what the tribunal declares to be their exclusive economic zone - a 200-nautical-mile area extending from their coast - despite China's claims of "historic rights". And if China then tries to use force, other countries, including the US, will have the law on their side if they oppose the Chinese actions.

In his keynote address, delivered at a conference on the South China Sea sponsored by the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, Mr Russel again asserted American neutrality where there are competing sovereignty claims, but added: "We are not neutral when it comes to adhering to international law. We will come down forcefully when it comes to following the rules."

Manila acknowledges that the tribunal does not have authority to make rulings on issues of sovereignty. However, Philippine Secretary of Foreign Affairs Albert del Rosario argued that "we wish to clarify our maritime entitlements in the South China Sea, a question over which the tribunal has jurisdiction".

Under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, features that are under water except at low tide are not considered islands and even rocks that are above water but are not capable of sustaining human life generate only a 12-mile territorial sea but not an exclusive economic zone. China has been busily reclaiming land to substantially increase the size of the features it controls - all of which are considered only rocks or low-tide elevations - but the law of the sea does not recognise artificial islands.

Four South-east Asian nations - Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei - have claims that overlap Chinese claims. Indeed, there are conflicting claims among Asean members. Asean would be in a stronger position vis-à-vis China if its members could resolve conflicts among themselves first.

Recently, Michael McDevitt, a retired US admiral who is now a senior fellow with CNA Strategic Studies, published what he called a "modest proposal" to help reconcile overlapping Asean claims, beginning with the Philippines and Malaysia, then resolving differences between Malaysia and Vietnam, Vietnam and Brunei and, finally, the Philippines and Vietnam.

Mr McDevitt acknowledged that his proposal "will likely never take place" given the very difficult compromises that would have to make. But, if it did happen, it would not only enable Asean to speak with one voice but it would also make it easier for each country to exploit resources in its exclusive economic zone.

This is one pathway. The other is a positive decision by the Permanent Court of Arbitration. Perhaps there some combination of both will be needed. But it won't be easy.

  • The writer is a Hong Kong-based journalist and commentator.

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Businessman who flouts divorce orders faces jail

Straits Times
23 Jul 2015
Selina Lum

A Singaporean businessman with more than $14 million in known assets faces jail after his ex-wife hauled him to court for contempt, after he failed to comply with divorce orders.

Last October, Mr Zheng Zhuan Yao, 53, was ordered to pay Madam Mok Kah Hong $7.05 million for her share of marital assets and $1.15 million in maintenance.

Mr Zheng, formerly known as Tay Chuan Yao, has yet to comply.

He said yesterday that while his family is rich, he is mired in debt. His father Tay Jui Chuan, also known as Tay Juhana, is the founder of Indonesia-based Sambu Group, which makes coconut products.

Madam Mok, 52, initiated proceedings for her ex-husband to be jailed for his "deliberate, cynical, persistent and repeated" breaches of orders from the Family Court, High Court and Court of Appeal over a period of 1 1/2 years.

Yesterday, Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon noted that this was "one of the most egregious cases" of refusal to abide by court orders in a divorce and jail was warranted.

The only thing that stood in the way, he said, was Mr Zheng's contention that he was not suitable for prison as he was suffering from a variety of medical problems .

The chief justice called for a report from prison medical services to confirm if Mr Zheng's ailments, which include diabetes and hypertension, can be coped with in jail.

The couple, who have a son in his 20s, ended their 27-year marriage in 2010.

Mr Zheng has two other children with his mistress. Madam Mok initially sought $25 million.

In May last year, the High Court awarded her $1.15 million in maintenance and a $4.25 million Stevens Court flat which had been the couple's matrimonial home. The Court of Appeal later upped her share of the assets to $7.05 million.

Mr Zheng was ordered to pay the mortgage and transfer the property to his wife. But he flouted the order and the bank sold the flat for $3.5 million, of which Madam Mok received only $650,000 as the bulk was used to pay his other debts.

Madam Mok's lawyer, Ms Bernice Loo, said Mr Zheng belatedly sought help from his family in March and tried to sell his $3.2 million property in Indonesia only in May. She said he staved off her client's efforts whenever she tried to enforce court orders.

Mr Zheng's lawyer, Mr Bajwa Singh, said his client really had no money and was in ill health. No date has been set for the next hearing.

selinal@sph.com.sg

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MAS 'committed to safeguarding financial system'

Straits Times
16 Jul 2015
Marissa Lee

1MDB scandal prompts regulator to outline S'pore's anti-money laundering regime

The financial regulator has outlined Singapore's anti-money laundering regime after an unfolding scandal at 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) put the private banking industry here in the spotlight.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) said yesterday in a statement: "Singapore is firmly committed to maintaining its status as a clean and trusted financial centre. It has no tolerance for its financial system to be used as a refuge or conduit for illicit fund flows."

Its comments follow a Wall Street Journal report earlier this month that said Malaysian investigators following a paper trail from the debt-ridden state investment fund had traced US$681 million ($924 million) to what they believe are the personal bank accounts of Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak.

The transfers were made via the Singapore branch of Switzerland's Falcon Private Bank in March 2013.

The MAS has said that it is cooperating with the Malaysian authorities on the investigation.

As Singapore grows as a wealth-management hub, it has received occasional criticism from international regulators who see the country as being vulnerable to money launderers and tax cheats.

Singapore has tightened anti- money laundering rules over the years. In July 2013, it made it a money laundering predicate offence for a bank to help tax dodgers hide their funds.

Financial institutions here must monitor and report any suspicious transactions, the MAS said yesterday. The regulator also conducts regular on-site inspections to ensure that these firms comply with its anti-money laundering rules.

The MAS could not comment on the ongoing investigations into Falcon Private Bank, but said that it had conducted 83 anti-money laundering and terrorism financing inspections covering a range of financial institutions between April 2013 and March 2014.

It issued nine supervisory warnings and reprimands, restricted the operations of six financial institutions, revoked the licences of two remittance agents and fined five financial institutions for breaches.

Singapore is also a member of the Financial Action Task Force, a global body that polices money laundering. The task force is scheduled to visit Singapore later this year for a routine round of mutual evaluations.

The last country to be evaluated by the task force was Australia. Its report in April noted that Australia needed to tighten safeguards against money laundering in its property market, seen as a hot destination for Chinese funds with likely links to corruption.

In Singapore, anti-money laundering measures extend beyond the financial sector to other sectors, including real estate agents, lawyers and accountants.

Last year, a multi-agency committee put out a report detailing the findings of a nationwide exercise that assessed money-laundering risks across sectors.

marilee@sph.com.sg

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Have travel agents set up escrow account: Forum

Straits Times
31 Jul 2015

Travel insurance is not a panacea for safeguarding consumers' monies used as deposits for travel and tours ("Call to regulate travel agencies"; Tuesday).

First, travel insurance is primarily meant to cover financial losses incurred by policyholders as a direct result of injury from accident or sickness during overseas travel.

Additional features of travel insurance can include, for instance, lost luggage, delayed flights or insolvency of travel agents from whom policyholders made purchases.

Therefore, it must be noted that not all travel insurance policies cover travel agency insolvency.

The General Insurance Association of Singapore (GIA) advises consumers to specifically ask for "travel agency insolvency cover" to be included in their terms and conditions of the travel insurance if they wish for such coverage.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, GIA believes more can be done to proactively protect consumers' deposits.

Aside from more stringent regulations on the management of travel agencies, the authorities could make it mandatory for travel agencies to take up insurance policies that protect consumers in the event of agency insolvency.

The authorities can also look into setting up an escrow account for customers' monies, kept separate from the operating account, for travel agencies.

Derek Teo

Executive Director, General Insurance Association of Singapore

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Police to try out videotaping interviews with suspects

Straits Times
23 Jul 2015
Danson Cheong

Pilot programme likely to start next year also involves CNB; lawyers hail move

In a move hailed as "enlightened" by criminal lawyers, the police will test the feasibility of video-record- ing interviews with suspects.

The pilot programme, which also involves the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB), is likely to begin in the first quarter of next year, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) revealed yesterday. It will "involve a limited set of offences and allow for an assessment of the impact on investigations, its effectiveness in different situations and the resources required", before a decision is made on its broader implementation.

Videos in the pilot programme would "allow the courts to take the interviewee's demeanour into account in determining the admissibility or weight to be accorded to the interviewee's statement", said MHA in the statement.

For years, criminal lawyers have been asking for police interviews of suspects to be filmed.

Veteran criminal lawyer Amolat Singh said statements, which are not audio-taped and are generally taken without a lawyer present, play a pivotal role in most criminal cases here. The accused would at times reject the statement, claiming it was not made voluntarily or he was misunderstood, he said.

"Now, judges can just look at the videos," said Mr Singh. "It strengthens the whole system rather than leave things up to guesswork."

Mr Wendell Wong, chairman of the Law Society's Criminal Practice Committee, said: "It will also reduce the time spent on unmeritorious challenges to statements that are taken properly."

The Association of Criminal Lawyers Singapore's acting president, Mr Sunil Sudheesan, called the pilot an "enlightened first step", adding that it would protect both the police and suspects against accusations of "unfair behaviour".

"The benefits of the pilot might encourage other agencies like the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau to adopt such practices in time," said Mr Sunil.

According to MHA, which studied the feasibility of recording interviews with the Law Ministry and Attorney-General's Chambers, stakeholders such as the legal community and the Law Society will be consulted before the pilot's launch. MHA also looked at the adoption of video recording in jurisdictions like the United States and Hong Kong.

Workers' Party chairman and lawyer Sylvia Lim, who has raised the issue in Parliament, welcomed the move yesterday, saying overseas experience shows the use of videos "reduces false allegations of mistreatment" and gives the accused "some protection against undue pressure".

Lawyer and MP Vikram Nair, who sits on the Government Parliamentary Committee for Home Affairs and Law, also welcomed the pilot but noted that such videos might lengthen the trial. He said: "This is yet another piece of evidence to be examined by the court."

dansonc@sph.com.sg

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Charities Act to undergo review

TODAY
16 Jul 2015

SINGAPORE — The Office of the Commissioner of Charities (COC) will be embarking on a review of the Charities Act and will also look at ways of enhancing the governance framework to increase accountability in the charity sector.

It is also planning to roll out a transparency framework for charities, where they will do a self-assessment using a scorecard, to encourage disclosure of information by them.

These plans were revealed in the annual report for last year released by the COC’s Office today (July 15), which also reported an increase in support for local charitable causes. About S$1.1 billion in tax-deductible donations were made last year, a jump of more than 12 per cent compared with the S$970 million donated in 2013.

The Charities Act was last reviewed in 2010. The COC’s Office said the review will ensure current regulations continue to be relevant. And in enhancing the governance framework, it will take care not to impose too onerous a burden on the charities, it said.

In a bid to further informed giving, the annual reports of all charities and Governance Evaluation Checklists of non-IPCs (non-Institutions of A Public Character) will be made available on the Charity Portal from the third quarter of this year. In August last year, the COC’s Office started publishing the financial statements of charities for free online viewing on the Charity Portal.

On the transparency framework, the COC’s Office said beyond the self-assessment scorecard in the first few years, the longer term plan is to use the transparency framework for public rating when the sector is more ready. In the meantime, a new Charity Transparency Awards will be introduced next year to recognise charities with good disclosure practices.

O’Joy Care Services’ executive director Choo Jin Kiat said his organisation, which focuses on the elderly and those with mental health conditions, already complies with the COC Code of Governance by publishing its annual report and financial statements, which disclose its specific funding sources and expenses. “What we need more of is to educate the public and let them know of the information that is already out there,” he said.

Ms Joi Tan, a social worker at En Community Services Society said smaller outfits like her organisation could find it challenging to comply with the Charity Transparency Framework. “Governance costs will increase as we will need someone who can regularly record and update on many key areas of our operations. In fact, the donors may wonder why our funds are channeled to hire more manpower (to assist with disclosure) than to the beneficiaries,” she said.

Ms Tan Li Li, executive director of the Singapore Association for Mental Health, said she welcomed the introduction of the new Charity Transparency Awards. “I think this is good as the introduction of this award may encourage charities to put in resources and efforts in this area and such efforts may be recognised.”

Winning an award in the sized Charity Governance Award has helped the association in their fundraising efforts by providing some assurance to donors, she noted. “We also need to be considerate towards smaller charities with limited resources. In trying to meet such expectations, governance costs may increase,” she added.

Overall, donations to the social and welfare sector made up 37 per cent, or S$402 million, of the tax-deductible donations last year, followed by donations to the education sector (28 per cent) and health sector (21 per cent).

The increase in tax-deductible donations was mainly because of increased giving to IPCs in the social and welfare sector, following the Government’s pledge last January to set aside S$250 million to match donations dollar-for-dollar to social service organisations.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY KELLY NG

Copyright 2015 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

New sentencing framework for dealers of below 10g of heroin

TODAY
30 Jul 2015
Neo Chai Chin

SINGAPORE — The quantity of drugs involved is a starting point when sentencing first-time traffickers of less than 10g of heroin, but judges must then adjust the punishments to account for the offender’s culpability and other relevant factors, said Chief Justice (CJ) Sundaresh Menon today (July 29).

Sentencing of previous heroin traffickers has tended to focus very much on harm caused by the offence via the quantity of drugs involved, with little, if any, attention paid to the offender’s culpability, CJ Menon remarked, as he reduced the jail term of housewife Vasentha Joseph from eleven years to eight years.

Focusing on quantity alone in sentencing will only tell part of the story, he said, issuing a new set of starting points for traffickers of below 10g of heroin.

Under the new framework, Vasentha faced a starting sentence of 12 years and nine months in jail for the 8.98g of diamorphine, or heroin, involved.

But the judge ruled that her case was exceptional and warranted a significant reduction from the starting point. Women cannot be caned under the law.

“In my judgment, (her) culpability, having regard to her motives, her intelligence and her personal circumstances, is relatively low,” he said in a judgment released today.

Vasentha was caught in November 2012 and convicted of one charge of possessing 8.98g of diamorphine for the purpose of trafficking.

The mother-of-three had delivered or sold various quantities of drugs to six people between October and November that year, after receiving a call to do so on a mobile phone belonging to her husband, who was in prison. She received S$20 from all the deliveries.

Sentences for first-time offenders who traffic below 10g of heroin range from five years’ jail and five strokes of the cane, to 20 years’ jail and 15 strokes of the cane.

Traffickers of 10 to less than 15g of heroin face at least 20 years’ jail and 15 strokes of the cane, and up to 30 years’ or life imprisonment and 15 strokes of the cane.

Traffickers of more than 15g of heroin could face the death penalty.

Under CJ Menon’s framework for cases involving less than 10g of heroin, those who traffic up to 3g will see a starting point of five to six years’ jail and five to six strokes of the cane.

The starting points go up correspondingly with incremental increases in the quantity of drugs trafficked, with the starting point for traffickers of 9 to 9.99g of heroin being 13 to 15 years’ jail and 10 to 11 strokes of the cane.

Factors affecting culpability include whether the offender directed or organised drug trade on a commercial scale, whether he involved others in the operation and was motivated by financial advantage, and whether he took active steps to avoid detection.

Offenders with lower culpability include those who performed limited functions under direction, were pressured or coerced, or got involved because they were naïve and exploited, CJ Menon said.

In reducing Vasentha’s sentence, the judge referred to earlier cases involving similar quantities of heroin.

Vasentha received a lower sentence than earlier cases since fairness demands that the less culpable are punished less severely, he said.

Copyright 2015 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

Vasentha d/o Joseph v Public Prosecutor [2015] SGHC 197

Legal talks launched to educate public

Straits Times
23 Jul 2015
Lim Yi Han

A series of legal talks will be held across the island under an initiative launched yesterday by the Law Society of Singapore and the five Community Development Councils (CDCs).

Around 3,000 residents are expected to benefit from 30 sessions covering topics such as family law, criminal law, consumer protection law and employment law. Some will be free while others will be ticketed or by invitation only. They will be held in various venues including community centres.

The scheme was announced at Queenstown Community Centre and comes under the bi-annual Law Awareness programme. The talks will run until Aug 5. Members of the public can sign up through the various CDCs or community centres.

Ms Indranee Rajah, Senior Minister of State for Law, said: "It is just as important for the man on the street to have a basic awareness of the law as this helps to strengthen access to justice.

"Knowing what the law is... and what to do when faced with a legal issue or problem - that gives an individual greater confidence in handling legal issues."

About 40 lawyers have volunteered to organise or speak at the talks, which will last about two hours. Most will be conducted in English. Some 150 law students from the National University of Singapore and Singapore Management University will also help to organise them.

Senior Counsel Thio Shen Yi, president of the Law Society, said: "It is important that the legal profession is meaningfully engaged with the community, and our communities be informed of the law."

For more information, visit: www.lawsociety.org.sg/Event/LawAwareness2015.

limyihan@sph.com.sg

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Xpress Holdings' KK Fong sued over loan

Straits Times
15 Jul 2015
Selina Lum

Creditor seeks repayment of $500,000 but he says he received only $390,000

A businessman agreed to lend $500,000 to the founder of listed printing company Xpress Holdings without having met him.

Mr Thong Soon Seng said he met Mr KK Fong for the first time when he handed over the cash - five stacks of $1,000 notes - at a meeting with three others present.

Mr Fong, 62, signed an agreement to repay the loan with interest at 13 per cent in the first month and 10 per cent in the second.

Now, Mr Thong, 50, is suing Mr Fong for repayment after four cheques issued by the latter bounced. Mr Fong does not deny taking the loan but says he received only $390,000. He contends the interest charged was so exorbitant that the deal is not legally enforceable.

A three-day hearing on the lawsuit opened in the High Court yesterday. Mr Thong told the court he learnt from an acquaintance, Mr Christopher Lim, in June last year that Mr Fong needed a loan.

Mr Thong said he had never heard of Mr Fong but his research satisfied him that the latter was able to repay a $500,000 loan as he was the CEO of a listed company.

He said he handed $500,000 to Mr Fong on July 2 last year. Mr Thong's lawyer Edmond Pereira said Mr Lim and two others will testify that Mr Fong did not raise any concern when the agreement was signed and the cash handed over.

But Mr Fong contends this meeting did not take place. He said Mr Lim handed him the agreement to sign and later gave him $390,000, saying Mr Thong retained $110,000 as "advance interest".

His lawyer, Mr Jason Goh, said he did not read the agreement and did not know of the interest rate until he saw a demand letter from Mr Thong's lawyers.

Xpress started out as a name card printer before diversifying into Internet kiosks. It collapsed in 2000. Mr Fong disappeared from the Singapore scene in 2001 under a mountain of debt but made a comeback four years later.

selinal@sph.com.sg

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Gay man denied joint custody of triplets a 'poor decision-maker'

Straits Times
30 Jul 2015
K.C. Vijayan

A man who hid his homosexuality from his wife for 13 years has been denied joint custody of their triplets, not because he is gay or HIV-positive, but because of his "appallingly poor decision-making ability" a judge has said.

The 49-year-old wife has been awarded sole custody, in a rare legal move which is justified only in exceptional circumstances which show that joint custody is not in a child's best interests.

Neither party can be named in the case, in which the businesswoman obtained an interim divorce in 2011 based on unreasonable conduct - ending a 15-year marriage. At issue before the court was the care, control and custody of the children as well as the division of matrimonial assets.

Justice Vinodh Coomaraswamy said in judgment grounds released yesterday: "The husband is in the same position as any parent, whatever the gender or sexual orientation, who has displayed... appallingly poor decision-making ability."

The couple's triplets were conceived through in-vitro fertilisation, which the judge noted exacted a high toll on the mother emotionally, physically and psychologically.

The wife found out about her husband's double life only in 2009, after she hired a private detective.

"I am unimpressed by the husband's capacity for truth-telling," said Justice Vinodh.

In 2012, the man had posted a picture of himself wearing only underwear on a website called Manjam, on which he sought other men for short-term trysts.

He also described himself there as a childless 35-year-old when he was, in fact, 10 years older and the father of triplets. He also lied by saying he was HIV negative.

The judge cited his tryst with a gay partner who led a " particularly reckless and dissolute lifestyle". The drug-taking partner had in 2009 been found unconscious and naked under the bed of another homosexual lover, who lay naked and dead in bed. A coroner's inquiry found he died of brain damage due to drug intoxication.

The husband was convicted of drug possession and consumption and jailed for six months in 2013, He was declared bankrupt in 2012.

He had also assaulted his wife, leading her to take out to a Personal Protection Order in 2010.

The judge said all these factors showed "an ability to make decisions which are positively detrimental to his own welfare", as well as his kids' long-term interests.

He ruled that the husband was to have no more than two hours a week of supervised access, plus telephone access - limits which were already in place.

The husband defended himself while the wife was represented by lawyer Tang Gee Ni.

Overall, the judge awarded a 60:40 division of the matrimonial assets in favour of the wife out of a joint pool of $2.65 million. This was based on the direct and indirect contributions of both parties to the family and factored in the father's $327,529 lump sum maintenance for the children.

As the husband was a bankrupt, the court had no powers to touch his assets vested under the Official Assignee's control.

Justice Vinodh ordered that he settle the $123,391 debt to discharge the bankruptcy with the 40 per cent sum he is entitled to from the sale of the couple's Sembawang property in 2011. This was a condition precedent to effect a "just and equitable" division of the matrimonial assets, he said.

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

AVM v AWH [2015] SGHC 194

Eatery's cheeky ad removed

Straits Times
23 Jul 2015
Jessica Lim

Advertising standards authority orders the display, deemed indecent, to be taken down

A cheeky advertisement that raised eyebrows has been removed, after the eatery that put it up was ordered to do so by the advertising watchdog here.

The large billboard ad, featuring three scantily clad women exposing their buttocks, was put up by OverEasy Orchard, an eatery that is taking over the space occupied formerly by Wendy's at Liat Towers. Beside the image was the tagline: "Seriously sexy buns. Two are better than one. Smack that. Aug 2015."

The Advertising Standards Authority of Singapore (ASAS) ordered the eatery to remove the ad as it was deemed indecent and in breach of the Singapore Code of Advertising Practice (SCAP), an ASAS spokesman told The Straits Times in response to queries.

The code states that "advertisements should not contain anything that is offensive to the standards of decency prevailing among those who are likely to be exposed to them". The decision, ASAS said, was made on July 14 and OverEasy was told on the same day.

"A check has confirmed that the advertisement has been removed," said the spokesman, who added that there were four complaints that the advertisement was indecent.

When contacted, lifestyle company The Lo & Behold Group, which runs OverEasy and other restaurants, said that the ad was meant "to celebrate the female form" and that it intended to showcase OverEasy's "characteristic cheekiness and irreverence".

"The Lo & Behold Group apologises for how our advertisement might have made women feel," said a spokesman for the group.

She added that the marketing for OverEasy, including the ad's design, was done by an all-woman team. "To us, it is about women feeling sexy and confident in their own skins." She said the phrase "lo & behold" has long been used colloquially to introduce something distinctive and impactful.

The restaurant, she said, is scheduled to open on Aug 3.

Mr Mark Lionel, who manages food and beverage consultancy BarSmiths, said: "Ultimately, sex sells. If the point of the advertisement was to get people to raise eyebrows, to create buzz, it worked."

However, he wondered if it would actually be effective in getting people to patronise the restaurant. "That is what you ultimately want and, very often, with something like this, people will just remember the ad but not the restaurant that it was advertising for."

Of the four women ST spoke with, two were against the ad but the other two did not mind it.

Madam Raja Lachimi, 55, a housewife who has an 18-year-old daughter, said that such advertisements were "embarrassing" and "objectify women".

She said: "That's one reason I don't take my daughter to Orchard Road. There are unsavoury locations there such as Orchard Towers and there are advertisements like the one at OverEasy."

"I don't think my daughter is ready for such ugly sights. I am happy they took it down," she added.

But another woman, teacher Chua Ping Wei, 31, said : "I thought the ad was quite smart and it definitely grabbed my attention."

 


WHAT IT PORTRAYS

"To us, it is about women feeling sexy and confident in their own skins."

THE LO & BEHOLD GROUP, which was responsible for the ad for the restaurant

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

 

Turf war over polo logo returns to court

Straits Times
15 Jul 2015
Jessica Lim

The battle is still on between fashion brand Polo Ralph Lauren and the US Polo Association (USPA).

The former is appealing against a June 2 ruling by the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore that the USPA can go ahead and register a black-and-white trademark featuring two polo players on horseback and the letters USPA. The appeal was filed two weeks ago, with supporting documents submitted on Monday, and the appeal will be heard in the High Court.

Polo Ralph Lauren's lawyer Sukumar Karuppiah of Ravindran Associates told The Straits Times: "We disagree with the grounds of the decision, and will be appealing based on the similarity of the logos."

The American brand had earlier sought to block USPA from registering its logo in Singapore, saying it was similar to its own single player mark, registered here in 1996.

USPA - polo's American governing body - ventured into selling merchandise and registered its mark in Singapore in 2012 with the intention of entering the market.

When both logos were viewed in their entirety, she found USPA's logo and Polo Ralph Lauren's mark had "an extremely low degree of visual similarity".

The pre-trial conference for the appeal will be held on July 21, when a hearing date is also likely to be set.

USPA's lawyer Prithipal Singh of Patrick Mirandah said that they have been served the appeal documents and will be preparing for the case.

limjess@sph.com.sg

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Cleaner tells of drug syndicate with 600 runners

Straits Times
30 Jul 2015
Olivia Ho

A cleaner jailed for life after he tried to smuggle drugs into Singapore told the court that he worked for a Malaysian syndicate with 600 runners operating here.

Yogaras Poongavanam, 26, was spared the gallows after the court deemed him merely a courier. He was also sentenced to 15 strokes of the cane for bringing in diamorphine three years ago.

Yogaras was found with drugs more than twice the 15g threshold for the death penalty.

At the start of the trial, he said he wanted to plead guilty, but was disallowed as the court does not allow defendants to admit a charge carrying the death penalty.

In judgment grounds released on Tuesday, Justice Tay Yong Kwang said the accused's involvement was "restricted to transporting and delivering the drugs".

The Malaysian had attempted to bring in the drugs through Woodlands Checkpoint on April 17, 2012, by packing them into the fender of his motorcycle.

But Central Narcotics Bureau officers noticed the screws in the fender were not identical, and when they opened the fender, they found two bundles with more than 36g of diamorphine. An arrest was made.

Yogaras, who lived in Johor Baru and was working as a cleaner at the Esplanade, described a syndicate of runners who hailed from remote Malaysian villages and were rostered to deliver drugs on a daily basis.

He joined the group in March 2012, when he was taken to a "very nice" place in Johor with "many rooms and a lot of money". He was plied with drinks and told he would have enough money to buy many cars and motorcycles.

Yogaras said that he thought being a drug runner would allow him to lead a comfortable life. He wanted to be able to support his mother and pay for her medical expenses.

He was told he had to perform three drug deliveries before he could become a permanent daily runner, but was arrested on his third delivery to Singapore.

The judge added that Yogaras had been "relatively young" - just 22 - when he committed the offence, and had later cooperated fully with the authorities, even appearing as a prosecution witness at other trials.


Background Story

In judgment grounds released on Tuesday, Justice Tay Yong Kwang said the accused's involvement was "restricted to transporting and delivering the drugs". The Malaysian national had attempted to bring in the drugs through Woodlands Checkpoint on April 17, 2012, by packing them into the fender of his motorcycle.

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

Public Prosecutor v Yogaras Poongavanam [2015] SGHC 193

ADV: International Survey on Governing Law and Jurisdictional Choices

Singapore Law Watch
23 Jul 2015
Legal Development

WP MPs object to change in selection process for board

Straits Times
15 Jul 2015

Battle lines were unexpectedly drawn yesterday over a Bill to rename the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (Iseas) in honour of Singapore's first president.

Workers' Party (WP) MPs took issue with a clause that would change how the institute's board of trustees would be appointed, leading to a heated exchange with Education Minister Heng Swee Keat.

The face-off grew increasingly tense and drew pointed jibes at the state of affairs of the Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council, which is run by the WP.

Though the WP MPs made clear that they supported renaming Iseas the Iseas-Yusof Ishak Institute, they said they would not support the Bill unless the clause was removed.

Neither side budged. The clause stayed. And when a vote was called, the WP MPs said "no".

They also asked that their objection to the clause be recorded.

The clause reduces the number of board members, and gives the education minister the power to nominate representatives to the board. Currently, that responsibility is held by the president of Singapore, along with various bodies like the Shaw Foundation.

WP chairman Sylvia Lim started the protest when she pointed out that the Iseas (Amendment) Bill was more than a simple name change. It also sought to change the structure of its board in a "very fundamental way", affecting its diversity and autonomy, she said. "Are there plans to turn Iseas into a body that simply churns out knowledge for the government bureaucracy?" she asked.

Her speech drew a rebuke from Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Education Hawazi Daipi.

"I feel this is not the right time, while we're giving the highest honour to an eminent Singaporean, to politicise the issue by questioning whether Iseas will become a body that will follow the instructions of the Government," he said.

"I feel quite hurt to hear Ms Sylvia Lim's comments."

He was not alone. Second Minister for Foreign Affairs and Home Affairs Masagos Zulkifli posted on his Facebook page that he, too, felt hurt as Ms Lim had "tarnished" the occasion with her questions.

Mr Heng, in rounding up the debate, said the clause would bring Iseas - a statutory board under the Education Ministry - in line with other such bodies whose boards are appointed by their ministers.

The Bill's main aim is to honour Mr Yusof, he stressed. Other clauses are to update provisions in legislation.

"Now I hope that Ms Lim does not see shadows when there are none, and I hope that Ms Lim is not throwing up a red herring," he said.

