14 October 2015
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Is Singapore ready for dual-class shares?

Business Times
14 Oct 2015
Stefanie Yuen Thio

In the light of the Hong Kong bourse's recent decision, the Republic should grab the opportunity to take the plunge and forge ahead

ON OCT 6, Britain's Financial Times (FT) reported that the Hong Kong Stock Exchange (HKEx) "scraps plan to woo Chinese tech groups with dual-class share rules". The Securities and Futures Commission of Hong Kong had announced that it will not support proposals to allow HKEx-listed companies to have dual-class shares.

This comes in the face of loud corporate clamouring for the listing rules to be relaxed. In September 2014, Alibaba Group launched its US$25 billion initial public offering in New York, setting a record for the biggest IPO in global corporate history.

At the time, it was reported that Jack Ma had considered HKEx as a listing venue but had finally decided in favour of the US partly because the Fragrant Harbour did not like the smell of dual-class structures.


Singapore, too, does not welcome companies with dual-class shares. Like Hong Kong, we have lost out on some high-profile listings as a result of this - notably the much vaunted proposed IPO of Manchester United (which also took its listing to the US).

Our authorities have similarly been doing some regulatory soul-searching on whether they should relax the restrictive policy against dual-class shares.

Now that our arch rival financial centre has closed the door on dual-class shares, will the Singapore authorities heave a sigh of relief that they won't have to make such a difficult decision?

Or will they see this as a unique opportunity to pull ahead of Hong Kong, and become the pre-eminent listing destination in Asia?

I believe the latter would be the smarter move. But, first, let's discuss what the fuss is about.

Dual-class shares are shares which have different or weighted voting rights. Instead of carrying one vote per share, certain share classes carry more voting rights, or the right to make certain strategic management decisions. Facebook and Groupon Inc, for example, have two classes of shares, one of which carries many more votes than the other, while Google has three classes (see table).

These special shares are generally held by founding shareholders, directors and key employees, giving them more control over decisions of the company. Similarly, while not strictly a dual-class structure, some companies reserve key decision-making powers for a certain group. In Alibaba's case, a partnership (which includes Jack Ma) that owns 14 per cent of the listed company's stock has the right to nominate a majority of the board members (see table).

The main argument against such structures is that entrenching rights in the hands of management or a select number of shareholders, over and above their economic interest (that is, their shareholding percentage) in the company, is bad governance. Modern companies are meant to be run as corporate democracies, with one-share-one-vote chiselled into their foundations. Regulators are right to place shareholder protection above profits.

However, markets must also evolve with the businesses they cater to. If dual- class structures are necessary because of the peculiar characteristics of certain industries, then we need to strike a good balance between corporate governance and commercial necessity, or risk becoming irrelevant in the economy of tomorrow.

To that end, I offer a couple of initial thoughts.

First, we should relax the rules only where there are compelling business reasons. In most of the examples cited above, the companies concerned are in technology. Such businesses have a different DNA from traditional brick-and- mortar companies. They are valued using different metrics - revenue rather than profits; subscriber reach rather than customer base. Their cutting-edge technologies also mean larger risks and rewards, and correspondingly higher valuations. It was for such reasons that the astronomical price tags for WhatsApp and Instagram were accepted by the market. This sector is also very dependent on key personnel - Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg are all seen as instrumental to the success of Apple, Microsoft and Facebook. Management structures which enable key executives to drive the direction of the business may be necessary for the company's growth strategy.


Second, Singapore regulators do not need to adopt the US model of dual-class structures wholesale. Any liberalisation of the regulatory framework should be a calibrated one. For starters, limit these share structures to super-sized listings. Large IPOs will attract institutional investors and savvy fund managers who are better equipped than retail buyers to evaluate the company's business and management. Also, consider building in "gates". Make the dual-class structure subject to renewal by a shareholder vote after, say, the first five years post-IPO. This will force the management team to prove the worth of the structure to the business and prospects of the company, and obtain a fresh mandate periodically.

The Hong Kong bourse had a stellar start to 2015. The establishment of Shanghai-Hong Kong Stock Connect allowed investors in the People's Republic of China to invest directly in Hong Kong-listed stocks, introducing a tidal wave of cash into the Hong Kong market. But more liquidity has also made HKEx a more volatile market. Slowing economic growth in the PRC has led to drastic losses on the exchange, with the index shedding almost 30 per cent since its seven-year high in May.

Although, by contrast, Singapore's stock exchange has been more stable, the Straits Times Index (STI) has still lost 23 per cent in the past 12 months. More worrying is the moribund state of the new listings market, with only nine IPOs this year, and all of them smaller companies. While it can be argued that Singapore, like the rest of the world, is simply being buffeted by the headwinds of a slowing global economy, I prefer to take the opportunity that a slower market affords to strategise the next steps.

Sure, Singapore can wait it out. Eventually the market will turn, sentiment will improve and the world will spend again. Our economy, and our stock market, will rise with the tide.

But Singapore has always shone brightest when defying the odds. Whether it was in attracting foreign investors in our nascent years, to ensure the survival of our impossible nation state; or in our improbable vision to become one of the world's financial hubs, we have always charted our path best where the naysayers were loudest. In both these trailblazing efforts, we excelled in bringing commercial solutions to market quickly, wielding a light but effective control via well-structured regulations. This is no time to shy away from doing what we do best.

The writer is joint managing director of TSMP Law Corporation

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

2 directors facing vote to oust them list concerns about KLW

Straits Times
06 Oct 2015
Jeremy Koh

Two of the independent directors facing a vote to kick them off the board of doormaker KLW Holdings have listed their concerns about the company in a statement posted on the Singapore Exchange (SGX).

Independent directors Low Hai Lee and Teo Hin Guan, along with company founder and managing director Lee Boon Teck face a vote to oust them at an extraordinary general meeting (EGM) next Monday.

The motion was proposed by shareholders Quek Chek Lan and Siew Yong Wan.

The statement from Mr Low and Mr Teo, posted on the SGX last Thursday, claims to detail the background surrounding the EGM.

The dispute appears to have begun with a May 27 announcement by KLW that Mr Lee had entered into three early-stage contracts regarding property development and hotel acquisition in Bali and China during the first half of 2014 on behalf of the firm without the board's approval. These involved Catalist-listed KLW paying commitment fees of $16.2 million, according to that May announcement.

The deals never eventuated by the July 2014 deadline so the fees were to have been refunded in full, said that announcement.

Mr Low and Mr Teo said in their statement that after consulting KLW's sponsor, SAC Capital, they appointed PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) to undertake a special audit related to the signing the contracts. This was announced on the SGX on June 26.

SAC Capital is KLW's sponsor and advises the firm to ensure it complies with Catalist rules.

PwC indicated the first draft of its report would be ready by the end of September and the final report likely late this month, Thursday's statement said.

On Aug 26, Mr Quek bought 18.1 per cent of founder Mr Lee's 18.2 per cent stake in an off-market deal, paying 0.4 cent a share, according to Thursday's statement.

The deal lifted Mr Quek's 1.2 per cent stake in the company to 19.4 per cent, according to SGX filings.

The price of 0.4 cent was more than 60 per cent below than the prevailing market price, Thursday's announcement said.

It added that Mr Lee sold the stock despite SAC Capital advising directors in June against making transactions as the information they had on the early-stage contracts may be price sensitive.

SAC Capital also advised directors to inform it and the other directors before engaging in any share transactions, the statement said.

Mr Lee did not provide prior notice of the sale of his stake or give reasons for it, according to the statement, which was also signed by the third independent director, Mr Ho Pong Chong.

On Aug 31, the board met Mr Quek, who has chaired several firms here, to get his plans for KLW as the new controlling investor, the statement said. He "did not disclose any concrete plan in relation to the management of the business operations" at that time, it added.

However, he indicated that he intended to restructure or strengthen the board and, if necessary, call a shareholders' meeting for that purpose, it said.

Mr Low and Mr Teo said they told Mr Quek at the time that they intended to step down as soon as the board had made recommendations following the final PwC audit.

On Sept 23, Mr Quek and another investor said they requested an EGM to oust three directors as the firm might suffer "irrevocable damage" if no immediate action was taken to address "recent developments".

They did not give details and said they wanted independent director Ho Pong Chong to remain to oversee "special audit investigations".

KLW has recovered only $7.2 million of the commitment fees but has recently tried to recover the rest, Thursday's statement said.

The two independent directors also said that they were concerned that Mr Quek's three nominated independent directors had worked at Teledata at various points in time between August 2004 to November 2009, the period when Mr Quek had served on its board.

Mr Quek is over 70 and so can only be appointed director in an annual general meeting and not an EGM according to the Companies Act, they said.

The Straits Times put questions to Mr Quek about issues detailed in the Oct 1 statement.

Mr Quek said he bought the shares from Mr Lee as an investment and that he was unaware Mr Lee had not provided SAC prior notice before selling.

He did not, however, respond to questions about why the shares were sold at a below-market price.

Mr Quek also said that before calling for the EGM, he had proposed that "the independent directors remain in office until the special audit was completed but that the proposed nominated directors be appointed during the interim".

However, this offer was "rejected by the company", he said.

He would also withdraw as a candidate for director at the upcoming EGM, given the age restrictions.

Mr Lee, Mr Low and Mr Teo declined to comment. Nominated directors Wong Joo Wan and Nicholas Narayanan did not respond to e-mailed questions. Nominated director Lim Jit Siew declined to comment.

KLW lost $6.3 million in the year to March 31. The stock closed flat at 0.9 cent yesterday.

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

Group may sue companies involved in fires in Indonesia

26 Sep 2015
Joy Fang & Siau Ming En

Haze Elimination Action Team searching for “an ideal plaintiff”, funding and lawyers to do the job pro bono

SINGAPORE — A group of volunteers could become the first to launch a civil suit using the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act against companies involved in starting fires in Indonesia.

The Haze Elimination Action Team (HEAT), led by Dr Ang Peng Hwa, a professor at Nanyang Technological University’s Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information, is intending to use the Act to sue errant companies, and is searching for “an ideal plaintiff”, funding and lawyers to do the job pro bono. A handful from the group — which numbers over 800 — are putting together the legal requirements to take action, said Dr Ang.

The ideal plaintiff has to be someone who has incurred a sizeable bill — perhaps a few thousand dollars — from the haze, said Dr Ang. Plaintiffs can also be companies whose business has been affected by the haze, such as taxi firms or hotels.

“Of course we hope to win, but it’s also a name-and-shame campaign,” said Dr Ang. He added that once a Singapore-based company is identified, his group can call for a boycott of its products and “go after” entities that support the companies through loans or insurance.

HEAT is looking for a lawyer with experience in corporate forensics to “trace the ownership pattern” of the fires. Identifying the company will be a long process, however, as investigators have to document fire spots now and return two to three years later to see which companies are planting there, or benefiting from the field, said Dr Ang.

A civil suit would be part of a multi-pronged strategy needed to tackle errant companies, he said. “We need to put more effort into this, continue pushing and not give up. It is working ... The recalcitrant people are thinking about what’s at stake, taking into account our laws.”

Speaking at a press briefing on the haze situation, Minister for Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan noted that the Act provides for both criminal and civil actions. While he has not been in contact with HEAT, he said he would like to meet the group.

“They are entitled to take action ... our demands for greater transparency and for sharing of information will facilitate their action,” he said. “In fact, it doesn’t only have to be that group, anyone who suffers losses as a result of (the haze) may be entitled to take action against errant companies pursuant to (the Act).”

Copyright 2015 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

Offering car rides for a fee? Ensure insurance cover

Straits Times
14 Oct 2015
Lorna Tan

Private car insurance policies limit usage of vehicle to social, domestic, pleasure purposes

Motorists using their vehicles for private car hire services such as UberX have been advised by the General Insurance Association (GIA) to get the necessary motor insurance coverage, to avoid potential financial loss.

Private car insurance policies contain a "limitation to use" condition that restricts usage of the vehicle to "social, domestic and pleasure" purposes.

This means that if the vehicle is used for "hire or reward", such as ferrying passengers for a fee, the insurer is entitled to void the policy on account of breach of warranty, and the policyholder could be denied cover.

In the event of an accident, the insurer will not be liable to pay for damage to the insured vehicle, damage to third-party property, or bodily injury resulting from the accident.

Mr Derek Teo, GIA's executive director, said the association has observed a rising use of passenger vehicles by motor policyholders for "hire and reward", that is, for ferrying passengers in return for a fare.

"While GIA neither supports nor disagrees with the rise of private car hire services, motorists need to be aware that their private car insurance policies have a 'limitation to use' condition, which limits usage to social, domestic and pleasure purposes," said Mr Teo.

Car passengers ferried for a fare are protected under the Motor Vehicle (Third-Party Risks and Compensation) Act, which disallows an insurer from denying compensation to claimants for third-party bodily injury.

It is compulsory in Singapore for motorists to buy insurance cover for the death or bodily injury to third parties, including passengers.

The same Act also allows the insurer to recover the compensation paid to the third party from the policyholder of the vehicle if his plan is limited to social, domestic and pleasure usage.

"As most cases of injury claims tend to be of substantial amounts, a policyholder will suffer heavy financial loss if not covered by an expanded motor insurance policy," cautioned Mr Teo.

Motorists who wish to expand the "limitation to use" or the "social, domestic and pleasure" restriction clause are advised to approach insurers to check on their policy's cover and pay an extra premium.

According to GIA, its member insurers are prepared to expand this limitation to allow the insured vehicle to be used for "hire and reward".

A check with Uber Singapore shows that it is compulsory for Uber drivers to have commercial vehicle insurance. Such insurance is typically issued to cover the use of vehicles relating to businesses. For instance, taxis here are insured under commercial vehicle cover.

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

Bank body to issue guidelines on responsible financing

06 Oct 2015
Valerie Koh

SINGAPORE — The Association of Banks in Singapore (ABS) will be releasing guidelines on responsible financing later this week, as the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) yesterday (Oct 5) noted progress is being made on “a few fronts” among financial institutions to support the promotion of sustainable development.

Responding to TODAY’s queries, ABS said work on the guidelines started earlier this year. Details will be issued later on Thursday. Together with several banks, the association formed a task force to develop a set of industry guidelines that will “provide a framework for banks in Singapore to advance responsible financing through a more structured and transparent approach”, an ABS spokesman said.

An MAS spokesperson reiterated that financial institutions have to play their part in supporting efforts to promote sustainable development. “MAS has been in discussion with ABS on how our banks can help to promote lending practices that support sustainable development. We are pleased that ABS will soon be issuing guidelines on responsible financing,” she said.

Separately, the Singapore Institute of International Affairs (SIIA) had earlier told TODAY that it has reached out to several Singapore financial institutions to raise awareness on sustainable financing and investing. Global banks such as Standard Chartered and Citibank are leading the way in this regard.

Nevertheless, one of the local banks, the Oversea-Chinese Banking Corporation (OCBC), has taken the “first step” by starting to incorporate environmental risk factors in its corporate credit policies, said Ms Cheong Poh Kwan, SIIA’s assistant director for sustainability.

The MAS said the Singapore Exchange (SGX) has also been working with listed companies to enhance disclosure on the environmental and social aspects of their businesses. In 2011, it launched a Sustainability Reporting Guide for listed companies. From financial year 2017, the SGX plans to mandate sustainability reporting on a “comply or explain” basis.

“Lenders, investors, consumers, NGOs (non-governmental organisations) and the media all have roles to play in this area,” said the MAS spokesperson. “MAS will support the development of guidance for investors, specifically institutional investors, in engaging with their investee companies, on issues relating to sustainability, social and environmental considerations.”

Copyright 2015 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

Competition unit seeks feedback on changes to guidelines

Business Times
26 Sep 2015
Cai Haoxiang

It wants to streamline its merger assessment process, make its whistleblowing process more efficient

[Singapore] THE Competition Commission of Singapore (CCS), a statutory board tasked with investigating anti-competition activities, is consulting the public, including law firms, the business community and government departments, on proposed changes to its guidelines.

The changes include a streamlined merger assessment process, a fast track procedure for companies under investigation, and a clearer process for cartel whistleblowers.

Consultation documents can be found on the CCS website as well as the government's online consultation portal Reach. The public can submit their responses online, by e-mail or by mail by Nov 6, 2015.

CCS said that proposed changes to its guidelines will make it easier for businesses, consumers and stakeholders to understand various competition concepts.

For example, CCS administers a voluntary merger regime where businesses can conduct their own assessment as to whether their merger and acquisition is likely to raise competition issues. To help businesses do the self-assessment, CCS is proposing a number of changes to its Substantive Assessment of Mergers guidelines.

This includes clarifying when the acquisition of minority shareholdings may lead to a party having decisive influence, resulting in a reviewable merger by CCS. "The streamlining and simplification of the various notification forms will save businesses both time and resources in providing information to CCS during the notification process."

CCS is also making its whistleblowing process - called a leniency programme - clearer and more efficient. For example, coercers and initiators of cartel activity, currently not eligible for immunity or leniency, will be able to apply for the programme and receive a reduction of financial penalties of up to 50 per cent.

Meanwhile, CCS is also exploring the potential benefits of a fast track procedure for companies it is investigating. This can increase the efficiency of the enforcement process.

Ameera Ashraf, head of WongPartnership's Competition and Regulatory Practice, noted that 2015 was the 10th anniversary of the establishment of CCS, and was thus an opportune time for a review of its procedures.

She highlighted how CCS included amendments allowing for greater discretion in increasing penalties imposed on parties involved in bid-rigging activity. "This focus on the deterrence of bid rigging follows a recent publication by CCS in May this year on auction design to prevent collusive tendering during the auction process."

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

Airbnb in talks with URA for clearer rules on short-term leasing

14 Oct 2015
Lee Yen Nee

Company keen to help establish logical guidelines that take everyone’s needs into account

SINGAPORE — Airbnb is in talks with the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) to establish clearer guidelines on short-term leasing as the home-sharing site seeks to help homeowners monetise their properties.

The guidelines could include allowing homeowners to lease only their primary homes or limiting the number of days for short-term rentals, as practised in countries such as France and the Netherlands, Mr Chai Jia Jih, Airbnb’s managing director for South-east Asia and India, told TODAY in an interview.

“Right now, there is no clear framework that sort of says, ‘Here are the boundaries for renting out your home.’ … What we are trying to get to is a set of rules that makes sense, that takes into account the needs of the people and the regulator and what they are concerned about while getting all the benefits of home-sharing,” said Mr Chai.

“In every city we have worked with in this manner, we have come to a set of rules that make sense for that city. Like France: The reason why they said only primary homes was that they were worried about people taking up inventory. So they said: ‘Okay, you can do it, but you can’t just buy a property and rent it out. You can rent out your primary home’.”

Current guidelines in Singapore state that private residences are meant for longer-term stays of six months or more, while Housing and Development Board (HDB) flat owners are not allowed to sublet their units or rooms to tourists for short-term stays.

As the home-sharing concept gains traction here, concerns over safety, privacy and noise have emerged. In January, the URA launched a public consultation to gather feedback on whether private homes should be allowed to be used for shorter-term stays. While the consultation ended in February, a URA spokesperson told TODAY that the agency is still reviewing the matter and will announce details when they are ready.

Mr Chai said Airbnb became involved in the review process “from the beginning”. It was one of the industry players URA had sought feedback from, such as information on traveller profiles and the role of hosts in the home-sharing economy.

Besides helping Airbnb register more bookings here, a clearer framework on short-term rentals can help Singapore tap into a new segment of independent travellers, such as those interested in exploring Little India, Arab Street or Tiong Bahru, rather than the Orchard Road tourists, he added.

The move comes amid concerns of a slowing tourism industry, where arrivals dipped 0.6 per cent in the first eight months of this year, compared with the corresponding period last year. The standard average occupancy rate at hotels also slipped 0.6 per cent during the same period.

“Full credit to the tourism board for promoting Singapore as a destination, but one of the challenges it faces sometimes is the pricing to come here. So, I think that is one of the ways we can get more travellers coming in,” Mr Chai said.

“What’s interesting about Airbnb travellers ... is that they pay less on accommodation but they eventually spend more overall because they stay longer. They spend more on stuff outside accommodation and they tend to spend in mom-and-pop shops.”

Out of the 300-or-so Singapore listings on Airbnb, TODAY found that a one-bedroom loft about five minutes’ walk from Tiong Bahru MRT would set travellers back S$135 a night, while a deluxe room at a hotel nine minutes away costs about S$160 a night.

While Singapore is currently Airbnb’s second-biggest source of outbound travellers in Asia, inbound bookings are “nowhere close to” Japan’s — the home-sharing site’s fastest growing inbound market in Asia, said Mr Chai. Airbnb was unable to provide statistics on the bookings it received.

Mr Chai said Japan has taken to the concept of home-sharing as it allows its ageing population to monetise housing assets. Home-sharing also addresses accommodation space constraints, with mega events such as the 2020 Olympics coming up.

In Singapore, with property measures and loan curbs slowing down housing transactions and causing vacancy rates to climb, such a concept can enable homeowners to earn additional income, too.

“Singapore is more averse to doing things without clear rules. Once there are clear rules in place, I think that will help,” Mr Chai said.

Copyright 2015 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

Pacific nations seal TPP trade deal

Straits Times
06 Oct 2015
Jeremy Au Yong

They hail transformative effect of pact, but difficult ratification process lies ahead

It could be one for the record books. Trade negotiators from 12 Pacific Rim nations, including the United States, Japan and Singapore, struck a deal on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) yesterday that will create the world's largest free trade area and one that will have a transformative impact on the global economy.

Speaking at a joint press conference in Atlanta, Georgia, where negotiators had toiled round the clock for five days to seal the deal, ministers took turns hailing the historic nature of the deal.

US Trade Representative Michael Froman said: "At the end of the day, here we are as 12 TPP partners having achieved something that some time ago people didn't think was achievable."

And though negotiators acknowledged there were difficult issues not resolved until the last minute - New Zealand said its negotiation on dairy ended only at 5am - the big picture was more important.

Singapore Minister for Trade and Industry (Trade) Lim Hng Kiang said the TPP embodies "what Singapore sees as the future of the Asia-Pacific".

"It will transform the region by reducing tariff and non-tariff barriers substantially for both goods and services, encouraging greater investment, and addressing new trade challenges in the modern economy.

"The TPP has also been deliberately designed to be more inclusive, so that small and medium-sized enterprises can take full advantage of its benefits," he said in a statement.

The agreement was an important milestone for negotiations that have gone on for nearly eight years, but few will be celebrating yet given the difficult ratification process ahead. Before the TPP can come into force, member countries must first get it approved by their domestic legislatures.

That process is expected to be especially challenging in the US, where polarising presidential election politics is increasingly coming into play.

Under the fast-track legislation President Barack Obama signed in June, Congress will have at least 90 days to review the deal.

Mr Obama, who made the TPP a priority of his second term, said the deal "reflects America's values and gives our workers the fair shot at success they deserve".

"When more than 95 per cent of our potential customers live outside our borders, we can't let countries like China write the rules of the global economy," he said in a statement. China is not a member of the TPP.

"We should write those rules, opening new markets to American products while setting high standards for protecting workers and preserving our environment."

But already, senators from both sides - Democrat Bernie Sanders and Republican Orrin Hatch - have come out to criticise the trade deal, with Mr Hatch calling it "woefully inadequate".

Mr Obama will need the support of traditionally pro-trade Republicans if he is to get it through Congress.

But it will not be just the US that faces obstacles, there are potentially politically difficult aspects for other nations.

The issue of agriculture tariffs remains an issue for countries like Japan and Australia; labour standard requirements are a worry in Vietnam; and many in Malaysia have concerns about how the TPP might undermine bumiputera rights.

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

Singapore clamps down on five firms over haze

Straits Times
26 Sep 2015
Chang Ai-Lien & Audrey Tan

Legal action started; govt leaders also speak out against Indonesian officials' comments

In its toughest anti-haze measure yet, Singapore has begun legal action against five companies it believes are among the culprits behind Indonesia's polluting fires.

It has also slammed statements from Indonesian officials over the crisis that forced the Republic to close schools yesterday when air quality became hazardous.

Naming the firms for the first time yesterday, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan stressed that the haze was a man-made problem that should not be tolerated. "Ultimately, errant companies must know that there is a price to be paid for damaging our health, environment and economy," he said.

Haze levels here peaked at a 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) reading of 267 to 322 at 8am yesterday. They improved slightly later but remained very unhealthy. The three-hour PSI showed greater fluctuations - hitting 341 at 5am and dropping to 80 at 2pm, before rising again to 154 at 9pm.

Unhealthy haze pollution - when the 24-hour PSI is over 100 for at least 24 hours - has occurred four times since Sept 10.

The National Environment Agency (NEA), which has been gathering evidence by monitoring hot spots, smoke plumes, maps, meteorological data and satellite images, yesterday served Singapore-listed firm Asia Pulp and Paper a legal notice to supply information on its subsidiaries in Singapore and Indonesia, as well as measures taken by its suppliers in Indonesia to put out fires in their concessions.

Four Indonesian companies - Rimba Hutani Mas, Sebangun Bumi Andalas Wood Industries, Bumi Sriwijaya Sentosa and Wachyuni Mandira - have been told to take measures to extinguish fires on their land, not to start new ones, and submit action plans on how they will prevent future fires.

Under Singapore's Transboundary Haze Pollution Act, those guilty can be fined up to $100,000 a day, capped at $2 million, for causing unhealthy haze.

Dr Balakrishnan said Singapore will put economic pressure on errant firms. The Government is looking at how to support those with sustainable practices down the supply chain, particularly those in the palm oil and forestry sectors. The results of the NEA's ongoing investigations will also be made public.

Government leaders here, including Law and Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam, spoke out against comments from Indonesian officials. Indonesian Vice-President Jusuf Kalla, for instance, has repeatedly said Indonesia need not apologise to its neighbours over the haze.

Singapore has offered to help fight the haze-causing fires five times, an offer Indonesia has yet to take up.

Additional reporting by Yeo Sam Jo

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

SBF, SMC join hands to push for mediation in commercial tenancy disputes

Business Times
13 Oct 2015
Natalie Koh

SBF acts to help landlords understand how Fair Tenancy Framework can help maintain client ties

[Singapore] THE Singapore Business Federation (SBF) and the Singapore Mediation Centre (SMC) have signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to encourage mediation as a first resort for commercial tenancy disputes.

The MOU was inked under the Fair Tenancy Framework launched in January this year to help small and medium enterprises (SMEs) work out fair tenancy agreements.

As part of the MOU, both parties will jointly promote mediation through the SMC for tenancy disputes; and develop training programmes, seminars and workshops to educate SMEs on how mediation can benefit both sides of a tenancy agreement.

Compared to litigation, for example, mediation is cheaper and less time-consuming, and results in an outcome both parties agree on.

"Simple mediation costs less than a thousand dollars and you do it within a day most of the time," said Lam Kong Hong, director of the SBF-led SME Committee. "Whereas, when you go to court case, you have to contextualise it based on how complex the case is, and it can run into tens of thousands of dollars."

The SMC states that 90 per cent of settled mediation cases are resolved within a day, while court cases often take 12 to 18 months.

"The most important part is that in mediation, both parties agree to the settlement, whereas in litigation you have to accept what is decided for you. It may not be in your favour. That's the beauty of mediation," said Mr Lam.

The second Fair Tenancy Framework Workshop was held on Monday in tandem with the MOU signing.

Workshops are one of a few ways in which SMEs are encouraged to opt for mediation.

"We want tenancy agreements to actually state that in the event of a dispute, both parties will go for mediation first," Mr Lam said. "It actually does not compromise your next decision if you need to go to court."

To convince landlords to agree to the idea of mediation, the SBF held a focus group session to help them understand the Fair Tenancy Framework and how it can help maintain client relationships.

"Landlords tend to view the Fair Tenancy Framework as a tenant-centric initiative, but it is not. It is meant to highlight both landlords' and tenants' perspectives for better understanding when negotiating tenancy agreements," said Mr Lam.

"We are trying to reach out to as many landlords as possible. That is something that will result in win-win situations in tenancy agreements. I am quite sure the landlords themselves don't want to land in disputes," he pointed out.

He also stated that some SMEs are landlords too, and may face trouble handling their own tenants as well. And while today's market conditions may favour landlords, the tides may turn, and the Fair Tenancy Framework would prove helpful to both landlords and tenants.

While there is no official sign-up sheet for landlords to pledge their dedication to the framework, the SBF has the support of large organisations such as JTC Corporation and government landlords. "In fact, when we developed this, we consulted government landlords. And we also want to make sure we see both sides from the landlords and tenants," Mr Lam said.

Probably one of the bigger challenges faced is changing market practice - making mediation the preferred dispute resolution tactic an industry norm.

"It's almost trying to reshape business practices without having to go into legislation," Mr Lam said.

Legislation is not an option for the time being, he added. "Experience in other countries has shown that legislation may even be to the disadvantage of SMEs, as SMEs do not have the ability to navigate through legislation requirements. . . So here we're trying to have a framework where both parties understand the strategy and come to a negotiated agreement."

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

Law firm ordered to pay 2 brothers $1.4m

Straits Times
05 Oct 2015
K.C. Vijayan

This follows their appeal against a nominal award of $1,000 in a court suit

A law firm ordered to pay S$1,000 to two brothers in a negligence case must now cough up US$1 million (S$1.4 million) after they appealed against the nominal award.

Messrs Adrian and Francis Anwar had sued Ng Chong & Hue and lawyer Ng Soon Kai for failing to advise them in relation to guarantee documents that they signed to help their father secure a credit deal, by putting four properties in their names and their companies as collateral.

Their father Agus Anwar had asked Mr Ng to assist him when the stock markets crashed in July 2008 and his collateral ended for a credit facility with the Singapore branch of Societe Generale Bank & Trust.

He told the bank's lawyers from Allen & Gledhill that in an effort to meet the shortfall, he would provide further collateral in the form of mortgages for four Singapore properties - but on condition that his sons would not have to provide personal guarantees. At the time, Adrian, 28, was working while Francis, 25, was studying in the United States.

Mr Ng failed to spot the personal guarantee clause in security documents covering the mortgage of the properties, and to advise them of the clause's existence and implications before they signed the documents.

As a result, when the bank sued Mr Anwar in 2009 for failing to meet his obligations under the credit facility, it also had a claim against his sons under the personal guarantee clause.

In the course of the proceedings, Mr Ng had discharged himself in acting for the brothers, who then hired someone else.

The brothers later settled the claim for US$1 million by 2013 with the help of their father and a friend of his.

They then sued the law firm and Mr Ng to recover the money and legal expenses.

They initially lost in the High Court but won an appeal in the apex court, which reverted the case to the High Court to assess damages payable.

Unhappy with the High Court assessment of awarding nominal damages of $1,000 last year, they pursued the case further in May before the Court of Appeal.

The court, in judgment grounds released last week, noted that the brothers had difficulty in settling the US$1 million with the bank.

However, it rejected the view that just because others helped to make the payment, it did not preclude them from claiming the losses.

Senior Counsel Tan Cheng Han and lawyer P. Balachandran argued that the settlement with the bank was reasonable but Senior Counsel Michael Khoo and lawyer Josephine Low countered that the defendants did not have the chance to take part in the settlement talks and would have advised them against settlement as they had a "reasonably good defence "against the bank.

The appeal court - comprising Judges of Appeal Chao Hick Tin, Andrew Phang and Justice Judith Prakash - ruled that "the inquiry into the reasonableness of the settlement should be kept flexible to account for a myriad of possible scenarios in the negotiation process".

It added: "In the final analyis , the precise facts and context are of the first importance."

The court found the deal between the brothers and the bank was reasonable, reflecting the "proper measure of loss" and ordered the defendants to pay them US$1 million.

The US$1 million, together with the $325,287 in legal fees previously awarded in working to the settlement, means a total sum of about $1.8million for the siblings.Further appeal costs will be heard in due course.

Mr Agus Anwar is an Indonesian-born former bank owner and businessman who was made a bankrupt by the High Court in March 2011.

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Anwar Patrick Adrian and another v Ng Chong & Hue LLC and another [2015] SGCA 49

Doctor's kin seek return of $5m she gave maid, 2 men

Straits Times
26 Sep 2015
Toh Yong Chuan

Trio accused of taking advantage of wealthy 86-year-old woman, who has dementia

Relatives of a wealthy 86-year-old retired doctor who has dementia have accused her maid and two foreign workers of enriching themselves with millions of dollars by taking undue advantage of the elderly woman.

They are now seeking to recover from Sri Lankan maid Arulampalam Kanthimathy and Indian nationals Kulandaivelu Malayaperumal and Gopal Subramanian a sum of about $5 million - which Dr Freda Paul gave them in cash between January and July of 2010.

Part of the cash was from the sale of her sprawling bungalow in Haig Road in October 2009, when it was sold for $15.4 million to a developer which has since built a 16-storey condominium on the plot. Dr Paul's relatives also want to get back another $500,000 which Dr Paul gave to property agent Parvathi Somu, who handled the bungalow sale.

But the defendants insist the money was given to them willingly by the old woman because of their friendship and care, when her relatives allegedly deserted her.

The High Court suit was filed in June by lawyer and novelist Philip Jeyaretnam, a son of the late politician J.B. Jeyaretnam, with another distant relative. Dr Paul's grandfather and Mr J.B. Jeyaretnam's grandfather were cousins.

Before her retirement, Dr Paul was a paediatric doctor at the Singapore General Hospital and an associate professor of paediatrics at the University of Singapore.

According to her relatives, a psychiatrist had diagnosed on Dec 15, 2009 that Dr Paul was incapable of making financial decisions. On that basis, they are asking the court to order the gifts that she purportedly made after that date be returned to her as she did not have the capacity to understand her actions.

In their defence, Mr Perumal, 52, and Mr Gopal, 54, said that they befriended Dr Paul in 2001 when they were working for a construction firm at a worksite next to her bungalow.

They would come over to clean her house and they kept in touch after the construction works ended.

Dr Paul, who is unmarried, was then living in the bungalow with her sister Grace, who suffered from mental disabilities, and the maid.

Both Mr Perumal and Mr Gopal claim that Dr Paul had financial difficulties and did not get help from friends or relatives. They said that they had to buy her food and even lent her sums of $500 and $1,000 from time to time.

Mr Perumal claimed that even when Dr Paul's sister Grace died in hospital in June 2009, no relative turned up. He said that he was "a great source of comfort" to Dr Paul during that period.

In September 2009, Dr Paul granted Mr Gopal power of attorney to sell the house. It was sold a month later. When the sale was completed in January, Mr Gopal paid himself $912,313, which was 6 per cent of the sales proceeds.

He also gave $1 million each to Mr Perumal and the maid, which he said was according to Dr Paul's wishes. He then bought her a smaller semi-detached house in Ceylon Road, which she moved into in early 2010, together with Mr Perumal.

