24 March 2018
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Widow awarded $1.2m in suit against medical lab

Straits Times
23 Mar 2018
K.C. Vijayan

Doctor negligent in failing to spot cancer in spouse's skin sample

The High Court has awarded more than $1.2 million to a widow who sued a medical laboratory and its medical director for failing to detect cancer in a skin sample taken from her husband.

Housewife Carol Ann Armstrong, 52, had alleged that Quest Laboratories and Dr Tan Hong Wui were negligent as they failed to spot the cancer in a skin sample from her husband Peter Traynor in 2009.

Mr Traynor, a Singapore-based information technology specialist, died from skin cancer in 2013 at age 47. The Canadian couple have two children, who were then aged 12 and 10.

Mr Traynor developed an ulcerous skin lesion on his back in 2009, and a sample was sent to the lab for a pathology report. The report stated that there was "no malignancy".

In January 2012, Mr Traynor developed a swelling under his armpit and consulted oncologist Ang Peng Tiam. Dr Ang called for the 2009 specimen, and another pathologist concluded there was malignant cancer.

Justice Choo Han Teck said the case involved "just plain, old common sense" and there is no "clever twisting or turning" around the landmark court cases of Bolam and Bolitho to exculpate Dr Tan. He was referring to two British court cases where benchmark tests for assessing clinical negligence were clarified.

"Dr Tan was negligent in law in sending a report indicating a clean bill of health when the circumstances required, at the very least, further examination on his part," Justice Choo said in judgment grounds issued on Wednesday.

Dr Tan examined a deeper section of the same specimen and reported on Feb 13, 2012, that the sample was "suggestive of a melanoma".

The judge queried if Dr Tan's first report in 2009 of " no malignancy" was wrong. "We must not judge a doctor more harshly for an error in interpretation, for it is in the nature of interpretations to invite company and diversity; some may agree with the same interpretation that others will vehemently reject," said Justice Choo.

The judge added that if Dr Tan had checked the "deeper, clearer portions" of the skin specimen at the time, his 2009 report would have stated "suggestive of melanoma'', as his second report did.

Dr Tan's lawyer, Ms Kang Yixian, argued that even if he had been negligent, his first report did not cause Mr Traynor's death as by then, the cancer had already spread through his body, based on expert medical evidence from Professor John Chia.

Quest Laboratories was represented by lawyers Lek Siang Pheng, Mar Seow Hwei and Priscilla Wee.

Ms Armstrong's lawyers Edmund Kronenburg, Benavon Lee and Christopher Goh disputed the defence claims.

Among other things, they brought in expert oncologist William McCarthy, who testified that the cancer had not spread beyond the armpits until after 2009. He said surgical removal of the affected lymph nodes would therefore have arrested the spread of the cancer.

Justice Choo accepted Professor McCarthy's assessment "with some caution" and found that Dr Tan's negligence had caused Mr Traynor "to lose a fighting chance, and also probably caused him to die years earlier".

The judge, in assessing the sums payable, awarded the widow $1,241,334 in damages, comprising $346,677 for dependency claim and $894,657 for loss of inheritance claim.

Asked if her client would appeal, Ms Kang said yesterday: "We are studying the judgment grounds."

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

Fridae.com founder jailed for selling Ice

Straits Times
16 Mar 2018
Shaffiq Idris Alkhatib

Fridae.com founder Stuart Koe Chi Yeow was sentenced to jail for five years and nine months, with five strokes of the cane yesterday for selling methamphetamine - also known as Ice - to a drug abuser.

Following a trial, District Judge Olivia Low found him guilty on Feb 27 of one count of drug trafficking.

Koe, 45, who is also the managing director of local pharmaceutical firm ICM Pharma, had sold one packet of a crystalline substance containing 0.17g of Ice for $240 to beauty adviser Yeoh Kim Koon.

Koe committed the offence in his Spottiswoode Park Road home at around 7.30pm on Aug 25, 2016.

Yesterday, Deputy Public Prosecutor Wong Woon Kwong stressed that Koe had shown a lack of remorse and he cannot be treated as a first-time offender because he had repeatedly sold drugs to Yeoh.

Koe's lawyer Sunil Sudheesan, however, asked for his client to be given the mandatory minimum sentence of five years' jail with five strokes of the cane.

He said there was no indication Koe had committed the offence for a profit and the amount of drugs involved was extremely small.

Yeoh, who is a convicted drug abuser and is also known as Eric, testified in court in September last year that he had bought drugs multiple times from Koe - the founder of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender news and social networking site.

The Malaysian told Judge Low that Koe had sold him methamphetamine, which they referred to as "cream", priced at either $100 or $120 per gram.

He added that Koe also sold him another substance, referred to as "G", which cost $300 for 100ml. The court heard that he was Koe's sex partner from July to August 2016.

DPP Wong told the court last year that Yeoh was arrested in his Sengkang flat at 7.20am on Sept 15, 2016. Koe was arrested a week later.

Yeoh pleaded guilty to offences that included methamphetamine consumption and possession on May 31 last year. He was later sentenced to 16 months' jail.

The court heard yesterday that Koe will be appealing against his conviction and sentence. He was offered bail of $45,000, pending this appeal.

He has five other drug-related charges against him for offences such as methamphetamine consumption and possession. The pre-trial conference for these cases will be held on March 22. The bail offered for these cases was an additional $15,000.

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Look into factors leading to abuse of stepchildren: Forum

Straits Times
08 Mar 2018

Mr Nicholas Tan's description of his painful experience of being separated from his father after his parents divorced (Review how custody of kids is granted in divorce cases; March 4), brought to mind increasing instances of reports of children being sexually abused by a step-parent or family friend.

There were three reports last month alone (Cabby jailed 11 months for molesting stepdaughter, Feb 28; Jail, cane for raping lover's daughter, Feb 27; and Man gets 28 years' jail, 24 strokes for raping stepdaughter, Feb 14).

In each of these cases, the child apparently had minimal contact with her biological father, due to her parents' separation.

In seeking a father figure, the child unfortunately put her trust in a step-parent or family friend, who ended up exploiting her sexually.

The fact that these abuses took place over several years - some to the extent that the child had been "conditioned'' to the abuse to, for example, automatically undress whenever the abuser wanted sex - reflects the deep vulnerabilities that children of divorce face and the lack of real options for these abused children to turn to in the event of trouble.

I urge the Ministry of Social and Family Development and the Family Courts to urgently review the contributory factors for the occurrence of such serious abuse cases, and to take immediate steps to correct the situation.

I also strongly support Mr Tan's call for the Family Courts to grant shared care and control of children to parents who have divorced.

The love and guidance of both parents are important for children within an intact family, and even more so when the parents have separated.

Sufficient time spent with each parent will allow children to establish meaningful relationships with both parents, and give them a real option to turn to in times of need.

It will also better protect them from such senseless atrocities.

Geraldine Tan Chee Lian (Mrs)

In each of these cases, the child apparently had minimal contact with her biological father, due to her parents' separation. In seeking a father figure, the child unfortunately put her trust in a step-parent or family friend, who ended up exploiting her sexually.

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Surgeon Susan Lim loses appeal to stop inquiry in UK

Straits Times
23 Mar 2018
K.C. Vijayan

British appeals court finds Susan Lim had duty to report 2012 misconduct ruling in S'pore to UK medical council

Six years after she was suspended for professional misconduct, Singapore surgeon Susan Lim has been dealt a fresh blow by the United Kingdom's Court of Appeal.

The UK's General Medical Council (GMC) had taken issue with Dr Lim for failing to notify it of the Singapore Medical Council's (SMC) 2012 decision to suspend her from practice for three years after she billed a patient excessively in August 2007.

Dr Lim in 2016 failed in a legal challenge in a London court to stop a GMC probe into her behaviour.

Her appeal against the London High Court decision has now been dismissed by the UK's three-judge Court of Appeal.

"A doctor is expected timeously to notify the GMC of a finding of guilt elsewhere," Lady Justice Anne Rafferty wrote in last month's decision grounds.

Singapore-based Dr Lim has been registered with the GMC for about 30 years and she attained a scholarship-funded doctorate from the University of Cambridge.

It is understood, however, that she has never practised in Britain.

At issue in the hearing was when Dr Lim should have informed the GMC about the SMC's decision - which was made on July 17, 2012, following a lengthy, high-profile case.

After a court appeal in Singapore by Dr Lim failed, the SMC notified the GMC on July 15 the following year that she had been suspended from the Singapore register as of July 2, 2013.

Dr Lim told the GMC her failure to inform it about the SMC's decision was not misconduct because her GMC membership was effectively honorary, among other things.

A GMC spokesman told The Straits Times that based on public records, Dr Lim is currently registered with it, but has no licence to practise - although she did have one between November 2009 and September 2014. Dr Lim should also have notified the GMC, according to its Good Medical Practice, noted the court.

The GMC referred her case to a fitness-to-practise panel - which can take action against doctors - in relation to the SMC's misconduct ruling and Dr Lim's failure to inform the GMC without delay.

Dr Lim, an expert in robot-assisted surgery and stem cell research, sought a judicial review in London in 2016 to clarify the GMC panel's interpretation of the rules, but failed in her bid to stop the inquiry.

She appealed and at a hearing last October, her UK lawyers argued that the judge was wrong in holding that she was under a duty to notify the GMC.

Dr Lim added that the GMC's "five-year rule" prevented the GMC's inquiry of the case from proceeding since the final episode of misconduct occurred in August 2007.

The appeals court disagreed and found that the duty to report started from the time of the SMC's finding in 2012.

"Six years after the misconduct in this case, the GMC remained ignorant of the SMC's proceedings," added Lady Justice Rafferty.

"It would be surprising were it permissible, let alone acceptable, that the appellant should have been found guilty of professional misconduct but had no obligation to notify the GMC."

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Two firms in Ang Mo Kio corruption case bid for jobs of at least five other town councils

16 Mar 2018
Alfred Chua

The two companies allegedly involved in bribing Ang Mo Kio Town Council’s former general manager Wong Chee Meng regularly bid for town council projects across the island, but it is unclear if they clinched any.

Since Dec 2015, 19-NS2 Enterprise and 19-ANC Enterprise, which do general building, repairs and redecoration works, have participated in tenders called by at least five town councils – Tanjong Pagar, Marine Parade, Chua Chu Kang, East Coast-Fengshan and Bishan-Toa Payoh.

According to information posted online by the town councils and property management firm EM Services, which manages the majority of town councils in Singapore, the two companies submitted bids ranging from S$1 million to S$3.2 million for the town councils’ tenders.

Repair and refurbishment works could involve repainting or refurbishment of corridors or void deck floors.

When contacted, Tanjong Pagar Town Council chairman Melvin Yong and Marine Parade Town Council chairman Lim Biow Chuan confirmed they do not have ongoing business with the two companies.

On Wednesday (March 14), 19-ANC and 19-NS2, as well as their director Chia Sin Lan were charged alongside Wong for corruption.

Wong faces 55 charges of corruptly accepting bribes amounting to about S$107,000 – in the form of meals, entertainment and other perks – from Chia and another director of 19-NS2, Ms Yip Fong Yin.

19-ANC and 19-NS2 were each charged with one count of conspiring with others between 2014 and 2016 to corruptly give Wong gratification to advance their business interests.

Members of Parliament who are town council chairmen said they would wait for the outcome of the court case before deciding whether to work with the companies in future.

During the tender process, bidders typically have to declare any involvement in court cases, they noted.

“We will ask (the companies) to disclose if they have any outstanding court cases. If they do, it will have a bearing on our assessment,” said Mr Baey Yam Keng, chairman of Tampines Town Council.

Tanjong Pagar Town Council’s Mr Yong said its finance and tenders evaluation committee will take into consideration various factors when evaluating bids.

“(These include) any pending cases related to the company which may affect its ability to carry out the required job,” he said.

19-ANC was incorporated in January 2007, while 19-NS2 was incorporated in July 2013, according to documents obtained from the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority.

Chia, Ms Yip and a third person called Tay Eng Chuan are listed as shareholders of 19-NS2.

Chia and Ms Yip are also directors of the company.

It is not known if charges will be brought against Ms Yip or Mr Tay.

When TODAY visited the offices of the two companies — located beside each other near Depot Road — employees said their bosses were not in. They did not want to comment on the ongoing court case, saying that they were unaware of it.

TODAY also visited Chia’s home, but the family declined to comment.

Chia, who represented the two companies in court on Wednesday, and Wong — who was an employee of CPG Facilities Management — will have their cases heard again on April 11.

Copyright 2017 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

Getting tougher on maid abusers

Straits Times
08 Mar 2018
Shaffiq Idris Alkhatib

There are some 243,000 foreign domestic workers in Singapore, and while many have worked here peacefully, some have been abused - mentally and physically.

Following a landmark case last Friday, the Supreme Court has laid down a sentencing framework for maid abuse, emphasising the victims' mental anguish. Stressing that maids are particularly vulnerable to abuse, the court said the emotional trauma resulting from psychological abuse is now a critical consideration in sentencing.

Under the framework, a charge involving less serious psychological harm but more serious physical harm would see an indicative sentencing range of between six and 18 months in prison. But if harm was both seriously psychological and physical, the range would be between 20 and 30 months in prison.

The framework follows a case in which Tay Wee Kiat and his wife Chia Yun Ling abused their Indonesian maid for almost two years. Tay, 39, subjected the maid to "humiliating and degrading" punishments, including kicking the maid after forcing her to place herself in a push-up position.

Chia was originally given a two-month jail sentence and Tay, 28 months. But on appeal, the High Court upped his jail term to 43 months. It is an important signal that a maid's dignity must be considered.

Just last year, Lim Choon Hong and his wife Chong Sui Foon had their sentences increased to 10 months on appeal. They had forced their maid to shower in the common toilet in their condominium and starved her until she weighed only 29.4kg.

The sentences were comparatively light because the prosecution had charged them under the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act with not providing the maid with adequate food, an offence that carries a maximum jail term of one year.

Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon made clear in that case that maids are vulnerable victims. "It is imperative... that we as a society ensure that these foreign workers are treated decently and accorded the sort of guarantees of human dignity that we would accord to any human being," he said.

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Tech giants argue against more laws to tackle fake news

Straits Times
23 Mar 2018
Yuen Sin and Seow Bei Yi

However, they concede there could be gaps in Singapore's laws for quick action to be taken

Tech giants Facebook, Google and Twitter yesterday argued against the need for additional legislation to tackle the threat of online untruths, saying they are already taking steps to address the issue.

The companies told the parliamentary Select Committee on deliberate online falsehoods that they have been investing heavily in technology and schemes.

This includes developing algorithms that can flag less trustworthy content and prioritise authoritative sources, as well as partnerships with non-profit organisations that help them identify and take down offensive material.

"Prescriptive legislation will not adequately address the issue effectively due to the highly subjective, nuanced and difficult task of discerning whether information is 'true' or 'false'," Mr Jeff Paine, managing director of the Asia Internet Coalition (AIC), wrote in his submission to the committee, adding later that multiple stakeholders have to be engaged instead of rushing to legislate. The AIC, an industry association of technology companies, counts LinkedIn and Apple among its members.

Ms Kathleen Reen, Twitter's director of public policy for Asia-Pacific, said in her written submission that "no single company, governmental or non-governmental actor should be the arbiter of truth".

However, Mr Paine conceded during yesterday's hearing that there could be gaps in Singapore's existing laws for quick action to be taken against online falsehoods, when quizzed further by Select Committee members Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam and Social and Family Development Minister Desmond Lee.

Speaking to a panel of representatives from Facebook, Twitter, Google and AIC, Mr Lee questioned the ability of technology companies to self-regulate.

He cited how YouTube has not completely removed a 2016 video by banned British white supremacist group National Action after more than eight months, even though British Home Affairs Select Committee chairman Yvette Cooper flagged it multiple times over the past year.

"Their experience is something that we look at with concern, being a much smaller jurisdiction... even in clear-cut cases, there has been inaction," Mr Lee said.

Mr Shanmugam noted that there can be a difference between what countries and social media platforms may tolerate.

He referred to a post on Twitter with the hashtag #DeportAllMuslims, which was accompanied by a graphic cartoon of a topless mother, surrounded by toddlers of varying ethnicities. The picture was titled "The New Europeans". The tweet had not been taken down even after being flagged, despite its offensive nature, he said.

"This was not a breach of Twitter's hateful conduct policy. If this is not a breach... I find it difficult to understand what else can be."

He told the tech industry representatives: "The various beautiful statements you made... (have) to be tested against reality... For us in Singapore, this is way beyond what we would tolerate."

Facebook's Asia-Pacific vice-president of public policy Simon Milner pointed to difficulties in coming up with policies to tackle deliberate online falsehoods.

He highlighted that due process will be needed for a policy against online untruths, which is unlike "making a judgment on hate speech, or terrorism, or child sexual abuse - all the other areas of policy that we deal with".

"It is not that we are trying to abdicate our responsibilities, it is the particular notion of the kind of due process you require in order to be fair to people... that I think is more problematic for us than other policy areas," said Mr Milner.

He said that this is why using machine learning or proxies to nip the problem in the bud - a system that is still being tested - is what the platform considers to be the right approach.

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Harnessing potential of crypto tokens a regulatory challenge

Straits Times
16 Mar 2018
Siow Li Sen

MAS chief says central banks have to contain some of the risks while not stifling innovation

Managing the risk of cryptocurrencies like bitcoin while not stifling innovation continues to test central banks, said Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) managing director Ravi Menon yesterday.

Mr Menon told a conference that MAS has been watching the crypto space with great interest.

A second generation of what he termed "crypto tokens" rather than "crypto currencies" is emerging to address some of the challenges related to network congestion, energy costs, money laundering risks and, importantly, price stability.

"Some of the best minds in the field are applying their creative energies to make crypto tokens mainstream," Mr Menon added.

Not all developers and programmers in the crypto world are anti-establishment anarchists, he said. "Many may have been 10 years ago, but a growing number are married and have kids now! They know the value of stability."

Bitcoin - the most well-known cryptocurrency - hit a high of nearly US$20,000 in December last year and then lost two-thirds of its value in just over a month.

The challenge for central banks and regulators is how to harness the potentially transformative benefits of blockchain technology and crypto tokens while containing some of their risks, Mr Menon said.

Blockchain is basically a way to maintain a database without a central authority and is the process which creates bitcoins.


MAS assesses that the nature and scale of crypto token activities in Singapore do not currently pose a significant risk to financial stability. But this situation could change, and so we are closely watching this space.

MR RAVI MENON, managing director of MAS.

MAS has chosen not to regulate crypto tokens directly, said Mr Menon. Instead it is focusing on related activities, evaluating the different kinds of risks these pose and considering the appropriate regulatory responses while seeking to ensure innovation is not stifled.

"The key risks MAS is monitoring in the crypto world are in the areas of financial stability, money laundering, investor protection and market functioning," he said.

There is market risk from the direct exposure of financial institutions to crypto tokens; credit risk through unsecured lending to crypto token businesses; and leverage when borrowers pledge crypto tokens as collateral to borrow and buy more crypto tokens.

"MAS assesses that the nature and scale of crypto token activities in Singapore do not currently pose a significant risk to financial stability. But this situation could change, and so we are closely watching this space," he added.

"MAS is also watching with interest developments in the US, where futures contracts based on crypto tokens have been introduced on regulated exchanges."

These exchanges have clear rules governing trade and post-trade activities and such products could also potentially have a stabilising influence on crypto token prices as they provide two-way hedging opportunities for investors, said Mr Menon.

He noted as well that regulation cannot address all the concerns around crypto tokens: "The industry too has a part to play in strengthening the ecosystem, for instance, by adopting best practices around transparency, cyber security, and record-keeping."

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Billionaire Sit Kwong Lam's court defeat draws clearer line on a condo's common property

Straits Times
07 Mar 2018
K.C. Vijayan

The touchy issue of what constitutes "common property" at an apartment complex has become clearer following a Court of Appeal judgment released on Monday (March 5).

The court in October had dismissed billionaire Sit Kwong Lam's bid to keep deckings and an air-conditioning unit affixed to common property adjoining his Ardmore Park penthouse.

The three-judge Court has now issued its grounds for that ruling, outlining why Dr Sit had breached various by-laws by carrying out work at the condominium in Tanglin without approvals.

Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon and Judges of Appeal Judith Prakash and Steven Chong made it clear that an area of common property did not have to be physically accessible by any of the unit owners or be used or enjoyed by the occupiers of two or more lots.

"Any area or installation that could affect the appearance of a building in a strata development, or that was part and parcel of the fabric of the building, could, by its mere presence, be 'enjoyed' by some or even all subsidiary proprietors of the development," Chief Justice Menon noted.

Dr Sit, who has a net worth of about US$1.3 billion, according to Forbes magazine, installed timber deckings over the entire roof outside his unit, including the floor trap and drainage system, as well as two ledge areas that ran along a segment of the unit's external facade. He also installed an air-con vent on an adjoining wall.

The condo management council had taken issue with the additions.

Dr Sit, chairman of Hong Kong-listed Brightoil Petroleum Holdings, argued that the penthouse ventilation system was inadequate and that the areas did not constitute common property.

The Strata Titles Board rejected his application to keep the installations in February 2016, ruling that he had breached by-laws and that the work was done on common property.

Dr Sit took his case to the High Court, which dismissed his claim last year. He then filed an appeal. His case was argued by Senior Counsel Alvin Yeo with lawyer Subramaniam Pillai representing the condo council.

"The crux of the matter was the proper interpretation of the term 'common property' as defined in section 2(1) of the (Building Maintenance and Strata Management Act)," wrote Chief Justice Menon.

The court found the work was done on common property and breached the Act.

It also rejected Dr Sit's claim that two of the three areas of work were exempt as they qualified as "structures or devices to prevent harm to any children in any place within the development".

The court said the relevant by-law "should not be construed to grant free licence for individual subsidiary proprietors to take matters into their own hands to reconstruct common property anywhere in the development whenever they consider any children, whether or not it be their own or resident in their lots, might suffer some harm or danger unless something were done".

The court also ordered costs of $40,000 to be paid to the condo management council.

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Singapore Law Watch
23 Mar 2018

Tackle fake news with laws and other steps, panel told

Straits Times
15 Mar 2018
Ng Jun Sen

Measures suggested include fact-checking services and media literacy programmes

Tackling fake news will call for a host of measures including fact-checking organisations and media literacy programmes. This is in addition to laws to tackle disinformation, experts told a parliamentary committee looking into the issue.

A total of 10 speakers - the first batch of 79 individuals and organisations to speak over the next three weeks - with backgrounds in research, law, defence studies and religion were quizzed on their written submissions yesterday.

Among them, Singapore Management University law dean Goh Yihan noted gaps in Singapore's existing legislative framework in dealing with the rapid spread of fake news.

Associate Professor Goh, in looking at how existing laws such as the Sedition Act and Telecommunications Act could apply to cases of online falsehoods, concluded that they are currently limited in speed, scope and adaptability. "I have looked at the existing legislation and submitted they are not sufficient to deal with the problem," he said.

Prof Goh said any legislation targeting such falsehoods would have to punish and deter perpetrators, prevent the spread of falsehoods - by way of removal or restricting access - and provide remedy through clarification or apology.

At the same time, legislation cannot be the only solution, he added. "We must balance legislation with education as well as reaching out to different communities," he said.

It was a call made by many of the other speakers yesterday, as they offered ideas on tackling a scourge that Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam said was one that could cause Singapore great harm. This is especially given that Singapore is polyglot, multiracial and data-rich - traits that make it a tempting target of organised disinformation campaigns, he added, citing a submission to be made by academic Shashi Jayakumar.

In their submission, Institute of Policy Studies senior research fellow Carol Soon and research assistant Shawn Goh proposed that Singapore tap and reinforce its current legislation. This Mr Shanmugam noted, saying it will be a matter for the Government to decide on.

They also suggested an independent body that advises on the type of online falsehoods to act against, but Mr Shanmugam wondered if it can act quickly enough against the viral nature of such fabrications.

Fact-checking services was a popular suggestion. S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies defence and strategic studies specialist Michael Raska suggested an independent centre that inspects fake news sources, similar to what has been done in the Czech Republic. It can monitor fake news sites and track their funding and ties to disinformation networks, he said.

Dr Soon cited the BBC's fact-checking arm, The Reality Check. Students can play a role in fact-checking if it is built into the curriculum.

Other measures include mandatory training for people who have shared falsehoods.

The hearing also tackled the issue of whether potential legislation could stifle freedom of speech.

Committee member Pritam Singh, a Workers' Party MP, asked how such laws might look like, noting that some are concerned about curtailment of speech as "the line between falsehood and opinion is not drawn clearly".

Dr Soon said legislators must balance national security and public order with free speech in the "interests of enabling people to speak up and have meaningful discussions pertaining to governance".

Prof Goh said laws that seek to take down content via executive action must have recourse for the person who made the statement to appeal for it to be restored - because "just as much as the falsehood might cause serious consequences, it might also be that the statement-maker has a reason to put it out, or that it is not actually false".