Mr Heng also pointed out that Ms Lim had not taken into account other clauses putting in financial provisions on the appointment of auditors, among others.

Pointedly, he said: "I hope that Ms Lim would agree with me that the proper audit of accounts and the timely submission of audited information are important."

Party chief Low Thia Khiang said that, while they support the name change to honour Encik Yusof, "we cannot square with the change(s) that are being 'tompang' (piggybacked) with the name change".

But, Mr Heng argued, "there is nothing whatsoever that is untoward about it".

He added: "The more you speak, the more I feel the Workers' Party has not been very sincere... in saying that you support the Bill."

Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob, putting an end to the to-ing and fro-ing, said: "We're going around in circles."

The Bill was passed.

Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh


NOT THE RIGHT OCCASION

I feel this is not the right time, while we're giving the highest honour to an eminent Singaporean, to politicise the issue by questioning whether Iseas will become a body that will follow the instructions of the Government.

MR HAWAZI DAIPI, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Education

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

Higher compensation for workplace injuries

Straits Times
30 Jul 2015
Melissa Lin

Maximum amount of compensation to be raised by about 20 per cent from Jan 1

The maximum amount of compensation for workplace-related injuries will be raised by about 20 per cent from next year.

From Jan 1, employers will be liable for $69,000 to $204,000 in the event of a workplace death, under the Work Injury Compensation Act.

If a worker suffers total permanent incapacity, compensation will range between $88,000 and $262,000.

The cap on medical expenses will also be increased from $30,000 to $36,000, Minister for Manpower Lim Swee Say told 1,200 representatives from industries, such as construction, marine and manufacturing, yesterday evening at the annual Workplace Safety and Health (WSH) Awards.

"The last time we made such adjustments was in 2012, so it's about time we keep up with wage increase and inflation in medical costs," he said.

In another change, expenses that facilitate an injured worker's return to work will be claimable under the Act from next year.

This will cover charges for treatments such as physiotherapy, occupational and speech therapy, and worksite assessment.

1 From Jan 1, employers will be liable for $69,000 to $204,000 in the event of a workplace death

2 They will be liable for $88,000 to $262,000 if a worker suffers total permanent incapacity

3 The cap on medical expenses will be increased from $30,000 to $36,000

4 Expenses that help a worker return to work – including charges for treatments such as physiotherapy, occupational and speech therapy – will be claimable from next year

"Research has shown that the longer the injured workers are absent from work, the lower the chances of them returning," said Mr Lim.

An early return to work "not only provides better financial security to the worker, but it also contributes positively to his physical and mental well-being", he added.

Mr Lim noted that the workplace fatality rate has fallen from 3.1 per 100,000 employed persons in 2006 - when the first WSH Awards was held - to 1.8 per 100,000 employed persons last year.

"We can do better... The way to achieve this is through the Vision Zero movement," he said, referring to the idea of aiming for zero workplace accidents.

"A key to Vision Zero is innovation. If we can innovate to remove risks right from the start, then there will be fewer lives injured or lost down the road," he added.

One of the winners of the Innovation Awards yesterday was Japanese industrial firm Takenaka Corporation, for a system it designed that made working at heights safer and more productive.

Its mobile hanging platform system is built on tracks so that it can be moved easily from one location to another.

It also has two barricaded areas, which act as a double layer of protection for workers.

The system has helped the company maintain a zero accident rate at its project site, said Takenaka Corporation's acting general manager, Mr Kimitoshi Nakashima.

In total, 191 companies and individuals were recognised for their efforts in improving workplace safety and health at the ceremony at Resorts World Sentosa.


BETTER TO PREVENT RISKS

If we can innovate to remove risks right from the start, then there will be fewer lives injured or lost down the road.

MINISTER FOR MANPOWER LIM SWEE SAY, on achieving zero workplace accidents

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

Ailing CEO's case may help set judicial mercy rules

Straits Times
22 Jul 2015
K.C. Vijayan

He seeks to reduce jail term on grounds that illnesses may be life-threatening in prison

A former chief executive's appeal for judicial mercy may well clarify the law in this area and set guidelines on when it should apply to convicted offenders who are seriously ill.

Chew Soo Chun, 45, convicted of cheating and falsifying accounts, has sought a reduction in the 32-month jail term he faces. He is seeking judicial mercy on the grounds that his dire medical condition could endanger his life if he is placed in prison.

Chew, a former chief executive of a shipping equipment supplier, was jailed 32 months and fined $10,000 in January for falsifying accounts and cheating a bank of more than $2.5 million in loans. He had pleaded guilty in 2012 to 10 of 149 charges against him and the rest were taken into consideration.

Chew produced 15 reports on his medical conditions from 11 doctors. Among other things, these indicated that he had heart problems and suffered from a localised gland cancer.

However, District Judge Soh Tze Bian found nothing in the reports to suggest that Chew would suffer disproportionate hardship if he were jailed and held judicial mercy was "not warranted". The judge added that the prison authorities confirmed they were able to manage Chew and arrange for him to undergo treatment at designated hospitals if the need arose.

District Judge Soh rejected his plea for a nominal jail term, but nonetheless discounted the original 38 months by six months, taking into account the medical factors in the case.

Chew's appeal to the High Court was heard on Monday.

Underscoring the issues raised, the appeal was heard by a rare three-judge panel comprising Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, Judge of Appeal Chao Hick Tin and Judicial Commissioner See Kee Oon. Such magistrate's appeals are usually heard by one High Court judge.

Chief Justice Menon had said in January that three-judge panels are meant to hear selected magistrate's appeals, which will provide guidance on issues of sentencing and resolve difficult questions. Such decisions will help promote "coherence and consistency", he added.

In another rare move underlining the case, the Chief Justice appointed lawyer Jordan Tan Zhengxian of Cavenagh Law - a former justices' law clerk and assistant registrar of the Supreme Court - as amicus curiae, who addressed the court on five key questions involving the application of judicial mercy.

Chew's lawyer, Mr Philip Fong, argued, among other things, that evidence from the prison authorities that they could meet Chew's medical needs should not be the overriding factor in deciding if he should be afforded judicial mercy.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Alan Loh cross-appealed, seeking to enhance Chew's jail term .

After the hearing, the court reserved judgment on the case.


Background Story

Chew's lawyer, Mr Philip Fong, argued, among other things, that evidence from the prison authorities that they could meet Chew's medical needs should not be the overriding factor in deciding if he should be afforded judicial mercy.


Confusion over ill health as sentencing factor

While Singapore courts have been clear on when to exercise judicial mercy, there is "considerable confusion" as to the relevance of ill health in cases where judicial mercy is not justified.

Amicus Curiae Jordan Tan made this point in his report to the court at Monday's hearing.

Mr Tan had been tasked by the court to address five key issues related to judicial mercy.

His research entailed a study of the court's practice of judicial mercy and ill health in dealing with offenders in England, Australia, Hong Kong and Singapore. He suggested the court hearing Chew Soo Chun's appeal "provide guidance in the form of an overarching framework on the exercise of judicial mercy and the relevance of ill health as a mitigating factor in cases in which judicial mercy is unwarranted".

Mr Tan noted that Singapore courts exercised judicial mercy in "exceptional" circumstances, such as in the case of convicted offender Tang Wee Sung in 2008 who was suffering end-stage renal failure at the time and was sentenced to a day's jail and fined $17,000. The court found that Tang's health was likely to be aggravated by a jail term and that incarceration itself would likely have much harsher consequences for him than an ordinary offender.

Mr Tan said: "Of the 49 cases identified in which a plea for judicial mercy had been rejected, in 10 cases the courts have nonetheless given a sentencing discount but in 39 other cases the courts have rejected the plea for judicial mercy and given no discount."

Mr Tan suggested that within a general framework, where judicial mercy is not justified, an offender's ill health may nonetheless be a mitigating factor in sentence discount if it is shown the jail term would cause a greater burden on him.

He noted there is currently no single case here that provides guidelines on the interaction of judicial mercy and the reduction of jail terms based on ill health as a mitigating factor.

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Have tougher laws against retention of wrongful credit: Forum

Straits Times
15 Jul 2015

 

The action taken by the bank in Ms Connie Cheong's brother's case is rather passive and consists of merely conveying the information to the party which has received the funds in error ("Legal to keep mistakenly wired funds?"; Monday).

The sender can only hope that the other party would respond to the bank's request to return the funds.

The bank's fiduciary duty to a customer does not extend beyond conveying his request to the other party, and as a profit-oriented entity, it makes no economic sense for the bank to go the extra mile. Thus, the onus is on the account holder to be more proactive.

In order to compel the other party to return the funds, the party who has made the mistake should make a police report and attach a copy to his request to the bank to retrieve the funds.

The bank's request to the other party to return the funds should alert him to the fact that a police report has been made.

That would put pressure on him not to act indifferently and ignore the request.

To promote Singapore as a world financial hub, we should, perhaps, consider having a Theft Act, similar to what Britain has, where keeping money credited to a wrong account could lead to charges against the account holder for "retaining wrongful credit".

Chin Kee Thou

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Video evidence clears alleged molester

Straits Times
30 Jul 2015
K.C. Vijayan

Court rules victim's description did not tally with what the recordings show

A defence lawyer who argued that a woman who had been molested identified the wrong suspect was vindicated by a district court this week.

It found that her description did not tally with what was seen on video cameras near the crime scene.

District Judge Jasvender Kaur, who acquitted the 25-year-old accused on Monday, ruled that the prosecution did not prove its case.

She noted that the teenage victim was also only "80 per cent sure" at the identification parade.

The court imposed a gag order on information that might lead to the identity of the victim, who lived in the same area as the suspect. Both are Singaporeans.

The suspect was alleged to have robbed her of $40 in July last year, armed with a knife. He was said to have committed aggravated molestation on the sixth floor of a Housing Board block. When he let go of her, she fled to her flat on a lower floor and called the police.

The accused was arrested within a week, the trial took place in May and final submissions were made by DPP Mansoor Amir and defence lawyer R. S. Bajwa on Monday.

Mr Mansoor said that prosecutors had to prove the case only "beyond any reasonable doubt and not beyond all doubt".

He added that the victim's identification evidence was of good quality and the "odd coincidences clearly suggest there was no mistake as to her identification".

Mr Bajwa said the discrepancies in the girl's testimony raised the possibility of mistaken identity.

For instance, she called the police immediately after she fled from the accused and reached her unit, taking less than a minute.

The accused was seen on a video camera, just two seconds before her call was lodged, near an HDB block that was about two minutes away from the crime scene.

This meant that after the end of the incident, the accused had only about half a minute to go down from the sixth floor of the block where the crime was allegedly committed and reach the block where he was seen on the video camera - this was impossible, said Mr Bajwa.

The victim had also said the accused wore a shirt with blue and white horizontal stripes and used covered shoes, and described him as "tanned". However, evidence taken from video cameras in the area showed the accused before and after the incident wearing a plain blue T-shirt without any stripes. He was not using covered shoes. He was also not tanned as described by the victim.

Mr Bajwa urged the court that, as the only witness, the victim's testimony had to be analysed carefully and the description of the accused and his attire had to be taken as a whole and not separately.

The accused's father, when contacted, said: "My family feels vindicated by the verdict. My son has always maintained his innocence."

The Attorney-General's Chambers said it will study the court's grounds of decision before deciding whether to appeal. A spokesman said: "The victim had positively identified the accused both during police investigations and in court during the trial. However, the defence submitted to the court that there were certain discrepancies in the victim's evidence and the court subsequently held that the prosecution had not proven its case beyond a reasonable doubt."

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Training instead of prosecution for errant company directors

Straits Times
22 Jul 2015
Chia Yan Min

New approach aimed at educating first-time offenders; repeat offenders will be hit harder

Directors who fail to comply with their legal obligations now attend training sessions instead of being prosecuted for a first offence, but repeat offenders are hit far harder than in the past.

The Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (Acra) is taking this more targeted approach to promote transparency between companies and stakeholders, while inculcating a culture of voluntary compliance among firms.

About 1,500 directors who breached the Companies Act have attended a training course - known as the Directors Compliance Programme - in lieu of prosecution. Most of them were directors of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) who were unaware of their duties, Acra said.

The half-day training programme, which is targeted at first-time offenders, focuses on basic statutory obligations under the Companies Act.

It started last November and aims to train up to 9,000 directors over the April 2015 to March 2016 financial year.

On average, the sessions are run twice a month.

The most common breaches concern basic responsibilities such as holding an annual general meeting (AGM) every calendar year, presenting up-to-date financial statements at the AGM and the timely filing of annual returns.

About 10,000 summonses are issued against directors for non-compliance every year, about 40 per cent of which are for repeat offenders.

These breaches can lead to heavy penalties, with fines of up to $10,000 or jail of up to two years.

Some company directors, particularly those in SMEs, are "in a hurry to start their businesses and do not seek to properly understand their duties and obligations", said Mr Willie Cheng, chairman of the Singapore Institute of Directors.

"They see corporate governance and compliance as a necessary evil - a waste of time and a business cost burden."

There are also common misconceptions among directors about their statutory obligations, said Mr Nicholas Ngoh, Acra's assistant director of legal services and prosecution, who oversees the Directors Compliance Programme.

He told The Straits Times that some inaccurately believe that "inactive" or "nominee" directors are not responsible for ensuring compliance with the law, or that dormant firms and those exempted from filing tax returns do not need to hold an AGM and lodge annual returns.

"These perceptions are incorrect as the law does not distinguish between inactive or nominee directors and active directors," he said.

Acra is also stepping up enforcement against persistently non-compliant directors, including raising composition amounts - the penalty paid in lieu of prosecution.

Previous composition amounts ranged from $60 to $350 per breach for not holding AGMs or filing annual returns, but these have risen to $300 to $900 for each breach this month.

Acra will seek high deterrent fines for individuals and companies prosecuted in court, it said.

It is also considering releasing information about companies' and directors' non-compliance and on the disqualification and debarment of directors to give the public more information.

Mr Cheng noted that businesses can benefit from good corporate governance and compliance with regulations. "A good compliance record can enhance a company's brand equity and helps to build the confidence of investors, bankers, suppliers, and other stakeholders in the enterprise," he said.

This is important for SMEs that want to grow into bigger companies, he added.

Mr Tan Jun Hong, director of Ascentis Search International, attended the Directors Compliance Programme in December last year after the company failed to hold its AGM and present timely financial statements.

"Being an SME and a small set-up, it never crossed my mind that such things really matter. We are too busy with chasing after the next sales call," said Mr Tan, who set up the business in 2010. "We always put our priorities on issues concerning overheads such as expenses, salaries, rental and profits."

The company rectified its offences in February.

"I now engage more closely with the secretariat company on the letters and documents that require my approval and signature, as I am now more aware of my roles and responsibilities," said Mr Tan.

" Nowadays, I mark on my calendar the dates of the AGM and (dates for filing) the annual returns."


REVENUE FOCUSED

They see corporate governance and compliance as a necessary evil - a waste of time and a business cost burden.

MR WILLIE CHENG, chairman of the Singapore Institute of Directors, on how some company directors do not seek to understand their duties and obligations

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ADV: LexisNexis - The Legal System of Singapore – Institutions, Principles and Practices

Singapore Law Watch
15 Jul 2015
LexisNexis

Ex-tour guide's trial date set for March

Straits Times
30 Jul 2015
Carolyn Khew & Toh Yong Chuan

Yang Yin, the former China tour guide embroiled in a high-profile court battle over the control of a rich widow's assets, is set to have his day in court in March.

The High Court has set a March 29 trial date next year to hear the lawsuit brought against him by tour agency owner Hedy Mok.

Madam Mok, niece of Madam Chung Khin Chun, 88, is seeking damages from Yang for allegedly manipulating her aunt into handing over assets worth an estimated $40 million. Mr Andrew Lee, Madam Mok's lawyer, told reporters after a pre-trial conference at the High Court yesterday that the trial is expected to last about four weeks.

When asked if Yang will be at the trial, his lawyer Joseph Liow told The Straits Times: "I see no reason why my client would not be defending himself at (the) trial."

Yang, 41, is currently in police remand. The Chinese national, who faces more than 300 criminal charges, had his bail revoked after he was charged in court last November.

Nearly all the charges are for faking receipts connected to the music and dance company that Yang had set up, but two of these involve criminal breach of trust for allegedly misappropriating $1.1 million from Madam Chung.

Meanwhile, Yang's wife Weng Yandan, 34, and parents, Mr Yang Sannan, 72, and Madam He Xianglan, 68, are also defendants in the High Court suit, with Singaporean bailor Ong Gek Lie. They have been accused of siphoning money from Madam Chung. Ms Ong, believed to be in her 40s, had earlier put up $15,000 to bail out Yang after his arrest in September last year. Last month, the court had awarded Madam Chung a "default judgment" against Yang's wife and parents after they failed to respond even after court papers were served to them in May by Chinese lawyers to their home in Hangzhou, China.

"During the trial in March, the court will decide the assessment of damages against (Yang's) wife and parents because we have already obtained a default judgment (against them)," said Mr Lee.

Yang and Madam Mok are also fighting in court over a statutory will recognised by the court in April, which leaves her estate to charity. The new will replaces an earlier one, under which Yang was set to receive all her wealth after her death. Yang is challenging the new will. The hearing for the appeal has yet to be fixed.

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Fight continues against money laundering, terrorism financing

Business Times
22 Jul 2015

[Singapore] THE Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) continues to put in significant resources to fight money laundering and terrorism financing.

Its supervision of small banks and big banks is similar, said Ravi Menon, MAS managing director, on Tuesday at the MAS annual report 2014/15 press briefing.

MAS's focus is to see that our rules and regulations have been adhered to, he said.

He was responding to questions on small private banks in Singapore reported to have been involved in the unfolding scandal at 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB).

Mr Menon said that he wanted to dispel the "misperception" of big banks versus small banks.

If MAS sees or finds more risks, it would take a more intrusive approach to supervision, he added. Last year, it conducted 74 AML/CFT (Anti-Money Laundering/Countering the Financing of Terrorism) inspections covering banks, insurance companies, money changers, remittance agents, capital-market intermediaries and licensed trust companies.

Singapore is committed to the global effort to combat transnational crime, said MAS in its annual report.

MAS also engaged external auditors to inspect 297 capital-market intermediaries and plans to do likewise for money changers and remittance agents, which were identified as higher-risk sectors in the National Risk Assessment published in January 2014.

In 2014, MAS issued nine warnings and reprimands to financial institutions (FIs) for AML/CFT non-compliance.

MAS also imposed financial penalties ranging from S$1,000 to S$700,000 on six FIs, it said.

While AML/CFT controls were generally in place in FIs, MAS said that it identified several areas where there was room for improvement.

It noted instances where FIs had updated their internal policies to address changes in regulation or risk environment, but these were not implemented in an adequate or timely manner by business units, particularly with regard to identifying customers presenting higher money laundering/terrorism financing risk.

Certain FIs did not periodically review the parameters and thresholds used to detect suspicious transactions, it said.


S'pore police launch probe into 2 accounts linked to 1MDB

THE Singapore police have launched a probe into possible money laundering offences in relation to two Singapore bank accounts involved in the 1Malaysia Development Bhd saga.

The Singapore Police Force also told The Business Times that they had on July 15 issued orders to freeze the two accounts. They were responding to queries from BT on whether the police here were taking any action to investigate 1MDB's money trail and if any specific accounts related to individuals linked to the firm were being probed for suspicious transactions.

It said MAS has been in close contact with the relevant financial institutions.

SPF said the investigation into possible money laundering offences comes under Section 47 of the Corruption, Drug Trafficking and Other Serious Crimes (Confiscation of benefits) Act, Chapter 65A. It also cited the Criminal Procedure Code to "prohibit any dealings in respect of money in two bank accounts that are relevant to the investigation."

It added that Singapore will continue to provide its full assistance to the relevant authorities in Malaysia within the ambit of its laws and international obligations in relation to investigations across the Causeway into 1MDB probe.

anitag@sph.com.sg

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Singapore paves way to becoming AIIB member

Business Times
14 Jul 2015
Lee U-wen

[Singapore] THE Finance Ministry introduced the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) Bill in parliament on Monday, two weeks after Singapore signed the AIIB charter in China as one of 50 prospective founding members.

The Bill, introduced by Senior Minister of State for Finance Josephine Teo, provides for Singapore to subscribe to US$250 million in shares of the AIIB's initial capital stock, and for certain privileges and immunities for the AIIB and its employees to have force of law in Singapore.

It was Mrs Teo who represented the Republic at the signing ceremony of the AIIB's Articles of Agreement in Beijing on June 29.

Parliamentary approval is needed to ratify the articles; countries are recognised as official members of the China-led international financial institution (IFI) only after the ratification is complete.

The AIIB is expected to begin operations by 2016, after at least 10 countries whose initial subscription comprises at least half the initial capitalisation of US$100 billion, ratify the Articles of Agreement.

The AIIB was designed to provide financial support for infrastructure development and regional connectivity in Asia.

In its initial phase, its focus will be on investments in the transport, energy, and water sectors. The list of projects may be expanded later to investments in areas such as ports, environmental protection, urban development and logistics.

Of the total capital, regional members will subscribe to US$75 billion; non-regional members will take up the remainder.

Singapore intends to subscribe to US$250 million, or 0.25 per cent, of the AIIB's total authorised capital, with only US$50 million of this amount to be paid-in over five equal annual instalments.

This will give Singapore 0.48 per cent of the AIIB's total voting share. The remaining 80 per cent, or US$200 million, of callable capital does not need to be paid in, except when decided by AIIB members in extraordinary circumstances.

This is similar to the practice in other IFIs. To date, IFIs such as the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank have not drawn down their callable capital.

Outlining the reasons for Singapore's decision to join the AIIB, the Finance Ministry noted that the scale of infrastructure needed in Asia was significant. On its part, Singapore welcomed new initiatives to promote greater infrastructure investment in the region.

The ministry added that such investments will enhance connectivity and facilitate regional economic development, which in turn will provide positive spinoffs for the Singapore economy.

Aside from injecting new capital, the AIIB has the potential to introduce new ideas and mobilise private-sector lending, as well as complement the work of existing IFIs to benefit the region. There will also be new business opportunities for Singapore-based companies, particularly in infrastructure projects and financing.

Separately, the House voted unanimously to make a constitutional change to include Temasek Holdings in the Net Investment Returns (NIR) framework from Fiscal Year 2016.

This framework, set up in 2009, allows the government to spend up to half the long-term investment returns on the net assets managed by the Monetary Authority of Singapore and GIC.

Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said: "The transition of Temasek to the NIR framework will provide the government with added fiscal resources to make the critical investments in capabilities and infrastructure that we need for the future."

He added that, unlike some of the world's major economies, Singapore's balance sheet was in a net-asset position, not a net-debt position.

"Far from having to raise taxes or cut spending to pay for debts, our NIR framework provides us with a stable stream of revenue for the budget each year, well into the future," he said.

leeuwen@sph.com.sg

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MDA fines Singtel S$90,000 for TV disruption in February

Business Times
29 Jul 2015
Amit Roy Choudhury

Its investigations reveal the cause of service disruption was hardware failure

[Singapore] THE Media Development Authority (MDA) has fined Singapore Telecommunications (Singtel) S$90,000 for its Singtel TV disruption on Feb 3, 2015. The incident, which started at around 10pm, lasted nearly two hours and affected about 11,000 Singtel TV subscribers across Singapore.

Those affected were unable to boot up their set-top boxes or access on-demand content.

The MDA said that its investigations revealed that Singtel was first alerted to the service disruption by customers calling its hotline. The cause of the service disruption was hardware failure.

A Singtel spokeswoman noted that the incident was caused by a faulty controller card which affected the 11,000 customers and the issue was resolved within two hours.

Giving more details, a MDA spokeswoman said that its investigations revealed that the root cause of the service disruption was a hardware failure of a hard disk array controller.

The failure of the controller card caused the back-end server that it was housed in to become unstable and this, consequently, affected the distribution of traffic to four other servers in the same cluster. These four servers eventually could not carry data traffic and triggered the service disruption on Feb 3.

A spokeswoman for the watchdog body said that even though Singtel had undertaken remedial actions following the incident to improve the detection system and response time, the MDA noted that this is the second time in two years that Singtel TV has "contravened the Quality of Service (QoS) condition of its Nationwide Subscription Television Service Licence". "MDA has thus imposed a financial penalty of $90,000."

In December 2013, the MDA had fined Singtel TV S$220,000 for an outage on May 15 that year during a crucial English Premier League match between Arsenal and Wigan. The outage lasted nine hours and affected some 26,000 Singtel TV subscribers. Prior to the 2013 disruption the operator had two previous disruptions that drew MDA fines of S$80,000 and S$180,000, respectively.

The Singtel spokeswoman added: "We once again apologise to those affected and assure our customers that we have taken the necessary steps to prevent recurrence."

amit@sph.com.sg

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Dolphin Villa ads unacceptable, says watchdog

Straits Times
22 Jul 2015
Toh Yong Chuan

Watchdog finds fault with various claims, wants developers to make ad changes

In April, the property developer behind a Batam villa project splashed a series of print advertisements promising views of Marina Bay Sands (MBS) and leaping dolphins at the residents' doorsteps.

But now, Singapore's advertising watchdog, the Advertising Standards Authority of Singapore (Asas), has objected to the ads, and asked the developer to change them.

It found three things unacceptable: claiming that landmarks such as Marina Bay Sands are visible from the villas, promising a guaranteed rental of 7 per cent a year and quoting an anonymous buyer on how wonderful the development is.

The watchdog reviewed the ads after a Sunday Times report in May on the villas, which cost $758,000 each and are being built around a lagoon of captive dolphins.

It told The Straits Times that it had informed the developer about the objections last month.

Asas chairman Tan Sze Wee said that when an advertiser is informed that certain parts of an ad are not acceptable, the advertiser has to stop making the objectionable claims "with immediate effect in all current and future marketing communications".

The developers behind the dolphin lagoon villas are Singapore-registered firms Funtasy Island Development and Seven Seas FID. The project is located on a cluster of six small islands collectively known as Pulau Manis, 3km off Batam in Indonesia.

The 64 two-bedroom villas, which look like round bamboo huts and are each about the size of an HDB executive flat, are built around a lagoon with dolphins which residents can feed and play with.

The developer has promised shops and restaurants nearby and a direct ferry service from Singapore's HarbourFront .

The villas, slated to be completed by the end of 2018, were launched at the upmarket One Degree 15 Marina on Sentosa in April.

The villas around the lagoon are part of a larger development of eight other housing projects on Pulau Manis with a total of more than 600 units - comprising villas, bungalows and apartments.

The development sits on land owned by PT Batam Island Marina. The Indonesian company has promised on its website to renew land leases up to 2112. Foreigners cannot own land in Indonesia but can be granted leases to use the land.

Ms Kelly Huang, a spokesman for Funtasy Island Development, said the developers "will observe the guidance" given by the advertising watchdog. "We will work closely with Asas in the future," she said.

"At this point, we have not decided the manner in which the ads will come out."

A check on Funtasy Island's website last week found that the Marina Bay Sands skyline, the 7 per cent annual rent guarantee and the ringing endorsement by the anonymous buyer - aspects that Asas objected to - were still prominently featured.

"Asas has jurisdiction only over local print and broadcast advertisements, but not what the companies do online," said Mr Ku Swee Yong, chief executive of estate agency Century 21.

"There is nothing stopping a developer from putting information on Facebook or the Internet.

"This is a key weakness."

Funtasy Island Development, which has projects in Batam, launched Dolphin Villa (above) in April. ST FILE PHOTO

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SIAS chief reiterates call for SGX to drop its regulatory functions

Business Times
14 Jul 2015
R. Sivanithy

David Gerald also calls for exchange to help companies explore opportunities in India and Africa

[Singapore] FORMER investment banker Loh Boon Chye, who assumes his new role as chief executive officer of the Singapore Exchange (SGX) on Tuesday this week, should helm an exchange that is entirely profit-driven with no regulatory functions, says David Gerald, president and CEO of Securities Investors Association of Singapore (SIAS).

In an exclusive interview with BT, Mr Gerald also said that SGX should think "out of the box" to help companies pursue business opportunities in India and Africa.

Commenting on SGX's role as a frontline regulator and a listed commercial entity, Mr Gerald, who had previously also spoken against the dual role, said "a policeman cannot do business with its citizens".

"The Monetary Authority of Singapore has indicated that it is willing to reconsider the dual role. It is time to relieve SGX of its regulatory role and allow MAS to be the sole regulator. This would then allow SGX to concentrate fully on its own growth as well as the companies listed here," said Mr Gerald.

"If companies are moving into India and Africa as they already are, then the exchange must help these companies. Ascendas, Singtel, PSA and Temasek have all successfully made forays into India and Africa."

He suggested that SGX look into setting up a separate arm within the exchange to help local companies set up joint ventures in these countries, whilst helping companies to list here.

That SGX operates as a listed regulator has long been a source of complaints from various sectors of the market, this despite several safeguards to ensure conflicts of interest are properly dealt with and resolved.

In an article published in BT on June 26, MAS deputy managing director (financial supervision) Ong Chong Tee noted that new exchanges are being established in Singapore.

"In a more competitive multi-exchange landscape, there is a need to mitigate potential conflicts of interests and ensure efficiency in regulation. For example, there could be scope to reduce any overlaps between the oversight functions of the MAS and the exchanges," wrote Mr Ong. He also called on industry stakeholders to work together to build a vibrant securities market.

Agreeing with Mr Ong, Mr Gerald noted that SGX's new boss will have to urgently address integrity and liquidity issues.

"The answer to the question of why many investors are still out of the market does not require much thinking," he said. "It is loss of confidence and fear. To them, caveat emptor means nothing and they tend to hold SGX responsible. This has to be an area of concern for the new CEO - to bring confidence back."