In June that year, the maid was added as a joint account holder to Dr Paul's bank account.

A month later in July, $2.5 million were transferred out of the joint account, with Mr Perumal and the maid receiving $1 million each. The property agent received the other $500,000. These are part of the monies that Dr Paul's relatives are trying to recover for her.

In her filed defence, Ms Parvathi also insisted that she had cared for Dr Paul and that she had acted ethically and faithfully.

In April this year, the court revoked a will Dr Paul made in July 2010 which left the bulk of her estate to Mr Perumal and the maid, after giving $1.7 million to the property agent and three organisations and persons in India and Sri Lanka.

The court accepted that she did not have the mental capacity to make a new will and accepted a statutory will which reinstated an earlier will that she made in 2007 which leaves all her assets to the National University of Singapore Faculty of Medicine to set up a bursary fund for female medical students.

Dr Paul is now living in a nursing home. Her maid has left Singapore.

Both Mr Perumal and Mr Gopal - former work pass holders - have since obtained permanent residency. Mr Perumal is married to a Singaporean woman.

Both declined to comment when The Straits Times visited their flats in Toa Payoh and Sengkang yesterday, referring queries to their lawyer R. Kalamohan.

The case will be heard at the end of next month.

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

Errant maid employer sues agent

Straits Times
13 Oct 2015
K.C. Vijayan

She is seeking to hold firm liable for alleged loss and damage caused by the maid

The woman slapped with one of the highest fines for not paying her maid could get to tell more of her side of the story in a civil court and explain why she felt aggrieved.

Madam Tang Lee Sung - together with her mother, Madam Goh Jin Looi - is suing the employment agency which referred the maid to her, seeking to hold it liable for the alleged loss and damage caused by the domestic helper during the time she worked for them.

Among other things, Madam Tang, in High Court papers filed in August, claims the maid killed some 40 cats in the house in Johor Baru instead of looking after them as assigned.

Express Employment Service Centre, through its lawyer, Mr Thangavelu, is seeking a court order to strike out the claims. A striking-out application takes place when the applicant believes the other party's case is groundless, an abuse of process or invalid, and should not be pursued.

A High Court hearing was held last week and adjourned until next month.

Madam Tang, 39, was fined $34,500 in the State Courts in April for not paying her domestic worker for more than a year and getting her to work at an unauthorised location.

District Judge Kamala Ponnampalam had found Madam Tang guilty of all 19 charges of defaulting on salary payments, and one charge of illegal deployment.

Her maid, Indonesian Astrilia Agustin, 27, was not paid her wages from November 2011 to May 2013, a total debt of $5,778 after deducting agent fees. She was supposed to work only in Madam Tang's home in Jalan Rengas, in Seletar Hills.

Madam Tang explained in court documents filed to support her suit that Ms Agustin was hired to take care of her mother, Madam Goh, 62, and help the latter feed cats in the neighbourhood.

She had employed more than five maids from the agency for over a decade, all of whom had the common task of looking after her mother.

But in Ms Agustin's case, Madam Goh had asked her to go to Johor Baru to look after the cats in a rented house. Madam Goh had understood that Ms Agustin had tended to some 25 cats as part of her background experience.

But Madam Tang alleges that Ms Agustin had admitted to her, while she was in Johor Baru, that she did not do her job and killed around 40 cats there. Madam Tang is seeking compensation of about RM20,000 (S$6,750) per cat.

The court papers listed several reasons why Madam Goh was unhappy with the maid's conduct, alleging in one instance that she told Madam Goh she came to Singapore to find a husband and would cease her work thereafter.

Madam Goh was said to have suffered loss and damage as a result of the maid's conduct and the fallout included mental anguish from a breakdown in family relationships and medical expenses.

In May, Madam Goh sued the agency as the sole plaintiff but this fresh action citing similar claims is led by her daughter. When contacted last night, Madam Goh said that she has managed to get help in Johor Baru to look after her cats there.

Additional reporting by Joanna Seow

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'Framework needed' for third-party taxi apps

Straits Times
05 Oct 2015
Danson Cheong & Janice Heng

Taxi body's exec adviser says package of policies could level playing field for cabbies

The National Taxi Association's executive adviser hopes to see a set of operating procedures or a framework that governs how third-party taxi-booking apps and their private-hire drivers operate, to level the playing field between them and taxi drivers.

Mr Ang Hin Kee, who is also an MP for Ang Mo Kio GRC, told The Straits Times this yesterday, in response to a blog post by Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan.

The Land Transport Authority is studying whether to make private-hire drivers get vocational licences, but Mr Ang noted that that might not be the eventual decision taken by the Government. Rather, the solution could come from "a package of policies", he said.

He said commuters needed to know whether they would be covered by insurance in the event of accidents, and should have avenues for disputing charges and unsatisfactory service.

Said Mr Ang: "We've already assembled some info and comments from taxi drivers, so the first thing to do is try and organise a dialogue with Mr Ng (Chee Meng) and share with him the concerns that have been raised."

Last Friday, Mr Khaw blogged that he had tasked Senior Minister of State for Transport Ng Chee Meng to study if private-hire drivers had an unfair advantage over taxi drivers since they "do not need a vocational licence".

This was after he had received feedback from taxi drivers that "UberX is unfair". His ministry would "where justified... level the playing field", he wrote. UberX is a private-hire chauffeur service that can be booked via the Uber app.

Taxi driver Jaya Ananda, 64, points out that these private-hire drivers are not subject to the same requirements as cabbies.

For instance, he has seen foreigners sign up with Uber, when only Singaporeans can hold vocational taxi driver licences. The taxi industry should remain a protected one for Singaporeans, he added.

Mobile apps for on-demand private-hire services such as Uber and GrabCar have grown in popularity in recent years as an alternative to conventional taxis.

In a statement, an Uber spokesman said it was looking forward to continuing its ongoing dialogue with the Government. "Uber has helped thousands of Singaporeans... become thriving driver entrepreneurs using our platform," he said.

Uber drivers said it would be unfair if they were regulated as they were not strictly offering a taxi service. "If we have to get vocational licences, but they allow us to pick up street hires - then I think it would be fair," said Mr Ken Wong, 30.

Another Uber driver, Mr S.K. Low, 54, said he did not think there was a "conflict of interest between Uber services and taxis".

"We cannot take street hires, neither can we go to taxi stands and tout. We rely completely on the app - it's a willing buyer, willing seller situation," he said.

Mr Low added that if anything, the Government could study how to make pricing more even. He estimated that UberX is about 20 per cent cheaper than taxis, but this meant drivers like him had meagre takings and had to work long hours.

Meanwhile, consumers cautioned against a heavy-handed approach, with many saying online that these third-party apps should not be unfairly penalised.

"If people are going to Uber, it means that the Uber business model is better. So why is the Government trying to help (the taxi operators) when they should be trying to improve their business model?" said financial analyst Dez Tan, 29.

Recruiter April Hoon, 27, pointed out that these apps both created jobs for drivers and provided options for commuters.

National University of Singapore transport researcher Lee Der Horng reckons what is really needed is an one-stop taxi-booking platform that aggregates both third party and taxi services. Calling it a "white knight" solution, Professor Lee said: "Commuters can just go to this app, see all the choices available to them, and then make a decision."

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Legal complaint filed against Valencia’s owner

26 Sep 2015
Adelene Wong

Unfair administration among list of complaints by former club vice-president

SINGAPORE — Singapore billionaire Peter Lim, who owns Spanish club Valencia CF, has been hit by a legal complaint by former club vice-president Miguel Zorio.

The suit, which was filed yesterday morning (Singapore time) to the public prosecutor of Valencia, is targeted at Lim, football agent Jorge Mendes and former club president Amadeo Salvo. According to court documents obtained by TODAY, the accusations include misappropriation of funds involving the purchase of players by the La Liga club, unfair administration, corruption among individuals and corporate crime.

Spanish media reported that one of Zorio’s complaints was the club’s purchase this season of several players from Portuguese club Benfica who are represented by Mendes.

These include defender Joao Cacelo, 22, who was sold to Valencia for €15 million (S$23.9 million), 22-year-old midfielder Andre Gomes (€15 million), midfielder Enzo Perez (€25 million) who is 29, and 24-year-old winger Rodrigo (€30 million).

Cacelo, Gomes and Rodrigo were sent to Valencia on a season-long loan last season and were purchased before the start of the new season.

“We will not present any complaint against Valencia, but against Peter Lim, Jorge Mendes and former president Amadeo Salvo,” Spanish newspapers quoted Zorio’s complaint as saying.

“Jorge Mendes managed to transfer to the club (players) with above-market prices, and with unknown commissions. Peter Lim should explain why the players (bought by Valencia) are so expensive and always part of Jorge Mendes’ portfolio.”

Lim’s representatives declined comment yesterday when contacted by TODAY, but the club posted a statement on their website dismissing the accusations. “Valencia CF wish to strongly express that accusations made today by Mr Miguel Zorio are completely false,” it read.

“We regret that Mr Zorio did not approach the club at any time to inform himself firsthand, before attempting to attract publicity through baseless accusations that seriously damage the image of Valencia CF and the reputation of those in charge of the club.”

The legal complaint is the latest development in Valencia fans’ growing unhappiness with the club, a year after Lim was hailed as a saviour and given a hero’s welcome after buying 70.4 per cent of the near-bankrupt club last May in a €420 million deal.

He had also promised to turn the club’s fortunes around by ridding the club of their debts and financing the construction of a new stadium.

According to media reports, Spanish fans and journalists in Valencia who spoke to TODAY, club supporters are increasingly unhappy with Valencia’s recent poor results.

Last season, the club qualified for the Champions League for the first time since 2012 after finishing fourth in the league. They had finished eighth the previous season.

However, Valencia have started this season poorly. They have won only one of their five matches, and are lying 10th in the league. Fans have openly jeered and questioned the decisions of under-fire coach Nuno Espiritio Santo during matches.

Paco Polit, a sports journalist who reports on Valencia CF for sports website Diario de Mestalla, said: “I don’t really think this lawsuit will harm Lim or Mendes at all … But maybe a small amount of fans may become suspicious, and it will keep the managing board on their toes for a couple of months at least.

“However, when the club bounces back (in terms of results on the field), this will be quickly forgotten. But if bad results keep piling up (it will be a different story).

“The results on the pitch is the dam that contains all the rest of the problems … There is a deeper problem.”

Sports journalist Chema Mancha, who hosts the radio talk show El Taller Deportivo, said: “I don’t think this lawsuit will affect fans’ confidence in Lim’s project. The man who wants to take Lim and Mendes to court … was involved in several dark situations with the justice … So he hasn’t got a good reputation over here.”

However, Mancha said fans are unhappy because they think Mendes has been influencing the signing of players to Valencia.

However, he added: “The relation between Salvo and Lim is still good. Fans hailed Lim as a hero because Salvo told them he is a hero. The fans are very confident in Salvo. But he fought for Nuno (which forced Salvo out), and now, fans don’t forgive that.”

Valencia fan Vicente Galan said: “For Mendes as a partner or an adviser, it is no good for Valencia. I can assure you that no fan wants Mendes here.”

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SGX to inspect over 550 listed firms on governance code

Business Times
13 Oct 2015
Melissa Tan

Its new chief regulatory officer expresses surprise that many firms sees Code as one of best practice instead of compliance

[Singapore] THE Singapore Exchange (SGX) has decided to review more than 550 mainboard-listed companies' compliance with the local Code of Corporate Governance, its new chief regulatory officer said on Monday, hinting that some firms have failed to meet the bourse's "comply or explain" rule.

But Tan Boon Gin said the SGX does not plan to name companies that have been found wanting, which has led market watchers to question the deterrent effect of the review.

Speaking at the launch of Singapore Corporate Governance Week 2015 at Raffles City Convention Centre, Mr Tan said that in his three months at SGX, he has been surprised at the number of times the Code has been referred to as "optional or best practice" rather than a compliance requirement.

The bourse is "conscious of the misconceptions or lack of awareness" about the Code, which "may have led to inadvertent failures to adhere to our rules", he said; it intends to publish the review findings on a "statistical and no-name basis" and will work with errant companies "on a one-on-one basis" to improve their compliance.

He did not specify the punishments that would befall companies who fail to follow the SGX's "comply or explain" listing rule, which SGX said had been imposed in January 2003.

But Mr Tan, a former Commercial Affairs Department director, warned in his speech that SGX has since been bestowed new enforcement powers to deal with breaches of listing rules; where it previously could, at most, only issue a public reprimand or delist a company, it can now apply to independent committees with the teeth to levy fines and deny firms access to the securities market.

Market watchers said the bourse's planned Code compliance review would benefit the local market, though they added that the review might not include evaluating the quality of a listed company's explanation for non-compliance - something that investors may have to do themselves.

Some suggested that the review could be even more effective if the firms that refuse to comply or offer explanation for flouting the rules are publicly named.

Corporate governance specialist Mak Yuen Teen, calling the review "long overdue", suggested that the bourse could spend a year or two educating Singapore-listed firms about compliance with the Code, to give a chance to companies that currently fail to do so, and come down harder on errant firms only thereafter.

Mr Mak, an associate professor at the National University of Singapore Business School, pointed out, however that while the SGX can bring its full enforcement powers to bear on listed companies that refuse to either comply with the Code or explain their deviations, it may not be able to do much if companies furnish only "boilerplate" or meaningless explanations.

In such cases, investors can play a crucial role by putting pressure on firms, and it is here that the SGX can lend a hand by publicly naming these errant companies, he said.

Kenneth Yap, chief executive officer of the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (Acra), told a panel at the Monday launch that Singapore's corporate governance culture still has room to grow. For instance, Acra recently found some directors reluctant to answer questions about their choice of accounting methods, he said.

SGX said in a statement on Monday that it has picked KPMG to do the review, which will take into account all parts of the Code. Expected to be done in February, it will cover the annual reports of more than 550 mainboard-listed companies released in the 12 months up till June 30, 2015.

Singapore Corporate Governance Week, which runs until Friday, is being held by the Securities Investors Association (Singapore).

The guest of honour at the launch was Indranee Rajah, Senior Minister of State for Law and Finance.

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Wine investors cry foul over dealings with 2 companies

Straits Times
04 Oct 2015
Tiffany Fumiko Tay

While investing in unusual assets like wine has become more popular in recent years, some local investors claim they have been left high and dry. At least 12 investors, including a doctor and a retired offshore contractor, have each told The Sunday Times similar stories of cold calls, hard sells and no returns.

They invested a total of more than $500,000 with Singapore-based wine investment companies, The Bottled Wealth Holdings (TBW) and Australian Wine Index (AWI), from as early as 10 years ago. Both firms were placed on the Monetary Authority of Singapore's (MAS) Investor Alert List in August this year as complaints grew.

According to the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case), between Jan 1, 2009 and Sept 18 this year, it received 66 complaints against AWI, TBW and Emily's Fine Wines, a retail and wholesale firm linked to TBW. It handled six complaints against AWI and TBW over storage and non-delivery of wine.

An Australian winemaker has also alleged that TBW has been selling his wines without buying them from him. This came to light when retiree Hau Tau Khang, 59, bought some wine from Emily's after a sales call promising three years of free storage and the option to engage TBW's brokerage services.

Mr Guillianno Mata, a Dominican national, is listed as director of Emily's and TBW.

But Mr Hau grew suspicious after requests to view his stock were not met and TBW brokers offered to buy back his wine at a 30 per cent profit if he reinvested. He filed a complaint with the Small Claims Court in May and Emily's was ordered to refund him. He showed The Sunday Times a receipt for 66 bottles of 2013 Hewitson The Mother Vine at $5,400, dated last October.

Yet, Mr Dean Hewitson, owner of the Australia-based Hewitson vineyard and winery, told The Sunday Times that he had not sold any of the 2013 wine to Emily's or TBW then, and that it was impossible for it to have been procured elsewhere as the wine had not been bottled at the time of sale.

Mr Hewitson said he had sold wines to TBW and AWI in the past, but Mr Mata later ceased communications. Mr Hewitson said he had earlier learnt that TBW clients were offered the 2013 wine, which Mr Mata had not discussed with him.

When contacted, Mr Mata insisted he had bought the 2013 wine from Mr Hewitson.

In September last year, the police were called when six investors went to TBW's One Raffles Quay office demanding refunds. Some were investors with AWI, which Mr Mata was still director of at the time.

Investors told The Sunday Times they were offered three years of free storage, and told that brokers would try to re-sell their wines in that time for up to a 30 per cent profit. Most said they have not seen a cent and alleged that they were overcharged for wines that the firms have made little effort to sell.

Some also bought trading agreements stipulating their wines would be bought back at market price if the firms failed to sell them, and said that these deals were not honoured.

While many AWI investors had problems that preceded Mr Mata - starting in 2003, while he bought the firm in June 2013 - they said the issues continued.

When Mr Mata set up TBW in February last year, lines between the firms were blurred as documents bore both logos. Mr Mata said the firms have always been separate. "I bought AWI, a broken-down business, and did my best to save it. If I have 1,000 clients, there will always be a percentage that will be complaining," he said. He sold AWI to its former managing director Alvin Lim this April. Mr Lim declined to comment.

Many of the investors have made police reports and lodged complaints with Case and MAS, but said no action has been taken.MAS said it encourages those seeking investments to deal only with MAS-registered entities to be protected by laws administered by MAS.

Lawyer Amolat Singh said while Mr Hau's situation may amount to fraud, the onus lies with investors to do their due diligence.

Mr Lou Ghirardello, managing director of online retail firm Wine Exchange Asia, said there should be an advisory panel to guide investors. "Something has to happen to protect these poor people, because this same thing has been happening time and time again," he said.

Mr Kueh Yong Say, a 65-year-old retiree, said he is looking for work again after losing hope of getting his investment of $100,000 with AWI back. "It is one of the biggest mistakes I have ever made," he said.

Background Story

Many of the investors have made police reports and lodged complaints with Case and MAS, but said no action has been taken. MAS said it encourages those seeking investments to deal only with MAS-registered entities to be protected by laws administered by MAS.

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

Operator fined $35k for flouting ban on bars

Straits Times
26 Sep 2015
Selina Lum

In the first case of its kind, a restaurant operator which flouted a ban on bars and pubs in the Kampong Glam conservation area was yesterday fined $35,000 by the High Court.

Project Lifestyle, which runs Witbier Cafe, was charged with making an unauthorised change in the use of its premises from a restaurant to a bar - the first such case to be prosecuted in court.

The company was fined $20,000 earlier this year by a district judge, but the prosecution appealed for an increase to $50,000.

Witbier Cafe, located on the first storey of a two-storey shophouse in Kandahar Street, opened in July 2011.

The premises are allowed to be used only as a restaurant.

Since September 2005, the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) has not allowed the setting up of new pubs, bars and nightclubs in Kandahar Street and certain other roads in Kampong Glam.

In 2012, URA officers raised concerns that Witbier Cafe could be construed as a bar.

Under planning regulations, the primary purpose of a restaurant is the sale of food to be consumed on the premises; the sale of alcoholic drinks is incidental.

The rules state that a bar, on the other hand, is a place where the primary activity is the sale and consumption of alcoholic drinks.

The company then took steps to change the menu and the layout, and the URA took no further action.

The agency even wrote to Project Lifestyle thanking it for its cooperation in reverting Witbier Cafe to the approved use.

It also reminded the company that the premises could not be used for a bar.

But when URA officers dropped in incognito some time between November 2013 and January last year, they found logos and names of alcoholic drinks displayed inside and outside the shop; a layout consisting of a bar counter and several high tables with bar stools; and a "happy hour" for alcoholic drinks prominently advertised.

These changes had been made without permission.

A URA spokesman told The Straits Times that the operator was brought to court because it chose to ignore repeated enforcement notices to rectify the breach in planning permission.

In raising the fine to $35,000 yesterday, Judicial Commissioner See Kee Oon pointed to the company's persistent offending and lack of remorse, as well as the need to disgorge its wrongful profits.

"The background facts strongly suggest a calculated or cynical breach, possibly motivated by the hope that enforcement might not ensue or that any consequent sanctions might be worth their while," said the Judicial Commissioner.

But he did not think a $50,000 fine was warranted, given that there were no structural or physical alterations, nor any change in the appearance of the building.

He also noted that the district judge had already considered the cultural sensitivities, given the cafe's proximity to Malay-Muslim landmarks.

The offence of carrying out unauthorised works in a conservation area carries a fine of up to $200,000. Further fines of up to $10,000 per day can be imposed if a breach continues after conviction.

The URA spokesman said: "Should the operator continue with the unauthorised use, we will not hesitate to take further action."

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

Public Prosecutor v Project Lifestyle Pte Ltd [2015] SGHC 251

76 couples hit by abrupt closure of bridal salon

Straits Times
13 Oct 2015
Aw Cheng Wei & Janice Tai

At least 76 couples with wedding packages amounting to more than $130,000 have been left in the lurch after the abrupt closure of bridal salon Sophia Wedding Collection, which has been in business for more than 10 years.

As of 6pm yesterday, the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) has received 76 complaints against the company for failing to honour contractual agreements. The highest contract value among the cases lodged with Case was close to $8,000.

The Straits Times understands that about 35 reports, involving more than $130,000, have been lodged with the police.

Victims said they could not reach the owners by phone and the shop in Amoy Street had been shuttered and cleared out since Saturday.

Photography studio 50 Media, a vendor of Sophia Wedding Collection, assured couples in a text message on Sunday that it will continue with their "unfinished albums". But this arrangement applies only to couples who took their wedding shots with the studio between Aug 6 and Sept 31, said its spokesman on Sunday. The company said it will contact the affected customers.

In the text message, the spokesman said the photography studio will continue its service out of "goodwill" even though the bridal salon still owes it money.

Calls to 50 Media went unanswered yesterday. Its office in Bukit Merah was also closed.

Case president Seah Seng Choon urged customers to buy insurance when they sign up for pre-paid packages. "Consumers cannot assume that businesses will be around forever," he said.

The consumer watchdog said the number of complaints against bridal studios has been on the rise since 2010, when it received 15 complaints. So far this year, Case has received 21 such complaints - the same number as the whole of last year. In 2013, it received 10 complaints. The numbers do not include the abrupt closures of wedding salons, said Case.

Complaints include not delivering video montages as promised, offering fewer photos than promised and poor-quality gowns.

A search with the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority showed that the directors of Sophia Wedding Collection are Chen Hui Chin, 47, and Tu Chuan Yu, 37. Another search showed that the latter used to be 50 Media's director until Mr Gary Wong, 31, took over in August.

When The Straits Times visited the salon's former office in Tanjong Pagar Road yesterday, its mailbox was full and had letters from two law firms addressed to Sophia's directors dated from early last month.

In Amoy Street, a neighbour who declined to be named said he last saw the duo last Friday, a day before they disappeared. He did not see them moving out when he left that night. "Everything was normal," he said. He added that he did not know the owners well as they moved in only a few months ago.

Some industry players say the closure of the relatively well- known bridal salon reflects the mounting pressures they faced.

"The market has become saturated with the opening of more and more bridal boutiques and Taiwanese companies have also been coming here," said Mr Jonathan Goh, director of wedding consultancy Wedding Acts.

But Mr Tony Goh, manager of wedding services provider Suite Success, said the latest case is an isolated incident. "The bridal studios we work with have always been prompt with payment or services rendered," he said.

Affected customer Cheryl Poh, 25, a customer service coordinator, and 10 others lodged complaints at Case and the Small Claims Tribunal yesterday. She paid $2,800 up front for a $3,688 package that included a local pre-wedding photo shoot, bridal wear rental and photography services for her wedding in December.

Ms Poh said: "At least (the court) can schedule a court hearing, but whether or not the owners turn up is another matter."

Bridal salon's sudden closure: Packages of disappointment

Bridal studio Sophia Wedding Collection, which specialised in pre-wedding photo shoot packages and attire rental, shut last week, leaving customers stranded with a wedding date but no get-up.

Such incidents are not new. Since 2009, the sudden closure of firms - including nail salon Wax in the City, major spa chain True Spa and gym Sky Fitness - has left thousands stranded with millions of dollars unused on their packages. Hundreds of police reports have been lodged and countless claims made with the Small Claims Tribunal. Few victims, if any, have recovered their money, and the business owners, it seems, escape unscathed.

Many people are often shocked that this can happen in squeaky-clean Singapore.

It boils down to the Companies Act. Owners of private limited firms - which most pre-payment businesses are - have limited liability and cannot be sued directly for company debts. It becomes criminal fraud only if one can prove that the firm intended to cheat. This is difficult to do as closures may look simply like failed business endeavours.

Yes, consumers should do their homework. In fact, the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) has advised consumers against buying prepaid packages. However, it would be a pity if packages have to be avoided to cut the risk of being cheated. Prepaid packages, if offered by a reputable firm, help both parties: The business can manage its cash flow better and the customer pays less.

Banks here should start insuring card users like those in Europe do. The police should also help Case, which does not have investigative powers, to look into businesses that seem to have deliberately cheated their customers. In the past, the police have said such matters are commercial transactions and out of their hands. But last month, it started investigating hair salon The Scissorhands, after it shut and left hundreds of customers in the lurch.

Rules cannot be too onerous for firms to set up here, but neither should errant business owners be able to get away scot-free.

Jessica Lim

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Two jailed for entering into sham marriage

Straits Times
04 Oct 2015
K.C. Vijayan

Hawker's assistant was paid $3k for marriage of convenience with accounts analyst from China

A hawker's assistant and a Chinese national who entered into a sham marriage, for which the former was paid $3,000, were each jailed for six months after being convicted in the district court.

Cheng Yew Kwang, 48 and now unemployed, and Chen Yanjie, 40, an accounts analyst, were also given an additional six weeks each over several charges in relation to the Immigration Act. Both are appealing the conviction and sentence.

District Judge Salina Ishak, in judgment grounds released last week, wrote: " In my view, sham marriages are difficult to detect as it would not be feasible for the authority to go behind every marriage certificate to ascertain whether a couple is in a true marital relationship."

She added that the same applied to Visit Pass applications, given the high volume of foreigners who enter Singapore for various purposes.

The judge said it was "fortuitous" that Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) officers detected the sham marriage through vigilance, pointing out the extreme difficulty "when the parties take steps to conceal the offence as well as portray a picture of genuine marital bliss".

A dozen such sham marriage cases had been dealt with by the State Courts in the 11 months till June, involving Vietnamese, Chinese and Indian spouses, she noted.

Cheng had admitted in a statement that he was paid $3,000 by one " Ah Bak " to enter into the marriage of convenience with Chen solemnised in December 2012 in a Joo Chiat Road restaurant. No family member was there. As her spouse, Cheng served as her sponsor when she applied and was allowed to enter Singapore on a Visit Pass thrice in 2013.

She wrote Cheng's Ang Mo Kio address as her residence on the application. When probed, Cheng admitted that she did not live there. He was told by " Ah Bak" to put her clothes in his bedroom and to give her a set of house keys. Cheng was also advised to take her to his flat and familiarise her with the area.

The judge found that the case involved deception of the Registry of Marriages and ICA by the couple. The couple had used the fake marriage to allow her to remain in Singapore. Chen had also supplied a false address to enter Singapore.

The judge rejected Chen's claims that she had known the groom since 2012, expressing disbelief at photos produced as proof of an alleged wedding dinner. Noting a Singapore flag in the background, she said it was unlikely that coffee shops would display the flag in January.

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Jail terms upped for couple who abused maid

Straits Times
26 Sep 2015
Selina Lum

A couple who routinely slapped their Indonesian maid and even threatened to send her to work in the sex trade in Batam had their jail terms increased after the prosecution won its appeal yesterday.

Khairani Abdul Rahman, a 42-year-old customer service officer, had her four-week jail term doubled to eight. Her 47-year-old husband, senior logistics officer Rosman Anwar, had his jail term tripled from two weeks to six.

In allowing the prosecution's appeal, Judicial Commissioner See Kee Oon said the original sentences were manifestly inadequate for the prolonged nature of the abuse and the psychological and emotional toll on the maid.

In an earlier trial, the couple had been found guilty of causing hurt to Ms Solichah, 28. Khairani was convicted of three charges - two for slapping the maid and one for hitting her with a plastic stool. The husband was convicted on two charges - slapping the maid and pulling her hair.

The couple appealed against their conviction, while Deputy Public Prosecutor Amanda Chong appealed to increase their jail terms.

Ms Solichah had testified that she was regularly slapped by the couple for the mistakes she made during the almost 21 months that she worked for them in their Sengkang East Road home.

She was traumatised by the abuse. Even though she was happy working for her new employers, she said she would feel sad and cry whenever she thought about what happened.

At the trial, an employee of the maid agency who was present when she fled there in March 2013 said Ms Solichah was crying and "looked very frightened". The employee said she had trouble recognising Ms Solichah because the maid had lost a lot of weight.

Khairani, who has finished serving her original jail term, will now go back to prison. Rosman, who is out on bail of $5,000, will serve his sentence after his wife is released.

They have been allowed to take turns to serve their jail terms as they have three school-going children.

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Public Prosecutor v Rosman bin Anwar and another appeal [2015] SGHC 247

President visits State and Family Justice courts

Straits Times
13 Oct 2015

President Tony Tan Keng Yam signing a guestbook after his tour of the State Courts and Family Justice Courts yesterday. It was his first visit to both courts. "With the formation of these two institutions, our judicial system has become more effective in the handling of legal cases, especially with regard to providing families with options to settle disputes more amicably," said Dr Tan in a Facebook post. The President was briefed by the State Courts on its recent initiatives, such as the establishment of the State Courts Centre for Dispute Resolution in March, and the Community Justice and Tribunals Division in April. He also met staff from the Family Justice Courts, which hear family-related cases such as divorce or family violence.

President Tony Tan Keng Yam signing a guestbook after his tour of the State Courts and Family Justice Courts. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

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Mediation: solutions that save relationships

Business Times
03 Oct 2015
Claire Huang

To date, SMC - with its stable of 143 mediators - has handled over 2,600 disputes involving more than S$3.2b

[Singapore] SAVING relationships while helping people resolve problems that are not on paper - in a world where hard facts in litigation still rule the day - is not a soft option.

While some critics may cast doubt on the value of mediation, there is always more than meets the eye when parties have disputes, says Queen's Counsel Michel Kallipetis, a full-time mediator with a 10-year-old practice in the UK.

He will tell you that the most upsetting disputes are those between bitter siblings. "Everything that's dear to the client is excluded in litigation because all you want are the facts to support the case you want to argue. In mediation, it's the reverse: there's always something behind as to why they are fighting each other the way they are, and once you know what that is, you can begin to address it and help them overcome it."

The satisfaction from achieving an amicable outcome is something that's shared by both Mr Kallipetis and local litigator-turned-mediator George Lim.

Recounting a business dispute where the parties could not agree on the interpretation of an important clause in their joint-venture contract, Mr Lim said both parties realised it was more important to continue their business ties, and agreed to a compromise. "And you know what? After we signed the mediation agreement, that evening we had dinner together!"

The Senior Counsel, who has practised as a litigator for 33 years now, firmly believes that a mediator has to want to help people solve problems in a respectful, fair and dignified way. In 1997, when the Singapore Mediation Centre (SMC) was set up, he was part of the founding committee and decided then to take up mediation training in the UK, and later in Harvard.

Convinced after a few cases that this was a more effective way to resolve differences and disputes as "it is quick, saves costs, and solutions can be flexible and creative", he chose to pursue this full-time in late 2014. "For poorer people, or those without a lot of resources, it is a form of access to justice. There is also a chance for the parties to preserve their relationship if they settle, whereas this would not be possible once a case went to trial."

Offering mediation services is part of the government's wider plan to build up Singapore's legal system as well as position itself as a dispute resolution hub. In 1991, the Singapore International Arbitration Centre was set up, then the Singapore International Mediation Centre last November, and in January this year, the Singapore International Commercial Court was launched.

The shift to mediation is "inevitable", as Mr Kallipetis, a practitioner of 16 years, witnessed in the UK.

Years ago, a Belgium lawyer had told him at a meeting: "You're taking the bread out of our mouths. We will fight this."

"That particular lawyer is now one of the strongest advocates of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) in Belgium because the lawyers suddenly realised they were being totally selfish," Mr Kallipetis recalls.

Still, it will be a "long, hard road" as the mediation scene here is fledgling, he admits, pointing out that it took the UK some two decades to get to where it is.

A hiccup, perhaps, is the "fairly limited" area of work to draw from. This is unlike in the UK, where mediators handle some 7,000 cases a year, he notes.

To date, the SMC has handled over 2,600 disputes involving more than S$3.2 billion, with its stable of 143 mediators. Of these, most were commercial matters.

Even as more parties now seek mediation as a cost-effective form of dispute resolution, SMC executive director Loong Seng Onn worries that the development of the profession could be hampered.

SMC's biggest competitor is the State Courts, which now handle more than 90 per cent of the disputes here even though the claims are capped at S$250,000. The settlement rate is also very high.

In March, the State Courts also launched its Centre for Dispute Resolution that houses the different ADR services. It has seven judge mediators and more than 100 volunteer mediators.

Lawyer and mediator Amolat Singh believes that, for mediation to pick up in Singapore, there must be buy-in from the lawyers first. So, more lawyers should be trained in mediation, he says, adding that people are still flocking to the courts as they lack awareness of the benefits of mediation.

Now that the State Courts have imposed fees for higher-value civil claims, he thinks it is a matter of time before people realise that going to the SMC may be more worthwhile for them.

ADR fees of S$250 per party for District Court cases have been introduced and took effect in May. The exceptions are non-injury motor accident claims, personal injury claims as well as cases under the Protection from Harassment Act.

The SMC is currently focused on expanding its slate of mediators in four key areas - healthcare, insurance, construction and infrastructure, and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) - as it sees room for growth.

But the number of part-time and full- time mediators is rising at a snail's pace.

Many are concerned with its viability. But this was mitigated last November, after the SMC's revamped fees kicked in. Fees of principal mediators were raised by about 50 per cent from the minimum daily fee of S$3,000, and associate mediators can now handle cases involving quantums of up to S$250,000, way above the previous limit of S$30,000.

For Mr Kallipetis, the average mediation fee for a case is �5,000-6,000 (S$10,800-13,000) - a range comparable to what some mediators here now make.

Drawing parallels with the UK, Mr Kallipetis says he believes what is needed to spur change is to make it professional misconduct not to advise clients about mediation. "What we did in the UK Bar Code of Conduct was to add a further duty not to mislead a mediator. The Bar Standards Board has revised the Code of Conduct and removed the specific reference to 'mediator' and substituted a duty not to mislead 'anyone'."