He added: "The freedom of speech is of course important... but it is by no means absolute. And indeed I think the freedom of speech would be compromised if we allowed falsehoods to be perpetrated."

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Easier now for divorcees to buy subsidised flats

Straits Times
07 Mar 2018
Rachel Au-Yong

Divorcees will no longer have to wait three years before they can apply for a second subsidised flat, a move that took some MPs by surprise.

With the change, each spouse in a divorce can buy a subsidised flat as long as they meet the qualifying requirements.

Previously, former spouses could get only one subsidised flat between them. Divorcees with sole care and control of all their children under 18 years old could buy a subsidised flat without getting their former spouse's consent. But those who did not get sole care and control, or had no children, had to get their former spouse's consent if they wanted such a flat within three years.

National Development Minister Lawrence Wong, in announcing the change yesterday, said: "We hope this will help divorced persons provide a more conducive living environment for their children, and go some way to help families through an already-difficult period of transition."

The rules are being eased, as divorces have been rising over the years. For instance, there were 7,614 divorces and annulments in 2016, a rise from 6,904 in 2006.

The debarment period was introduced in 1997 to reportedly prevent couples from "gaming the system" and owning multiple flats. Initially, it was for five years. In 2013, it was reduced to three years.

When asked how to prevent couple from abusing the new situation, the ministry and HDB both told The Straits Times that the courts would have ensured there are valid grounds proving an irretrievable breakdown of a marriage before granting a divorce.

A ministry spokesman added: "Each party will be required to abide by the prevailing policies and terms of their flat purchase. We will not hesitate to take stern action against the parties if there is a breach."

Several MPs had asked during the debate on the ministry's budget that more help be given to divorcees. One of them was Mr Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC), who later told The Straits Times he was "pleasantly surprised" with the announcement.

Another HDB change will shorten the wait for families who want to buy their second subsidised flat under the Fresh Start Scheme.

To get a two-room flat with a shorter lease, they must have at least one child younger than 16 years of age and live in a public rental flat. The minimum stay in the rental flat will be halved to a year.

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Datapulse's compliance review: holistic or compromised?

Business Times
23 Mar 2018
Mak Yuen Teen

Putting Wayco deal, recent appointment of directors together with a review of other past events carry the risk of diluting the depth of the review with regards to what's relevant

On February 23, SGX issued a Notice of Compliance to Datapulse Technology, which directed the company to undertake an independent review of its internal controls and corporate governance practices on the following:

  • determine the facts and circumstances surrounding the new Board's approval for the acquisition of Wayco Manufacturing;
  • review the adequacy of the company's internal controls, processes and procedures relating to the evaluation and approval of mergers and acquisitions, and conflicts of interest;
  • review the company's processes relating to board appointment and nomination by shareholders; and
  • make recommendations on improvements to internal controls and corporate governance practices.

SGX's notice makes specific reference to the company's announcements on December 11, 12, 15 and 28, 2017 and January 30, 2018. Clearly, SGX's intent was for the review to focus on issues relating to these announcements.

However, on March 11, when the company announced the appointment of RHTLaw Taylor Wessing LLP to undertake the review, it said that the review will cover the adequacy of the company's internal policies, processes and procedures to the evaluation and approval of mergers and acquisitions, and conflict of interest since November 23, 2000. It was also expanding the review to include the terminations, resignation and removal of directors for the same period. It said that this will make the recommendations more "holistic".

There are several problems with the deviation of the review from what I believe is the intent of SGX's notice of compliance, which is to examine the recent events and to mitigate against similar episodes in future.

First, corporate governance standards and expectations change over time. What was acceptable in 2000 may no longer be. For example, prior to the introduction of the first Code of Corporate Governance here in Singapore in 2001, many boards were seen as rubber stamps. Standards and expectations continue to evolve as we can see from the current review of the Code. As another example, the global financial crisis raised awareness of the importance of risk governance and risk management, and the 2012 Code then included significant enhancements in these areas. Today, it would be considered poor corporate governance if there is no proper risk assessment around major acquisitions and changes in business strategies.

Even if some of the past policies, processes and procedures did not meet the standards expected today, they cannot be used as the benchmarks for assessing what has recently transpired.


Second, the Wayco acquisition was unique, in a highly questionable way. The acquisition was announced a day after the new board was formed, with little or no due diligence. The acquisition was introduced to the board by the new controlling shareholder, Ng Siew Hong. The current chairman, Low Beng Tin, had sold shares to Ms Ng prior to joining the board, at a significant premium from the market price. He was purportedly introduced to Ms Ng by the former controlling shareholder and CEO, Ng Cheow Chye, who sold all his shares to Ms Ng. The other two independent directors are business associates of Ms Ng.

The sole shareholder of the vendor, Ang Kong Meng, used to be the employer of the then newly appointed Datapulse CEO, Kee Swee Ann, when he was working at Wayco - Mr Kee has other business relationships with Mr Ang, was part of the new board which approved the Wayco acquisition, and has now resigned. Mr Ang also has significant business relationships with Ms Ng. Further, the business and profitability of Wayco is highly dependent on other entities owned by Mr Ang. The acquisition is in a new business, not supported by any formal diversification plan.

Was there any past acquisition that is even remotely comparable in terms of lack of proper due diligence, conflicts of interest and questionable commercial merits that we have seen in the Wayco acquisition?

Putting the Wayco acquisition and the recent appointment of directors together with a review of other past acquisitions, appointments, etc carry the risk of diluting the depth of the review with regards to the issues that it is intended to cover - the issues that triggered the SGX's notice of compliance in the first place. It may also serve to confuse stakeholders about the crux of the issues.

Rather than making the review more "holistic", I would suggest making the review more focused and in-depth. Such an in-depth review can involve a forensic investigation if necessary and interviews with different stakeholders who may have insights and evidence to provide.

A series of transactions mentioned in some of my previous commentaries may merit such a deeper review. For example, on May 20, 2015, Datapulse announced a private placement of 65 million shares to Lian Beng at 11.235 cents per share, which was a 9.998 per cent discount. Five months later, Datapulse bought a 20 per cent stake in a Lian Beng company called Goldprime Realty for S$20 and extended to it a S$2.9 million unsecured interest-free shareholder's loan. Just nine months after that, Lian Beng sold all its shares to Mr Ng at a 58 per cent premium. In November 2017, Mr Ng in turn sold all his shares at a 53 percent premium to Ms Ng.

In February 2017, just 16 months after buying its stake in Goldprime, Datapulse sold it for S$35,000 to KSH, another SGX-listed company. One of Lian Beng's independent directors is also an independent director of KSH. Both this director and the current Datapulse chairman, Mr Low, had joined Lian Beng's board in July 2015.

The Datapulse board had previously said that it was not in a position to comment on the above transactions relating to Lian Beng. There is now an opportunity for it, regulators and other stakeholders to find out more. Was there an arrangement which enabled Lian Beng to sell its shares to Mr Ng, who was then able to sell his shares to Ms Ng, both at a premium of more than 50 per cent? Why did Datapulse buy a stake in, and lent money to, a Lian Beng company, only to sell it rather quickly to another company with interlocking director relationships? An in-depth review can help confirm that the transactions involving Lian Beng are in no way related to the recent events and part of an arrangement.

Mr Low sold about 700,000 shares to Ms Ng on November 22. He said that he had not met Ms Ng then, but sold his shares through the introduction of Mr Ng. The company has also now said that the current independent directors, including Mr Low, were introduced to Mr Ang around the end of November and they had discussed the Wayco acquisition then. At that time, they have not yet been appointed directors.


The review can also establish what information was provided to the directors two weeks before they were appointed and whether they had already made a decision then. This can help confirm that the current directors did not fetter their discretion in approving the Wayco acquisition and were not influenced by any prior relationships or arrangements.

SGX's notice of compliance also states that the reviewer should report its findings to SGX and the audit committee of Datapulse. Having a reviewer or special auditor report to the audit committee is often contentious because the audit committee may have a vested interest in the findings. We have already seen the intended scope of the review being changed.

In this case, it is particularly problematic because the audit committee members are the same as the independent directors whose actions are the subject of the review. There is a clear conflict of interest, essentially "ownself reviewing ownself", notwithstanding that a third party is used. Therefore, it is particularly important that SGX takes an active role in overseeing the review in this case.

Finally, while I welcome the appointment of an independent reviewer to examine the issues identified by SGX, I remain hopeful that SGX and other regulators will also undertake their own reviews and investigations into all the issues that have been raised, including those relating to possible disclosure lapses.

  • The writer is an associate professor of accounting at NUS Business School where he specialises in corporate governance

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Ring of coordinated efforts to protect children in divorce: Forum

Straits Times
15 Mar 2018

We agree with Mr Nicholas Tan and Mrs Geraldine Tan Chee Lian on how complexities in family disputes can result in emotional trauma and physical abuse for children involved in their parents' separation (Review how custody of kids is granted in divorce cases; March 4, and Look into factors leading to abuse of stepchildren; March 8) .

Divorce impacts children in more ways than just the legal dissolution of a marriage.

When couples have poor marital closure, the continual acrimony tends to spill into the parental roles and responsibilities after the divorce.

In January 2015, the Ministry of Social and Family Development appointed four Divorce Support Specialist Agencies (DSSAs).

DSSA counsellors and social workers are trained to work with divorcing and divorced families.

They provide specialised information and non-legal advice pertaining to divorce, offer counselling, conduct support groups using evidence-based programmes and mediate in family disputes.

One of the key challenges faced by the DSSA counsellors is belligerent parents who are unable to co-parent successfully.

These parents often present the child with complex and antagonistic rules of engagement with the other parent.

The DSSA counsellors are committed to helping these children make sense of such situations and process any estrangement towards one parent.

The counsellors are also advocates for the child, where necessary.

To further protect the child's best interests, multi-disciplinary consultations with the courts and various social agencies, such as family violence and child protection agencies, ensure that a protective ring of coordinated efforts are in place.

Additionally, the recently formed inter-agency Review and Enhance Reforms in the Family Justice System committee involving the Family Justice Courts, Ministry of Law and Ministry of Social and Family Development seeks to further strengthen the legal framework and social support, so as to bring about better outcomes for children caught in a divorce.

Divorce ends the spousal relationship, but the parent-child bond will always remain.

It is only when divorced couples set aside personal grievances to co-parent amicably that their children can develop resilience and have renewed hope.

The state and the community will intervene when there is a need to mitigate any crisis and offer support and protection.

But, ultimately, parents are still the vested parties in safeguarding their children's future, and are best placed to provide a loving and stable environment for their children, even after deciding on a divorce.

Lynn Koh (Ms)
Family Support Division
Family Development Group
Ministry of Social and Family Development

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Company director raped son's 11-year-old ex-girlfriend in hotel

Straits Times
07 Mar 2018
Selina Lum

A company director, now 47, admitted in the High Court yesterday that he had sexually abused an underage girl - the former girlfriend of his son - over a period of 1½ years, when she was between 11 and 13 years old.

The man was accessing his son's Facebook account in December 2012 to find out why the boy looked moody, when he found naked pictures of the girl, who knew his son through competitive swimming.

The Primary 5 girl had sent the images via private message after the Primary 6 boy asked for them, the court heard. The parties cannot be named due to a gag order.

The man phoned the girl to meet up, claiming he wanted to talk about her break-up with his son. He then drove her to the Copthorne King's Hotel and raped her in a room he had booked.

Despite initial anger over the rape, the girl grew to like the man, who told her he loved her, encouraged her when she doubted her swimming talent and showed concern for her.

She continued meeting him for consensual sexual acts in carparks, hotels and the rooftop of her condominium.

Eventually, she thought of him as her boyfriend but did not tell her family, as she was afraid they would be angry at her for getting involved with a married man.

He showered her with gifts of expensive swimming costumes and asked her to put them on for his viewing pleasure.

Sexual activities were on the agenda most of the times they met, the court heard. He took her out for a meal only once - after a session of oral sex.

When she turned 12, he drove her to a deserted carpark and gifted her with swimming costumes, goggles and a swimming cap. He then asked her to perform oral sex on him in the backseat.

The man also took pictures of their sex acts with his mobile phone and asked her to send him pictures of herself in sexually provocative poses based on his directions.

He was also jealous and possessive, and would ask to see her social media chats.

In February 2014, she wanted to end the affair after getting into a relationship with a teenage boy, but the man refused to break up with her.

Using prepaid SIM cards, he posed as mysterious men and sent her messages threatening to post her naked pictures online. Unaware that he was responsible for the messages, she turned to him for help.

The man also used one of these numbers to contact the girl's new boyfriend, telling the boy to stay away from her.

His choice of a WhatsApp profile picture for this number - a naked image of her - eventually led to his undoing.

On July 4, 2014, a parent in the same social circle saw the profile picture in a chat window on his daughter's phone, and recognised the victim. It is unclear why the accused had contacted this girl.

The parent then informed the victim's mother and older sister.

That night, questioned by her older sister, the victim broke down and told her about the man. The sister took her to lodge a police report.

Yesterday, the man pleaded guilty to two charges of statutory rape and one charge of sexual penetration of a minor. Fourteen other charges will be considered when he is sentenced.

The defence is relying on a psychiatric report for mitigation which can have a bearing on sentence. But the prosecution does not accept some parts of the report.

Hence, a further hearing to hear psychiatric evidence from both sides will be held before the court determines the sentence.

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Corporate governance should strive for the community good

Business Times
23 Mar 2018

Corporate governance authorities are presently contemplating changes to the rules governing three broad areas: quarterly reporting (QR), the tenure of independent directors (IDs) and dual class shares (DCS).

All three are contentious with no clear-cut answers as to what the "correct" way forward should be - for example, opponents of DCS worry about minority rights suffering under a structure that grants proportionately greater voting rights to founder shareholders, while many in the corporate sector wish to see QR done away with altogether as they think the practice is overly onerous and costly.

Given a multitude of differing views and having to accommodate sometimes conflicting needs, how are authorities to decide? The answer was provided almost 16 years ago, just after the Council on Corporate Disclosure and Governance (CCDG) was first formed in 2002, when its chairman JY Pillay said that the council would be guided by the principle of the greatest good for the community and not necessarily only shareholders.

This was announced when Mr Pillay delivered the keynote speech at the Securities and Investors Association's Investors Choice Awards in September 2002, where he added that even though shareholders are an important constituency in the community, there are many other stakeholders whose interests would have to be considered.

This position represented a fundamental shift from the prevailing mindset at the time, which was that the central aim of corporate governance was to place shareholder interests above all else. It was thus seen as an ambitious attempt to align longer-term national interests with those of the corporate sector - no mean feat in a short-term driven, cut-throat, profit-maximising world.

However, even though the aim of doing good for the community is laudable, the problem is that it is often very difficult to define the community good, and this is made all the more problematic when corporate self-interests enter the equation. For example, if QR is scrapped, thus satisfying the demands of companies which are undoubtedly an important part of the community, would less frequent disclosure then lead to sub-optimal resource allocation because of the resulting information asymmetry?

Similarly, would fixing ID tenure at nine years and writing this into the Singapore Exchange's (SGX's) Listing Rules as a hard limit - thus satisfying governance hawks - benefit the community if it leads to less qualified or less experienced people sitting on boards?

Of the three areas now before regulators, only in DCS is there arguably some clarity. Assuming that what is good for the economy is also good for the community, then given that the Committee for the Future Economy last year recommended that DCS structures should be permitted for companies seeking a listing on the SGX because their entry will benefit the economy, it should come as no surprise that strong overtures from officialdom here over the past month are that DCS companies will definitely be allowed to list, the only question being what measures to implement to mitigate governance risks.

All things considered, it is obvious that regulators have their work cut out for them when deciding on how best to tweak existing practices. However, if they are guided by the CCDG's founding principle of doing good for the community, there is every reason to expect that the right choices will be made.

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Noble creditors sign debt restructuring deal

Business Times
15 Mar 2018
Andrea Soh

Improved terms get buy-in from more creditors but analysts say perpetual bondholders are not necessarily better off

Noble Group has signed a restructuring support agreement (RSA) with an expanded group of creditors, after tweaking the terms for its management and perpetual bondholders following a backlash on its initial plan.

Shares in the embattled trading group rose 1.3 cent, or 8 per cent, to 16.8 Singapore cents after it made the announcement on Wednesday morning.

Its bonds due March 20 this year increased 1.76 per cent to 51.95 US cents, while those due in 2022 advanced 5.24 per cent to 53.21 US cents.

The agreement was signed with creditors representing 46 per cent of Noble's senior debt - up from the 36 per cent figure Noble gave when it first unveiled its restructuring plan in late January.

The company said the agreement also has support from other creditors, representing another 19 per cent of its claims. This includes Deutsche Bank, an existing senior creditor, which is joining ING Bank to provide a three-year trade finance facility for the group. ING Bank, which is fronting the facility, is in the process of seeking credit approval. They represent a further 4 per cent of existing senior claims.

Other creditors holding another 15 per cent of Noble's debt "have indicated their broad support for the proposed financial restructuring", subject to completing internal approval processes. The plan needs to be approved by 75 per cent of creditors when it is put to a vote.

Said Noble chairman Paul Brough in a statement: "The RSA is a critical step in the group's restructuring and I firmly believe that the strong level of support it has received is testament to the appropriateness of this approach."

He added: "This RSA sets out a clear pathway to providing the group with a sustainable capital structure and a strong foundation from which to deliver long-term value for all its stakeholders."

Post-restructuring, the new Noble will be listed on the Singapore Exchange. It will, however, move its "centre of main interests" from Hong Kong to the United Kingdom.

The new Noble will be 80 per cent owned by senior creditors, 10 per cent by management and 10 per cent by existing shareholders.

Under the revised terms, the management will now share with existing shareholders an option to acquire a further 10 per cent stake from senior creditors, as well as a performance incentive share option to subscribe for another 5 per cent in additional equity.

Noble had earlier proposed that the management be allowed to purchase another 10 per cent in shares from the creditors through a creditor-funded loan, on top of the 10 per cent stake it would be given. This, however, drew ire from many, including major shareholder Goldilocks Investment Company.

In another change, perpetual bondholders can now exchange their securities for new US$25 million 2.5 per cent non-accumulative pay-if-you-can perps, compared with the US$15 million cash they were earlier offered.

Barclays analyst Tan Jit Ming wrote in a note that the revised proposal addresses shareholders' key complaint about the management being given a larger stake in the restructured entity. "Equity and management are now treated equally, at least on paper," he said.

Still, while the new terms for management represent an improvement for shareholders, the pushback has resulted in a more questionable situation for perp holders, said Brayan Lai, an analyst at credit research firm Bondcritic.

It may be better for them to accept the last offered cash settlement, as the new instrument, which accounts for 6.25 per cent of the original face value, does not take into account liquidity and mark-to-market conditions, he added.

Barclays' Mr Tan also believes the present value of the new perps will fall once the appropriate discount is applied to its potential future cash flow.

"We continue to hold the view that perpetual holders should not expect the offer to be materially better given the threat of a formal restructuring process," he wrote. "That said, we acknowledge that senior creditor recoveries will also be affected if Noble ultimately pursues a costly formal process, and so the perpetual holders have some leverage in its discussions with the senior creditors."

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Hedge fund Ascapia weighing partial takeover of Datapulse

Straits Times
07 Mar 2018
Anita Gabriel

It owns 410,000 shares, seeks to set things right at feud-hit firm.

Singapore-based hedge fund Ascapia Capital is mulling over a possible partial takeover offer of cash-rich Datapulse Technology, in which it already owns some 410,000 shares, with the hope of setting things right at the firm.

"That is the game plan. We want a 27 per cent (stake) so we can have a say," Ascapia portfolio manager Wesley Widjaja told The Straits Times. "But it's on pause for now although we remain open to it as the company's shareholder base is fragmented and we need to examine our options."

Datapulse had about 9,000 minority shareholders as of Jan 25.

Ascapia, a registered fund management company that Mr Widjaja described as a "value investor", currently has an investment portfolio of 25 to 30 firms across the world, including a stake in Singapore's Catalist-listed Isoteam.

"Our approach is fundamental-based investments in companies where the management is in line with minority interests," he said, adding that the investment firm is also interested in picking up a stake or launching an offer for minority shares where there is doubt - as may be in the case of Datapulse.

ST understands the Securities Industry Council has given the go-ahead to Ascapia for the partial offer. If that materialises, it could add another dimension to the Datapulse saga that has caught the attention of governance hawks and the ire of some minority shareholders.

In November last year, Ms Ng Siew Hong, a 51-year-old accountant, emerged with a 29 per cent stake in the digital media storage maker after she picked up the block from Datapulse co-founder Ng Cheow Chye at a premium of 55 cents per share versus the stock price then of around 36 cents. The stock closed yesterday at 34 cents, up 1.5 cents or 4.6 per cent.

Following this sudden ownership change, the company found itself in the middle of a full-blown shareholder feud, sparked by a board revamp and $3.5 million buyout in December of Wayco Manufacturing, a Malaysia-incorporated haircare products maker.

Ms Ng, who is not related to Mr Ng, told ST then: "I have good intentions coming into Datapulse. I felt there was a gap there and I would be able to help fill that with my knowledge of accounting and investments."

The shareholder fight will culminate in an extraordinary general meeting on April 20 that was requisitioned by Ms Ng Bie Tjin - a former finance director at the firm and daughter of Datapulse co-founder Ng Khim Guan - to contest the board overhaul and company's diversification agenda.

Yesterday, the Datapulse story took a legal turn with the company announcing it had filed a writ of summons and statement of claim against Ascapia.

In an announcement to the Singapore Exchange, Datapulse said the claim was related to Ascapia's open letter to minority shareholders dated Jan 25 which contained "baseless allegations". "Ascapia were given reasonable opportunity but had refused to withdraw their allegations and remove the letter from the website in spite of the clarifications made in the company's announcements," said Datapulse.


That is the game plan. We want a 27 per cent (stake) so we can have a say. But it's on pause for now although we remain open to it as the company's shareholder base is fragmented and we need to examine our options.

ASCAPIA PORTFOLIO MANAGER WESLEY WIDJAJA, on the possible partial takeover of Datapulse Technology.

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Otto Marine goes under judicial management

Straits Times
22 Mar 2018
Selina Lum

High Court order gives it six months' breathing space as judicial managers take over

The High Court yesterday approved an application for Otto Marine to be placed under judicial management, allowing the troubled offshore services provider to stave off liquidation.

Crippled with a debt of US$877 million (S$1.16 billion), Otto Marine had sought the order in a filing last month in a bid to get the company back on its feet.

It asked for insolvency protection after one of its creditors, United Overseas Bank (UOB), filed an application in January to wind up the company over a debt of US$19.6 million.

The delisted company's executive chairman, Malaysian tycoon Yaw Chee Siew, said in an affidavit that he believed the firm had a good chance of survival, despite its massive debts.

Yesterday, Justice Vinodh Coomaraswamy ordered Otto Marine to be placed under judicial management.

This gives the company six months' breathing space while judicial managers take over the management of its affairs and assets, to try and nurse it back to financial health.

The court appointed Mr Chee Yoh Chuang and Mr Lin Yueh Hung of RSM Corporate Advisory as judicial managers.

As a result of the order, UOB withdrew its winding-up application.

The Otto Marine group comprises 70 entities with subsidiaries and associate companies in Singapore and abroad.

It operates a shipyard in Batam and a fleet of offshore support vessels deployed globally in major oil and gas markets.

Like many other players in the offshore marine sector, Otto Marine took a battering when crude oil prices plunged in 2014, driving down demand for offshore vessels and shipbuilding.

Its accumulated losses swelled to US$203 million as of June 2016.

In October that year, it delisted from the Singapore Exchange mainboard, with Mr Yaw taking the company private at 32 cents a share.

In the judicial management filing, Mr Yaw, who has injected US$208 million into the company personally and through affiliated entities, said the firm was unable to pay its debts.

The company's total assets stand at about US$869 million, but the bulk of them are not likely to be recovered in full, he added.

Through lawyer Pradeep Pillai of PRP Law, the company argued that the interests of its creditors would be better served if a judicial manager were appointed to restructure the group and source investors, instead of having the company wound up and its assets sold at low prices.

Mr Yaw noted that the oil and gas market was slowly recovering and that the outlook was "generally positive" for drilling and oil field services companies.

He said the group had built up a name for itself in the market over three decades and would present an attractive investment opportunity.

Mr Yaw said he had managed to secure a letter of intent from an undisclosed third party who was willing to provide fresh funding if certain conditions were met.

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Former Ang Mo Kio Town Council GM charged with corruption; allegedly accepted bribes worth $107,000

Straits Times
14 Mar 2018
Yuen Sin

A former general manager and secretary of Ang Mo Kio Town Council (AMKTC) who allegedly took bribes from two building firms and their director was on Wednesday (Mar 14) charged with corruption.