Citing the case of China Sky which was suspended four years ago for failure to comply with a listing rule requiring a special audit, Mr Gerald noted that the stock remains suspended with no updates, which adds to the frustration and disappointment of shareholders. "There may be good reasons for delay in some cases but there needs to be more transparency," he said.

On the oft-discussed subject of declining liquidity, Mr Gerald pointed to the approximately S$56 billion lying in fixed deposits that fail to earn returns to cover inflation and that depositors may be willing to put into suitable investment products if only they know about their existence or how to access them.

"There is a lack of skill in managing risks in the products and also absence of advisory services to help retail investors make an informed decision..Although SGX has introduced several initiatives to educate the public through online and physical programmes like roadshows, more needs to be done," said Mr Gerald.

sivan@sph.com.sg

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Aljunied resident’s claim against AHPETC dismissed

TODAY
29 Jul 2015
Ng Jing Yng

Resident had filed claim citing unhappiness that town council had not fulfilled its duties

SINGAPORE — The Small Claims Tribunals has dismissed a claim by a resident of Parkland Residences seeking a refund of service and conservancy charges (S&CC) paid to the Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC) after the estate’s developer and residents had to clean the common areas themselves for several months.

The court hearing between corporate travel manager Melinda Teo and AHPETC took place yesterday (July 27).

Ms Teo, who is a resident of Parkland Residences at Upper Serangoon, had lodged a report with the Small Claims Tribunals last month, seeking to get back S$367.20 paid to the AHPETC between November last year and May this year.

The claim arose from an impasse between AHPETC and the Housing and Development Board over the handing over of maintenance documents, which had led to Parkland’s developer Kwan Hwee Investment having to perform cleaning duties.

Some residents also said they had to clean some of the common areas of the Design, Build and Sell Scheme project. The matter has since been resolved, with AHPETC taking over the cleaning and maintenance of the property since last month.

Ms Teo filed the claim last month, citing unhappiness that the town council had not fulfilled its duties. When contacted today, she declined to comment.

Speaking to TODAY yesterday, AHPETC vice-chairman Pritam Singh said: “Ultimately, the decision was in the hands of the court. In view of the claim (by the resident), I think it was a correct decision by the court,” said Mr Singh, who is a lawyer.

Aljunied GRC Member of Parliament Low Thia Khiang had said in a letter to Parkland residents last month that the AHPETC will use part of the paid S&CC monies to reimburse the developer for taking over cleaning duties during the impasse.

While some residents have expressed unhappiness at AHPETC over the issue, others interviewed today said they have continued to pay S&CC. Cleaners have been maintaining the estate, no matter whether they were deployed by the town council or the developer, they said.

Said Ms G Sarojan, 66, who moved into Parkland Residences in the beginning of this year, said: “I have to pay as someone has been cleaning the place. That is the right thing to do.”

But another resident, who gave his name as Mr Lee, said he is still taking a “wait-and-see” approach on the more than S$400 in S&CC he owes AHPETC.

“I am prepared to pay the S&CC charges but I also want the town council to be more transparent such as how much of the monies are being reimbursed to the developer,” said the 53-year-old.

An AHPETC spokesperson said today that the town council is “scrutinising the claim for reimbursement” by the developer. She also said the town council had previously sent letters to residents who owe S&CC monies prior to June and will be following up with them.

TODAY understands that residents have been given a deadline to pay up their outstanding S&CC monies. The town council did not say what it would do should the residents not pay. According to its website, penalties are imposed for late payment of S&CC.

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Guidelines for job ads: Tafep replies: Forum

Straits Times
22 Jul 2015

Under the Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices, employers are required to recruit and select employees on merit, based on objective requirements of the job.

Therefore, they should not be posting job advertisements with nationality requirements ("Confusing guidelines for recruitment ads" by Mr Paul David Paffett; July 14, and "Tweak job ad guidelines" by Mr Jeffrey Law Lee Beng, last Saturday).

Specifying Singaporeans only, however, is acceptable as the guidelines also call for employers to make reasonable efforts to attract and consider Singaporean applicants for developing a Singaporean core.

We can understand Mr Paffett's concern about misleading non-Singaporean applicants, especially when his company is not hiring foreign nationals.

The Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (Tafep) has also received similar feedback from some employers.

For such employers, we would have no objection if employers make clear in job advertisements that applicants who require work passes need not apply for the jobs.

We also agree with Mr Law's comment on how job advertisements should contain specific requirements, so that the right candidates would apply for the jobs.

However, job requirements must not discriminate against particular groups of applicants. Factors such as age, race, religion, gender and marital status are generally irrelevant and thus should not be used as recruitment and selection criteria.

For advice on drafting job advertisements, employers can refer to the Tafep website www.tafep.sg/job-advertisements or contact Tafep at query@tafep.sg or call 6838-0969.

Roslyn Ten (Mrs)
General Manager
Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices

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Govt seeks more teeth to fight organised crime

TODAY
14 Jul 2015
Kelly Ng

SINGAPORE — Proposed laws to clamp down on illicit activities of organised crime groups such as drug trafficking, money laundering and loansharking were introduced in Parliament today (July 13). Aimed at preventing organised crime from establishing a foothold here, the Organised Crime Bill seeks to confer wide-ranging powers on authorities to take to task those involved in such crimes at all levels, even without a conviction.

Under the Bill, the court would be empowered to issue orders — called Organised Crime Prevention Orders — to constrain criminal activities. For example, it could disqualify involved individuals from acting as a director of a company, require them to submit financial reports and restrict their travel and work arrangements.

Companies, meanwhile, could face prohibitions on their business dealings, provision of goods and services and employment. And these orders can be imposed on individuals who are not criminally convicted through civil proceedings.

To make such orders, the High Court must be satisfied that a person has been involved in an offence associated with an organised crime group, and has grounds to believe that the order would protect the public.

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said today that organised crime poses a serious threat to safety and security, and the proposed laws would strengthen the ability of law enforcement agencies to deal with them.

“While the situation in Singapore is under control, the experiences of other countries have demonstrated the need to act pre-emptively and decisively to prevent organised crime groups from establishing a foothold here,” the Ministry said.

Under the Bill, an organised crime group refers to a party of three or more individuals that engages in criminal activities for financial or material gains.

Apart from the court orders, the Bill also proposes investigative powers for law enforcement agencies to investigate and obtain information from the Comptroller of Income Tax and the Comptroller of Goods and Services Tax. These agencies can also apply to the High Court to examine individuals who can provide information of value to civil proceedings.

An individual’s benefits from any organised crime activity can be confiscated even if he or she is not criminally convicted, as long as the prosecution is able to prove, on a balance of probabilities, that the person has carried out organised crime activity.

To prevent and cripple the activities of organised crime groups and those involved in it, the Bill seeks to criminalise being a member of such parties, and recruiting members and expending property to support these groups.

Those convicted of serious crimes committed as part of an organised crime syndicate will be subject to stiffer penalties. For instance, money mules could be jailed up to seven years or fined S$500,000, or punished with both, under the Corruption, Drug Trafficking and Other Serious Crimes (Confiscation of Benefits) Act. If the proposed laws are passed, those who committed the same offence as part of an organised crime group face up to 12 years in jail or a S$1,000,000 fine, or both.

To tackle the transnational nature of organised crime, the proposed laws will cover both individuals here and overseas who are involved in organised crime activities that result in harm in Singapore. In developing the Bill, the MHA said it studied the laws and practices in other jurisdictions, such as the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Canada, Hong Kong, Australia and the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organised Crime. The Ministry also consulted the judiciary and legal fraternity here.

In recent months, the transnational scale of several offences have been highlighted and prosecutors have repeatedly called for stiffer penalties, as syndicate leaders based outside Singapore believe they can escape the law.

Earlier this month, the Malaysian mastermind of a prolific car-smuggling syndicate that had disposed of stolen vehicles worth more than S$7 million was sentenced to seven-and-a-half years’ jail. In April, a loanshark who was part of a cross-border syndicate and operated from Zhuhai in China was sentenced to four years’ jail and fined S$600,000.


HOW OTHER JURISDICTIONS TACKLE ORGANISED CRIME

Canada

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police targets specific criminal groups, such as outlaw motorcycle gangs and syndicates in child trafficking, counterfeit credit cards and telemarketing. It is an offence to impede the administration of justice through intimidation and targeting those who recruit others to join an organised crime group.

New Zealand

Police can obtain court orders to freeze or forfeit money or property derived from crime, including indirect benefits, such as a car purchased using money obtained through fraud. Assets can be frozen even when no one has been convicted or charged with a crime if there are reasonable grounds to believe that the property is tainted or that the suspect has unlawfully benefited from the criminal activities.

United Kingdom

Participation in activities of an organised crime group — comprising three or more persons acting together to further criminal activities — is illegal, with a penalty of between five to seven years’ imprisonment. The courts are also empowered to freeze assets even if a decision to charge a suspect is not made within a reasonable time.

The United Nations Convention against Transnational Crime, adopted by the General Assembly in December 2000, targets specific areas of organised crime, including trafficking in persons, migrant smuggling and illicit manufacturing and trafficking of firearms.

Standing up for consumer protection

Straits Times
29 Jul 2015

It is heartening that the Government is thinking about strengthening the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act in the light of malpractices that drew public attention. One measure being contemplated is the appointment of an agency within the Ministry of Trade and Industry to gather evidence against errant retailers. That agency would work closely with the Consumers Association of Singapore to take action against such retailers. With a review of the Act now complete, a public consultation of the recommended changes will follow later this year. That would be an opportune moment for Singaporeans to contribute their views on the important evolution of a law to protect both citizens and tourists from the sharp practices of unscrupulous shop owners.

Consumer concerns peaked in the aftermath of incidents of questionable sales tactics, particularly in Sim Lim Square, which made local and international headlines. A key issue is that while the consumers' association and the Singapore Tourism Board are authorised to take up court orders against errant retailers, owners of such businesses tend to close down and reopen under a different name before they face any penalties. Suggestions to tackle the problem include a blacklist of such retailers posted at the airport and major commercial hubs to warn shoppers. Some have advocated the use of undercover enforcement officers to visit notorious stores to gather evidence.

Useful as these deterrents could be, the larger point is the need to balance the punishment of dishonest traders with the protection of bona fide businesses, which outnumber the recalcitrants. Clearly, Singapore's reputation as a shoppers' paradise calls for a strong message to merchants that they cannot circumvent the law. Equally, however, honest traders must not suffer from a general loss of trust and confidence brought about by precipitate official action. One way to strike a balance would be to oblige retailers, who have had court orders made against them, to notify customers, even if they open a new business under a different name. That way, culpability would remain attached to individual traders without tarnishing the reputation of entire shopping centres and targeting the livelihoods of retailers who play and survive by the stringent rules for which Singapore is known.

It is in the interests of the retail community to support the new measures. Businessmen who take short cuts to unwarranted profits, by employing intimidatory tactics to overwhelm the unsuspecting customer from abroad, undercut the prospects of those retailers who offer tourists and locals alike real value for their shopping dollar. Weeding out the recalcitrants will help reliable businesses contribute to, and thrive on, Singapore's signature reputation as a country for the discerning and also the trusting shopper.

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Employee sold wine firm's goods illegally for $7m

Straits Times
22 Jul 2015
Amir Hussain

A former relationship manager at one of Singapore's top wine and spirit companies yesterday admitted to unlawfully selling almost 15,000 bottles for $7 million - all so she could pay off loan sharks.

Luciana Lim Ying Ying, 43, was convicted on four charges - criminal breach of trust, cheating and dishonestly inducing delivery of a property, assisting an unlicensed moneylender, and using the benefits from criminal conduct.

Seven other charges will be considered during sentencing.

Lim committed the offences over 18 months, between June 2011 and January 2013, while working for Hock Tong Bee, one of the oldest and largest independent wine and spirit companies in Singapore.

Her job involved finding and liaising with customers. She said she needed the money to repay loan sharks who were harrassing her as she had agreed to stand as a guarantor for a former colleague.

In March 2013, a manager at the company noticed that large sums of money were outstanding from high net-worth clients whom Lim was servicing. Yet, the goods were being released to them without the company's knowledge.

He made a police report and three days later, she surrendered to the authorities.

The court yesterday heard that Lim's modus operandi was to register fake clients, and place orders for expensive wines and spirits.

In order to register these bogus clients, she sourced their names, addresses and contact numbers using old name cards. She also used the Internet to look for the personal details of doctors and lawyers.

Lim would offer to sell her company's goods to actual clients at lower prices, telling them she got the bottles at a staff discount, or that she had a customer who wanted to release wines cheaply.

She would then tell her company's warehouse to send the goods to the buyers' addresses.

Eventually, Lim was banned from conducting further sales by her company, as the total amount of outstanding payments from her fake clients was too large. But she continued to unlawfully obtain her company's goods using the credit card details of existing clients.

The prosecution asked that Lim be jailed for 13 years. She is expected to be sentenced next month.

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Hand-picked Noble committee not independent: Mailbag

Business Times
14 Jul 2015

THE recent announcement by the Noble Group that it has established an independent committee to review its accounting practises warrants a response.

This is a small step in the wrong direction. My problem with this supposedly independent committee is its extremely narrow and limited scope of only looking at mark-to-market (MTM) valuations and that only a Noble vetted summary will be released by the board committee. This hand-picked, insider board committee should not in anyway be considered "independent".

Noble is engaging in a PR exercise in which I, for one, have no confidence. As long as Richard Elman, the 75-year-old founder and executive chairman of Noble 20 per cent shareholder and member of the audit, nominating and compensation committees, has a formal role in Noble, there can be no possibility of a truly independent assessment of Noble's accounting.

Three of the four members of Noble's newly appointed "independent" accounting review committee, including its chairman, are all existing members of the audit committee which includes Mr Elman.

Will Mr Elman allow a truly independent committee to objectively assess his work as executive chairman after he declared this matter "finished" at the AGM? I, for one, think not.

Noble has had many months to provide the facts and has not done so. It has also bought back about 2 per cent of the company's stock in a futile effort to support the share price. Yet, as has been variously reported by The Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times, Reuters, Bloomberg and others, Noble's bond spreads and CDS spreads have widened, lenders are selling their positions and its bond ratings are one notch away from junk status.

Mak Yuen Teen, associate professor at the NUS Business School where he teaches corporate governance and ethics, has written an excellent article in The Business Times on the many corporate governance shortcomings of Noble Group.

I therefore reiterate my call for Mr Elman to immediately resign all roles with Noble, for its existing auditors Ernst & Young to be fired, the board to be restructured, and a new, truly independent, chairman to be installed to clean up this mess. Noble's CEO and CFO should be given one month to fully answer all questions to which, by now, they would surely know the answers. This new committee that has been appointed to assess accounting practices is too little, too late and too conflicted.

If Noble wants to begin to restore the confidence of the market on MTM valuations, then it should immediately and publicly release the full valuation model for Yancoal both before and after the recent 40 per cent writedown of US$200 million which still leaves Yancoal valued by Noble at 25 times its public market value.

Let the market decide if Noble's model and assumptions are more reflective of reality than the shares of a public company. Noble should also fully explain how Yancoal is treated as an associated company with only 13 per cent of the shares, well below the required 20 per cent. They could do this today with no new committee.

In the past, I have dared Noble to release the Yancoal model for public inspection. They have not. So now, I will make a formal offer: If Noble releases the full Yancoal valuation model, used both before and after the recent US$200 million writedown, I will personally donate S$10,000 to Singapore Special Olympics in Noble's name.

Hopefully, Noble now has a further incentive to do what they should have done five months ago - respect the owners of Noble and provide the raw data for the market to evaluate. This won't answer all questions, yet it would be a small step in the right direction.

I reiterate that I have no position in the shares of Noble Group and no economic interest whatsoever, nor do I want to see Noble further negatively impact shareholders and jeopardise the livelihood of its employees through its actions.

Michael Dee

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Ministers agree to share hot spot info

Straits Times
29 Jul 2015
Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja

Environment ministers from five Asean nations agreed yesterday to sharing information on a government-to-government basis that would help identify plantation companies on whose land fires start and cause haze.

The agreement, however, fell far short of the longstanding request by Singapore that Indonesia publicly share maps on agricultural concessions owned by oil palm, timber and other commodity companies, which are often blamed for starting the fires, particularly in neighbouring Sumatra.

"We decided to share hot spot information first - to make such data reach all parties as quickly as possible," said Indonesian Environment Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar at a joint press conference after the meeting in Jakarta.

Representatives from Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei and Thailand attended the meeting.

Asean previously agreed to create a regional haze-monitoring system, with a computer system developed by Singapore that uses satellite images and hot-spot data to pinpoint fires that lead to haze.

Development of the system has progressed slowly as it awaits the concession maps from Indonesia and Malaysia to identify which companies are responsible for the land plots where fires occur.

Plantation companies have often been blamed for some of the fires that burn on their concessions although, in some cases, the fires are started outside their lands or by farmers who are encroaching or living on their concessions. Many large plantation companies also have fire crews to protect their oil palm trees, timber or other assets.

One problem is that these companies generally do not share concession boundary data and the Indonesian government has struggled to create accurate concession maps.

Another issue is that Indonesian laws ban the government from sharing concession maps, Ms Siti said.

The information on hot-spot locations, though, would reveal the truth and help with the investigation and prosecution of errant companies, said Singapore's Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan.

"It would allow us to do 'ground truthing', meaning, if we see a hot spot on a satellite that is verified on the ground, we could, hopefully, exchange information on which companies are responsible for that piece of ground on which the fire has started," Dr Balakrishnan said at the joint press conference.

Singapore passed legislation in August last year that would allow criminal and civil prosecution against Singaporean as well as foreign companies involved in illegal burning outside Singapore. But regulators would still need evidence and cooperation from the authorities on the ground.

Dr Balakrishnan also said he was convinced Indonesian President Joko Widodo was serious about overcoming the haze problem. He noted that the number of hot spots this year has been much lower. But he lamented the slow progress of the Asean haze talks.

"Despite multiple meetings... the progress has been very slow," he told reporters in Jakarta.

"I would say this is a problem that has gone on for too long. We need to solve it now. We are not moving as quickly as I would have hoped but nevertheless, there is some progress and, more importantly, there are signs of progress on the ground, certainly in Sumatra, and particularly in Riau."


HELP IDENTIFY CULPRITS

It would allow us to do "ground truthing", meaning, if we see a hot spot on a satellite that is verified on the ground, we could, hopefully, exchange information on which companies are responsible for that piece of ground on which the fire has started.

DR VIVIAN BALAKRISHNAN (above), Minister for the Environment and Water Resources

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Jailed Jakarta school staff get damages for defamation

Straits Times
21 Jul 2015
K.C. Vijayan

Court awards $130k to duo and $100k to school in case involving allegations of sexual abuse

Two convicted school staff currently in a Jakarta jail for child abuse were awarded a total of $130,000 in damages by the Singapore High Court in a defamation suit against the mother of an alleged victim.

The court also ordered the 33-year-old German national to pay a further $100,000 to the private international school in Jakarta as well as the principal of its elementary campus. Both had also sued her.

But the sums awarded were only a fraction of the $7.95 million in general, special and aggravated damages sought by the four parties, who were not named in judgment grounds released yesterday.

The plaintiffs had obtained a default judgment last year against the woman, who did not show up to contest the case. The issue turned on how much they should be paid.

"There is no fixed formula governing the assessment of damages. To ensure that such assessments proceed in a coherent and principled fashion, sufficient regard must be paid to past awards in comparable cases," said Justice Lee Seiu Kin.

In addition to considering the gravity and extent of the allegations, and the standing of the plaintiffs, the judge noted that past awards ranged from $15,000 to $140,000 in comparable cases here. The severity of the allegations did not justify $300,000 for general damages, which belongs to the scale of awards for public leaders here, he ruled.

The plaintiffs also sought aggravated damages, pointing out that the woman had failed to retract her statements or apologise, and had tried to evade acceptance of court papers, among other things.

Justice Lee ruled that the school, as a corporate entity, was not entitled to aggravated damages but that the other three parties were entitled, as objective evidence including a physical examination at KK Women's & Children's Hospital showed that the woman's son had not been assaulted. Justice Lee awarded $20,000 to each of the trio in aggravated damages.

The judge turned down the claims of all four parties for special damages,which is usually recoverable for economic loss following injury to their reputation. The school had sought US$2.98 million (S$4.1 million) in special damages for the shortfall in enrolment.

But the judge found that it did not show the extent of the woman's blame, given that the scandal at the school started in March last year, two months before she made the allegations. The judge also called the claims for special damages made by the other three parties, totalling $2.04 million, "misconceived".

The suit involved statements about the sexual abuse of schoolchildren that the woman, whose son was a student at the school, had made in e-mails and WhatsApp messages against the four parties.

The two staff in an Indonesian jail are a Canadian former school administrator and an Indonesian former teacher's aide. Both had been convicted of child abuse in a Jakarta court in April and sentenced to 10 years' jail each and fined. Both are appealing against the verdicts.

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ATU and others v ATY [2015] SGHC 184

New rules to limit upfront commissions

Straits Times
14 Jul 2015
Walter Sim

TOUGHER FINANCIAL MEASURES

Legislation to tighten regulations on financial advisers and insurers was passed yesterday.

Amendments to the Financial Advisers Act and the Insurance Act will better align the interests of financial advisers to their customers', by changing how they get paid, said Monetary Authority of Singapore board member Lawrence Wong .

Under the new regulations, a "significant proportion" of their pay will be pegged to non-sales performance indicators, such as whether they took steps to provide enough disclosures.

Mr Wong, who is Minister for Culture, Community and Youth, said the changes will limit upfront commissions to financial advisers, and will require that commissions be spread out over a specified period instead. This will give financial advisers more incentive to support the continuous needs of their customers, said Mr Wong.

PAVING WAY FOR SINGAPORE TO JOIN AIIB

The Finance Ministry yesterday introduced the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) Bill, which paves the way for Singapore to become a member of the bank.

Singapore signed the AIIB charter on June 29, and the Bill will let Singapore subscribe in the bank's starting capital. The Government has plans to contribute US$250 million (S$338 million) towards the US$100 billion capital of the AIIB. This gives Singapore 0.48 per cent of the total voting share.

The Ministry of Finance said only 20 per cent of the sum has to be paid over five years. The remaining 80 per cent will be paid only when decided by AIIB members in extraordinary circumstances.

The China-led AIIB, which will provide financial support for infrastructure development and regional connectivity in Asia, is set to begin operations next year.

BILL ON SILVER SUPPORT SCHEME

A new Bill for the Silver Support Scheme, unveiled in this year's Budget, was introduced in Parliament yesterday.

The scheme, slated to be rolled out early next year, will give cash payouts to elderly folk who need extra help. About 150,000 elderly Singaporeans stand to receive a payout of $300 to $750 every quarter.

Under the Bill, the Central Provident Fund Board will be appointed as the administrators of the scheme and will be given the powers to conduct means-testing.

The Bill also sets out penalties for those who seek to defraud the scheme. Those who knowingly provide false information to qualify, or to get a higher payout from the scheme, will face a fine of up to $5,000, a jail term of up to one year, or both.

waltsim@sph.com.sg


ISSUE PAYSLIPS OR FACE FINE

Employers who fail to issue itemised payslips to their workers will be fined under a law proposed by the Manpower Ministry. The ministry tabled a Bill in Parliament yesterday to amend the Employment Act - Singapore's main labour law - to make it compulsory for employers to issue such payslips and spell out employment terms clearly to their workers.

Under the proposed changes, breaches will be considered "civil contraventions" and fines would be imposed, but the penalties do not carry the stigma of criminal punishments.

Employers may be fined up to $1,000 for each initial breach and up to $2,000 for subsequent breaches. Those who give incomplete or inaccurate payslips would be presumed to have failed to comply with the new law. The ministry said the move, if passed, will reduce labour disputes. It is planning to implement the changes in the first quarter of next year.

Toh Yong Chuan

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Headless woman killed by hubby: Court

Straits Times
29 Jul 2015
Olivia Ho

Upset that his wife was making a long-distance call to a mystery party, he reportedly punched her in a fight and left her lying on the bed.

It was only later, he told a friend, that he realised that she was not unconscious, but dead. That was when he decided to get rid of the body.

A coroner's court found yesterday that Indian national Jasvinder Kaur, 33, had been murdered by her husband, Harvinder Singh, 35, on Dec 11, 2013.

Ms Kaur's headless body was discovered floating in Whampoa River on the morning of Dec 12. Her corpse was wrapped in black trash bags, with the legs exposed and hands severed at the wrists.

Harvinder, a senior logistics coordinator, remains on the run. His friend, fellow Indian national Gursharan Singh, 27, was jailed for 30 months in April for helping to get rid of Ms Kaur's body.

Gursharan, a forklift driver, had helped Harvinder carry a luggage bag from the latter's residence at 228A Balestier Road to the canal near McNair Road.

When Gursharan grew suspicious at how heavy the bag was, he demanded to know what was in it. Harvinder then explained that he had fought that morning with Ms Kaur and punched her once on the neck.

He said she had fallen onto the bed and he had left her there. When he found her in the same position later, he realised she was dead and decided to dispose of her body.

Although Gursharan was then aware that the luggage contained a corpse, he helped Harvinder carry it to the canal. Harvinder then told him to walk away. As Gursharan left, he heard a splash.

Ms Kaur's employer told investigators that after the deceased failed to turn up for work as a beautician on Dec 11, Harvinder called to say she was returning to India.

Harvinder fled the next morning to Malaysia, and then to India, where the authorities were unable to trace him. He is now on Interpol's wanted list.

The exact cause of Ms Kaur's death remains unknown as her head and hands were never found.

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New rules proposed to give consumers more protection

TODAY
21 Jul 2015
Ng Jing Yng

Dedicated agency to root out dodgy sales practices, making injunctions stick to individuals among proposed changes

SINGAPORE — The authorities could get more teeth to fight errant retailers, including measures to counter crooked merchants who ditch a bad reputation by setting up a new shop elsewhere, and setting up a first-ever dedicated agency to root out dodgy sales practices.

Following a review of the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act (CPFTA), the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) is considering making injunctions stick to an individual, instead of to a company, as is the case currently.

On top of that, an individual served with an injunction, which is a court order to restrain certain acts or conduct, will be required to publicise it prominently as a warning to consumers. He may have to display the order at the shopfront, or announce it via newspaper advertisements, or print it on the business’ invoices, for instance.

Revealing the proposed changes after visiting retailers at Rivervale Plaza in Sengkang today (July 20), Minister of State for Trade and Industry Teo Ser Luck said: “If the shop closes, and the owner goes elsewhere and sets up a shop, the owner still has the responsibility with whoever transacts with them ... the injunction order follows the individual.”

Details on when or how an injunction will be lifted are being worked out, he added. Separately, a dedicated agency within MTI could be set up and given powers, for the first time, to investigate consumer complaints of dodgy sales practices so that disputes are dealt with more speedily. Currently, complaints go to the Consumers Association of Singapore (CASE), which has no investigative or enforcement powers, making evidence-gathering a difficult or slow process.

A review of the CPFTA was sparked by the uproar caused by now-defunct Mobile Air’s allegedly unfair dealings with a Vietnamese tourist in November last year — criminal charges have been pressed against the owner Jover Chew and four of his former employees.

Speaking to the media today, Mr Teo said the committee that reviewed the law had looked at how other jurisdictions handled such problems. Hong Kong, for instance, has public agencies tasked with enforcing against unfair trade practices, while an injunction order can also be applied on an individual.

The new agency under MTI, if it is set up, will strengthen the investigation and enforcement process, said Mr Teo.

The plan is for CASE to remain the first point of contact for consumers to file complaints. It will then filter the more severe cases for investigations.

“When you take up such a case, it is actually very intrusive (to gather) evidence. After gathering enough evidence, you have to enforce it and apply for an injunction ... this is what this agency will do,” Mr Teo said, adding that CASE will be given more resources to expand their public education programmes.

CASE executive director Seah Seng Choon said it will continue to act as a mediator between consumers and businesses. Noting its existing powers under the Act to seek injunctions against businesses engaging in unfair practices, he added that the new agency could take on an enforcement role, such as bringing cases for criminal prosecution.

Public consultations on the proposed changes are expected to be conducted in the next few months. Amendments to the legislation could be tabled in Parliament by the first quarter of next year.

CASE’s statistics show that there were 24,721 complaints against retailers last year, with motors and electrical and electronics industries topping in terms of number of complaints.

Since 2004, 18 businesses have also signed a Voluntary Compliance Agreement with CASE to stop unfair trading practices and five injunction orders have been taken against errant businesses.


Enhancements to consumer rights will ‘help close legal loophole’

Lawyers say move a step in right direction to deter bad hats from hiding behind corporate veil

SINGAPORE — Lawyers, retailers and consumers have welcomed the proposed enhancements of consumer rights as a move in the right direction to close a gap in the existing legislation and deter bad hats from hiding “behind a corporate veil”.

In particular, the proposal to extend injunction orders to individuals, whereby those who are served with one must publicise this fact, garnered support as well as raised questions they hope will be addressed in the coming public consultation sessions.

Lawyer Amolat Singh, managing partner at Amolat & Partners, said: “This proposed enhancement is specific and targeted ... so that these errant retailers do not run around in circles, setting up another shop and continuing their bad practices.”

Mr Robson Lee, a partner at Gibon, Dunn & Crutcher, said the proposed provision in the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act would close a loophole in the law, which takes only errant businesses to task currently.

“(The individual) can’t camouflage behind a corporate veil,” he said.