A spokesman for the Law Society of Singapore said there is a general culture in Singapore of prompting parties and lawyers to consider mediation, without the need for a full trial or arbitration.

"For all civil litigation matters filed in court, there is a 'presumption of ADR' for all civil cases. Cases filed in the State Courts are automatically referred to the most appropriate mode of ADR unless any or all of the parties opt out of ADR. Litigants in civil cases in the High Court also have to file mediation forms to indicate if they are agreeable to mediate."

So it's only a matter of time now, Mr Lim says. "There will be cases which need to be litigated - for example, where an important legal issue is involved, or where a precedent needs to be set. However, the vast majority of cases can be successfully mediated. SMC has a success rate of 73 per cent and most of the mediations can be organised within weeks, and take only a day. If the matter is not resolved, parties are free to go back to court."

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Spore's anti-haze law needs more bite, say experts

Straits Times
25 Sep 2015
Audrey Tan & Samantha Boh

The seriousness of out-of-control burning activities in Indonesia continues to be felt in the region despite efforts to put out fires.

Experts say more must be done to punish offenders, or the haze problem will not go away.

Among their suggestions are harsher fines, rewards for informants, more policing and closer cooperation among the authorities.

Some also suggest a procurement policy that ensures goods and services are obtained from sustainable and responsible sources.

Singapore Management University (SMU) law don Eugene Tan said: "The law should require the Government to take the lead and adopt (such a procurement policy).

"This can help (ensure) its investments and business partners are not engaging in conduct that is detrimental to the health of Singaporeans and our economy."

He was referring to Singapore's Transboundary Haze Pollution Act, which was passed in Parliament last year to punish those responsible for causing or condoning fires if burning results in unhealthy levels of haze in Singapore.

"It would be the height of irony if the haze was caused, directly and indirectly, by companies with a strong Singaporean connection, whether in terms of ownership or investments by Singapore entities," said Associate Professor Tan.

A Singapore-listed firm is under investigation for causing forest fires in Indonesia, an Indonesian official said on Tuesday.

Singapore's Ministry for the Environment and Water Resources is also investigating two recent breaches of the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act.

Those found guilty under the Act can be fined up to $100,000 a day, capped at a total of $2 million, for causing unhealthy haze, defined as a 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index value of 101 or greater for 24 hours or more.

But Professor Ng Yew-Kwang, an economist from Nanyang Technological University, said the fines were too low and suggested that they be increased by at least a hundred times. "Some may think that $100,000 a day is a big penalty. However, since the haze affects all people in Singapore, that sum is less than two cents a day per person," he pointed out. "This is certainly far less than 1 per cent of any reasonable estimate of the costs of haze at any unhealthy level."

National University of Singapore economist Ivan Png said the law could include a whistle-blower provision to reward those with information leading to convictions. "Whistle-blowers have been instrumental in exposing white-collar and environmental crime in the United States and Europe. We can apply the same concept to combat the haze.

"We might then even get the help of local government officials and plantation workers in Sumatra. The prospect of a whistle-blower reward worth perhaps hundreds of thousands of dollars would certainly focus their minds," said Professor Png, who suggested a reward 12 times the informant's annual income.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for non-governmental environmental organisation World Wide Fund for Nature Singapore said the biggest difficulty with the new law was verifying who started the fires, which depends on Jakarta's capacity to monitor the ground. She added: "It will also depend on the Act's ability to target smaller companies suspected of causing fires, (and) to follow the supply chain to the giant corporations they supply."

Dr Nigel Sizer, global director of the forests programme at US-based think-tank World Resources Institute, and SMU law professor Mahdev Mohan called for greater dialogue between governments, firms and environmental groups which "may have an accurate lay of the land", as a way of solving the haze issue made complicated by Indonesia's complex, often overlapping land ownership and usage rights.

The experts agree that while the law may be a step in the right direction, it does not yet have any bite. As SMU's Prof Tan put it: "It's small comfort to most Singaporeans... plagued by the scourge of the haze and for which the law strikes them as being a paper tiger."

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Singapore Law Watch
13 Oct 2015

Law students raise $85k

Straits Times
03 Oct 2015

Michael Palmer (left) and Lawrence Quahe (right), directors of local law firm Quahe Woo and Palmer, together with David Lim, CEO of Bank Julius Baer Singapore (second from right), presenting The Straits Times' editor-at-large Han Fook Kwang with a $50,000 donation to the ST School Pocket Money Fund (SPMF), which provides financial aid to students from low-income families. The law firm organised a Charity Shield rugby match between the law schools of the National University of Singapore and the Singapore Management University at Yio Chu Kang Stadium yesterday. Apart from contributing to the SPMF, they also raised $35,000 for the Criminal Legal Aid Scheme, which helps accused people who cannot afford their own lawyer.


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Companies should have action plans to defend against short-seller attacks

Business Times
25 Sep 2015
R Sivanithy

There's a limit to what regulations and the disclosure framework can do

BACK in the 1980s and 1990s, short-selling was hugely frowned upon in the local market, to the extent that there were often calls for it to be banned outright. Since then, much progress has been made. Regulators here have recognised that while controversial, shorting is nevertheless a valid trading strategy. It should be allowed, though not necessarily encouraged, and is best dealt with by carefully calibrated measures built into the market's microstructure (such as punitive buying-in penalties) and proper disclosure.

However, regulations and the official disclosure framework can only do so much. Given the present extremely bearish sentiment, which makes shorting very conducive, it is incumbent on companies themselves to formulate formal action plans if and when they find themselves the targets of a short-selling attack. In the case of intraday shorting though, there is little that companies can do to defend their share prices. The best they can hope for is that the Singapore Exchange's (SGX) circuit breakers help limit the damage; in any event, the need to buy before 5pm should lend some stability.

Moreover, under SGX's rules, all short-sales must be marked as such, so there is at least some disclosure of intraday short-selling positions to help investors.

Not so for the report-led short, or if you like, the targeted, planned and unexpected short. The targets are usually well-regarded companies, generally with strong heritages, track records and lofty share prices. The sudden release of reports that claim to expose dodgy financials and loose accounting usually rattles the market's confidence and triggers a large, reflex selloff - precisely what the reports were designed to achieve in the first place.

Time is of the essence in such cases. The longer companies take to address the issues raised by short- sellers, the greater the market's unease. The local market may be relatively inefficient in that a sudden attack can produce some selling pressure as analysts rush to unscramble the sellers' arguments. But it is highly unlikely that shares will remain weak for weeks or months if companies succeed in quickly debunking the short-seller's reasoning.

This was the point SGX made in its Regulator's Column of Aug 20, "Focus on clarity and transparency crucial for companies under siege'', when it said that firms which encounter a sudden critical report "must provide, as much and as quickly as possible, a full response so that shareholders have a complete picture ... "

That's the first action to take. Second, since the attacks are targeted and specific, so must be the replies. Motherhood statements like "we are the world's largest maker of widgets and our track record is second to none'' or "our accounts have always complied with financial accounting standards'' amount to pointless public relations-speak which the market will quickly interpret as diversionary tactics. These are messages that appear to say a lot but tell nothing.

Third, consider halting trading promptly to minimise damage to the share price. Only after a full reply has been made should trading resume, since only then can the market properly assess the positions taken by both sides. Fourth, if necessary, appoint an independent third party to study the points raised by the short-seller. This can cut both ways. If the outside party is truly independent and thorough, it may not necessarily issue a supportive report. Note also that SGX has stated it retains the right to direct the company to appoint a third-party study.

Finally, who should have a short-selling action plan in place? Ideally, all companies should consider this but experience has shown that companies with high gearing, weak free cash flows and revenue recognition models that require plenty of debatable accounting assumptions are most vulnerable, especially if their share prices are relatively elevated.

Those who qualify will know who they are and should get to work as soon as possible.

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How to avoid squabbles in family-run firms

Straits Times
11 Oct 2015
Jeremy Koh

Rows can severely undermine the profitability of a company and wreak havoc on the lives of the family members involved.

These sorts of squabbles can quickly turn nasty with once-loving family members suddenly at each other's throats - with the fallout often spread all over the daily paper.

One famous case involves food and beverage business Yung Kee Restaurant. The patriarch left some sons, his wife and a daughter stakes in the business.

Shortly after the patriarch died, his daughter transferred her stake to one of her brothers, making him the biggest shareholder.

A power struggle then broke out at the business.

Soon thereafter, the oldest brother died. Eventually the oldest brother's family left the business, and it felt the effects of the upheaval.

Dividend policies can also trigger conflict, says Mr Sandeep Sharma, co-head of HSBC global private bank for South-east Asia.

Family members running the business may want a prudent approach so they can re-invest earnings into the business.

They may also think a liberal dividend policy will mean passive family shareholders get an easy ride.

These shareholders may, in turn, view family members working in the business as being favoured by perks and salaries.

A formal system can resolve conflicts


Defining a family Constitution is one way families might resolve conflicts or at least restrict their impact on the business.

A Constitution normally states the values and principles that should steer family members in business-related decisions, says HSBC's Mr Sharma.

It would also stipulate how differences of opinion on the strategy of the business are to be resolved, adds head of wealth planning at Bank of Singapore, Mr Lee Woon Shiu.

Patriarchs may ask adult family members to agree to be legally bound by the Constitution, Mr Lee says.

When a Constitution is not legally binding, however, it still functions as an effective means of guiding the family on how to resolve conflicts.

If a family member suffers an illness requiring hefty medical expenses, for example, a Constitution can guide how the business should be involved, says Mr Sharma.

"If the value and spirit is that each member of the family should be looked after irrespective of business outcomes, that's a very different principle from saying that irrespective of any one individual's well-being the business has to continue - these are two different values," he adds.

Some second-generation families may not consider such a Constitution necessary as they believe they are sufficiently close and agree on most issues, and they may be right, Mr Sharma says.

However, a constituted set of values will become more important in future generations where family structures become more complex.

Ms Michelle Lau, head of wealth planning for Asia at HSBC Private Bank, adds: "It's easier at the sibling consortium level, but once you go to the cousins consortium areas, human relations get a little bit more complex.

"Then, who owns it, who gets the right to run it; these are the questions that will arise."


Along with a Constitution, many families also have a family council to ensure that people resolve differences and make decisions in line with the Constitution, says Bank of Singapore's Mr Lee.

Disagreements are most often settled by a council vote.

Family Constitutions may stipulate that some decisions can be resolved by a simple majority while more crucial decisions require a 75 per cent majority, he adds.

A family council can vote on who the next family leader should be, says Dr Henry Hirzel, managing director for the Family Service Group and senior adviser for family, business and wealth at UBS.

Decisions concerning distributions from the family trust can also be decided by the council, adds Mr Peter Triggs, managing director of regional wealth planning at DBS Private Bank .

Most family Constitutions also define how a council is set up as well as the conditions that apply to its operation.


Bank of Singapore's Mr Lee thinks there are strong benefits in giving the next leader of the business a majority stake. This would ensure he has the clout required to lead the company.

The other family members can be compensated for receiving a lower share by being given other assets.

Alternatively, the patriarch could invest in universal or jumbo life insurance policies that would pay out to these siblings, he said.

These policies essentially work like regular life insurance plans except that they involve different terms, including larger premiums, and pay out higher amounts on the death of the insured, says Mr Lee.

Distributing shares to the children for the sake of being fair is "perhaps not the wisest way to ensure sustainable business growth and development across several generations", he adds.

This is because it is difficult to know if everyone will cooperate.

Also, Mr Lee says, "it's even more difficult for someone to say, 'this is the way' without a controlling stake and with more and more parties involved (when the next generation has children of their own).

"Once the person designated to drive the business is empowered to do so, even if the minority shareholders are unhappy, they cannot adversely impact the management and growth of the company."

Mr Lee adds: "You can do two things - you do nothing, leave everything to chance, and retain little control over how things work out, or you proactively come up with a structured plan.

"We have seen cases where family relationships are irrevocably damaged once financial disputes are involved... these are just our observations of human nature at work".

Deciding who controls what


Another contentious issue concerns the timing of the succession, says Mr Tam Chee Chong, regional managing partner of financial advisory services, Deloitte South-east Asia.

A way to resolve this is to allow the patriarch to retain a deciding say on key aspects of the business while giving the next generation a strong role in running day-to-day operations, says Mr Lee.

"The patriarch can hold on to shares that have 'golden votes', so if it comes to major decisions, such as selling the entire business, then the patriarch retains the veto rights to such decisions," he notes. Majority shareholders would still have primary control over daily business operations.


Families with the potential for in-fighting can hand their assets to a trustee, says Ms Stefanie Yuen Thio, joint managing director at law firm TSMP Law Corporation.

The trustee, a corporation or an individual, can hold the assets for long periods although the law does not allow things to be held indefinitely, adds Ms Yuen Thio.

Although family members might still be involved in running the business, there is less reason for conflict as the assets are with the trustee and out of their reach.

Families may also place assets with trustees when they are afraid the next generation could squander them. This could be a risk when the entrepreneur has young children or grandchildren.

The trustee would agree to hold the assets and manage them according to the terms of a trust deed, Ms Yuen Thio says.

The rights and entitlements of the family will depend on what the trust deed says.

A typical deed would normally state that the capital of the asset in the trust cannot be touched, but that the income from that asset can be used to provide for the family's living, medical and home expenses.

Professional trust companies may, however, believe they are not equipped to make strategic business decisions.

For this reason, some are willing to administer only assets like real estate and listed securities that do not involve operational management of an underlying business.

Where there are operational businesses involved, the patriarch could hire a management team to manage the assets, while leaving the assets themselves in the hands of the trustee.

Ms Yuen Thio says she knows of some tycoons who have private bankers they trust with all their secrets and wealth.

"That tycoon may hire that adviser to work exclusively for him to manage the business."

Trusts can also be used to retain control over a family business, adds Mr David Chong, president and founder of the Portcullis Group. This is because company shares can be consolidated in the hands of a trustee as opposed to spread out across the next generation.

Background Story

Where there are operational businesses involved, the patriarch could hire amanagement team to managethe assets, while leaving the assets themselves in the hands of the trustee.

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Family Justice Courts moves some services to new office

Straits Times
02 Oct 2015
Amir Hussain

Divorce-related mediation and counselling services shifting to MND Complex

A year after the Family Justice Courts (FJC) was created, its premises in Havelock Road can no longer house all its services because of its expanding work. Starting next week, its divorce-related mediation and counselling services will be situated on the fourth floor of the MND Complex in Maxwell Road.

The new office will also house its probate services, as well as the mental capacity and adoption registries. There will be two court rooms, three hearing chambers, nine mediation chambers and 14 counselling rooms in the FJC's second office.

The FJC, set up in October last year, integrates the Family Division of the High Court, the Family Courts and the Youth Courts through a single Registry. Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon announced the relocation at an event to mark the first anniversary of the FJC yesterday. He said: "Our mission at the FJC is unique because we deal with the extremely delicate matter of distressed family relationships. This is the core business of these courts, and our role will assume even greater importance in the years ahead."

He noted that the annual ratio of marriage to divorce today is 4:1, compared to 13: 1 in 1980.

The weakening of family and community bonds has also had an adverse impact on children, he said, citing the number of youth as a proportion of all offenders. About 4,000 youth were arrested annually in the past few years, representing around 22 per cent of total crimes reported each year.

The Chief Justice highlighted three areas for improvement. First, more specialist family mediators will be trained early next year, to allow families to have a viable alternative method of dispute resolution.

The FJC accredited its first 24 specialist family mediators - comprising mainly of FJC district judges and senior lawyers - between November last year and January this year.

Second, the FJC will expand its pilot of the Child Inclusive Dispute Resolution model, which saw 75 per cent of 20 families - 40 parents and 35 children - reach an agreement on all children's issues.

The model incorporates an interview with children, to better understand their feelings and perspectives on their parents' disputes.

Finally, more court volunteers will be trained under the Court Friends scheme - in partnership with the Community Justice Centre and National University of Singapore law faculty's pro-bono office - to support the increasing number of self-litigants. The FJC has already trained 23 volunteers through the scheme, to not only provide information on court procedure and processes, but also give emotional and moral support to self-litigants.


Our mission at the FJC (Family Justice Courts) is unique because we deal with the extremely delicate matter of distressed family relationships. This is the core business of these courts, and our role will assume even greater importance in the years ahead.


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Anti-haze law is new, but has potential: Forum

Straits Times
25 Sep 2015

The observations in the report about the challenges to enforcing the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act 2014 ("Cloud hangs over enforcement of anti-haze law"; last Friday) seem to be quite correct.

However, it would be wrong to conclude that the law does not address some practical drawbacks.

• Policing

The law is designed to give the Singapore authorities policing powers and powers to punish companies behind the haze in Singapore - even if their actions take place overseas.

Many companies directly or indirectly contributing to the haze are based in Singapore or have assets and/or operations in Singapore.

• Widespread practice of burning

The law targets companies which pollute and, crucially, those that condone pollution by other companies or individuals that they have management control over. Condoning means, in simple terms, failing to prevent or stop burning.

Therefore, any company that has management control over a polluter and condones that polluting may be guilty of an offence under the law, unless it takes steps to stamp out the practice.

• Identifying the culprits

The law provides the authorities with wide powers to obtain information from any person in or outside of Singapore.

The National Environment Agency's director-general of environmental protection has the power to issue a notice requiring any person to provide information and documents needed, including information on land ownership.

The courts have the power to require notified people passing through or in Singapore to remain in Singapore. Those ignoring a notice may be imprisoned and/or fined.

Targeting the right individuals within companies which pollute, or whose subsidiaries and/or suppliers pollute, should allow needed information to be obtained. Requiring companies to provide information on their concessions avoids any need to rely on the Indonesian authorities.

• Indonesia's complex land ownership and usage rights

The law is drafted to deal with this difficulty. It is not necessary to prove ownership of the land causing the pollution.

It is sufficient to prove that a company occupies that land. Even if a company occupies the land with other parties - such as local farmers - the law presumes that the company is responsible for the pollution, unless the company can prove otherwise.

The Transboundary Haze Pollution Act 2014 is a well-drafted piece of legislation.

While it is true that we have yet to see a major case brought against the culprits of the haze, the law is still new, and gathering evidence, as well as building a good case, takes time.

Samuel Sharpe

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

Debt restructuring: Bid to get judgment reversed in case fails

Straits Times
10 Oct 2015
K.C. Vijayan

Apex court tightens its own remit as to when it can relook matters it had ruled on before

Leading insolvency accountant Nicky Tan has failed in his bid to have the Court of Appeal reverse its own earlier judgment in a debt restructuring case on the unusual ground that it breached natural justice.

But his firm, nTan Corporate Advisory, believes that despite losing last week, the judgment has cleared it of any implication that it acted improperly in its role as financial adviser to TT International Ltd, the local trading company behind electronics brand Akira.

More significantly, the Court of Appeal also departed from two of its previous decisions in 2009 and 2011 - which nTan had relied on in its application.

Instead, Singapore's highest court tightened its own remit as to when it can relook matters it had already ruled on before, to prevent the Court of Appeal from having to hear endless further appeals between the same litigants arguing the same issues over and over again.

Acknowledging that the apex court was changing course, Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, who wrote the main judgment for the five-judge panel, said this was needed to "minimise unnecessary strain on the court's resources".

He added that this will also give litigants greater assurance that they can plan their affairs on judicial decisions which were made, even if the decisions contained some error.

The case had its roots in the global financial crisis of 2008. Caught up in the crisis, Singapore Exchange-listed TT International in 2008 hired nTan as an independent financial adviser to deal with its debtors, who were threatening to sue. The debts amounted to some $485 million and three banks were involved. The main dispute in the latest appeal arose over the way nTan, which has a track record of turning around failing companies, was to be paid for its services. Part of nTan's payment agreement with TT International included a "value-added fee" or VAF.

The VAF was essentially a success fee based on a percentage of the debt owed by TT to its creditors which nTan was able to get waived or written off, or converted to equity, through a restructuring scheme that nTan would put in place.

So the greater the debt nTan managed to get waived off, the more it would be paid.

The scheme was given the green light by the Court of Appeal in October 2010, as required by Singapore's Companies Act, after it was approved by creditors, who accounted for more than 75 per cent of the value of debt.

As part of the scheme, oversight was handed to a group of three managers - including Mr Tan, nTan's CEO and controlling shareholder, and two other nTan staff.

The dissenting creditors, which included DBS Bank, Habib Bank and OCBC and represented by Rajah & Tann lawyers led by Senior Counsel Lee Eng Beng, said this raised a conflict of interest.

They also alleged that they did not know of the existence of the VAF. All these were played out through a series of correspondence between the different parties and the then Court of Appeal.

In a September 2012 decision, the Court of Appeal agreed with the dissenting creditors but believed that setting aside the scheme could harm them and the company further. So the court decided to change it instead.

It ruled that nTan was not entitled to the full VAF sum, which the scheme managers put at between $28.4 million and $31.8 million. Instead, nTan, represented by Allen & Gledhill lawyers led by Senior Counsel Edwin Tong, would have to work with the creditors and agree on an acceptable fee.

Failing that, the High Court would set the amount.

Aggrieved by this decision - especially after TT International had successfully had its debts restructured and was back to profitability - nTan appealed.

Highlighting the importance and unusual nature of the case, it was heard before a panel of five judges, when the usual is three.

One of the arguments nTan's lawyers raised was that it never got the chance to present its case in court as the issues were detailed through letters, and that this breached natural justice.

But CJ Menon held that the correspondence did afford nTan enough opportunity to give its side. Further, the current court would have been more sympathetic had the earlier decision raised doubts over the firm's integrity.

But this never happened, he pointed out. While nTan may have been uncomfortable with statements such as "the greater the pain endured' by the scheme creditors, the greater its own gain", there was never any suggestion that its staff had acted dishonestly or in bad faith.

This was shown by the fact that the court did not remove any of the scheme managers when it could have.

CJ Menon agreed that "there is some force" in another argument put up by nTan - that the earlier court had no power to rewrite the scheme into something other than what the creditors had originally signed up to.

But even if an error was made, nTan was precluded from bringing it up again as it goes against the legal principle that a matter already judged is final, better known by the Latin term res judicata.

CJ Menon rejected previous case law which allowed for a broad exception to this principle. He made it clear that a litigant can only re-argue a point in narrow circumstances, such as when the decision was clearly wrong and great injustice would result if it was allowed to stand. "In the final analysis, the public interest in the finality of litigation must prevail," he wrote.

When queried, an nTan spokesman told The Straits Times that the firm was "gratified that the Court of Appeal made clear that its earlier decision had not found that it had acted against the interests of the creditors and that no finding of dishonesty or bad faith was made".

He added that nTan fully respects the court's position that the public interest in the finality of litigation must prevail.

A case note published in Singapore Law Watch on Tuesday highlighted the case's importance.

A senior practising lawyer not involved in the case said the Court of Appeal, in departing from two of its own previous decisions, "has made new law and underscored the need for res judicata in Singapore".

As for nTan, he said the ruling has clarified "that the earlier decision did not make any adverse findings of fact against its professional reputation and standing.

"I anticipate that this was one of the key reasons why nTan had made the application to set aside the decision in the first place and I expect that nTan will be pleased with that."

CJ Menon also ordered a separate hearing to consider the question of costs and any "consequential orders" - thought to include the quantum of nTan's fee which remains unpaid.

A case note published in Singapore Law Watch on Tuesday highlighted the case's importance.

A senior practising lawyer not involved in the case said the Court of Appeal, in departing from two of its own previous decisions, "has made new law and underscored the need for res judicata in Singapore".

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

The Royal Bank of Scotland NV (formerly known as ABN Amro Bank NV) and others v TT International Ltd (nTan Corporate Advisory Pte Ltd and others, other parties) and another appeal [2015] SGCA 50

Children get a voice in cases of divorce

Straits Times
02 Oct 2015
Theresa Tan

Family Justice Courts hopes to use dispute resolution model to help more families

Till now, they have often been the silent victims caught between feuding parents. But children whose parents are divorcing now have a voice as they are being consulted by the Family Justice Courts (FJC) on how the separation is affecting them.

The FJC hopes that this Child Inclusive Dispute Resolution model can help parents hear and understand what their children are going through, and consider their feelings and wishes as they thrash out custody and other parenting issues.

Madam Sophia Ang, its director of counselling and psychological services, told The Straits Times: "We find that parents don't really know what their children are feeling. Some kids may not want to tell their parents, as they don't want to upset them."

But children - despite how nonchalant they may appear - are hurt by their parents' conflict, she said. Some become depressed, while others become angry and defiant.

In the past year, the FJC piloted this child-inclusive mediation model on a group of 20 families, involving 35 children aged from seven to 18.

The results of this pilot study were encouraging, Madam Ang said. Three in four of the couples managed to agree on all the children's issues, such as who the child would live with and how often the other parent can visit, instead of fighting it out in court.

Three months after the mediation ended, the children surveyed said their parents fought less. The couples said it made them more mindful of how their behaviour affected their children.

The FJC hopes to expand this to include more families. This is how it works: Trained counsellors work with the children to find out how they are affected by their parents' divorce. They share with the parents what their children have said and offer suggestions on how the parents can help their children cope better with the break-up.

With this knowledge in mind, and counselling support at hand, parents attend mediation sessions to work out custody and other issues involving their children.

Madam Jaslyn Ng, a senior court counsellor, said: "Many children feel they are caught in between their parents and they have to take sides. They worry about upsetting their parents or they fear their parents will abandon them. So they may not tell their parents what they really feel."

Take, for example, two teenagers, a boy and a girl, whose parents are divorcing. The father, a professional, cheated on his homemaker wife. Both parents, who are in their 40s, are fighting for their children to live with them after the divorce. The teens told their father they wanted to live with him. In fact, they preferred to live with their mum, but did not dare to tell him this.

Madam Ng, who dealt with such a case, said: "I had to help the dad understand that his children were not rejecting him, but they felt more comfortable living with their mother. He was afraid of losing his relationship with them."

The man decided to stop fighting with his wife and allow the children to live with her.

Lawyers said what the child suffers or hopes for is often left unsaid or lost on warring parents.

Lawyer Foo Siew Fong said divorcing couples are often too caught up in their own hurt feelings to be able to really listen and understand what their children are going through.

Lawyer Rajan Chettiar said: "Parents just do what they think is best for their child. If we are talking about acting in the child's best interests, then the child's voice must be heard more often."

Since 2011, the FJC has made it compulsory for all divorcing couples with children to attend counselling and mediation sessions at its Child Focused Resolution Centre. This is to help them work out care arrangements for the children, instead of fighting over them in court.

Madam Ang said: "We want to shift mindsets away from their marital conflicts to really thinking about their children."


Many children feel they are caught in between their parents and they have to take sides. They worry about upsetting their parents or they fear their parents will abandon them. So they may not tell their parents what they really feel.

MADAM JASLYN NG, a senior court counsellor

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

Govt should consider tweaking laws on euthanasia: Voices

25 Sep 2015

Earlier this week, we visited one of our relatives at St Andrew’s Community Hospital. This relative of mine was diagnosed with cancer in one of his vital organs, and his condition is in an advanced stage.

Malignant cancer cells have spread throughout his body. We were overwhelmed with grief and sorrow watching him struggling with his life and slowly wasting away.

According to the doctor’s prognosis, our relative is unlikely to recover from this final stage of cancer. He had been warded at Changi General Hospital before being transferred for palliative care, as he had not shown improvement after treatment.

It is common knowledge that a cancer patient suffers tremendously at this final stage. The physical, psychological and emotional stresses take their interminable toll on the patient. The patient and his or her immediate family are merely buying time before the inevitable happens.

To avoid prolonging unnecessary suffering, critically ill patients should have the option of voluntarily terminating his or her life.

To pre-empt any abuse of the practice of euthanasia, stringent measures can be put in place.

First, this decision must be made by the patient solely and voluntarily and when not under duress.

At the same time, the decision must be made when patients still retain their mental faculties. This is akin to making an Advanced Medical Directive, which tells the doctor not to prolong the life of a terminally ill and unconscious patient, when the individual is still mentally sound.

The patient’s request should also be assessed by a panel of three doctors or medical specialists. A unanimous agreement must be reached before administering euthanasia.

Some of us may hold our lives in high regard and believe this must not be interfered with unnaturally. Patients should not take their own lives since human life is God-given and therefore sacred.

Notwithstanding this, in recent years there appears to be an increasing number of people who feel otherwise. Only cancer patients would understand how the life they have to put up with has become excruciatingly painful or uncomfortable.

We should respect and honour a patient’s wish by bestowing on them the right to exercise their freedom to choose whether to prolong or end their life.

I appeal to the Ministry of Health to consider the above proposal. Current laws should be tweaked to adapt to the ever-changing societal expectations in the 21st century.

Copyright 2015 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

CGH settles ex-patient's suit over breast cancer

Straits Times
10 Oct 2015
K.C. Vijayan

She claimed hospital should have acted on lesion found during treatment for infection

A hospital has amicably settled a court suit by an ex-patient, who claimed that its alleged negligence had prevented earlier detection of her breast cancer.

Changi General Hospital (CGH) had denied the High Court claim, pointing out there were no convincing medical grounds that following up on an earlier test would have led to earlier intervention

The hospital yesterday issued a joint statement with the former patient, Madam Nolly Ong, 76, to say that they had resolved the case.

"CGH has promptly and satisfactorily settled Madam Ong's claim and we are able to state that the matter has been amicably and fully resolved," said the statement.

High Court suits involve claims of more than $250,000, but it does not follow that the award or settlement, if any, exceeds such a sum. And any out-of-court mutual settlement usually involves confidential terms.

According to court papers filed, Madam Ong was warded at CGH for about a week in June 2011 for a kidney bacterial infection.

As part of the process, she underwent a comprehensive medical examination to ensure that she was fit for discharge without further medical concerns. This included a radiology scan on June 29, which showed a lesion in her left breast, where further evaluation with mammography and breast ultrasound was recommended.

But this was not followed up and she learnt in September last year, when she returned to CGH, that she had terminal breast cancer.

In May, Madam Ong took CGH to court, alleging that detection three years ago could have nicked the cancer and enabled full recovery.

In court papers filed in the suit, her lawyer, Mr Raj Singh Shergill, had argued that the need for a further medical probe then was premised on the risk of possible cancer.

Left untreated and unchecked after her discharge from CGH, her condition deteriorated to the point where she lost the chance of being cured, said the court papers.

CGH, in defence papers, countered that the radiology report was an "incidental finding" as it was not relevant to her complaints of bacterial infection, for which she was warded and treated at the time.

It said the abdominal and pelvic CT scan had been ordered because of dilated bile ducts detected. Madam Ong and her daughter had been updated and Madam Ong was scheduled for an outpatient clinic follow-up two weeks after discharge.

She did not disclose any pain or symptoms in relation to her condition after her discharge. On other occasions at CGH during follow-up care unrelated to the left breast condition, she did not report any symptoms related to her left breast.

Madam Ong was also treated at CGH on several other occasions for other unrelated medical conditions.

When she was admitted in September last year, she recounted that a lump had been in her left breast for the last three to four months but it would have been noticeable earlier, according to defence papers filed by lawyer Kuah Boon Theng. CGH added that her own failure to alert and seek medical treatment on experiencing discomfort and pain earlier would have contributed to her illness.

Madam Ong, whose husband, 83, died last year, lives with daughter Evangeline Yew, 52, and her family. Yesterday, Madam Yew said: "I really appreciate our lawyer, Mr Raj Singh Shergill, who put in a lot of effort to have this matter resolved."

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Reducing divorce conflict, easing kids' insecurities

Straits Times
02 Oct 2015
Theresa Tan

One in three children caught in an acrimonious divorce could face a mental health problem, such as anxiety or depression, that requires professional help.

Professor Jennifer McIntosh, an Australian child psychologist who has investigated family trauma for almost three decades, discovered this from her research on over 300 Australian children with feuding parents.

"The worse the conflict, the worse it is for the child, who has to constantly deal with all the hostilities the parents inflict on each other," she said. "Some children become so vigilant to what's happening that they stop being children and start being a caregiver to their parents."

Prof McIntosh, 51, pioneered the Child Inclusive Dispute Resolution model, as a way to give children a voice in a fight that affects them.

Parents are often so caught up in their own pain and anger that they overlook how their acrimony is affecting their offspring, she said.

Her research on the Child Inclusive Dispute Resolution model showed that it made couples fight significantly less, and children felt closer to their parents.

Prof McIntosh is in Singapore to train the Family Justice Courts counsellors on how to engage families using this approach.

She said it was important for trained professionals to find out the children's feelings, as they may not tell their parents the truth.

She said: "Children love both their parents, and depend on both of them. So they need to keep things sweet between them, and they spend an awful lot of time weighing how the information would affect their parents. So what the parent hears from their child could be a sanitised version of the truth."

However, she noted that this child inclusive engagement will work only for those who are willing and able to consider their child's point of view, and reflect on their own behaviour.

She said: "It doesn't mean they walk away as perfect parents, but they are motivated to do better."

Theresa Tan

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Ex-tour guide faces new bid to stop use of insurance policies

Straits Times
24 Sep 2015
Toh Yong Chuan

Widow's niece makes new application to keep them out of reach till related appeal is heard

Former China tour guide Yang Yin's attempt to dip into two life insurance policies to pay for legal fees ran into another roadblock in the High Court yesterday.

He faces a new court application by Madam Hedy Mok, the niece of rich widow Madam Chung Khin Chun, to keep the insurance policies out of his reach until an appeal related to the policies is heard.

In April, the High Court allowed him to liquidate two life insurance policies worth about $98,000 to pay for his legal fees. The policies will help cover his legal bill in a high-profile High Court suit brought against him by Madam Chung, 88, through her niece Madam Mok.

"Generally if a court makes an order, it has to be executed unless the party who is appealing (the order) says 'stop, don't, I am appealing, wait'," said Madam Mok's lawyer Peter Doraisamy yesterday after a closed-door hearing. "That is my application."

The 41-year-old Singapore permanent resident's assets were frozen last August after Madam Mok, 61, accused him of masterminding a plot to take control of her aunt's assets estimated to be worth $40 million, including a Gerald Crescent bungalow that she owns.

Madam Mok has appealed against the High Court decision to release the insurance policies and the appeal will be heard in February next year. While the life insurance policies are in Yang's name, she has argued, through her lawyer, that they were bought using her aunt's money.

Besides the appeal, Madam Mok also put in a new High Court application yesterday for the policies to remain out of Yang's reach until the outcome of the appeal is final. This means that Yang cannot touch the policies at least until next month when this new application is heard again.

The latest development in the High Court is the second setback that Yang faced in his attempt to cash out on the life insurance policies to pay for his legal fees.

Earlier this month, the State Court also decided after a hearing not to let him liquidate the policies.

The State Court hearing was a separate one because the Commercial Affairs Department separately seized the insurance policies last year for criminal investigations.