Wong Chee Meng, 58, who is also known as Victor Wong, faces 55 counts of corruptly accepting gratification worth about $107,000 in total from the director of 19-ANC Enterprise and 19-NS2 Enterprise, in exchange for advancing the business interests of the firms with the town council, according to court documents.

These bribes included overseas remittances to his mistress in China, a job for his daughter-in-law, entertainment expenses at KTV lounges, a $13,500 discount on the purchase price of a car and the use of a mobile phone line.

The alleged offences took place between December 2014 and September 2016.

His alleged co-conspirator, Chia Sin Lan, 62, a director and shareholder of 19-ANC Enterprise and 19-NS2 Enterprise, is accused of 54 counts of corruptly giving gratification and one count of abetment by conspiring with 19-ANC's project director Yip Fong Yin to corruptly give Wong the $13,500 car purchase discount in December 2014.

Chia's companies also each face one charge of conspiring to corruptly give Wong gratification to advance their business interests with the town council.According to the Building and Construction Authority directory, both firms are licensed builders, and are also registered to carry out repair and redecoration works.

Wong, who worked for CPG Facilities Management, the managing agent of the town council, was removed from duty after the town council received a complaint about him in September 2016 about "the way he handles contracts and dealings in the town council".

He was later investigated by the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB).

The town council appointed a new general manager, Mr Ang Boon Peng, in April last year - about five months after Wong was removed. The general manager is the most senior executive in the town council, similar to a chief executive in a private company.

The two men intend to claim trial and are out on $100,000 bail each. Their passports have been impounded. Their case will be heard on April 11.

If convicted, Wong and Chia could be fined up to $100,000 and jailed for up to seven years, or both, on each charge.

The companies could also be each fined up to $100,000 under the Prevention of Corruption Act.

In a statement, the CPIB said that Singapore adopts a zero tolerance approach towards corruption. The bureau "takes a serious view of any corrupt practices and will not hesitate to take action against any party involved in such acts."

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Built-environment sector to get leg-up from research funds and Build-SG office

Business Times
07 Mar 2018
Lynette Khoo

Plans are afoot to raise the capabilities of local construction players by roping in industry and the research community to help transform the built-environment (BE) sector through research funds and helping local firms to internationalise.

The Ministry of National Development (MND) and its partner agencies will launch a series of calls for research ideas under the "Cities of Tomorrow R&D" programme over the next few months, committing up to S$40 million in research funds.

Second Minister for National Development Desmond Lee told Parliament on Tuesday that the government will also help local firms to take wing overseas by finding opportunities for them to team up for large overseas ventures. "If our firms can offer a unique 'Singaporean' way of undertaking the entire development cycle, such as through BIM (building information modelling) and IDD (integrated digital delivery), this will increase their competitive edge."

He cited the example of Amaravati, the new capital city of Andhra Pradesh in India, where a Singapore consortium made up of Ascendas-Singbridge and Sembcorp Industries has snagged the master development rights for a start-up area to kick-start the new city's development.

"Singapore companies with the relevant expertise should consider whether they can export their services there as part of the consortium," Mr Lee said.

As was announced earlier, the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) is setting up a transformation office to implement the construction industry transformation map (ITM), and seek out synergies from the ITMs in the BE cluster in the long run.

This office, to be called Build-Singapore or Build-SG for short, will focus on helping firms build capabilities and deploy key technologies; it will also lend support to firms exploring overseas opportunities, and act as a one-stop career office to attract and retain workers in the BE domain, and to raise their skills level.

Build-SG will work with the trade associations and chambers, institutes of higher learnings and unions.

Mr Lee noted that as the city ages, it needs to find ways to future-proof its infrastructure to ensure they remain safe and functional. Apart from existing measures to ensure building safety, the government will introduce fa�ade inspection requirements.

The regime will focus on buildings more than 13 m tall and over 20 years old, as these pose higher risks. Inspections will be carried out by trained personnel every seven years. This will ensure that repairs are timely, which will obviate the need for costlier repairs down the road.

Mr Lee said: "We aim to finalise the relevant legislation by end of this year. Building owners will be given about a year's lead time to prepare, before the requirement comes into effect.

"BCA will continue to engage stakeholders on implementation details, to minimise the burden of cost."

Earlier, Minister for National Development and Second Minister for Finance Lawrence Wong announced that for the government's construction-related tenders, the BCA has enhanced the frameworks since January to place greater emphasis on quality.

For instance, consultancy tenderers now have to give a breakdown of the manpower deployment and rates, so the agencies can make a better assessment of whether the proposed resources are in line with the quoted fees.

Measures have also been introduced to avoid a situation where a company tries too hard to secure a contract, "dives the prices", but ends up being unable to deliver or compromises on quality. For construction tenders, various agencies have ways to identify abnormally low bids and scrutinise contractors' ability to deliver the project at such prices.

Mr Wong said the government will continue to ensure its construction contracts remain accessible to smaller local companies. About four-fifths of all the government's construction contracts are below S$650,000 in value, and in which smaller local firms without a track record can participate. "Where suitable, we have broken up some of our bigger projects into smaller contracts, to give local companies a better opportunity to participate," Mr Wong said.

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A need to balance free speech and public order

Straits Times
22 Mar 2018
Elgin Toh

Every generation must decide on the right formula as social and security contexts evolve

The right balance between free speech and national security or public order considerations came under scrutiny as Parliament passed two new laws yesterday.

The first, the Public Order and Safety (Special Powers) Bill, addresses the heightened security threat - especially from terrorism - and gives law enforcement agencies special powers to deal with exceptional situations.

With its passage, the new legislation updates and replaces an earlier law that was designed primarily to tackle communal riots.

Under the law, the authorities can activate certain powers, such as the power to stop the making or communication of a film, and text or audio message within an incident area; direct owners to close or restrict entry to their premises; and impose cordons, even in private places.

Second Home Affairs Minister Josephine Teo said the law confers a tactical advantage on the police when they respond to terrorist attacks and other situations that may spiral out of control.

MPs noted the wide-ranging nature of the law's powers and raised a number of concerns.

Would a communications stop order bar someone from warning his loved ones to avoid the incident area, or from even reporting to them that he is safe?

It theoretically would. But Mrs Teo said police will consider the circumstances when looking into breaches of the order.

Workers' Party (WP) chairman Sylvia Lim (Aljunied GRC) and Nominated MP Kok Heng Leun said recording of videos as evidence may be legitimate in cases of alleged police abuse, for instance. Mr Kok asked if the law empowered the police to delete such videos.

Mrs Teo said police body cameras would continue to be used, and pointed out that investigations into abuse do not start and end with video evidence, as other forms of evidence are also available.

She added that it is a crime for an officer to delete a video containing proof of abuse, as that would constitute disposal of evidence.

A second scenario where the right to communicate or express oneself freely could be curtailed is in the case of a protest. The new law allows for special powers to be used to break up a protracted protest, which involves a crowd that is large and growing in number, which results in the occupation of, say, the Central Business District, and "starts to impede the flow of vehicular and pedestrian traffic and interfere with normal trade or business activities in the area".

Mr Kok, one of the MPs most vocal in expressing concerns about the Bill, said this scenario should not be classified as a "serious incident", and could be dealt with via existing legislation.

Disagreeing, Mrs Teo asked: "Is that the view of most Singaporeans? I do not think so."

She said Singaporeans were more likely than not to call on the police to take decisive action, and would be agitated over the disruptions to normal life. If not defused, the situation could also turn chaotic. Police may thus need powers to direct people away from the area.

A third discussion where free speech arose was during the debate on changes to the Films Act. The law makes changes to the way films are classified and expands enforcement and investigation powers of regulatory officers.

WP Non-Constituency MP Daniel Goh called for a loosening of restrictions on party political films, which come under the Films Act, but which were not included in this round of amendments.

Senior Minister of State for Communications and Information Chee Hong Tat said many films with political content are in fact allowed, and the prohibition is targeted specifically at political films that "seek to sensationalise or distort serious issues, to evoke emotional rather than logical debate based on facts".

It comes down to "basic judgment" on "whether it is better to debate political issues with words and logic or with images and emotions", he added.

But Associate Professor Goh said he would like to be able to watch such films in order to "make the judgment myself".

To this, Mr Chee said the Government exercised its power in a "judicial and careful" way.

One thread that ran through the discussions was that the answer to when and how much to rein in free speech is never absolute. It can change and has changed over time.

Communications stop orders were not deemed necessary until now as the security assessment has shifted. Mrs Teo's reference to Singaporeans not being able to tolerate large protests that can be disruptive for an extended period of time suggests that the situation may be different if people were to become more tolerant of them.

As for party political films, changes were made in 2009 to ease restrictions, although films still had to be factual and objective. In explaining the move to loosen the law at that time, then Senior Minister of State Lui Tuck Yew said that "societal norms have evolved".

Ultimately, free speech and public order are both valuable.

Each generation must exercise pragmatism and common sense in deciding where to strike the balance, given prevailing levels of maturity among the population and the changing social, economic and security context. These are not, strictly, questions of right or wrong, but questions of degree.

New police powers under the Act

The new powers under the Public Order and Safety (Special Powers) Act allow the police to deal with serious incidents like terror attacks, and are not meant for day-to-day policing work. Failure to comply can mean fines of up to $20,000 and two years in jail.


The police may issue a communications stop order to prevent critical information about law enforcement operations from falling into the wrong hands.

The order means people are required to stop filming or spreading videos and pictures of an incident area, and to stop sending text or audio messages about security operations happening there.

A police officer may also direct people to destroy a film, picture or message immediately, or to surrender the device it was recorded on.

The order is not aimed at civilians who are caught in a hostage situation and trying to get information out to the police and loved ones.


Without having to identify the remote pilot, the police can take down or disable any unmanned aircraft and autonomous vehicles in and around an incident area - regardless of their intention or activity.


Telco services, such as cell coverage and telephone lines, can be withdrawn from a specified area to restrict communication. As this power can impact the public significantly, only the Home Affairs Minister can issue this direction, which can be used when the communications stop order is insufficient or ineffective.


Police can direct owners of buildings to help manage public safety. These actions include closing their premises, restricting entry or exit, and providing information such as floor plans.


Police officers may direct other law enforcement officers, soldiers and civilians to assist them. However, civilians are not obliged to do so. Police will rely on those who are able and willing to assist in duties such as manning a cordon or redirecting traffic.

These civilian assistants are not allowed to use lethal force.


Police officers can stop any individual in the incident area for as long as necessary to question him, in order to ascertain the person's identity and to get information which can aid the police's operations.

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Couple wins suit against claim investments were illegal loans

Straits Times
14 Mar 2018
K.C. Vijayan

Owner of investment firm argued he need not pay back $6.21m owed

When the owner of an investment company failed to deliver the high returns he had promised to investors, he claimed the monies he had received were in fact loans.

And since they were illegal under the Moneylenders Act, Mr K. Kalaivanan (Kalai), the sole director of Right Angle Investment Holdings, said he did not have to pay back the sums owed.

The High Court ruled last Thursday that even though the returns promised were "astonishing", they were in fact investments, and not illegal loans. For example, one contract offered 50 per cent returns for three months, as well as guaranteed return of the capital sum.

Justice Hoo Sheau Peng, who said she was "troubled" by the rate of returns on the deals and the "propriety of the investments", added: "I must admit that these terms, which would be incredibly attractive for investors, caused me to pause and reflect whether these were truly genuine investments."

But on examination of the evidence and circumstances, she found they were investments, not loans.

Mr Kalai had claimed they were loans to reverse a settlement he had agreed to in 2016 with his cousin, Madam Renuga and her husband, Mr Shanker Neela Segaran.

The Singaporean couple had invested millions in Mr Kalai's firm between 2009 and 2015. In simple contracts he had drawn up, Mr Kalai promised returns of between 10 per cent per month and 50 per cent for three months.

When he failed to deliver after some initial returns, the couple sent a letter of demand in May 2016 for more than $13 million before settling on $8.66 million. Mr Kalai paid $2.45 million but did not settle the rest. Last year, the couple sued for the $6.21 million unpaid, and other costs.

In her judgment, Justice Hoo said she had to consider a number of issues to decide if the monies were loans or investments. One was the nature of the contracts.

During a six-day hearing last year, defence lawyer Gregory Vijayendran from Rajah & Tann argued that the transactions were only "simple contracts" contrived to hide the fact that they were actually loans. They were not detailed, contemporaneous investment agreements, he said.

But lawyer V. Subramaniam from United Legal Alliance countered for the couple and said Mr Kalai did not provide the investment agreements despite the couple's requests. When he was pressed in 2014, he supplied simple contracts.

Justice Hoo also noted that the contracts were not prepared by the couple but by Mr Kalai.

She said the monies extended to Mr Kalai were not loans because he had offered a guarantee of capital to investors in a write-up, where he spelt out how his firm was expecting high returns from specific investments. For example, the write-up claimed Right Angle was expecting a return of 40 per cent from one particular investment, and promised the couple a return of 50 per cent in three months.

Justice Hoo also noted that from 2009 to 2015 there was not a single document or message produced by Mr Kalai to show the transactions were loans.

"Kalai sought to portray himself as someone who was very much at the mercy of the plaintiffs" but he was "like the plaintiffs, no babe in the woods", she wrote.

His assertions that the monies were loans were an "afterthought", said Justice Hoo, who added that Mr Kalai might have used some of the invested monies to cover business expenses and to repay other investors.

The judge ordered the $6.21 million to be paid with 12 per cent per annum interest from January 2017.

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Temasek to hold business ethics roundtable for firms in its portfolio

Business Times
06 Mar 2018
Annabeth Leow

Temsasek Holdings is having a roundtable on governance and ethics, and major companies in its portfolio have been urged to actively take part.

It will help to get everyone on the same page when it comes to ethical business conduct, said the state investment firm's chairman Lim Boon Heng, according to an official transcript released on Monday.

He was addressing chairmen of major Temasek-linked companies, such as SMRT Corporation, Singapore Airlines, Sembcorp Industries and Keppel Corporation, at a Feb 27 session.

The small group discussion came in the wake of Keppel's recent offshore and marine corruption scandal, which saw its unit hit with hefty and unprecedented fines after a former agent was found to have paid bribes to secure contracts in Brazil.

"What happened recently was a shock, not just to the company concerned," said Mr Lim.

He added that "it really dents the reputation of Singapore and all the other Temasek companies", and told his audience that it is important to safeguard the reputation of "your company and our nation".

He also noted that corruption offences are not limited to bribes. They can also include price-fixing and collusion, among other forms of wrongdoing.

As part of the roundtable and follow-up events, Mr Lim said Temasek will bring in experts and companies that have dealt with corruption and bribery, to share how best practices were implemented.

There will also be a series of forums on topics such as managing reputational challenges.

Company leaders were also asked to share where Temasek could help to strengthen their governance models, and to assess how comfortable they are in navigating challenges ahead.

"I count on your support as we build and deepen engagement on these questions with you and your teams in coming months," said Mr Lim.

"This is critical as your companies grow and globalise beyond Singapore."

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New law to control sale of age-restricted video games

Straits Times
22 Mar 2018
Yuen Sin

Changes to Films Act also include expanded powers for IMDA

Retailers who repeatedly sell physical copies of age-restricted video games to underage buyers will be barred from selling such games, under a new law passed by Parliament yesterday.

The duration of the ban will be decided on a case-by-case basis.

This move comes under an automatic class licence scheme to protect the young from inappropriate content as video games become more complex and graphic, said Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim.

The scheme is among a slew of changes made to the Films Act which received the nod from Parliament, following assurances from Dr Yaacob to MPs that the changes are necessary to keep up with technological and societal developments.

Other major changes include an optional but new co-classification scheme, which allows trained employees of some video companies to become film content assessors and classify films up to a PG13 rating, so that titles will be available to viewers at an earlier date.

The IMDA will also be given new powers to reclassify films to a higher or lower rating.

Dr Yaacob said this is needed as film classification guidelines are "updated from time to time to reflect our evolving norms and values". Hence, a film with an old classification may qualify for a higher or lower rating today.

Dr Yaacob also said, in response to Mr Zaqy Mohamad (Chua Chu Kang GRC), that there are safeguards against lobbying by interest groups to reclassify controversial films.

Reclassification will be done only after "careful consideration" and the views of the Films Consultative Panel will be sought for contentious films, he added. The panel comprises a cross-section of Singaporeans.

Last December, the film community had expressed concerns about the "sweeping and invasive powers" in initial proposals to amend the Act in a move to shift enforcement and investigation of all offences under the Films Act from the police to the IMDA.

Following a public consultation, the expanded powers for IMDA officers to enter and search premises without warrant were confined to serious offences, namely, those involving prohibited films and the unlicensed public exhibition of films.

Currently, they can do so only for obscene, party political and unclassified films.

Other new powers of these officers include being able to ask for information and documents needed for investigation, gain access to places where films are publicly exhibited or distributed, and take statements from people as part of an investigation.

These measures will help to close gaps in the enforcement regime, said Dr Yaacob.

All six MPs who spoke in the debate asked about checks and balances to ensure the new powers are used judiciously.

Dr Yaacob said IMDA enforcement officers are trained by the Home Affairs Ministry's Home Team Academy, and most of them have prior experience in law enforcement agencies.

Owners can also challenge in court the seizures of their items without a warrant, he added.

There will also be changes to the appeals process for films refused classification owing to national security concerns.

Instead of the Films Appeal Committee (FAC), the Minister for Communications and Information will decide on the appeals, after consulting the committee.

To this, Nominated MP Kok Heng Leun asked for a clearer definition of what constitutes a film that goes against national security.

Dr Yaacob said such a film may have content "detrimental to the continued existence of the country, its ability to exercise its sovereign rights, and the safety and security of its citizens and their way of life".

But given the complex nature of such security matters, it would be "prudent" to avoid binding its definition in legislation, he added.

There were concerns that the change would undermine public confidence in the appeal process.

Dr Yaacob replied: "It is neither ideal nor fair for a citizen panel like the FAC to assess threats to national security, as members may not be privy to the full extent of security concerns due to the sensitivity of the information."

He added the amendment "also takes into account the increasing pervasiveness of media and how different media, including film, can be used to disseminate content that could undermine our security".

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Ezra gets High Court nod for cross-border protocol on bankruptcy proceedings

Business Times
14 Mar 2018
K.C. Vijayan

The High Court on Tuesday approved an application by Ezra Holdings for a cross-border protocol between the Singapore court and the US Bankruptcy Court in relation to the firm's bankruptcy proceedings.

Ezra Holdings, which filed a Chapter 11 plan in the US last year after it received two statutory demands from creditors, had also applied to the Singapore court on March 1 for leave to seek a meeting with its creditors under the Companies Act.

The application here is to allow the firm time to work out an arrangement with creditors where the firm is restructured in order to settle its debts.

According to documents filed in the US Bankruptcy Court in New York earlier this month, the creditors include DBS Bank, OCBC Bank and UOB.

The Chapter 11 plan and the application in Singapore also spell out the terms in which the firm's board and management can legally sustain the company's operations so debts can be settled.

Ezra is a leading global offshore services provider for the oil and gas industry whose divisions comprise EMAS Offshore, EMAS Energy and Triyards, which provides engineering, ship construction and fabrication services.

The firm's board of directors, and its subsidiary and associated companies, announced yesterday that the cross-border protocol application is meant to coordinate the efficient administration of the bankruptcy proceedings in the US and restructuring proceedings in Singapore.

The application for the cross-border protocol is also to establish a framework of general principles to address issues that may arise out of the cross-border nature of the restructuring proceedings.

The firm's move to seek endorsement of such a protocol dovetails with an October 2016 initiative by the Singapore Supreme Court known as the Judicial Insolvency Network (JIN).

Under the initiative, judges of various jurisdictions established guide-lines and a common framework on how courts in different countries can communicate and cooperate with each other in cross-border insolvency cases.

Among other things, the guide-lines provide a structure for joint hearings, enabling two or more courts to simultaneously hear arguments and examine evidence.

Ezra Holdings is expected to ask the New York and Singapore courts to jointly decide under the JIN Guidelines where conflicts of laws might arise.

Robin Chiu, Ezra Holdings' court approved chief restructuring officer, was quoted in last week's issue of Global Restructuring Review as saying "the debtors are aware of no precedence for seeking both approval by a US bankruptcy court and a Singapore court" for confirmation of a Chapter 11 plan and the application for a creditors meeting in Singapore.

The firm has also separately applied to the US court for approval of the cross-border protocol. If approved there as well, it may see the first hearing held under the JIN scheme.

Ezra Holdings had made other legal orders through its Drew & Napier lawyer Sushil Nair on Tuesday but the matters were adjourned to a later date.

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Naturalised S'porean could lose citizenship

Straits Times
06 Mar 2018
K.C. Vijayan

A naturalised Singaporean once ranked among China's 100 wealthiest individuals stands to be stripped of his citizenship and has 21 days to ask for his case to be heard.

Mick Davies, 58, who changed his name from Lan Shili in 2014, was served a notice yesterday, following a probe which showed that he had used forged educational certificates to support his citizenship application in 2002.

He also failed to disclose then that he had previously held the passport and citizenship of a third country.

Other blemishes on his record include flouting laws both here and abroad, which meant "it is not conducive to the public good for him to remain a Singapore citizen", said the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) yesterday.

Davies is understood to have been recently released from prison, having served a five-month jail sentence for using a Hong Kong passport with the particulars of another person to return to Singapore in July 2016.

He was imprisoned in China in 2010 for tax evasion and was being investigated for fraud by the Chinese authorities in 2016.

Although Davies' Singapore passport had been impounded, he managed to flee China and enter Vietnam illegally.

There, he tried and failed to obtain a travel document at the Singapore mission in Hanoi by lying that he had lost his Singapore passport. Subsequently, he returned under a false identity.

He was detained by the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority, convicted and jailed for multiple immigration offences related to his Singapore entry.

Davies became a Singapore citizen in 2002 but there was no adverse information against him at that time, said MHA.

Aside from Davies, he went by another name, Jack Thomson, in 2013.

MHA said the Government takes a very serious view of persons who commit fraud and provide false information to conceal material facts in their application to any Singaporean immigration facility, including for citizenship.

"Those found to have done so will be dealt with firmly in accordance with the law," it said.

If he applies to be referred to a citizenship committee of inquiry, his case will be heard and the findings reported to the Minister for Home Affairs to decide whether to strike off his citizenship.

Davies, who has dabbled in many things, from real estate and tourism to telecommunications and even starting an airline, came from humble beginnings.

He left a government job in China at the age of 25 to be an entrepreneur and, shortly after, started a company selling computers with 270 yuan (S$56).

He went on to become the richest man in Hubei province.

The last time that a Singapore citizen was deprived of his Singapore citizenship for having obtained it through deceit or fraudulent means was in 2008, said a spokesman for MHA.

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Ezra's revamp plan sees no more than 2% recovery for unsecured creditors

Business Times
22 Mar 2018
Tan Hwee Hwee

Ezra Holdings' debt restructuring plan projects that unsecured creditors can recover only up to 2 per cent of claims ranging from US$1.67 billion to US$2.32 billion from divestment of assets.

The Business Times understands that holders of Ezra's Singapore dollar medium-term notes - who are also unsecured creditors - will recover monies set aside under an escrow account, but only after claims filed by the notes trustee have been settled.

Ezra is seeking to restructure via a Chapter 11 filing in the US and a scheme of arrangement to be tabled under Singapore's updated debt restructuring regime.

Its plan calls for assets held by the holding company to be transferred to a trust. Ezra's debt restructuring court filing in the US stated that the intent is for the trust to eventually divest these assets, which comprise mainly equity interests in subsidiaries, for the benefit of creditors. This recovery process is projected to take two years and involves the appointment of a trustee at an assumed annual cost of US$1 million.

The court filing also qualified that Ezra may at best yield insignificant recoveries for its creditors from its interests held in two key business units, Emas Offshore Ltd (EOL) and Emas Chiyoda Subsea (ECS). Ezra's offshore support vessel (OSV)-focused subsidiary, EOL, is seeking a new equity injection from a unit of Singapore-listed Baker Technology. But considering EOL's substantial debts, Ezra does not expect its equity interests in the OSV subsidiary to "retain significant value".

ECS has also separately sought to liquidate its assets through bankruptcy proceedings that commenced in the US on Feb 27. This confirmed liquidation plan did not see Ezra retain ownership interest in ECS, the court filing suggested. Creditors, however, may yield some recovery from the restructuring of Ezra's yard-operating subsidiary, Triyards, but the court filing said no projection could be offered as yet on this front.

Taking all these into consideration, the US Chapter 11 court filing thus far projected that asset divestment would yield at most 2 per cent recovery for unsecured creditors and noteholders here. These creditors can, however, look to upside from two new share issuances that have been proposed with a rescue plan for Ezra.

The rescue plan disclosed on March 2 called on Asia Fund Space (HK) Ltd (AFS) to inject cash and new businesses into Ezra. This plan will see AFS hold 92 per cent of the enlarged Ezra capital and the dilution of existing equity held by shareholders to just 4 per cent. Another 4 per cent of equity will be held in the form of new shares to be issued to Ezra's creditors.