Retailers also felt that the proposals would help to weed out bad apples in the industry. Clothing retailer Marcella Holdings co-founder Lai Chang Wen said employees who engage in unfair trading practices could then shoulder the consequences, while companies not complicit in these practices can avoid being dragged down with the errant employee.

Some consumers TODAY spoke to agreed that the suggested changes will have a deterrent effect.

But others, such as assistant warehouse manager Yeo Shuan Chee, who met a dishonest used-car dealer who went on to set up business in another location, called for more publicity about blacklisted retailers, as consumers might overlook these details.

“To better protect consumers, the authorities should suspend their businesses,” he added.

Some others hoped the amendments to the law will be fine-tuned such that individuals will have a way to end an injunction order and start afresh.

Audio retailer Atlas Sound & Vision chief executive Michael Tien pointed out that an individual with an injunction order could be a sole business proprietor: “Is it fair to say that the shopkeeper is forever liable ... Is there room to explore a certain time frame?”

Lawyer Mr Lee noted that some shop owners might run separate businesses, and the unfair trading practices of one business might not have a bearing on the other. He also questioned whether an individual could be cleared of an injunction by meeting certain criteria.

jingyng@mediacorp.com.sg

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Fares incurred via Uber not tax deductible: Forum

Straits Times
14 Jul 2015

I was unsure if the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (Iras) considered travel expenses incurred through the use of the Uber mobile app as tax deductible and could not find any information on the Iras website.

Thus, I e-mailed Iras regarding the matter and was informed that fares for Uber bookings do not qualify for tax-deduction purposes.

Businesses and companies whose employees use Uber services instead of regular taxi services should be made expressly aware of this as soon as possible.

Any attempt to include Uber fees as part of their year-end transport expense computation for the purposes of tax deduction would constitute an offence under Iras tax computation rules.

Julian Ho

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New MAS group on fintech issues

Straits Times
28 Jul 2015
Marissa Lee

The central bank has formed a new work group to develop strategies and formulate regulation around the use of new technologies in financial services.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore's FinTech and Innovation Group will also work with industry partners to test-bed new financial technology (fintech) solutions.

Chief fintech officer Sopnendu Mohanty, formerly a Citibank global head of consumer innovation lab networks and programmes, will head the 12-person group. More staff will be recruited to build the team over the next few months.

The group comprises a Payments and Technology Solutions Office, a Technology Infrastructure Office and a Technology Innovation Lab. The Technology Infrastructure Office will look into sharpening surveillance of the financial system with better information to identify and mitigate risks, said the MAS.

Meanwhile, the MAS and the Ministry of Finance have been co-leading a multi-agency effort to address payment-related issues and guide the development of efficient digital and mobile payment systems.

"Over the past year, we have been engaging the fintech community (banks, start-ups, technology firms) to understand how MAS can better support the industry," it said.

For example, the MAS has participated in the Startupbootcamp FinTech accelerator programme as a mentor to start-ups, helping them to understand regulatory requirements.

The MAS has also engaged financial institutions to set up their innovation labs here.

"They chose Singapore due to our established infrastructure and strong public-private partnership. These put Singapore in a good position to be a global player in the fintech scene," said the MAS.

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IRS probes S'pore asset manager: WSJ

Straits Times
21 Jul 2015

Investigators from the US Internal Revenue Service (IRS) are looking into whether a Singapore asset management firm accepted transfers from undeclared Swiss accounts closed by American taxpayers, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) said.

Lawyers who spoke to the paper on condition of anonymity said a handful of clients were being questioned about the asset manager. The report did not name the firm.

The Journal's online report on Sunday said the probe marks an expansion of the US crackdown on undeclared offshore accounts that began in Switzerland in 2009.

Since then, US officials have pursued banks and individual "enablers", such as lawyers or asset managers, that have helped American taxpayers hide money abroad in Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Israel, India and the Caribbean.

But until now, "there was little indication they had widened their probe to South-east Asia or Hong Kong", the Journal said.

The newspaper quoted Mr Bryan Skarlatos, a lawyer with Kostelanetz & Fink in New York, as saying that the IRS and US Justice Department "seem be turning their focus East, where there are many US taxpayers with accounts".

The law firm has represented nearly 2,000 American taxpayers with undeclared offshore accounts, the WSJ added.

Since the US crackdown on offshore account tax evasion began in 2009, more than 50,000 people have entered a special IRS limited amnesty programme for individuals with offshore accounts.

They have paid more than US$7 billion (S$9.6 billion) to the US authorities to resolve their cases, while banks in Switzerland and elsewhere have paid more than US$4 billion to resolve theirs, with more to come, the paper added.

The United States had, in 2011, started probing other banks and their involvement in offshore tax services after Swiss bank UBS admitted to helping Americans stash their assets overseas tax free.

The bank was fined US$780 million by the US in 2009.

Swiss banks reached an agreement to avoid prosecution if they reveal names of US citizens holding accounts with them, but they could still be fined up to half of the customer's asset value.

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

Bus sector: LTA set to get more power

Straits Times
14 Jul 2015
Adrian Lim

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) could be given more power in running the public bus industry, under proposed changes introduced in Parliament yesterday.

In addition to planning bus routes and contracting them out, which it currently does, the LTA will also be put in charge of regulating the operators of bus services, depots and interchanges.

The oversight is now handled by the Public Transport Council (PTC), which will hand that role over to the LTA, if the Bill is passed.

The Bus Services Industry Bill will support the restructuring of the public bus industry to a contracting model, in which routes are tendered out for operators to bid for and run over a specific period.

Under it, operators can be rewarded for meeting service standards or penalised if they fall short.

A Ministry of Transport spokesman said: "As LTA will henceforth be responsible for all three functions - regulator, contractor and planner of bus services - it will be able to manage bus services more holistically."

Along with the new legislation, Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew also introduced the Public Transport Council (Amendment) Bill yesterday. This will allow the PTC to take on an advisory role to the Government, once it has transferred its regulatory role to the LTA.

The PTC may undertake surveys, for example, to obtain public feedback and recommend improvements to the public transport system, the proposed Bill said.

The Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (Amendment) Bill was also introduced by Mr Lui to set up the Changi Airport Development Fund. It is expected to receive an initial injection of $3 billion and will be used for developments such as Terminal 5.

adrianl@sph.com.sg

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Videotaping initiative by police a big leap forward: Forum

Straits Times
28 Jul 2015

I laud the pilot programme initiated by the police to test the feasibility of videotaping interviews with suspects ("Police to try out videotaping interviews with suspects"; last Thursday).

This move would go a long way towards providing greater transparency and clarity to a suspect's statement. For now, I hope the initiative goes through and gradually involves a wider spectrum of cases.

We have in place a professional police force that has honed successful interviewing techniques over the years.

However, there are occasions when the defence counsel contests the circumstances under which a statement was taken.

Videotaping the interviews should effectively eliminate any dispute with regard to the conditions a suspect was subjected to and serves to strengthen the prosecution's case, if necessary.

Given that statements tend tobe lengthy and are usually not audio-taped, there remains a slim chance that the statement recorder might have left out certain points during note-taking, leading to further contention in the courts.

Videotaping interviews is a big leap forward, as this allows all parties involved to review and scrutinise the statements repeatedly and come to a logical and measured conclusion.

The downside to this initiative is the possibility of a longer hearing, as the videotapes constitute additional evidence that needs to be judiciously examined by the courts, as rightly pointed out by lawyer and MP Vikram Nair.

However, I believe what is of foremost importance is the need to reduce any likelihood of wrongful conviction.

It is crucial that initiatives like this be embraced by all parties and that the legal community should continually provide suggestions to lessen the possibility of an unfair conviction.

The last thing we want to do is incarcerate an innocent man.

Matthew Kwan Kai En

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Lawyers want judge who's not Christian for Amos Yee appeal

Straits Times
21 Jul 2015
Olivia Ho

The lawyers for teenage blogger Amos Yee want his appeal to be heard by a non-Christian judge when it goes before the High Court.

The 16-year-old will be appealing against both his conviction and sentence. His lawyer Alfred Dodwell filed the notice of appeal on July 9, three days after Yee was released from remand.

Yee had been given four weeks' jail on July 6, walking free that day after his sentence was backdated from June 2. He had been on remand for more than 50 days.

He had been found guilty on May 12 of intending to wound the religious feelings of Christians in a video, as well as of uploading an obscene image onto his blog.

His lawyer Ervin Tan said: "We will be asking for the appeal to be fixed before a non-Christian judge in the High Court, given the nature of the charge. This is based on the fundamental principle that justice should manifestly be seen to be done."

The case in the State Courts was heard by a non-Christian judge, District Judge Jasvender Kaur, during the two-day trial in May.

In her judgment, Judge Kaur found Yee had deliberately made "clearly derogatory" comments about Jesus Christ in his YouTube video, which criticised Singapore's founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew and drew comparisons between Christ and Mr Lee.

She said: "By making an analogy between the two different subjects, the accused was pointing to the same alleged denigrating similarities between Mr Lee and his followers, and Jesus and Christians."

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Problems with same-sex marriage ruling: Forum

Straits Times
14 Jul 2015

The United States Constitution may arguably protect equality when it comes to same-sex marriage, but there may be other constitutional issues that pose a problem ("US Constitution protects equality" by Mr Robbie Straughan; last Wednesday).

The First Amendment in the Bill of Rights guarantees freedom of religion.

With the US Supreme Court's decision to declare same-sex marriages legal, the issue of whether churches or other religious bodies will be required to comply - when, in fact, many of them may be opposed to it - comes into question.

There have already been several Christian businesses in the US that have faced lawsuits for refusing to cater to same-sex couples because they believe homosexuality is against their beliefs.

I abhor discrimination, but what constitutes discrimination is not always clear.

Upholding the constitutionality of one aspect of the issue presents questions on whether it becomes unconstitutional in other areas.

Perhaps the choice of whether to conduct same-sex marriage ceremonies should be left to religious bodies, as the individual states still have the authority to recognise these unions.

Marc Servos

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Call to regulate travel agencies

Straits Times
28 Jul 2015
Melissa Lin

More are closing down when their businesses fail, causing customers to lose money

Revenues are sliding, consumers are bypassing them and their reputation has taken a hit in recent years; still, more travel agencies are setting up shop here.

Some people are asking if these businesses are sustainable. They are calling for greater regulation after a spate of agencies shutting suddenly recently, leaving thousands of customers stranded.

Five Stars Tours' closure in January last year affected at least 3,000 travellers, while at least 500 were affected when Asia-Euro Holidays shuttered in May.

Large amounts of money change hands at travel fairs. The Travel Revolution fair in April, for example, pulled in an estimated $100 million in sales. With more fairs coming up - there are at least four major ones next year - it is becoming more timely to prevent such closures, which have given the industry a bad name, said travel agencies.

The total number of agencies climbed from 1,096 at end-2012 to 1,195 at the end of May this year, according to data from the Singapore Tourism Board (STB), which issues travel agency licences. The number of agencies which closed down per year also grew over the same period, from 96 in 2012 to 114 last year.

In the first five months of this year, 86 closed while 80 started business.

Agencies said rising labour costs and travellers' direct purchases from airlines and hotels have hurt their bottom line. "These few years have been the most challenging," said Mr Benny Ho, director of Apple Holidays. "Falling revenues coupled with rising costs have put intense pressure on the industry."

Why do new companies want a slice of a diminishing pie? Industry watchers point to three factors - low barriers to entry, lax regulation and the chance to make quick money.

To obtain a licence, a company must have a paid-up capital of at least $100,000 and a net worth of a similar amount, among other conditions. The bar is too low, said Ms Kay Swee Pin, interim president of the Singapore Outbound Travel Agents Association (Sotaa).

"With $100,000, an agency can collect $3 million in unprotected deposits by selling at half price at fairs," said Ms Kay, the managing director of SA Tours. "But in some cases, they don't know how to manage the money, expand too fast and end up closing a year later," she added.

Recent high-profile closures include agencies such as Five Stars Tours and Asia-Euro Holidays. Many agencies go under without making headlines.

The Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) said 19 agencies folded suddenly in the past three and a half years, resulting in consumers losing millions of dollars.

Mr Devinder Ohri, president of the National Association of Travel Agents Singapore, said: "Perhaps the authorities could be more stringent in the screening of would-be applicants."

More should also be done to protect the cash that agencies collect upfront for tours, said Dynasty Travel's marketing communications director Alicia Seah. She suggested setting up an escrow fund for customers' money, kept separate from the operating account.

A Chan Brothers Travel spokesman said STB should perform an audit to ascertain the financial health of agencies before renewing their licences.

Case had asked STB to make it mandatory for travel agents to take out insurance against their sudden closure. "We are disappointed that STB has not taken up this proposal," said its executive director, Mr Seah Seng Choon.

Mr Allan Chia, head of SIM University's Master of Business Administration programme, said an escrow fund or a mandatory insurance scheme will offer consumers "the protection, sense of security and peace of mind, that they seek".

But STB has adopted a light-handed approach. Last month, it added a new licensing rule which required agents to remind customers to buy insurance against agent insolvency. Asked if STB intends to tighten its criteria further or roll out new measures to safeguard consumers, Ms Ong Ling Lee, its director of travel agents and tourist guides, said: "We are already engaging our industry stakeholders on this and will share more details when ready."

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S'porean killed in Porsche crash was in legal tussle

Straits Times
21 Jul 2015
Jessica Lim

A Singaporean man who died in an accident on Malaysia's Second Link highway on Sunday had made the news just a month earlier for a legal dispute with his brother.

Businessman See Lam Huat, 55, died on the spot after the luxury car he was driving rammed into a road divider, then plunged into a ravine.

He had made the headlines last month for taking younger brother Lam Seng to court, accusing him of copyright breach, defamation and passing off goods as those of another's. Both buy electrical goods from China and sell them to buyers from Cameroon.

In turn, the younger sibling had counter-sued for malicious falsehood and groundless threats of copyright breach action. Both had been suing each other for years, the judge in the case noted.

Yesterday, the police chief of the Nusajaya district, Superintendent Noor Hashim Mohamad, told The Straits Times in a statement that Mr See, who lived in Johor, was heading towards Senai when he lost control of his Porsche.

The accident happened at around 4.30pm. "The driver died on the spot due to serious injuries while his front passenger sustained minor injuries to her legs," the police chief added.

He said the body of Mr See was taken to Hospital Temenggong Seri Maharaja Tun Ibrahim in Kulaijaya, Johor, for a post-mortem while the passenger was treated at Hospital Sultanah Aminah in Johor. Mr See was later found to have died of severe head injuries.

The Straits Times understands that the 31-year-old Malaysian passenger, Ms Saw Sze Ching, was Mr See's secretary and his wife's cousin.

Initial investigations showed that the driver was probably at fault as road and weather conditions were good, said Supt Noor Hashim, adding that the case was classified as one of reckless driving.

The crash had completely damaged the Singapore-registered car, he added.

When The Straits Times visited Mr See's electrical goods business Singsung in Upper Weld Road in Little India yesterday, the unit was found shuttered.

His older brother, Mr See Lam Hai, 57, who runs S2 Electronics a few doors down, said their mother and one of their younger brothers had gone to Malaysia to bring his body back to Singapore.

"He has never been known to speed. He was always careful," he said in Mandarin, adding that his brother was the fourth of nine sons in the family. There are also two daughters.

Another younger brother, who managed electronics store S K Electrical Trading across the road from Singsung, said Mr See Lam Huat had two children - a son in his 20s from his first marriage and a three-year-old daughter from his current marriage.

He did not want to be named, but said his brother was divorced from his first wife.

He said "Lam Huat enjoyed his cars" and owned five in Singapore and Malaysia. He had been driving the orange-white Porsche for several years and would return to Singapore about three times a week to work out of his warehouse, he said in Mandarin.

He added that he had known his brother to be a "steady and careful driver".

It is understood that the funeral will be held in Singapore.

Asked what kind of a man his brother was, Mr See Lam Hai would only say: "Now he's gone, whether he is good or bad, what does it matter?"

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Being sensitive to intellectual property

Business Times
13 Jul 2015
Lyn Boxall

IN THE knowledge economy of the 21st century, intellectual property (IP) has come to be one of the dominant drivers of economic value. In many companies, it drives the commercial viability of their business.

The poor management of IP can easily turn the tide against a company that underestimates its potential and fails to protect and harness IP well. IP is thus fast becoming a fundamental business tool that needs the board's oversight.

Yet, many directors tend to dismiss IP as only about patents, and something for the lawyers to deal with.

More than patents

IP is often misconceived (even among C-suites who should know better) as some fancy word for "patents" and "registered trademarks".

Singapore's IP Hub Master Plan - which was released in March 2013 to guide Singapore's development as an IP hub into the next decade - may have inadvertently helped to reinforce this false impression with its heavy emphasis on patents.

In fact, IP goes beyond trademarks and patents, and extends to the nuts and bolts of businesses. It includes trade secrets and know-how, confidential information, copyright, unregistered trademarks, designs, and domain names.

And it even extends to business processes, new sales channels, customer and production expertise, brand and corporate identity, product names, new product development and implementation strategies.

All these give rise to various rights connected with unfair competition and protection of business goodwill.

Since virtually every active business ticks several of the above boxes, it is no exaggeration to say that IP, in its broad definition, is therefore critical to every business.

More than lawyers

It is not uncommon to hear directors and even senior management say that IP is not something they worry about as they have hired lawyers to deal with "trademarks and that sort of stuff".

Before IP was a key determinant of a company's market value, it may have been enough to leave it to the lawyers to look after the necessary registrations to protect the company's trademarks and enforce these rights.

But what about company assets such as the customer database and market insights that give a company its competitive advantage? These also deserve some level of proprietary protection.

Lawyers can and should play a more robust role in these instances too.

They can, for example, build confidentiality, non-solicitation and non-competition obligations into employment contracts to apply restraints on employees from setting up businesses in competition with their employer or joining a competitor and taking trade secrets or other employees away with them. They can then help enforce this in the event of a breach.

The reality though is that where there has been a breach, legal action is usually too little, too late. Internal processes for keeping customer lists and sensitive business information well guarded have therefore as much to do with IP management processes as they have to do with legal enforcement.

The risk of loss, for example, can be reduced by giving information access to only those employees with a need to know.

It can additionally be achieved by designing and implementing systems and processes, such as the keeping of a log to record those staff who download the information and/or those who send it outside the company to external email addresses.

The board's role

Directors may be in breach of their fiduciary duties should they be found to have not taken steps to ensure that management designs and implements the necessary controls over the company's key assets. Significant IP assets are often a critical part of the company's overall assets.

Directors therefore need to understand what IP their company holds and what it will likely develop in the future. Upon knowing this, they will then be able to evaluate management's views about which IP rights matter a lot - and which do not matter as much.

For IP that matters less, the board should ask questions such as: Is protecting it an unnecessary expense? Could it be exploited further by selling or licensing it? Or, is it merely idle and has strategic potential that is being wasted?

For IP that matters more, the board should understand what is the most valuable of the IP rights, and why. Directors should require management to institute IP operational processes, including information security management processes to protect them in a commercially focused and practical way. Legal protection can complement this and is a necessary backup to it.

More to the point, directors should understand how, as a business tool, valuable IP is tied to the broader business strategy. If management is not making that connection, the board should insist that it does so. Otherwise, the strategy should be changed or the company's IP put into a "does not matter" bucket and dealt with accordingly.

The board should be vigilant about the company's management implementing a commercially focused IP strategy and IP management processes that deliver value to shareholders. This must matter to all directors.

The writer is a member of the Professional Development Committee of the Singapore Institute of Directors.

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Noble accounting saga: It's the message that counts, not the messenger: Mailbag

Business Times
28 Jul 2015

MS Christie Loh ("Iceberg does not deserve the legitimacy it is being given", BT, July 23) displays an unhealthy trait of shooting the messenger. In criticising all and sundry for writing about the accounting and corporate governance issues in Noble Group, she did not offer any evidence to refute what has been said about Noble. One may question her motivation for her missive against Noble's critics.

Let me now address the writer's specific comments about why I have chosen to write about Noble only now when the problems have existed for many years. Frankly, it's an odd question to ask. Does it mean that if one suddenly knows about corporate governance or accounting shenanigans that have been hidden for a long time that one should no longer comment about it? I do not look at the corporate governance of every single company, and sometimes, corporate governance issues have existed in a company for a long time before I look at them. Recently, two independent directors resigned noisily from a listed company after failing to fix a flawed bonus plan that was in place since 1999. Does it mean that they should just leave the problem unfixed because it has existed for 15 years?

Noble's corporate governance became particularly relevant after I had read Iceberg's first report and felt that there was at least possible evidence of aggressive accounting. For example, there are certainly questions about Noble's decision to classify Yancoal, a 13 per cent investment, as an associate because it affects the accounting policies, which in turn affect the reported financial numbers. The great disparity between the market value and carrying value of Yancoal is also highly questionable. Analysing Noble's corporate governance practices and disclosures can tell us a few things.

First, does its corporate governance show the signs of a company trying to skirt around the corporate governance rules, which would add more weight to allegations of skirting around accounting rules? I found that Noble did not comply with key areas of the Code of Corporate Governance or paid lip service to it. We also now know that Noble has a long-standing waiver from the Singapore Exchange (SGX) and does not have two Singapore-resident independent directors, unlike other overseas companies listed here that I have looked at.

Second, could its corporate governance have contributed to the accounting and valuation issues that have been raised? My analysis of two key areas - its board composition and its remuneration practices - suggests that they might very well have because the board may not be an effective check and balance and its remuneration policies may promote aggressive risk-taking and short-termism.

Third, is its corporate governance likely to help it to overcome not only the immediate problems it faces, but also allow it to survive and thrive again in the long term?The answer is no, unless it fundamentally revamps its practices. Making small incremental changes will make little difference.

My decision to write a commentary on Noble's corporate governance was certainly influenced by my reading of Iceberg's reports. However, my focus was very much different from Iceberg, which did not say much about Noble's corporate governance. Therefore, I did not write to legitimise what is in Iceberg's reports.

Finally, I look forward to Ms Loh providing substantive evidence to defend Noble's accounting and corporate governance practices, and also disclosing her background. It would be nice for her to focus on the message, rather than the messenger.

Mak Yuen Teen

bizmakyt@nus.edu.sg


IN response to the letter by Christie Loh (BT, July 23) asking me a specific question, I would like to make the following points. First, I have no economic or otherwise stake in Noble Group and all my comments are mine and mine alone with the objective of seeking answers and protecting investors and employees.

Second, I confer no legitimacy on Iceberg, whoever they are. They should stand up and be counted in my opinion. However, I do confer legitimacy on the questions raised not just by Iceberg Research but by many others. It is the message that counts, not the messenger, and this is why the shares are at S$0.63, down from a 52-week high of S$1.46.

Third, the lead independent director of Noble, David Eldon, was a "senior advisor" to PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) for nine years, leaving only last year. Also three of four members of the review committee currently sit on the audit committee and thus are reviewing themselves.

Due to the PwC conflict and the review committee's complete and total conflict of interest, this process should be shut down and disbanded. Anyone interested in what a real independent accounting review committee looks like should study that just used by Toshiba. The SGX has again let down investors by "welcoming" Noble's conflicted insider and completely misnamed "independent" committee.

Michael Dee

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Doctor fails to escape jail for molesting patient

Straits Times
21 Jul 2015
Selina Lum

Medical doctor Winston Lee Siew Boon, 71, failed to escape jail for molesting a patient on two occasions after the High Court yesterday dismissed his appeal against his conviction and a 10-month prison sentence.

Justice Chan Seng Onn found the woman's testimony was "completely consistent internally" and that she had no motive to accuse Lee falsely of touching her breast.

On the other hand, Lee's testimony was "beset with inconsistencies" and far less logical than that of the woman, said Justice Chan as he upheld the conviction.

In rejecting Lee's appeal against the sentence, Justice Chan noted that the general practitioner - who is also known as a motoring writer - had abused his position of trust as a medical practitioner.

Lee was "particularly cunning" in disguising his act of molestation as part of his explanation of a potential medical problem while examining the patient, said the judge.

The woman trusted Lee and even gave him the benefit of the doubt after the first incident, he noted. "It is loathsome that he did not relent and tried it again by molesting her twice on the second occasion."

Lee, a doctor for 40 years, was allowed to start serving his jail term on Aug 17 and was released on bail of $15,000.

He had asked for time to transfer his 70,000 patients to other doctors, make caregiving arrangements for his stroke-afflicted wife and undergo a medical check-up.

Lee was 67 in June 2011 when the woman, 34, a medical products sales representative, went to his Bukit Batok clinic to do an HIV blood test. After her blood was drawn, she complained of nausea and flatulence and Lee told her to lie down on the bed.

She then told him she had chest pains and asked if she could continue to exercise.

Lee put his hand under her bra and squeezed her breast as he told her she could exercise as long as she did not feel pain there.

She brushed it off as part of the check-up, thinking it was the doctor's way of showing the location of her heart.

Four months later, when she saw him for a sore throat and to discuss weight management, he groped her breast twice. She was confused but made a police report after checking with her boss and a female doctor on whether Lee's actions were appropriate.

Lee's version was that he had placed a clenched fist over her breastbone to show where she would feel chest pains.

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Winston Lee Siew Boon v Public Prosecutor [2015] SGHC 186

Legal to keep mistakenly wired funds? Forum

Straits Times
13 Jul 2015

My brother mistakenly made three fund transfers of amounts totalling $1,000 from his POSB Savings account to an incorrectly-entered account number over the period from March to May 2013.

After realising that the money had been transferred to the wrong recipient, he visited the POSB branch in Hougang and informed the bank of the situation.

The bank staff attempted to contact the recipient, but we were informed that they could not take action as the recipient refused to return the transferred amount. They suggested that we lodge a police report, which we did.

It has been two years since we lodged the police report and, despite our regular calls made to the police for updates, there has been no progress. The police even suggested that we approach the bank again for assistance.

The money was meant for our mother's living expenses and this entire episode has caused her a great amount of stress.

She has made several attempts to personally visit the police and bank to check on the status of the case.

Each time, they just tell her that there is nothing they can do.

Is there no way our police force and bank can help?

Does this imply that a person's ownership of mistakenly transferred funds is legal?

Connie Cheong (Ms)

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Maid jailed 13 years for killing employer's mum-in-law, 87

Straits Times
28 Jul 2015
SELINA LUM

A 25-year-old domestic maid from Myanmar was sentenced to jail for 13 years yesterday for killing her employer's 87-year-old mother-in-law.

Than Than Win pleaded guilty in the High Court to a charge of culpable homicide for repeatedly stabbing Madam Yong Wan Lan with a pair of scissors at the Springdale Condominium in Hindhede Walk, off Upper Bukit Timah Road, on March 4 last year.

Her charge had been reduced from one of murder as she was diagnosed by a psychiatrist from the Institute of Mental Health to be suffering from severe depression with psychotic symptoms at the time.

In sentencing, Justice Chan Seng Onn told her: "You had viciously and mercilessly attacked and stabbed a very elderly grandmother whom you were supposed to help look after."

The judge noted that she inflicted 21 stab wounds on Madam Yong, two of which were fatal injuries to the heart and lungs.

The depth of the deepest wound, at 11cm, suggested "considerable force" was used, the judge noted.

"There does not appear to be any significant amount of serious scolding or provocation from the grandmother in this case," he added.

The maid had been working for the family of four - her employer, the employer's husband, their daughter and Madam Yong - for more than a year. She shared a bedroom with Madam Yong and would usually be left alone at home with her during the day.

The maid said on the afternoon of the incident, she became increasingly angry over a scolding from Madam Yong that morning.

She got the largest pair of scissors she could find from a kitchen drawer and used it to repeatedly stab Madam Yong, who was too frail to retaliate. After killing her, the maid washed herself in the bathroom with her clothes on. Drenched and barefoot, she left the apartment and wandered around the estate.

She took a saw from a parked truck and tried to cut her neck with it, but was stopped by a worker.

Security guards were alerted, and the police were called. After much persuasion, she told the officers where she lived. She was arrested after the officers found Madam Yong's body in the flat.

Yesterday, the maid's lawyer, Mr Sunil Sudheesan, said that Madam Yong had constantly scolded her for a year. The scolding on the fateful day was minor but, coupled with her depression, it took her "over the edge", he said, asking for less than 10 years in jail.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Isaac Tan sought 12 to 15 years for the "ferocious" attack on a defenceless victim. He argued that even if Madam Yong had scolded the maid, it did not justify a revenge killing.

Than Than Win, who was stony faced on being sentenced, spoke briefly to her father before she was led away. No members of Madam Yong's family were in court.

Culpable homicide carries a sentence of up to 20 years in jail or life imprisonment.

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Lawyers told to stop behaving badly in court

Straits Times
19 Jul 2015
K.C. Vijayan

Poor etiquette, dodgy ethical conduct among issues raised by judges, says Law Society

Poor etiquette, questionable ethical conduct and bad behaviour are becoming evident in Singapore's courtrooms. Not from defendants in the dock, but lawyers, The Law Society has claimed.

Its president, Senior Counsel Thio Shen Yi has urged the profession to guard against falling standards and said there has been "discontent of late" from the Bench about lawyers appearing before them. Among the examples cited: lawyers threatening to appeal their cases if a decision goes against them, implying that judges should rethink a decision, and one lawyer who persisted in making arguments after the hearing was over.

"Aggregated and anonymised feedback of poor behaviour has been systematically collected by both the State and High Courts, and shared with us," Mr Thio said in the Society's Law Gazette. "While it is anecdotal, far from endemic and not a scientific study, it still cannot be ignored or condoned. Not when we have aspirations to be world-class professionals."

He described one mediation session in which a lawyer told a judicial officer the opposite of what his client told him in Mandarin - which had been overheard by everyone in the chambers - as his client's statement adversely affected his case.