Yang met Madam Chung, a retired physiotherapist, in 2008 when he acted as her private guide during a China trip. A year later, he moved into her bungalow and claimed the widow wanted him to be her "grandson".

Apart from the civil court cases, Yang has been charged with falsifying receipts at his company and misappropriating $1.1 million from the estate of Madam Chung.

He has been in remand since Oct 31 last year after his bail application was denied.

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

Ivy Lee Realty fighting application to wind up firm

Straits Times
10 Oct 2015
Rennie Whang

The realty firm of Ms Ivy Lee, one of Singapore's top real estate agents, is fending off an application to wind up the company. The plaintiff is MWA Capital, a licensed moneylender.

Both parties were in the High Court yesterday as MWA Capital said it was proceeding with its application. But the hearing was postponed to allow both sides to make their arguments.

Ms Lee is the sole director and shareholder of her realty firm.

It has handled such deals as the $131.5 million collective sale of Hong Leong Garden Condominium in March 2007. Its website lists more than 50 projects that it has marketed - including Woodgrove condo, where it sold all 248 units in 1998.

According to the loan agreement document, Ivy Lee Realty borrowed $10 million from MWA on July 4 last year, with the interest rate set at 5 per cent a month.

As security for the loan, the company put up options, including for the 29 unsold units at Devonshire 8, a 30-unit condo it is developing which is slated for 2017 completion.

Should the firm fail to pay the loan, interest or late interest, MWA was said to be entitled to exercise the options to secure repayment.

In December, Ivy Lee Realty also assigned to MWA rights regarding sale proceeds of the units, among others.

When it failed to pay up, MWA applied in May for summary judgment for the $10 million.

On Aug 3, Justice Woo Bih Li granted judgment of the sum of $6.7 million against Ivy Lee Realty.

"(MWA) is continuing with proceedings for the remainder of principal loan, interest and late interest," general manager Siaw Ten Ten said in an affidavit.

Ivy Lee Realty also has yet to pay the $6.7 million, she added, which led to the winding-up application.

However, Ms Lee said in an affidavit that she has found offers for Devonshire 8 at prices of $25.8 million to $31 million - higher than the $21.98 million that an unnamed party recently offered the provisional liquidators. "It is clear (the firm) would be better able to realise the value of Devonshire 8 than liquidators would in the event of winding up."

Three valuation reports have put the value of the property at about $25 million to $31 million, while another marketing proposal by Savills estimated the gross development value of the project to be $55 million to $60 million, she said.

MWA has appointed provisional liquidators, who are being represented by Mr Christopher Woo of Quahe Woo & Palmer. Mr Woo noted in court yesterday that Ms Lee has declined to grant the provisional liquidators access to the company's accounts.

Mr R. Nandakumar of RHTLaw Taylor Wessing, who is representing MWA, said in court: "The company is insolvent under the cash flow test. It is clear the company does not have the funds to pay the judgment sum."

Mr Eugene Thuraisingam, representing Ivy Lee Realty, said in court: "It is not a straightforward matter. While the cash flow test is satisfied, this is a property holding firm with a large property asset. We have put in valuations to show the value of the assets the company holds far exceeds its debts."

But the property is effectively still unsold, and has been on the market for about 11/2 years, argued Mr Nandakumar.

The case is before High Court Justice Belinda Ang, who is fixing another date for the hearing.

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

Singtel's Thai dispute sent for arbitration

Business Times
02 Oct 2015
Cai Haoxiang

Associate AIS takes to arbitration 70b baht claim against it by state-owned telco

[Singapore] THE Thai associate of Singapore Telecommunications (Singtel), Advanced Info Service Public Company Ltd (AIS), is taking to arbitration a 70 billion baht (S$2.74 billion) claim against it by Thai state-owned telco TOT Public Company Ltd.

TOT's claim relates to alleged unlawful contract amendments dating back to 2001 and 2002. TOT is among a number of state-owned enterprises that the Thai government has targeted for restructuring to become more competitive. Its long-standing revenue-sharing contract with AIS, Thailand's biggest mobile operator, expired on Wednesday.

Thailand's military government had asked TOT to seek the compensation from AIS before the concession contract expired, or it might be charged with neglect of duty, according to a Reuters report on Sept 28.

Singtel, a regional telco giant which owns 23.3 per cent of AIS, disclosed in an announcement on Thursday morning that AIS refutes the claim and has submitted the matter for arbitration.

AIS CEO Somchai Lertsutiwong said in a letter to the Stock Exchange of Thailand translated to English from Thai:

"The company strongly confirms that the amendments to the agreement were made correctly, faithfully, and with the consent of both parties."

"The amendment has been valid and binding to the contractual parties and there was neither rejection nor revocation of the amendment raised by TOT until the expiry of the agreement on Sept 30, 2015," he said. "The company then has no responsibility to pay such a claim to TOT."

The TOT-AIS dispute dates back many years. AIS and its parent, Shin Corp, were founded by former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

In 1990, TOT granted AIS the right to operate a mobile phone network for 25 years.

The dispute at hand involves a 2001 amendment that reduced the portion of revenues in prepaid services AIS had to share with TOT.

Another contested amendment in 2002 allowed AIS to deduct roaming fees from the concession fees payable to TOT.

Complicating matters was Thaksin's sale of Shin Corp to Singapore's Temasek Holdings in 2006, which led to much controversy in Thailand.

TOT had demanded various payments from AIS through the years, Singtel said in disclosures made in its latest annual report under the section informing investors of the significant contingent liabilities of its joint ventures.

Various cases are pending arbitration, Singtel said.

Singtel shares closed unchanged at S$3.60 on Thursday.

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

Penny probe CAD's biggest ever: ex-director

Business Times
24 Sep 2015
Kenneth Lim

Complex case is also 'first ever joint CAD-MAS investigation', says Tan Boon Gin, now SGX's chief regulatory officer

[Singapore] THE ongoing probe of the October 2013 penny stock collapse happens to be "the biggest securities fraud investigation" that the Commercial Affairs Department (CAD) has ever conducted, current Singapore Exchange (SGX) chief regulatory officer and former CAD director Tan Boon Gin revealed on Wednesday at the market operator's annual general meeting.

Responding to a shareholder's question on why the investigation (which CAD began in 2014) is taking so long, Mr Tan said he could not share any details. But he sought to reassure the shareholder that CAD and the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) were doing their utmost. Mr Tan joined SGX in June.

"When I was there, I can assure you that we were aware and appreciated the urgency of the investigation, and we understood the impact on the market as well as investors," Mr Tan said. "It is a complex investigation. It is, in fact, the biggest securities fraud investigation that CAD has ever conducted . . . the first ever joint CAD-MAS investigation. So no resource was spared by both CAD and MAS in this case."

New SGX chief executive Loh Boon Chye said his three main priorities for the year ahead were to establish SGX as a multi-asset exchange by improving the Singapore stock market and by diversifying SGX's businesses; and to create an Asian hub with a global distribution network and reach, and geographical relevance across product and service lines.

He shared that companies around the world have been delaying public listings for the past three months because of market volatility as well as alternative ways of raising capital.

With only nine initial public offerings (IPOs) in Singapore so far in 2015 - and none on the Main board - the year so far has been one of the quietest for the primary equity market.

"We will continue to grow and deepen our geographical and sectorial reach to attract more companies to list on SGX," Mr Loh said.

The exchange is also looking to explore new offerings in the data and indexing business.

"Recognising the relevance and complementary role of data and indices in our core business, we are keen to explore opportunities in these areas," Mr Loh said.

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

New tribunals give teeth to mediation process: Forum

Straits Times
10 Oct 2015

That disputes do arise between neighbours is a given, because we are social creatures with our own idiosyncrasies.

It is, therefore, imperative that we figure out how to amicably resolve disputes in order to live peaceably with one another.

Voluntary mediation is one effective way to resolve differences.

When disputing parties do show up, there is a successful resolution rate of 75 per cent.

But as long as it is voluntary, there will always be many who will not participate.

In fact, only 40 per cent choose to attend these sessions despite its high rate of success.

At 60 per cent no-show, many disputants clearly do not take the mediation process seriously enough.

The Community Disputes Resolution Tribunals will add necessary teeth to the mediation process ("Recalcitrant neighbours can be taken to court"; Oct 1).

For one thing, they can make it mandatory for disputing neighbours to go for mediation.

That should compel disputants to take the mediation process seriously.

In fact, the tribunals can order that all further proceedings in the action be stayed until the plaintiff and the respondent have attended the mediation or counselling (as the case may be).

This is a very significant point to note, because the setting up of the tribunals is intended to be the solution of last resort.

It is not meant to circumvent mediation.

Having neighbours meet to resolve their differences must always remain the first and best option.

Even as we are neighbours by chance, we can choose to be friends.

And if we are friends, we should be able to talk to one another about what is bothering us in a calm, civil and respectful manner; as friendly neighbours, and not as enemies.

The need to go to the tribunals should be considered only when attempts to get the parties together for mediation fail and there is no other way to compel the parties to get together other than to apply to the tribunals.

William Wan (Dr)

General Secretary

Singapore Kindness Movement

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New margin rules coming for uncleared OTC derivatives

Business Times
02 Oct 2015
Melissa Tan

Move is part of global reforms and will reduce counterparty risk: MAS

[Singapore] THE Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) said on Thursday that it plans to impose new margin rules for "uncleared" over-the-counter (OTC) derivatives, in a bid to reduce the build-up of systemic risk arising from such instruments.

This will be done in phases beginning with the banks, it said.

Uncleared OTC derivatives refer to contracts that are not traded on a central exchange - hence the OTC label - and are also not cleared by what the MAS called a "qualifying central counterparty" - essentially, a clearing house.

The authority said in a press release that it intends to impose margin requirements for nearly all uncleared OTC derivatives, adding that it will carry out a quantitative study of the impact of the proposal.

The only exceptions will be physically settled foreign exchange forwards and swaps, though the authority said it expected market participants to "appropriately manage the risks" associated with such forex transactions.

Noting that imposing margin requirements would reduce counterparty risk and would be part of broader global reforms to make the trading of OTC derivatives safer, the MAS said it recognised that margins are currently not exchanged or collected here "as a common practice, save for the larger banks".

It said it would therefore impose the margin requirements in phases starting with banks, which it identified as having the most exposure to uncleared derivatives.

Its latest proposals came after the authority said in July that it may require Singapore-dollar and US-dollar OTC interest rate swaps, the most widely traded interest rate derivatives in Singapore, to be centrally cleared.

The MAS said on Thursday that while it intends to introduce a central clearing regime for OTC derivative contracts in 2016, "not all OTC derivative contracts are suitable for central clearing", and risks from uncleared derivatives could destabilise the financial system if "inadequately collateralised".

It invited interested parties to submit their comments by Nov 1. Details of the proposals can be found on its website.

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SGX grilled by concerned shareholders at AGM

Straits Times
24 Sep 2015
Wong Wei Han

Issues include rule on minimum trading price, rising staff costs, director fees

Investors grilled Singapore Exchange (SGX) bosses on a range of issues yesterday amid some concerns over the bourse's business performance.

The 600 or so shareholders clearly had plenty to get off their chests at the annual general meeting.

One of the most contentious issues concerned the upcoming minimum trading price (MTP) requirement but there were also questions about the sluggish securities business, rising staff costs and director fees.

One of the more vocal attendees was activist investor Mano Sabnani, who asked the SGX to be more active in guiding the stock market to meet the 20-cent minimum trading price requirement, set to fully kick in in March next year.

The scrambling for share consolidations by affected firms has led to share value disruption and illiquidity, Mr Sabnani said, adding that the bourse should intervene to ensure greater order and consistency in such corporate actions.

SGX chairman Chew Choon Seng responded by reiterating the need for the new rule to improve the quality of mainboard listings, of which around 30 per cent are still trading below the 20-cent level and are vulnerable to manipulation.

"Having said that, we avoided being overly prescriptive. We should let issuers themselves decide whether they should stay on the mainboard and comply with the requirement, or to migrate to the Catalist board which has no MTP," Mr Chew said.

He added that companies have a three-year grace period, until 2019, to make the necessary adjustments.

Investors were also vocal about the lack of new listings, reflected by an 8 per cent year-on-year drop in SGX's securities revenue in the past financial year.

Mr Sabnani asked: "I'm sure you're trying, but what more can we do to attract listings? What we've been reading is that companies are actually delisting from the stock exchange here."

Newly appointed chief executive Loh Boon Chye acknowledged the challenge but stressed that it is a global issue. "In the past three months, we have seen companies delay their public listings as a result of the ongoing market volatility not only in Singapore but globally.

"The presence of more sources of capital, including venture capital and private equity which have been active investors in start-ups and growth companies, has drawn away potential IPOs."

Mr Loh told investors that the SGX will focus on attracting firms in core sectors such as real estate investment trusts, healthcare and the emerging digital tech sectors.

On the derivatives side, which now contributes 38 per cent of SGX's total revenue, ahead of 27 per cent generated by securities, the bourse is working on diversifying contract types to limit the impact from the commodity crash amid China's slowdown, Mr Loh added.

Investors also questioned chief regulatory officer Tan Boon Gin on the slow progress of the investigation into suspected market manipulation that potentially led to the penny stock crash three years ago.

They said the lack of closure will keep affecting market sentiment.

Mr Tan, the former director of Commercial Affairs Department (CAD) before joining the SGX in June, said the CAD fully appreciated the urgency of the matter and is sparing no resources in its probe.

Shareholders were also critical of SGX staff costs, which rose $23 million in the past financial year.

The chairman's fee of $750,000 - including for a car and driver - for Mr Chew drew the ire of shareholder Tan Keng Sooi, who demanded that Mr Chew give up his transport benefits and "give the money back to the poor".

Lead independent director Kwa Chong Seng said the chairman's fee has not been raised since 2009, adding that Mr Chew is paid the amount because he is not allowed to take up any position on another board.

Despite the at-times intense questioning, all 13 resolutions were passed with over 95 per cent of votes in favour, including for the director and chairman fees.

The recommended final dividend of 16 cents per share was also approved, pushing the year's total dividend to 28 cents per share, unchanged from last year.

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Transnational laws needed to curb fires

Straits Times
10 Oct 2015
Toh Han Shih

To solve the problem of the haze afflicting Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia, extraterritorial action is needed to quench the forest fires in Indonesia that are generating the haze. A cross-border solution is a necessary answer even if it raises questions of national sovereignty.

The Singapore Government should implement laws that can be enforced beyond the Republic's borders, similar to United States laws such as the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) and the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (Fatca).

FCPA penalises companies and businessmen who bribe officials of countries besides the United States, while Fatca tackles tax evasion by US taxpayers living outside the US.

Since Fatca was implemented in the late 1970s, many companies have been fined for violating this law. Interestingly, the majority of the companies that paid the biggest fines for violating Fatca were non-US firms, such as Siemens of Germany.

In 2008, Siemens paid the US government US$800 million in fines for bribing officials in many countries including China, Vietnam, Russia, Mexico and Israel.

One may ask, what right does the US government have to fine a German company like Siemens for bribing officials in China?

Any non-US company is liable under FCPA as long as it has some US connection. For example, a non-US firm listed in the US or with offices and factories in the US can be punished if it bribes officials of a foreign country.

Even a minor American connection renders a non-US firm liable to FCPA, such as an e-mail passing through a server in the US or US-dollar funds passing through a US bank.

Like the US, the Singapore Government should punish foreign companies implicated in the haze, by leveraging on any Singapore connection of these foreign companies, such as their bank accounts, assets, offices and factories in Singapore.

Given that Indonesia has a poor reputation when it comes to corruption, it is possible that companies guilty of causing the haze bribed Indonesian officials to be allowed to burn Indonesian forests. Hence, a Singaporean version of a foreign anti-bribery law might be an appropriate tool in the fight against the haze.

Perhaps the Singapore Government can create a transnational law similar to Fatca to freeze the funds or financially penalise foreign companies guilty of creating the haze.

Under Fatca, financial companies around the world are required to report to the US Internal Revenue Service (IRS) on accounts of US taxpayers in order to prevent tax evasion. The financial institutions, including non-US ones, that fail to do so face a 30 per cent withholding tax penalty on their US income.

More than 80 countries, including China and Singapore, as well as thousands of banks around the world, have agreed to cooperate with Fatca. It is a testament to the negotiating skills of the US government that it persuaded so many countries and non-US financial institutions to cooperate with this US law.

The US government was able to get on board so many foreign governments and financial institutions because it managed to convince them it was in their interest to do so. For example, a country that cooperates with

Fatca would be able to obtain from the US government information on the tax evasion activities of that country's citizens in the US.

Similarly, the Singapore Government should persuade the governments of other countries, including Indonesia, that it would be to their benefit to provide information on companies responsible for the haze.

Some critics may complain that the US is resorting to transnational laws like Fatca and FCPA to act as the world's policeman in a form of US neo-imperialism. Likewise, if the Singapore Government uses transnational laws to fight the haze, some quarters in Indonesia may accuse Singapore of interfering in Indonesia's internal affairs.

A Straits Times article by Professor S. Jayakumar, a former Singapore law minister and foreign minister, and Ambassador-at-large Tommy Koh, cite the principle that a state like Indonesia has the responsibility to ensure that activities within its jurisdiction do not damage the environment of other states.

Some Asian politicians have criticised the US for interfering in the affairs of other nations by imposing US values like democracy. But even China is extending the long arm of the law to other countries.

In March, the Chinese government announced its international anti-corruption plan to track down and bring back corrupt Chinese fugitives from overseas. This plan is named Skynet, and one of the Chinese officials caught under Skynet is Li Huabo, a former Chinese official who was living in Singapore. In May, Li was extradited from Singapore to face corruption charges in his home country.

Even the British government has said it will more proactively enforce the UK Bribery Act that penalises British firms for committing bribery outside the UK.

Countries like the US, China and Britain are extending their legal teeth to other countries. Welcome to globalisation.

• The writer is a Hong Kong-based journalist last with the South China Morning Post.

Like the US, the Singapore Government should punish foreign companies implicated in the haze, by leveraging on any Singapore connection of these foreign companies, such as their bank accounts, assets, offices and factories in Singapore.

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Accounting body warns directors of 4 listed firms

Straits Times
02 Oct 2015
Chong Koh Ping

Acra's first full review of listed firms finds overall financial reporting 'generally healthy'

The accounting regulator has warned directors of four companies for falling far short of standards in its first full review of the financial statements of listed firms.

They were found to have significantly misstated revenue, profits and operating cash flows.

However, the overall state of financial reporting is still considered "generally healthy", said the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (Acra), which spent a year reviewing the 2013 financial statements of 49 of the 600 or so listed firms here.

It said there is still room for improvement, noting that it issued advisory letters to directors of 29 companies over "some non-compliances" with accounting standards, including the lack of disclosures.

"Generally, there's a gap between the standards of reporting for companies with $1 billion or more market capitalisation and the smaller ones," said Ms Cheng Ai Phing, who chaired the Financial Statements Review Committee of the Institute of Singapore Chartered Accountants during the review.

The institute assisted Acra in the review by providing expert opinions at various stages.

"The quality of the financial reporting in large-cap companies is quite good, and on a par with the standards in Australia and Hong Kong. But the small and medium-sized companies still have some room to improve," she said.

The review focused on areas that would significantly impact revenue, profit and operating cash flow.

Key findings in the report pointed to firms misclassifying operating cash flow, wrong accounting for mixed-use property, inappropriate consolidation and wrong revenue recognition.

Company directors are responsible for making sure that the financial statements are compliant with the accounting standards.

Acra's regulatory sanctions are aimed at the directors, and not the companies. In this review cycle, Acra did not impose any fines or prosecute any directors.

"Enforcement is necessary to ensure that the quality of financial reporting in Singapore is on a par with global standards and instils greater confidence in investors," said Acra's spokesman.

"This is also the practice of leading global capital markets such as the UK and the US."

Acra noted that the directors took quick action to correct the instances of non-compliance and areas for improvement.

All instances of non-compliance highlighted to the directors before the financial statements for the year 2014 were finalised have been corrected.

It is crucial that directors review the financial statements carefully and, when necessary, question management's judgments and estimates, said Acra chief executive Kenneth Yap.

"They have a duty to provide their stakeholders with an accurate picture of the financial health of the company," he said.

"We hope that the observations shared in the report will help directors avoid some common pitfalls and further enhance the quality of financial statements put out by their companies."

Acra is likely to focus on the valuations of long-term assets and their impairment assessments in the property and commodity resources sectors for the financial statements for the year 2015. It will confirm the areas of review focus when it issues the practice guidance for directors in December.


The quality of the financial reporting in large-cap companies is quite good, and on a par with the standards in Australia and Hong Kong. But the small and medium-sized companies still have some room to improve.

MS CHENG AI PHING, who chaired the Financial Statements Review Committee during the review

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More protection for investors: Gold buyback and real estate schemes

Straits Times
24 Sep 2015
Lorna Tan

The latest measures to bring previously unregulated investments linked to gold buyback and real estate schemes under the fold of the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) was certainly welcome news to retail investors.

Some would say it is long overdue, with memories of scams involving precious metals, raw land and property with no recourse, still fresh in the minds.

But what protection do the measures provide to the man in the street? Once the regulations are in place, such schemes cannot be sold to retail investors without the MAS first authorising or recognising them. Sellers will have to make their scheme details and business plans known to the authorities and, in some cases, register prospectuses.

They will also have to disclose material information to consumers so that they can make well-informed decisions.

These requirements will make it harder for such schemes to offer lofty promises and claims to retail investors that they cannot deliver.

Under the new rules, some schemes can no longer solicit funds from the public but can do so only from investors who are deemed more sophisticated.

Consumers can expect to be given licensed financial advice from trained advisers on some of these products and be brought through an advisory process where a reasonable basis for recommending them is established. They may also seek recourse when these investments fall through.

The public is encouraged to check the MAS website for the list of MAS-registered prospectuses, authorised retail investment funds and regulated financial institutions.

Overall, the new measures will enhance consumer protection but investors have to continue to play their part by beefing up their financial literacy and being cautious when considering investments.

Legislation on the new measures will be tabled in Parliament next year. The MAS is also considering establishing a complexity/risk ranking framework for retail investment products, so watch this space.

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Watchdog warns against improper insurance sales

Straits Times
10 Oct 2015
Lorna Tan

The consumer watchdog and financial experts have spoken out against the inappropriate selling of insurance products.

On Monday, The Straits Times highlighted the plight of administrative executive Corinne Han, 57, who was sold an endowment plan two years ago at United Overseas Bank (UOB).

She is now unable to continue with her PruSave Max Limited Pay plan as the yearly $40,000 premiums, payable for five years, are higher than her annual pay of about $30,000. So far, she has paid $80,000.

Mr Seah Seng Choon, executive director of the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case), cautioned that according to the fair trading requirements, a financial adviser who sells an investment product that is beyond the ability of the consumer to service is in breach of the rules.

He said: "For cases such as this, there is a possibility that either the financial representative did not do a proper financial determination of the consumer's ability to pay or he did not communicate the risk the consumer has to bear after evaluating the consumer's financial status.

"I expect UOB to conduct a thorough investigation into this matter as the conduct of this representative could undo the good work of those who have diligently upheld the reputation of the financial industry. I expect UOB to take full responsibility for the action of its representative should he be found culpable and ensure that the consumer is not disadvantaged as a result of the lapses of its representative."

Madam Han visited UOB to open an account in 2013. She ended up purchasing the Prudential policy that came with freebies like an air-fryer and a steamer.

Many readers have responded to Madam Han's dilemma, empathising with her and sharing unhappy experiences buying insurance.

A financial practitioner, who declined to be named, questioned if UOB had fulfilled its legal obligation to have a reasonable basis for its recommendation. "What was the basis for deciding that a person with a $30,000 yearly income could service a $40,000 annual premium over five years?"

Mr Patrick Lim, associate director at financial advisory PromiseLand Independent, said in addition to comprehensive fact-finding, it is important to ensure customer affordability and his ability to pay premiums throughout the plan tenure.

He added he would not recommend endowment plans that offer a guaranteed maturity cash benefit lower than the total premiums paid. The guaranteed maturity sum of Madam Han's plan is $181,000, less than the $200,000 in total premiums.

Case said that insurance is about trust and consumers will expect fair returns to their investment.

"Most consumers will not be sophisticated enough to compute and determine the negative impact on their investments and are therefore vulnerable to questionable products sold to them," added Mr Seah.

A UOB spokesman told The Straits Times: "We are in the process of working with Madam Han to come to a suitable resolution."

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Recalcitrant neighbours can be taken to court

Straits Times
01 Oct 2015
Kok Xing Hui

New tribunals can make excessively difficult culprits comply with order

Neighbours who are excessively noisy or hard to live with in other ways can now be hauled to court if mediation fails to resolve issues.

Community Disputes Resolution Tribunals (CDRT) start today, and they will let judges order an offender to pay damages of up to $20,000, or apologise to his neighbour, for instance.

The tribunals will take on cases of recalcitrant offenders who - through excessive noise, smell, smoke, light or vibration, or littering - interfere with their neighbours' enjoyment of their residence.

Costs at the new tribunals are also lower than those at other courts so that more people have access to it.

Filing an application at the CDRT will cost $150, compared to the $190 at a District Court. CDRT's total cost is estimated to be $200, compared to the $510 at a District Court.

Costs are also lower as no lawyers are involved and all proceedings are judge-led.

The CDRT was first mooted by outgoing Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong in March last year.

He stressed that it is intended as a final resort to resolve long-standing disputes, after community mediation efforts have been exhausted.

Previously, people could turn to the Community Mediation Centre (CMC) if they could not resolve disputes either on their own or with the help of grassroots leaders.

But the CMC cannot issue legal orders, and there is little the authorities can do if the neighbours do not want to make up.

The CDRT, however, can issue a special directive to the offending party to comply with the court order. Breaching that directive could lead to the party being fined up to $5,000 or jailed for up to three months for a first offence.

The tribunals can also order neighbours to go for compulsory mediation. Currently, attendance is not compulsory, and the no-show rate is about 60 per cent.

This is despite the resolution rate of 75 per cent for cases in which disputing parties do show up.

Background Story

The tribunals will take on cases of recalcitrant offenders who - through excessive noise, smell, smoke, light or vibration, or littering - interfere with their neighbours' enjoyment of their residence.

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SMRT fined $5.4m for massive breakdown in July

Straits Times
24 Sep 2015
Christopher Tan

Rail operator SMRT Corp has been handed a $5.4 million fine for a massive breakdown that crippled both the North-South and East-West MRT lines during the evening peak period on July 7.

The amount is the biggest penalty imposed on a rail operator here so far, but is less than what some analysts were expecting.

Soon after the incident, Maybank Kim Eng analyst Derrick Heng noted that SMRT could face a fine of up to $50 million.

He based his projection on new rules that allow the Government to fine an errant operator an amount equivalent to 10 per cent of its annual fare revenue for an affected line.

The disruption - the biggest in Singapore so far - affected about 413,000 commuters, many of whom took hours to get home, with some walking all the way.

It was caused by electrical power trips at multiple locations in the network. Investigations narrowed the root cause to salt deposits on one of the third-rail insulators near a tunnel leak between the Tanjong Pagar and Raffles Place stations.

In announcing the penalty yesterday, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) said the incident could have been prevented if SMRT had rectified the leak, as it was required to do.

"Based on SMRT's records, they had detected seepage in the tunnel section in question on its routine track patrols in mid-June 2015," the LTA said. "However, these leaks were attended to only in end-July."

This delay led to salty deposits on the insulator of the power-supplying third rail accumulating to a point where an electrical short circuit could occur.

The LTA added that SMRT had also failed to meet requirements under the Code of Practice for incident management. There were reports of widespread confusion, not only at train stations, but also at bus stops where buses had been deployed to replace the trains.

One video clip showed desperate commuters preventing a packed bus from moving off.

Mr Eugene Mok, 30, who works in communications and was among the thousands left high and dry, said: "The fine is probably painful enough to SMRT but, if I were to put a dollar value to each commuter who was inconvenienced, the amount should be much higher."

Asked if SMRT would pay up or appeal against the fine, company spokesman Patrick Nathan would only say: "SMRT acknowledges the financial penalty. We have stepped up efforts to systematically address the issue and minimise the possibility of a recurrence."

The previous record fine of $2 million was also handed to SMRT, for two breakdowns in December 2011.

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Eight years after he is sentenced, drug trafficker's 25-year jail term cut by 12 years

Straits Times
09 Oct 2015
Amir Hussain

SINGAPORE - A 39-year-old man who has served time for eight years for heroin trafficking had his jail sentence reduced by 12 years on Thursday.

Koh Bak Kiang, who was initially sentenced to 25 years' jail and 24 strokes of the cane after he pleaded guilty to two charges of heroin trafficking and a count of drug consumption, saw his jail term cut to 13 years with 24 strokes of the cane.

On Thursday, he pleaded guilty to two lesser charges of trafficking in a Class A controlled drug other than heroin at a High Court hearing, after Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon granted the prosecution's application to set aside Koh's convictions for heroin trafficking.

With the usual one-third remission for good behaviour, Koh will be released in two months.

He was arrested in April 2007 for transporting 45 packets of powdery substances containing 14.99g of heroin from Serangoon Central to Katong Plaza. He also delivered a brown envelope containing 14.99g of heroin to a tattoo shop in Katong Plaza.

Koh knew that he was trafficking a drug belonging to the Class A list of controlled substances, but did not know the exact drug he was transporting.

Class A drugs are considered the most harmful and addictive drugs, and attract the most severe punishments, including the death penalty.

At his home, anti-narcotics officers also found a bag containing 20.7g of ketamine.

At a hearing in November 2007, Koh, a former engineer with a master's in business administration, pleaded guilty to his charges. In his mitigation plea during sentencing, he stated that he did not know the drug he was trafficking was heroin.

Trafficking above 15g of heroin carries the death penalty.

To be convicted for trafficking a specific drug under the law, an offender has to know the actual drug trafficked.

Koh appealed against his sentence shortly after, but this was dismissed in April 2008.

Then in April 2014, he made an application for a late appeal against his conviction.

The application was heard by CJ Menon last July. He sent the case to the State Courts, to consider the admission of additional evidence. The case was heard there in June this year.

On Thursday, at the High Court hearing before CJ Menon, the prosecution asked for Koh's heroin trafficking charges to be set aside, and for them to be replaced with the lesser trafficking ones.

Meting out the new sentence, CJ Menon told Koh: "You will be released shortly, in a matter of a few months."

After Koh thanked him, the judge said: "When you are released, please don't do this again."

Koh's mother and two brothers were in court.

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New moneylending rules kick in for better borrower protection

Business Times
01 Oct 2015
Jamie Lee

[Singapore] THE first set of new borrowing rules for Singapore licensed moneylenders will come into effect on Thursday, the Ministry of Law said on Wednesday.

Loans from moneylenders will now be subject to the following caps:

• The upfront administrative fee must not exceed 10 per cent of the loan principal;
• Interest cannot be more than 4 per cent per month;
• Late interest of not more than 4 per cent per month;
• Late fee of no more than S$60 per month; and
• Total borrowing cost must not be more than 100 per cent of the loan principal.

Previously, there were no limits on interest and late interest rates for borrowers earning more than S$30,000 annually. There was also no cap on the total borrowing costs for moneylending loans. These caps will not apply to loans granted to businesses which have been registered for at least two years before the grant of the loan. These new controls follow recommendations made in May by a 15-member advisory committee on moneylending.

More recommendations should be implemented in time. These include allowing borrowers who earn at least S$20,000 a year to take up unsecured loans that is maxed out at six times their monthly salary. Previously, the borrowing caps were based on different salary tiers. Those earning less than S$20,000 a year will continue to be subject to the existing cap of S$3,000.

A credit bureau for moneylenders will be set up, to allow such lenders to assess the credit risk of borrowers.

"The controls on borrowing costs will offer borrowers more protection by ensuring that they are not subject to exorbitant interest rates and fees, while preserving their access to credit by allowing the industry to remain commercially viable," said Manu Bhaskaran, chairman of the committee, in a press statement.

Kuo How Nam, a member of the committee and president of Credit Counselling Singapore, added that the cap on the borrowing costs will help to ensure that debts do not spiral out of control.

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Former RWS director charged with receiving $317k in bribes

Straits Times
24 Sep 2015
Elena Chong

A former director of Resorts World Sentosa (RWS) was charged yesterday with receiving bribes totalling $317,000 while a freelance quantity surveyor has been accused of abetting him.

Soh Yew Meng, 36, faces four charges of receiving bribes from three contractors and three of trying to get bribes.

Freelance quantity surveyor Tan Siow Hui, 32, allegedly abetted in the offences by conspiring with Soh to receive bribes and attempting to get an unspecified sum from two men.

Soh, then a director of RWS, allegedly obtained $150,000 on each of two occasions from Shanghai Chong Kee Furniture & Construction managing director Tan Ken Huat to further the company's business interest with RWS.

The first alleged payment took place at Seah Imm Road carpark on July 22, 2013, and the second, at a carpark at Bukit Batok Street 31 sometime between Dec 23, 2013 and Jan 15 last year.

Court documents say he obtained the bribes through Superiortec director Teo Wee Liap and Tan Siow Hui.

Soh is said to have obtained a $2,000 bribe from freelance lighting designer Teo Sin Tiong of Maple Lighting Studio on July 28, 2013, as a reward for furthering the studio's business with RWS.

He allegedly obtained a $15,000 bribe from Beyond Builders (2005) director Tan Choon Hung, via Tan Siow Hui, between Nov 11 and 19, 2013, to further the business interest of Beyond Builders with RWS.

The other three charges were for allegedly trying to get unspecified sums of money through Tan Siow Hui in 2013 from Mr Goh Kheng Heng, a director of Novelty Project Services, and Mr Douglas Gwee Kok Nian, unemployed.

Their lawyer Dora Boon said her clients are claiming trial.

Tan's $300,000 police bail has been extended while Soh is out on $150,000 court bail.

Their passports have been impounded.

The prosecution said $170,000 has been recovered.

A pre-trial conference will be held on Oct 23.

The maximum penalty for corruption is a $100,000 fine and five years' jail.

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New guidelines soon to steer banks on responsible financing

Business Times
09 Oct 2015
Jamie Lee

ABS to work with MAS to monitor adoption of guidelines; but academic says guidelines too generic, light-weight

[Singapore] IN 12 to 18 months' time, banks in Singapore will be expected to disclose policies framing their risk assessment of environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors for lending, under new guidelines set by the Association of Banks in Singapore (ABS).