The incoming investor has also offered free shares in a real estate-focused holding company to Ezra's creditors, existing shareholders and management. Creditors are to receive 4 per cent of equity in this second holding company.

Beyond these new equity issuances and debt recoveries proposed for Ezra's creditors, the debt restructuring plan of the holding company also stated that some US$5.6 million has been set aside in an interest service reserve account (ISRA) for coupon payments owed to noteholders.

But observers pointed out that this escrow amount has to go towards first settling the notes trustee's expenses. HSBC Trustee has claimed US$109.3 million against this escrow amount; this raises the question of whether how much, if at all, of the ISRA cash will be returned to noteholders.

Ezra's cross-border debt restructuring is also still pending another round of court approval. Gibson Dunn partner Robson Lee observed that the holding company, together with its two business units, have filed applications in the US and Singapore to "establish a cross-border protocol".

He noted that with the said protocol having secured the greenlight in Singapore on March 12, it is now up to the US Bankruptcy Court to extend its approval as well. This protocol, when approved, will "greatly facilitate and enhance the efficiency of administrating Ezra's debt restructuring process".

Ezra is required to convene a meeting with its scheme creditors in Singapore to seek their approval of its debt restructuring plan. Its court papers suggested that for the purpose of voting on its plan, creditors are split into two classes, unsecured and secured. In order for the plan to be legally binding on its creditors, it would need to secure majority votes representing at least three-fourths of debts held by each of two classes of creditors, present and voting.

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Lawyer explains two firms' trading ties with North Korea

Straits Times
14 Mar 2018
Grace Leong and Derek Wong

Two Singapore companies accused of violating UN sanctions by supplying luxury goods to North Korea had been trading with the country since the mid-2000s, and one had employed North Koreans before the sanctions kicked in, a lawyer for the companies told The Straits Times yesterday.

The goods traded included food items, beverages, electronics, and Seiko and Citizen watches, said Mr Edmond Pereira, who represents the two companies in question - OCN (Singapore) and T Specialist International.

But after the sanctions were imposed on North Korea in 2006, both companies started whittling down the trading activities. However, it "took some time to wind things down", he said.

Both OCN and T Specialist are sister companies sharing the same director and are among those highlighted in a leaked draft of a United Nations report, according to the BBC. The final report is likely to be published later this week, it said.

The draft report alleges that both companies supplied a range of luxury goods to North Korea, including wines and spirits, until July last year. They have denied any wrongdoing, the BBC said.

Late last year, the Singapore authorities began investigations following a complaint from the UN.

"Our clients are helping the Singapore authorities and UN agencies in their investigations in every possible way, and hope to get the matter cleared soon," said Mr Pereira.

He maintained that the Singapore companies do not currently have financial ties with the entities in North Korea, including a department store named OCN .

When ST visited OCN at 501, West Coast Drive, yesterday, it found a Singapore Pools outlet behind the OCN storefront.

Asked if the company had an export business, a counter assistant said goods were sometimes delivered from the store, and pointed to a boxed water dispenser and a cabinet with new shampoo bottles.

While Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority records say T Specialist is at Bukit Timah Plaza, ST could not locate the business there.

Mr Leo Ng Kheng Wah, the di-rector of both companies, declined to comment.

The leaked UN report claims that between 2011 and 2014, transactions valued at more than US$2 million (S$2.6 million), allegedly proceeds from the sale of goods in North Korea, flowed from an account set up by both companies in a North Korean bank, Daedong Credit Bank, to T Specialist's bank accounts in Singapore.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore said it and other local agencies are working with the UN, but declined to name the banks being investigated.

The financial regulator has also stepped up supervision of financial institutions over prohibited activities related to North Korea.

MAS said it has been in close contact with the UN and foreign authorities to develop intelligence in order to detect and act against UN-prohibited entities and activities.

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Employment Act to cover PMEs earning above $4,500 as well

Straits Times
06 Mar 2018
Yuen Sin

The Employment Act will widen its reach to ensure that higher-paid workers, including all professionals, managers and executives (PMEs), will be entitled to em-ployment terms such as paid sick leave and compensation for wrongful dismissals.

These rights, spelt out in the core provisions of the Employment Act, Singapore's primary labour law, currently apply only to the 290,000 PMEs who earn up to $4,500 a month and non-PMEs.

But the salary cap will be removed, in a move that would benefit an additional 430,000 PMEs.

Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say announced the move yesterday during the debate on his ministry's budget, at which labour MP Patrick Tay (West Coast GRC) and Dr Intan Azura Mokhtar (Ang Mo Kio GRC) had asked about a review of the Employment Act. The changes to the Act will be implemented by April 1 next year.

Mr Lim said this move would extend legal protection to all workers, except for public servants, domestic workers and seafarers, who are covered separately, such as by other legal provisions, due to their nature of work .

This follows a public consultation on the proposed changes, which wrapped up last month.

Mr Tay told The Straits Times that each month, he sees about five to 10 PMEs earning more than $4,500 approaching him and the National Trades Union Congress for help with workplace grievances. These were mainly for unfair dismissals. "I suspect there are more cases," he said.

As they are not covered under the Act, their only recourse is a civil suit or voluntary mediation if they cannot resolve the issue with the employer or through a union. But many of the companies they work in are not unionised, he added.

The Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management, which conducts voluntary mediation for such PMEs, saw more than 400 PMEs earning more than $4,500 who sought its assistance for salary claims between April and December last year.

With the proposed changes, this group could appeal to the Manpower Minister to have their jobs back, or claim compensation.

Mr Lim said more rank-and-file workers, such as clerks and retail assistants, will also receive additional protection. Under the changes, employees earning up to $2,600 will be eligible for overtime pay, up from the previous cap of $2,500.

The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) will also improve how employment disputes are settled. Though dismissal claims and salary issues often go together, workers have to refer salary-related disputes to the Employment Claims Tribunals (ECT), while wrongful dismissal claims go before MOM.

But after changes to the Act have been made, workers can go to the ECT to address both issues.

Mr Ian Lim, a partner who heads the employment and labour practice at TSMP Law Corporation, welcomed the "bold and inclusive" changes announced by the MOM.

However, he said that it is im-portant to be very clear on what constitutes a wrongful or unfair dismissal.

"The last thing we want is to inadvertently go to the other extreme and become one of those places where it is virtually impossible to fire even a highly insubordinate or severely underperforming employee without paying hefty compensation," he added.

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Money unclaimed by lawyers' clients to go to new fund

Straits Times
21 Mar 2018
K.C. Vijayan

A new fund, made up of monies unclaimed by lawyers' clients, will be used to provide funding for pro bono services, Senior Minister of State for Law Indranee Rajah said in Parliament yesterday.

The Unclaimed Money Fund (UM Fund) will be managed by the Law Society.

The setting up of this fund will allow lawyers who want to retire and close their law practices to do so, even if their clients can no longer be contacted to take back their money.

It was part of several changes to the Legal Profession Act passed by Parliament yesterday.

The unclaimed monies can be transferred by lawyers and law firms into the UM Fund subject to certain requirements and the approval of the Law Society.

Clients who appear later to seek the money can apply for it to be returned if their claims are made within six years of the date the Law Society approved the transfer of the unclaimed money.

After that, the Law Society can make ex-gratia payments on a case-by-case basis.

During the debate, Ms Indranee also told the House that subsidiary legislation will prescribe how the money in the UM Fund is to be used. This must have the approval of the Minister.

"It is fair to say the people who will benefit from the new UM Fund will be members of the public who are in need of and eligible for the Law Society's pro bono services," she added.

The new fund will also take charge of clients' money when the Law Society is forced to intervene in client accounts for various reasons, like when the sole proprietor of a law firm is made bankrupt.

This "intervention money" is first paid into a special account for the Law Society to administer, and where possible, returned to the lawful owner.

As at March 31 last year, the Law Society held in trust $379,131 in unclaimed intervention money.

Currently, when "intervention money" is unclaimed after six years in the special account, it is credited to the Law Society's Compensation Fund.

With the changes in the Act, it will be placed in the UM Fund.

The Compensation Fund, which had about $13 million as of last March, is for compensating those who suffer financial losses owing to lawyer misconduct.

The new law also enhances the existing range of sanctions to deal with errant lawyers under the disciplinary process by including remedial measures like training and counselling. It also introduces a registration category for non-practising foreign law experts to appear in the Singapore International Commercial Court.

Several MPs spoke in support of the Bill, including three lawyers: Mr Christopher de Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC), Mr Murali Pillai (Bukit Batok) and Ms Rahayu Mahzam (Jurong GRC).

Said Mr de Souza: "Through ways such as providing legal advice, representation and promoting legal literacy through education, lawyers play an important role in access to justice.

"This Bill furthers their efforts and the legal profession's contribution to society."

Law Society president Gregory Vijayendran last night lauded the changes, adding that they were "forward-looking and positive moves".

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MAS, CAD extend joint investigations to all capital markets, financial advisory offences

Business Times
14 Mar 2018
Wong Kai Yi

The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) and the police's white-collar crime unit, the Commercial Affairs Department (CAD), will extend their joint investigations arrangement to now cover all offences under the Securities and Futures Act (SFA) and Financial Advisers Act (FAA).

The move, which takes effect from March 17 this year, will allow for greater efficiency and more effective enforcement of capital markets and financial advisory offences, the two agencies said in a joint press statement on Tuesday.

The October 2013 penny stock crash prompted the formation of the joint investigations arrangement, which was launched in March 2015 to cover market misconduct offences such as insider trading and market manipulation.

The joint probes of market misconduct have so far resulted in three convictions: Dennis Tey Thean Yang in March 2017 for employing a scheme to defraud two providers of contract for differences; Alan Tay Yeow Kee in May 2017 for insider trading in the shares of Qualitas Medical Group and Leeden Limited; and Mok Piak Liang in January 2018 for false trading in the shares of Wilton Resources Corp.

Several other cases, including persons involved in the alleged manipulation of shares in Blumont Group, Asiasons Capital and LionGold Corp in the 2013 penny stock crash, are currently before the courts.

Speaking to The Business Times, Robson Lee, a partner at law firm Gibson Dunn, personally welcomed the move, describing it as the right step in "enshrining the integrity" of Singapore's financial market.

He said that the tight partnership between the two agencies will enable "speedy enforcement" of MAS's financial laws, and will make people think twice about using Singapore as a conduit for their crimes.

"It makes sense that they should have that kind of collaboration, so they can draw from the best of both MAS and CAD, when speed, experience and judgement are essential components in an investigation," Mr Lee concluded.

In the past, MAS and CAD investigated financial crimes independently, based on an initial assessment of whether the offence was likely to be a civil penalty or criminal prosecution case.

Joint investigations enable MAS and CAD to collaborate from the outset, with the decision on whether a case is subject to civil penalty action or criminal prosecution made only when investigations are concluded.

They also allow MAS and CAD to pool their investigative resources and expertise, drawing from MAS's role as a financial regulator and CAD's financial crime investigation and intelligence capabilities.

MAS officers taking part in joint investigations will be gazetted as CAD officers, giving them the same criminal powers of investigation, including the ability to search premises and seize items, and to order financial institutions to monitor customer accounts.

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Guidelines on hiring freelancers launched to help reduce disputes

Straits Times
06 Mar 2018
Yasmine Yahya

Payment disputes are a major concern for the self-employed, but it is impractical to mandate written contracts for all freelancers and gig workers, Second Minister for Manpower Josephine Teo said in Parliament yesterday.

A set of guidelines on best practices for engaging freelance services has been launched instead, to help reduce such disputes.

Buyers who adopt the new Tripartite Standard on Contracting with Self-Employed Persons would need to discuss and agree with the freelancer the terms of engagement, such as the range of services to be delivered, project timelines and milestones, and payment schedules.

"Over time, the standard will help shape contracting norms and entrench best practices," Mrs Teo said during the debate on the Ministry of Manpower's (MOM) budget.

The Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management will also extend voluntary mediation services to all self-employed workers who have payment disputes with businesses.

The standard was one of several recommendations made by a tripartite workgroup looking into the concerns of the self-employed, which the Government is taking up.

Those who make their income primarily through self-employment now make up 8.4 per cent of the resident workforce.

The tripartite workgroup also recommended that a prolonged medical leave (PML) insurance product be developed to mitigate a self-employed person's loss of income during prolonged injury or illness.

Today, some self-employed workers buy additional riders on top of their private insurance plans to provide for this, but there is a lack of an affordable standalone PML product, she said. NTUC Income is keen to develop such a product, Mrs Teo said, adding that the aim is to have a viable plan and for a PML insurance product to be available next year.

The Government will also encourage the widespread adoption of insurance in some higher-risk occupations, starting with sports coaches and instructors, as well as taxi and private-hire car drivers.

Together, these two groups make up 30 per cent of all self-employed people here, Mrs Teo said.

The Ministry of Education has agreed in-principle to contract only with self-employed coaches and instructors who have such PML insurance coverage, she said.

These freelancers may then price the cost of PML insurance coverage into their bids for work or projects.

MOM and the Land Transport Authority will study how to ensure that active taxi and private hire-car drivers also have PML insurance coverage, she added.

Mrs Teo also noted that about one in four self-employed people fails to keep up with his Medisave contributions. To help this group save enough for their healthcare and retirement needs, the Government is studying how to implement a "contribute-as-you-earn" (CAYE) model, under which the service buyer hiring the freelancer has to make a contribution to the person's Medisave account, as and when the service fee is paid.

This is similar to how employers make a contribution to their workers' Central Provident Fund accounts alongside their salaries every month, Mrs Teo said.


Over time, the standard will help shape contracting norms and entrench best practices.

SECOND MINISTER FOR MANPOWER JOSEPHINE TEO , on the set of guidelines on best practices for engaging freelance services.

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Shareholder sues Noble and execs, accuses them of inflating profits

Business Times
21 Mar 2018
Michelle Quah

Trader defaults on notes due March 20; fund managers of Orbis and Prudential sell down stakes

Troubled commodity trader Noble Group suffered fresh blows on Tuesday, as a major shareholder filed a lawsuit in Singapore accusing it of inflating profits to raise money.

The Hong Kong-based trader was also forced to undergo a ratings downgrade by S&P Global Ratings the same day.

Noble and its executives, including founder Richard Elman, have reportedly been sued in Singapore by one of the company's major shareholders, Goldilocks Investment Co.

According to a Bloomberg report, which cited documents filed in Singapore's High Court, Goldilocks is accusing the defendants of relying "on the inflated profits and balance sheet to raise capital through bond and right issues on the SGX (Singapore Exchange) and borrowing from financial institutions".

The Business Times understands the lawsuit has been filed against the company and seven former and current executives. In addition to Mr Elman, defendants named in the suit include CEO Will Randall, chairman Paul Brough, and chief financial officer Paul Jackaman.

The 72-page filings claim that Noble's management paid themselves inflated salaries, and then tried a cover-up when the accounts came under increased scrutiny, Bloomberg's report said. It added that Goldilocks is seeking relief from Noble on behalf of shareholders, which includes some US$169 million (S$223 million) paid to executives between 2011 and 2017, and interest and damages assessed by the court.

Goldilocks also reportedly wants a declaration from the court that the defendants breached their fiduciary duties.

"We confirm that our client has commenced proceedings in the Singapore High Court," Daniel Chia, a Morgan Lewis Stamford lawyer acting for Goldilocks, told Bloomberg.When contacted by BT, media representatives for Noble were not able to comment on the lawsuit by press time.

Goldilocks had in January urged the SGX to probe the Hong Kong-based commodity trader's actions, saying that there were grounds for an investigation into Noble, its directors and management.

Noble had issued an announcement that month to say that "allegations that management are enriching themselves at the expense of shareholders are unfounded".

News of the Goldilocks lawsuit is just the latest development in a closely followed debacle that began in 2015 when then-unknown Iceberg Research started publishing critiques of Noble's accounting. The commodity trader has since been battered by trading losses and massive writedowns.

The company on Tuesday also underwent a ratings downgrade; S&P Global Ratings lowered its long-term issuer credit rating and long-term issue rating on Noble and its outstanding senior unsecured notes to "D" from "CC", after Noble said it will miss the principal and coupon payments on two of its outstanding US dollar notes.

"We lowered the ratings because Noble has missed the principal and coupon payment for its 2018 notes due March 20, 2018. Noble also missed the coupon payment on its 2022 notes due March 9, 2018.

"In addition, the company said it would not make the payments despite being given 30-day grace periods to meet both obligations. The failure to make these payments will trigger cross-defaults on the company's other obligations," S&P Global Ratings said.

It added that it does not expect Noble to meet any of its outstanding obligations as the company preserves its assets during the debt restructuring process the company is currently undergoing.

Noble had announced last week that it has opted for non-payment of its obligations to preserve assets "for the benefit of all stakeholders during the implementation of the proposed restructuring". The restructuring exercise is expected to be completed by the end of July.

"We will conduct another review of the company's credit profile after the restructuring is complete," the ratings agency added.

After plunging almost 20 per cent on Monday, Noble's shares recovered some ground on Tuesday, to close 0.2 cent higher at S$0.113.

In related news, filings with the SGX on Monday showed that fund managers of Orbis and Prudential sold some 42 million Noble shares worth S$5.5 million on the open market from March 14 to 19.

On March 14, Prudential and its subsidiaries sold about 3.36 million shares at 16.9 Singapore cents apiece for a total consideration of S$566,000. This transaction pared Prudential's stake in Noble from 135 million shares, or 10.1 per cent of the firm, to 131 million shares, or 9.9 per cent.

On March 16, Orbis Allan Gray, Allan & Gill Gray Foundation, Orbis Holdings, and Orbis Investment Management sold 15 million shares worth S$2.1 million at 13.8 Singapore cents apiece. This was followed by another share disposal on March 19 where 12.5 million shares were sold for S$1.4 million, or 11.5 Singapore cents per share, reducing the group's stake further to 8 per cent, or 106 million shares.

Separately, Orbis Investment Management (Hong Kong) has also trimmed its stake in Noble from 9 per cent to 7.4 per cent via two market transactions.

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SGX proposes changes to Derivatives Clearing Fund requirements

Business Times
14 Mar 2018
Stephanie Luo

The Singapore Exchange has proposed two key changes to the rules guiding the SGX-Derivatives Clearing (SGX-DC) Clearing Fund.

On Tuesday, the local bourse said that it is proposing to combine the contract classes for exchange-traded derivatives and over-the-counter commodities into a single contract class.

It stated that the merger of the two classes will enable a "more appropriate and equitable allocation of losses" as the risks posed by both are the same.

The second change is to refine the methodology for determining clearing members' clearing fund contributions. For instance, the bourse is suggesting a replacement of the security deposit requirement and the pre-funded further assessment requirement with a single clearing fund deposit requirement.

"SGX will retain the right to call for further assessment if, in the event of a clearing member default, additional resources are necessary. However, this will be a purely contingent liability," SGX said in its consultation paper.

The suggested changes are targeted at refining the fund's structure and contribution requirements on clearing members. "With these changes, SGX-DC members will have better capital efficiency and greater clarity of their contribution requirements," SGX said. It is calling for public feedback until April 3.

Agnes Koh, SGX chief risk officer, said the proposed amendments "simplify" the SGX-DC Clearing Fund for members and "allow the fund to be more nimble" when responding to changes in stress test losses. "The recalibration of the clearing fund requirement is a result of our constant review of our management of risk, and is in line with global practices," she added.

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Working to address challenges women face

Straits Times
06 Mar 2018
Elgin Toh

MPs of both genders addressed issues related to women in employment yesterday, offering a slew of suggestions - some of which the Government has promised to study further.

During the debate on the Manpower Ministry's budget, sexual harassment and the gender pay gap were raised by several MPs, drawing front-bench explanations that shed important light on these issues.

Harassment has been an explosive topic globally, with the #MeToo movement exposing many men in positions of power and triggering deep reflection across Western societies.

In Singapore, the problem has not reached similar proportions. An annual average of 20 police reports involving sexual harassment or insult of modesty in the workplace were filed from 2013 to last year, revealed Second Manpower Minister Josephine Teo.

But, as Mr Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC) noted, it may be growing: A sexual assault care centre run by the Association of Women for Action and Research, the gender equality advocacy group, has seen workplace-related reports rise from 66 in 2015 to 108 last year.

MPs called on the authorities to facilitate mediation, and for existing labour bodies to be given more teeth on harassment.

Nominated MP K. Thanaletchimi arguably went furthest, pushing for workplace harassment to be treated on a par with workplace injury - and for reports by employers to the authorities to be made mandatory. Knowing the numbers will give a better understanding of the scale of the problem, and the type of intervention needed, she said.

In responding to MPs, Mrs Teo outlined the avenues open to victims. These have widened since the Protection from Harassment Act was passed in 2014 and include approaching her ministry and the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (Tafep), seeking civil remedies in the courts, and making a police report.

But she turned down the call for mandatory reporting, noting that "some employees prefer to resolve the matter privately without involving the authorities, (and) would rather report the matter to their employers".

"Legislating mandatory reporting by employers... will close off this avenue for such employees and discourage them from raising the matter with anyone. This is not helpful to them," she added.

This is a sensitive matter for affected employees that perhaps deserves further discussion at Tafep or other relevant forums. Mandatory reporting does have its benefits. In the case of workplace injuries, it prevents cover-ups and compels employers to take each incident seriously. Harassment is not totally analogous to injury, but there is scope to explore how employers can be made to give due regard to each case.

On the gender pay gap, Mrs Teo noted that the problem has become less serious, with the gap between men and women in full-time employment falling from 20 per cent a decade ago to 11.8 per cent last year. The gap in CPF contributions is also closing.

The 11.8 per cent gap is due to women leaving work at various points in their career to take up caregiving responsibilities, and having to "catch up" with men when they return, she said.

Indeed, she said she looked at public service numbers and there does not appear to be a gap there.

The Government will continue to tackle the issue by encouraging women to stay in work and by promoting flexible arrangements, she said, before announcing that $30 million will be set aside to help employers implement flexible work practices.

Mr Ng asked if the Government would sign the International Labour Organisation's (ILO) Convention on Maternity Protection, which guarantees a woman's right to return to the same position or an equivalent position paid at the same rate, at the end of maternity leave. Employers here currently have to pay employees during maternity leave. But it is still possible for a worker to be dismissed after maternity leave.

Mrs Teo said it was difficult to sign the ILO convention because to sign it, a country has to accept every clause - even if a clause were in conflict with other other existing treaties and agreements.

"But let me assure the member that the laws in Singapore already provide adequate protection to women who become pregnant and when they are on maternity leave," she said.

But the issue of whether employees should also have the assurance that they cannot be dismissed once their maternity leave ends merits more study by tripartite partners, as such a move will better protect new mothers.

Of course, any such measure has to be weighed carefully so it does not inadvertently make it harder for women of child-bearing age to find employment in the first place.

Yesterday's debate highlighted the fact that despite significant progress, there are women who continue to be vulnerable in the workplace. And the challenges they face are complex.

Some are torn between equally difficult options: in the case of harassment, whether to report it or not; or on the issue of a pay gap, whether to continue working or be a caregiver.

It must be recognised that they face such dilemmas through no fault of their own. Government, employers and unions must continue to deliberate over such tensions, with a view to relieving them where possible.


It is indeed alarming that in recent months, there have been several incidents of online criticism of public service sector staff. I am very concerned about the growing trend of such campaigns as it will inevitably lead to cyber flaming. Without the benefits of complete information, it is nearly impossible to determine the validity of the claim of either party. Affected employees will be subject to great distress and psychological trauma as a result, while the perpetrator gets away scot free.

NOMINATED MP K. THANALETCHIMI, on the need to step up anti-harassment laws to ensure cyber bullying is also covered.

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More protection for seniors, those with disabilities

Straits Times
21 Mar 2018
Toh Yong Chuan

Proposed law will allow MSF to intervene and protect these vulnerable groups from abuse and neglect

Seniors and people with disabilities who cannot care for themselves will get more protection under a proposed law introduced in Parliament yesterday.

The long-awaited Vulnerable Adults Bill, if passed, will allow the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) to intervene and protect these vulnerable groups from abuse and neglect.

Its officials would then be able to enter private premises to assess a person's well-being. They can also temporarily relocate vulnerable adults to safe places such as shelters and disability homes. At present, they do not have such powers.

The proposed law also lets officials apply for protection orders in court to prevent abusers from causing further harm.

In extreme circumstances, the ministry can ask the courts to give its officials powers to step in even if the vulnerable person refuses help.

This would typically involve those who are pressured by their family members, said the ministry in a statement after the Bill was introduced.

The MSF added that whistleblowers will be protected under the law, while abusers will face "enhanced penalties", although it did not spell out details of the protection and heavier punishment.

The proposed law comes amid a rapidly ageing population, with more seniors likely to be unable to care for themselves.

Singapore has around 500,000 people aged 65 and older, and the number is expected to almost double to about 900,000 by 2030.