Another instance involved "forum shopping" - when a lawyer goes to see a duty registrar to mention the case in order to avoid the judicial officer specifically designated to hear the case.

The falling standards of ethical conduct have been the subject of "frank dialogue" by some judges and the Society's council over the past six months , Mr Thio said.

He made it clear there was no intention to sensationalise the issue, which had to be "confronted directly and candidly", adding that the actions of a few "do have an impact on the good name of the many, and on the profession as a body".

"Poor behaviour, if not dealt with and if seen to be tolerated, becomes more and more entrenched."

A study committee has been formed by the Singapore Academy of Law, with the Law Society's participation, to look into the issue.

Ideas being considered include direct training, creating awareness and remedial measures, to enable having a mechanism in place to intervene before a formal complaint is made. But even when a complaint is made, the existing sanctions could be "more nuanced" to provide for other options like mandatory counselling, said Mr Thio.

"Let's take a frank but constructive look at ourselves," he said. "It is our willingness to confront that which gives us discomfort, and learn from our shortcomings, that drives out progress."

Mr Thio also said that lawyers can sometimes feel provoked by the courts, such as by an uncalled-for remark from the Bench. He suggested setting up a hotline for lawyers to provide feedback to the Society so that its committees can discuss the issues with the courts.

Lawyer Amolat Singh said the issue is "topical and troubling" but he believed that appropriate training can increase lawyers' competence.

"We are fortunate that the Bench has been tolerant in handling these issues," he said, adding that Justice Steven Chong raised a similar concern at the Singapore Academy of Law ethics lecture earlier this year.

Association of Criminal Lawyers of Singapore president Sunil Sudheesan stressed that the issue is the "exception, not the rule" and called for "sufficient mechanisms" to be put in place to "curb the spread".

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Lawyer takes issue with judge's criticism: Punch Coomaraswamy

Straits Times
12 Jul 2015
Jennani Durai

Lawyer Punch Coomaraswamy made the news 50 years ago this week while leading an inquiry into the running of the Singapore Manual and Mercantile Workers' Union.

He had been appointed by the Government as a one-man Commission of Inquiry to look into allegations of corruption in the union.

The union's former secretary-general had been suspended following the allegations and had filed a lawsuit. His case was before Justice Murray Buttrose, who was reported as saying that the delays by the commission were "scandalous".

The Straits Times reported on July 13, 1965, that Mr Coomaraswamy protested against the judge's comments, saying he took the "strongest possible exception".

Mr Coomaraswamy added that he felt the comments held "an oblique reference to my motives in accepting this commission".

Born in Johor, Mr Coomaraswamy practised law in the 1960s, before being made Deputy Speaker, and then Speaker of Parliament.

From 1970 to 1984, he was Singapore's envoy to eight countries, including India, Australia and the United States. He was a High Court judge from 1984 to 1993, and died in 1999 at the age of 73.

Jennani Durai

 

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Strata Titles Board acts to clarify law in two condo spats

Straits Times
27 Jul 2015
K.C. Vijayan

Board will intervene only if management corp decision is 'improper', 'unreasonable'

The Strata Titles Board has moved to further clarify the law in disputes involving unit owners and condo management in two recent test cases.

Earlier this month, the board overruled a move by the management of Watermark Robertson Quay, which had refused to allow a unit owner to upgrade the electrical supply to her two shop units.

Ms Lee Lay Ting said she had struggled to find quality tenants because her electrical supply was 63 amps, one phase. She sought management corporation (MC) approval to upgrade the supply to 100 amps, three phase.

However, the MC of the development - which comprises 206 residential units and eight shop units - refused, saying "it had to reserve the spare power supply for future common areas' upgrading and improvement works".

Its lawyer, Mr Justin Chia, argued that electricity supply was part of common property and giving in to the request grants exclusive use of common property to Ms Lee, which would require approval of a resolution at a general meeting.

The board - consisting of Mr Alfonso Ang, Dr Tang Hang Wu and Mr Lee Coo - held that although unused electrical supply is not common property, the electrical switchboards and cables through which electricity is fed is common property. This meant that the board had powers under the Act to intervene to settle the spat if the MC was unreasonable.

Professional electrical engineers had testified there was sufficient spare capacity for Ms Lee's request to be allowed.

The board also heard that the management council was concerned that if the request was allowed, the shop units would operate 24-hour businesses, such as pizza delivery, which would affect residential units directly above the shops and also raise security issues with people loitering around.

The board found this concern "irrelevant" and suggested the MC could pass appropriate by-laws to address the 24-hour issue.

In judgment grounds released this month, it said the MC's refusal of Ms Lee' s request was improper as it had failed to take into account a relevant consideration - that there was spare capacity in the engineers' opinion. The MC was ordered to pay $18,000 in costs to Ms Lee and allow her to upgrade her electrical supply

The board made clear that it will intervene under the Building Maintenance and Strata Management Act (BMSMA) only in cases where an MC's decision is "clearly improper and /or unreasonable".

Ms Lee's lawyers, Mr Toh Kok Seng and Mr Daniel Chen, in a

case update on law firm Lee & Lee's website, said: "This is the first case in which management corporation's duties have been considered in depth in relation to a request for electrical upgrading."

Meanwhile, in the second test case involving the Pandan Valley condo in Holland Village, the board ruled that a defective drainage pipe serving an upper-floor unit but which protruded through the ceiling to a lower-floor unit would have to be fixed by the upper unit's owner.

It overruled the Building and Construction Authority's (BCA) advice that the lower-unit owner should pay the bill.

Ms Ong Siew Seo had sought to be reimbursed by lower-floor unit owner Sebastian Ong for the $1,500 she paid in repair and painting and repair works.

She argued that although the leaking pipe served her unit exclusively, the affected section was the responsibility of Mr Ong.

Ms Ong took her case to her Member of Parliament and produced a letter from the BCA supporting her view.

But the board, comprising Messrs Seng Kwang Boon, Lai Huen Poh and Tan Kian Hoon, disagreed, pointing out that there is nothing in the BMSMA to "imply the change of responsibility for the owners of the defective pipes to another person".

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Tie-ups changing face of legal business in S'pore

Business Times
18 Jul 2015
Claire Huang

Big Four accounting firms could also challenge established law firms here soon

[Singapore] AS Asia continues its rise from being a backwater to an emerging global economic power with a healthy appetite for legal advice, foreign law firms have flocked to Singapore in recent years and, in the process, have created a kaleidoscopic business of law.

Lawyers told The Business Times that varying models are being used, particularly by mid-sized firms, since Singapore opened its doors to foreign firms in 1992 when it allowed them to set up offices here.

Many remember the stories of two of the Big Four firms departing from traditional organic growth. Clifford Chance and Wong Partnership divorced in 2008. Allen & Gledhill's merger talks with London-based Allen & Overy crumbled, and its alliance with Linklaters also did not last.

In recent memory, Quahe Woo & Palmer tied the knot with Wee, Ramaya & Partners in early July - an uncommon marriage between local firms. In April, it was between KhattarWong and international firm Withers, and in March, US-based Morgan Lewis & Bockius and Stamford Law.

Lawyers say alliances with sizeable local firms is the fastest way for foreign practices to gain access to regional work. Conversely, local firms rely on this to catapult themselves onto the global scene. The amount of cross-referral work involved and the exchange of legal knowledge and expertise also fuel such tie-ups.

Tan Chong Huat, managing director of RHTLaw Taylor Wessing, believes more "interesting permutations" await in the years ahead. Local practices, he says, have to decide if they want to be very niche or eventually be overtaken "because when the big boys come to town, they come in with a bigger wallet and have got a bigger practice".

Lee Eng Beng, managing partner at Rajah & Tann, says there is no predominant structure in Singapore as the business models adopted reflect the commercial objectives of the firms and how they want to operate.

For example, an international firm specialising in shipping work will typically collaborate with one or two Singapore shipping lawyers. They will set up a new "captive" Singapore firm and then partner the international firm, says joint managing director at TSMP Law Corporation Stefanie Yuen Thio.

The hive of activity appears to bode well for the legal scene here although some think otherwise.

Shashi Nathan of Withers KhattarWong, for instance, says that firms have to bear in mind the importance of growing organically as acquisitions and partnerships could mean a loss of identity.

Meanwhile, the Big Four accounting firms could prove to be a formidable force in the near term.

Deloitte, EY, KPMG and PwC have returned to the legal business with a vengeance after their failed experiment some two decades ago. Think back to the 1990s when Arthur Andersen tried to diversify from auditing and tax, to consulting and law. The Enron scandal took down Arthur Andersen in 2002 and the trend halted. But not for long.

Chris Woo, PwC Singapore's tax leader, said last July that Camford Law Corporation joined PwC's global legal network of over 2,500 lawyers in 85 countries. He said PwC's vision is to become a leading global legal services network over the next 3-5 years, with focus in areas such as corporate reorganisation, labour law, mergers and acquisitions (M&A), and tax litigation.

Globally, EY's legal network spans 66 jurisdictions, 88 offices and over 1,500 practitioners, said Asia-Pacific law leader Howard Adams, who added that the group intends to grow its presence across the South-east Asian countries in which it operates. PK Wong & Associates in Singapore is part of this. Its other member that is also here - international practice DA Partners - was granted the foreign law practice licence in June.

KPMG says its legal network comprises 1,700 professionals in 23 countries in the Caribbean and Europe. Deloitte & Touche's spokesman could not be reached for comment.

The turn of events is making some nervous. Said Rajah & Tann's Mr Lee: "A lot of us lawyers don't want anything more than to just be able to tackle a difficult case, look at 19th century cases, chase the law and try to argue or solve legal issues for the client. We are not as business-oriented."

So accountants - who are better organised, have a sharper nose for business and are more efficient because "it is in their blood" - have made the legal fraternity sit up and pay close attention, he said.

Still, many have reservations about how far accounting firms will go in marrying the two professions. Observers cite a conflict of interests due to the audit clients, so accounting firms will not be able to take on a lot of work. They added that lawyers who used to refer work to accountants will probably stop doing so.

Patrick Tan, CEO of Fortis Law Corporation, is doubtful if the developments would "take the market by storm" but believes they would not impact smaller legal outfits as these firms usually handle community law work.

There are also those who point to the high entry barriers in highly specialised practices such as M&A. Whatever the case, lawyers say local firms are adopting a wait-and-see attitude to find out which business models pan out before deciding whether to follow suit.


RHTLaw Taylor Wessing in a hurry to grow

[Singapore] INNOVATION and the legal practice are seldom mentioned in the same breath but for RHTLaw Taylor Wessing they are key to the group's accelerated growth.

Within five months from when the firm unveiled plans in February to list its professional services arm or RHT Holdings Limited on the Catalist by early 2016, it has added three new subsidiaries - RHT Digital & Media, RHT Tax and RHT Real - to its RHT Group of Companies, taking the total to 14.

The digital and media subsidiary allows the firm to handle corporate affairs that could turn into crises - a business model that departs from tradition, Tan Chong Huat, the law firm's managing partner, told The Business Times in an exclusive interview.

It focuses on strategic communications consulting services in the areas including branding, corporate public relations, and digital competency and compliance training.

"By embracing technology, embracing the future, I think it's a sure-footed way to move the practice in a more engaged and a more relevant way to the clients."

He said that RHT Real, incorporated last week, will provide advice to the ultra high net worth and corporate clients in the real estate space.

These are part of wider plans to build a financial services eco-system.

To this end, the firm has applied to regulators for a capital market licence now under review.

It is also in talks with a venture fund and venture services company for an acquisition that targets technology startups to complement the firm's corporate technology practice, said Mr Tan, who painted the firm's ambition to move towards what he described as equity crowdfunding platform.

The vision to list has set the firm on a series of activities to bulk up.

Within 10 months from May 2011 when it first started, RHT Law joined the Taylor Wessing network to expand into Europe and the United States.

Last August, it set up the Asean Plus group comprising Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan and Thailand, to strengthen its foothold in the region. This family now comprises 2,000 lawyers including the latest addition of Chinese practice, Grandall Law Firm.

"Working with the leading law firms in this region has given us a very strong pipeline of work. We know the competition from the international law firms. We also recognise Singapore is a small economy . . . so we focus on what Singapore is strong in and use Singapore as a springboard to the region," Mr Tan said.

The law firm might be in discussions to merge with an IndoChina practice this year and an Indonesian practice in 2016, but it is hungry for more as it looks to move into Thailand and Hong Kong.

"We have just acquired a corporate sector of business commerce operations in Hong Kong, and RHT Corporate Advisory Hong Kong has begun operations effective July 1," Mr Tan said, adding that the firm has also incorporated a company in Thailand - a joint venture with a local law firm there - and is beginning operations.

In a matter of four years, the firm now has 220 staff from just over 100. Of these, about 100 are fee earners.

Observers have noted that the marriage of law and professional services would create conflicts of interest but Mr Tan disagreed. He stressed that the Group of Companies make decisions independently.

Other critics say that the RHT model is not as lucrative as those doing "top-tier" work, but Mr Tan believes that if his firm can render services in an integrated and comprehensive way, clients will eventually recognise the value and the firm will be more relevant to clients. "If as a law firm, you're not prepared for this eventual landscape, you'll be swept off your feet even earlier."

huangjy@sph.com.sg

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Steamboat eatery yet to help burn victim

Straits Times
12 Jul 2015
Yeo Sam Jo

Diner has spent $11,000 so far on medical bills; owner says he will let insurance firm settle case

 

It has been more than three months since Ms Linda Er was badly burned by an exploding hotpot cooker, but the 39-year-old bartender has still not received the compensation she was promised.

On April 4, Ms Er and her colleague were dining at Chong Qing (Original) Old Steamboat in Beach Road when their gas cooker exploded, causing third-degree burns on her face and right arm.

Her colleague and three other customers were also injured.

Ms Er told The Sunday Times: "The eatery staff told me that the owner said he would be responsible for all my medical bills. But I still haven't heard from them."

She went back to the eatery two weeks ago, but the owner was nowhere to be found.

"He came to see me once in the hospital, but he hasn't contacted me since," said Ms Er, who was hospitalised for a week and had to undergo skin grafting.

The mother of a 14-year-old son, who is separated from her husband, said she has spent about $11,000 on medical bills so far.

She still has to return to the hospital every week for check-ups, and her doctor has said that she might need further skin grafting.

"I can't afford to pay all my medical bills. I still have a son to support," said Ms Er, who earns $2,000 a month working at the Lot, Stock and Barrel pub in Seah Street.

She hired a lawyer, who has sent two letters to the director of the eatery, Mr Phee Ser Guan. But there has been no reply.

When The Sunday Times contacted Mr Phee, he acknowledged receiving the lawyer's letters. He said: "We are handing the matter to our insurance company to settle."

Asked if he still intends to compensate Ms Er and the other burn victims, he would only say: "I will ask my lawyer to speak to them."

At his steamboat eatery last week, the restaurant was packed with customers. Electric stoves had replaced the gas cookers.

Although Ms Er returned to work last month, the healing process has been slow and arduous.

"My skin is still raw. Sometimes my whole right arm goes numb," said Ms Er, who is still on painkillers. Her doctor has told her that the wounds would take two to three years to heal completely, she said.

During her two-month medical leave, the former tour guide hardly stepped out of her Serangoon flat to avoid the damage that the sun would do to her wounds.

When she did, Ms Er would conceal her scars with a jacket, cap and face mask. "A taxi driver asked me once if I was being chased by the paparazzi," she recalled. "At first, I was annoyed by all the stares, but eventually I grew to accept it."

While she has eaten steamboat since the accident, Ms Er avoids eateries which use gas cookers.

Still, she is now able to joke about her situation. "My friends asked me why one arm is more badly burnt than the other," she said. "I tell them my left side is a medium-rare steak, and my right is well-done."

yeosamjo@sph.com.sg

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Legal issues still a barrier for Asean

Straits Times
27 Jul 2015
Wong Wei Han

But local firms headed abroad will profit one day from fully unified economic community

Regulatory hurdles remain a key challenge for Singapore businesses seeking to expand overseas, despite moves to create an integrated economic community across the region by the end of this year.

The issues typically range from skewed labour laws and capital and goods controls to simply inconsistent rules and regulations, say legal experts and business advisers.

Indonesia has one of the more complex legal environments, and firms could find doing business in Asean's largest economy quite hard, said Mr Paul Ng, a partner at law firm Rajah & Tann Singapore.

He noted that Indonesia's labour law is pro-employee, so dismissing staff, even one at fault, is tough.

"The employee could simply disagree with the grounds provided, and the employer would have to seek mandatory mediation. If unsuccessful, this could lead to a long and costly adjudication."

He said there was also a perception that laws or regulations were being enacted without full consideration of their potential effect on business. An example would be the central bank's move to introduce regulations to mandate the use of the rupiah for most transactions, in a bid to stabilise the economy.

Mandatory use of the rupiah came into effect on July 1 - a concern for foreign businesses that peg transaction values to other currencies. The move highlights deep-seated issues affecting plans to form a truly open single market across Asean.

Efforts to remove tariffs have yielded results - in 2010, barriers came down for goods traded between the six Asean founding members, which include Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia - but non-tariff and regulatory hurdles remain, largely because of the diverse political and economic settings.

As Minister for Foreign Affairs and Law K. Shanmugam told the Singaporean-German Chamber of Industry and Commerce earlier this month, when referring to challenges faced by the Asean Economic Community (AEC): "In Singapore, things work; they don't work in the same way as in other places. We don't think they are going to change overnight."

But he still sees tremendous potential in what AEC could bring to businesses: "Economically, there is a lot of sense in looking at it as one centre of production. Capital can be raised in Singapore, production can take place elsewhere - ease of movement of goods, services. That makes a lot of logic and sense."

Rajah & Tann, which offers corporate and financial legal services in eight Asean countries, has seen first-hand how bumpy the road can be for businesses planning to go regional. But viewing AEC's market potential as a false hope would be incorrect, said Mr Chia Kim Huat, the firm's regional head for corporate and transactional practice.

"You could say that 2015 is too aggressive a deadline for creating a single market, but it's really a case of the glass being half-empty or half-full. The progress made so far is unmistakable.

"And with China and Japan committing huge funds to develop infrastructure here, growth in this region is going to come thick and fast.

"Rather than waiting for the regulatory framework to be fully harmonised, businesses might want to get the professional help needed and prepare to tap the opportunities."

Stone Forest, the business support unit of regional accounting and advisory firm RSM Chio Lim, also urges local businesses to brave Asean's expanded frontiers.

"Rather than focusing on the difficulties, we should celebrate the diversity and success stories - many of which were written by our own companies," said Stone Forest executive director Tay Woon Teck.

Even the less successful ventures offer a positive message, he said, citing Raffles Education's attempt to bring Vietnamese students here to finish their courses after its local operations were shut down by the government in 2012 as part of a wider crackdown on foreign institutions.

"That's the Singapore brand - we don't just give up and go home. Instead, we adapt," he pointed out.

"If we don't venture out, we'll be stuck in a small market while our rivals seize the opportunities."


TAPPING ONE VAST PRODUCTION HUB

Economically, there is a lot of sense in looking at it as one centre of production. Capital can be raised in Singapore, production can take place elsewhere - ease of movement of goods, services. That makes a lot of logic and sense.

FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND LAW MINISTER K. SHANMUGAM, on what can be gained from the Asean Economic Community

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Future of work: Adapt to technology or be left behind

Straits Times
18 Jul 2015
Joyce Lim

Growing automation in financial services is beginning to threaten highly skilled, knowledge-based jobs such as those performed by analysts.

Some Wall Street firms have started using artificial intelligence to generate research reports.

Computer programs are being used to sift through and synthesise mountains of datafor corporate presentations.

Such software allows companies to produce reports more quickly and cheaply than what an analyst can do sitting at his desk, pounding away on a keyboard.

A recent paper published by Cornell University assistant professor Kenneth Merkley predicted that automation will continue to trim the number of analysts at large brokerage firms.

As organisations look for ways to cut costs and increase efficiency, no one knows for sure what the future of work will look like.

Computerisation and automation are also changing the nature of work in other fields such as architecture, aviation, law, medicine and petroleum geology, said global management consulting firm McKinsey in a report.

But it is not all gloom and doom for highly skilled workers, although it may seem as if computers and artificial intelligence will soon overwhelm Homo sapiens.

Despite the advances of "brilliant" machines, computers will still encounter problems processing the qualitative information central to most analysts' jobs, said report authors Martin Dewhurst and Paul Willmott, who are also directors at McKinsey's London office.

United Overseas Bank chief economist Jimmy Koh is circumspect about the threats posed by artificial intelligence.

"Much has been discussed about technology displacing human talent. But technology has also allowed us to extend our reach - enhancing traditional channels and creating new channels of delivery."

While automation can churn out millions of words quickly, it is not the computers but analysts and economists who maintain relationships with clients. This human interface cannot be so easily replaced, Mr Koh noted.

"Economists today are also like sales people who spend a lot of time engaging different stakeholders, to socialise, share thoughts and views. It is no longer just written reports."

Such value-added services are critical, particularly in jobs that have a certain amount of repetitive work.

At a recent round-table discussion hosted by The Straits Times, Singapore Management University president Arnoud De Meyer noted that the percentage of lower-skilled jobs around the world has remained more or less the same.

"It is jobs which require medium skills and are relatively repetitive that are being hit," he said.

There is a hot debate on which jobs will be replaced outright by robots in the not-too-distant future.

But a study by Oxford academics Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael Osborne found that the job of a financial analyst is safer than about 70 per cent of the 700 occupations they looked at. The study also predicted that computerisation could render nearly half of these jobs redundant within 10 to 20 years.


Legal services can go online but not litigation 

The future of the legal profession may be deeply immersed in a world of virtual courts and online legal services.

Technology has already driven many aspects of legal work "paperless", said lawyer Chia Boon Teck, adding he could work from anywhere in the world with Internet access. "When I first started practice in 1995, most things were done manually and physically. For example, all the parties concerned had to exchange physical documents with each other; lawyers had to attend court physically; most of a lawyer's work had to be attended to in the office as the physical documents were too cumbersome to lug home," said Mr Chia, 52, co-managing partner of Chia Wong LLP.

He reckons more areas of legal work can be done virtually, such as video conferencing involving the courts, prosecution, lawyers, prisons and law enforcement agencies as well as other stakeholders.

"But for litigation, it would be difficult to go online because litigation matters tend to concern individuals or parties who need the comfort of a face-to-face interaction with the lawyer," said Mr Chia, who has been involved in high-profile cases, such as those involving past directors of the National Kidney Foundation.

"I believe litigants would much prefer to confide in a lawyer face to face than via a computer; and the nature of a trial process is that it requires the judge's observations of the demeanour of the witnesses giving evidence as well as having a real feel of the truthfulness or otherwise of a particular witness or fact."

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CJ zeroes in on rising arbitration costs

Straits Times
11 Jul 2015
K.C. Vijayan

Even as it is in its golden age, Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon has warned that international arbitration could lose its shine as rising costs drive its users elsewhere.

"Despite many calls for reform, we are far from winning the war on rising costs in international arbitration," he said in London last week.

CJ Menon spoke at a conference to mark the 100th anniversary of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators - a body with over 13,000 members from more than 120 countries - of which he is the patron.

While lauding what international arbitration had achieved with Singapore cited as a model, he said the new mission was to safeguard the success of international arbitration into the 21st century and beyond.

In arbitration, parties submit their commercial, cross-border or other disputes to be settled by arbitrators, as an alternative outside the court system.

CJ Menon noted that other options to arbitration, such as the courts or mediation, had resurged. "Unnecessarily long and complicated proceedings" heightened arbitration costs, he added.

He pointed out that unlike before when the arbitration award was final, which made it attractive, more time and money is now being spent challenging these awards by taking the cases to court.

To illustrate, he noted that in Singapore, there were just five reported challenges against an award in court over a 20-year period from 1985, all of which were unsuccessful.

But in the 10 years that followed, there were 19 reported challenges, with applicants succeeding entirely in only three cases. In the past 18 months, there were seven challenges, of which six were dismissed.

Most of the challenges were in essence bids to have the courts rehear the cases already settled by arbitrators, or "backdoor appeals". He cited two reports which recommended measures to promote efficiency and techniques to control costs.

"We are not short of ideas, but it would be encouraging to see some widespread adoption of these techniques and measures... because all have much to gain from taking an active stance against unnecessary escalation of costs."

His remarks come against the backdrop of Singapore's success as an international hub in this golden age of arbitration. The number of arbitrations administered by the Singapore International Arbitration Centre alone quadrupled within a decade to 259 cases in 2013.

Singapore has been consistently ranked among the top five International Chamber of Commerce seats for arbitration after London, Paris, Geneva and Zurich, said CJ Menon.

Lawyers contacted said the CJ's remarks were timely as he spoke from an informed position.

"Arbitration is not necessarily cheap, given the potential for court challenges and the cost for a panel of three, among other things," said lawyer Dhamendra Yadav.


TIMELY WARNING

Despite many calls for reform, we are far from winning the war on rising costs in international arbitration.

CHIEF JUSTICE SUNDARESH MENON, who has warned that arbitration is losing its shine due to rising costs

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But, I am only a sleeping director...

Business Times
27 Jul 2015
Joyce Koh

ACCORDING to the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (Acra), 10,000 summonses are issued every year to "errant" directors. These are directors who have failed to comply with basic key statutory requirements under the Companies Act, such as holding annual general meetings and the timely filing of annual returns.

Instead of immediately prosecuting these errant directors, Acra now offers first-time offenders the option of attending the Directors Compliance Programme facilitated by the Singapore Institute of Directors (SID). The half-day course briefs directors on the basics of director duties as well as financial reporting, corporate secretarial and other statutory compliance requirements.

At the same time, Acra has also indicated that its enforcement actions for repeat offenders have been stepped up. Last year, in the course of its prosecution of repeat offenders, Acra successfully petitioned the courts for fines that were double the usual amount.

Commissioned by Acra, SID launched the Directors Compliance Programme in late November 2014. At the first session, the auditorium was packed with more than 160 errant directors. Subsequent weekly sessions have also been fully subscribed.

I have met many of these errant directdirors at the course. They are not purposeful law-breakers. Most of them failed to comply with the law simply because they were ignorant of their statutory duties and responsibilities as a director.

Some of the most common reasons cited by them for non-compliance include:

• I am only a sleeping or nominee director, I am just lending my name to the company.
• I am a non-executive director, I left it to my friend and fellow (executive) director who is running the show.
• I am not involved in the company's administration. Should it not be the job of the CEO or company secretary to handle all these filing matters? They did not tell me anything and I guess I should have taken more seriously the notices that Acra was sending me.

Unfortunately, the law does not distinguish between an "active" and a "sleeping" director - or, for that matter, between an executive and a non-executive director. As long as a person is a director, he or she has specific duties and responsibilities under the Companies Act. The duty of care and the attendant legal obligations apply equally to all directors: while work can be delegated, responsibility cannot be.

Understanding directors' duties and liabilities

It follows that would-be directors must familiarise themselves with the scope, duties and liabilities of being on a board before committing themselves to the role. This is important because directors' duties extend far beyond just filing annual returns. The consequences of a breach can be much more severe than merely having to attend the Directors Compliance Programme.

The Companies Act has a slew of specific compliance requirements with regard to record keeping, accounts, filing, returns and disclosures. To start, section 157 of the Act imposes a fiduciary duty on directors to advance the interest of the company, and to act honestly and in good faith in exercising his powers. A director, in particular, needs to avoid, and minimally disclose, conflicts of interest.

The consequences of a breach of duty can be both civil and criminal in nature. Different offences carry different levels of punishment. Typically, for most statutory offences, the director could be liable to a fine of up to S$5,000 or even imprisonment of up to a year.

The greater consequence, though, must surely be the adverse impact on a director's reputation and, in some cases, the individual may even be disqualified from becoming a director for a period of time.

Becoming a director

So, why be a director? There are clearly benefits to being a meaningful part of a company. After all, the key role of a director is to help the company progress and create value.

Directorships can be fulfilling and, yes, they can even be a profession. The responsibilities, liabilities and contributions should therefore be viewed holistically from that perspective. For aspiring directors, SID conducts a two-hour "So, you want to be a director" course to help a person make an informed decision on whether and how he should become a director.

Having been appointed onto a board, it is important to both understand the context of, and develop the competencies for, operating as a director in that environment. To help in this respect, SID has a curriculum for the various stages of a director's journey, starting with a one-day "Board and Director Fundamentals" course. We welcome directors to all our courses at SID. If nothing else, it shows they are taking such an important role seriously.

In the meantime, directors are well-advised not to disregard that reminder notice from Acra on the deadline to hold the AGM or make the company filing.

The writer is the executive director of the Singapore Institute of Directors.

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Keep Bill's focus on organised crime

Straits Times
18 Jul 2015

Proactive moves against serious crimes can help to ensure these do not take root insidiously, like vermin that become harder to eradicate over time. Such steps are more pressing for organised crimes as offenders acting in concert - tapping technology and applying organisational principles of efficiency - are far more potent than solo operators. Crime syndicates are skilled at masking the identities of kingpins, devising new methods of operation, and expanding socially damaging activities across borders. They pose a growing threat, given their scope to operate anonymously via social media and move money electronically.

Against this backdrop, the Organised Crime Bill yields useful tools to help the authorities tackle such lawbreakers at different levels. It also offers an opportunity to raise awareness of transnational criminal activities in this region and beyond - such as terrorism, drug running, money laundering, trafficking in women and children, and arms smuggling. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime has also highlighted illegal trade in fake essential medicines, counterfeit consumer goods, wildlife, electrical and electronic waste, and ozone-depleting substances. The Japanese yakuza, Chinese triads and other criminal groups in the Asia-Pacific are said to rake in about S$500 billion annually from transnational crimes.