The guidelines have been in the works since early this year, and were partly prompted by the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act that was passed in Parliament in 2014. A World Wide Fund for Nature report this year also singled out Singapore for dismal disclosures on ESG integration. The haze, which has prompted calls to boycott products from companies fingered for slash-and-burn practice, puts the guidelines in the spotlight.

ABS director Ong-Ang Ai Boon said that she was confident that banks would comply with the guidelines, though they do not carry penalties. She said that banks were wary of reputational risks, and that the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) wants self-regulation. An MAS spokeswoman said that the regulator would work with ABS to monitor the adoption and implementation of the guidelines.

"ABS has always worked with peer pressure," said Mrs Ong-Ang at a press conference. "I'm going to leave it to the banks to feel so responsible, to feel so wretched, that their financing could have caused the haze."

ABS, which has 158 members, set up a task force to review this, led by HSBC and UOB. The fresh guidelines state that banks are to disclose senior management's commitment to responsible financing, and the policy framework that supports this.

ABS cited industries with "elevated risks" including agriculture, defence, forestry, and mining that banks should prioritise in developing responsible financing policies.

Banks should also allocate resources to support the implementation of responsible financing, and ensure that they have governance controls that support it. ABS expects the banks to implement "robust governance systems" by 2017.

And ABS will work with the banks, and relevant non-governmental organisation to raise banking staff's awareness on responsible financing.

Singapore banks are at various stages in their consideration of ESG issues, and have not formalised them in the way that their foreign peers have done, said Mrs Ong-Ang. But from her understanding, any lending to sensitive sectors would already be escalated to senior management.

"This set of guidelines is not a silver bullet," she added. "It will shape long-term changes in the agricultural practices of banking customers."

But Singapore Management University law professor Eugene Tan criticised the guidelines as a paper tiger. "It's too generic and light-weight and only requires banks to demonstrate that they have adopted the three principles on responsible financing in their business models."

Prof Tan added that it was unlikely that banks would be directly caught under the Haze Pollution Act for lending to companies that are found to have engaged in activities contributing to the haze. But it may be possible to take legal action against a bank that provided financial services to a company for the purpose of activities that caused or contributed to haze pollution in Singapore, he said. "The bank could be said to have not exercised a duty of care, especially if the ABS guidelines and/or the bank's own policies are not complied with."

He added that reputational risk was probably the biggest deterrent. "This is where consumer awareness and activism have a vital role to play."

Singapore banks said that they would reassess their banking relationship with clients if they are found to have breached standards such as zero-burning policies. A DBS spokeswoman said that the palm-oil companies that they make loans to have zero-burning policies. "In recent weeks, we had engaged a few of our palm oil plantation customers to reaffirm their zero burning policies. We are monitoring the situation closely."

Bloomberg reported that DBS's Indonesian unit was the biggest lender to PT Provident Agro, the majority owner of PT Langgam Inti Hibrindo. The latter has had its permit suspended over an investigation that it caused forest fires - a claim it has denied. DBS does not finance paper and pulp, and logging companies in Indonesia. In evaluating financing for a project, both DBS and OCBC said that they would consider the impact to issues such as resettlement.

DBS submits integrated reporting, which already covers sustainability issues that are most material to its strategy. It will now enhance disclosures on responsible financing to be in line with ABS guidelines

Vincent Choo, chief risk officer, OCBC Bank, said that ESG considerations related to the haze have been brought "to the forefront" with due diligence of new borrowers. Asked about having greater transparency on ESG standards, Mr Choo noted that the major global foreign banks have put years of effort to reach where they are today, and that international ESG standards are still evolving.

Frankie Phua, head of country and credit risk management at UOB, said that the bank would boost training for staff in the area of responsible financing.

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

Man who shot at passer-by with airsoft gun gets jail

Straits Times
01 Oct 2015
K.C. Vijayan

Sentence meant to ensure the maxim 'once bitten, twice shy' was not lost on him: Judge

A district judge, in sentencing a bank officer who fired a shot at a passer-by with an airsoft gun, made clear a jail term was needed to deter other people who might have the same idea.

DJ Siva Shanmugam said sending the offender Ernest Sim to jail was to ensure the maxim "once bitten, twice shy" was not lost on him.

Sim, 26, a personal banker, was jailed seven weeks and fined $12,000 in August for firing a shot from his pellet gun at a passer-by, and possessing an airsoft pistol and importing an airsoft pistol in December without a licence.

Five other charges were also taken into consideration, which included separate incidents involving two other victims.

In the shooting incident, which occurred at about 8.15pm on Jan 26, Ms Bian Xin, 29, was hit just above her chest by a white ball-shaped pellet while walking along a sheltered area near Block 101, Clementi Street 14. It later emerged that the shot came from the second-storey unit of the block, where Sim lived.

Ms Bian had noticed that the lights in the unit went out immediately after she was hit.

Police checked the flat and seized an airsoft gun and airsoft pistol, for which Sim admitted ownership. Sim said he bought the items in Thailand last December, dismantled the guns and hid the parts in his bags to get them into Singapore via Changi Airport. He did not have a licence to import or possess such items.

His lawyer Lee Ee Yang urged the court to impose a non-jail sentence, pointing out that Sim was remorseful, no significant harm was done to the victim, and Sim had made $1,400 in voluntary compensation to all the victims involved.

But Deputy Public Prosecutor Chan Yi Cheng called for a jail term of at least eight weeks for the shooting offence, saying that Sim had targeted the victim, had done so out of boredom and mischief and had shot at two other victims, as reflected in the other charges taken into consideration.

DJ Siva Shanmugam, in explaining why the deterrence was necessary, said most people live in high-rise buildings and are close to each other. "It would be relatively easy for someone to perch themselves in their apartment and take potshots at passers-by without being detected," he added in judgment grounds released last week.

He noted that Sim had turned off the lights in his home immediately after shooting to escape detection.

DJ Siva said the offences were premeditated and well-planned, noting that Sim would have undertaken the necessary prepatory acts which aggravated the offences.

The offence was also not a "one-off incident" as three other charges showed he had discharged pellets from his airsoft gun on three different dates in January. Sim has paid the fines and is on bail pending his appeal on the sentence.

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

Court application filed over Mr Lee Kuan Yew's oral history interviews

Straits Times
23 Sep 2015
K.C. Vijayan

Mr Lee Kuan Yew's two youngest children are taking the Government to court over interviews he gave more than 30 years ago.

Dr Lee Wei Ling and Mr Lee Hsien Yang, in their role as executors of the late Mr Lee's estate, believe control over the use of these interviews belongs with the estate.

Earlier this month, on Sept 2, they applied to the High Court to clarify the agreement that their father made in early 1983 over the use of these interviews, which were conducted by the Government's then Oral History Department.

A statement from Dr Lee and her younger brother, explaining why they decided to go to court, said they had asked for copies of the transcripts of the interviews given in 1981 and 1982. "These transcripts were in fact in the possession of the LKY estate," the statement added, without elaborating.

It went on to say that this request was in line with the interview agreement the late Mr Lee made with the Government. "The Government has disagreed that the LKY estate is entitled to use and have copies of the transcripts and the executors and trustees have filed an application to the High Court for an interpretation of the agreement," it added.

The interviews, which were done between July 8, 1981 and July 5, 1982 consist of transcripts and tape recordings. In 1993, the Oral History Department was merged with the National Archives to form the National Archives of Singapore, which collects and manages records pertaining to the nation's history.

When asked about the court application, a spokesman for the Attorney-General's Chambers told The Straits Times: "The executors of the estate of the late Mr Lee have filed an application to seek the Court's guidance on the proper interpretation of an interview agreement between the late Mr Lee and the Government.

"The agreement relates to the custody and use of certain interviews given by the late Mr Lee to the Oral History Department. The Government will establish the proper interpretation and status of the agreement before the Court."

The Attorney-General, being chief legal adviser to the Government, is a party to the court proceedings.

It is understood that the estate executors, represented by Rajah & Tann, do not want the transcripts accessed by anyone until five years from the date of Mr Lee's passing, unless written permission is obtained from the estate.

The elder Mr Lee died on March 23 at the age of 91, resulting in an outpouring of grief from Singaporeans in the year of the country's Golden Jubilee. He was prime minister from 1959 to 1990, before going on to become senior minister, then minister mentor.

A pre-trial conference was held yesterday and the next case management conference has been scheduled for Oct 27.

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High Court dismisses Amos Yee's appeal

Straits Times
09 Oct 2015
Selina Lum

Judge takes teen blogger to task for showing 'attitude of complete disregard for others'

Blogger Amos Yee was admonished by a High Court judge yesterday for having no regard for anyone else and using crude language to seek attention.

But the teenager was not there to hear it, deciding to stay away from his own appeal against his conviction and four-week jail term for wounding the feelings of Christians in a video as well as uploading an obscene image onto his blog.

Lawyer Alfred Dodwell, who is representing Amos pro bono with two others, said he chose not to turn up as he has served his sentence.

After two hours of arguments, Justice Tay Yong Kwang dismissed the appeal and took the teen to task for his behaviour throughout the criminal proceedings. He said the 16-year-old has "displayed an attitude of complete disregard for others that is hardly ever seen".

"He openly defied directions of the court and made sure people on the Internet knew about his bravado in giving no respect to absolutely anyone, whether it is the police, the court, someone who had just passed away and the people mourning him or an entire body of believers of a religion."

The judge said it would be wrong to keep focusing on his age and downplay all that he has done.

In an expletive-laden video uploaded on March 27 - four days after the death of Mr Lee Kuan Yew - the teen made an analogy between Singapore's founding Prime Minister and Jesus Christ, describing both as "power hungry and malicious". He also drew parallels between Mr Lee's "delusional and ignorant" followers and Christians.

A day later, he posted an image on his blog, in which the faces of Mr Lee and former British premier Margaret Thatcher were superimposed on a line drawing of two people engaging in a sex act.

After he was charged, Amos refused to comply with bail conditions which disallowed him from posting online and required him to make private the offensive material. As a result, his parents and, later, a counsellor, withdrew bail, accounting for 18 of the 53 days in total that he spent in remand.

After he was convicted, he was remanded for 21 days after rejecting probation and reposting the material. He refused to undergo psychiatric assessment and was remanded for another 14 days.

He eventually walked free in July after a district judge sentenced him to four weeks' jail and backdated it.

Yesterday, Justice Tay agreed with Deputy Public Prosecutor Kwek Mean Luck that the time in remand was entirely of the teen's own doing. He noted Amos' actions were done in the "noble disguise" of freedom of speech and a purported desire to generate genuine debate.

But his deliberate use of vulgarities, crude language and obscene depictions to provoke reaction was akin to someone throwing stones at a neighbour's window to force the neighbour to notice him, come out to quarrel or even to fight, he said.

"This does not sound like freedom of speech at all," said Justice Tay, saying that it was a licence to hate and humiliate others.

Mr Dodwell stressed that Amos was just a 16-year-old who adopts logic and reasoning in expressing his views. He argued that the case has far-reaching implications on the curtailment of free speech.

Another lawyer, Mr Ervin Tan, argued that the image was not obscene as it did not depict any genitalia. But Justice Tay said a picture does not become obscene only when it is explicit. Would a young man visiting his girlfriend's parents share the image with his prospective in-laws, the judge asked.

The third lawyer, Mr Chong Jiahao, argued that Amos did not intend to wound religious feelings as the purpose of the video was to talk about Mr Lee. Singaporeans felt offended because of the sentiments about Mr Lee but there was no evidence that Christians felt insulted.

However, Justice Tay said: "Three carefully crafted sentences about a subject can deliver as much venom as 30 pages of text about another subject, especially when the subjects are then linked by analogy."

But he noted Amos was "not without talent" and has a command of the English language which could be put to good use. "I hope that Mr Yee will wean himself away from his preference for crude and rude language," said the judge, adding that real debate on social issues need not be poisoned with vulgarities.


This does not sound like freedom of speech at all. It is a licence to hate, to humiliate others and to totally disregard their feelings or beliefs by using words to inflict unseen wounds.

JUSTICE TAY YONG KWANG, on Amos Yee's behaviour

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NEA serves notice on another Indonesian firm

01 Oct 2015
Stacey Lim

Tourists staying away from outdoor attractions, hitting businesses’ bottom lines

SINGAPORE — As the haze continued to cast a pall over businesses in the tourism and hospitality sector here, the National Environmental Agency (NEA) has issued a notice to another Indonesian company, directing it to take fire-fighting measures.

The company PT Bumi Mekar Hijau is the fifth to receive a preventive measures notice from the NEA under the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act.

Haze remained at unhealthy levels today (Sept 30) despite an early morning thunderstorm. As at 11pm, the 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) was 132 to 163, while the 3-hour PSI was 171, down from 224 at 4pm.

The one-hour PM2.5 concentration was 106 to 144 microgrammes per cubic metre.

Haze spreading from Sumatra is still persisting in the surrounding region and some haze from Kalimantan has also been spreading westward to the surrounding region, contributing to the slight deterioration in haze conditions here, the agency said.

The 24-hour PSI tomorrow is expected to be in the high end of the unhealthy range to the low end of the very unhealthy range, and could deteriorate to the mid-section of the very unhealthy range if denser haze blows in.

Last week, the NEA issued a preventive measures notice to four Indonesian companies suspected to be causing the haze, and requested a fifth with an office here to provide more information, putting into action the powers of the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act for the first time since it was passed last year.

Businesses catering to tourists here are being hit in the pocket as a result of the haze, with visitors steering clear of outdoor attractions.

At the Singapore Flyer, which offers panoramic views of Singapore’s skyline, tourists showed up, only to change their minds about going up after considering the conditions. Twenty-six-year-old Lisa, from Italy, said: “We were a little shocked because everybody is wearing masks. It’s not so nice, and the air is not so fresh.”

Another tourist Gary Metcalf, 50, also decided not to take a ride on the Flyer, and said that his golf session at Raffles Country Club had to be called off because of the haze. He added: “(I am) disappointed with the haze because my friend has not been feeling too well. We knew it was bad, but we did not know that it will be this bad.”

Mr Kian Guan, 50, supervisor of the Ya Kun Kaya Toast branch at the Flyer, said the outlet even shortened operating hours to half a day twice last week, on Sept 24 and 25, when the haze was at its worst. The management considers stopping operations at branches with outdoor seating when the PSI crosses the 200 mark, he said.

Mr Mattias Mross, 41, however, gamely took a ride. “We are from Shanghai so I think we are used to the haze,” he added.

When contacted, the Singapore Flyer management said they have seen a drop in walk-in visitors, but not by a “significant” amount, adding: “We don’t foresee the haze affecting the operations of the Flyer.”

Over at Sentosa, the island has seen visitorship drop about 20 per cent since the onset of the haze.

“When the PSI level exceeds 300, or if the experience of the attraction is compromised, we may suspend operations of our outdoor attractions such as the Wings of Time, as well as outdoor programmes.

“If the PSI rises to levels where visibility becomes a safety consideration for our cable car operations, we will also suspend the cable car rides until the situation improves,” said Sentosa Leisure Management’s divisional director (island operations) Koh Piak Huat.

Last Thursday, it suspended its cable car services when the haze reached hazardous levels and visibility deteriorated.

Travel agencies serving in-bound tourists are also feeling the pinch, although they noted overall visitor arrivals here have been on the decline. Mr Bernard Yu, senior manager for the in-bound travel department at SingExpress Travel, said numbers are down 30 per cent from the same period last year.

There could be a pickup when China’s Golden Week holidays — to mark its National Day — begin tomorrow, but the Chinese economy has been weak, he said.

While there have been no cancellations so far, three travel agents from Hong Kong have enquired about the haze and considered cancelling, he added.

Travel GSH managing director Chai Yin said the agency has seen a slight decrease of about 18 per cent.

But, Singapore is typically a short stop for its customers, who spend a couple of days here before moving on to other countries as part of the itinerary, he said.

Copyright 2015 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

Keppel Club lawsuit: Defendants' assets frozen

Straits Times
23 Sep 2015
K.C. Vijayan

Mareva injunction imposed on ex-employee and 2 others implicated in membership fraud

The High Court has ordered a freeze on the assets of a woman at the centre of a probe into alleged fraud involving Keppel Club memberships.

Madam Setho Oi Lin, 67, and two alleged accomplices will have assets up to the value of $19.28 million frozen until further notice. They are being sued by the club.

The order was made by Justice Kan Ting Chiu last week.

However, the judge rejected the club's bid to impose an asset freeze on two firms which provided services in the sale and purchase of golf club memberships.

He ordered the club to pay costs to the firms.

The asset freeze - known as a Mareva injunction - aims to prevent defendants in a case from disposing of assets, and to enable the plaintiff to recover the sums if a court suit succeeds.

The two others besides Madam Setho are Madam Cheo Soh Chin and Ms Dawn Lee.

Keppel is suing Madam Setho, the two other women and the two firms implicated in a membership fraud in which about $37.3 million was said to have been lost according to a probe report last year.

Keppel's lawyers had sought an asset freeze for up to that sum, but the court capped the freeze at $19.28 million after hearing all parties last month.

The probe had detected "irregularities" in more than 1,300 membership transfers at the club spanning a decade from 2004.

Among other things, some membership files contained only the records of payment of the food and beverage deposit to the club, not the membership transfer fees.

Keppel, Singapore's oldest country club, was rocked last year by revelations of the alleged fraud, which led to the sacking of Madam Setho, who started with the club as a clerk in 1966 and rose to supervise its membership department.

Over the years, she was given increasing powers to manage applications for membership transfers.

Keppel's lawyers from Lee & Lee had, among other things, sought to forbid Madam Setho from disposing her property in the Gold Coast, Australia, or money from its sale, as well as moving money from an Australian bank deposit and a local bank account, according to court documents filed for the injunction.

The lawyers for the various defendants include Senior Counsel Molly Lim, Michael Khoo and N. Sreenivasan, as well as lawyers Philip Fong and Melissa Thng.

A spokesman for the club,which celebrated its 111th anniversary last month, told The Straits Times last week: "We are satisfied with the outcome of the High Court decision in ordering the injunction against the three defendants.

"We will continue to work with our lawyers to pursue the case further."

A High Court pre-trial conference for the main lawsuit between Keppel and the parties is due next month.

Keppel's lawyers from Lee & Lee had, among other things, sought to forbid Madam Setho from disposing her property in the Gold Coast, Australia, or money from its sale, as well as moving money from an Australian bank deposit and a local bank account, according to court documents filed for the injunction.

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

Disclosure lapse in dealing of rights shares needs to be addressed

Business Times
09 Oct 2015
R. Sivanithy

UNDER current stockmarket disclosure rules, sales and purchases of shares in companies by their substantial shareholders (those who own at least 5 per cent) have to be quickly announced so that the market is kept up-to-date as soon as possible with changes in ownership and, possibly, control.

No one would dispute that such changes are crucially relevant as far as investors are concerned - for example, if a big-name investor were to buy into or sell out of a particular company, this could influence the investment decisions of other players.

However, when it comes to rights issues, there is apparently no equivalent requirement for disclosure to be promptly made for actions taken by substantial shareholders. This is a disclosure grey area which regulators should study and fix as soon as possible.

It is an issue which has cropped up several times over the past few years - it was first brought to our attention by a reader some years ago who, when referring to a rights issue by an offshore and marine company, correctly argued that since "selling of one's provisional allotments or buying provisional allotments from the market to subscribe for more shares in the company will ultimately change one's shareholdings, not subjecting dealings in provisional allotments to the same disclosure requirement of dealings in shares make little sense".

More recently, the same topic was raised by an online investment website (http://www.nextinsight.net/index.php/story-archive-mainmenu-60/927-2015/10303-why-no-timely-disclosure-of-sale-of-nil-paid-rights-of-yamada) which highlighted the case of agricultural firm Yamada Green Resources, whose rights issue ended last month.

On Sept 22, Yamada announced that substantial shareholder Global Yellow Pages' (GYP) stake had on Sept 17 dropped from 20 to 13.33 per cent because GYP did not subscribe to its allotted rights shares. According to the writer's analysis, GYP had sold its nil-paid rights on Sept 3-12 business days earlier.

"In the spirit of timely disclosure, the relevant regulation should be amended to require prompt disclosure of the sale of nil-paid rights by substantial shareholders," said the writer.

Most rights issues come with an undertaking by major shareholders that they will subscribe to their allotment, an undertaking that is presumably aimed at convincing other shareholders that the fund raising is worthwhile and that they should follow suit.

However, if the next biggest shareholders decide for whatever reason not to subscribe to their rights entitlement, then sell their nil-paid entitlements in the market and as a consequence eventually see their stakes diluted, surely this is equally relevant information that the market should know before the rights trading ends?

Conversely, if a substantial shareholder is subscribing to more than its entitlement by buying excess nil-paid rights, this is also useful information which investors should know.

Either way, it's a disclosure lapse which should be addressed.

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

Ministry takes issue with book by Subhas

Straits Times
30 Sep 2015
K.C. Vijayan

His accounts differ 'quite substantially' from those of officials he wrote about

The Law Ministry has said that certain accounts given in a new book released posthumously by top criminal lawyer Subhas Anandan differ "quite substantially" from those of the legal and government officials he was writing about.

Mr Anandan, who died in January aged 67, dictated the chapters of It's Easy To Cry while undergoing kidney dialysis treatment last year.

Three in particular stand out for his opinions about Singapore's chief justices, attorneys-general and judges. Among other things, he questions the move to prosecute two high-profile civil servants for corruption and suggests they could have been dealt with by internal disciplinary process rather than "mud slinging in Court". One was acquitted and the other, convicted.

In a separate high-profile case, he noted that "most people" thought a law professor who was charged and then acquitted over accepting gratification from a student should have been sacked or deported "at worst".

He also recalls various encounters he had with legal officials .

When contacted, a Law Ministry spokesman told The Straits Times: "The late Mr Anandan has... set out his version of conversations and interactions he has had with several serving officers in the judiciary, the Legal Service and the Government.

"The recollections of many of the officers differ, sometimes quite substantially, from the accounts that Mr Anandan has set out, about these conversations and interactions.

"The officers, however, have decided, out of respect to Mr Anandan's memory, that it is not appropriate to set out their corrections to Mr Anandan's account. For the same reason, it would not be appropriate to respond to Mr Anandan's criticisms of these persons."

The book's contents relate largely to his early life, his family and close friends, and it is peppered with his recollections of the criminal cases that he handled.

He also speaks up for defendants who "plead guilty for noble reasons" and "willingly accept blame because they do not want a loved one to get into trouble".

He cites the case of a teacher charged with amending some of her pupils' answers in the PSLE in 2007 and another woman who pleaded guilty to abetting her son in setting cars on fire - to protect her son from being implicated in a more serious charge that could have seen him sent to jail. In both cases, he fought to get probation for the women but had to settle with two months' imprisonment for each.

The book, published by Marshall Cavendish, is due to hit bookstores on Friday and is priced at $29.90 before GST.

"I have said what I wanted to say without hesitation," he writes in its conclusion. "I am not going to be very popular with some people. I have to accept the consequences when I have been candid."


I have said what I wanted to say without hesitation. I am not going to be very popular with some people. I have to accept the consequences when I have been candid.

MR SUBHAS ANANDAN, writing in the book's conclusion

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Lawyer making a habit of going beyond call of duty

Straits Times
23 Sep 2015
Lim Yi Han

Lawyer R. Thrumurgan, who is earning a reputation for going beyond the call of duty for his clients, knows disappointment.

In 2011, after a six-year pro bono battle, he overturned Ismil Kadar's murder conviction for the death of an elderly neighbour in a widely reported case. He gave the man a job at his firm as a dispatch assistant. The next year, 46-year-old Ismil was jailed seven years for drug use.

In an interview yesterday at his firm, Trident Law Corporation, Mr Thrumurgan, 42, spoke on record for the first time about Ismil's latest conviction. "I am obviously disappointed. But I would have felt really, really angry with myself if I had not tried to intervene."

Ismil's drug problem was "30 years in the making, so it's really hard to break that cycle", he explained. "But for young offenders, if we intervene at an early stage (and look at) how we restructure their lives, we can look at it as a real opportunity to do something."

The Court of Appeal judges had praised him in 2011 for his "impassioned advocacy" and "commendable conscientiousness" in conducting Ismil's defence. Last week, Community Court Judge Mathew Joseph said it was probably the first time he had seen a lawyer and his wife step forward to be sureties to ensure a client's good behaviour.

The client in this case was 18-year-old Carmen Chng Jiawen, whom Mr Thrumurgan also defended pro bono. She pleaded guilty to having kicked a policewoman and the rear window of a police car in 2013, and was sentenced to 18 months' probation. Not only did the lawyer and his wife decide to act as sureties, but he also gave her a job as an administrative assistant.

His wife Priscilla Yip, 41, who is head of communications in Asia-Pacific for Airbus Helicopters, admitted she had a bit of reservation at first. "But I've got to know Carmen and she's not that difficult to manage. It just takes some empathy."

Chng now sees the duo as her parents. Her father left the family 14 years ago. Her 43-year-old mother works as a waitress to support the family.Chng stopped school in 2008, and has yet to take her PSLE.

"To me, this is a new lease of life," she said of the second chance given by Mr Thrumurgan, whose firm takes on at least 30 cases pro bono each year, and took on Chng's case for free after being approached by her mother. Having grown up in a low-income family, Mr Thrumurgan knows what it is like to be in need. "It's important to recognise that people are coming to you for help and most of them have just one chance."

Mr R. Thrumurgan and his wife Priscilla Yip with Carmen Chng Jiawen (seated), for whom they are acting as sureties. Mr Thrumurgan defended Chng pro bono, and the teen now sees the couple as her parents. ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

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Related articles

Lawyer who helped teen client a role model for fraternity: Forum, ST, 17 Sep 2015
Judge praises lawyer for helping teen client, ST, 16 Sep 2015

International law 'helps protect S'pore's interests'

Straits Times
09 Oct 2015
Walter Sim

Republic adopts principled approach in always abiding by it, says Tommy Koh

Singapore has sought to use international law as both a sword to advance its interests, and a shield to defend its interests, veteran diplomat Tommy Koh said yesterday.

It therefore adopts a principled approach in always abiding by international law, he told 200 members and guests of the Law Society of Singapore at a lecture titled Singapore And International Law: A 50-Year Retrospective.

This approach guided founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, added Professor Koh, who recounted how when Mr Lee was told that something he suggested was not consistent with international law, he would drop the idea altogether.

However, Singapore's belief in international law is "not based on blind faith", Prof Koh said.

"We know that the international rule of law is weak and cannot deter a determined aggressive power, such as Russia, from using military force to secure its strategic objectives," said Prof Koh, who chairs the Centre for International Law at the National University of Singapore and is also an Ambassador- at-Large.

"We accept the reality that when there is a collision between law and military power, military power usually prevails, at least for the short term," he said.

The first principle of Singapore's foreign policy, Prof Koh said, has always been to be strong economically and militarily so it can defend its independence and territorial integrity.

Singapore, he added, should also work assiduously with other like-minded countries to strengthen the international rule of law because "as a small country, we want to live in a world which is ruled by law rather than by force".

Prof Koh cited several cases in which Singapore has relied on international law to protect its interests.

In 1961 and 1962, Singapore had entered into Water Agreements with Johor which, as a constituent state of Malaysia, does not have the legal status to enter into an international treaty. To protect its vital interests, Singapore inserted a "water clause" in the Independence of Singapore agreement with Malaysia that was eventually registered with the United Nations, Prof Koh noted.

He also cited two separate disputes with Malaysia, over land reclamation off Pulau Tekong and Tuas, and over Pedra Branca.

In 2002, Malaysia had accused Singapore of encroaching into its territorial waters with reclamation works in Tuas. Malaysia referred the dispute to arbitration, and Prof Koh noted that the eventual report by an arbitral tribunal largely exonerated Singapore. But it required Singapore to modify the contours of reclamation in Pulau Tekong and pay some compensation.

Both countries had also referred their dispute over Pedra Branca to the International Court of Justice (ICJ). While Singapore was relieved that the ICJ awarded Pedra Branca to Singapore in 2008, it was "rather disappointed" that it granted Middle Rocks to Malaysia.

Both governments accepted the judgment, and Pedra Branca is "no longer a divisive issue, no longer an irritant, in our bilateral relations".

This outcome, he added, was justification for being willing to acknowledge the dispute and to take the risk of losing the case in the ICJ.


The first principle of Singapore's foreign policy, Prof Koh said, has always been to be strong economically and militarily so it can defend its independence and territorial integrity. Singapore should also work assiduously with other like-minded countries to strengthen the international rule of law because "as a small country, we want to live in a world which is ruled by law rather than by force".

'No lax standards despite having signed fewer pacts'

Singapore may not have acceded to as many international conventions or treaties compared with other countries, but this does not mean it has lax standards, veteran diplomat Tommy Koh said yesterday.

He noted that in many cases, Singapore has actually exceeded the benchmarks required in those conventions, including those on human rights and labour rights.

But he said: "We tend to be much more cautious than other countries in undertaking an international legal obligation, unless we can satisfy ourselves that we are in the position to live up to that obligation.

"We are much more conscientious," said Professor Koh, who chairs the National University of Singapore's Centre for International Law and is Ambassador-at-Large.

"Many countries take a very cavalier attitude and just sign up for everything," he said.

"But it doesn't mean that they internalise the international legal obligations and that they implement these legal obligations."

Prof Koh's remarks, made after he gave a lecture at a Law Society of Singapore event, were in reply to a question from Senior Counsel Michael Hwang.

Mr Hwang, vice-chairman of the Law Society's committee on public and international law, noted that some lawyers have been asked by their foreign counterparts why Singapore had not signed on to some conventions.

Prof Koh explained that Singapore practises a "very collegial inter-agency consultation" where decisions are made by consensus, not on the majority agreeing to them. This means that if any one ministry or agency has reservations on a matter, the rest would not proceed.

He also spoke about the "constant tussle" in diplomacy over whether to put friendship or principles first. He noted that on many occasions, Singapore has taken the stance that it is not right for a big country to use force to invade and occupy a smaller country - even if that stance was opposed to that of a friend or an ally.

"We would be unimportant to the world if we were just another small, opportunistic country," said Prof Koh. "The reason we are taken note of in the United States and in the world is that we are a small, successful and, hopefully most of the time, a principled country."

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

Justice seen to be even-handed

Straits Times
30 Sep 2015

The court case of a craven cyclist who collided into an elderly woman on a pavement, fractured her elbow and fled is notable on a number of counts. Being the first prosecution of a reckless cyclist using a pedestrian pavement, the sentencing precedent established was a matter of public interest. That the Public Prosecutor was appealing against a sentence considered to be "manifestly excessive" was rare enough for one to weigh the implications. And the approach of the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) towards unusual and difficult cases in general deserves attention, too.

For the general public, what is more arresting is the jail sentence imposed on the cyclist, Lim Choon Teck, for committing a rash act to endanger the safety of pedestrians. That signals emphatically that the law will not tolerate harm caused by the widespread habit of cycling on pavements, five-foot ways and sheltered paths, and even within bus stop shelters. Some use phones while cycling and others ride motorised two-wheelers at breakneck speed. It is altogether worrying as cycles carry no registration number and usage is not covered by liability insurance.

As the judge in Lim's case noted: "Cyclists know the risks against them are very low." Hence the clear need for a deterrent sentence when victims are physically hurt. The prosecution had proposed two to four weeks, the judge meted out eight weeks, and on appeal this was commuted to three weeks. Nothing less would have sufficed as negligent cycling in a dense city must be curbed.

The prosecutor's appeal should not be seen as exceptional as it is the duty of the AGC to act when a sentence is considered disproportionate (particularly when an accused is not represented). Playing a crucial role in the administration of criminal justice, the AGC has to remain fair, impartial and consistent. This is all the more pressing as in serving as the steward of the rule of law and in prosecuting cases vigorously, the layman might see it as strict enforcer - a perception bolstered by its other role of acting as the Government's chief legal adviser and counsel. Being a key national institution, the AGC is well aware that it must not just act even-handedly but also be seen to rise above the fray, as a guardian of the public interest.

Recognising that misperceptions can abound when sensitive cases arise, the AGC has evolved in recent years from a largely inscrutable institution to one that takes pains to educate the public and media about the law, the justice system, and its roles and functions. This commendable aspect of its work must be sustained as complex laws, legal processes and sentencing principles have to be constantly demystified for the benefit of different audiences. Given the social harm that can be caused by runaway misinterpretations, especially those spread via the Net, it's useful when points of law and fact are spelt out by the AGC.

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Strengthen and balance judicial system: Forum

Straits Times
23 Sep 2015

During his tenure as a Judge of Appeal, Justice V. K. Rajah was renowned for tempering justice with compassion, and his judgment was always refreshing and well respected among the legal fraternity.

Some of Justice Rajah's past judgments are considered ground-breaking, and have, over time, enhanced Singapore's criminal justice system.

Now, as Attorney-General, he has entered the history books as the first attorney-general to have appealed on behalf of an accused person for a reduced sentence ("Prosecution succeeds in getting cyclist's jail term cut"; last Saturday).

Mr Rajah's statement, after the successful appeal, in which he said it is vital to ensure that offenders are punished appropriately - "neither in a manifestly inadequate nor in a manifestly excessive manner" - is a hallmark of a good prosecutor.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Prem Raj Prabakaran's assertion that "justice works both ways, to the victim as well as to the accused person" is further testimony of how the state is moving forward, insofar as prosecution is concerned, under Mr Rajah's stewardship.

I have no doubt that Mr Rajah will take the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) to greater heights during his tenure.

One area that can be further enhanced would be to look into a form of compensation for innocent victims of wrongful prosecution.

Granted, this may cause the AGC to take slightly more conservative positions, as it runs the risk of incurring costs for wrongful prosecution. However, this actually forces prosecutors to carry out thorough analysis of the merits of a case before taking it to court.

I doubt there will be many cases of wrongful prosecution in Singapore. However, it would be good to have such a system in place so that our judicial system can be well balanced towards both the accused and the state.

Rajasegaran Ramasamy

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Court rules on collective sales tainted by bad faith

Straits Times
08 Oct 2015

The Court of Appeal has, for the first time, ruled that it cannot step in to change collective sale agreements and approve them if they are tainted by bad faith.

This principle was contained in judgment grounds for a case involving Newton condo Gilstead Court released late last week.

The court also said the authorised representatives (exco) in a sale committee must act jointly in any application for a collective sale. This is believed to be the first instance where there was a falling out among those representatives.

The Court of Appeal ruled in July that the $150.2 million sale of the 48-unit condo was not to go ahead.

It overturned the nod the High Court gave in February to the sale, with Justice Quentin Loh amending and striking out some clauses in the collective sale agreement that were deemed objectionable.

The clauses had imposed financial penalties on owners who did not consent to the sale - non-signatory subsidiary proprietors (SPs).