The number of elderly folk living alone is also projected to rise from 35,000 in 2012 to 83,000 in 2030, the ministry said.

An estimated 103,000 people will have dementia by 2030.

One in 10 people aged 60 and older are now stricken by it, a condition that causes the gradual decline of the brain and such abilities as thinking, memory and judgment. The proportion rises to one in two among those aged 85 and older.

The Vulnerable Adults Bill, mooted in October 2014 by then-Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing, was more than three years in the making.

At that time, Mr Chan described it as "the final safeguard, the final resort", and stressed that it was not meant for people to push the responsibility of caring for vulnerable seniors to the state.

Mr Chan also said that the law was likely to be passed by 2015, but in July 2016, the ministry held a month-long drive to seek public views.

It received 43 responses from individuals and groups such as family service centres, the Law Society of Singapore, the Singapore Medical Council, and the Association of Women for Action and Research.

In September 2016, it said there was "strong support" for the proposed law, which is slated to be debated in Parliament later this year.


Expected number of people aged 65 and older by 2030.


Expected number of elderly people living alone in 2030.


Estimated number of people with dementia by 2030.

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Teen's intellectual disability raises issue on lack of sentencing options: Judge

Straits Times
13 Mar 2018
Selina Lum

The question of whether a mildly intellectually disabled young offender who committed a serious offence should be sentenced to a long jail term with caning, or a stint of reformative training instead, has put a High Court judge in a quandary.

After weighing his "limited" options, Justice Woo Bih Li yesterday handed down a sentence of the latter for a teenager who committed rape when he was 14, even as he flagged the larger issues that went beyond the current case.

The prosecution had sought a jail term of between 15 and 18 years and caning of at least 15 strokes for the teenager, now 17.

While out on bail for other offences in 2014, he raped and sexually assaulted a 16-year-old girl, a stranger he followed to a lift lobby three doors away from her flat.

His assigned lawyers had argued for reformative training, a structured regime for offenders below the age of 21 that can last between 18 months and three years.

However, the prosecutors said reformative training should not be considered, pointing to the gravity of the offence and the egregious circumstances in which it had been carried out.

Justice Woo disagreed, and said reformative training was still an option as the rehabilitation of the accused remained a predominant consideration to be balanced against deterrence of crime and protection of the public. What troubled him was the accused's low IQ of 61.

"I would have had less hesitation in sending him to reformative training if he did not have any intellectual disability," said Justice Woo.

Prosecutors had argued that the accused was unlikely to benefit from reformative training as he lacked the requisite cognitive abilities to understand the programmes. However, Justice Woo said it was "oversimplistic" to say that reformative training should not be ordered just because the accused might not benefit.

The alternative was a long jail term and caning, the judge noted.

"Is that the answer? I do not think so," he said.

Justice Woo noted that the accused was himself a vulnerable person, in view of his young age and intellectual disability.

"It seems to this court that reformative training still offers the better prospect of rehabilitation when compared to imprisonment," said the judge, noting that there was a greater risk of the accused becoming a hardened criminal were he to be sent to prison.

Justice Woo said the case had exposed larger issues at stake, including the limited sentencing options available to a court faced with a young offender who has some intellectual disability. He said he would elaborate on these issues in a written judgment to be delivered at a later date.

The judge allowed an application by Deputy Public Prosecutor David Khoo for a stay of the sentence until the conclusion of any appeal.

The teen's lawyer, Ms Nadia Moynihan, had objected, saying he had spent the last three years in remand at the Singapore Boys' Home.

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Bill tabled to license bike-sharing firms to curb illegal parking

Straits Times
06 Mar 2018
Adrian Lim

Firms can apply for licence by middle of year; their fleet size to be reviewed every 6 months

To tackle the growing problem of shared bicycles being parked indiscriminately, rental operators such as oBike, ofo and Mobike look set to be licensed.

Under this proposed scheme, the size of their bicycle fleet will be reviewed every six months, based on how well they manage the problem of illegal parking and how often their two-wheelers are used.

There are an estimated 100,000 dockless shared bicycles in Singapore owned by six operators. But only about half are actively used.

The Land Transport Authority (LTA), in explaining the proposed move yesterday, said: "The indiscriminate parking of shared bicycles has caused significant social disamenities despite LTA's efforts to increase parking infrastructure and encourage bicycle-sharing operators to operate responsibly."

The LTA statement also said it will start accepting licence applications by the middle of this year, and will award them by year's end.

Details of the licensing system was spelt out in the Parking Places (Amendment) Bill, which was introduced in Parliament by Senior Minister of State for Transport Lam Pin Min yesterday.

TheBill also requires operators to share data, including the locations of all their bicycles, with the LTA, and remove those parked indiscriminately in a timely manner.



Sights such as this at the park connector near Yishun MRT station yesterday could be a thing of the past with the licensing regime for shared-bicycle operators that will take effect later this year. 	Under the framework, the fleet size of each bike-s
Scheme to curb indiscriminate bike parkingSights such as this at the park connector near Yishun MRT station yesterday could be a thing of the past with the licensing regime for shared-bicycle operators that will take effect later this year. Under the framework, the fleet size of each bike-share company will be controlled by the Land Transport Authority (LTA), and the firms will have to remove illegally parked bicycles in a timely manner. The operators are also required to share data, including the locations of all their bicycles, with the LTA. Failing to comply can result in fines of up to $100,000, suspension or the cancellation of the operator's licence. There are some 100,000 shared bicycles here owned by six operators. ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR



Operators are also required to temporarily ban users who repeatedly park indiscriminately from renting the bicycles. The duration of the ban has not been decided.

Bike-sharing operators that fail to comply with LTA's standards and conditions will face sanctions such as financial penalties of up to $100,000, reduction in fleet size, suspension or even have their licence cancelled.

The companies debuted in Singapore early last year. As they run on a dockless system, the bicycles can be rented from and returned to any location using a mobile app.

The six operators are oBike, ofo, Mobike, GBikes, SG Bike and ShareBikeSG.

Since the middle of last year, LTA has issued more than 2,100 removal notices and collected about $180,000 in fines and administrative fees from the companies.

As the number of these bicycles swell, the authorities have been creating more parking spaces at MRT stations, bus stops, Housing Board estates and parks.

There are 174,000 bike parking spaces, and the LTA and public agencies plan to provide 50,000 more by 2020.

LTA will also install unique quick response (QR) codes at all public bicycle parking areas from the second half of this year. Operators will have to ensure that their users scan the QR code at the parking area before they can end their trip.

Operators interviewed said they will work with the LTA on the licensing requirements.

Most declined to disclose the extent of indiscriminate parking. SG Bike, however, said it makes up about 10 per cent of all its rides.

General manager Tim Phang of oBike Singapore said that while official guidelines are welcomed, a licensing regime "places a heavy burden on start-ups and this, in turn, means users will suffer".

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Safe Space for kids who face domestic violence

Straits Times
21 Mar 2018
Rahimah Rashith

Third child protection specialist centre set up by MSF officially opens in Yishun Central

Although they were aged only eight and nine respectively, Rita and Alfred (not their real names) received no care or supervision and were expected to do all of their family's household chores, as well as look after their four younger siblings.

They loitered in the neighbourhood to beg for food and money, and were caned, slapped and hit with a belt by their father - who even threw dumbbells and padlocks at them.

The Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) was alerted to their case last year and the family was referred to Safe Space, a child protection specialist centre. Today, they are one of the families benefiting from its support and services.

Safe Space was officially opened yesterday. It is the third child protection specialist centre set up by the MSF and is run by Pave, a family specialist centre.

The first two centres - Big Love run by Montfort Care and Hear @ Fei Yue run by Fei Yue Community Services - were set up in 2013 by the MSF to specialise in managing "moderate risk" cases.

These include children who are caned excessively by parents, and those whose welfare may be neglected by drug-addicted parents. The MSF's Child Protective Service manages the high-risk cases. Last year, social workers helped 997 clients with family violence issues.

Safe Space helps children under 16 who are victims or witnesses of domestic violence. The centre began its operations on Jan 3 last year and moved into Yishun Central early this year.

Over the past year, Safe Space has dealt with 128 cases and 239 inquiries. Children are referred there by the MSF's Child Protective Service, the Family Justice Courts, as well as by relatives and members of the community.

Gracing the opening ceremony was President Halimah Yacob, who said that young children who are witnesses or victims of violence find it difficult to articulate what had happened to them or identify who was responsible.

"The families of these children also face multiple stressors such as unemployment, homelessness, mental health issues and matrimonial difficulties. More often than not, they lack the support of an extended family and other social networks that most of us are blessed with," she said.

"Family violence is an issue that cuts across racial, religious and socio-economic lines. When all of us put children's safety and welfare first, and when we all work together, great change can happen for the most vulnerable children."

Safe Space staff work closely with government organisations such as the Child Protective Service, the health system, schools, the police, legal aid agencies, the social service system and community organisations.

Pave is Singapore's pioneer family violence specialist centre. It began as a programme initiated in 1999 by three social workers.

Pave president Michael Gray said: "If children have a Safe Space to have their voices heard and their feelings acknowledged, we offer them a different life journey - one that hopefully will allow them to enjoy their childhood and move on."

Dr Sudha Nair, executive director of Pave, said that a child protection services centre creates opportunities for children to speak up. "It sends a message to children that their voices are heard. And it also sends a message to parents that their children can have issues."

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Jail for engineer who led team onto train tracks

Straits Times
13 Mar 2018
Tan Tam Mei

His failure to effect 'last line of defence' safety protocol was most direct cause of two trainees' deaths, says judge

Two SMRT trainees died because of a failure to impose safety protocols that would have prevented trains from entering the work site where a track inspection was being carried out.

But former SMRT engineer Lim Say Heng's failure to effect a "last line of defence", known as the 0/0 Automatic Train Protection speed code, was the most direct cause of death, said District Judge Chay Yuen Fatt.

For his role in the March 2016 rail accident, Lim, 48, was sentenced to four weeks in jail yesterday after he pleaded guilty to causing death by negligence.

The accident, the train operator's worst in history, resulted in the deaths of Mr Nasrulhudin Najumudin, 26, and Mr Muhammad Asyraf Ahmad Buhari, 24.

Judge Chaysaid: "There is no denying that (Lim) did not impose or give the instruction for the protocol."

The prosecution had asked for a sentence of at least four weeks in jail, and said that a fine, even a large one, would be insufficient, given that it was "fully" within Lim's "powers to ensure a safe inspection".

Judge Chay agreed that a jail term should be imposed

In his submissions, Deputy Public Prosecutor Anandan Bala said the consequences of Lim's failure to ensure that the particular safety code was imposed set in motion a chain of events that resulted in the fatal accident.

When imposed on a track circuit, the code would have ensured that a train come to a stop before approaching the area.

The court heard that on March 22, 2016, a fault was detected along the track between Pasir Ris station and Tampines station on the East-West MRT line at around 6.30am. The team of 15, led by Lim, was deployed at around 11am.

The safety protocol was not implemented and, instead of boarding a designated train that would take them to the work site, they walked on a walkway parallel to the track.

This was among the failures of different parties to comply with an approved set of safety operating procedures known as "Unit 3C OP" that governs track access during traffic hours.

Lim managed to avoid the oncoming train, but the two trainees behind him were unable to react in time and were hit by the train.

He was sacked six months after the incident, and now works as a technician.

During mitigation, defence counsel Lee May Ling said Lim was not solely responsible for the implementation of the safety protocols.

"Within SMRT, there was an environment where the documented safety protocols were not, and could not be, adhered to," she said. The defence sought a $10,000 fine.

In October last year, former director of control operations Teo Wee Kiat, 41, was fined $55,000 for failing to take necessary measures to ensure the safety of SMRT employees.

The rail operator was given a record fine of $400,000 in February last year over the same breach.

The families of the two trainees declined comment when contacted by The Straits Times.

Safety procedures not followed

Investigations into SMRT's fatal rail accident of March 2016 showed that various parties involved in track access that day did not comply with proper safety procedures.

Proper procedure: A request to impose the safety code that would prevent trains from entering the track must be submitted for track access. Approval for track access and the specifics, such as time, duration and safety arrangements, must be granted by the operations command centre.

What was done: No form was submitted.

Proper procedure: The person in charge must liaise with the duty station manager on the exact time to impose the safety code.

What was done: The parties had agreed that the safety code would be imposed "at a later time" when the inspection team reached the work site, but no exact timing was given.

Proper procedure: A designated train picks up the work party at the station platform to head to the work site.

What was done: The joint inspection team walked to the work site.

Proper procedure: The safety code must be imposed before the work party boards the designated train and leaves the station platform.

What was done: The safety code was not imposed before the team left the platform.

Proper procedure: There must be a message displayed at the prior station to warn train drivers that there are people working on the track ahead. The message should be a standard printed sign.

What was done: A handwritten message was displayed at Tampines station. But it did not indicate there were people working on the track ahead.

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New rule prevents abuse of clemency process

Straits Times
04 Mar 2018
K.C. Vijayan

Death row inmates who discharge assigned lawyers without cause will not get replacement

The Supreme Court has clamped down on death row inmates who try to extend clemency petition deadlines by switching from one assigned lawyer to another.

The changed rules dictate that such inmates are assigned only one lawyer, who will not be replaced if he or she is discharged without cause.

"There have been instances where prisoners awaiting capital punishment repeatedly discharged successive Lasco counsel, who had been assigned to file their clemency petitions, without cause," said a Supreme Court spokesman in response to queries from The Sunday Times.

Under Lasco (Legal Assistance Scheme for Capital Offences), people charged with offences where the penalty may be death are assigned free legal counsel.

If a convicted offender sentenced to death fails in his final appearance before the Court of Appeal, he or she can file a petition of clemency to the President, with the assistance of a Lasco-assigned lawyer.

Under the former rules, if an inmate discharged the assigned lawyer, he would get a replacement, said lawyer K Elengovan, based on his experience.

But the new ruling that came into effect last month says that if an inmate discharges the lawyer without proper cause, he will not get a replacement assigned under Lasco.

To do so would "unjustifiably interfere with the proper conduct of the matter", said a Supreme Court spokesman.

The amended rules also mean that a new lawyer will not be assigned if the Lasco counsel discharges himself due to difficulties in taking instructions from the prisoner.

Lasco lawyers who discharge themselves must give reasons.

But if the assigned lawyer discharges himself for personal reasons such as health issues or where the lawyer's firm has to shut down, the inmate will get a replacement.

Lawyers said the changes recognise the possible abuse of process based on past experience.

"While death row inmates have to be accorded due process and given all possible assistance in preparing the petition, problems can arise where an inmate refuses to sign a petition after the document is prepared based on his instructions," said Mr Elengovan.

Lawyer Peter Ong Lip Cheng said it is "challenging" for a lawyer helping inmates prepare such petitions.

"We empathise with the circumstances the inmates are in, but their positions can change as they become edgy in realising their days are numbered."

Lawyer Amolat Singh said that when a death row inmate seeks to discharge a lawyer and expects a replacement, there would naturally be a request to extend the deadline for submitting the petition.

This effectively means deferring the capital sentence until the petition is duly considered and turned down.

"Word gets round among (the inmates) and would catch on. To do a petition is not a perfunctory task and is an agonising job, entailing careful thought for what can be done for the applicant as a last resort," he added.

Separately, the President's Office has received clemency petitions this year in relation to Iskandar Rahmat, who was sentenced to hang in 2015 for a double murder five years ago. The outcome is pending.

His appeal to the top court was rejected in February last year.

A Home Affairs Ministry spokesman told The Sunday Times on Friday: "His clemency petitions are being reviewed... The facts of each case are carefully considered before the President decides on the clemency petition on the advice of the Cabinet.

"At present, there are some clemency petitions being assessed but as each case is unique, it would not be possible to determine how long each petition would take."


While death row inmates have to be accorded due process and given all possible assistance in preparing the petition, problems can arise where an inmate refuses to sign a petition after the document is prepared based on his instructions.

LAWYER K ELENGOVAN, on problems during the clemency process.

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Jail, cane for man behind Jurong West market fire

Straits Times
21 Mar 2018
Shaffiq Idris Alkhatib

He triggered blaze, which also affected two coffee shops, by setting alight styrofoam boxes

An odd-job worker who set fire to two styrofoam boxes at a market in Jurong West caused more than $6 million in damage and losses when the flames engulfed the premises and affected two neighbouring coffee shops.

The blaze started by Lim Ying Siang at the market in Block 493, Jurong West Street 41, at about 2.40am on Oct 11, 2016, affected 56 stall owners, most of whom did not have fire insurance.

The stall owners suffered about $740,000 in property losses and an additional $980,000 in lost income as many could not open for business for at least a few months, a district court heard yesterday.

Besides these costs, Deputy Public Prosecutor Goh Yi Ling said that rebuilding and renovation works for the market and the two coffee shops in Blocks 493 and 494 came up to about $5 million.

Yesterday, Lim, 42, was jailed for 111/2 years and ordered to be given three strokes of the cane after pleading guilty to one count each of committing mischief by fire and drug consumption.

The court heard that after Lim took about 20 sleeping pills on Oct 10, 2016, he went to drink beer at the coffee shop in Block 493 and then at the one in Block 494.

He returned home at around 1.20am and found that he did not have his home keys and mobile phone. He went back to the Block 493 coffee shop and flew into a rage when he found it shuttered.

When he spotted a styrofoam box near a vegetable stall at the market, he used his lighter to set it on fire. He did the same to another box that was near an incense stall.

Police received a hotline call about the fire at around 2.40am.

DPP Goh said members of the public tried to extinguish the flames but failed.

"The fire subsequently engulfed the entire Block 493 market and Block 493 coffee shop, and extended to the Block 494 coffee shop before Singapore Civil Defence Force firefighters were able to extinguish it," she added.

When an acquaintance asked Lim whether he knew about the fire later that morning, the odd-job worker admitted that he had started it. He was arrested two days later.

The court heard that traces of methamphetamine were later detected in Lim's urine samples and he admitted that he had consumed the drug before his arrest.

Lim's lawyer Ahmad Firdaus Daud, assigned under the Criminal Legal Aid Scheme, pleaded for a 10-year jail sentence and three strokes of the cane. "Mr Lim's IQ is in the borderline range. He has a full-scale intelligence quotient of 74... Mr Lim is genuinely remorseful for his actions," he said.

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Town councils to take legal action only as last resort

Straits Times
13 Mar 2018
Grace Leong

New approach for some offences among steps to refine court processes

Residents who run afoul of town council bylaws or fail to pay service and conservancy charges (S&CC) will face court action only if they fail to settle their offences through new protocols.

The new approach of making legal action a last resort is part of a slew of new initiatives unveiled by the State Courts yesterday at their annual Workplan seminar to refine court processes and better serve users.

Other initiatives include pre-action protocols that seek to encourage negotiations towards settlement of defamation offences before writs are filed.

Justice See Kee Oon, the presiding judge of the State Courts, said yesterday that two pre-action protocols for town council prosecutions are slated for implementation next month.

These will prescribe steps that a council must take before initiating criminal prosecution for some regulatory offences under the Town Councils Act. These offences include unlawfully parking a vehicle on common property, obstruction of common property and non-payment of S&CC charges.

These offences - which are considered low-level and punishable with fines only - accounted for more than 95 per cent of all the town council cases that were filed in the State Courts last year.

Nearly 86 per cent were settled. The charges were then withdrawn - but not before a lot of time and public resources were spent.

There are viable and cheaper alternatives to this, Justice See said. These include engaging the offender on a mutually agreeable solution such as an instalment plan. This would allow early settlement of claims at a lower cost before initiating criminal action.

In cases involving non-payment of S&CC, a council must issue at least two notices to the resident before issuing a statutory demand. Councils can also consider filing most of their S&CC claims in the Small Claims Tribunals to recover outstanding payments, said the State Courts.

"The diversion of such offenders away from the criminal justice system also means that valuable court time and resources can be channelled elsewhere," they noted.

The State Courts added that all the town councils they engaged have indicated that they are agreeable in principle to the initiative, which could help them identify residents who face real difficulties in paying the S&CC arrears or composition amounts.

Workers' Party MP Pritam Singh said the Aljunied-Hougang Town Council will support the initiative.

Mr Lim Biow Chuan, MP for Mountbatten, told The Straits Times yesterday: "We are already doing some of the things they asked us to do. When residents are in arrears, we send three reminders. After the third reminder, we send our property manager to visit them.

"For those in financial difficulty, we try to work out an instalment plan with them. Those with long-term financial difficulty are referred to the Social Service Office, and will get assistance to pay. We are generally slow to take legal action, unless they ignore our reminders or don't talk to our property manager."

Mr Lim added: "We hope to engage the State Courts to find out more and whether we are far from what they are prescribing. If we are already in compliance with the protocol, then I don't have an issue with it."

There were also measures aimed at reducing costly and time-consuming defamation proceedings, including introducing protocols to guide parties on the technicalities in defamation actions, ways to improve the quality of pleadings and to encourage constructive negotiations towards settlement.

There were at least 50 defamation writs filed each year between 2013 and last year, peaking at 79 in 2016. This was due to the growth of social media and instant messaging platforms, which also facilitate repeated publication.

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Review how custody of kids is granted in divorce cases: Forum

Straits Times
04 Mar 2018

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's call in his Chinese New Year message to strengthen family ties and create a brighter future for our children struck a chord with me (Setting the foundation for S'pore's future prosperity; Feb 15).

My parents divorced about 10 years ago, when I was just six years old. Since then, life for my family has been tumultuous.

I was separated from my father by order of the court, against both our wishes. My mother got sole care and control of my sister and me.

While living with my mother and maternal grandmother, my sister and I were "taught" to obey their wishes, often at the expense of our interests and schoolwork. My studies suffered badly.

When it came to access time with our dad, my mother would often come up with excuses and "teach" us what to say so as to prevent us from spending time with him.

Throughout this period, I witnessed my father trying ways and means to meet us - while my mother would repeatedly find ways to scuttle the visits.

My sister and I longed desperately to see our father, and felt helpless.

I further witnessed how family court proceedings favoured my mother, making things difficult for my father.

Three years ago, I ran away from my mother's home to live with my father - a very difficult decision for a young boy, but one for which I have no regrets.

My schoolwork has improved tremendously and my father has taught me to become a confident, reliable person.

I often wonder why my sister and I had to go through all this.

Why couldn't the courts have granted shared care and control, which research has shown to be best for children caught in divorce?

From 2005 to 2014, about 5,000 children were involved in divorce cases each year.

I hope the family courts will seriously review the way they grant care and control, and allow children to enjoy the guidance of both parents, even after divorce.

Nicholas Tan

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Man who shot police officer gets life term in jail, caning

Straits Times
20 Mar 2018
K.C. Vijayan

He snatched officer's revolver and fired three rounds, injuring him in attempt to escape

In one of the worst cases of assault against a police officer, a man was jailed for life and given 18 strokes of the cane in the High Court yesterday.

Muhammad Iskandar Sa'at, 26, had snatched the officer's revolver and fired three rounds during a scuffle at the Khoo Teck Puat Hospital in Yishun on June 20, 2015, at around 7pm as he tried to escape from custody. Two rounds penetrated the officer's left thumb and right foot.

Iskandar was in remand for vehicle theft after being charged in the State Courts on the same day. He had sought medical treatment and was escorted to the hospital by two officers.

The delivery man pleaded guilty yesterday to a single charge of having a firearm under the Arms Offences Act in causing hurt to a public servant. Three other charges were taken into consideration for the purpose of sentencing.

In handing down the sentence yesterday, Justice Chan Seng Onn agreed with the prosecution on the aggravating factors involved and stressed this was an extremely serious offence.

The court heard that Iskandar had first attacked Staff Sergeant Muhammad Sadli Razali with an intravenous drip pole while in a room in the hospital meant for patients under police custody. In the ensuing struggle, he forcefully hit the officer at least 13 times with the police T-baton before snatching the revolver and firing three shots.

Deputy Public Prosecutors Kumaresan Gohulabalan and Kelly Ho said Iskandar "went to extreme lengths to try to escape lawful custody", adding that Staff Sgt Sadli "is fortunate to be alive".

"It was fortuitous that Staff Sgt Sadli managed to pull the offender onto the ground to avert a potential tragedy. At least five other persons were in the room or near the room entrance when the offender had possession of the revolver, and were thus in harm's way," said the prosecution.

Two paramedics went to Staff Sgt Sadli's aid at the time, and three uniformed officers subsequently came to the room to help subdue Iskandar and remove the weapon from his hand. When the shots were fired, Iskandar was in a supine position on the floor and his right hand holding the revolver had been pinned down by Staff Sgt Sadli.

In arguing for a deterrent punishment, the prosecution said: "The attack took place during visiting hours in a public hospital when there would invariably be significant human traffic. Such an act of wanton violence in a public place necessarily raises public disquiet and necessitates a heavier sentence."