The ill-gotten gains of mobsters and, indeed, of other criminals too may be seized under existing laws, after they are duly convicted of serious crimes. The Bill goes further by allowing confiscation even without criminal conviction. It can be ordered when the court is satisfied, on a balance of probabilities, that someone has been part of organised crime activity (defined partly as a "serious offence" listed in the Bill's schedule) and derived benefits from it. While the laws need more bite to act against criminal groups, the Bill's creation of wide-ranging powers calls for some scrutiny. A trend elsewhere of using civil procedures to recover criminal proceeds has raised concerns of public perception - when, say, the authorities opt to strip a suspect of wealth rather than mount a criminal case that invokes the more onerous burden of proof beyond reasonable doubt. Certain plea bargainers might escape criminal con-victions when property is "charged" rather than the person.

Few would cavil at the need to act firmly against organised drugs and arms smuggling, illegal gambling, human trafficking, kidnapping, and making explosives. But is the Bill drawn too widely by deeming a motley set of other acts as equally serious too - like Productivity and Innovation Credit Bonus fraud, will forgery, and criminal intimidation via threats to "impute unchastity to a woman"? Better to be focused on organised criminal activity that matches lay perceptions of the evil to be curbed.

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Judge on why Roy Ngerng's request for QC

Straits Times
11 Jul 2015
K.C. Vijayan

Popular interest in Roy Ngerng's case, but that's not matter of public interest

Blogger Roy Ngerng's court case for defaming the Prime Minister may attract "popular" interest, but this did not make it one involving "public" interest.

The concepts are different, said Justice Steven Chong in decision grounds released yesterday on why he refused Mr Ngerng's request to hire a Queen's Counsel.

After a court ruled last November that he had defamed PM Lee Hsien Loong, the 34-year-old blogger applied for British QC Heather Rogers, an expert in defamation law, to represent him in a hearing to assess how much damages he has to pay.

Mr Ngerng's lawyer George Hwang argued that the case's "novelty" - this was the first time a blogger was sued by the Prime Minister - meant such expertise was needed.

But Justice Chong wrote in his decision: "The fact that this was the first time that a blogger has been sued by a public leader might invite significant media attention, but that did not mean that the decision was of significant legal import."

Mr Lee's lawyer, Senior Counsel Davinder Singh, the Attorney-General's Chambers and the Law Society all opposed the move to admit QC Rogers.

They pointed out that figuring the amount of damages was a "straightforward exercise" which did not need the expertise of a foreign senior counsel.

The judge agreed, adding that Singapore has developed its own principles on defamation, which the British QC would "unlikely" be familiar with even though "she is an excellent lawyer in the field of defamation".

Mr Hwang himself also recognised that Singapore had developed its own set of legal principles on the subject, noted the judge.

"Our courts have consistently emphasised that our political culture places a heavy premium on the values of honesty and integrity in the public discourse," said Justice Chong. " Thus, the reputational interest of political figures is given particular protection as it impacts on the public's impression of the integrity of the political system of which they are a part."

He also pointed out that the courts here had long ceased to rely on English awards as a benchmark for local awards.

He also took issue with the supporting affidavits for the application for the QC, ruling there "was simply no material before me to suggest Ms Rogers would be particularly conversant with the delicate matrix of factors which inform the award of damages for libel against public figures in Singapore". He said "Ms Rogers' affidavit read more like a truncated curriculum vitae rather than an affidavit filed in support of ad hoc admission".

Justice Chong added that the factual issues relating to the damages would be decided based on the cross-examination of Mr Ngerng, not Mr Lee, and "it was not a matter on which Ms Rogers' expertise in cross-examination may be brought to bear", he said, discounting her skills in this area as a reason for admission.

He pointed out that there was a large number of local lawyers who were not senior counsel but were competent to handle the case and expressed disappointment none were approached.

He also rejected the idea that Ms Rogers should be admitted to avoid a "David and Goliath" scenario and ensure "equality of arms" on both sides. "The touchstone for admission is 'need', not 'equality'," said Justice Chong.

Mr Ngerng was ordered to pay $6,000 to Mr Lee for the unsuccessful bid for a QC.

He represented himself in last week's three-day hearing before Justice Lee Seiu Kin to assess damages. The case has been adjourned for final submissions by the end of next month.

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

Re Rogers, Heather QC

Being a minor no excuse for flouting the law: Forum

Straits Times
27 Jul 2015

The argument that teenagers should not be treated like adults in legal matters should be balanced against the notion that every citizen has the right to live without being harassed, intimidated, assaulted or insulted ("It's true, teens can't be punished like adults"; July 18).

Neuroscience has found that the teenage brain, even in older adolescents, has yet to attain the kind of full maturity seen in adults.

Yet, it would be an insult to common sense to presume that a teen who is capable of planning and executing an act that violates someone else's rights, then invokes neuroscience to defend himself, is unaware that he is doing wrong.

The fact that the age of criminal responsibility in many advanced countries hovers at around 10 years is evidence that minors are expected to know right from wrong. Behavioural immaturity is not a licence to offend others or damage others' property.

Therefore, while I appreciate that minors are not in the same position as adults, the notion that the law should not treat teens as if they were adults needs further deliberation.

S. Ratnakumar

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

More arrested for attempting suicide

Straits Times
18 Jul 2015
Tee Zhuo

But increase last year could be due to better intervention by third parties, say experts

More people were arrested for attempting suicide last year, according to latest police figures as of June 8. Last year, 901 people were arrested for trying to kill themselves, compared with 862 in 2013.

The 4.5 per cent increase in arrests, however, may not necessarily be a cause for alarm. Experts said the rise could be due to better intervention by third parties, such as family, friends and the police.

Under Section 309 of the Penal Code, those who attempt suicide can be punished with jail for up to a year, or with a fine, or both.

People's attitude towards suicide has changed, said Dr Lim Boon Leng, a psychiatrist in private practice. "Now they are more willing to look for help or approach the police to intervene, or (take) suicidal people to the hospital where, sometimes, police reports are lodged."

Dr Lim added that while suicide might be more taboo in the past and usually hushed up, increased awareness of intervention methods available may have helped to nudge the shift in attitudes.

Women, in general, have twice the attempted suicide rate as men, said Dr Adrian Wang, a psychiatrist at Gleneagles Medical Centre, citing global studies. Experts said no similar study for Singapore has been done. Those who attempt suicide are also more likely to be younger women, while cases that result in definite death tend to involve older men, according to Dr Chia Boon Hock, a psychiatrist who specialises in suicide.

The number of suicide deaths in 2013 was 422, down from 467 the year before. Statistics for last year have yet to be released. While some attempt suicide on impulse, the state of a person's mental health is a major factor. Aggravating factors include substance abuse or excessive alcohol consumption.

Said Dr Wang: "People who attempt suicide normally have psychiatric issues, the most common of which would be depression."

Citing a 2011 study by the Institute of Mental Health, Ms Jolene Tan, senior manager for programmes and communications at the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware), said: "Women in Singapore are almost twice as likely to have major depressive disorder as men."

There is, however, a silver lining: People are increasingly aware of when and where to seek help.

Samaritans of Singapore (SOS) reported a 260 per cent rise in the number of people who have sought emotional support via e-mail from 2009 to last year.

SOS executive director Christine Wong said that while some who approach the non-profit group are on the verge of taking their life, the majority seek emotional support at "earlier stages of their crisis".

While suicide is illegal, those arrested are often referred to professionals. Some are let off with a stern warning, said experts.

Statistics from the State Courts show only five cases filed, with at least one charge under Section 309 of the Penal Code, last year. This figure is also the lowest in a steady decline from 16 such cases in 2010.

Lawyer Peter Ong of Templars Law believes the suicide law should be abolished as it does not serve as a deterrent.

"Knowing they may be arrested if their attempt fails may push them to complete it," said Mr Ong.

Others, such as consultant psychiatrist Joshua Kua from Raffles Medical Group, pointed out that most developed countries have decriminalised suicide.

"The resources used towards its criminalisation can be better used towards its prevention," he added.

Aware's Ms Tan said those who are vulnerable need support instead of the threat of arrest and criminal proceedings, which may further traumatise them.

Still, some believe the law helps to deter suicide. Said Dr Lim: "Singaporeans are mostly law-abiding people, and some may be less likely to attempt suicide if it is illegal."


What to look out for

Family and friends play an important role in saving their loved ones from suicidal thoughts or actions.

Here are tips on what they should look out for and how they can help.

TELL TALE SIGNS

•Sudden change in behaviour, dramatic shifts in mood, deep anxiety and agitation, abusive consumption of drugs and alcohol.

•Repeated mentions of ending one's life, or expressions such as "Life is too painful for me".

•Behaviour that suggests preparation for suicide, such as writing suicide notes or tidying up affairs.

•Self-harm (Call the police immediately).

HOW YOU CAN HELP

•Be a friend; find out what is on their mind.

•Listen with sympathy, reassure them that they are not alone.

•Remind the person that his life is important to you.

•Help him to focus his thoughts on positive aspects of his life.

•Advise the person to seek help, such as calling helplines or seeing a doctor, and assist him in doing so.

•Keep in touch with the person.

IF SOMEONE IS ABOUT TO ATTEMPT SUICIDE...

•If the person phones you, remain on the line for as long as possible. Find out where he is and try to call an ambulance from another phone. Check if there is anyone near the person who can help.

•If the person has not harmed himself yet, ensure that he has no access to suicide methods by locking the windows and putting away sharp objects, among other things.

•Do not put yourself at risk, such as wrestling for a potential suicide weapon.

•Encourage the person to speak to a counsellor, accompany him to the hospital, or call an ambulance.

SOURCES: INSTITUTE OF MENTAL HEALTH, SAMARITANS OF SINGAPORE


HELPLINES

SOS: 1800-221-4444 (24-hour)

Singapore Association for Mental Health: 1800-283-7019

IMH Mobile Crisis Service: 6389-2222 (24-hour)

Care Corner Counselling Centre (Mandarin): 1800-353-5800

Aware: 1800-774-5935

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

Set up mediator for medical insurance claims

Business Times
11 Jul 2015
Arthur Lee

ON FRIDAY, I received a standard reply from my employer's medical insurers following a claim for a visit to the National Cancer Centre Singapore. Highlighted in a bold box were the words: "Copy of referral letter / As per our records, no previous visits to the above said hospital."

I wondered if it could have been better phrased. Why would I need a referral for treatment of a life-threatening disease? Also, I had been referred to Singapore General Hospital (SGH) by our company's in-house doctor.

A voicemail to a highly competent claims supervisor resolved the matter quickly. It was agreed that it was an "intra-hospital" referral and the claim would be processed.

Would it have been different had I been independently insured, or less well-informed to pursue the matter and deal with someone on the other side?

In Singapore, an estimated 2.4 million people - two in three - have Integrated Plans (IPs). It may look like a lucrative business but, unlike other insurance, IPs have the highest claim statistics due to the nature of their coverage. This is because most policyholders are likely to file claims at some stage of their lives.

The insurers face a common challenge: that of trying to keep their claims payout low; it is, after all, a business. Yet on the other side of the fence, some of the insured, knowing they have medical coverage, may explore ways to gain maximum benefit from it, either through overconsumption or unnecessary consumption of healthcare services.

Medical practitioners have other challenges. Those that are publicly listed have to answer to their shareholders. And if the doctors themselves are majority shareholders, then there is added pressure to generate revenue.

Medical science today is fast evolving, and tests that were uncommon a decade ago are now fairly common. Patients demand a higher standard of care, and the doctors themselves want to do a good job. Some of this diagnostic testing can be expensive.

Treatment protocols too have advanced greatly for many diseases. Some of them require very expensive medication as drug companies strive to recoup their R&D investment.

It is often said that an insurance policy's quality is discovered only when a claim is filed.

And with over two million people who are likely to file claims at various stages in their lives, there will be some disagreements over claim payouts and tussles among the various stakeholders.

Sometimes it's a case of not understanding the contractual content and limits of a policy. It can take a lot of effort to really understand some of the content.

At other times, it can be a case of too rigid an interpretation of policy terms and conditions.

Whatever the reasons, it's little solace for a policyholder who is facing a serious illness or challenging treatment protocols.

For civil claims, we have the Small Claims Tribunals, which provide quick and inexpensive recourse for the resolution of small claims between consumers and suppliers. Their limits are S$10,000 or S$20,000 if agreed upon in writing by both parties.

We also have the Motor Insurers' Bureau funded by all motor insurers. It was set up some 40 years ago in 1975 as a safeguard for consumers who are victims in road accidents.

With many more IP policyholders than there are motor policies out there, now is a good time to set up a commissioner's office for medical insurance.

It can be funded by all medical insurers and the government, with a small administrative fee for each consultation, which can be waived for some people. Its role would be to arbitrate on rejected or reduced claims in medical insurance, with its decisions made binding on all parties.

The need for a specialised office is due to the complex nature of medical treatments and the possibility of claims easily exceeding S$100,000 if they are for long-term treatment.

An independent mediator with the support of specialised staff could ensure that both parties have access to a quick simple avenue to resolve disputes.

Over time, the knowledge and statistics accumulated by this office could go a long way towards future modifications and improvements in IPs and medical insurance. And, hopefully, this may keep future premium increases in check.

arthurl@sph.com.sg

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

Rising divorce rate: Mandate counselling for children in divorces

Straits Times
26 Jul 2015
Priscilla Goy & Janice Tai

Experts call for measure to help the children cope with trauma as their numbers rise

With the number of children caught in divorce cases rising, experts have called for counselling to be made compulsory for this vulnerable group, who often are the most affected when their parents split.

According to Family Justice Courts figures released to The Sunday Times, 4,728 children below the age of 21 were involved in divorce cases last year, up from 4,634 a decade ago. In those 10 years, more than 50,600 children saw their parents file for divorce. Seven in 10 were aged below 14.

More marriages are hitting the skids now. There were 5,471 non-Muslim divorces finalised in 2013, making it the second-highest annual figure on record.

The Family Justice Courts were set up last October with a special focus on shielding children, such as appointing child representatives from a panel of seasoned family lawyers to be the child's independent voice in court. But this does not happen in all cases.

From this year, it also became a must for divorcing parents of children aged below 14 to undergo the Parenting Pact programme, which aims to help them understand the impact of divorce on children and learn about co-parenting.

And while the four divorce support specialist agencies appointed by the Government this year offer counselling services to children, these are optional.

Family lawyer Rajan Chettiar, who handles 1,000 divorces a year, said: "The law mandates parents attending parental workshops and counselling. But how about the children?"

Another family lawyer, Ms Mabel Tan, suggested that counselling be made mandatory for children aged below 16. And the help should be provided early - "from the moment their parents decide to go through divorce", said the senior partner at Joseph Tan Jude Benny LLP.

"They need someone who can understand what they are going through and provide advice."

Even a simple explanation of how divorce proceedings happen will help, she added.

Ms Cindy Loh, programme head of Care Corner Centre for Co-Parenting, said this will make the children intentionally set aside time to pick up coping strategies of managing the stresses of being caught in between parents in conflict.

"If not, they will be occupied with other distractions and though some may feel that they already know all these, many are not aware of the fuller picture of how divorce may impact them," she said.

Ms Michelle Woodworth, a family lawyer with RHTLaw Taylor Wessing LLP, believes any counselling, for both parents and children, should continue even after the divorce is finalised. Currently, she said, "there is no formal follow-up".

Divorce leaves scars on all children, though its marks may show immediately or surface decades later, said counsellors and family lawyers. Local studies by the authorities in 2000 and 2001 even found that 54 per cent of male and 30 per cent of female juvenile offenders had divorced parents.

But more commonly, the impact is seen in the child's social, emotional and intellectual development.

"When left alone to struggle with the losses and changes, they may develop academic, social and emotional problems such as difficulties in developing relationships and forming families in future," said Ms Nooraini Razak, centre manager at PPIS As-Salaam Family Support Centre.

Some teenagers choose to act out their anguish. Said Reach Counselling head Chang-Goh Song Eng: "Teens may indulge in smoking or gang behaviours, miss school and become extremely defiant."

Others hide their pain. "They feel that they have been abandoned and left to face the world by themselves, and some may hide it from their friends or withdraw from their social circle, leading to depression or behavioural issues," said Ms Yassemin Md Said, senior counsellor at the Association of Muslim Professionals' Marriage Hub.

Experts said that counselling could help mitigate the traumatic effects of divorce on children, equipping them with the necessary skills to manage their feelings and develop resilience.

Despite the clear benefits of counselling, there are parents who do not buy into it - another reason for making it compulsory.

Said family lawyer Lee Terk Yang of Flint & Battery LLC: "We have clients whose kids clearly need professional help, but the parents just do not seem to see a need for it."

Ms Loh also said that most divorcing parents who do send their children for counselling stop the session when school holidays end as "they don't want their children to miss lessons".


HIDDEN PAIN

They feel that they have been abandoned and left to face the world by themselves.

MS YASSEMIN MD SAID, senior counsellor at the Association of Muslim Professionals' Marriage Hub

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

It's true, teens can't be punished like adults

Straits Times
18 Jul 2015
Andy Ho

Teens tend to take more risks because their brains are not fully developed yet

In the past decade, advances in neuroscience have given new insights into old problems, ranging from drug addiction and post-traumatic stress disorder to adolescent shenanigans.

For example, if the new neuroscience shows that a drug addict's brain is physically dissimilar to a non-addict's brain in ways that make the former more prone to addiction, then we must ask if his infractions of the law ought to be treated less punitively.

It is with such considerations in mind that The Straits Times is publishing a six-part series starting today, with a focus on what the new neuroscience says that is causing experts to revise how they approach these issues. This week, we focus on the teenage brain. Should teens be treated like mini-adults, deserving of society's harshest punishment, when they break the law? New neuroscience findings suggest not.

For most of the 20th century, experts had fervently held, with little empirical proof, the first three years of life to be the most important for brain development. But from the late 1990s, the new neuroscience began to show that the brain, even in older adolescents, had yet to attain the kind of full maturity seen in adults.

Brain imaging has now established that the brain keeps maturing through adolescence. Not only is the brain's development not done by adolescence, but also it isn't even done until the early 20s.

 


 

 

 


PHOTO: ISTOCKPHOTO

 

 

 

 

 

If the teenage brain is indeed not fully developed, then the teenager cannot be held to be as culpable as an adult. By contrast, in adulthood, when the brain is fully developed, the scofflaw ought to be held fully responsible for his actions.

Back in 1623, Shakespeare had an insight into the tumultuous teen when he wrote in The Winter's Tale: "I would there were no age between ten and three-and-twenty, or that youth would sleep out the rest; for there is nothing in the between but getting wenches with child, wronging the ancientry, stealing, fighting."

But what the Bard couldn't have known then is that a teenager cannot manage his own behaviour in a way the adult can because his brain is not yet fully developed and mature in a biological sense. There is still a lot of child in the teenager. Thus the law ought not to treat teens as if they were adults.

This flies against conventional wisdom of much of the 20th century, whose experts held that the first years of life were the most critical for cognitive development, and that it was too late to make a difference to a person's cognitive development by adolescence.

That dogma came from French psychologist Jean Piaget (1896-1980) who even argued that "children have adult-like reasoning by age 15". It became an article of faith that teens have cognitive abilities like those of adults. This view has now been discredited by empirical neuroscience studies using functional magnetic resonance imaging.

Hitherto, there was no empirical research into the teen brain or teen cognitive development since the notion that things were set in stone in early childhood was entrenched.

So through the 20th century, the courts and policymakers as well as public opinion continued to abide by the ideas about adolescents fostered by Piaget and his followers. Policymakers often rely on common-sense beliefs which are frequently based on and circulated in mass media reports. So it did not seem inappropriate to pass laws that treated teens as mini-adults.

However, 21st-century neuroscience evidence suggests this was all wrong because, in adolescence, the brain changes in a few specific ways that make the teen brain distinct from the brains of the child and the adult.

First, teen brain cells begin to use more dopamine, a chemical related to pleasurable experiences. This is why teens take more risks, even when they have an adult-level cognitive understanding of potential danger, because they value rewards more than adults do when the anticipated act is potentially pleasurable - take sex, fast cars or illicit drugs, for example. Or perhaps, as in the case of the teenager Amos Yee, making and uploading offensive videos.

Research also shows this is true especially when teens are in the company of their peers. This is clear to see today on social media.

Second, the connections between the brain regions for processing emotions and those for self-control begin to increase. This means strong feelings are modulated better as the teen grows. But while still developing, that control can be spotty.

Third, the prefrontal cortex behind the forehead is where the brain circuits for higher cognitive functions like weighing risks and long-term planning are located. In teenagers, white matter in that region increases, which becomes more efficient functionally. Critically, this increase in white matter continues well into early adulthood, which means it is not quite done yet in late adolescence.

It is in middle adolescence that a teen brain's response to rewards peaks. However, its systems for self-regulation are still growing. So the pedal is to the floor but the brakes aren't working too well yet.

That is why it is around the age of 17 that teens first try alcohol and marijuana, attempt suicide or drown by accident. Or just get into trouble with the law.

Here's the rub: The teen brain changes in both structure and function but the timing and rate of such changes are not uniform. So there is no bright line for a specific age at which an adolescent brain becomes an adult one. But it is clear that such maturation is not largely complete in early childhood, as previously held so dogmatically.

It is also clear that in adolescence, intellectual maturity develops faster than social or emotional maturity. So teens who are astute in some areas may remain impetuous and short-sighted in others. They may be able to reason like adults but are inconsistent in doing so.

All this means there is more biological evidence that the law ought to afford more protection to minors since they are neurologically immature in ways that make them take more risks, be more impulsive and less able to control their emotions than adults.

It also suggests that teens deserve special protection in criminal law because their brains are not fully biologically mature.

Because the brain undergoes massive changes between the ages of 12 and 21, we're now told, there are structural and functional immaturities in the adolescent brain which give rise to behavioural immaturities. So minors are not in the same position as adults.

We have long known that teens are more likely than adults to be thrill-seeking and impulsive. Now science is telling us this is because the teen brain is still maturing.

It all suggests that, on biological grounds, there may be a case for not treating teens like adults in law.

•This is the first of a six-part series by Andy Ho on new scientific findings about the brain.

NEXT WEEK: The concussed brain

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S’pore ripe for crowdfunding, ‘but regulatory framework needed’

TODAY
11 Jul 2015
Rumi Hardasmalani

Practice can be big here if necessary regulatory changes happen, says venture capital association’s chairman

SINGAPORE — As the pick-up in entrepreneurial innovation and projects drives demand for alternative financing, Singapore is ripe for crowdfunding and the nation should find ways of embracing it with the right regulatory framework in place, Mr Jeffrey Chi, the chairman of Singapore Venture Capital and Private Equity Association said today (July 10).

“Crowdfunding is going to disrupt ways in which companies raise funds … It is already big outside Singapore. What it really means for Singapore today is that we should find ways of embracing it and get things to work within the right regulatory framework and not really restrict it. While it is true that it is not an easy task for regulators, it can be big in Singapore only if necessary regulatory changes happen,” Dr Chi said at the Expo for Property, Investing and Crowdfunding.

Crowdfunding refers to the practice of raising money from a large pool of people via the Internet. It gained momentum after the global financial crisis, when traditional financial institutions such as banks curbed lending, forcing entrepreneurs as well as small and medium-sized businesses to turn to the Internet so as to connect with investors to fund their operations.

Singapore-based CoAssets is the first crowdfunding platform for real-estate projects in South-east Asia, targeting deals including bridge loans and working capital for developers and investors’ seeking equity investment in property.

“The real-estate crowdfunding business has great potential for growth, and we look forward to leading it,” Mr Getty Goh, co-founder and chief executive of CoAssets, told TODAY.

“While Singapore has a good start-up ecosystem, more support is needed for certain growth-stage companies … In our financial system, there is a funding gap in the S$500,000 to S$5 million category, a segment banks usually prefer to ignore, keeping in mind much bigger deals on their plates. This is our focus market, where we want to establish ourselves as a credible player,” Mr Goh said.

“We are sort of an incubator to upcoming real-estate developers and new investment ideas, providing them with a funding platform. The name of the game really is empowerment,” he added.

About one out of four ideas hitting the platform gets successfully funded after it passes a detailed risk analysis process, he said. The business margins are about 3 to 5 per cent.

CoAssets recently did a compliance listing on Australia’s junior market, the National Stock Exchange of Australia (NSX), bringing its new model to a larger regional audience.

“This was a compliance listing and no funds were raised, but we are looking to an initial public offering in 12 to 24 months. The idea really is to quickly grow across key markets like Australia, Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia and be on top of people’s mind as we prepare for Australian Securities Exchange listing in future,” Mr Goh explained.

With 11,000 registered users, the total value of deals listed on CoAssets is more than S$40 million since December, and the amount successfully funded currently stands at more than S$36 million.

Copyright 2015 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

Rising divorce rate: Heavy responsibility for child representatives

Straits Times
26 Jul 2015
Janice Tai

Mr Yap Teong Liang is one of 18 family lawyers appointed by the Family Justice Courts to be a child representative since the initiative started in October last year.

His job is to give the child a voice in court and provide the judge with an objective assessment on what arrangements are in the child's best interests. "But this does not mean that we end up listening to the child because the child may like ice cream but ice cream can be bad for him," said Mr Yap.

Instead, one of his main tasks is to understand the preferences of the child and discern if those were made under compulsion.

Some children go along with their parents' instructions or wishes as they are afraid or hope to please them, he said. Others are inclined towards the less strict parent although that arrangement may not be best for the child in the long run.

Mr Yap must piece together the information in order to make a recommendation.

In one case, the mother of two boys - aged 13 and 16 - produced a letter they had allegedly written showing that they wanted to live with her after the divorce. But the husband claimed his wife was so lax their sons were not going to school.

The younger boy wanted to live with their mother while his brother wanted to stay with their father.

Mr Yap observed the 13-year-old and his father during home visits and interviews at his office, and spoke with the boys' grandparents and school counsellors. In the end, the judge ordered the younger boy to live with the mother and the elder boy with the father.

"It is a heavy responsibility but there is satisfaction in helping children because such decisions affect their future welfare," said Mr Yap.

Janice Tai

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

Bookie’s jail term reduced after judge finds disparity in sentencing

TODAY
18 Jul 2015

Sentencing judge lacked proper factual basis when he made his decision: Judge of Appeal.

SINGAPORE — A High Court judge reduced a bookie’s sentence today (July 16), after finding that information withheld by prosecutors had resulted in her receiving a punishment that was disproportionate to what two of her associates in the same illicit franchise got.

During Karen Lim Bee Ngan’s sentencing for taking football and 4D bets illegally, prosecutors did not tell the court what her two associates had been punished with. As a result, the sentencing judge did not have the proper factual basis when he was making his decision, said Judge of Appeal Chao Hick Tin, in a magistrate’s appeal.

Lim was imposed with a 10-month jail term and S$141,000 fine. The other two, her brother Keith Lim Chin-U and someone named in court documents as “Ah Tee”, got four weeks’ jail and an S$18,000 fine, and 24 weeks’ jail and a S$165,000 fine, respectively.

Although the roles and culpability differed among the trio, there should be parity in the sentences meted out to them because they were in the same illegal enterprise, he added, in cutting Lim’s jail term by two months.

“The question ... is whether the disparity between the respective sentences ... would result in right-thinking members of the public with full knowledge of the facts and circumstances considering the aggregate sentence imposed on the Appellant to be unjust,” said Justice Chao.

Prosecutors had argued that because one of the associates was Lim’s brother, she would have known his punishment and could have informed the judge during her hearing.

But Justice Chao disagreed, saying: “In my view, this is hardly an adequate retort — if it is the Prosecution’s duty to assist the court by providing relevant material pertaining to the sentences received by co-offenders, then the question of whether an accused informs his sentencing judge of the sentences that his or her co-offenders received (assuming the accused has this information) is beside the point.”

He added that parity in sentencing is to ensure a high level of consistency in sentencing. While the ideal situation would be for co-offenders to be sentenced at the same time, this was not always possible, for various reasons.

Justice Chao added: “In cases where the sentencing of co-offenders cannot take place before the same sentencing judge at the same time, the Prosecution should, as far as possible, assist in the sentencing of the particular offender concerned by tendering to the court all relevant material pertaining to the sentences meted out to earlier-sentenced co-offenders.”

Copyright 2015 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

Lim Bee Ngan Karen v Public Prosecutor [2015] SGHC 183

ADV: Kaplan - Find out more about Business & Law programme

Singapore Law Watch
11 Jul 2015
Kaplan

Rising divorce rate: Ex-spouses must learn to co-parent

Straits Times
26 Jul 2015
Priscilla Goy & Janice Tai

Those who maintain respectful relationship lessen impact of divorce on kids, say expert

Ethan's parents split when he was three, but it was only at the age of seven, during contact time with his teacher, that he learnt the meaning of "divorce".

Until then, he thought his mother and father simply lived in separate homes. Said Ethan, now 13: "My mum never told me."

A year after he found out, he started to rebel by refusing to do his homework. When he was 10, he was arrested for shoplifting a game cartridge and was given probation for about half a year.

Counsellors from his school and the Singapore Children's Society said his actions were his way of seeking attention, and likely due to the lack of a father figure. Ethan's parents barely talk to each other, and the boy rarely sees his father.

It is not uncommon for those in his situation to react the way he did, said experts, who urged divorcing parents to learn how to continue relating to each other and guiding their children after the separation.

Said family lawyer Leslie Foong of Lawhub LLC: "I always advise my clients - don't stop your ex-spouse from having access to your children, no matter how much you dislike or hate him or her. Do this not for your ex-spouse but for your children."