For example, they were asked to fork out twice the sum as consenting sellers to a common fund set up for sale-related costs, to be withheld from their sale proceeds and shared among consenting owners.

Justice Loh had found that while these clauses caused an "unjustifiably unequal distribution of the sale proceeds", it was not to the extent of affecting the deal's good faith.

However, in the Court of Appeal, the appellants - three objecting owners represented by Morgan Lewis Stamford partner Adrian Tan - argued the sale order should be set aside.

The Court of Appeal agreed there was a lack of good faith given some of the clauses, which "would have a potentially substantial impact on the amount that each non-signatory SP would receive as their share of the sale proceeds," it said.

It noted that throughout three major amendments to the Land Titles (Strata) Act, Parliament's intention was constant: "Once the court or the Strata Titles Board is satisfied there is lack of good faith in the transaction... it must refuse the collective sale application."

Also, former Supreme Court judge Warren Khoo, one of three exco here and a respondent, filed an application to approve the sale without telling the other two exco members.

One of them eventually agreed but the other did not and became a defendant in the case.

"The foresight of Parliament in requiring joint action by the authorised representatives was aptly demonstrated by the procedural chaos arising from the failure of (the three) to act jointly, to the prejudice of everyone involved," the Court of Appeal said.

"Authorised representatives should be ever mindful of the fact that they have no authority to act severally before embarking on any unilateral course of action."

Rennie Whang

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Lim Li Meng Dominic and others v Ching Pui Sim Sally and another and another matter [2015] SGCA 54

Thai drug trafficker spared death penalty

Straits Times
30 Sep 2015
Selina Lum

For helping the authorities, the 30-year-old woman was given life imprisonment instead

A 30-year-old Thai woman, who agreed to help a Nigerian man transport "illegal stuff" from New Delhi to Bangkok via Singapore for $2,300, was spared the death penalty despite being convicted of importing 2kg of methamphetamine.

Instead, Samruamchit Wipha was given life imprisonment yesterday, after she was certified by the prosecution to have helped the authorities in a substantive way. Justice Choo Han Teck found that she "acted solely in the role of a courier".

She was detained at Changi Airport on Dec 17, 2012, with about 3kg of a crystalline substance, concealed in a false compartment in her backpack which contained clothing and shoes.

The substance was found to contain about 2kg of methamphetamine, commonly known as Ice. Under the law, anyone convicted of trafficking in more than 250g of Ice may face the death penalty.

During her High Court trial, Samruamchit testified that she only knew she would be carrying illegal stuff for "Kelvin", a Nigerian man she had met two months earlier. He approached her at a cafe in Bangkok, after she quarrelled with her Italian boyfriend over the phone.

Kelvin was very nice to her and they had sex, although she did not consider him her boyfriend.

She testified that she had delivered a bag containing clothes for Kelvin within Thailand. This led her to believe that the "illegal stuff" she was tasked to deliver were the clothes and shoes in the backpack.

But Justice Choo rejected her defence that she was unaware the backpack contained drugs, given that she had made various references to drugs in her statements to the Central Narcotics Bureau.

Samruamchit claimed that the Thai interpreter made a mistake in translation, but the judge noted that the Thai words for "drugs" and "illegal stuff" do not sound alike at all.

Justice Choo was also not satisfied that she really believed she would be paid $2,300 just to deliver a pile of inexpensive clothes and shoes, none of which were branded items.

"The evidence shows that she had agreed to carry the drugs from New Delhi to Bangkok via Singapore, and that she was to be paid for that service," he said.

New laws that took effect in 2013 gave judges the discretion to sentence drug couriers to life imprisonment instead of death, if they substantively assisted the authorities.

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Public Prosecutor v Samruamchit Wipha [2015] SGHC 219

MAS to tighten rules on gold buyback and landbanking schemes

Business Times
23 Sep 2015
Kenneth Lim

The changes aim to make it harder for providers of controversial products to reach out to less sophisticated investors

[Singapore] SINGAPORE will regulate investment schemes such as gold buybacks and collective landbanking after 2016, making it harder for providers of the controversial products to reach retail investors.

The regulatory changes, which will be tabled in parliament next year, will be based on the existing Securities Futures Act, the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) announced on Tuesday.

Precious metals buyback schemes are essentially a form of collateralised borrowing by the product sellers, MAS said. They will thus be treated as debentures, which will require sellers to register prospectuses if they want to sell to retail participants.

MAS will also amend the definition of collective investment schemes to close a loophole used by certain landbanking or pooled real estate investment programmes to exclude themselves from regulation. Whether a product is a collective investment scheme will no longer hinge on whether contributions enter a common pool, as long as investors have no day-to-day control of the assets, the investment property is managed as a whole, and the effective purpose of the product is as a collective investment scheme.

Collective investment schemes may not be sold to retail investors without MAS authorisation, and will be restricted to investments in securities or other assets that are liquid, such as precious metals, or which have stable income, such as completed real estate.

The new rules will require financial institutions to treat new accredited-eligible investors as retail investors by default; this means that such investors would be deemed unsuitable for certain complex investment products without first having been offered licensed financial advice. Qualifying investors, however, can opt to change their status to "accredited".

An accredited individual investor is a person with net personal assets of at least S$2 million and whose annual income is at least S$300,000. The MAS is also planning to limit to S$1 million the amount that a person's primary residence can contribute to the assessment of his or her net worth.

The changes received largely positive feedback from investor advocates and industry professionals.

Elaine Chan, co-head of financial services regulatory at WongPartnership, said the new rules are timely, given the proliferation of innovative financial products which are structured so as to fall outside the strict definition of capital markets products regulated under the Securities & Futures Act, but which exhibit essentially the same characteristics as these products."

Brian Lan, managing director of gold dealer GoldSilver Central, went further, likening many gold buyback programmes to ponzi schemes that depended on money from new clients to maintain returns that could neither be guaranteed nor sustained.

He pointed out, however, that dishonest purveyors might try to relocate to nearby jurisdictions or look for other ways around the rules.

"It's definitely a good move in terms of limiting what they can do, but I think they'll continue to try to find some loopholes," he said.

Financial adviser Matthew Dabbs, who is also chief executive of AAM Advisory Financial Services, said that clamping down on potentially shady operators would help the financial advisory and fund management industry as a whole.

"It puts the market on an even keel," he said. "We're regulated, so we have to do a lot of things, like we have to pay professional indemnity insurance and so on, and a lot of these guys are just doing a lot of hit-and-runs."

He also welcomed the opting-in framework for investors to be considered accredited.

"It's a wise move. Just because you're wealthy doesn't mean you're knowledgeable about financial services. We do have clients who can be considered as accredited investors, but who say: 'Please treat me as a retail investor because that's exactly my knowledge in this situation'."

Christopher Tan, chief executive of fee-based financial advisory firm Providend, said that the regulations require sellers and advisers to offer financial advice to retail investors who are keen on complex products.

The effectiveness of the regulations thus depends in large part on the professionalism of advisers.

"They'll have to go through a financial adviser, which is the lesser of two evils," he quipped.

"There was a time in which they were selling anything that could make them money. Now that financial advisory is regulated, whenever they prescribe these products, it follows a certain process, so it's better today."

David Gerald, president of the Securities Investors Association of Singapore (Sias), said MAS could go even further and regulate "investor educators" as well.

He said in a statement: "Many foreign so-called educators fly in and attract our citizens through advertisements promising high returns without any liability whatsoever, and with no registered office in Singapore, leaving Singaporeans with no recourse."

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

HK, S'pore closing gap in int'l arbitration: study

Business Times
08 Oct 2015
Claire Huang

[Singapore] LONDON and Paris may still be the preferred venues for international arbitration, but Hong Kong and Singapore are closing the gap, a study found.

Conducted by Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) and global law firm White & Case, the study found that London and Paris have been ranked the two most used and most preferred seats over the past five years.

But Hong Kong and Singapore have gained momentum, coming in third and fourth, respectively.

In fact, Singapore was found to be the most improved seat for international arbitration over the past five years, with Hong Kong trailing behind.

Paul Friedland, partner and head of the international arbitration practice group at White & Case, said: "London and Paris remain the most popular seats for international arbitration because of their enduring reputation as arbitration-friendly jurisdictions with high quality legal infrastructure. However, as this year's study shows, Singapore and Hong Kong are closing the gap. Both seats have made significant investments in support of international arbitration in recent years, which have made them increasingly attractive locations for users."

International arbitration, which was a second choice to litigation for private dispute resolution, is now the most preferred form of dispute resolution for cross-border disputes, says the study.

Ninety per cent of those polled said they prefer international arbitration to resolve cross-border disputes, up from 73 per cent in QMUL's first international arbitration survey in 2006.

"Parties now embrace international arbitration thanks to the greater enforceability of arbitral awards, the ability to avoid specific legal systems yet choose arbitrators, and the inherent flexibility of the process, among other benefits," said the study.

While 70 per cent of participants felt that there is an adequate level of regulation in international arbitration in general, the majority believe that more 'micro-regulation' is needed when it comes to third party funding (71 per cent), tribunal secretaries (68 per cent) and the conduct of arbitrators (55 per cent).

Professor Loukas Mistelis, director of QMUL's School of International Arbitration, noted that while this year's research showed that the global arbitration community supports greater micro-regulation for many of the specific parties involved, it also appreciates the arbitration laws and rules adopted over the years, thereby making further macro-regulation unnecessary.

The study also found that 92 per cent of those polled favoured inclusion of simplified procedures in institutional rules for claims under a certain value to reduce the time and cost associated with international arbitration.

"A requirement that 'tribunals commit to and notify parties of a schedule for deliberations and delivery of final award' was particularly welcomed," the study said, adding that many felt that the risk of a successful challenge to an arbitral award was insufficient to justify arbitrators' overly cautious behaviour.

The study polled 763 global respondents, including academics, arbitrators, expert witnesses and government officials, between February and July this year.

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E-commerce site draws gripes over membership fees

Straits Times
30 Sep 2015
Jessica Lim

OlaPrice customers say they were not aware of extra charge at $88 per quarter

Another e-commerce website has gotten into trouble over the way it charges customers premium membership fees.

OlaPrice, launched in March this year, has received 17 complaints from consumers so far, according to numbers from the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case). The complainants said they had been charged the fees - $88 per quarter - without their knowledge.

OlaPrice's chief executive, Mr Gregory Costamagna, also runs e-commerce website StreetDeal. The Straits Times reported last month that consumers had complained about StreetDeal over hidden membership fees. Case has received 87 complaints about StreetDeal's membership charges between January and September this year, and is currently investigating the matter.

The complaints against OlaPrice are very similar.

One consumer, Mr Manish Nathwani, had bought a shower head for $8.80 from OlaPrice in June. The IT consultant was shocked to discover later on his credit card bills, that the firm had charged him an additional $176 for membership fees - in two charges of $88 each, one in June and the other earlier this month.

"At no point was I aware that I had agreed to such a charge," said Mr Nathwani, 40. He has made a police report and written to the authorities on the matter.

When The Straits Times visited the OlaPrice site yesterday, it found a small box at the bottom of the transaction page, which consumers are required to tick before making a purchase. Next to the box is this sentence: "I acknowledge that I have read, understood and agreed with the Terms & Conditions and Subscription terms and I accept to be charged sgd88 quarterly".

When contacted, Case executive director Seah Seng Choon said: "This is not acceptable. The problem is that many consumers miss this bit; they think they are only agreeing to terms and conditions."

He said Case is working with Mr Costamagna to increase the size of the sentence, and include the charge as a separate element. The association has also invited Mr Costamagna to sign a Voluntary Compliance Agreement. By signing it, the retailer agrees not to engage in unfair practices.

Speaking to The Straits Times yesterday, Mr Costamagna said several thousand shoppers have bought items from OlaPrice since its launch. Of these, about 1,000 are premium members, and complaints make up just 1 to 2 per cent of its premium members, he said.

"It's clear on the website. We mention this charge, and customers are asked to click on a box," he said, adding that such charging models are used at other e-commerce sites. "The issue is education. We are still in discussions with Case on how to improve the customer experience."

He added that one of its plans is to send customers an e-mail before the membership charge is levied.

Mr Nathwani, however, is not convinced. "This is not the way to sell someone a membership," he said, adding that many people do not check their credit card statements. "What they are doing is very misleading and sneaky."

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Woman who cheated company to clear debts gets S$30,000 fine, 7 years’ jail

23 Sep 2015
Kelly Ng

SINGAPORE — To shake off loan-shark debts incurred by a former colleague, she cheated her company of nearly S$7 million worth of wine, and landed herself a seven-year jail term and a S$30,000 fine — a sentence both the prosecution and defence are appealing.

Luciana Lim Ying Ying, 43, was sentenced yesterday (Sept 21) for one count of criminal breach of trust, one count of cheating, one count of assisting in unlicensed moneylending and one count under the Corruption, Drug Trafficking and Other Serious Crimes (Confiscation of Benefits) Act (CDSA). Seven other charges were taken into consideration. The prosecution had pressed for 13 years’ jail, while Lim’s defence lawyers sought a lower term of five years and two months.

But, District Judge Jasvender Kaur found 13 years a “disproportionate” punishment, noting that Lim’s offences were not motivated by greed. “Instead, she was under significant pressure from the activities of unlicensed moneylenders in relation to a third party’s illegal loan, and had acted in folly and from a general feeling of helplessness,” she said in her written judgment released yesterday.

Lim was a relationship manager at wines and spirits company Hock Tong Bee. The court heard she had acted as a guarantor for ex-colleague Edward Loh, who borrowed from loan sharks when he got into financial difficulties from gambling.

According to Lim’s lawyers, loan sharks started harassing her around January 2011 to demand payment for loans taken by Loh. Initially, she ignored them, but by March that year, up to nine loan sharks were hounding her by calling and sending her text messages three to five times an hour. They also threatened her by saying they were keeping watch on the whereabouts of her children and elderly mother.

Concerned about her loved ones’ safety, Lim, who is married with five children aged nine to 14, committed the offences. Her intention, the court heard, was to surrender once she had paid off the loan sharks.

For 18 months from July 2012 to January 2013, Lim would use contact details of professionals found on old name cards and the Internet to place bogus orders for expensive wine and spirits from the company she was working for, then sell them off at staff discount prices.

In total, she misappropriated 14,698 bottles of wines and spirits worth over S$7 million; 1,102 bottles were recovered from the buyers.

When the company’s finance department asked for outstanding payments for the fake orders, Lim would say they were delayed or would be made soon, the court heard.

When she was banned from conducting further sales because the outstanding amount under her customers’ accounts became too large, she used the credit card details of two existing customers to make a partial payment of S$4,200 for wines from the company in February 2013, which she then sold to others. DJ Kaur noted the hefty sum involved and Lim’s “systematic dishonesty” over a period of one-and-a-half years.

But, the “most significant mitigating factor” was that Lim “derived no pecuniary benefit”, said DJ Kaur, adding that Lim used about S$1.23 million to pay the loan sharks.

As such, while she had deemed the “appropriate starting point” for sentencing to be nine years’ jail, DJ Kaur gave Lim “a one-third discount” and sentenced her to six years’ jail for the criminal breach of trust charge.

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Developers' calls to extend project deadline meet with a "no"

Business Times
08 Oct 2015
Kalpana Rashiwala

MOF does not see need to relax 5-year deadline for developers to complete and sell off a project

[Singapore] THE government has rebuffed calls by some developers to extend the five-year deadline for them to complete a residential project and sell all its units - part of a slew of property cooling measures introduced in recent years.

Meeting the conditions gave developers an upfront remission of the 15 per cent additional buyer's stamp duty (ABSD) on the purchase price of the residential site, but many are struggling to do so because of the sluggish real estate market.

"Currently, we do not see a need to relax this condition as the deadlines remain relevant and reasonable," a Ministry of Finance spokeswoman told BT.

The five-year deadline is meant to encourage developers to complete the development and sale of the residential units so as to increase the supply of housing units and help moderate residential property prices, she noted.

"We assess that five years is a reasonable duration of time for licensed developers to sell the residential units as developers can start selling the units off-plan, before development is completed. In fact, they have already been doing this all along."

"The government will continue to monitor the market and review our policies periodically," the MOF spokeswoman added.

She acknowledged that MOF and the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore had received appeals from developers for an extension to comply with the ABSD remission conditions, but declined to reveal how many such requests had been received or to give any other details, citing "confidentiality of taxpayers' information".

Going by market talk, the period of extension requested by developers is one to two years.

A market watcher suggested that the authorities may find it too early to start entertaining requests for the deadline extension given that there is still more than a year to go before the earliest deadline would be due.

When the ABSD was first introduced effective Dec 8, 2011, the rate for purchases of residential property (including land) by companies was set at 10 per cent of the purchase price. From Jan 12, 2013, this rate was hiked to 15 per cent.

The five-year deadline for completing the project on the residential site and selling all its units kicks off from the date of contract or agreement to buy the site - which for collective sales, is the date of the collective sale order granted under the Land Titles (Strata) Act.

Property agents have been complaining that residential collective sales have been hit by the five-year deadline. For prime district sites, having to sell all the units within this timeframe poses a challenge, given the generally subdued buying sentiment for luxury properties, which had relied significantly on foreign buyers, who now have to pay 15 per cent on their residential property purchases. Singaporean investors too have to pay an ABSD, albeit at lower rates.

Feedback from developers is that they have also found large en bloc sale sites such as former Housing & Urban Development Company (HUDC) estates risky.

Each estate can potentially yield a thousand or more new units, which is at least double the size of a typical private housing site offered at state land sales.

If developers cannot finish selling all the units in time, they will have to pay the ABSD with interest calculated at 5 per cent per annum starting from 14 days after the date of contract or agreement.

Norman Ho, partner at Rodyk & Davidson, said that he advises clients against writing in to IRAS for an extension of the deadline.

"It is unlikely IRAS will give you an extension or waiver, because if they did, then all the other developers will also start asking for it. And when you got the upfront remission, you had given an undertaking to comply with the deadline."

He also noted that the five-year period to finish selling all units in the new project may not be enough amid current market conditions.

"After a collective sale order has been granted, it takes another three months for the sale to be completed, after which sellers are usually allowed to stay on in their units for a further six months. So you have nine months eating into the five-year period. Things are even worse for big estates like ex-HUDC estates as there are more owners involved."

Knight Frank chairman Tan Tiong Cheng highlighted that "urban renewal by the private sector is also being inhibited by the difficulty in doing collective sales, in light of this deadline".

"It may be hard for existing owners in older residential developments that are in deteriorating condition to sell their units individually as prices may be depressed. Refurbishing the building may require more funds from the owners but more fundamentally it could be only a temporary solution - if obsolescence has set in. The most natural exit would be an en bloc sale."

Not only have some developers been seeking extensions from the authorities, but at least in one case, owners of an estate where an en bloc sale has been launched, are taking the initiative to boost their chance of a sale.

Some owners of Shunfu Ville in Marymount Road recently signed and submitted a petition to MOF and IRAS requesting that the site's successful bidder be granted seven years, instead of five, to finish building the project on site and selling all the units.

When contacted, JLL, the sole maketing agent for the collective sale, confirmed that the petition collected more than 200 signatures from owners.

Among other things, the owners highlighted maintenance issues such as leakage and roofing in the development, which is more than 20 years old.

The owners are also seeking a fair chance for a successful collective sale; beyond that, they argued that allowing developers more time to complete and sell off a residential project would help other former HUDC estates as well.

In the first instance, the authorities encouraged privatisation of HUDC estates. In the past, this was greeted warmly by owners as they could attempt an en bloc sale post-privatisation.

JLL, said, however, that the introduction of ABSD had produced an unintended deterrent to en bloc sales, which is the main option for rejuvenating old estates.

Shunfu Ville's tender will close on Oct 27. Located a stone's throw from Marymount MRT Station on the Circle Line, the estate is on a site of about 409,000 square feet and zoned for residential with a gross plot ratio of 2.8 under Master Plan 2014. The site could potentially yield about 1,100-plus units with an average size of 1,000 sq ft.

Currently on site are 358 units in three 16-storey apartment blocks and three low-rise blocks of six-storey maisonettes. Built in the late 1980s by the former HUDC, Shunfu Ville was privatised in 2013.

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Keeping a check on personal devices

Business Times
30 Sep 2015
Francis Kan

WITH the dramatic growth of cloud computing services and the proliferation of smart gadgets, more employees are asking to use their own devices during work hours. This trend has become more pronounced as the line between work and personal time continues to blur.

Allowing an employee to use a personal device that he or she is more comfortable with brings with it a number of benefits. The biggest is the cost savings on hardware, as a company does not have to keep up with constantly evolving technology trends. It may also improve productivity as employees can carry around fewer devices and are able to work from any location, and at any time using hardware they are familiar with.

Yet, organisations need to strike a balance between the convenience of a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policy, and the risks of theft or loss of data. Such a policy results in increased pressure on IT departments to manage and secure devices and data. The company's IT services also have to support multiple types of gadgets and operating systems.

"Once sensitive information passes on to a BYOD it is more difficult for a company to track what becomes of that information," says Bill Bowman, senior director, risk management and internal control, at Infineon Technologies Asia Pacific.

He adds that the use and management of BYOD is particularly challenging for companies whose competitive success relies on research and development (R&D).

Security and legal risks

However, this new scenario brings with it some critical security and data management risk especially when using private devices to access company data and the risk of this data being leaked. Companies also need to be aware of data privacy laws in different markets when implementing corporate mobility and security policies.

"It may be thought that cost savings is an obvious pro, since the organisation does not have to provide the devices. But this is not necessarily the case," says Tan Kay Kheng, a partner at law firm Wong Partnership.

"Why? Because the obvious con is the legal risk that exists, as to whether confidential or sensitive information residing in the employee's own device remains safe and secure at all times, and the resultant costs that may have to be incurred to provide some acceptable level of security."

Confidential information can relate to an organisation's information such as trade secrets, pitches to prospective and existing customers, as well as information belonging to clients and customers.

Confidentiality can be compromised when the device is lost or misplaced, or when information is not accessed in a "safe" environment. For instance, if e-mails or documents are printed outside the office and not kept in safe custody, or worse, simply left unattended on the assumption no one else would be looking at them, notes Mr Tan.

What employees need to know

BYOD is not just an issue that employers have to deal with. There are also issues for employees to consider when they decide to use their own device for work.

The difference in the access and speed of public cloud services and those of a company's IT services may cause some frustration among employees, says Jean Lee, vice-president (finance), Asia-Pacific, at software solutions provider NICE Systems.

She adds: "From the perspective of employees using their own devices, they also need to be aware that the company may install monitoring devices that will also be able to access personal data."

For instance, new regulations demand that all communications on the trading floors of financial institutions are recorded and monitored for compliance issues. These recordings include the regular desk phones and trading turrets, but also any mobile devices that traders are using business wise.

"Many banks do not yet allow their regulated traders to use their own BYOD mobile device, as long as these devices are not recorded on the banks' recording systems," says Arno Sybrandy, Global FMC product marketing director at NICE Systems.

Storing these recordings of BYOD mobile devices "in the cloud" is currently not secure enough for compliance. NICE offers solutions to add the recording of BYOD mobile devices on an on-site compliance recording system that is encrypting all recordings, says Mr Sybrandy.

Employees also need to be comfortable with the possibility of being contractually required to surrender their devices to their employers for inspection and analysis, as part of implementation, ongoing risk management, or when an incident has occurred.

"Employees need to understand that there may be adverse consequences for them when non-compliance with official policy is discovered, such as the taking of disciplinary action or even termination of employment," says Mr Tan.

They therefore have to watch over their devices and how information is kept secure while the devices are in use, and to ensure that there is no risk of a breach of confidentiality.

Confidentiality aside, staff who opt for BYOD must also be prepared to bear the cost of repair if their devices are damaged.

Says Ms Lee: "Since the ownership and warranty are not under the company's name, the employer will not be able to provide services for repair. What's more, not all applications can be downloaded into the device and there is less flexibility if they choose to register their own device for workplace use."

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

VPN technology can't be outlawed: British minister

Straits Times
22 Sep 2015
Irene Tham

She also suggests Singapore can learn from Europe's bid to create 'digital single market'

Virtual private network (VPN) technology cannot be outlawed even if it is used for accessing unauthorised content from overseas.

This is the view of Britain's Minister for Intellectual Property Baroness Lucy Neville-Rolfe, who told The Straits Times: "You can't outlaw a key technology."

VPN, which extends a private network across a public network, such as the Internet, has legitimate uses - for instance, securing corporate access to information over the net, she added.

Baroness Neville-Rolfe, who arrived in Singapore yesterday for a two-day visit, witnessed the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between Britain's Intellectual Property Office and the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (Ipos) to explore ways to protect and derive economic benefits from intellectual property rights.

Her comment comes even as more consumers in Singapore are using VPN to stream movies from United States service providers such as Netflix and Hulu that block access from overseas.

In Australia, lawmakers are considering blocking VPN under new copyright laws proposed in March this year to counter piracy and the access to content that is blocked in their region.

In Singapore, consumers do not necessarily break any laws for streaming blocked content from legitimate video-streaming sites.

Consumers, however, may be breaching these online content service providers' terms of use, experts say.

Still, these problems can be tackled by making more services available online and across more markets.

Baroness Neville-Rolfe cited recent attempts by the European Union to create a "digital single market" for online firms in Europe as a learning point for Singapore.

Specific proposals, for instance, to let people access the same legitimate content and services anywhere in Europe, are expected by year-end, she said.

"Singapore sits in the apex of the future single market in Asean... we can look at some of these issues in the future," she said, referring to what the MOU would allude to.

Among other objectives, the MOU is aimed at facilitating the sharing of best practices in intellectual property (IP) rights protection and research, and patent registration, to bolster both nations' goals to become IP hubs.

"Singapore is an influential voice on issues of IP in the Asean region," she said.

Mr Tan Yih San, chief executive of Ipos, said: "This MOU reaffirms our mutual commitment to increase cross-border IP cooperation and provide a robust IP system for businesses and creators looking to expand into the UK, and those seeking to venture into the Asean region."


Singapore sits in the apex of the future single market in Asean... we can look at some of these issues in the future.

BARONESS NEVILLE-ROLFE, referring to what the Britain-Singapore intellectual property MOU would allude to

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

Blogger fined for organising rally, being a public nuisance

Straits Times
08 Oct 2015
Walter Sim

Blogger Roy Ngerng Yi Ling yesterday pleaded guilty to co-organising a protest rally at Hong Lim Park without approval on Sept 27 last year, and for disrupting a charity carnival being held at the park then.

He was fined a total of $1,900 - $400 for being a public nuisance, and $1,500 for organising a demonstration without approval - by District Judge Liew Thiam Leng.

The 34-year-old blogger, who contested Ang Mo Kio GRC under the Reform Party banner at the recent General Election, is the second of six protesters charged with causing a public nuisance to plead guilty.

Ms Chua Siew Leng, 43, who does not hold a regular job, pleaded guilty in March. She was fined $300.

The cases against the other four accused - two of whom also contested the recent polls - have been fixed for a joint trial next week.

Han Hui Hui, 24, who contested Radin Mas SMC as an independent candidate, faces the same two charges as Mr Ngerng.

Janet Low Wai Choo, 55, who contested Chua Chu Kang GRC with the People's Power Party, faces one charge of being a public nuisance. The other two are Goh Aik Huat, 42, and Ivan Koh Yew Beng, 60.

Asked by reporters after the hearing if he would continue in opposition politics, Mr Ngerng said: "At this point, I am going to focus on putting food on the table."

At the election, his team got 21.36 per cent of the votes in Ang Mo Kio GRC .

The six are accused of disrupting the YMCA Proms @ The Park charity event for children with special needs, which was held at Hong Lim Park at the same time as the Return Our CPF protest rally.

They grew "more emotive" when Minister of State Teo Ser Luck, the YMCA event's main guest, arrived at the park. They marched four times around the general vicinity of the YMCA event, shouting loudly, chanting slogans, waving flags, holding placards, blowing whistles loudly and beating drums.

Deputy Public Prosecutor John Lu said yesterday that although approval was granted for them to give a "speech" at Speakers' Corner in Hong Lim Park, they had not applied for approval to organise a demonstration.

In mitigation, Mr Ngerng's lawyer Eugene Thuraisingam said his client has contributed to society by, for example, teaching autistic children and volunteering with special needs children for three years.

He added that Mr Ngerng believed there was no need for further approval to demonstrate, and that his actions were fuelled by a "genuine belief" that he was speaking up on a matter of public interest.

Mr Ngerng could have been fined up to $1,000 for being a public nuisance, and up to $5,000 for holding a demonstration without approval.

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

S'pore accedes to trafficking protocol

Straits Times
30 Sep 2015
Kok Xing Hui & Aw Cheng Wei

Inking of UN pact represents commitment to tackling the crime, says MHA senior director

Singapore has acceded to international standards of prosecuting and convicting human traffickers under the United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (UN TIP Protocol).

According to a statement by the Singapore Inter-Agency Taskforce on Trafficking in Persons released yesterday, outgoing Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam signed the accession agreement to the protocol, in force since 2000 and which has 117 signatories. This makes the treaty binding on the country.

On Monday, the document was deposited by Ministry of Foreign Affairs Permanent Secretary Chee Wee Kiong at the UN Treaty Event in New York and received by Mr Santiago Villalpando, chief of the UN Treaty Section.

Singapore has on occasion contested its ranking in the Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report released by the United States.

In the latest report out in July, Singapore retained - for the fifth year - its Tier 2 position on a four-tier ranking. This means the country, which enacted trafficking-specific laws in March, has not fully complied with US laws on human trafficking but is making "significant efforts" to do so.

Mr Marvin Sim, co-chair of the task force and a senior director at the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), said accession to the UN TIP Protocol "represents Singapore's commitment to combat all forms of trafficking in persons".

He said it was "an important step towards stronger cooperation with international law enforcement agencies in fighting this transnational crime".

The MHA will continue to raise public awareness, strengthen enforcement and enhance the provision of care to trafficked victims, Mr Sim said.

According to the TIP report, Singapore identified 33 victims and initiated 11 prosecutions in four cases since it enacted laws in March, but did not convict any traffickers.

The report also noted that the Government "provided some victim assistance through government programmes for vulnerable groups, but did not make progress in ensuring all victims systematically received protection".

Human rights activists in Singapore said it remained to be seen if the country would fully comply with the protocol.

Mr Jolovan Wham, executive director of the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics, said: "The law does not guarantee basic rights to victims, and important aspects of trafficking such as forced labour are not clearly defined. Much more needs to change if we want to tackle trafficking effectively."

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

Going beyond the law to fight transboundary haze

22 Sep 2015
Eugene K.B. Tan

Passed by Parliament in August last year, the Transboundary Air Pollution Act (TAPA) seeks to enhance Singapore’s ability to deal with transboundary haze. But it can and must do more if it is not to be a paper tiger.

TAPA has extra-territorial reach enabling Singapore courts to exercise power beyond Singapore’s territorial limits. It also covers acts of commission and omission, whether such conduct occurs within or outside of Singapore, which result in haze pollution in Singapore.

The serious episodes of transboundary air pollution in 1994, 1997, 2006, 2010, 2013 and the ongoing haze are a stark reminder that while strong laws and patient diplomacy are necessary, they are insufficient in dealing with the problem.

While TAPA is limited to entities with a presence in Singapore, its successful operation is not something entirely within the control of the Singapore authorities. Instead, the strong cooperation of foreign authorities is required for any successful prosecution and enforcement.

For instance, with the current haze, the evidence needed to mount any prosecution is not in Singapore but in Indonesia, where the companies and individuals are allegedly conducting such illegal activities.

Such evidence includes geospatial information such as the ownership and occupation of the land the pollution is coming from. However, a complex web of national, provincial and customary laws — laws that often compete and perhaps even conflict with one another — governs land use and land tenure in Indonesia. To compound matters, there is a lack of reliable maps. As such, for the purposes of a successful prosecution, it is not at all clear who might own a piece of land.

Furthermore, the cooperation of the Indonesian authorities is proving elusive. Despite the regular regional and bilateral unhappiness expressed towards the Indonesian government with regard to the problem, the lack of political will and entrenched intransigence on the part of the Indonesian government is severely limiting TAPA’s reach and effectiveness.

TAPA’s extraterritorial reach is double-edged because it is often regarded by another state as an infringement of said state’s national sovereignty. The dynamics of Indonesia-Singapore bilateral relations complicate the matter further.

Like most laws, TAPA is limiting in its impact because it is inherently reactive — it kicks in after the fact of transboundary air pollution. It is also necessary to craft a pre-emptive regulatory regime that will result in corporate entities taking proactive measures to positively influence the agricultural practices of smallholders, including their use of land clearing via the slash-and-burn method.

If business entities in the entire plantation supply chain can be deterred from behaving irresponsibly, we will reduce the impact of the evidential hurdle for TAPA prosecutions.

In this regard, TAPA provides a good start: It does not only cover landowners whose lands are the sources of transboundary haze pollution, but also extends to other actors, including those engaged to start the fires and those involved in the management of an offending entity. This recognises that transboundary haze pollution is often the culmination of a series of deliberate acts in a cross-border decision-making process involving different parties.

It is highly significant that TAPA also criminalises a first entity’s failure to prevent transboundary haze caused by a second entity, to which the first entity participates in the management of the second. This attempt to deal with the chain of causation is a significant extension of jurisdiction well beyond that which is found in our general criminal law and existing legislation with extraterritorial reach.

It is highly ironic should corporate entities culpable of haze pollution in Singapore have a presence, broadly conceived, in Singapore. This is an instance in which the benefits of irresponsible business conduct are privatised, while the costs are socialised.


Going forward, the Government should consider enhancing TAPA’s deterrent effect by increasing the current maximum fine of S$2 million for an entity convicted of an offence under the Act.

To give an indication of the scale of a large commodities business: One leading agribusiness group headquartered in Singapore and listed on the Singapore Exchange had revenues of US$44.1 billion (S$61.6 billion) and equity and liabilities worth US$46.6 billion in 2013. If you consider these figures and the significant negative externalities caused by the haze, S$2 million is a mere slap on the wrist.

Furthermore, culpable key officers of the offending entity should be jailed; they should not hide behind the corporate veil.

The doctrine of limited liability is a cornerstone in our corporate law, but, ironically, this provides incentives for environmental irresponsibility. A parent company’s limited legal liability creates a potential moral hazard through the reduced economic incentive to ensure that its subsidiary exercises due care when engaging in environmentally risky activities.

Put another way: because the parent company obtains the financial rewards but is relatively insulated from direct liability, there is the incentive for the parent company to use its management and control power to make profit-maximising but irresponsible decisions for the subsidiary, including environmentally damaging ones.