In his mitigation, Iskandar's assigned lawyers Shashi Nathan and Tania Chin from Withers KhattarWong said their client had struggled with drug addiction. He had last injected himself with heroin some 27 hours before the incident and was struggling with acute withdrawal.

Mr Nathan said Iskandar wanted to escape to explain himself to his girlfriend's family and his parents. His girlfriend was also arrested for the alleged theft.

The lawyer added that Iskandar had intended to use the revolver butt to hit the policeman, and at no time intended to aim the gun at anyone. Mr Nathan said that during the scuffle, both Iskandar and the police officer fell to the ground, and one of the paramedics had placed a pillow over the gun. The pillow was then held by both the police officer and Iskandar. The three shots were fired while the pillow was over the gun.

Mr Nathan said Iskandar accepted full responsibility and made no excuses for his actions, deeply regretting his folly.

After the sentencing, Iskandar broke down and his family members showed relief. Under the law, a person convicted of discharging a firearm can be punished with the death penalty.

"His family and I are both deeply grateful to the prosecution for having carefully considered the circumstances and being fair in reducing the charge," said Mr Nathan.

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Govt sought AGC's advice on parliamentary privilege

Straits Times
13 Mar 2018
Joanna Seow

The Government had sought legal advice on whether Workers' Party chairman Sylvia Lim had breached parliamentary privilege, before Leader of the House Grace Fu officially asked her to withdraw her statement and apologise last Tuesday.

In response to queries from The Sunday Times, Ms Fu's spokesman said the Government had consulted the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC).

She did not say what advice the AGC gave, but added: "Ms Lim was in breach because she should have known that her allegations were untrue, and because of her refusal to withdraw the allegations even after the facts were clarified."

Ms Lim had said on March 1 that she suspected the Government had intended to introduce a goods and services tax hike immediately, but backed down after "test balloons" it floated got a negative response. Several ministers and office-holders then clarified the facts both in and out of the House, but Ms Lim refused to withdraw her statements.

The spokesman said: "The Government seeks the advice of AGC as and when it requires the advice. This is not the first time it has sought advice of AGC on such matters."

Still, Singapore Management University law don Eugene Tan said it is a rare move for the Government to consult the AGC on the matter of how Parliament regulates its affairs and on the conduct of MPs. It suggests that the Government wanted to have the force of the law on its side, so its actions will not be seen as "a political hack job but something grounded in the law", he said.

He added that though "having the AGC's advice gives the Government a stronger footing in the matter", it is ultimately something for Parliament to decide as parliamentary debates also involve a political dimension and breach of parliamentary privilege may not be purely a legal question.

MPs enjoy parliamentary privilege, which means they cannot be sued for what they say in the House. But Ms Fu said in Parliament that it was an abuse of privilege for MPs to knowingly maintain allegations that have been shown to have no factual basis.

The spokesman said the Government had decided that if Ms Lim refused to withdraw her allegations and apologise to the House, Ms Fu would put her - and the rest of the House - on notice.

Last Thursday, Ms Lim said she accepted her suspicion may not be correct, but did not withdraw her statement or apologise.

In response, Ms Fu warned that if Ms Lim repeats such "dishonourable conduct", she would refer the matter to the Committee of Privileges, which can mete out punishments from scoldings to jail time.

Joanna Seow

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Sentencing framework for maid abuse cases

Straits Times
03 Mar 2018
Shaffiq Idris Alkhatib

The Supreme Court laid out a sentencing framework for maid abuse cases yesterday, after Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon signalled the need to review sentencing benchmarks "upwards" for such offences.

First, the court should determine whether the harm caused to the victim was predominantly physical, or both physical and psychological.

For cases that are predominantly physical, the court should consider degree of harm as well as the aggravating and mitigating factors in determining the appropriate sentence. If the abuse was both physical and psychological, the court is to identify the degree of harm caused in relation to each charge. The Supreme Court said psychological harm could be indicated by behaviour that was humiliating or degrading.

Under the framework, a charge involving less serious psychological harm but more serious physical harm would see an indicative sentencing range of between six and 18 months in prison. If harm was both seriously psychological and physical, the range would be between 20 and 30 months in prison.

The courts should adjust each sentence when considering aggravating factors such as the use of a weapon and the abuser's previous convictions, and mitigating factors such as the abuser's remorse.

Finally, the court will then decide which sentences will run consecutively, bearing in mind the duration and frequency of abuse.

Shaffiq Alkhatib

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Lawyer admits being offensive to 2 police officers

Straits Times
20 Mar 2018
K.C. Vijayan

A lawyer who was rapped by a district judge in 2016 for commenting on the breast size of a molestation victim has been slapped with a fine by a disciplinary tribunal over a different matter - his behaviour towards two police officers.

Mr Edmund Wong Sin Yee pleaded guilty to two charges of unprofessional conduct. In the first instance, Mr Wong told Staff Sergeant Lin Yuheng in a telephone conversation in August 2015 that his client would be "happy to sell her body" to pay for legal fees so the lawyer can drag the case for a year.

In the other case, Mr Wong accused Inspector Stanley Qiu of being "cocky" and shouted a four-letter word at him over the phone in May 2016. The officer was investigating one of Mr Wong's clients for suspected extortion.

The tribunal, appointed by the Chief Justice and comprising Senior Counsel Molly Lim and lawyer Carrie Seow ruled the language Mr Wong used as "highly inappropriate, objectionable and totally unacceptable" in its report released last week.

The tribunal recommended that he be fined $3,000 for each of the two offences and pay $3,000 in costs. The recommendations will be considered by the Law Society's governing council.

The lawyer had previously been in trouble for his behaviour in court. In 2016, a disciplinary tribunal fined him $3,000 and ordered him to pay the Law Society $6,500 in costs.

Besides uttering an expletive in court, he had made a snide remark during a vice-related trial when he asked the prosecution witness if she had found the sexual act she performed on a customer "shiok", a colloquial term for enjoyable.

As for the breast size comment, a disciplinary tribunal which probed the case last year referred his misconduct to the Court of Three Judges, which is due to hear the case in May.

In mitigation, Mr Wong, through lawyer Bala Chandran, apologised for the language used on the two officers, explaining it was not meant to offend but was uttered in the heat of the moment out of frustration in his dealings with police for his clients.

Lawyers Chandra Mohan Rethnam and Doreen Chia, who prosecuted the case for the Law Society, called for fines on the higher end of the $20,000 spectrum to be imposed to reflect reprobation of his conduct. The tribunal made clear that using offensive words out of frustration did not justify the misconduct as there are other avenues for him to deal with any complaints he had against the police officers.

"The police and other law enforcement agencies and members of the public are entitled to expect (a lawyer), when dealing with them, to behave in a manner befitting his professional standing both as an officer of the Supreme Court and as a member of an honourable profession," said the tribunal.

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Robust debates in the House: How far is too far?

Straits Times
13 Mar 2018
Ng Jun Sen

Parliamentary privilege allows MPs to speak without fear of being sued. But when does this cross into abuse of power?

The Budget debate may be over, but one aspect still sticks in people's minds: the exchanges between Workers' Party (WP) leaders and several People's Action Party (PAP) ministers.

During the Budget round-up debate on March 1, WP chairman Sylvia Lim voiced her suspicion that the Government had intended to raise the goods and services tax (GST) immediately but that it backtracked after negative public reaction. While later acknowledging that her suspicion "may have been wrong", Ms Lim refused to withdraw her comment and apologise for it.

Her rationale: Her "honest suspicion" was based on a sequence of events - including the Government's non-denial of public chatter that a GST hike was imminent. In articulating it, she was doing her "duty as an MP to convey ground concerns, reactions and confusion". No one knew the truth of the GST hike except for the Cabinet, she added.

In response, Leader of the House Grace Fu said that in refusing to retract the comment and apologise, Ms Lim's conduct fell short of the standard of integrity and honour expected of members.

The Aljunied GRC MP had suggested that the Government was dishonest, and had tarnished the reputations of leaders who had earlier made it clear that tax revenues needed to be raised in the long run, said Ms Fu.

"I must put the honourable member on notice, and the rest of the House too, that if she repeats such dishonourable conduct and abuse parliamentary privilege, I'll refer the matter to the Committee of Privileges," said the minister in charge of order and procedure in Parliament.

A spokesman for Ms Fu said yesterday that the Government had sought the advice of the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) on the matter.

She said Ms Fu had made her statement in Parliament last Tuesday - asking Ms Lim to withdraw her comments and apologise - "after taking AGC's advice". She did not say what advice the AGC gave.

The Committee of Privileges looks into alleged breaches of parliamentary privilege. Being referred to it is no small deal - punishment ranges from, at the very least, a reprimand or admonishment by the Speaker, to being fined up to $50,000, to being suspended and even jailed during the duration of a parliamentary session.

Insight looks at what parliamentary privilege is, and where the line is drawn between allowing MPs to raise suspicions in a relatively unfettered way and abuse of that privilege.


When MPs debate, parliamentary privilege guarantees their ability to speak freely on any issue - without fearing they will be sued.

After all, they must be able to talk about any topic, person or organisation for the sake of unimpeded debate, say law academics.

Beyond the freedom of speech, this privilege comes with the purpose of ensuring that Parliament can guard its own proceedings and internal affairs from court interference. This is derived from the Westminster parliamentary system, which Singapore inherited from British colonial rule.

Says constitutional law expert Kevin Tan Yew Lee of the National University of Singapore law faculty: "It is the privilege accorded to parliamentarians to enable them to best do their job. This includes the right to speak without fear or favour in Parliament, since nothing they say can be the subject of any libel action outside the court."

However, parliamentary privilege, as its name suggests, is a privilege and not an absolute right. It can be withdrawn and the Speaker of the House has some discretion over where the limits are, says comparative politics researcher Felix Tan from SIM Global Education. Parliament holds the final power to rule, acting upon the recommendations of the Committee of Privileges.

Where a comment crosses the line into abuse is a "grey area", he adds.

The late British constitutional theorist Erskine May has noted that there are no clear lines on breaches of privilege. To list every act of contempt for Parliament would be in vain as the power to punish for contempt is, by nature, discretionary, he wrote.

Last Thursday, Ms Fu made the Singapore Parliament's position more explicit, saying MPs are "not entitled to make unsubstantiated allegations without taking steps to check the facts or knowingly maintain the allegations that have been shown to have no factual basis".

This, she said, does not contradict what Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had said last year on the function of parliamentary privilege.

During the debate on the Oxley Road dispute, PM Lee noted that one reason why parliamentary privilege exists "(is) so that MPs who have heard troubling allegations or news, can make these allegations and raise the matters in the House even if they are not completely proven and may be defamatory, without fear of being sued for defamation".

He added: "If you think something is wrong, even if you are not fully sure, then come to this House, confront the Government, ask for explanations and answers."

This was what she did, argued Ms Lim, in citing PM Lee's quote last Thursday. She said on March 1: "(In) earlier debates, even PAP MPs were encouraged to come to the House to convey even rumours, so that the Government has the opportunity to refute them. This is the value of this Chamber."

But Ms Fu said last week: "Before we bring the opinions, the speculations, the views, the unhappiness to this Chamber, we need to check the facts. Ms Lim has admitted that she didn't do so in the first instance."


So what should one make of Ms Lim's case, when the timing of introducing a GST hike is known only by Cabinet ministers?

Those interviewed are in general agreement with Ms Lim's argument that MPs should be allowed to surface points they are uncertain about in the House, so that the Government has an opportunity to refute them.

Deputy Speaker and PAP MP Seah Kian Peng tells Insight that MPs should have the chance to raise and clarify points with "good intent".

Adjunct professor Kevin Tan agrees that deliberately "casting unjustified aspersions" on any MP can be taken as malice - a possible breach of parliamentary privilege.

But in Ms Lim's case, parliamentary privilege should allow her suspicions to be raised for the sake of robust debate, he says.

He adds: "It is no abuse to use one's parliamentary time to ask genuine questions or to clear reasonable doubts and suspicions.

"The Government is being overly sensitive. Opposition parliamentarians are supposed to ask difficult and uncomfortable questions - that's what the privilege is for."

One issue raised, though, is whether Ms Lim could have phrased her suspicions better as a question rather than a statement.

Says Dr Felix Tan: "It is a duty and right for an MP to ask questions, but it does not legitimise spreading perceptions about other MPs. It is all about phrasing it as a matter of inquiry, rather than making a statement that can insinuate fault."

Last Thursday, Ms Lim and WP chief Low Thia Khiang noted that Ms Lim had articulated her suspicion "in the heat of exchange". But Ms Lim also insisted that she did not accuse the Government of being untruthful as alleged, calling it a characterisation "borne out of overactive imaginations and oversensitivity".

A second issue is what Ms Lim should have done after the Government had proven her initial suspicion wrong.

In her statement last Thursday, she acknowledged it "may have been wrong". Mr Low also said that with the Government now having laid out all the facts, "it's clear that the Government has no intention to raise GST at that point in time and Ms Lim's suspicion wasn't really correct at that point in time".

This was important, said Senior Minister of State for Communications and Information and Health Chee Hong Tat yesterday, in explaining why the Government pursued the matter. It was thinking ahead to potential future political attacks by the WP using the matter - including during the next general election.

"We got her to admit, and Mr Low to confirm, that her suspicions were wrong... The WP can now no longer rely on this falsehood to attack the Government's credibility and trustworthiness. This will make for a more honest debate, in Parliament and outside."

A third issue then is whether, having acknowledged that her suspicions may have been incorrect, Ms Lim needed to retract her comment or apologise. She said no, as she felt there was basis for her suspicion to be aired in the first place.

But Mr Seah, who is a member of the Committee of Privileges, which is chaired by the Speaker and made up of MPs, said: "Subsequently, if proven to be untrue, it is only right to withdraw the statement."

Asked about Ms Lim's case, law academic and former attorney-general Walter Woon concurred with Mr Seah. He said the rationale for parliamentary privilege is to allow MPs to speak freely.

"But if shown that they are mistaken, then they should do the honourable thing and apologise. Parliamentary privilege is not an excuse for character assassination or spreading fake news."

Apologising in Parliament for a misstep is not unfamiliar to Dr Woon, a Nominated MP (NMP) from 1992 to 1996. In 1993, he told The Straits Times that he did not speak in the debates into each ministry's budget as the time given was too short.

Then Speaker Tan Soo Khoon said his words were "inaccurate" and "served to undermine the dignity of the House". The following week, Dr Woon apologised to the House for trivialising the proceedings of Budget debates.

Dr Woon added last week: "Merely withdrawing the statement does not mean that the MP accepts that he was wrong. An apology, if sincere, is a token of remorse."

Speaking generally about retractions and apologies in Parliament, law academic Eugene Tan says MPs should withdraw their statements if proven to be inaccurate, so that the facts and the proper account are placed on public record through Hansard - the official transcripts of debates in the House. "The apology follows as a matter of course for the breach of parliamentary norms."

Going back to MPs' role in surfacing rumours and suspicions in the House, the former NMP noted that there is merit to this.

But "the key question is to what extent".

"MPs cannot be purveyors of all sorts of rumours and suspicions in Parliament, and Parliament cannot be the clearing house of rumours and suspicions."

The Committee of Privileges looks into alleged breaches of parliamentary privilege. Being referred to it is no small deal - punishment ranges from, at the very least, a reprimand or admonishment by the Speaker, to being fined up to $50,000, to being suspended and even jailed during the duration of a parliamentary session.

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Longer jail term for man in maid abuse case

Straits Times
03 Mar 2018
Shaffiq Idris Alkhatib

But no change for his wife as High Court sets sentencing guidelines

The High Court has upheld the conviction of a married couple found guilty in a district court of abusing their Indonesian maid for almost two years, even increasing the sentence for the husband.

The court has also laid out a sentencing framework for maid abuse cases. If the abuse is both physical and psychological, the court will identify the degree of harm caused in relation to each charge.

This comes after Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon signalled in 2016 the need to review sentencing benchmarks "upwards" for maid abuse offences.

For instance, for a charge where there is less serious psychological harm but more serious physical harm, the indicative sentencing range would be between six and 18 months.

Delivering the decision yesterday, following appeals against the couple's conviction and sentence, Justice See Kee Oon said that former regional IT manager Tay Wee Kiat's original sentence of 28 months' jail will be increased to 43 months. However, the jail term of his wife, Chia Yun Ling, 41, remains at two months.

Justice See heard the case as part of a panel of three judges, which included Chief Justice Menon and Judge of Appeal Tay Yong Kwang. Yesterday, Justice See said that Tay's original sentence was "manifestly inadequate", given the degree of psychological harm inflicted.

In one incident, Tay, 39, forced his two maids - Ms Fitriyah, 34, who is an Indonesian, and Ms Moe Moe Than, 28, a Myanmar national - to slap each other 10 times.

But the physical pain was only half the story, said Justice See.

He added: "This punishment was both humiliating and degrading, particularly given that Tay forced them to bow and get up 100 times before a Buddhist altar, notwithstanding the fact that the victim is Muslim and Moe Moe Than is Christian.

"The extent of humiliation, bullying and cruelty reflected in Tay's behaviour placed this charge firmly in the category of more serious psychological harm."

Another "highly humiliating and degrading" incident occurred when Tay forced the two maids to place themselves in a push-up position. He then kicked Ms Fitriyah and she hit a glass panel.

Justice See also highlighted a third incident which involved "humiliating treatment", when Tay forced Ms Fitriyah to stand on a stool while holding another stool above her head. He then pushed a plastic bottle into her mouth and made her stay in that position for about 30 minutes.

Justice See said: "Tay's behaviour in this regard was plainly cruel and almost sadistic."

Chia, a former senior sales manager, slapped Ms Fitriyah some time between June and December 2012 and punched her on the forehead on Dec 7 that year.

But the court found that her culpability was nowhere near her husband's. Justice See said the harm from her offences was relatively minor and Ms Fitriyah did not appear to have any lasting injury.

After a 14-day trial, District Judge Shaiffudin Saruwan had earlier found the couple guilty of abusing Ms Fitriyah and sentenced them in March last year.

Ms Fitriyah had worked for them in their Yishun home from Dec 7, 2010, to Dec 12, 2012.

Tay was convicted of 12 charges, while his wife was convicted of two. Their maid abuse trial involving Ms Moe Moe Than is ongoing.

The court has allowed the couple's sentences to begin after the end of the trial involving the Myanmar national.

43 months

Sentence of former regional IT manager Tay Wee Kiat. His original sentence of 28 months' jail was "manifestly inadequate", according to Justice See Kee Oon.

2 months

Sentence of his wife, Chia Yun Ling, remains the same.

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Paedophile football coach gets 26 years in jail and 24 strokes

Straits Times
20 Mar 2018
Grace Leong

He started as a helper in 2012 coaching an amateur football team that comprised mainly of teens aged 12 to 17.

Two years later, he took over as coach and began recruiting much younger boys. Within months, he sexually assaulted them.

For sexually abusing seven boys between the ages of eight and 11, Bernard Tan Meng Soon was sentenced by the High Court yesterday to 26 years in jail and 24 strokes of the cane after pleading guilty to five charges of sexual assault by penetration, with 20 other charges taken into consideration.

He has been in custody since his arrest on Oct 1, 2015.

To recruit young boys for the team, Tan created and distributed pamphlets outside primary schools and in neighbourhoods in the north-west of Singapore.

By 2015, most of the team members were primary school boys aged 12 or below. Tan, 28, who was diagnosed a paedophile in 2016, had committed the offences from 2014 through September 2015.

In seeking a sentence of at least 27 years in jail and 24 cane strokes, the prosecution noted that Tan's "risk of reoffending has been assessed as at least moderate to high". He deliberately sought to isolate the boys in public places like toilet cubicles, where he would perform oral sex on them and "gratify his own perverse desires".

Tan, who was diagnosed as having low IQ as a child, told the court yesterday: "I know I have done wrong." His lawyer Wee Hong Shern said Tan himself was sodomised by a bus driver when he was 15. He argued that Tan's offences were "not as egregious" as none had involved penetration.

But Justice Valerie Thean said "the aggravating factors are the abuse of his position of trust as a football coach, his premeditation in using the guise of the football club, advertising through fliers and engaging with parents, and the extreme youth of the victims, as young as eight years old. Key here is the vulnerability of the victims and the degree of exploitation involved".

Justice Thean added that Tan has no mental disability and understood what he did, and the nature and consequences of his acts.

But she also noted that his guilty plea saved "the extremely young victims the trauma of a trial".

Tan's modus operandi was to pick up some of the boys from their homes and send them back after training, to get their parents' permission to join the team. Investigators found 13 videos of Tan performing oral sex on a boy in his Facebook Messenger account.

One of his victims, a 10-year-old boy at the time, was lured to a nursing room at Bukit Panjang Plaza where Tan first performed an oral sex act on him on Aug 17, 2015. Not understanding why Tan was doing it, the boy decided to count silently until 250 before Tan finally stopped, the prosecutors said.

After the boy had been sexually assaulted on eight more occasions in two months, he told his parents on Sept 24, 2015, that he did not want to go for further football training. On further questioning, he revealed what Tan had been doing. The next day, the parents lodged a police report, and Tan was arrested at his home.

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When politicians cross the line

Straits Times
13 Mar 2018
Ng Jun Sen

While rarely used, the Parliament (Privileges, Immunities and Powers) Act introduced in 1962 has had one revision - in 1986 following several breaches of privilege by the late Workers' Party (WP) chief J.B. Jeyaretnam that same year.

The Anson MP was referred to the Committee of Privileges four times - once in 1982 and three times in 1986 - having accused the Government of tampering with the judiciary on multiple occasions, and the police of abusing their powers of detention.

Mr Jeyaretnam was fined $1,000 for two counts of breach of parliamentary privilege - the maximum fine. He remains the only MP to be fined for contempt of Parliament, and his 1986 examples are still considered the most serious transgressions in the House. Later, he was also fined $25,000 for publishing a distorted report of the committee's proceedings and $1,000 for not declaring a pecuniary interest in a question he raised.

Singapore Management University law don Eugene Tan says the incidents demonstrate that MPs are "expected to exercise parliamentary privilege responsibly and scrupulously". The lesson learnt from 1986, he says, is that parliamentary privilege "is not a guise for scurrilous attacks on individuals and institutions".

"(It showed) Parliament does not tolerate what it regards as the abuse of parliamentary privilege as it lowers the House's standing and brings disrepute to the legislative branch of the government."

Also in 1986, House Leader S. Dhanabalan introduced amendments to the relevant Act. Once passed, these provided for transgressors to be jailed or expelled, and fines were raised to the current maximum - $50,000 per count.

The new law was used in 1996 when the Singapore Democratic Party's Dr Chee Soon Juan, Mr Wong Hong Toy, Mr S. Kunalen and Mr Kwan Yue Keng were found to have submitted false documents in a written submission to a select committee on healthcare subsidies for polyclinics and hospitals.

They were not MPs at the time, and were fined $25,000, $13,000, $8,000 and $5,000 respectively.

Cases where MPs apologised for their statements include:

2018 WP Non-Constituency MP Leon Perera said a truncated online video of his parliamentary speech was put up in full only after he e-mailed broadcaster Mediacorp. His account was refuted by Senior Minister of State for Communications and Information Chee Hong Tat and later by House Leader Grace Fu, who asked Mr Perera to apologise and withdraw his statements. He apologised for the "incorrect recollections", saying he did not deliberately misrepresent the facts.

2009 People's Action Party MP Sin Boon Ann (Tampines GRC) cited an e-mail he got from a person unknown to him when criticising The Straits Times for its reporting of the Aware saga. He had not verified its contents, he said in Parliament, but "would not be surprised if it were true and would be very concerned if it is". Mr Sin apologised the next day for a "lack of due diligence", and House Leader Mah Bow Tan later issued a stern reminder to all MPs to not rely on unsubstantiated allegations.

2002 Former Speaker Tan Soo Khoon (East Coast GRC) suggested that Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and the Public Transport Council (PTC) deliberately misled Parliament and Singaporeans on public transport fare increases.

This was untrue as DPM Lee had earlier informed the House that the PTC was reviewing fare revisions, clarified Transport Minister Yeo Cheow Tong. Mr Tan apologised, saying: "There is no basis for that suggestion and I withdraw it."

Ng Jun Sen

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Infrastructure Office to be launched in October

Business Times
03 Mar 2018
Janice Heng

As a leading financial centre, Singapore is uniquely placed to address the problems involved in financing infrastructure projects in Asia, said Senior Minister of State for Law Indranee Rajah, explaining the role of the Infrastructure Office which will be launched in October 2018.

Over the next 15 years, an estimated US$26 trillion may be spent on infrastructure projects in Asia, she said in her ministry's Committee of Supply debate yesterday.

"Many of such projects are looking for financing, and financers are looking for projects to fund.

"But the projects are unable to obtain financing due to lack of bankability, usually occasioned by the lack of proper project preparation, project structuring, and technical issues."

This is where Singapore comes in.

Ms Indranee noted that Singapore-based banks have provided loans or financial advisory services for an estimated 60 per cent of infrastructure projects in Asean.