A recent study of 150,000 children aged 12 to 15 in Sweden found that children who lived with both of their separated parents showed fewer signs of stress than those who lived with just one.

A local study of 100 cases also found that the more parents fight during and after the divorce, the harder it is for the child to cope.

Said psychologist Tan Yih Sze: "We observed that the more couples continue to invest effort in maintaining a mutually respectful relationship as co-parents, the less the impact of the divorce on the children and the faster the recovery."

Many divorcing couples have been able to find common ground after going for mandatory mediation and counselling at the Child Focused Resolution Centre (CFRC). It was set up in 2011 under the State Courts to provide mandatory mediation and counselling for divorcing parents of children below age eight.

Since last October, this compulsory measure was extended to those with at least one child under 21.

Among the 2,000-plus couples who went to the CFRC for compulsory mediation and counselling in the past three years , about four out of five couples were able to agree on parenting plans. The matters agreed on include custody, care, control and parental access to the children.

Said Ms Catherine Maderazo, a senior social worker from Singapore Children's Society Family Service Centre: "For children who have good support systems, they can cope well, overcome their difficult situation more quickly, and lead a normal life."

Added family lawyer Koh Tien Hua of Harry Elias Partnership: "Divorces need not be a bitter pill to swallow. In some cases, it helps parties to start new lives and to have a fresh start because some parties ought not to have married in the first place, let alone have children.

"What they can then do in the journey ahead is to learn effective communication skills in order to work with each other and not against the other."


A NEW BEGINNING

Divorces need not be a bitter pill to swallow. In some cases, it helps parties to start new lives and to have a fresh start.

MR KOH TIEN HUA, a family lawyer from Harry Elias Partnership

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

Board-member clause in ISEAS Bill ‘will have no material impact’

TODAY
18 Jul 2015
Siau Ming En

SINGAPORE – While it sparked an acrimonious exchange involving Workers’ Party chief Low Thia Khiang and Education Minister Heng Swee Keat, among others, a clause in the Bill to rename the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS) - which gives the Minister sole powers to appoint board members - would have no material impact on the institute, said former and current board members interviewed by TODAY.

They also pointed out that unlike other research institutions that operate autonomously within the universities here, ISEAS is the only one that is a statutory board. Mr Heng had explained that the clause would bring it in line with other statutory boards where, in general, board members are appointed by a minister.

The Bill to rename the institute after Singapore’s first President Yusof Ishak was passed on Tuesday (July 14), and the name change to ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute would take effect on Aug 12. However, all nine WP Members of Parliament objected to the clause, which also reduces the size of the board from 22 to 15.

The ISEAS Act, passed in 1968, had provided for board members to be appointed by the President and four chambers of commerce, two charitable organisations - Lee Foundation and Shaw Foundation - and the president of the National University of Singapore.

Pointing out that almost five decades have since passed, Mr K Kesavapany, who was director of ISEAS from 2002 to 2012. said that this arrangement may no longer be the optimal way. On the new clause, he said: “This is merely an administrative transfer of a function that was performed by the President and now it is performed by the minister. I don’t see that there is anything very drastic in this.”

ISEAS was the brainchild of former Deputy Prime Minister Goh Keng Swee. Mr Kesavapany said that Dr Goh wanted ISEAS to be a standalone research institution that was not part of the universities here. Dr Goh had envisaged it to be an organisation that will “create knowledge and spread knowledge about the region”, he added. On why the President was among those given the appointing authority at the beginning, Mr Kesavapany said the decision could have been made to lend prestige to the newly set-up institution then.

The process of appointing board members can take about six months, Mr Kesavapany said. Those appointed sit on the board for up to three years.

Responding to TODAY’s queries, an ISEAS spokesman said that currently, the institute consults the Education Minister “on all board nominations before they are communicated to the President for appointment”. He reiterated: “The change to give the Education Minister the power to nominate Board Members does not affect the way in which ISEAS operates... ISEAS is a statutory board under the purview of the MOE and (the ministry) is already involved in appointments to the ISEAS board.”

Straits Law Practice senior director M Rajaram, who sits on the ISEAS board, acknowledged that a reduction in the number of members may result in less diversity. But he pointed out that with the changes, the minister can appoint individuals who can contribute. Under the current pratice, the importance of the appointments may be diminished as organisations empowered to appoint board members will not lose these spots regardless of how their representatives perform, Mr Rajaram noted.

On the fact that his organisation would no longer have the power to appoint board members, Mr Lim Kok Eng, who is representing Lee Foundation on the ISEAS board, said that the foundation’s representatives would do their best to render their services when they are appointed. But if none of their representatives are appointed, it would be “one less job” for them, he added.

ISEAS: INDEPENDENCE AND AUTONOMY NOT AFFECTED

The ISEAS spokesman said that the amendment bill passed in Parliament “does not affect the independence and autonomy of the Institute’s research”.

“The research programme and focus of the Institute does not require the approval of the Minister or MOE. This has been so since its inception in 1968 and will remain so even after the change of name,” he said.

Mr Kesavapany said that it is ultimately the responsibility of the people involved with ISEAS - including its directors, trustees, and research staff - to ensure that its credibility and academic integrity are maintained.

On Tuesday, the parliamentary debate on the Bill took an acrimonious turn, after Senior Parliamentary Secretary (Education and Manpower) Hawazi Daipi accused WP chairman Sylvia Lim of politicising the issue when she voiced her party’s objection to the clause.

Mr Heng, Mr Low and WP MP Faisal Manap also jumped into the fray and locked horns for more than 30 minutes, prompting Parliament Speaker Halimah Yacob to stop the feisty debate, which she said was “going around in circles”. The exchange saw Mr Low accusing the Government of having a hidden motive to “control” ISEAS under the guise of honouring Mr Yusof. This drew a testy response from Mr Heng, who said he was “surprised” and “disappointed” by Mr Low’s comments.

Political observer Eugene Tan described the fiesty exchange in Parliament as “a storm in the tea cup”. It was odd for WP to insinuate that the amendments were designed for the government to control ISEAS, he said. Nevertheless, the Government could have debunked its concerns in a matter-of-fact manner, he added.

The Singapore Management University law don said: “Ultimately, any academic institution that seeks to serve political interest will not stand up to scrutiny of its peers because they would be generating research that would be biased or that would not stand up to rigorous peer review.”

siaumingen@mediacorp.com.sg

Copyright 2015 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

Negligence suit to be seat-belt rule test case

Straits Times
10 Jul 2015
K.C. Vijayan

The courts may have to rule if cab drivers are obliged to wait until passengers belt up before driving off.

A woman passenger who claimed to be in the process of belting up when the cab moved off suffered serious injuries when the taxi collided with another car.

Lawyers say the test case would address the point in time that the liability to ensure seat belt use would kick in - when the car is stationary or when it is in motion.

Under the Road Traffic (Motor Vehicles, Wearing of Seat Belts) Rules 2011, the driver of a car has to ensure that every passenger is belted up, with some exceptions such as medical cases.

Dr Natsuko Ishikawa, 37, suffered skull, spinal and facial fractures when the cab made a right turn out of Leonie Hill into River Valley Road and collided with a Lexus heading in the direction of Clemenceau Avenue.

Dr Ishikawa, a Singaporean, was taken to the Singapore General Hospital following the March 2012 accident, where she stayed for two weeks, underwent surgery and had further treatment.

She is alleging negligence and seeking damages for medical expenses and treatment, loss of earnings and other items from cab driver Goh Pheng Choon as well as the driver of the second car.

She had boarded the cab and was fastening her seat belt after settling her things in the back seat when the collision took place, said her lawyer Renuka Chettiar in papers filed.

High Court suits involve claims of more than $250,000 although the actual sums, if the plaintiff succeeds, are assessed by the court.

Denying the claims, Mr Goh's lawyer Anthony Wee countered that Dr Ishikawa had failed to wear the seat belt when on board the taxi.

Whether or not the passenger should share blame for not wearing a seat belt, the case is understood to be the first reported in which the court would decide on how much the use of a seat belt would detract from the damages payable.

In a 1975 English case, Lord Alfred Denning ruled that if the injuries could be prevented altogether by the use of a seat belt, then the damages payable should be reduced by 25 per cent. If the failure to wear a seat belt made a considerable difference, then the damages should be cut by 15 per cent.

But if the injuries would have been the same if a seat belt had been worn, then the damages payable should not be reduced at all.

That case is believed to be cited, with modifications, as a standard reference in several Commonwealth countries such as Australia and Canada.


Background Story

Under the Road Traffic (Motor Vehicles, Wearing of Seat Belts) Rules 2011, the driver of a car has to ensure that every passenger is belted up, with some exceptions such as medical cases.

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

More getting out of bankruptcy

Straits Times
26 Jul 2015
Lester Hio

Credit counselling and various schemes to help debtors cited as likely reasons for trend

More bankrupts are being discharged and the number of bankruptcy orders made last year fell after a high in 2013.

There were 3,546 cases of bankrupts being discharged last year, a 37 per cent increase from the 2,584 in 2013, according to latest figures from the Insolvency Office under the Ministry of Law.

The number of bankruptcy orders made last year also fell to 1,758, after 2013 saw 1,992 orders made - the highest since 2009.

The rise in discharges may be due to a better and more robust system for bankrupts set in place, said Mr Alfred Chia, chief executive of financial advisory firm SingCapital.

"The Official Assignee (OA) may now be more understanding and pay more attention to individual cases," said Mr Chia. "They may be more willing to give a second chance to bankrupts who stick to the repayment scheme, and work and cooperate with them to pay off their debts in a timely manner."

Lawyer Andrew Goh, who handles insolvency cases, said the OA has a large part to play, as the office holds a lot of discretion in discharging bankrupts.

"Perhaps bankrupts are also better behaved these days," Mr Goh said.

But Mr Chia cautioned against viewing the increase in discharges as an indication that it is easier to get out of bankruptcy now.

"Bankruptcy should always be a last option, and people should always look into schemes to address their debt before that," said Mr Chia.

These include the Debt Repayment Scheme (DRS), which was started in 2009 to help those with debts of under $100,000 avoid bankruptcy by letting them pay off their debts in instalments.

There are currently 934 people on the DRS at the end of June.

Lawyer Vijai Parwani said the scheme could have contributed to the falling rates of bankruptcy orders made last year, as those under the scheme would not be declared bankrupt.

Overall, the number of undischarged bankrupts continue to shrink, with the total number of such people as at the end of May standing at 22,096 compared with almost 25,000 three years ago.

In the first half of this year, 1,303 were discharged. There were 884 bankrupts declared within the same period, and general reasons given by the Insolvency Office include overspending, business failure, unemployment and guarantor liability.

Credit Counselling Singapore (CCS) may also have helped some people avoid becoming bankrupt, said its general manager, Ms Tan Huey Min.

More people have been approaching CCS for help in recent years, possibly because of tighter credit rules which kicked in at the start of last month, she said.

From June 1, those with total unsecured debt of more than 24 times monthly income for more than 90 days are unable to get more unsecured loans.

From June 1, 2017, the limit will be 18 times the borrower's monthly income. From June 1, 2019, the limit will be 12 times monthly income.

The changes were first announced in September 2013 and adjusted in April this year.

"Other than learning of the rule changes, there may have been more awareness about our institution. They may have heard about CCS through the media and are aware that they have a debt issue," said Ms Tan.

Insolvent persons are discharged when their debts are paid in full or if creditors accept a settlement offer.

The OA can also decide to discharge a bankrupt after three years and if the debts do not exceed $500,000. Factors such as cause of bankruptcy, assets, age and conduct are taken into account.

Additional reporting by Rennie Whang


Background Story

3,546

Number of bankrupts discharged last year, a 37 per cent increase from the 2,584 in 2013

1,758

The number of bankruptcy orders made last year

934

Number of people currently on the Debt Repayment Scheme which was started in 2009 to help those with debts of under $100,000

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

Law tweaks offer bankrupts hope of a new life after debt: Voices

TODAY
18 Jul 2015

 

I refer to the report, “Higher debt limit for declaring one insolvent among bankruptcy law tweaks” (July 15).

It is a good move to allow bankrupts to be discharged after three to seven years; it gives them a new life to look forward to after being mired in debt.

A friend of mine has been in bankruptcy for more than 14 years and has been making repayments over the past few years, but is still in the red.

Also, some moneylenders turn to the Official Assignee to recover debts, even though bankrupts are not allowed to borrow. If the bankrupt does not pay, he may then risk legal action.

It should be a case of a willing lender, willing borrower.

Lenders should do due diligence with the credit bureaus or face the loss.

 

Danny Chua Hock Chye

Copyright 2015 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

Kudos to MAS for light touch on Reit governance

Business Times
10 Jul 2015
Lee Meixian

REAL estate investment trust managers heaved a sigh of relief when the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) unveiled its finalised list of rules governing the Reit sector.

Following discussions with and feedback from the sector, the central bank opted for a light touch approach to give the 13-year-old Singapore Reit (S-Reit) market flexibility to grow.

Among the noteworthy MAS initiatives is its dropping of a proposal to replace fees paid to Reit managers relating to acquisition and divestment of properties with one that basically covers just their costs. It also decided not to pursue operational restrictions on stapled Reits and not to regulate income support arrangements more strictly. In return, it asked for better disclosures.

In fact, most of the major items on its finalised list are voluntary, comply-or-explain, or flexible with options, rather than mandatory.

The light touch approach is a step in the right direction as it gives the Singapore Reit sector leeway to spread its wings amid regional competition.

In practice, too many prescriptive or mandatory rules may have the paradoxical and counter-productive effect of creating a "compliance only" culture - scraping by the bare minimum criteria just to pass - which beats the point of governance.

Also, too much legal liability on the Reit manager can inhibit growth by taking the focus away from business strategy and performance. Excessive compliance may also have the unintended effect of hindering a Reit's nimbleness to take advantage of opportunistic situations. Taking an overly conservative stance just to stay on the right side of the law may nip growth in the bud.

Statutory duty

Implicit in MAS's final decisions seems to be a recognition that having more rules and codes doesn't necessarily improve the market, even if it might inspire investor confidence when seen against less regulated markets.

Also praiseworthy is that the lighter touch is not at the expense of advancing unitholder rights.

In the finalised list of rules, MAS imposed a statutory duty on Reit managers and its directors to put the interests of unitholders above their own in the event of conflicting interests.

This rule was passed despite feedback from some respondents that it was too harsh. Some analysts consider it the most severe rule in the list.

MAS has not given specific guidelines on examples that would constitute a violation of the statutory duty. This may breed a chilling effect. Faced with ambiguity, Reit managers would not know what they can or cannot be faulted for.

They would thus tend to err on the side of caution when charging any kind of management fees or when including income support arrangements in a deal or when borrowing as a stapled Reit. (No restrictions were imposed on the latter two in the latest review.)

Unitholders may now be able to point to the rule to defend themselves against situations in which they are unfairly treated.

Some observers see this statutory duty as an umbrella to ensure that every decision Reit managers make is pro-unitholders. This way, MAS can afford to let Reit managers have flexibility in other areas, but at the same time ensure that the better leeway is not exploited.

Overall, the MAS rules also shift the onus to investors to be less passive and more proactive.

For example, MAS has given Reit managers room to set their own fee structures. It is now up to investors to understand the fee structures of each specific Reit, so they can find an arrangement they are comfortable with.

Ideally, the market will regulate itself. Reits with less popular fee structures will find less favour among investors, compelling managers to amend those structures to something more appealing.

What would make investors' jobs much easier is for MAS to compile the varying performance fee structures and corresponding justifications on a website.

The data can include how performance fees, acquisition fees and divestment fees are computed, and how much they make up as a percentage of revenue.

Unitholders' initiative

Another example of more proactiveness needed on unitholders' part: they have to take the initiative to call for a general meeting if they want to vote out a Reit manager.

This is after MAS dropped its earlier suggestion to have Reit managers submit themselves for re-appointment by unitholders regularly - say, every five years or less.

Ultimately, the light touch approach allows Reit managers to focus on growing their portfolios and distributions instead of having to deal with overly onerous regulations.

Now, the S-Reit market will hopefully be able to take on competitors in the established Reit markets of Australia, Japan and Hong Kong, as well as emerging ones in Malaysia and Thailand, China and India.

The market has a way of rewarding well-governed Reits employing equitable fee structures with higher valuations.

leemx@sph.com.sg

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

Susan Lim's husband seeks High Court review

Straits Times
25 Jul 2015
Selina Lum

He wants reversal of decision to dismiss complaint against two SMC lawyers

The lawyer for the husband of surgeon Susan Lim has argued for the High Court to reverse a decision that dismissed his complaint against two lawyers who acted for the Singapore Medical Council (SMC) in disciplinary proceedings against his wife.

Mr Abraham Vergis, representing retired banker Deepak Sharma, pointed to how the $1 million bill put up by the lawyers from WongPartnership was later knocked down by the courts to $370,000.

Citing cases of lawyers who were suspended for overcharging their clients relatively smaller amounts, he said: "The margin is so stark... that it invites inquiry as to whether there was any misconduct here."

But the Law Society and Attorney-General (AG) disagreed. State Counsel Khoo Boo Jin, representing the AG, noted that the cases cited dealt with lawyers billing their clients for professional fees. The current one, on the other hand, is a "party and party" situation in which SMC, as the winning party, is seeking legal costs from Dr Lim, the losing party. Such "party and party" costs are not an award of legal fees to the winning party or legal fees charged by the lawyer but a compensatory award to defray the legal costs of the winning party, he said.

Mr Christopher Anand Daniel, representing the Law Society, said that just because a claim for costs is brought down by the court, is not enough to constitute misconduct.

In 2013, Dr Lim was ordered to pay legal costs to the SMC after she mounted an unsuccessful court battle to stop disciplinary proceedings against her over the $24 million she had billed a patient in 2007 for seven months of treatment. She was suspended for three years and fined $10,000 on 94 charges of overcharging the sister of the Queen of Brunei, who died of cancer in 2007.

WongPartnership then put up three bills detailing the fees of Senior Counsel Alvin Yeo and Ms Melanie Ho, claiming about $1 million.

The bill was brought down to $340,000 by an assistant registar, and finally adjusted to $370,000 by High Court judge Woo Bih Li.

In January last year, Mr Sharma, who funded Dr Lim's legal expenses, complained to the Law Society against Mr Yeo and Ms Ho for claiming "exorbitant" fees which amounted to "grossly improper conduct".

A two-member review committee, which acts as a sieve to decide if the matter should be referred for inquiry, dismissed his complaints, except for one against Ms Ho.

Mr Sharma then applied for judicial review, asking the High Court to quash the decision and to order a fresh review of his complaints.

The AG says he has no legal standing to complain to the society or to seek judicial review; the society says that while he has the standing, a review committee's decision is not subject to judicial review.

Yesterday, Mr Daniel also said that the society should not be named as a defendant as it did not make the decision to dismiss the complaint. The case was adjourned and will resume at a date yet to be fixed.

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

Mend your ways, CJ tells teen

Straits Times
17 Jul 2015
Danson Cheong

An appeal by prosecutors to increase the sentence of a teenager who beat up two foreign workers was dismissed yesterday by Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon.

In April, Daryl Lim Jun Liang, 18, was given a 10-day short detention order for causing hurt.

Lim and three others assaulted two foreign construction workers - an Indian and a Chinese - in Yishun last year. They had prowled the estate looking for smaller-sized foreign workers to pick on.

Lim was ordered to report to a supervision officer every day for a year, remain indoors from 10pm to 6am for a year, and perform 150 hours of community service.

The other teenagers are Tan Jun Liang, 18, and two 15-year-olds who cannot be named because of a gag order. Tan's case is pending, while the two others have been given 18 months' probation. Lim had earlier pleaded guilty to one charge of voluntarily causing hurt.

Yesterday, Deputy Public Prosecutor Francis Ng urged the court to pass a stronger deterrent sentence and send Lim to the Reformative Training Centre, saying that the teen displayed a "penchant for fighting" and had gone into the encounter last year "prepared to fight".

After Lim was sentenced, Law Minister K. Shanmugam called his actions "completely unacceptable".

"It's sickening conduct," he said.

Yesterday, Lim's lawyer Luke Lee noted that his client has been assessed to have a low risk of re-offending and is due to be called up for national service next month.

CJ Menon took those factors into consideration and noted that it was not Lim but his accomplices who repeatedly punched the construction workers in the face.

CJ Menon said the detention order was a "short, sharp shock", and ordered Lim's parents to pay a bond of $10,000 to ensure their son's good behaviour.

He told Lim: "The court is taking a chance that you can yet mend your ways and grow up to be a responsible citizen."

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

Fugitive property agent jailed for cheating

Straits Times
10 Jul 2015
Elena Chong

He cheated one woman of $90k and sold off Mercedes-Benz car belonging to another

A property agent was on the run for almost two years after he cheated a Chinese national of $90,000, and misappropriated a car worth $230,000 belonging to another. Yesterday, Lau Wing Kuan, 40, was jailed for 38 months.

He had pleaded guilty to deceiving Madam Wang Chunling, 60, a Chinese national, into believing that a shophouse in South Bridge Road was for sale and inducing her to give him a cheque for $90,000 on July 12 , 2012.

He had also admitted to misappropriating the Mercedes-Benz coupe of Ms Huang Luyang, and forging the 27-year-old Singapore permanent resident's signature on a cheque for $270,000.

The court heard that in July 2012, Madam Wang issued Lau a cheque for $40,000, as the 1 per cent option money, to buy a property.

A few days later, he persuaded her to forfeit the $40,000 and to buy another property in South Bridge Road instead, even though he knew it was not for sale.

On July 12 that year, Madam Wang agreed and issued another cheque for $90,000, being the 2 per cent option money, to buy the South Bridge Road property.

She signed the cheque and handed it to Lau, who filled in the remaining details. The cheque was made out to Ms Huang.

Separately, some time in June that year, before leaving for China to work, Ms Huang entrusted her Mercedes-Benz coupe to Lau.

He was supposed to send the car for servicing and return the car keys to her friend after that.

When Ms Huang returned to Singapore a few months later, she found out that the car had been sold and was no longer registered under her name. She made a police report after failing to contact Lau.

Investigations showed that Lau had sold the car to a second-hand dealer for $186,000.

He had earlier couriered a Land Transport Authority authorisation form, among other documents, to Ms Huang in China to sign.

To get his hands on the sale proceeds, he opened a bank account in Ms Huang's name by forging her signature on the application form. He then banked in the money from the sale of the car as well as the $90,000 cheque from Madam Wang.

Later, he used the cheque book and forged Ms Huang's signature on a cheque for $270,000, issued it to himself and encashed it.

He used $83,000 to pay off personal debts before fleeing to Malaysia with the remaining money.

Lau's lawyer Louis Joseph said his client had cooperated with the authorities upon surrendering himself. He has two young children, one of whom is severely autistic and is a danger not only to others but also himself .

Lau could have been jailed for up to 10 years and fined for cheating; and jailed for up to seven years and fined for criminal breach of trust.


Background Storey

Lau's lawyer Louis Joseph said his client had cooperated with the authorities upon surrendering himself.

He has two young children, one of whom is severely autistic and is a danger not only to others but also himself.

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

Make reporting of elder abuse mandatory?

Straits Times
25 Jul 2015
Tan Chong Huat

Earlier this week, a video of an alleged assault of an elderly woman outside her own home attracted intense public interest and prompted immediate action by the authorities.

Regrettably, it appeared that several neighbours had witnessed a sustained pattern of previous assaults on the elderly woman but no one took action until one of them decided to film a video of the incident and posted it on Facebook.

This incident highlights the issue of whether the law provides sufficient redress for victims of elder abuse. If not, can and should more be done?

Elder abuse can take many forms, not all of which is addressed by the law. The criminal law offers some protection to victims of elder abuse. For instance, certain acts of physical or financial abuse may be offences under the Penal Code. In this incident, the police classified the case as voluntarily causing hurt, which is a criminal offence under the Penal Code.

Psychological abuse may also be caught under the Protection from Harassment Act.

For these forms of elder abuse, victims are likely to have recourse to civil remedies as well. But beyond such harm, the present law does not address more subtle forms of elder abuse such as abandonment or neglect.

The proposed Vulnerable Adults Act, which is expected to be tabled in Parliament later this year, will go some way to fill the lacuna. Although details of this new law are still sketchy, it will address less tangible forms of elder abuse, such as self-neglect cases where the elderly are unable to care for themselves.

One difficult issue, though, is whether the Vulnerable Adults Act should impose mandatory elder abuse reporting. Such mandatory reporting laws are prevalent in America, but different approaches have been taken as to who is required to report, which types of elder abuse must be reported and the sanctions for failing to report. The challenge in drawing up such laws is in deciding where to strike the right balance between protection from abuse and intrusion into personal affairs.

As this incident illustrates, a broad reporting law that imposes an obligation on anyone who has reasonable grounds to believe that an elderly person has been neglected or abused may help to address the issue of under-reporting of suspected elder abuse cases.

However, such a law may be difficult to implement. For example, it is not always easy for an outsider to determine when elder abuse occurs.

In most cases, clear physical abuse of an elderly person would be supported by medical evidence. But in cases of psychological or financial abuse, an outsider would need to be fairly involved in the elderly person's affairs in order to have a reasonable basis to believe that such abuse had occurred.

Attaching sanctions for non- reporting will therefore be onerous if the reporting law covers all forms of elder abuse.

Moreover, the force of law may not necessarily lead to more reports of elder abuse. Neighbours witnessing elder abuse may leave it to one another to take the first step to make the report, a phenomenon popularly known as the bystander effect. The cultural deference towards non- interference in other people's family affairs is also difficult to overcome.

If a wide mandatory reporting law is socially desirable, it should be tailored to specific types of elder abuse which outsiders can reasonably detect. Such a law should also be accompanied by stepping up public education on elder abuse.

Alternatively, a more realistic starting point may be to impose, as in Wisconsin in the United States, mandatory reporting obligations on healthcare and other professionals who come into contact with the elderly in the course of their work.

Although the jury is still out on the effectiveness of mandatory reporting laws, Singapore should begin a serious discussion on this issue which affects us all.

The writer is managing partner, RHTLaw TaylorWessing LLP


Background Story

A more realistic starting point may be to impose, as in Wisconsin in the United States, mandatory reporting obligations on healthcare and other professionals who come into contact with the elderly in the course of their work.

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

Woman gets 12 1/2 years for killing 'best friend'

Straits Times
17 Jul 2015
Selina Lum

Derivatives dealer strangled housemate but claimed victim had asked for help to die

They were best friends who lived together and were even lesbian lovers for a time. But one has now been sentenced to 12 1/2 years in jail for killing the other in bizarre circumstances, then dumping her body in Clementi Woods.

By the time 36-year-old Celine Ng Swee Peng was found in July 2011, 40 days after she was choked to death, all that was left were her skeletal remains. An autopsy could not determine how she died.

Yesterday, 40-year-old derivatives dealer Ang Soo Hoon sobbed in court as she admitted to strangling her friend of 16 years. She uttered "thank you, Your Honour" after she was sentenced.

She claimed that on the night of the killing, it was Ms Ng who had asked her to "help her die". She tried to smother Ms Ng, but when that failed, the victim got angry and called her friend "useless".

Angered by the insult, Ang put her in a chokehold, only letting go when Ms Ng, a property agent, was no longer breathing.

She took Ms Ng's own money to buy a wheelchair, which she used to sneak the body out from the West Coast condominium they lived in. She drove around Singapore with the corpse in the back seat to look for a dumping site.

Then she lied to Ms Ng's family that her friend had gone abroad suddenly, keeping up the pretence by even lodging a missing person's report with the police.

Ang yesterday pleaded guilty to culpable homicide, misappropriating $1,000 from Ms Ng and giving a false account of her "disappearance" to the police.

Deputy Public Prosecutor (DPP) David Khoo highlighted to the court that the circumstances of the killing were based solely on Ang's account. He pointed out that Ms Ng did not show any suicidal tendencies. Instead, she was jovial, bought the condo eight months before, and had celebrated her birthday just before her death.

When asked why the decision was made to reduce the initial charge of murder to one of culpable homicide, the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) told The Straits Times it did so only after carefully considering the facts of the case.

"As highlighted by the DPP in court, the accused confessed to the killing only 1� months later after the skeletal remains of the deceased were discovered. Because of the long delay in the accused's crime being brought to light, whatever objective evidence which could have shed light on the case was no longer available by the time she confessed," said an AGC spokesman. "The DPP had urged the court to view this as an aggravating factor in sentencing the accused."

The two women had been close friends since 1995, when they were at Ngee Ann Polytechnic together.

They had a brief intimate relationship in 2010, when they shared a place in Balestier Road, and continued to live together when Ms Ng got her new place.

On the night of May 25, 2011, they celebrated Ms Ng's birthday with three other friends at a bar in Fullerton Bay Hotel, before returning to the victim's apartment for more drinks. After the friends left at 4am, Ms Ng tried calling a former girlfriend, according to Ang. She became agitated when she did not get a reply - despite the relationship having ended two years before.

Ang told Ms Ng that her former girlfriend was seeing someone else. That was when Ms Ng asked Ang to help her die, according to Ang.

Ms Ng asked to be smothered with a pillow, which Ang did half-heartedly. Ms Ng pushed the pillow away and called her "useless". Ang said she became furious and held Ms Ng's neck in an armlock. Ms Ng struggled but by the time Ang let go, Ms Ng was dead.

Later that morning, Ang even met Ms Ng's mother to collect mee sua noodles and a red packet meant to mark her daughter's birthday.

Later, Ang threw away Ms Ng's passport and an overnight bag. After disposing of the body, Ang also joined Ms Ng's mother and brother to make a police report.