In addition to the fines, TAPA could require offenders to provide financial security, such as insurance, bonds or guarantees, to enable them to cover their future potential environmental liabilities. Perhaps this “good behaviour” bond could be required of companies with palm-oil business concerns with the necessary nexus with Singapore.

The regulatory regime must motivate such entities to reduce their environmental risks and the likelihood of causing further transboundary air pollution. Of course, not all entities act, respond and are motivated solely by economic concerns. But this requirement of providing financial security — as part of a wider regulatory framework such as fines and jail terms — seeks to balance environmental protection with financial gain. The two are not mutually exclusive.

TAPA also provides for the imposition of civil liability on top of the criminal liability for haze pollution in Singapore. While welcome, this provision is more likely to be a remedy in form but not in substance.

Victims of haze pollution will find it onerous to take out an individual civil lawsuit against a company with far deeper pockets to defend itself. This asymmetric power relation is the classic “haves” versus “have-nots” in litigation. The law should facilitate the injured parties to mount a class-action suit, with the state providing the requisite legal support as part of the larger effort to protect the public interest.

Given the persistent and egregious record of transboundary air pollution that regularly harms our health and economy, an approach that relies on the coercive power of law must be complemented by a regulatory approach that is preventive in nature through nudging plantation companies to embrace responsible conduct throughout their supply chain as an integral way of doing business.

Eugene K B Tan is associate professor of law at the Singapore Management University School of Law

Copyright 2015 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

ADV: Kaplan - Obtain your Law qualification in 8 months

Singapore Law Watch
08 Oct 2015

Man on 4 charges of assaulting girlfriend

Straits Times
30 Sep 2015
K.C. Vijayan

A bank associate, who is being sued for personal injury by his former girlfriend, has been slapped with four criminal charges for assault.

Lim Kwang Wei, 30, is said to have hit lawyer Geraldine Ong, 28, in a house in Dunearn Close at about 2.30am on July 5, 2012. He is also accused, in charge documents, of kicking her in the spine.

Three other charges relate to an incident about three months later in a car in the tunnel of the Kallang-Paya Lebar Expressway where he is accused of punching the side of her head, slapping her several times and hitting her ear.

Each of the offences carries a fine of up to $5,000 or jail for up to two years or both, upon conviction. A pre-trial conference on the case was held in the State Courts last week and adjourned to a further hearing next month.

Lim, who is defended by Drew & Napier lawyer Wendell Wong, is also being sued in the High Court by Ms Ong for nearly $290,000 in damages.

The civil case is based on the same incidents in which he is alleged to have hurt her.

According to court documents filed for the civil suit, the alleged July 5 incident happened at Lim's home and the other alleged incidents, on Oct 6 in the tunnel, happened while she was driving him in his car after she had picked him up from Marina Bay Sands.

She was referred to the Tan Tock Seng Hospital for observation on Oct 6 and discharged later in the evening. She was diagnosed with minor head injury and a ruptured left eardrum.

She is seeking damages for pain, suffering and medical costs, claiming that her hearing was impaired, among other things.

Lim is disputing the claims and also wants her to return $36,848 of his, according to defence papers filed by Mr Wong. He claimed the money was given to her on the understanding that she would repay him.

A High Court case management conference was held earlier this month.

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

Ex-fugitive remanded in psychiatric ward

Straits Times
22 Sep 2015
Selina Lum

Suspect in armed robberies in 1981 found to be in early stages of 'dementing disease'

One of Singapore's most wanted fugitives, who spent 30 years on the run in Thailand after allegedly shooting a woman here in a robbery, is now being held in a psychiatric ward.

Chin Sheong Hon, now 65, was extradited to Singapore in June 2013 after he was released from prison in Thailand. He had been jailed there for taking part in local political protests.

When he arrived in Singapore, Chin was charged with committing three armed robberies with accomplices between July and November 1981.

Earlier psychiatric reports had indicated that he was mentally fit to plead his case in court.

However, in May this year, he was found by the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) to be of unsound mind and unfit to plead.

Chin was in the early stages of "a dementing illness", the High Court heard yesterday.

He was in court for proceedings to deal with accused persons who are found to be of unsound mind and incapable of standing trial.

Under the Criminal Procedure Code, the court has to report the case to the Law Minister who may order the accused to be held in a psychiatric institution.

Chin, who was agitated as he spoke through a Mandarin interpreter, said that he wanted six opposition MPs to be his lawyers.

Justice Tay Yong Kwang asked if he had been offered defence lawyers by the Government.

But Chin insisted that he wanted opposition MPs to defend him as they "protect the survival of Singaporeans".

In particular, he named Workers' Party chief Low Thia Khiang and Singapore Democratic Party chief Chee Soon Juan, who is not an MP.

Chin said that no lawyers would defend him as he is suing founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew.

Justice Tay told Chin that from what he had said in court, it was quite obvious that the IMH doctors were correct in their assessment. Chin was ordered to be remanded pending further orders by the minister.

He faces charges of being armed with a revolver while robbing three people.

In July 1981, he allegedly robbed Mr Ee Chong Leong of about $16,000 at the Singapore Shuttle Bus Terminal in Lorong 1 Geylang.

Three months later, he allegedly robbed Mr Chua Boon Leong of about $1,800 in front of the now-defunct Overseas Union Bank in Tanjong Katong Road.

In November that year, he allegedly shot Ms Goh Siew Foon while robbing her of $92,000 in front of the Thomson branch of United Overseas Bank.

Ms Goh was seriously wounded and spent 45 days in hospital.

According to media reports at the time, she was on her way to the bank when a gunman shot her from behind and grabbed her briefcase containing the money.

Her brother, who was with her, chased the robber until he escaped on a waiting motorcycle.

Chin could have been jailed for life for robbing Ms Goh and for up to 10 years for each of the other two robberies.

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

ADV: LexisNexis - Property Tax in Singapore

Singapore Law Watch
08 Oct 2015

Director ordered to pay over $770,000

Straits Times
29 Sep 2015
Selina Lum

Court rejects his claim of signing guarantee for photocopier lease without reading it

A founding director of a travel agency that folded last year was yesterday ordered to pay more than $770,000, with interest, to a finance company over the lease of nine photocopying machines.

Mr Johnny Lim Cheng Onn, 48, who agreed to be a guarantor for Five Stars Tours in 2011 when it entered into a lease agreement with Orix Leasing, claimed he had signed the guarantee without reading it.

He contended that he did not know of the "absurd" sum that Five Stars had to pay under the agreement until he received a letter from Orix's lawyers last year.

He said all he was told - by his older brother Ken Lim Cheng Chuan, the agency's managing director, and the employee who handed him the papers to sign - was that it was a lease for nine photocopiers.

But his "short and bare" claims cut no ice with the High Court, which ruled against him yesterday. Judicial Commissioner Debbie Ong said that if Mr Lim had signed the guarantee without reading it or being clear in his mind about the extent of his liability, he cannot subsequently say that he had not agreed to the terms.

She noted that Mr Lim was a director who had access to documents that set out details of the lease. "If he had chosen to trust his brother, the second defendant, on the matter, it is his choice, but this does not affect the validity of the guarantee he had signed."

The two brothers had personally agreed to guarantee the payment of money owed by Five Stars to Orix. Under the lease agreement, Five Stars was supposed to pay monthly instalments amounting to $970,120 over six years.

The sum was not only for the lease but also included a $526,403 loan from Orix for Five Stars to pay off its previous lease with the photocopier supplier, and a six-year maintenance contract.

When the company defaulted on payment, Orix sued Five Stars and the two directors for $772,405.91. Orix obtained judgment against Five Stars and Mr Ken Lim in March last year. The company has been wound up and Mr Ken Lim is now a bankrupt.

Five Stars Tours was a popular travel and coach company that closed down suddenly in January last year, leaving thousands who had planned to travel during the Chinese New Year holiday scrambling for alternatives.



If he had chosen to trust his brother, the second defendant, on the matter, it is his choice, but this does not affect the validity of the guarantee he had signed.


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

Audit committees must now work even harder

Business Times
21 Sep 2015
Gerard Tan

They have to keep up with the ever changing accounting standards and track developments in the regulatory landscape

IT is understandable if audit committee members feel they are the most hardworking of the board committees. This position is partly reflected in their compensation: audit committee chairmen and members usually receive higher director fees than their peers.

The audit committee is the only board committee that is mandated by law. It is often viewed as "the last line of defence for a company to prevent and manage risks" (SID Statement of Good Practices No 4). Its role is to ensure that the company's internal controls are adequate and effective, and to scrutinise the accounts so as to recommend the adoption of the company financial statements to the board and the shareholders.

The job of the audit committee is made more difficult with the ever changing accounting standards. At present, all listed companies in Singapore must comply with the Singapore Financial Reporting Standards (SFRS), which closely track the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) issued by the International Accounting Standards Board.

Already made complex with fair value accounting since 2013, the IFRS will introduce a new set of revenue recognition standards by 2018. This will require audit committee members to stay updated with increasingly technical standards that require levels of understanding and judgement even seasoned accountants find challenging.

Apart from these, audit committee members also need to keep track of developments in the regulatory landscape. Three recent developments that have a significant impact on the audit committee are:

• Financial Reporting Surveillance Programme (FRSP)
• Enhanced Auditor's Report
• Audit Quality Indicators (AQIs)

Financial Reporting Surveillance Programme

The FRSP is a programme under the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA) that reviews the financial statements of companies for compliance with the SFRS. All companies incorporated in Singapore are selected for this review using a risk-based approach annually.

The programme has actually been around since 2011. What is new is that it is now enhanced to include reviews of listed companies with "clean" audit reports and ACRA will soon release the findings of its review of the FY2013 financial statements. The Companies Act places the responsibility on directors (and not management) to ensure that the financial statements are "true and fair" and are prepared "in compliance with the accounting standards". Thus, ACRA has taken the position that feedback and sanctions, if any, from its review will go directly to the directors of the company.

Enhanced Auditor's Report

The familiar (and bland) auditor's report will soon be transformed.

In response to widespread investors' concerns and public feedback, accounting bodies around the world are proposing amendments to the content and structure of the auditor's report. In Singapore, ACRA and the Institute of Singapore Chartered Accountants recently announced that the new auditor's report will be effective for financial statements with accounting periods ending on or after Dec 15, 2016.

The most significant change is the reporting of "key audit matters" for listed companies beyond the traditional pass or fail audit opinion. These should cover areas of significant risks, and require extensive audit judgement, effort or change in the planned approach to the audit.

The implication for boards is that this will likely result in greater shareholder and public scrutiny on the disclosures being made in key audit matters of the auditor's report. Directors should take advantage of the long implementation period given to have "internal dry-runs" of the expanded auditor's report for FY2015.

Audit Quality Indicators (AQIs)

Presently, most audit committees also have difficulty differentiating between audit firms. When changing or retaining auditors, some audit committees apply their own internal guidelines of audit quality markers. However, for better comparison, audit committees could benefit from a standard set of quality markers that can be applied across different companies.

Hence, ACRA has been working with the audit firms, with feedback from audit committees, on a set of AQIs that can help towards this cause. Such AQIs include the time spent by audit partners on the audit, the years of experience of the audit team and the results of audit inspections carried out by ACRA.

ACRA will be unveiling these AQIs next month and it is intended for these AQIs to be shared by the audit firm with the individual audit committees on a private and voluntary basis. The hope is that this level of disclosure should provide audit committees with a more effective means with which to assess the audit firm and engagement team, and obtain greater value from them.

Work hard for long-term benefit

In the long term, these three developments should augur well for the audit committee and benefit the company. The FRSP and AQIs provide additional input and information, hitherto not available that will help the audit committee function better, while the enhanced auditor's report increases the transparency of the auditors' work and the financials of the company.

However, in the short term, audit committee members will need to spend time coming to grips with the implications and technicalities of the new requirements and tools.

In the meantime, the SID will be working with the regulators and accounting bodies to facilitate the process of understanding. Watch this space for education programmes and guides for audit committee members.

  • The writer is a member of the Finance Committee of the Singapore Institute of Directors

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

SGH to take responsibility, pay for treatment needed by infected patients

07 Oct 2015
Valerie Koh

SINGAPORE — While the Singapore General Hospital (SGH) yesterday (Oct 6) promised to “take responsibility” and pay for any treatment needed by patients infected by the hepatitis C outbreak at its renal ward, lawyers TODAY spoke to said there is legal recourse within a three-year window should affected patients opt to sue the hospital for medical negligence over what happened.

The lawyers noted that the success of potential civil suits would hinge on whether the hospital admits responsibility, or whether the patients are able to prove that the hospital has been negligent.

SGH is contacting the 411 patients who had been admitted to its renal ward during the first six months of the year. These patients will be screened for any hepatitis C infections.

The blood-borne virus has an incubation of two weeks to six months, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). While some hepatitis C carriers could suffer from cirrhosis — or hardening — of the liver within two decades, lawyer Ramasamy Chettiar of Acies Law noted that the statute of limitations for medical malpractice lawsuits expires within three years. “You cannot expose a defendant indefinitely, waiting for you to sue them 20 years later,” he said.

He added that if the hospital does not admit liability, the burden is on patients filing the civil suit to prove that there is negligence, and that they have been harmed in the process.

“They have to get an expert to get their records, and establish this. I don’t think any ordinary person will be able to do it,” said Mr Chettiar.

Nevertheless, lawyer Jason Chan, a director at Amica Law, said affected patients and their families could apply through the courts to acquire information from the hospital. “Both parties have to disclose … evidence that is potentially adverse to them. This ensures a level playing field, that all information is actually disclosed by both parties,” said Mr Chan.

For now, SGH medical board chairman Professor Fong Kok Yong said that there is no conclusive evidence as to what caused the cluster of infections, although the hospital suspected that it could be linked to the use of multi-dose vials.

Prof Fong said that two of the infected patients had each needed new anti-viral drugs costing S$90,000. This was paid for by SGH, he said. So far, 22 patients have been infected. Among these, four patients with co-existing conditions — such as pneumonia — and severe sepsis, an immune response to an infection, have died, possibly due to the hepatitis C virus infection. The hospital did not respond to queries on compensation for the families of the deceased.

Copyright 2015 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

Worker rejected firm's offer but gets less in court

Straits Times
29 Sep 2015
K.C. Vijayan

Injured man declined $50k settlement - but got less in damages despite winning court case

An injured worker who declined a company's offer to settle at $50,000 and took the case to court for a bigger sum may end up the "loser" - even though he won the case.

The High Court awarded Mr Wang Jianbin some $37,000 in damages and loss of earnings but as this sum is less than that offered for the settlement, the Chinese national will have to pay the full costs of the defence lawyers.

Mr Wang, 41, a construction worker and sole breadwinner from China's Hebei province, was injured in the right forearm, neck and forehead by a metal pipe in the course of work in July 2011.

His employer, Hong De Development, and the main contractor accepted 80 per cent of blame for his injury before an Assistant Registrar (AR) in the High Court, who awarded Mr Wang $28,000 for pain and suffering and $2,000 for future medical expenses.

But since this award was less than what he would have got had he not taken the case to court, she also ordered him to pay the full, indemnity costs for the legal fees of the other side. However, she also ordered the defence to pay him $5,500 in legal costs from the time the suit was filed to the time the offer to settle was made in October 2014.

The AR had, among other things, found poor evidence of any permanent disability. The injuries had all healed with no residual handicap except for headaches, giddiness and some numbness in the arm.

She found Mr Wang was "making up evidence in the witness box" and the medical evidence did not rule him out of work. However, he had made no attempt to get a comparable job in China despite having returned there for two years.

Mr Wang, represented by lawyer Eric Liew, appealed to the High Court following the AR's assessment in July of damages payable.

In examining the items, Justice Choo Han Teck said the AR had been "generous" to have awarded Mr Wang $2,000 for future medical expenses even though she was not satisfied he had shown enough evidence he would incur those costs.

Mr Wang had sought compensation for future medical expenses, claiming they were required for more orthopaedic treatment, physiotherapy and pain medication.

Justice Choo was also not convinced by his claims for loss of future earnings, and agreed with defence lawyer Ramesh Appoo that Mr Wang , "having realised the inadequacies of his evidence and his case, is hoping to overcome them not with evidence but a plea that the court should find it reasonable to accept that many of the missing evidence could and should be assumed".

The judge rejected Mr Wang's claims but allowed the appeal for pre-trial loss of earnings for the period he remained in Singapore on medical leave until his repatriation to China.

The additional sum awarded of $7,830 would supplement the $12,313 paid by his employer during the medical leave period .

This raised the overall sum for Mr Wang to $37,830 which at 80 per cent meant he got $30,264.

From this, Mr Wang would have to pay $23,000 in costs for defence lawyer Ramesh Appoo, which leaves him with about $7,000 to sort out the bill for his own lawyer, together with the $5,500 in legal costs awarded earlier by the AR.

Justice Choo noted Mr Wang had spurned a "generous" offer to settle and the AR was right to order indemnity costs.

"The award of costs on that scale is an important aspect of the idea behind the offer to settle. If a litigant believes that he is entitled to more, then he must accept the consequences if he fails," he wrote.

" If (Mr Wang)'s lawyers will consider waiving their own fees, (he) would have returned to China with a bit of compensation, instead of a substantial debt," he added.

Justice Choo declined to make any order as to costs for the appeal, acknowledging "this may be unfair to the defendants but they at least had the comfort of obtaining substantial costs before the AR".

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

Wang Jianbin v Hong De Development Pte Ltd and another [2015] SGHC 242

Thaipusam instrument ban legitimate: High Court

Straits Times
20 Sep 2015
K.C. Vijayan

Police had balanced applicants' rights against public order issues in procession, judge rules

The High Court has dismissed a move by three Thaipusam participants to challenge the ban on the playing of musical instruments during the Hindu procession.

Justice Tay Yong Kwang made clear that, while the playing of instruments in the course of the procession is a religious practice protected by the Constitution, such a provision is restricted by public order concerns as provided in the same laws.

"In my judgment, the police has shown legitimate public order concerns and their measures were directed at preserving public order," he said in judgment grounds released last week. "The risk of a disruption of public order was not unreal. The connection between the music restriction and the preservation of public order was neither illogical nor unreasonable."

Messrs R. Vijaya Kumar, Balasubramaniam and M. Sathiamoorthy, who participated in the Thaipusam procession in February, had applied to court to lift the ban on the use of instruments - such as the urumi, a type of drum - and authorise their use at next year's event.

The application implicated the Government's 42-year-old policy forbidding the use of musical instruments during the foot procession, which in recent times had been modified as police authorised religious hymns to be sung throughout the procession and broadcast from public address systems at three locations, noted Justice Tay. Musical instruments were also played within the temple grounds at the start and end of the procession.

The applicants, represented by lawyer Eugene Thuraisingam, argued that their constitutional right to religious freedom had been breached by the police decision to restrict musical instruments for Thaipusam processions as this was a religious practice. He said "public order" must stem from "some real threat of violence or disturbance to public safety".

Senior Counsel David Chong for the Attorney-General disputed the claims, arguing that the applicants had no case for the relief sought, among other things. He said the application was premature as the Hindu Endowments Board had collated feedback on potential modifications for future processions, which was expected to be discussed with the Government soon.

He explained the restrictions were meant to address the risks for communal disturbance and stressed that the potential public order issues cannot be underestimated. He pointed to the crowd build-up and congestion, given that the procession lasted more than 24 hours on a 3km route and affected major roads.

Religious "foot processions" are fundamentally different from non-religious ones as religion is a sensitive issue in Singapore's multi-religious context, the Senior Counsel added. He noted that riots had arisen out of a religious foot procession in 1964.

Justice Tay accepted that the playing of instruments is an essential part of the procession, based on a Hindu expert's report and the applicants' submissions, but found it is not a universal practice. The judge also accepted that the trio had the legal standing to mount the court judicial review application.

But he found that the police had shown there were legitimate concerns based on their ground intelligence and were in a better position than the court to decide what was necessary for public order and safety. He found the police had taken a "calibrated approach", balancing applicants' rights against public order issues.

He also noted that Thaipusam had a religious dimension which attracted "public order considerations of a different degree and kind", compared to the non-religious theme of the Chingay Parade and the secular nature of the St Patrick's Day event, which the applicants had brought up.

"History and current events in Singapore and around the world give ample justification to the police to pay special attention to events involving a religious element," said Justice Tay.

The applicants are appealing to the apex court, while the Attorney-General is also cross-appealing on the decision that the applicants had the requisite standing to mount this application, and the judge's finding that, to some Hindus, the playing of musical instruments during the procession is part of Hindu practice.

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

Investment treaties allow for claims against Indonesia for haze, says law firm

Business Times
07 Oct 2015
Claire Huang

There is a case to be made if govt had ability to prevent the fires: Dechert

[Singapore] INVESTORS who claim under an investment treaty can hold Indonesia or its government accountable for damage caused by fires it had the ability to prevent, said global law firm Dechert LLP in an update on whether the haze violates international law.

It said the failure by a government to exercise due diligence to prevent transboundary pollution may amount to a breach of international law, but more importantly, investment treaties generally allow qualifying investors to bring claims in their own right against a state which breaches treaty obligations.

In the case of Indonesia, its investment treaties with fellow Asean states and other countries include a guarantee to provide "full protection and security" to investments there, said Dechert in a briefing note written by partner Mark Mangan and associates Henry Defriez and Claire Chong.

"Arbitral tribunals have interpreted this standard as obliging a host state to exercise sufficient 'due diligence' to protect an investor's physical assets and persons from harm. This arguably includes an obligation on the part of states to take all necessary steps to prevent damage caused by egregious pollution."

Remedies available to an investor for a successful claim under an investment treaty potentially include declaratory relief that requires the offending state to take all necessary steps to prevent the pollution, as well as monetary damages for any resulting harm.

Dechert said moral damages are available "in extreme cases of egregious behaviour", including where a state's actions cause a grave or substantial deterioration of a person's physical or mental health.

"There may be an argument that haze which requires almost all activity outside to cease and schools closed given the risk of serious illness, as is the situation presently in much of Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia, satisfies this criteria."

An investment treaty claim can be an effective means of shining an international spotlight on a regional problem, said Dechert, citing a notable example of White Industries Australia Limited versus India (UNCITRAL, November 3, 2011).

The Indian courts had failed to enforce for over nine years an International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) arbitration award obtained by White Industries against Coal India.

Frustrated with the delays, White Industries reacted by commencing a new action - an investment treaty claim against the government of India for its failure to adopt and implement an effective judicial system.

Dechert said the Australian claimant succeeded, thereby turning a private dispute into a public one, and in the process securing an award for A$4.5 million (S$4.6 million) against the government of India, which it promptly paid.

The arbitral tribunal's 2011 decision was initially met with criticism and disdain within India, but enforcement applications are now being considered by Indian courts much more efficiently, said Dechert. India's government has also proposed new arbitration legislation which provides for faster enforcement of arbitral awards.

Currently, Singaporeans can pursue civil claims for damages for harm suffered as a result of the haze under the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act - a domestic law that allows a party to claim against individual companies found to have contributed to the haze.

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

Lim hits back at Zorio

Straits Times
29 Sep 2015
Wnag Meng Meng

Valencia owner may pursue legal action against ex-VP who alleged mismanagement

Three days after being accused of mismanaging Valencia, owner Peter Lim has fired back against the Spanish football club's former vice-president Miguel Zorio.

The Singaporean billionaire, who paid €420 million (S$605 million) to rescue the debt-ridden side last October, has dismissed the accusations as "entertaining but absurd".

The club are also considering legal action against Zorio.

The Straits Times understands that Lim has instructed his lawyers to look into the allegations to take Zorio to task.

When asked by The Straits Times yesterday on the allegations, Lim replied: "Not so long ago, Valencia were on the brink of bankruptcy and selling players to help cover recurring losses.

"There are good reasons why the club are now in good financial health and currently playing in the Champions League."

Valencia's former president, Amadeo Salvo, was also critical of Zorio, saying: "Allegations by Zorio are completely false. This man has lost all credibility after his many earlier lies were exposed.

"Peter Lim was selected as the owner because his proposal was the best we received. Peter is an honourable man of great prestige."

The club have also rubbished Zorio's claims as "completely false" and "attempting to attract publicity through baseless accusations".

It added in a statement: "The club reserve the right to take the appropriate legal action in court against Mr Zorio, so as to ensure that such conduct does not go unpunished."

In a legal complaint filed in Spain last Friday, Zorio said Valencia had signed a host of players managed by super agent Jorge Mendes, who is a close associate of Lim's.

He alleged that players like right-back Joao Cancelo (bought for a reported €15 million or S$24 million) and midfielder Andre Gomes (€15 million) were signed from Portuguese club Benfica at inflated fees.

Zorio told the Spanish media last Friday: "Jorge Mendes managed to transfer to the club (players) with above-market prices, and with unknown commissions. Peter Lim should explain why the players are so expensive and always part of Jorge Mendes' portfolio.

"Our aim is to defend Valencia football club to ensure their future viability within football's elite, to monitor compliance of commitments made, to prevent the looting of the club and to see the departure of Peter Lim by repurchasing shares to democratise the club."

But Lim countered by saying: "Zorio has selective memories of the club, and of himself. His story that I stole my own money is entertaining but absurd. He must be held accountable for what he said."

Zorio heads the Marea Valencianista (Valencian Tide) supporters' group, comprising two shareholders holding 33 shares, that aims to speak out against Lim's management of the club. He was vice-president at the Mestalla Stadium from July 2008 to March 2009.

During his tenure, players went unpaid. In February 2009, he announced that construction of the new 73,000-capacity Nou Mestalla Stadium costing €300 million was halted after the club had chalked up crippling debts of €596 million.

In a shareholders' meeting in December 2008, he claimed to have sold plots of land at the Mestalla to raise funds for the club.

These claims turned out to be false and Valencia went into bankruptcy after that.

Under Lim's ownership, Valencia achieved financial stability, improving from an eighth-placed finish in 2013-14 to claiming fourth position last season and returning to the elite Champions League.

Apart from the players in Mendes' stable, star striker Alvaro Negredo was also signed for €27 million from Manchester City.

Coached by Nuno Espirito Santo, the club had Spanish Primera Liga's youngest squad last season, with an average age of 23.3 years.

The team's attacking style also won them admirers as they beat Real Madrid 2-1 in January at the Mestalla, ending the visitors' club record 22-game winning streak.

However, a section of supporters are now targeting Nuno, as Valencia lie eighth this season with nine points from six games after a slow start. They are seven points behind league leaders Villarreal.

But on the back of Saturday's 1-0 win over Granada, that pressure will ease further if Valencia can deliver a result at French outfit Lyon tonight in the Champions League.


Zorio has selective memories of the club, and of himself. His story that I stole my own money is entertaining but absurd. He must be held accountable for what he said.

PETER LIM, Singaporean billionaire and owner of Valencia

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

No, you can't see your mum: Helping kids caught between warring parents

Straits Times
20 Sep 2015
Theresa Tan

With divorce cases rising here, more children are caught between warring parents

More will be done to deal with an unhappy side effect of divorce - the angry bickering of divorced parents over access to their children.

With the rising number of divorces here - 6,861 last year, a 17 per cent rise from 5,850 in 2004 - more children find themselves caught between warring parents.

The parent with whom the child lives may block the other from seeing the children, the police are frequently called and accusations are hurled, all to keep the children away from the other parent.

To help safeguard the interests of children, the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) will have more agencies providing a supervised visitation programme by the end of next year.

Currently, only the THK Centre for Family Harmony offers such programmes for separated or divorced parents to see their children.

A ministry spokesman told Life the programme will be provided by some of the four non-profit centres designated as divorce support specialist agencies.

They will handle cases referred by the Family Justice Courts and Syariah Courts. No other details are available yet.

Welcoming the move, divorce lawyers said up to half the parents they see disagree over access to the children.

"The denial of access is a very emotional issue. It is messy, ugly and most intractable," said lawyer Stephanie Looi.

Lawyers said some parents deny access to get back at their ex-spouses for various failings.

Where visits do happen, some kick up a fuss over the smallest matters, such as if a child is brought home late. Others allege abuse if the child returns with an injury even from an accident while at play.

It is not uncommon for warring parents to call the police during or after such visits, alleging all sorts of abuse by their ex-spouses.

Lawyer Lee Terk Yang added: "Some mothers are over-protective. They genuinely feel that their ex-husbands are unable to care for their children properly."

And there are those who "brainwash" the children against seeing the other parent.

In the most acrimonious cases, lawyers say, the courts have ordered that the access takes place at the THK Centre for Family Harmony in Circuit Road.

For example, the parent who has the child will drop him off at the centre and leave. The other parent comes to the centre and spends time with the child there, supervised by the centre's counsellors.

Its divisional director, Dr Katijah Dawood, said the arrangement minimises contact and the potential for conflict between the feuding couple.

Both parents are also counselled to help them see that it is best for the child to have a relationship with both parents.

The centre, set up by the Thye Hua Kwan Moral Charities in 2006, handles about 180 cases a year, double the figure when it started.

Family lawyers said that without this service, some parents may not get to see their children at all.

Lawyer Yap Teong Liang said: "At the centre, without their mums around, the children may feel less stressed and less influenced by her and be more open to interacting with their father."

Lawyer Rajan Chettiar added: "It's no longer about you and me, but there's a neutral third party who will report the visits to the court."

Dr Katijah said many children feel torn between their parents and need help from counsellors to cope. "They may still want to have a relationship with their other parent, but one parent does not want them to," she said.

Since 2011, the Family Justice Courts have made it compulsory for all divorcing couples with children to attend counselling and mediation sessions at the courts' Child Focused Resolution Centre.

This is meant to help them work out care arrangements for the children, such as custody and access issues, instead of fighting over them in court.

Lawyer Tan Siew Kim said: "The counselling and mediation sessions are very good as they help parents focus on what's best for the child and help reduce acrimony right from the start."

Ex-wife tells child to call father 'uncle'

Peter's shotgun marriage unravelled almost as soon as it began. Less than a year into the marriage, the 33-year-old wanted out.

"We were fighting almost every day," said the private tutor.

"I felt she was too demanding, unreasonable and always imposing her views on me."

After Peter (not his real name) asked for a divorce, his wife took their baby daughter, returned to her parents' home and refused to let him see the child.

She also changed her phone number and cut off all contact with him.

Later, she moved out of her parents' home and Peter had no clue how to locate her or his child.

He said: "I missed my daughter so much."

With no contact for over a year, he sought legal help and is now in the midst of divorce proceedings.

The courts have ordered his estranged wife to take the child to the THK Centre for Family Harmony, where Peter gets 11/2 hours a week to spend with his daughter.

He said: "When I first saw my daughter after such a long absence, I was like a complete stranger to her. She would cry when she saw me and that was very hard for me."

But with weekly visits over the past year, his bond with his little girl, now four, has improved.

"My ex-wife told my girl that she doesn't have a daddy. She told my daughter to call me 'uncle'," he said. "When my ex-wife is around, my daughter would call me uncle. When she's not around, my daughter calls me daddy."

Peter says he is just glad for the time he spends with his child, but the cost of the supervised access sessions is a drain on his finances.

He pays almost $200 for a 1 1/2-hour session. The fees for supervised access cost $108 an hour on weekdays and $130 on weekends.

There are subsidies for lower- income parents, said the centre's divisional director, Dr Katijah Dawood.

Describing the work the centre does with families after a divorce, she said: "We help parents rebuild or establish a bond with their children so that the children don't feel abandoned or rejected by one parent."

Kids hid in toilet and refused to see mum

Mary's husband never forgave her for her infidelity.

He demanded a divorce, chased her out of their flat and prevented her from seeing their three children who were still in primary school.

Mary (not her real name) was granted access by the courts to spend time with her two sons and a daughter regularly after the divorce, but that did not happen.

The 47-year-old said in Mandarin: "He told my children I had an affair. He told me they didn't want to see me."

The former secretary got so desperate, she would go to the children's schools just to watch them from a distance.

Once, she got into a fight with her former mother-in-law at her daughter's school. Mary said she missed her daughter very much and wanted to take her home, but the older woman stopped her.

Her husband filed a police report against her. Shortly after that, he moved to a new house and cut off all contact with her.

Mary did not see her children for more than three years.

"I missed my children so much and I felt so helpless. I almost went mad," she said.

She finally turned to the courts and the judge ruled that she could visit her children once a week at the THK Centre for Family Harmony, for 11/2 hours each time.

"When I first saw my kids after so many years, they were very angry with me. They hid in the centre's toilet and refused to see me," she said. "Or they would ignore me. I felt terrible, but my counsellor encouraged me not to give up."

It took two years of weekly visits for that tension to ease. Although their relationship improved, the children still refuse to acknowledge her as their mother.

Mary, who remarried last year, said: "I'm just happy that our relationship is not severed and we are still in contact. I'm waiting for my children to grow up and build their relationship with me."

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

Singapore's tax regime deemed to pass muster in tax avoidance overhaul

Business Times
07 Oct 2015
Jamie Lee

Tax experts say OECD reform could also raise Republic's competitiveness through nuanced incentives

[Singapore] SINGAPORE'S strategic use of tax incentives to draw investments that create economic value is unlikely to be marred by sweeping international tax reform launched on Monday to weed out tax avoidance, tax experts say.

The reform led by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) - which has been openly supported by the Singapore government - could also raise the country's competitiveness through nuanced tax incentives, as the recommendations put strong pressure on large global corporations to stop abusing tax loopholes created by different regimes around the world.

In a statement on Tuesday, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said the new recommendations should be "consistently applied across all state and non-state tax jurisdictions to ensure a level playing field". This would maintain a stable "pro-growth" global environment for investment, while minimising chances for tax arbitrage.

"Singapore supports an inclusive monitoring mechanism that is conducted in a fair, open and objective manner with participation on an equal footing by all relevant tax jurisdictions," Mr Heng added.

OECD's salvo is not aimed at low-tax regimes, but at the creative strategies mounted by large corporations to avoid making billions in tax payments through tax arbitrage. Some countries have also offered special tax deals that encourage this.

The tax-revenue loss, conservatively estimated at between US$100 billion and US$240 billion annually, comes in essence as multinational enterprises artificially depress their profits in countries where taxes are high, and correspondingly lift their profits in low-tax jurisdictions.

The cross-border earnings transfer - mainly through inter-company sales and unjustified pricing of intangible assets such as royalties - is particularly disingenuous as the large profits in the low-tax jurisdiction do not reflect proportionate economic value added to such tax havens.

Global companies such as Starbucks have manoeuvred through tax regimes in Europe. In 2012, it revealed to regulators that its Swiss unit charged the other Starbucks operations a 20 per cent mark-up for the coffee beans that it sourced. This practice, known as transfer pricing, is kosher - but becomes suspicious when the mark-up is dramatically higher than the transaction price from market competitors.