Also located here are commercial banks with project finance teams and project structuring expertise; multilateral development banks; and professional services firms, from law firms to engineering consultancies. Minister for Trade and Industry (Industry) S Iswaran cited Asia's infrastructure growth as an opportunity that cuts across multiple sectors, including financial services, professional services, precision engineering and construction.

The upcoming Infrastructure Office aims to deepen understanding of the project pipeline, promote collaboration between foreign and local firms across the entire infrastructure value chain, and facilitate projects, he said.

Set up by Enterprise Singapore and the Monetary Authority of Singapore, the Office will also tap agencies such as the Economic Development Board and the Professional Services Programme Office.

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StanChart, StanChart Trust fined $6.4m for breaches

Straits Times
20 Mar 2018
Siow Li Sen

Penalties for breaching money laundering rules and terrorism financing safeguards

The Monetary Authority of Singapore has imposed penalties of $5.2 million on Standard Chartered Bank, Singapore Branch (SCBS) and $1.2 million on Standard Chartered Trust (Singapore) (SCTS) for breaching its anti-money laundering and countering of financing terrorism requirements.

These breaches occurred when trust accounts of SCBS' customers were transferred from Standard Chartered Trust (Guernsey) to SCTS from December 2015 to January 2016, said MAS yesterday.

MAS said it found SCBS' and SCTS' risk management and controls in relation to the transfers to be unsatisfactory.

The transfers occurred shortly before the Common Reporting Standard (CRS) for the automatic exchange of financial account information in tax matters were implemented in the English Channel island of Guernsey.

"The timing of the transfers raised questions of whether the clients were attempting to avoid their CRS reporting obligations," said MAS.

"However, SCBS and SCTS did not adequately assess and mitigate against this risk factor, and also failed to file suspicious transaction reports in a timely manner," it said.

Last October, reports said Indonesia was investigating news that US$1.4 billion (S$1.8 billion) held by StanChart in Guernsey, mainly on behalf of Indonesian clients, was transferred to Singapore in 2015, just before the Channel island implemented tax transparency rules.

Under these rules, countries automatically share annual reports on accounts belonging to people subject to taxes in each nation.

Britain, Guernsey and Singapore are signatories, but Guernsey, a known tax haven, implemented the rules ahead of Singapore.

Endorsed by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development and the Global Forum for Transparency and Exchange of Information for Tax Purposes in 2014, the CRS sets out the financial account information to be exchanged, the financial institutions required to report, the different types of accounts and taxpayers covered, as well as the customer due diligence procedures to be followed by the financial institutions.

To date, more than 100 jurisdictions, including Singapore, have committed to implementing the CRS. Singapore will begin automatically sharing financial account information in tax matters this year.

MAS said that in determining the regulatory action, it took into consideration mitigating factors. It said SCBS had proactively notified the regulator of its internal review on the trust accounts, and SCBS and SCTS management "showed strong commitment" to address the deficiencies identified by MAS.

It added that both SCBS and SCTS have taken prompt and substantive remedial measures to strengthen their risk management and controls in anti-money laundering/combating the financing of terrorism.

MAS deputy managing director Ong Chong Tee said that MAS requires financial institutions to adequately assess money laundering risks when deciding whether to accept customers. "They should also have in place good systems and processes to monitor customer transactions. We expect financial institutions to remain vigilant by instilling a strong risk culture."

Said a StanChart spokesman: "We regret that we fell short of our own standards in adequately mitigating the risks involving some clients who might have attempted to avoid reporting obligations under the Common Reporting Standard by transferring their trusteeships...

"We proactively reported it to the authorities, conducted a thorough review of the relevant trust structures, and made structural and procedural changes to ensure that our employees are better equipped to identify, assess, and mitigate potential risks."

The spokesman declined to identify the clients and would not say if they remain clients of the bank. But she said that neither assets nor money was involved in the trusts transfer.

"The clients requested for the transfer of the administration of their trusts - trusteeships - from Guernsey to Singapore," she said.

On whether the clients were trying to evade taxes, she said: "Standard Chartered Bank takes a strong position against tax evasion. We do not provide clients with tax advice... and we do not assist or facilitate clients in hiding from their tax-reporting obligations."

She added: "We are committed to our ongoing programme of further strengthening our financial crime controls."

The spokesman said that StanChart has an ongoing training programme to strengthen internal controls and culture, including timely training to stay updated with the latest developments.

"We will continue to monitor, review and strengthen these measures to bolster our overall defence against potential financial crime risks."

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Flood of proposals on countering fake news

Straits Times
13 Mar 2018
Seow Bei Yi

164 submissions received; 79 individuals and groups invited to give their views at hearings.

A high-level committee of ministers and Members of Parliament tasked to look into ways Singapore can counter deliberate online falsehoods has received 164 submissions, the highest number collected by such a committee.

Media organisations, technology companies, foreign and local academics and experts, commentators as well as members of the public were among those who had written in to the Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods - Causes, Consequences and Countermeasures.

The Office of the Clerk of Parliament said in a statement yesterday that 79 individuals and organisations have been invited to give their views at the hearings the committee will hold from Wednesday.

The committee was set up in January to recommend how Singapore can tackle online falsehoods, which can range from fake news for commercial purposes to sophisticated state-sponsored disinformation campaigns with political aims.

MPs from both sides of the House had voted unanimously to form the committee after a debate. They also discussed a Green Paper issued by the Ministry of Law and Ministry of Communications and Information on the challenges and implications posed by online falsehoods.

The original deadline for submissions to the committee was Feb 28, but it was extended for a week to let more people write in.

The previous record of 99 submissions was held by the 1988 Select Committee on the Parliamentary Elections (Amendment) Bill.

At the public hearings next week, the committee will get to scrutinise the proposals further.

Those invited to the hearings were "selected to represent a cross-section of different stakeholder groups, or because their written representations require further clarification", said the Office of the Clerk of Parliament.

A concern raised in some of the submissions is the definition of deliberate online falsehoods.

Some said that too broad a definition could end up catching inaccurate speech, while one that is too limited may not be effective in countering the growing problem of fake news.

They suggested a distinction be made between different types of falsehoods, which can range from urban myths to health and financial information to false political news.

Many called for better public education on media literacy, saying that it is the best way to help people develop the skills needed to assess the veracity of information they read.

Others wondered if legislation would be necessary, given that existing laws on sedition, online harassment, religious harmony and telecommunications already punish people for spreading falsehoods online, and allow for the false information to be taken down.

But some felt that both legislative and non-legislative approaches were needed to counter the spread of fake news.

Chaired by Deputy Speaker Charles Chong, the Select Committee comprises nine other members: Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam; Social and Family Development Minister Desmond Lee; Senior Minister of State for Communications and Information as well as Education Janil Puthucheary; People's Action Party MPs Seah Kian Peng, Rahayu Mahzam, Sun Xueling and Edwin Tong; Workers' Party MP Pritam Singh and Nominated MP Chia Yong Yong.

Some suggestions

Committee of experts to clarify falsehoods

Parliament or the Council of Presidential Advisers to pick experts from the civil service, academia, the arts and civil society for a committee that will clarify fake news that can cause inter-religious and inter-ethnic disputes. Its scope could be expanded when necessary, said Associate Professor Alan Chong of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS).

Working with alternative and social media companies

Research shows that direct contradiction of fake news can be counter-productive, as people respond best to those perceived to be more similar to them. Given this, the authorities could work with alternative media outlets and social media firms to debunk falsehoods, said RSIS academics Norman Vasu, Benjamin Ang, Terri-Anne Teo, Shashi Jayakumar, Muhammad Faizal and Juhi Ahuja.

Media literacy education curriculum

A curriculum for media literacy education, focusing on reading critically and civic and political participation, could help Singaporeans engage in more informed public dialogue, said freelance journalist Kirsten Han. It should start in primary schools.

Seow Bei Yi

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Fund proposed for legal clients' unclaimed money

Straits Times
03 Mar 2018
Selina Lum

Law Society to handle funds, which will be invested or used for pro bono legal services

A new fund for legal services may be set up to handle client money that is left unclaimed - for instance, if the sole proprietor of a law firm dies and his clients do not come forward to claim their money.

If the proposal is passed in Parliament, the money in this fund will be invested or used to fund pro bono legal services.

The fund will be managed by the Law Society.

Should the clients later surface, they can make a claim within six years for their money, although the society also has the discretion to make ex-gratia payments after the limitation period.

The Legal Profession (Amendment) Bill, to introduce the framework for the Unclaimed Money Fund, was tabled in Parliament yesterday.

Under the existing Legal Profession Act, lawyers are required to hold clients' money in a separate account until the money is returned or paid out according to the clients' instructions.

Also, in specified circumstances - such as when a sole proprietor dies, is made bankrupt or becomes incapacitated - the Law Society has powers to intervene in client accounts.

The money in such a situation - known as "intervention money" - is paid into a special account for the society to administer and, where possible, return to the lawful owners.

As of March 31 last year, the society held in trust $379,131 in intervention money.

Currently, intervention money unclaimed after six years will be transferred to the Compensation Fund, which was set up to compensate those who suffer financial losses because of dishonest lawyers.

With the proposed changes, intervention money will be channelled to the Unclaimed Money Fund instead.

The proposed framework also provides a fix for another set of circumstances, currently not provided for in the Act.

There have been cases where lawyers are unable to retire or close their firms because they are holding money from a client who has gone incommunicado.

With the proposed changes, lawyers will have the option of transferring unclaimed client money to the new fund. This will relieve them of the burden and expense of maintaining the client account, allow lawyers who wish to retire to do so, and allow the unclaimed money to be used for a public good, said the Law Ministry.

Law Society president Gregory Vijayendran said: "Increasingly, with cross-border work and foreign clients, we're talking about a few situations - for example, refunding balances in the client account - in which you may not be able to trace the individual concerned, even with the best efforts."

The society said sums tend to be small, residual amounts, with a five-figure sum in one case.

Also in the Bill are new measures in the disciplinary process for lawyers.

Those who commit relatively minor breaches of professional conduct may now be sent for specified training or counselling, adding to the available measures that can be used to discipline errant members of the profession.

Currently, the Law Society council can sanction errant lawyers by imposing a financial penalty or issuing a warning or a reprimand.

The new remedial measures, which focus on rehabilitation, can be imposed in lieu of, or in addition to, existing sanctions, allowing a more nuanced approach.

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Video-recordings of suspects' statements to start in phases

Straits Times
20 Mar 2018
Selina Lum

Use of new procedure in specified rape cases first among slew of changes to criminal justice system

The video-recording of statements from suspects will be introduced in phases, starting with the interviews of those accused of specified rape offences, Senior Minister of State for Law Indranee Rajah said yesterday.

The video recording of such interviews is mandatory, she added, disclosing that enough police officers have been trained to implement the first phase.

This new requirement is among more than 50 diverse changes spanning the criminal justice system that were approved by Parliament after debate yesterday. These related to matters ranging from investigations to court processes to sentencing.

Ms Indranee said video-recording the interviews of the rape suspects will allow the courts to take into account their demeanour, and also provide an objective account to help the court decide on allegations that may arise over how the interview was conducted.

But the legislation will allow for flexibility to take into account operational exigencies, she added.

For example, there may be a need to record a handwritten statement immediately at the crime scene where a suspect is arrested.

The Government plans to eventually let video statements of vulnerable victims be used in place of their oral testimony in court.

It will monitor the first phase before deciding how to put it into operation because the video-recording of victims' statements involves complex issues, said Ms Indranee.

During the debate, Members of Parliament expressed support for the video-recording of suspects' statements, saying it makes the interview process more transparent.

Mr Patrick Tay (West Coast GRC) said the move heeds the "longstanding calls from the legal fraternity".

Mr Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC) said video-recording protects both the interrogator and the person being interrogated. It deters the use of coercive practices by investigators and prevents the accused from making false claims that their statements had not been given voluntarily, he said.

But some aspects of the regime worry MPs such as Mr Ng.

He noted that video-recording would reduce instances of false confessions only if it captures the entire interaction between investigator and suspect.

He asked if there are guidelines to ensure the entire interview is recorded. The footage should focus equally on the suspect and the police officer, and show the whole room, he said.

Nominated MP Kok Heng Leun said that if threats, inducements and promises were offered to the suspect before the video-recording, that would defeat its purpose.

Ms Indranee said it would not be feasible to record every exchange between a police officer and the accused person from the time of arrest until statement-taking.

She said the rooms for video-recorded interviews are purpose-built to ensure good quality of sound as well as picture.

One camera focuses on the interviewee and another captures an overview of the entire room.

Nominated MP Mahdev Mohan asked why defence counsel are not allowed to have copies of the recordings.

Ms Indranee said that this was to safeguard against recordings being leaked, lost or misplaced. Defence lawyers can view the recording at an approved place as many times as they want. They will also be given a transcript, she added.

The wide-ranging changes to the Criminal Procedure Code and Evidence Act also include protection measures for victims of sexual and child abuse; the introduction of deferred prosecution agreements in which corporations can be given amnesty from prosecution in exchange for complying with certain conditions; an expansion of the eligibility criteria for community sentences; and strengthening the bail regime.

"These amendments, when set against the background of the changes that we have made over the past decade, are comprehensive and progressive," said Ms Indranee. "They keep pace with the evolving values of society and with international best practices."

Other changes under the Criminal Justice Reform Bill


Male police and immigration officers will be empowered to search a woman suspected of committing a terrorist act if they believe in good faith that the act is imminent and the search cannot be made within a reasonable time by a woman officer.

Currently, women can only be searched by female officers.

This will allow searches of women suspected of being terrorists where time is of the essence and any delay could mean loss of lives.

Senior Minister of State for Law Indranee Rajah said that between 1985 and 2008, female suicide bombers carried out more than 230 attacks - about a quarter of all such acts. She cited the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka and the Boko Haram in Nigeria.


Investigators will have powers to access, secure and safeguard evidence on computers, regardless of whether the evidence is stored on a computer inside or outside Singapore.

Many people now use Web-based e-mail accounts or Web storage accounts. Technically, such data may reside in computers outside Singapore, even if the data is accessed from within Singapore.

Ms Indranee said the Government is enhancing computer-related powers of investigation to keep pace with the evolving environment in which crimes increasingly involve the use of computers, smartphones and the Internet.


Convicted offenders will be allowed only one application to reopen a concluded criminal case where all avenues of appeal have been exhausted.

The arguments and evidence raised to support such an application will also have to meet certain threshold tests, in a move to balance preventing miscarriages of justice and the need for finality in criminal proceedings.

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State Courts to set protocol, issue guide for those taking up defamation lawsuits

10 Mar 2018
Toh Ee Ming and Louisa Tang

With the high number of defamation writs being filed in the civil courts in recent years, driven by an increased use of social media and instant messaging platforms, the State Courts is rolling out several initiatives to improve court processes, including publishing a guidebook on damages.

Between 2013 and 2017, there were at least 50 defamation writs filed each year, reaching a high of 79 in 2016.

The number of defamation writes filed in the five-year period between 2008 and 2012 was not available.

In his speech at the State Courts workplan seminar on Friday (March 9), Justice See Kee Oon, who is the presiding judge of the State Courts, noted that social media and instant messaging applications “provide an easy and unrestrained forum for views to be expressed on a vast array of issues that can potentially form the subject matter of defamation actions”.

They also “facilitate repeated publication”, he said.

In view of the growing cases, the State Courts will be introducing a “pre-action” protocol aimed at guiding litigants, or people who want to take legal action, in this area.

This is because defamation law is technical and pleadings are sometimes not well-drafted, Justice See said, and trials are frequently lengthy due to factual disputes. The proceedings can also be time-consuming and costly for the parties involved.

The protocol — which is targeted to be implemented by the end of the year — thus seeks to make clear the technicalities from the start, improve the quality of pleadings, facilitate the early exchange of information, encourage constructive negotiations towards consensual outcomes and settlement, and narrow the issues for trial.

Parties will have to use standard forms for claims and responses, which will guide them to address key issues such as the defences and remedies in relation to the case. They are also required to exchange documents and offers to settle the case, as well as to explore other dispute resolution options, before filing a writ.

“This will assist the parties to better appreciate the relative strengths and weaknesses of their cases, and focus on achieving an amicable resolution,” Justice See said.


In another initiative to enhance the court process, the State Courts will develop a new guide, called the Practitioner’s Guide to Assessment of Damages in Defamation Actions.

It will be the first publication here that collates the Singapore Courts’ decisions on damages awarded in defamation cases. 
Expected to be available in June next year, it will give potential litigants “realistic” expectations of the likely damages to be awarded if they win their suits. It is also expected to help lawyers estimate the quantum of damages to seek for their clients.

Judges, too, will be able to take it as a reference to arrive at the damages to be awarded, to ensure some level of consistency across similar cases.

Justice See said that defamation actions, by nature, are “personal”, and claimants go to court with “heightened emotions and a need for vindication”. Often, they also hope for solutions that are non-monetary in nature, he added.

Having a guide will allow a potential litigant to be “better-placed to conduct a cost-benefit analysis at an early stage to assess if a case should be pursued all the way in court proceedings”, he said.

Other initiatives highlighted in the workplan include a new scheme to connect offenders to volunteer befrienders to help them along in their rehabilitation journey and to try to break the cycle of re-offending. This would apply to those who get jail terms of less than a year.

The volunteers will help to provide emotional support and direct the offenders to agencies to help them secure housing, employment or welfare assistance, and help them build a social network so that they do not turn to peers who would be a negative influence on them. This support scheme is expected to begin in the second quarter of this year.


Commenting on the new initiatives to be taken, lawyers approached by TODAY said that it is a welcomed move, for there is indeed a rising number of defamation writs being filed in court due to a greater use of social media.
However, lawyer Alfred Dodwell called for a “first-step resolution” to offer better protection to people who have been genuinely defamed, rather than have them go through a trial. “If a client is aggrieved, what recourse is allowed? People who really need it should not be put off by the high costs (of a defamation suit),” he said.
Mr Eugene Thuraisingam, who defended blogger Roy Ngerng when Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong took up a defamation suit against him in 2014, said that the damages a person receives when he has not suffered “any special pecuniary (monetary) losses does not justify the legal cost of pursuing the remedy”. The guide would, therefore, allow such people to examine and decide if they should sue for defamation.
“The parties involved should be trying to settle these matters amicably in mediation,” Mr Thuraisingam added.

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No need for three judges to sit in trials for capital cases: Shanmugam

Straits Times
03 Mar 2018
Selina Lum

There is no need for cases involving the death penalty to be tried by a court of three judges since every capital case will eventually come before the appeals court, which will comprise at least three justices, Law Minister K. Shanmugam said in Parliament yesterday, responding to a suggestion from an MP.

During the debate on the budget for the Law Ministry (MinLaw), Mr Christopher de Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) had asked whether Singapore should consider having three judges sit in trials for capital cases. Mr de Souza said trial judges had an important role in deciding questions of fact, which appellate courts seldom disturbed.

Historically, he said, capital offences were the last category of cases in Singapore to be tried by jury and, later, by two trial judges.

He asked if the ministry would be open to studying whether it would be beneficial for the criminal justice system for capital cases to be heard by three High Court judges.

Mr Shanmugam replied: "We haven't yet seen a need to review this. But it does not mean 'no'."

He told the House that since 2012, a person who is sentenced to death but chooses not to appeal must still have a confirmation hearing held by the Court of Appeal.

"That ensures that the imposition of the capital punishment is always reviewed by the apex court of at least three judges. So there is already a two-level process with at least three Judges of Appeal looking at the matter," added Mr Shanmugam.

In his speech, he also announced claim limits in the Small Claims Tribunals will be raised this year.

Mr Patrick Tay (West Coast GRC) had said he hoped MinLaw would review the jurisdiction of the tribunals so that more people can have economical and expedient orders and judgment in their contractual claims. Currently, the tribunals hear claims of up to $10,000. This can be raised to $20,000 by consent from both parties.

Mr Tay noted that many professional freelancers who are on a contract for service use the tribunals when they are not paid for work rendered. Raising the claim limits would be a boon for claimants and freelance workers alike, he said.

In response, Mr Shanmugam said amendments will be introduced this year to allow claims of a higher value. He said it is hoped that this would allow claims at the tribunals to be resolved in a quick and cost-effective manner.

When Mr Tay asked the minister for further details, Mr Shanmugam replied: "In good time."

Selina Lum

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MPs speak out against unsuitable cross-examination of sex victims

Straits Times
20 Mar 2018
Selina Lum

Several Members of Parliament made impassioned speeches yesterday about the inappropriate lines of questioning by defence lawyers in sexual assault trials.

Actual cases were cited as they rose in support of changes to the Evidence Act that will require lawyers for the suspects to ask the court for permission, before they can cross-examine the victims on their sexual history which is not related to the charge.

Nominated MP Kok Heng Leun read out parts of a letter written by a victim of sexual abuse, who was concerned about "unrestrained cross-examination" after reading news reports about a man who had raped his biological mother.

The man's lawyers had argued the woman could have "shut the gates" by crossing her legs, and noted that she had gone about her usual routine instead of calling for help after the rape.

The letter writer said: "I don't know why lawyers, or indeed people, in this day and age continue to believe that sexual assault victims must behave in a certain way... or else they must be lying.

"I don't think I can defend how I behaved after my incident many years ago. I certainly couldn't do it while facing a senior counsel ."

Citing the same case and a few others, Mr Patrick Tay (West Coast GRC) said the victims had been unduly subjected to unnecessary lines of questioning and assertions while on the stand.

He noted that the Law Society is working on guidelines of best practices for questioning children and victims of sexual offences.

He said he hoped the guidelines would "instruct defence counsel to refrain from making baseless submissions that disparage the character, integrity or morality of the victim, or premise their case theory on unsubstantiated myths and stereotypes".

But Nominated MP Mahdev Mohan, referring to a Court of Appeal case in which the accused person was acquitted of rape, questioned if the restrictions would create a "chilling" effect on lawyers in putting forward their client's case.

Senior Minister of State for Law Indranee Rajah replied: "We are not saying that the topic cannot be raised. You must show a very good reason why you are asking those questions."

So long as counsel can show that there is a good reason for asking a question, permission will be given by the court in the interest of justice, she said.

Selina Lum


(The guidelines would) instruct defence counsel to refrain from making baseless submissions that disparage the character, integrity or morality of the victim, or premise their case theory on unsubstantiated myths and stereotypes.

MR PATRICK TAY (West Coast GRC), on his hopes for the guidelines of best practices for questioning children and victims of sexual offences, which the Law Society is working on.

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Court dismisses PropertyGuru's copyright lawsuit

Straits Times
10 Mar 2018
Rachel Au-Yong

Ruling to significantly shape intellectual property law here: Lawyers

The biggest property listing portal in Singapore which said a rival had infringed its copyright had its claims thrown out in the High Court yesterday - a decision that lawyers said would significantly shape intellectual property law here.

Last September PropertyGuru took 99.co to court, claiming it had, among other things, infringed its copyright by reproducing photos bearing the PropertyGuru watermark on the 99.co website without permission.

These photos were first uploaded on the PropertyGuru website by property agents using the site, and were automatically edited to be resized and bear the PropertyGuru watermark.

Later, some of these photos were transferred to the 99.co website through a third-party app, as well as manually through an independent contractor.

In her judgment yesterday, Justice Hoo Sheau Peng said the copying, enlargement or resizing of an artistic work does not make the resulting image a copyrighted work.

She added: "The addition of the watermark does not, in my judgment, make the altered image an original work."

She also threw out PropertyGuru's claims that 99.co had induced property agents to breach their contracts, as well as 99.co's counterclaim that PropertyGuru had made groundless threats.

Commenting on the ruling, Robinson LLC lawyer Cyril Chua said the judgment has "definitively" laid out that "resizing a photograph and slapping on a watermark does not count as having sufficient transformative value". "In this case, I believe there wasn't enough skill, labour and judgment from PropertyGuru to warrant what constitutes a copyright," he said.

In a blog post, 99.co founder and chief executive Darius Cheung called the judgment a "victory for the Internet", noting it was "common sense" that the rights of a photo should ultimately still belong to the user.

However, Justice Hoo ruled in favour of PropertyGuru on a claim that 99.co had breached part of a 2015 settlement agreement, which was to refrain from reproducing any contents from its rival's website.

99.co was found to have "substantially reproduced" one listing with nine photographs on its website. It did so by engaging an independent contractor who manually accessed a housing agent's listings on PropertyGuru and copied them to the 99.co website.

On this count, Justice Hoo granted an injunction to restrain 99.co from continuing to breach the terms of the agreement through such service, and gave 99.co 30 days to stop doing so. PropertyGuru was also given the right to assess damages.

PropertyGuru group executive director Jani Rautiainen said the verdict "sends a strong message about fair play and good business ethics".

"If a business takes an unfair shortcut and breaks the rules, it should be held to account for it," he said.

PropertyGuru group executive director Jani Rautiainen said the verdict "sends a strong message about fair play and good business ethics". In a blog post, 99.co founder and chief executive Darius Cheung called the judgment a "victory for the Internet".