On July 5, Ms Ng's body was found. Six days later, Ang was arrested and confessed.

As part of her mitigation, defence lawyer Sunil Sudheesan urged the court for a sentence of around 10 years in jail, and said Ang misses her friend dearly. Citing testimonials from her colleagues and friends, including her partner, he also said Ang's actions were a significant departure from her usual "non-violent and meek" character.


How she disposed of the body

After choking her friend Celine Ng Swee Peng to death in the apartment they shared, Ang Soo Hoon, also known as Ash, decided to dispose of the body. The problem was how.

Her initial plan was to use a trolley in Ms Ng's car but she realised the body would be visible to others. She tried to stuff Ms Ng into a box but could not fit the legs in and the cardboard tore.

Ang then stole $1,000 from Ms Ng and, not wanting the purchase to be traced back to her, used it to buy a wheelchair from the National University Hospital.

On the night of May 26, 2011, Ang put Ms Ng's body on the wheelchair, even putting on a pair of shoes on the body. In the early hours of the next day, Ang pushed Ms Ng's body to the car.

She propped her up on the back seat and used a jacket to cover her face.

With the corpse in the back seat, she drove across Singapore - from the West Coast area to the East Coast area, Changi and Sentosa - taking small breaks in between.

It was past midnight on May 28 when she decided to dump the body at a bushy area along Clementi Road (below). She stopped the car at a bus stop, used the trolley to move the body, then dragged the body down a slope near a wall of plants. She then covered Ms Ng's body, which had only underwear on, with leaves.

After hiding the body, she picked up and threw away items that fell off Ms Ng's body along the way. She then slept in the car before driving back to the apartment to wash up.

Later that day, Ang left the wheelchair at an eldercare home in Balestier.

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Two law firms merge to boost capabilities

Business Times
09 Jul 2015
Claire Huang

New firm to retain name of one of the merging entities - Quahe Woo & Palmer

[Singapore] TWO local boutique law firms have entered into a marriage that is rather uncommon at a time when the legal scene is more accustomed to seeing mergers between international firms and local outfits, in order to beef up capabilities in a competitive market.

The merger between Quahe Woo & Palmer and Wee, Ramayah & Partners was official as at July 1.

The new firm will retain the name of Quahe Woo & Palmer and be located at the existing Clemenceau Avenue office.

In an exclusive interview with The Business Times, director Laurence Wee said a team will remain at the Wee, Ramayah & Partners office for a month to smoothen the transition. "There is ongoing work and there's a lot of consolidation so with the team there, the transition period is well-managed for the clients."

Mr Wee, the son of Singapore's late first chief justice Wee Chong Jin, said merger discussions between the two firms began more than a year ago.

At that time, his long-time friend, Laurence Quahe, was looking to build a full services firm and found Wee, Ramayah & Partners to be the right fit.

With the alliance, the firm now offers services with senior lawyers in areas including conveyancing, shipping, aviation, banking and finance and arbitration.

Even before this merger, industry players said Quahe Woo & Palmer was on the aggressive as it sought to expand. In May, it added known duo - criminal lawyers Sunil Sudheesan and Diana Ngiam - to the team.

"Now we are better placed to compete in a challenging environment and also stronger because we have many pillars to rely on. If you're centred on one, your foundation can be easily cracked. It's dangerous to have the "all your eggs in one basket" approach," Mr Wee said, adding that the merger would help to drive continuity and attract fresh talent.

"From my perspective, working as a boutique firm was perceived as a family firm because it has been the same people for the past 31 years - again, rare, in the legal profession because people come and go quickly. The ability to attract second generation was not there because lawyers saw it as a family firm and so they thought it can't go far."

Asked why he chose to partner up with a local firm, Mr Wee pointed out that firms that have tied up with foreign firms "have not benefited from the move".

Besides, his focus has always been local so there is "absolutely no reason" to venture into some other person's homeground to compete, said Mr Wee, a firm believer of building strong foundations.

By strengthening the firm's foundation, it must then increase capacity and work will follow, he said.

huangjy@sph.com.sg

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Local firm to pay S$35,000 for selling imitation LV wallets

TODAY
24 Jul 2015
Siau Ming En

Cuffz flagrantly dealt in counterfeit goods, blatantly disregarded Louis Vuitton’s IP rights, says Assistant Registrar

SINGAPORE — A Singapore company hauled to court by Louis Vuitton Malletier for selling imitations of the luxury house’s wallets has been ordered to pay S$35,000 in statutory damages by the High Court.

In the written judgment released yesterday (July 23), Assistant Registrar Edwin San said the company, which operated a retail shop in Raffles City Shopping Centre, was a commercial competitor that “flagrantly dealt in counterfeit goods” bearing Louis Vuitton’s Epi trademark, and “demonstrated a contumelious disregard” of Louis Vuitton’s intellectual property rights and the legal process.

The shop, called Cuffz, sells fashion accessories, and among its offerings were wallets that resembled those of Louis Vuitton’s Epi range, which is identifiable by textured surfaces resembling ridges and valleys. These ridges and valleys, which are applied to the surfaces of products in the Epi range, have an “immediately recognisable two-tone effect”, and characterise the Epi Mark, a trademark registered by Louis Vuitton Malletier.

In October last year, the High Court had ruled that the defendant had infringed the Epi Mark under the Trade Marks Act. A private investigator engaged by Louis Vuitton Malletier had visited Cuffz in January last year and purchased a vertical bi-fold wallet similar to a Epi line wallet for S$75.90. A subsequent raid by the Criminal Investigation Department saw another two similar wallets seized.

The lawyer acting for Louis Vuitton Malletier, Mr Anthony Soh, had asked for the maximum S$100,000 permissable in statutory damages, noting that the defendant had been “evasive and uncooperative” throughout the proceedings. Statutory damages can be awarded when it is difficult to prove actual losses. Although only three infringing items were seized, Mr Soh also submitted that the defendant could have sold at least 100 units of the infringing items, and stocked another 100 to 250 units.

These figures were dismissed by Mr San as “too speculative”, as no evidence had been submitted to support the inference. What was “aggravating”, said Mr San, was that the defendant appeared to have its own distinctive logo — two small symmetrical diamond shapes under the words “Cuffz” — which was found on the seized wallets. As such, the company was not merely a seller or distributor of the infringing goods but also a manufacturer, and the infringement was clearly calculated to enable it to gain prestige through association with the Epi Mark, Mr San noted.

Mr Soh had also argued for the court to calculate damages based on the royalties the defendant would have paid Louis Vuitton under a hypothetical licence model, but Mr San said there was little basis for this. For one, Louis Vuitton Malletier has never granted such a licence.

Nonetheless, Mr San said there can be “no dispute to the general proposition that the sale of counterfeit goods brings damage to the reputation and goodwill attaching to the brand name trademarks”.

According to a report from the World Trademark Review submitted by the plaintiff, Louis Vuitton was the sixth most counterfeited brand and the most counterfeited luxury brand in 2013. Specific to the Epi Mark, there were eight and 12 instances of infringement in Singapore in 2013 and 2014, and enforcement action has also been taken in Taiwan and Hong Kong.

The need for deterrence is “highly imperative given the evidence of infringement of the Epi Mark in various jurisdictions”, Mr San said. He also took into account the defendant’s “evasive and uncooperative conduct”, which had meant the full extent of the infringement could not be discovered.

Copyright 2015 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

Louis Vuitton Malletier v Cuffz (Singapore) Pte Ltd [2015] SGHCR 15

Uber pricing: LTA replies - Forum

Straits Times
17 Jul 2015

We refer to the report on Uber's surge pricing during July 7's disruption on the North-South and East-West MRT lines ("MRT disruption puts strain on buses, taxis"; July 8).

The Land Transport Authority has followed up with Uber and confirmed that surge pricing was used only for its chauffeured vehicle booking services (Uber Executive and uberX), and not its taxi booking service (uberTaxi).

Under the Third-Party Taxi Booking Service Providers Act, which is expected to come into effect soon after being passed in Parliament in May, taxi-booking fees charged by service providers cannot exceed those charged by taxi companies. Third-party taxi service providers which do not comply with the regulatory framework are liable to penalties of up to $100,000 per contravention.

The existing third-party taxi booking service providers are already complying with this requirement, even ahead of the regulations coming into effect.

In addition, the service standards of taxi drivers are regulated via the Taxi Driver's Vocational Licence (TDVL) framework, and these apply regardless of whether the taxi is hailed on the street or booked through a taxi company or a third-party taxi booking service.

The TDVL framework provides for sanctions for overcharging, as well as other inappropriate behaviour, such as verbally insulting, intimidating or harassing a commuter.

Chauffeured vehicle services can only be pre-booked. Commuters should find out the fares and conditions that they will be subjected to before they agree to accept the chauffeured service.

With a range of service providers offering different booking and fare options, commuters can choose what they are comfortable with.

Helen Lim (Ms)
Director, Media Relations Land Transport Authority

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Bungalow victory for British housewife

Straits Times
09 Jul 2015
K.C. Vijayan

London court finds that her mother-in-law had lied about not creating trust for property

An "extraordinary" legal dispute between a British housewife and the widow of a banking tycoon, that has been going on for 24 years in courts both in Singapore and London, has now taken a further twist.

Ms Jane Rebecca Ong, 54, has been fighting for a share in the estate of her father-in-law Ong Seng Keng - a prominent Indonesian businessman who died in a 1974 accident. She separated from his son Ong Siaw Tjoan in 1987, but lived with their three children in a North London bungalow bought by her mother-in-law, Madam Lim Lie Hoa.

In 1991, she began a series of legal battles with her mother-in-law for a share of Mr Ong senior's estate.

In 2005, Madam Lim took legal action to force the family out of their home before selling it for £3.2 million a year later.

Madam Lim died at age 74 in 2009, leaving behind a series of court orders against Ms Ong in relation to the London house.

But these orders have been set aside or stayed after a London court last month found that Madam Lim had lied to the Singapore courts in 2004 when she denied creating a trust for the house.

Ms Ong's Singapore lawyer Andrew Ho searched through 72,000 pages of documents to find that Madam Lim had signed a three-page trust deed in 1986.

Madam Lim had created it for Ms Ong's 57-year-old estranged husband and their three children, as well as another son of hers.

Ms Ong had applied to the London court to declare there was a trust. Although she is not one of the beneficiaries, she stands to profit from Mr Ong's share in the house under divorce proceedings. Her children are also entitled to a total 60 per cent share of the sale proceeds.

Madam Lim gave sworn evidence in Singapore proceedings that she did not sign the trust deed. But Justice Paul Morgan rejected defence suggestions that she made a mistake by placing the bungalow in a family trust.

He also found she understood the basics of what was involved in a trust, having run a property investment office in Singapore.

" The courts dealing with the Singapore litigation accepted her evidence that she had not signed the trust deed," Justice Morgan said in a 79-page judgment.

"However, the evidence before me shows she had signed the trust deed. I find that her evidence in Singapore in this respect was a deli-berate lie."

The declaration also means Ms Ong no longer owes Madam Lim 19 years of rent - calculated in 2007 to be £2.3 million, including interest. The judge set aside earlier related London court orders made against Ms Ong as they were based on Ma-dam Lim "knowingly repeating her untruthful evidence".

Ms Ong was also successful in a Singapore court in 1996, ordering an inquiry to determine the size of the family's estate to assess her share. She was awarded $3.2 million as a result of a 2002 inquiry by a High Court Assistant Registrar.

But her litigation continued in Singapore and London on related matters. Justice Morgan said the "extraordinary litigation history in this case" made it possible to uncover documents dating back to 1985.

Mr Ho, of Engelin Teh & Partners, found the three pages of the trust in separate files in 2010 while he was working on a related case.

Asked how he managed to do so, he said: "It's just part of the job."


Background Story

Ms Ong's Singapore lawyer searched through 72,000 pages of documents to find that Madam Lim had signed a three-page trust deed in 1986... Madam Lim had given sworn evidence in Singapore proceedings that she did not sign the trust deed.

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SGX confirms Noble granted waiver regarding board composition: Mailbag

Business Times
24 Jul 2015

I REFER to the letter from Associate Professor Mak Yuen Teen titled "SGX should identify overseas firms and risks of investing in them" (BT, July 16)

Basis for waiver

We confirm that Noble Group was granted a waiver from compliance with Listing Rule 221. In assessing compliance with the rule including whether to grant a waiver, SGX considers whether the objective of the rule has been met. Factors we consider include the board composition, whether any director is a Singapore permanent resident or citizen, how accessible the board is, and whether the company retains Singapore-based professional advisers on compliance with the listing rules.

The exchange considered Noble's case and found there was basis to grant the waiver. The waiver was granted prior to SGX's initiative to enhance transparency in 2008 by publishing all listing rule waivers granted.

Information on listed companies found online

SGX's approach to organising and structuring information data on listed companies may differ from that of foreign stock exchanges. Sources of data on these companies, including those incorporated overseas, are available as follows:

1. On SGX.com:

a. Company Announcements webpage on SGX.com:

The webpage has all disclosures by listed companies including waivers and exemptions.

b. Corporate Information webpage

This information sheet includes place of incorporation, other exchanges where the companies are listed, and background information on the operations and business of companies.

c. StockFacts online service (www.sgx.com/stockfacts)

The free service includes information on the Governance and Transparency Index scores of companies, financial and valuation data, and other quantitative information.

d. Listing Rule Waivers webpage

SGX publishes the list of these waivers and exemption quarterly on the website.

2. IPO Prospectuses:

a. Listing Rule waivers granted to listing applicants are disclosed in the IPO prospectuses or in pre-share quotation announcements.

b. Details on a wide range of issues including the risks associated with the company such as differences in the laws and regulations of its home country, rights of its shareholders, directors' powers and so on are disclosed in the prospectus.

SGX's website is a communication channel for disclosures by listed companies. SGX also provides other information online to help investors make well-informed decisions. We are nevertheless always open to ideas on how to improve and better contribute to Singapore's position as an international financial centre. We welcome inputs as we further support this position and thank Prof Mak for sharing his views.

June Sim
Head of Listing Compliance
Singapore Exchange (SGX)

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Susan Lim case back to the courts again next week

Straits Times
16 Jul 2015
Salma Khalik

Her husband is seeking permission to appeal against two earlier judgments

The drama following surgeon Susan Lim's overcharging of a Bruneian royal patient continues in the courts next week.

There will be two hearings before Justice Woo Bih Li.

The first, to be held next Monday in chambers, is about a $235,000 fee for the legal assessor in the Singapore Medical Council's (SMC) disciplinary hearing in 2012 that resulted in Dr Lim's conviction.

The second, to be held next Thursday, is about a request to the Law Society to set up an inquiry committee to hear claims of professional misconduct against SMC's counsel for overcharging in its bill, which came to about $900,000.

Dr Lim's husband, Mr Deepak Sharma, had filed a complaint last year against SMC lawyers WongPartnership, accusing them of professional misconduct for their high fees in the disciplinary hearings and court proceedings.

But the Law Society's Review Committee dismissed the charges.

In 2010, Dr Lim had faced an SMC disciplinary hearing for overcharging a royal patient from Brunei. The hearing ended without a decision but a second one in 2012 found her guilty.

There have been several High Court appeals since then, including Dr Lim's appeal to stop the second SMC hearing and, later, against the guilty verdict, and SMC's successful appeal against the low costs it was awarded.

Now, Mr Sharma is seeking permission from Justice Woo to appeal against two of his earlier judgments - in awarding the SMC higher costs; and in upholding the Review Committee's dismissal of Mr Sharma's complaint.

The first appeal refers to a judgment in May this year when Justice Woo raised the amount Dr Lim has to pay the SMC by $465,000. This brings the total she has to pay to about $825,000.

Mr Sharma is contesting one particular bill - the $235,000 for 224 hours of work at $1,050 an hour by legal assessor Vinodh Coomaraswamy, who is now a Supreme Court judge. This bill had been cut to $22,000 by High Court Assistant Registrar Jacqueline Lee, who said the work done "should not add up to more than 32 hours".

But Justice Woo had reinstated the original amount of $235,000.

In the second case, Mr Sharma claims that the SMC's lawyers, WongPartnership, had grossly overcharged for their work - and should be subject to a Law Society disciplinary hearing.

Mr Sharma argues in his submission: "The fact that a solicitor can point to a fee agreement with the client does not mean charges can be put forward without any reference to how excessive they are in absolute terms.

"The whole thrust of the judgment in Lim Mei Lee Susan v Singapore Medical Council was that client agreement is no answer to what is a free-standing ethical obligation owed in the public interest."

Dr Lim had billed her Bruneian royal client $26 million for professional care and other expenses such as airlifting her back to Brunei. No payment has yet been made.

In their 2013 judgment upholding the SMC's verdict, the three-judge court said there must be an "ethical obligation on the part of a professional, over and above contractual and market forces, to charge his or her client only a fair and reasonable fee for services rendered".

But the Attorney-General's submission points out that the claims for legal costs were made by the SMC and not by the lawyers, adding that in "the absence of other impropriety (example, dishonesty)", there is nothing unprofessional in a lawyer making "a grossly excessive claim for his client".


AGC, Law Society differ on two points

Both the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) and the Law Society dispute the grounds for a judicial review asked for by Mr Deepak Sharma, Dr Susan Lim's husband.

There are two points, however, on which they disagree and these have been highlighted in Mr Sharma's reply to their written submissions.

The first is a disagreement on whether the decision by the Law Society's Review Committee is subject to judicial review.

The AGC said yes, and the Law Society said no.

The other point of disagreement is whether Mr Sharma can make such a complaint as he is not involved in the case.

This time, the Law Society

said he can, but the AGC said he lacks sufficient interest or standing in the matter.

salma@sph.com.sg

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Shareholders should stay on their toes

Business Times
09 Jul 2015
Melissa Tan

Investors should not hesitate to take firms to task to achieve better corporate governance

RETIREMENT might typically be a time to kick back and relax but corporate veteran JY Pillay has kept on his feet - quite literally. The 81-year-old founding chairman of Singapore Airlines does his work standing up in his office at the National University of Singapore where he is an adjunct professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.

He is also still a keen champion of good corporate governance in Singapore, where he says there is still some work to be done. Issues that have yet to be fully resolved, for instance, include fee disclosure and independence of directors.

"There are certain elements of the Corporate Governance Code that keep popping up such as disclosure of remuneration of directors and of senior executives on a named basis," he says in an interview at his office.

"Another issue is the independence of directors who are connected to major shareholders. It was an issue that cropped up when I was in the CCDG (Council on Corporate Disclosure and Governance) and may still be there today."

Mr Pillay, who was appointed chairman of the council in 2002, also points out that there seems to be an "increasing disparity in income" for chief executives of listed companies. "The big numbers hit the headlines, but not all CEOs receive that sort of compensation. Most CEOs have extremely challenging tasks. Some CEOs command very large sums presumably because their organisations are thriving and can afford to reward the top execs well. As well, these corporations say they have to keep up with the market for talent."

He certainly knows what he is talking about. Apart from having been chairman of SIA, he also chaired Temasek Holdings, DBS, Singapore Technologies, the Singapore Exchange and Tiger Airways.

The main way to get companies to improve their corporate governance is through shareholder vigilance and education, he says. "Shareholders must be alive to their responsibilities. They need to be aware and active in holding the companies to account. Shareholders should make a noise, especially institutional shareholders who have bigger clout. The final authority in a company is the shareholder. In the US, shareholders are acquiring more power. Singapore is not there yet but it may come in time."

Shareholder education and a growing recognition of the importance of diversity can help in areas such as improving board gender ratios, he adds.

"A key issue here is whether there should be some mandatory gender quota. My sense is that it's not necessarily the most productive of way of proceeding. Once you legislate gender diversity, then you open Pandora's box. The best way is shareholder education - we can only proceed as fast as society moves."

One thing to be optimistic about is that while Singapore may be lagging behind its regional peers in terms of boardroom gender diversity - "it's probably crusty old curmudgeons like me finding it difficult to change", he jokes - Mr Pillay also points out that among newer companies the ratio of female directors tends to be higher, adding that he hopes that good governance will be "respected more diligently in all segments of society" in 10 years' time. "It's a whole ecosystem that governs the behaviour of corporate bigwigs. It must be in our culture, in our DNA.� The corporate sector is only one part of society. Society as a whole has to evolve. It should be a cultural evolution, not a traumatic displacement."

Mr Pillay won the Distinguished Contribution to Corporate Governance award at the Singapore Corporate Awards 2015.

Willie Cheng, chairman of the Singapore Institute of Directors, said in a statement: "Among the many award judging panels I have been on, this was�the easiest. Mr Pillay's contribution and record stood head and shoulders above all others so much so�that it was clear to all of us that we should give the award to him and him only even though we have flexibility to have multiple recipients for the award."

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MAS proposes tighter FI marketing controls

Business Times
24 Jul 2015
Ven Sreenivasan

Feedback sought on enhanced rules to cover sale of financial products at public places and via retailers

[Singapore] THE Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) on Thursday launched a consultation paper outlining proposals to enhance safeguards and controls for the sale of financial products by financial institutions (FIs) at public places and via third-party retailers.

Under the enhanced rules, MAS will require all FIs to notify it of their marketing and distribution activities at retailers and public places. This is to allow MAS to monitor the extent of such activities and tailor its supervisory approach accordingly.

MAS noted that FIs have various distribution arrangements to market their financial products and services, and these include sales at shopping mall atriums, bus interchanges or MRT stations. FIs are also increasing tying up with retailers, such as those selling consumer goods and groceries. MAS said it is seeking proposals to address the risks of consumers buying financial products that may be unsuitable via these channels.

The proposals touch on issues such as impulse purchases by seemingly harassed customers, creating confusion between the role of FI and retailer, enticement to purchase unsuitable products, unconducive environment, and mishandling of cash and cheques.

MAS said it expects FIs to ensure proper controls in their marketing and distribution arrangements at retailers and public places.

Proposed controls and safeguards include FIs conducting callbacks to all customers prospected at these places during a cooling-off period; conducting regular mystery site visits to these channels to ensure standards are maintained; tracking complaints; and maintaining a register of all retailing arrangements. Proposals also touch on the code of conduct of FIs and their sales representatives, collection of funds, and co-brandings which may create confusion.

FIs will also be required to notify MAS and submit information on their marketing and distribution arrangements at retailers and public places on a regular basis.

Noting that most FIs already have many controls in place for their marketing and distribution activities at retailers and public places, and that there are existing regulations covering the marketing and sale of these products, MAS nevertheless feels that the proposed new guidelines will complement these existing rules and practices. They would also ensure consistency and alignment of standards across the financial industry.

Lee Boon Ngiap, assistant MD (capital markets) at MAS, said the authority recognises the importance of marketing and distribution activities of retailers and public places in the business models of FIs.

"These proposals seek to strike a balance between allowing FIs flexibility with their marketing and distribution activities, while safeguarding consumer interest when they purchase products at retailers and public places," he said.

MAS invites interested parties to submit their comments to MnDconsult@mas.gov.sg by Aug 24.

ven@sph.com.sg

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China Sky replacing auditor; cites difficult working relationship

Business Times
16 Jul 2015
Cai Haoxiang

SGX reminds firm to act in interest of shareholders and to speed up trading resumption

[Singapore] CHINA Sky Chemical Fibre is replacing its auditor Baker Tilly TFW LLP, with the company saying that the change is due to a difficult working relationship and a proposed increase in audit fees.

Baker Tilly has resigned on July 8, China Sky said in a late night announcement on Tuesday. It added that the resignation will take effect when the appointment of a new auditor that it has identified is approved by shareholders. China Sky said it has taken measures to address shareholders' concerns that the change of auditors will affect the process of share trading resumption.

Executive director Song Jiansheng said that the management has completed 90 per cent of work on various outstanding accounting matters. These include confirming bank balances and verifying invoices, both of which are partly completed.

China Sky also needs to review and verify accounts receivables and payables and advances to suppliers. Both are one-quarter completed, unchanged from three months ago. There is also the issue of negotiating government compensation for a pending relocation of its Qingdao factory.

Meanwhile, China Sky's board has identified and approached RT LLP to be the new auditors, Mr Song said.

"A circular to shareholders together with a notice of the extraordinary general meeting will be despatched in due course," he said. He added that the board undertakes that it can complete the audit for financial statements for the period ended Dec 31, 2014. He said the board is also committed to holding its annual general meeting to seek approval for 2014 accounts by Aug 31, 2015, the deadline granted by SGX to do so.

Meanwhile, the application to resume trading will be made after the outstanding matters on cash, receivables and payables, supplier advances and Qingdao land status has been resolved.

David Gerald, president and CEO of investor lobby group Securities Investors Association of Singapore (SIAS), told The Business Times that China Sky's auditor change is a common occurrence in listed companies if they cannot work together amicably. "But shareholders are disappointed that this saga has gone on ad infinitum ... what shareholders want is value back, they want the stock to resume trading," he said.

An SGX spokeman said on Wednesday: "SGX has been in discussions with China Sky on its latest developments and has reminded the board of directors to act in the interest of shareholders and take all necessary steps to work expeditiously towards a trading resumption."

China Sky's share suspension dates back to a spat with Singapore Exchange (SGX) at the end of 2011.

Shares were suspended in November 2011 after the company got an SGX directive in November 2011 to appoint a special auditor to probe its financial dealings. China Sky had refused to comply with the directive and SGX, in turn, refused to lift the company's share trading suspension.

Special auditor Stone Forest, meanwhile, was appointed in 2012 and completed its report in 2013. Meanwhile, Baker Tilly was appointed in September 2013.

Hope that China Sky would be able to work towards a trading resumption came earlier this year when the company's former chief executive Huang Zhong Xuan admitted to breaking capital markets laws under the Securities and Futures Act (SFA) and agreed to pay a "civil penalty". He also offered to surrender 10 per cent of his stake in China Sky, the Monetary Authority of Singapore and the Commercial Affairs Department said then.

haoxiang@sph.com.sg

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Online gambling exemptions a bad bet: Forum

Straits Times
09 Jul 2015

I read with regret that local lottery operators Singapore Pools and the Singapore Turf Club have applied to be exempted from laws that curb online betting, and that Singapore Pools has hired a British online gambling software developer to develop a sports betting website ("Legal online betting could kick off next June"; yesterday).

Gambling addiction and Internet addiction are two common addictions that each present a set of social problems. To allow legal online betting is to encourage the conflation of these two addictions, potentially resulting in new social problems on an aggravated scale.

Punters now have to make trips to a betting outlet or to a casino if they wish to gamble, expending time, energy, and even money for entry fees in the process. These efforts serve as little barriers in deterring punters from gambling.

Allowing an avenue for these punters, many of whom are Internet users, to gamble in the comfort of their homes, is to facilitate gambling at an unprecedented level.

The ease of payment by prepaid credit, charged to one's credit card, facilitates the purchase of gambling credits without too much thought, since "real" money does not change hands as would be the case in a betting outlet or at the casino.

The Government has said that exempted betting operators would need to be "not for profit" and would have to put in place "robust social safeguards". But this is cold comfort for many who would rather see a blanket ban on online gambling than a slew of "safeguards" whose effectiveness is largely unproven.

I urge the Government, in the interest of protecting society and families, and in preserving the strong work ethic in Singapore, not to grant an exception to any betting operator under the Remote Gambling Act.

Trent Ng Yong En

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Dispute over value of F&N's stake in brewery set to go on

Straits Times
24 Jul 2015

A lengthy dispute between the two stakeholders in Myanmar Brewery (MBL) is set to go on even longer, with the parties in conflict over the amount to be paid for Fraser & Neave (F&N)'s stake in the firm.

An independent valuer had said on Tuesday that the fair value of F&N's holding is estimated to be 500 billion kyat (S$586 million). The valuer's report was welcomed by the other stakeholder, Myanma Economic Holdings (MEHL).

But MEHL said yesterday that it disagrees with F&N's position that the sale should take place in United States dollars according to the 2013 exchange rate.

F&N estimates this to be US$560 million (S$765 million).

"MEHL stands ready and willing to conclude the sale and purchase of F&N's stake in MBL at 500 billion kyat within the 30-day period ordered by the arbitral tribunal," MEHL director Nay Wynn said.

MEHL had started legal proceedings against F&N after Thai tycoon Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi won control of the drinks-and-property conglomerate in a US$11 billion deal in 2013.

A court ruled that MEHL, which holds a 45 per cent stake in MBL, is entitled to buy F&N's 55 per cent share, after MEHL argued that its partner breached obligations under the joint-venture agreement.

An arbitral tribunal was appointed to settle the dispute after F&N rejected MEHL's offer of US$246 million for the stake.

The tribunal concluded that MEHL's offer was not fair and ordered that the sale take place at a fair value to be determined by an independent valuer agreed to by both sides.

Mr Huang Hong Peng, chief executive of F&N's beer division, said the independent valuation represented a significant premium to MEHL's original offer and "validates our assessment of the strategic attractiveness" of Myanmar Brewery.

Mr Huang cited the firm's "leading position in the Myanmar beer market, the strength of its iconic Myanmar Beer brand and distribution network, and its ability to capitalise on future growth potential".

While the latest valuation of 500 billion kyat differs from the one carried out in 2013, MEHL noted that the 2013 valuation was undertaken by a third party in accordance with the provisions in the joint-venture agreement and was also affirmed by an independent international accounting firm.

Losing the Myanmar Brewery stake would deprive F&N of a significant growth driver and its only alcohol product as it sold its stake in Tiger Beer-maker Asia Pacific Breweries in 2012.


READY TO DEAL

MEHL stands ready and willing to conclude the sale and purchase of F&N's stake in MBL at 500 billion kyat within the 30-day period ordered by the arbitral tribunal.

MEHL DIRECTOR NAY WYNN

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