The Swiss unit then paid millions in dividends to its former regional head office in the Netherlands, which in turned forked out less than one per cent in corporate taxes in 2014, under a tax deal with the Dutch authorities.

Similarly, businesses can make princely royalty payments to units that are charged lower tax. Other household names such as Amazon, Apple and Google have also been singled out for their complex tax structures.

These structures have emerged as large corporations cross borders to expand their supply chains. Tax experts have argued that such reforms have lagged the rate of globalisation.

The tactic explains the title behind this reform - known as base erosion and profit shifting (BEPS) - which has been in the works for some two years. The hefty review was documented in a report of a thousand pages and pointed out that, among other things, transfer pricing outcomes should align with value creation.

Large corporations should also file a report that breaks down - for each tax jurisdiction where they do business - the amount of revenue, profit and income tax paid, the staff count, as well as describe the business activities each entity engages in.

"Singapore supports the BEPS principle that profits should be taxed where substantive economic activities generating the profits are performed and where value is created," said the Ministry of Finance (MOF).

Singapore adopts the internationally agreed arm's-length principle to determine transaction prices between related parties, it said. Existing tax treaties already include provisions that guard against treaty abuse and provide for exchange of information when requested - again in line with the international standard.

MOF added: "We do not condone activities aimed at base erosion and profit shifting. Our tax policies support substantive economic activities, so as to create skilled jobs and business innovation, and build new capabilities in Singapore."

Tax experts also said Singapore's tax regime should pass muster.

"While the OECD has sought to establish the yardstick for preferential tax regimes to be supported by substantial economic activity, we should take confidence from Singapore's tax regime, which has always demanded substance to qualify for incentives," said Chris Woo, tax leader at PwC Singapore. "However, Singapore should continue the effort to refine her incentives regime to remain relevant in the changing world, and dispel any misconceptions."

Simon Clark, regional partner, alternative investments, at KPMG in Singapore, said: "More companies will gravitate away from 'post-box' jurisdictions whose sole advantage is for tax planning. Singapore, with its substantive and significant economic infrastructure, offers them real economic advantage as an alternative."

But Chung-Sim Siew Moon, head of tax at EY in Singapore, noted that a "significant gap" between the number of cross-border dispute cases filed with tax authorities and those completed will widen, as tax authorities build their resources. This also comes amid fears over double taxation due to faulty BEPS implementation.

Singapore should consider providing for mandatory binding arbitration in its tax treaties, noted Eugene Lim, head of tax at Baker & McKenzie.Wong & Leow. He added that Singapore's tax authorities have already bolstered compliance standards in its transfer pricing regime.

A Thomson Reuters poll showed 68 per cent of those polled will review their business value chain and key profit drivers ahead of BEPS implementation. Deloitte's survey in May also showed over 90 per cent of respondents see the tax compliance burden rising substantially due to more reporting linked to BEPS recommendations.

"Tax matters will get hazy in the initial few years as there are bound to be uncertainties on how the new international tax rules will operate in practice," EY's Mrs Chung-Sim added. "Global businesses need to brace themselves for increased tax controversy and the likelihood of double taxation in the new tax world."

One oft-cited tax incentive here is the Global Trader Programme, through which qualifying trading firms can benefit from a concessionary tax rate. Conditions include minimum turnover, local business spending and employment, which link to economic value and job creation.

Singapore is a leading commodities trading hub in Asia, an IE Singapore report showed. Employment in the trading sector grew 3.55 per cent to 14,600 in 2014 from the year before. Just over half the posts were filled by Singaporeans, 2013 data showed.

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

S'pore can fight haze in its own backyard

Straits Times
29 Sep 2015
Jessica Cheam

Many palm oil producers and buyers are sited in Singapore. Hit them where it hurts, by mandating banks and investors to have codes that prevent loans to or investments in firms that aid deforestation and land burning

Air pollution brought about by illegal fires raging in Indonesia hit new hazardous records this past week and even triggered the closure of schools in Singapore for the first time last Friday. Apart from rising temperatures, the current haze crisis has raised tempers among political leaders and the public, and there is significant political pressure on governments to resolve the issue once and for all.

The people - even those typically unconcerned about environmental issues - have felt the impact so acutely that they've begun asking questions about who's responsible and what we can do about it here.

The question of who is responsible is highly complex, involving a wide range of socio-political factors and a multitude of actors. But if you had to distil the reason down to one thing, it's plain economics.


Global demand for cheap palm oil and paper products has driven the conversion of Indonesian and Malaysian forest land into plantations and fuelled air pollution in the region for decades.

Local elites manage land transactions and mobilise local communities or smallholders to clear land by burning. Timber and oil palm planted on cleared land are supplied to large firms and, throughout the supply chain, many benefit from the burning - still the cheapest way of clearing land - and turn a blind eye to it.

These commodities make their way to you and me via consumer giants that use palm oil in everything from cosmetics to biscuits to shampoo, while timber is turned into paper and tissue products. These groups form complex social networks that undermine government efforts to allocate land resources efficiently and enforce the rule of law.

In recent years, environment and civic groups have focused their campaigning efforts on this wide spectrum of stakeholders. Greenpeace and Forest Heroes have led high-profile campaigns targeting producers and traders such as Golden Agri-Resources, Wilmar International, Asia Pulp and Paper (APP), Cargill, Musim Mas and April Group to buyers like Kellogg, Nestle and Unilever. All these companies are either Singapore-listed or have operations in Singapore.

Civic groups say the buck stops with these firms as they reap handsome profits from the crops cultivated through illegal burning. They also have the resources and influence to meaningfully change industry practices.

Under immense pressure in recent years, firms such as Golden Agri, APP, Wilmar and Cargill have declared zero deforestation policies which they say also apply to their suppliers. NGOs which function as watchdogs say these claims can't be taken at face value. The proof is in how transparent these firms are in, say, releasing maps of their suppliers' concessions, and how willing they are in having external parties audit and verify their processes.


The stakes have gone up, with the National Environment Agency - in its first invocation of Singapore's Transboundary Haze Pollution Act - sending legal letters to five Indonesian firms it believes are responsible for the burning.

Of the five, the most well-known is APP, whose Paseo tissue packets and A One photocopy paper are ubiquitous in Singapore. It has been ordered by NEA to supply information on its Singapore and Indonesian subsidiaries and its measures to fight fires.

APP says it is preparing its response, and adds that it has halted forest clearance but cannot control "unauthorised third parties" who continue burning on their suppliers' concessions. It points to overlapping concessions with other businesses and illegal encroachment as complicated issues that require other stakeholders to resolve.

APP also says that the problem of illegal fires is further exacerbated by an Indonesian ruling, called Law 32, which allows communities to burn 2ha of land per family. These fires then spread in particularly dry weather.

To be fair, APP has since last year released its suppliers' mapping data to the Indonesian government and to independent organisations such as the World Resources Institute.

Wilmar is another company that earlier this year started disclosing names and locations of its suppliers via an online dashboard, following a 2013 campaign by Forest Heroes accusing it of deforestation.

Too few forestry companies have such a level of disclosure - all should make their maps public, even if this means generating extra scrutiny.

It is true that the problem of illegal burning can't be tackled by companies alone, but industry observers say they also can't pass the buck to others, since the companies holding the concession permits are ultimately responsible for preventing and extinguishing fires on their land, regardless of who started it.

NEA's legal action against the five firms - if it proceeds further - will be a litmus test of the effectiveness of the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act, which punishes errant companies that cause haze pollution in Singapore with fines of up to $2 million. If it manages to have enough evidence to secure a conviction, a harsh sentence - and reputational damage - might be the wake-up call the industry needs.


Singapore, too, should look at its own backyard when it comes to the haze problem. Research by the non-profit Centre for International Forestry Research (Cifor) shows that oil palm plantations - owned by Indonesian, Malaysian and Singaporean firms - reaped revenues of US$18.4 billion (S$26.3 billion) last year. It notes that just as Singapore and Malaysia share the profits of Indonesia's palm oil, so must they share the responsibility for fire and haze.

Singapore is a major palm oil trading hub and many of its banks are major financiers of agricultural companies in the region. None of these banks however has any policies relating to the environmental, social and governance standards of the companies it gives loans to. This means that they have indirectly financed deforestation activities and, as a result, are also indirectly responsible for the haze.

Last week, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan mentioned green procurement as a way for the Government to influence the supply chains . This is long overdue. In the absence of any leadership from our local banks, the Monetary Authority of Singapore should also introduce mandatory stewardship codes to promote responsible investment practices. Its current stance that the industry should regulate itself just does not cut it.

Cifor says that besides banks, the second-largest financier is equity investors - this group contributes 59 per cent of the capital of Indonesia's 10 largest palm oil companies. Sovereign wealth funds such as Singapore's Temasek Holdings and Malaysia's Employees Provident Fund, and individual shareholders all help finance the activities of some of these publicly traded companies.

As consumers and shareholders, we can all play a part - not just in speaking up on our expectations of how Singapore companies and financial institutions should behave, but also taking the effort to equip ourselves with the knowledge whether the products we are buying is leading to the haze that we are suffering from.

Unless all these factors are consistently addressed, this haze crisis certainly won't be our last.

• Jessica Cheam is the editor of Eco-Business, an Asia-Pacific sustainable business online publication. This is a fortnightly column on the environment.

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

Maid cleared of allegations that she stole winning lottery ticket

Straits Times
20 Sep 2015
Aw Cheng Wei

A maid who won $2.3 million in the Singapore Sweep in June has been cleared of allegations that she had stolen the winning ticket.

For the last three weeks, Ms Len (not her real name) could not access her winnings as her bank account was frozen as a matter of procedure while the police did their investigations. The police called Ms Len on Thursday evening to tell her that her bank account is no longer frozen.

"I never stole the ticket," said a relieved Ms Len, 44, adding that she cooperated fully with the police.

After a report was lodged last month by an unidentified person claiming that the winning ticket was stolen, she complied with police requests to hand over details of her bank account. She also took them to the Tampines outlet where she bought the ticket.

When her account was frozen, it was difficult for Ms Len to remit money back to the Philippines. "We live in the village and we are very poor. My family, and my old parents, are waiting for me to send money back for food and school expenses," she said.

Over the past 14 years working for her current employer in Pasir Ris, she would keep $50 for her own expenses and send the rest of her salary to her husband and their two children.

The money also goes to her parents and her in-laws who are sick and have no money for treatment, added her employer, a 62-year-old customer service officer.

"It has been very frustrating for (Ms Len)," said her employer, adding that Ms Len has always been honest during her employment.

Ms Len has already transferred part of her winnings to her children and bought a plot of land in the Philippines. She plans to build a house on it for her children.

The mother of two will also give some money to her relatives and friends to help them out. The rest will be saved for her 22-year-old daughter and 23-year-old son's future, she said. Meanwhile, she will continue to work for her employer.

"I did not steal (the ticket)," Ms Len insisted.

"I am a very simple person and I don't want any attention. I (just happened to) strike the lottery."

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

E-shoppers may have to pay more

07 Oct 2015
Tan Weizhen

OECD calls on govts to step up efforts to collect tax revenue missed out from cross-border e-commerce transactions

SINGAPORE — Online shoppers may have to pay more taxes on goods they order from overseas sites in the future, if countries adopt recommendations by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which has called on governments around the world to step up efforts to collect the tax revenue they are missing out on from cross-border e-commerce transactions.

In Singapore, for instance, Goods and Services Tax (GST) need not be paid for imported items bought online by locally based consumers, except for dutiable products, if the cost, including insurance and freight charges, amounts to S$400 or less. Therefore, many online shoppers spread out their purchases where possible to avoid paying the tax.

In its final set of recommendations released on Monday (Oct 4) aimed at battling offshore tax avoidance through what it calls base erosion and profit shifting (BEPS), the OECD said that although no specific tax rules have been developed for the digital economy, administrators should consider tackling challenges with other actions recommended in the overall plan.

The OECD said in its report that the digital economy presents challenges for value-added tax (VAT) collection, particularly where goods, services and intangibles are acquired by private consumers from suppliers abroad.

“The collection of VAT or goods and services tax (GST) on cross-border transactions, particularly those between businesses and consumers, is an important issue. Countries are thus recommended to apply the principles of the international VAT or GST guidelines and consider the introduction of the collection mechanisms included therein.

“This issue is particularly acute in the online business-to-consumer market, and greatly affects the level playing field between domestic and cross-border suppliers,” the report added.

Because the digital economy is increasingly becoming the economy itself, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to ring-fence the digital economy from the rest of the economy for tax purposes, the OECD said. It said that some business models to be examined from a tax perspective include several varieties of e-commerce, app stores, online advertising, cloud computing, high-speed trading and online payment services.

Of the estimated S$4.5 billion generated in e-commerce revenue here in 2013, about 55 per cent involved cross-border transactions, according to data from Spire Research and Consulting. This represents an estimated tax revenue impact of S$100 million to S$175 million for Singapore in the year, said Spire.

The retail sector is a major contributor to Singapore’s economy and the rise of e-commerce —overwhelmingly dominated by overseas merchants — has resulted in more money flowing out of the country as well as a loss of tax revenue. Local businesses are also placed at a competitive disadvantage.

Experts have noted that in general, overseas online retailers are not taxed here on their income generated from Singapore consumers. However, local brick-and-mortar stores and businesses have to pay income tax on revenue earned.

Mr Kor Bing Keong, partner for Indirect Tax – GST at EY Singapore, said the OECD reforms will have an impact on online consumers and merchants alike.

“Based on the trend around the world, countries such as Norway, South Korea and member states of European Union have already taken steps to collect GST or VAT on the digital economy, and other countries such as Australia and New Zealand have announced their intention to do so. It would appear that the additional tax to be collected is not insignificant,” he said.

“It would certainly mean additional administrative work and compliance costs as online merchants may be required to register for GST or VAT in more than one country arising from legislative changes introduced to collect GST or VAT on the digital economy.”

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Leaner times for lawyers as firm slashes bonuses?

Straits Times
28 Sep 2015

They haven't been reduced to earning chicken feed - at least not yet - but times are getting tougher for the country's legal eagles.

A leading law firm is said to be slashing front-loaded bonuses for its lawyers from next month.

The cutbacks come amid a slowdown in the legal industry as firms grapple with the property slump, the dearth of new share-market listings and a slowing economy.

It remains to be seen if other top law firms here will follow suit.

A lawyer's basic salary is typically supplemented by a front-loaded bonus paid monthly. Unlike the basic salary, this is a discretionary component that can be more easily adjusted by the firm. At least one large law firm has already moderated its remuneration package for newly qualified and junior lawyers, The Straits Times reported earlier this month.

A few mid-sized firms have made similar moves or reduced their number of trainees because of an oversupply of law graduates.

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Prosecution succeeds in getting cyclist's jail term cut

Straits Times
19 Sep 2015
Selina Lum

Court slashes 8-week term to 3 weeks on appeal; A-G says it's vital for punishment to be appropriate

In a Singapore first, the prosecution yesterday appealed to cut an offender's sentence.

And it succeeded after the court slashed an eight-week jail term to three for a cyclist who knocked down an elderly pedestrian. In a statement to the media after the appeal, Attorney-General V.K. Rajah said it is vital to ensure offenders are punished appropriately - "neither in a manifestly inadequate nor in a manifestly excessive manner".

The case involved 35-year-old Lim Choon Teck, who knocked down Madam Chng Kian, 69, and left her with upper arm and wrist fractures while cycling on a pavement in Ang Mo Kio in May.

Lim then fled before the victim's 74-year-old husband could take down his full details. The police tracked him down from his identity card number.

Earlier this month, the prosecution pushed for at least two weeks' jail, but District Judge Lee-Khoo Poh Choo decided on a much longer sentence. She said there was a need to deter such behaviour - comparing it to "killer litter" cases that also involved rash acts.

The sentence also reflected Lim's "selfish, cowardly and irresponsible manner" for not staying with the elderly couple until the ambulance arrived, she added.

But the prosecution believed this was disproportionate to his culpability and the fact that he had pleaded guilty at the first reasonable opportunity. "Justice works both ways, to the victim as well as to the accused person," said Deputy Public Prosecutor (DPP) Prem Raj Prabakaran.

He told the High Court yesterday that a jail sentence was warranted to deter others from cycling on pavements, given the increased popularity of personal mobility devices such as motorised bicycles and electric skate scooters.

Referring to parliamentary debates earlier this year in which three MPs raised the issue, DPP Prem highlighted that over the past five years, 3,500 summonses were issued for cycling on footpaths.

The degree of Lim's recklessness and the grievous hurt caused to Madam Chng also pointed to a jail term, he added.

But the DPP argued that the district judge was wrong to impose eight weeks, instead of the two to four weeks sought by the prosecution. Lim, who was not represented by a lawyer, was the first cyclist to be hauled to court for riding on a pavement and there were no similar sentencing precedents .

The DPP pointed out that even when compared to cases of rash driving, eight weeks was manifestly excessive. He gave the example of a driver who was jailed six weeks last year for causing the death of a motorcyclist who had the right of way.

The DPP also said the district judge was wrong to compare Lim's case to killer litter and hit-and-run offences. She also should not have considered a cyclist's lack of insurance coverage and the difficulty for victims to claim compensation. These, he argued, were not relevant in a criminal prosecution.

High Court Judge Chan Seng Onn, who will give written reasons at a later date for why he imposed three weeks' jail, said yesterday that "by and large", he agreed with the DPP's arguments. He told Lim, who has served 18 days in jail, that he could be released yesterday if he is given remission.

Lim, who was remanded after he was charged in court on Sept 1 and pleaded guilty six days later, could have been jailed for up to six months and fined $2,500.

"All stakeholders in our criminal justice system, including the Attorney-General's Chambers, shoulder this heavy responsibility to ensure fairness and proportionality in the punishment meted out," said the Attorney-General.

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Singapore seen being able to fulfil minimum wage requirement

Business Times
07 Oct 2015
Soon Weilun

Observers cite Progressive Wage Model and Workfare Income Supplement

[Singapore] THE parties to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement are expected to enact laws on minimum wage, and Singapore's response to this requirement will be observed keenly.

The full wording of the agreement has yet to be made public, but a summary of the document published on the website of the United States Trade Representative Office shows that all TPP parties "agree to have laws governing minimum wages, hours of work, and occupational safety and health".

Singapore does not prescribe minimum wages.

Observers that The Business Times spoke to believed that Singapore already has a patchwork of initiatives that can be viewed as "price floors" for labour. Thus, the Republic can fulfil the minimum wage requirement in the TPP agreement.

"It's great that they are mandating minimum wage," said associate professor Hui Weng Tat who specialises in the impact of globalisation on labour markets at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.

"But Singapore already has the Progressive Wage Model (PWM) which can be essentially viewed as our response to minimum wage," he added.

When contacted by BT, both the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) and Ministry of Trade and Industry said that they could not respond yet.

But on its website, MOM says that "as a matter of national policy, MOM does not prescribe minimum wages for all workers in Singapore, whether local or foreign."

However, the PWM, introduced in 2012, prescribes minimum wage in certain industries. It has been implemented in the cleaning industry, and will be rolled out to the security sector next year.

The Workfare Income Supplement (WIS) has been held up as a complementary tool that safeguards the wages of low-income workers. Through the WIS, the government supplements low wages by encouraging workers to stay in employment through cash payouts and Central Provident Fund top-ups.

At a recent rally during the general election, Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said: "It is the real alternative to the minimum wage in Singapore. Workfare is adding significantly to wages."

Ultimately, whether Singapore would introduce minimum wage as a result of acceding to the TPP agreement lies in the exact wording of the document, but observers are not holding their breath for it.

"I doubt the government will implement a minimum wage policy just to comply with the TPP treaty obligations," said Singapore Management University associate professor of law Eugene Tan. "Instead, it is likely to make the case that Singapore's wage policy framework is superior to the minimum wage. "

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Working mum to get $1 in maintenance

Straits Times
28 Sep 2015
K.C. Vijayan

Nominal sum preserves divorced woman's right to apply for maintenance in future

A working mother who divorced her pilot husband has been awarded $1 in annual nominal maintenance after the Court of Appeal clarified a previous ruling, a decision which means she can apply for further maintenance in future if her circumstances change.

Last October, the High Court ruled that the couple's $1.65 million matrimonial home should be divided 70:30 in favour of the wife, while a $1,500 monthly maintenance for their child should be borne equally by both parents.

However, the judge made no order as to her maintenance but made it clear that she had a legal right to apply for it in the future.

The woman, 42, a bank officer, appealed to the apex court against the whole judgment in July. It dismissed her case but explained that "no order" maintenance was not appropriate to reflect the judge's ruling.

Instead it granted her nominal maintenance, which preserves her right to apply for maintenance in the future should the need arise.

"In order to preserve a wife's right to apply for maintenance to the court in the future, an order for nominal maintenance is required," wrote Judge of Appeal Andrew Phang, on behalf of the Court of Appeal in judgment grounds released this month. "What the judge was doing, in substance, was to equate the legal effect or result of an order for nominal maintenance with that for an order that there be no order on an application for maintenance. With respect, we disagree."

The 43-year-old former Republic of Singapore Air Force pilot and the working mum, whose salary soared after she got her master's degree, will share custody of their 11-year-old child despite the wife's bid for sole custody.

The couple cannot be named for legal reasons. Their marriage broke down in 2010 after 12 years and she cited his unreasonable behaviour.

She was represented by lawyer Koh Tien Hua, while he was defended by Ms Sim Bock Eng.

In a commentary on the appeals court's decision, two Singapore Management University law graduates have suggested that the award of $1 maintenance orders as the default position should be reviewed.

This should be considered "in an age when women are increasingly financially independent and spouses share familial responsibilities more equally", Ms Beatrice Yeo and Ms Fiona Chew wrote in a commentary published in Singapore Law Watch last week. "Arguably, the award of $1 maintenance simply to preserve the wife's future right to maintenance without further justification might also be said to be out of touch with the realities of today's more gender-equal era."

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APE v APF [2015] SGCA 47

Town club loses appeal over value of property

Straits Times
19 Sep 2015
K.C. Vijayan

It had asked review board to slash Chief Assessor's figure to $3.12m from $7.3m

The Valuation Review Board has dismissed a town club's appeal that the total annual value of its property for the years 2003 and 2004 was set too high, at $7.3 million.

The Legends Fort Canning Park, a restored historical building, wanted the court to slash the total assessment by the Chief Assessor (CA) to $3.12 million instead. The annual value is used for the purpose of computing the property tax payable.

"It is the potential annual rental that the property can fetch and the annual property tax payable could be up to 10 per cent of this annual value based on official prescribed rates," said property consultant Nicholas Mak.

The Legends comprises a three-storey building with swimming pool and other club facilities. Sitting on a land area of 11,768.4 sq m, the property had a 30-year lease from November 2002.

The annual value was priced at 5 per cent of the estimated capital value of the property, which for the two years was found by the CA to be $71.47 million and $76.1 million respectively.

The review board, comprising Mr Chiah Kok Khun, a judicial officer; Mr Wan Fook Kong, a veteran appraiser; and NUS don Chan Chuen Fye, found there were "good grounds" for the CA's assessment.

It had taken into account the sale price of Pinetree Town and Country Club, which had a similar size, location and use, to support the estimated capital value assessment of The Legends, said the board.

The land value and building value of The Legends were also added to derive the estimated capital value.

The CA used the land sale price of Raffles Town Club as a comparison and the actual construction cost of the Legends to complete the assessment, added the board.

Legends had based its case, among other things, on a comparison with the sale of a site at Fairy Point Hill, in Changi, but the board found this comparison unsuitable as Legends is in the Civic District.

In addition, the board found the valuation report provided by Legends did not "provide details on the computations and valuation assumptions adopted in arriving at the estimated value".

The CA's estimated annual values showed a rental rate comparable to the nearby Singapore Recreation Club, next to Raffles City.

"The burden of proving that the CA's valuations are erroneous lies squarely with (Legends)", which it failed to do, the board ruled last week.

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'People' told him to throw hammer at PM, says man

Straits Times
07 Oct 2015
Amir Hussain

A man who claimed he was instructed to throw a hammer at Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and threatened to "stage an attack" on him in four Facebook messages was found guilty of criminal intimidation yesterday. Tan Yeong Hong, 33, also pleaded guilty to two counts of hurting two policemen.

The court heard how Tan, whose case will be heard again next Thursday, believed he had been approached 10 years ago by a Chinese man who told him to pass "data" to the PM. At about 8pm on June 24, he went to Mr Lee's Meet-the-People (MPS) session to hand him an article he had typed. Tan had a black haversack containing a hammer. But Mr Lee did not turn up.

Just before 9pm that night, Tan sent the four threatening messages to Mr Lee's Facebook account.

"Eh, you challenged me to visit your MPS but you are not here. I will find and stage an attack on you when I have information on your public appearances. You know who I am," posted Tan, who included his IC and mobile phone numbers.

Tan, who was found to be suffering from paranoid schizophrenia at the time of the offence, claimed in court he had been prompted by "people" who had planted surveillance devices in his house.

"The people" told him to find Mr Lee and throw a hammer at him.

Tan then checked Mr Lee's Teck Ghee ward Facebook page to determine his next public appearance.

His parents told the police he was a violent person who always carried a knife in his bag. When four officers approached him at his block in Hougang Avenue 1 on June 25, Tan punched one and elbowed another.

A search of his home uncovered a bag containing a hammer, a chopper and several knives. There was also a piece of paper in the bedroom listing Mr Lee's public appearances.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Andre Chong called for a jail sentence of between 18 and 23 months. Tan, who did not have a lawyer, said in mitigation: "I did not know that the charges are so severe."

District Judge Mathew Joseph said it was in the interests of justice and fairness that Tan be assigned a court-appointed lawyer.

Tan could be jailed for two years and fined for criminal intimidation. For hurting a public servant he could be jailed for seven years and fined and caned.

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Legal eagle named best dispute lawyer

Straits Times
26 Sep 2015
K.C. Vijayan

Drew & Napier, the firm he heads, also wins Law Firm of the Year award

Law heavyweight Davinder Singh has emerged as Singapore's best dispute lawyer at an awards ceremony to size up the brightest legal talents in the region.

The 58-year-old Senior Counsel was named the Republic's "Disputes Star of the Year" at Thursday's inaugural Asialaw Asia-Pacific (APAC) Dispute Resolution Awards held in Hong Kong.

Drew & Napier, the law firm he heads, also took pole position in being named Singapore Law Firm of the Year, warding off shortlisted local heavyweights such as Allen & Gledhill, Rajah & Tann and WongPartnership.

The firm was also named best in Singapore for domestic arbitration.

Asialaw, the awards ceremony host, is a research outfit that has produced 20 annual editions of Asialaw Profiles, which provides a guide to leading domestic and regional law firms in the Asia-Pacific region.

The awards build on Hong Kong-based Asialaw's expertise in uncovering leading lawyers and firms to celebrate the best in 12 practice areas across 14 countries in the Asia-Pacific region,with individual award winners named for each country.

Spokesman Nickie Yeung told The Straits Times yesterday: "Each winner demonstrated his strengths in furthering and inspiring the growing field of dispute resolution around the region."

To select the nominees and winners, Asialaw editorial staff undertook detailed research beginning with submissions from regional and international firms. It also consulted private practice lawyers, in-house counsel and barristers for market feedback.

SC Singh, who beat off seven other nominees from local and international law firms based here, has handled a slew of high-profile cases over the years. They include representing Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong recently in a successful defamation suit against blogger Roy Ngerng, and acting for the Brunei Attorney-General in prosecuting a US$2.5 million (S$3.2 million) corruption case.

He is currently helming a Drew & Napier team to defend Indonesian company PT Bayan Resources TBK in a US$800 million spat with BCBC Singapore, a wholly owned subsidiary of Australian company Binderless Coal Briquetting Company.

Dealing with alleged breaches of a joint venture pact, the case is set to be the first to be heard before the Singapore International Commercial Court (SICC), launched in January.

SC Singh, who has been practising since 1983, said yesterday: "Drew & Napier and I are deeply honoured by these awards which justly belong to our excellent lawyers and staff. The firm owes a special debt of gratitude to all our clients for their unstinting support."

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Town council handover: MND replies - Forum

Straits Times
19 Sep 2015

The Town Councils Act provides for continuity before and after a parliamentary election, where a town council (TC) handover may be necessitated by changes in electoral boundaries, reconstitution of towns, or a change in political parties ("Ensure proper town council handover" by Mr Yeo Chee Kean; Wednesday).

First, when Parliament is dissolved and all MPs cease to hold office as town councillors, the TC will appoint from its non-MP town councillors an acting chairman to oversee the operations of the TC.

The acting chairman will hold office until the new MP(s) is elected. A newly elected MP will assume office as town councillor immediately after the election.

Second, the validity and enforceability of a TC's contracts are not affected by a handover, and these contracts remain valid and enforceable by the successor TC until, by the terms of the contracts themselves, the contracts expire or are terminated through mutual agreement.

This covers all contracts, including contracts for managing agent services, cleaning, estate maintenance, cyclical works and computer and financial systems.

Third, there are established processes for the transfer of property between TCs due to electoral boundary changes and/or reconstitution of towns.

These include proper accounting of assets and liabilities, which are audited by an independent auditor to ensure the statements declared by the handing-over TC are true and fair, and that receipt, expenditure, investment of monies, acquisition and disposal of assets, and proper accounting and other records are kept in accordance with the provisions of the Town Councils Act.

All TCs have a duty to their residents to carry out the handing and taking over in a professional, fair and timely manner, to ensure continuity of services.

Christine Yap (Ms)

Senior Director

Corporate Communications

Ministry of National Development

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The haze, international law and global cooperation

Straits Times
06 Oct 2015
S. Jayakumar & Tommy Koh

Once again, the forests of Kalimantan, South Sumatra and parts of Riau are on fire. The fires are destroying Indonesia's forests, rich biological diversity and natural heritage. The fires are also endangering the health of Indonesians, Malaysians and Singaporeans. The people most affected by the haze are Indonesians living in Kalimantan and South Sumatra.

The haze is causing economic loss to the three countries. The fires are also causing harm to the world because of the carbon emitted into the atmosphere. The United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) has warned that the haze this year could be as bad as that in 1997 when the

United Nations declared the forest fires in Indonesia an ecological disaster for the world.

The problem is not new and has been occurring almost annually for over two decades. The laws of Indonesia forbid the use of fire to clear land. Indonesia's leaders have promised annually that they will enforce their law and that they have the capacity to put out the fires. They have declined and continue to decline offers of assistance from Malaysia and Singapore.

The former president of Indonesia, Dr Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, had publicly apologised to Malaysia and Singapore for the harm and damage caused by the haze. Other leaders of Indonesia have, however, taken the opposite stance, declaring that Indonesia owes no apology to its neighbours and making unreasonable statements that we should be grateful that Indonesia has provided us with clean air for 11 months of the year.


In view of this, we will begin by asking whether Indonesia has any legal responsibility under international law.

The first principle of international law is that a state has the sovereign right to exploit its natural resources, including its forests. The sovereign right of a state to do so is, however, not unlimited. It is limited by a second principle.

The second principle is that a state has the responsibility to ensure that activities within its jurisdiction or control do not cause damage to the environment of other states or to areas beyond the limits of its national jurisdiction.

In other words, Indonesia is responsible for the harm and damage which activities within its jurisdiction or control have caused to its neighbours. These principles are well established. The bottom line is that Indonesia is morally and legally responsible for the haze.


The second issue which we wish to highlight is the Asean Haze Agreement which is binding on all 10 Asean countries.

One of the guiding principles of that agreement is the obligation to cooperate and coordinate in order to prevent and to monitor transboundary haze pollution. We respectfully call on Indonesia, which is a party to that agreement, to comply with its obligation.

In the spirit of Asean solidarity and good neighbourliness, Singapore wishes to cooperate with Indonesia in dealing with the problem of forest fires. An example of a successful cooperation is with the Jambi provincial government which began in 2007. The number of hot spots in the Jambi province has been reduced by 70 per cent since 2006. Jambi and Singapore would like to extend their agreement, which expired in 2011, but Jakarta has refused to give the green light. We respectfully request President Joko Widodo to allow Jambi to renew the agreement with Singapore.

When fires occur, they should be put out quickly in order to limit their spread. We should work cooperatively to strengthen the firefighting capacity in all the Asean countries. We support Malaysia's initiative to request assistance from Canada in firefighting expertise. We should also engage the International Association of Fire Fighters in this regard.


Two-thirds of the fires in Indonesia occur on peat wetlands. It is not widely known that Indonesia has the largest tropical peat wetlands in the world. Research has shown that these wetlands are rich in biological diversity. We should therefore cooperate with Indonesia to preserve its peat wetlands.

The Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, also known as the Ramsar Convention, is an intergovernmental treaty which provides the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and prudent use of wetlands and their resources. Singapore should consider joining the Ramsar Convention. By doing so, Singapore would be in a position to cooperate with other states to assist Indonesia in protecting the peat wetlands of Sumatra and Kalimantan.

Developing countries have rightly pointed out that it is within their sovereign rights to cut down their forests. They have, therefore, argued that they should be compensated if the world wishes them to conserve their forests.

In response to this argument, the World Bank, with the support of donor countries such as Norway, has launched an initiative called Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation, or REDD+ in short.

Norway has offered to compensate Indonesia financially if it agrees not to destroy its forests on certain conditions. The conditions pertain to Indonesia's capacity, transparency and good governance. Progress has been very slow. Singapore should consider cooperating with Indonesia and with Norway in order to facilitate the early implementation of REDD+.


We should be clear in our minds that the forest fires in Indonesia are not a natural phenomenon which lawyers refer to as "an act of god". The fires are man-made and those responsible are palm oil companies and pulp and paper companies.

The motive is money and profit. They must be held accountable for their unconscionable and illegal behaviour.

We therefore support the actions taken by our National Environment Agency to investigate five companies. If the investigations prove that the fires had taken place in their concessions and the smoke from those fires is causing the haze in Singapore, we hope that the Attorney-General will consider initiating criminal proceedings against them.

We also support the efforts of a group of consumers, led by Professor Ang Peng Hwa of Nanyang Technological University, to take civil proceedings against the companies, if they were convicted in the criminal proceedings.

Finally, the Singapore Government should work closely with the civil society and private sector in our collective endeavour to stop the forest fires. We applaud the work of conservation body WWF and the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). We should encourage all the financial institutions in Singapore to join RSPO. We support the initiative of the Singapore Environment Council to ensure that we procure paper and palm oil only from certified companies and sources. We endorse the UN Global Compact and the Singapore Exchange's Guide to Sustainability Reporting for Listed Companies.

• Professor Jayakumar is the chairman of the International Advisory Panel and Professor Koh is the chairman of the Governing Board of the Centre for International Law, National University of Singapore.

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