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Considered approach needed for extradition treaties: Indranee

Straits Times
03 Mar 2018
Selina Lum

Workers' Party chairman Sylvia Lim (Aljunied GRC) yesterday asked if the Government planned to increase the number of countries with which Singapore has extradition agreements.

Speaking during the debate on the budget for the Ministry of Law, Ms Lim cited the case of Standard Chartered bank robbery suspect David James Roach, who fled to Thailand in July 2016, a country which has no extradition treaty with Singapore.

She asked if it was acceptable that Singapore currently has extradition arrangements with only 43 out of nearly 200 countries.

Responding to Ms Lim, Senior Minister of State for Finance and Law Indranee Rajah told Parliament that Singapore is open to concluding more extradition treaties and arrangements, but it was not just a matter of numbers alone.

"Negotiating an extradition treaty is not without complexities," said Ms Indranee, adding that the Government would take a "careful and considered approach".

The Government has to consider if an extradition arrangement would be mutually beneficial to Singapore and the other country, and whether any differences in the legal systems of both countries can be rationalised.

Singapore is actively engaged in negotiations for a model Asean extradition treaty, she said. "We have achieved significant progress and, like many other Asean partners, are hopeful that work on this instrument will be concluded as soon as possible," said Ms Indranee.

In her speech, Ms Indranee also revealed that the Government is reviewing means testing for qualification for legal aid. The details will be announced later this year, she said.

Three Members of Parliament, Dr Tan Wu Meng (Jurong GRC), Mr Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC) and Mr Chen Show Mao (Aljunied GRC), spoke about expanding access to legal aid.

Ms Indranee noted that Singapore was the first country in South-east Asia to have a legal aid scheme in 1958. Over the past 60 years, the Legal Aid Bureau has assisted many low-income Singaporeans in civil proceedings, she said.

In terms of criminal legal aid, since 2015, the Government has provided close to $6 million to the Law Society Pro Bono Services, she noted. This enabled the society's Criminal Legal Aid Scheme to help almost four times as many applicants last year, compared with before 2015.


One need only look at the case involving David Roach to illustrate the Asean challenge. Roach was suspected of committing a bank robbery in Singapore in July 2016.

He escaped to our Asean neighbour Thailand, was arrested and convicted of other offences under Thai law, and is only now being extradited from London to Singapore because he was being deported from Thailand to his home country Canada via London.

With the move towards greater Asean integration, the fact that such suspects can go to a fellow Asean country to escape justice does not seem acceptable.

ALJUNIED GRC MP SYLVIA LIM, asking for updates on a proposed Asean extradition treaty and Singapore's efforts to ink more extradition pacts with others, in the light of the extradition case of Canadian robbery suspect David James Roach.

Selina Lum

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Changes to Competition Act passed

Straits Times
20 Mar 2018

The process by which the Competition Commission of Singapore (CCS) gives confidential advice to businesses planning to merge has now been codified, under amendments to the Competition Act passed in Parliament yesterday.

During the debate, Mr Henry Kwek (Nee Soon GRC) asked if the speculated merger between ride-hailing apps Uber and Grab would achieve market dominance and crowd out taxi companies.

Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry Koh Poh Koon replied that the CCS has the power to review any merger which may result in a substantial lessening of competition in any market in Singapore.

The Commission is monitoring the matter, he added.

The new Section 55A applies in situations where information about a merger is not yet in the public domain.

In the spirit of confidentiality, the CCS will base its assessment of such anticipated mergers on information provided by the merging entities.

It will neither request information from any third party nor conduct a public consultation.

As such, advice issued under Section 55A is not binding on the CCS.

Previously, such advice on anticipated mergers was given via a process laid out in the CCS Guidelines on Merger Procedures 2012.

From 2013 to last year, the CCS investigated nearly a hundred cases of potential infringements of the Competition Act.

Responding to Mr Kwek's call for a committee to look into profiteering, Dr Koh said the Government will monitor the situation and take the necessary measures against businesses found to be profiteering.

Other changes to the Act relate to CCS investigations.

Businesses under investigation can now offer legally binding commitments to address any anti-competitive conduct.

This allows the CCS to take action more swiftly against a firm which provides but then breaches a commitment, as the CCS does not need to re-open investigations afresh, Dr Koh told Nominated Member of Parliament Azmoon Ahmad.

The interview process during an inspection has also been streamlined and simplified.

Janice Heng

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Impose parental consent requirement for minors undergoing abortions

Straits Times
10 Mar 2018

I am dismayed that a young girl became pregnant at age 14, underwent an abortion procedure and even had to split the bill with the man - all without her parents' knowledge (Man jailed for having sex with girl, 14, who split the bill for abortion with him; ST Online, March 5).

In Singapore, a person under 18 cannot legally buy cigarettes or alcohol, consent to be married or enter into a contract.

This is based on the principle that young people are unable to fully understand the consequences of their actions and, therefore, are unable to give valid informed consent.

Hence, it is ironic that under the Termination of Pregnancy Act, there is no minimum age for the abortion procedure.

There is also no legal requirement for parental consent for minors to go through abortion.

Why is this so? Abortion is an invasive surgical procedure which carries with it risks of various complications.

Which parent would want their daughter to shoulder the psychological and physical trauma of abortion at such a young age, and without their knowledge and consent?

Parents are primarily responsible for the upbringing of their children. They are in the best position to protect teenage girls from potentially dangerous medical situations before, during and after an abortion.

The child might suffer from depression or there could be post-abortion complications such as infection or haemorrhaging.

The parents might also decide to offer support to their teenage daughter in bringing up the baby, thereby avoiding abortion altogether.

In cases where the parents are abusive, the girl's life is in danger or obtaining parental consent is difficult, exceptions can be made. But let us not let hard cases make bad laws.

Ho Lay Ping (Ms)

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Counselling, training among remedial measures proposed for errant lawyers

02 Mar 2018
Wong Pei Ting

Instead of being handed a warning, a lawyer found to have broken a minor rule may undergo counselling or training in future.

More "nuanced" and "proportionate" disciplinary measures for errant lawyers are among proposed changes to the Legal Profession Act tabled in Parliament on Friday (March 2).

Under the current disciplinary framework, the Council of the Law Society may issue a warning or reprimand, impose a fine or call upon the Court of Three Judges to suspend or disbar a lawyer.

As these measures do not address "the root issue underlying any misconduct", the bill aims to introduce remedial measures for "a more rehabilitative, tailored and effective means of discipline", said the Ministry of Law (MinLaw).

The remedial measures may be implemented in conjunction with, or in place of the existing measures.

Another major proposal deals with an administrative gap in lawyers' handling of their client's unclaimed money — typically the unused portion of fees paid in advance.

Now, the money can only be held and administered by a practising lawyer until it is returned to the client. But if a client becomes uncontactable, the lawyer will be unable to retire from practice unless he pass the account to another practising lawyer.

If he can't find someone to pass it to, he "must continue to incur the expenses associated with maintaining his law practice", said MinLaw.

Under the proposed amendments, lawyers and law practices will have the option of placing the unclaimed money in a new Law Society-administered fund.

The new Unclaimed Money Fund will be used to fund pro bono services provided by the Law Society or its subsidiaries.

Clients may apply to the society to claim the money within six years of its transfer into the fund.

For applications made after six years, the Law Society will have the power to provide discretionary or ex gratia payment.

MinLaw did not provide an estimate of the size of the fund, but the Law Society has over the years accumulated S$379,131 in unclaimed intervention money — from the client accounts it took over from lawyers who died, became bankrupt or mentally or physically incapacitated, among other circumstances.

Under the proposed amendments, the society's unclaimed intervention money will automatically go into the Unclaimed Money Fund after six years.

The bill also seeks to enhance the attractiveness of the Singapore International Commercial Court (SICC) set up in 2015 to deal with cross-border legal disputes. It proposed for non-practising foreign law experts, such as an academic or Judge, to be able to register to appear in the SICC or make submissions on matters of foreign law.

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Drug convict hanged after final bid to reopen case fails

Straits Times
19 Mar 2018
K.C. Vijayan

Court found nothing new in substance in 56-year-old's written and oral arguments

Convicted Singaporean drug trafficker Hishamrudin Mohd was hanged last Friday at Changi Prison Complex after failing on the preceding day - in a final court bid - to reopen his case.

Hishamrudin, 56, had been convicted of trafficking in 34.94g of diamorphine and sentenced to death by the High Court on Feb 2, 2016.

A Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) spokesman said last Saturday that Hishamrudin was arrested in an operation on Oct 7, 2010, during which 59 packets containing 604.05g of powdery and granular substances were recovered from his car. The substances were analysed and found to contain 3.56g of diamorphine, or pure heroin. He was taken to his residence, where 193 packets containing 4,061.68g of powdery and granular substances found to contain 34.94g of pure heroin were recovered.

The CNB spokesman noted that the Misuse of Drugs Act provides for the death penalty if the amount of diamorphine trafficked is more than 15g.

He added that "34.94g of diamorphine is equivalent to about 2,912 straws, sufficient to feed the addiction of about 416 abusers for a week".

Hishamrudin was accorded due process under the law and his appeal against his conviction and sentence was dismissed by the Court of Appeal on July 3 last year. His petitions for clemency to the President also failed.

But last Thursday afternoon, he filed a criminal motion to reopen the case and it was heard before Judges of Appeal Andrew Phang and Judith Prakash, and Justice Hoo Sheau Peng.

Hishamrudin addressed the court in person on the written submissions he had forwarded earlier.

Lawyers Eugene Thuraisingam and Suang Wijaya acted in court as his "McKenzie friends", to help clarify issues. A McKenzie friend helps a litigant who acts in person in court.

After the court heard Hishamrudin's arguments, it adjourned for deliberations, before reconvening about an hour later to deliver its judgment in his presence. The court, in dismissing his application, found that there was nothing new in substance in his written or oral arguments as the points had been previously heard and rejected.

"We have carefully reviewed the applicant's written submissions as well as his oral submissions to this court," said Judge of Appeal Phang on the court's behalf at the hearing. "The filing of this application at the 11th hour before the applicant's scheduled execution, in order to prevent the carrying out of a sentence which has been properly imposed by law, amounts to an abuse of the process of the court for collateral motives."

He noted that Hishamrudin had discharged four free lawyers previously appointed to assist him at the trial stage and another two free lawyers for the appeal hearing. "In fact, (his) pattern of repeatedly discharging counsel who had been assigned to him and blaming them also shows that he is determined to abuse the court's process. This cannot be countenanced," said Judge of Appeal Phang.

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Jail terms should generally be consecutive: CJ

Straits Times
09 Mar 2018
Selina Lum

Having them run concurrently would give offender free pass for second offence, he says

An offender who is being sentenced for two unrelated offences committed on separate occasions should generally be given jail terms that run consecutively, Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon said yesterday.

If jail terms for separate offences are ordered to run concurrently, this would give rise to a "perverse" situation in which the offender effectively gets a free pass for the second offence.

CJ Menon said this as he ordered two jail terms imposed on a man for unrelated offences - one for slashing a victim and the other, for beating up another victim - to run consecutively. He will issue detailed written grounds at a later date.

Raveen Balakrishnan, 24, will now have to serve 41/2 years in jail instead of 31/2 years originally.

The prosecution had appealed against his original sentence, handed down by a district judge who had ordered the jail terms for both offences to run concurrently.

Raveen's sentence also includes nine strokes of the cane, but this was not the subject of the appeal.

On Oct 9, 2016, Raveen slashed a 20-year-old man with a knife outside the St James Power Station club, leaving him permanently scarred. Raveen was charged in court two days later and released on bail.

While on bail on April 22 last year, he led a group of four youths to attack a victim from a different group.

On Oct 10, Raveen was sentenced to 31/2 years' jail and six strokes of the cane for causing hurt with a dangerous weapon; and two years' jail and three strokes for rioting.

Both terms were ordered to run concurrently, making an aggregate of 31/2 years' jail.

Arguing that they should run consecutively, Deputy Public Prosecutor Sarah Shi said the district judge failed to appreciate that the two offences were separated by about six months. By ordering concurrent sentences, the judge effectively allowed Raveen to evade punishment for the rioting charge, she noted.

Raveen's lawyer Tan Chao Yuan argued that consecutive sentences would lead to a "crushing" sentence against his client.

CJ Menon said that, as a general rule, offenders should be punished separately for each separate offence. However, the court also has to ensure that the total sentence is proportionate to the offender's overall criminality, he said.

He reduced the jail term for rioting from two years to a year not because the original sentence was wrong, but because this would yield a proportionate total sentence of 41/2 years' jail when both terms are ordered to run consecutively.

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Law was fine until courts' new interpretation

Straits Times
02 Mar 2018

We refer to Mr Patrick Tan Siong Kuan's letter (How many other critical laws of ours are outdated?; Forum Online, Feb 24).

The Government's position on the sentences in the City Harvest Church case has been clearly stated in Parliament.

A senior officer or director in an organisation is in a position of greater trust. If that trust is abused, the officer should be more culpable and liable for more severe punishment compared with an ordinary employee.

Over the last 40 years, the law, as applied by the courts, reflected this principle - that directors are liable for the aggravated offence.

This position was clear, settled law. There were at least 16 reported decisions applying this principle.

There was no suggestion that the law was in need of any review and, accordingly, no reason for Parliament to review the law.

This was until the courts decided to depart from this established position, in this case. With the new interpretation by the courts, we will move to amend the law.

Mr Tan may also wish to note that the accused persons in the City Harvest Church case were charged with an aggravated form of criminal breach of trust, not corruption.

With regard to bail, the usual means to deter a person from absconding while on bail is that the bail may be forfeited.

This is the position in many jurisdictions.

As long as bail exists, the risk of absconding cannot be entirely eliminated.

The ministries of Home Affairs and Law have, last year, reviewed provisions relating to bail and proposed changes through legislation.

Sunny Lee
Director, Media Relations
Ministry of Home Affairs

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The Criminal Justice Reform Bill: A transformative reform

Straits Times
19 Mar 2018
Wendell Wong

The criminal justice system has come a long way, since I joined the Criminal Bar close to 20 years ago.

There is no doubt that the system has constantly evolved to stay relevant to society's changing demands. For a long time, the prosecution and defence did not exchange information about their cases before trial in a formal and structured manner. An accused person might therefore find out the details of the case against him only at trial.

Sentences were generally prison terms and fines or a combination of both. Rehabilitative options were mostly limited to probation and for young offenders only. Aside from capital cases, legal help for accused persons of lesser means was provided through the efforts of pro bono lawyers and the Law Society's Criminal Legal Aid Scheme, funded mainly by donations.

All this has changed dramatically.

The early sharing of information between defence and prosecution, introduced in 2010, is now routine. Community sentences have become an important part of our system, giving offenders without a serious criminal record the chance to reintegrate into society with a lesser burden. Significantly, the Government now provides financial support to the Law Society for the provision of criminal legal aid.


These changes reflect a shift in mindset. The system now strikes a better balance between preventing crime and fairness to the accused person.

Recently, legislation was introduced containing further important reforms. On these changes, I offer my personal views having also being consulted on these proposals as part of the Law Society Criminal Law Practice Committee.

First, video recording of police interviews, which is a policy defence lawyers have advocated and supported for some time. The most important effect of video recording is that it removes doubt about why the interviewee said certain things, avoiding unnecessary arguments at trial and should help save time and resources. This clarity will hopefully lead to faster and more accurate judgments, which benefits everyone in the system. It is my hope that as the police gain experience in using video recordings, they will be extended to more offences.

It is also important that defence counsel have sufficient access to the video recordings - this will allow the full benefit of this policy to be reaped in terms of saving of time and streamlining of arguments in court.

Next, community sentences are being expanded to cover a bigger range of offenders and offences, with a special expansion for Mandatory Treatment Orders. Some may feel that these sentences are an easy way out for criminals. However, in my view, they strike an important balance.

For persons committing lesser crimes who are not habitual criminals, imprisonment may make it harder for them to rehabilitate as it isolates them from the support networks of friends, family and stable employment.

Society stands to gain more if they are given the right opportunities, under careful and structured supervision, to rehabilitate and maintain positive links to the community. This will give them the means and motivation to lead a crime-free life.

The changes allow persons who had earlier received a short imprisonment sentence (say a one-day sentence for shop theft) or had previously been sent for reformative training or to a drug rehabilitation centre, to be considered for community sentences. It is good that judges are being given more flexibility to consider an offender's prospects of reform in such cases.

Deferred prosecution agreements (DPAs) have received some public attention. These agreements are also in use or under consideration in a number of other countries with respected legal systems. DPAs provide a strong incentive to companies which detect wrongdoing (for example, through internal audits or whistle-blowers) to cooperate with the authorities rather than try to cover it up or do nothing about such wrongdoing.

This allows investigations to begin early, progress quickly and, ultimately, reveal the full and relevant facts - which can lead to the prosecution and punishment of the employees or executives involved in criminal misconduct.

From a lawyer's perspective, I believe that DPAs also provide an additional option for us to present to our clients and can help shape corporate culture and provide the added impetus for clients to render full cooperation to the authorities.

Finally, measures are proposed to further protect alleged victims of sexual or child abuse offences from a traumatic experience in court. This includes a requirement to seek the court's permission before asking certain questions about the witness' sexual history.


As a defence lawyer, I have the following perspective. It helps no one if witnesses are broken down emotionally through insulting or humiliating questioning in court. As legal professionals, we can uncover the truth and pursue our client's case and interests firmly in court while treating witnesses with respect. The courts will be fair in how they manage such cases, and I am confident that defence lawyers will be responsible in their conduct.

In conclusion, a balanced and fair criminal justice system does not come solely from progressive laws.

Underlying progressive laws is a deep and necessary respect for the crucial roles played by all parties in the system: the prosecution, the defence, the courts and law enforcement agencies.

If this mutual respect is not shared by these parties and the general public, laws alone cannot guarantee a fair criminal justice system.

Defence lawyers have to able to act without fear or favour to dutifully pursue the accused person's interests while upholding the rule of law as officers of the court in the best traditions of the bar. This is absolutely necessary in order for our system to function effectively.

Giving a fair hearing to accused persons benefits the public, as it increases confidence that the courts are convicting the guilty and acquitting the innocent. The law increasingly recognises this, and I hope that this sentiment is shared by everyone too.

Underlying progressive laws is a deep and necessary respect for the crucial roles played by all parties in the system: the prosecution, the defence, the courts and law enforcement agencies. If this mutual respect is not shared by these parties and the general public, laws alone cannot guarantee a fair criminal justice system.

Wendell Wong is director, dispute resolution, at law firm Drew and Napier.

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Communications blackout: Call to use law judiciously

Straits Times
09 Mar 2018
Tan Tam Mei

But experts agree proposed Bill to ban filming or texting in security situations is necessary

While a proposed law to ban communications in the vicinity of an ongoing serious incident is necessary, it should be used judiciously, say experts.

A key provision of the Public Order and Safety (Special Powers) Bill is to prevent people - including journalists and bystanders - from filming or taking photographs that can undermine security operations - for instance, during terror attacks. Communication via text or audio messages about ongoing security operations will also be halted when a stop order is issued.

Associate Professor Andrew Tan of the Department of Security Studies and Criminology at Macquarie University in Sydney said such a law will protect the tactical integrity of counter-terrorism operations.

"You don't want terrorists seeing what counter-terrorism officers are doing, nor do you want terrorists and their sympathisers to film such events for propaganda purposes," said Prof Tan.

In pushing for the law, the Home Affairs Ministry (MHA) cited the 2015 terrorist attack in a Jewish supermarket in Paris and the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, saying live news broadcasts of security operations in both instances made police operations more difficult and put the safety of officers and hostages at risk.

But even before these attacks, there was the 1972 Munich Olympic massacre where live television images alerted the hostage-takers as German police officers were about to storm the Olympic village building where the hostages were held.

Associate research fellow Nur Azlin Yasin, from Singapore's International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research, said: "These events have shown that live broadcasting of an incident can provide information to adversaries and will jeopardise secrecy of rescue operations."

MHA said the proposed law is in the light of the heightened terror threat and would give police necessary powers to deal with serious public order and safety incidents.

But international media watch groups, including Reporters Without Borders (RSF), criticised the move. "No one disputes the need for special measures in the event of a terrorist attack, but it is not the ministry's job to decide what journalists can broadcast or publish," said head of RSF's Asia-Pacific desk Daniel Bastard.

He said Singapore should look into creating a code of conduct for media coverage of such incidents, instead of introducing a law. Such a code was introduced in France following the 2015 attacks in Paris.

But Nanyang Technological University communications professor Ang Peng Hwa said RSF's suggestion is relevant for Western countries where there are strong laws against government regulation of the press.

"(In Western countries) media companies come up with their own internal code of ethics. In Singapore we don't have such a practice, because we are regulated by the government," said Dr Ang, adding that legislating a communications blackout might not differ too much from the media practising self-regulation.

Media law expert Mark Cenite said there is still a need to closely examine the full scope of police powers under the proposed law, which has described a sit-down demonstration where publicly accessible paths in the central business district are occupied as a "serious incident". Said Dr Cenite: "(This) sounds like a description of Hong Kong's umbrella movement protests (in 2014). This law will expand measures that could be taken to control such a protest, communication about it, and investigation of it."

Dr Ang said the law should be "narrowly" targeted to deter members of public who might try to live-stream an ongoing incident. He noted that bystander footage has also aided investigations, like when suspects in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings were identified with the help of a spectator's photo.

"If the law is broadly targeting, where potentially helpful content is deemed to be in breach of the law, then that's too much," he said. In response to forum letters conveying concerns over the Bill, MHA spokesman Sunny Lee said a communications stop order will be conveyed to the public and when it is in force, the public can still submit information to the police via the 999 hotline, or through the iWitness and SGSecure mobile applications.

The police will also not take action against those caught up in the incident who made such communications, like people trapped at the incident location trying to get messages out, he added.

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Pines members move to take legal action against club owner Exklusiv Resorts

Business Times
02 Mar 2018
Lee Meixian

Members of The Pines club are looking to start a representative action suit against club owner Exklusiv Resorts and have engaged Derrick Wong & Lim BC LLP to represent them, in what could unfold like the Raffles Town Club case two decades ago.

Representative action is a more simplified version of what other jurisdictions term class action because it offers less extensive protection to plaintiffs.

Lau Kah Hee, a partner at Derrick Wong & Lim, told The Business Times that four club members - Donald Poon, Lau Kau Chin, Paul Phua, Kenneth Liu - have approached him for legal representation over what they believe to have been misrepresentation by the club management.

The Pines management had promised to build new facilities for the members when it closed the club, then located at Stevens Road, for renovation in 2013. Later, property developer Oxley Holdings purchased the estate from Exklusiv Resorts, owned by motoring tycoon Peter Kwee, and built two hotels where the club once stood.

Last October, The Pines management wrote to members to inform them that it had failed to secure a club lease at its Stevens Road site, but will allow members to use the facilities at the Laguna National Golf & Country Club and its upcoming Dusit Thani Laguna Singapore resort near Changi Airport.

The management will also extend the current 30-year membership - due to expire in 2032 - by eight years to 2040. It also agreed to waive transfer and administration fees for members who decide to transfer their membership to the new golf resort in the two years after it opens.

Exklusiv Resorts said it had tried to negotiate with Oxley to keep the club's presence at Stevens Road but was unsuccessful due to factors such as space allocation needs and the financial viability of its operations. About 1,300 members were affected.

This was not an acceptable response to many members of The Pines who had joined the club precisely for its proximity to town. BT understands that it has meanwhile been difficult for members to come together to take a collective action against management because many had lost contact during the five-year closure of the club.

A spokesman from Exklusiv Resorts did not respond by press time.

There have been two precedents of representative action taken by club members in Singapore in recent history.

In the Raffles Town Club case in 2000, some 5,000 members sued the club's shareholders for breach of contract and misrepresentation to them that it was going to be a "prestigious private city club" when in fact the club had 19,000 members. They demanded a refund of their S$28,000 membership fees, and after a lengthy court battle, won the suit in 2005.

In 2009, 202 ex-members of the Sijori Resort Club, represented by seven plaintiffs, sued the club's owner, Treasure Resort. They alleged they had been denied membership privileges after the club was sold by Sijori to Treasure in 2006. The lawsuit was discontinued after the High Court found insufficient commonality of interest or grievance among the class plaintiffs.

Eugene Quah, partner, litigation and dispute resolution, at RHTLaw Taylor Wessing, said that in representative action, the fate of the larger group depends on how well the representative plaintiffs run the case.

"The basic challenge is for the representative plaintiff to represent the entire set of people. The first threshold is that they must have the same interests in the action. That has been extensively examined and interpreted in the Treasure Resort case.

"The representative action is a convenience device, so that the Court is able to decide in one action the same issue faced by, for instance, 1,000 people, and save everyone's time."

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Seek public views in review of criminal justice system: Forum

Straits Times
19 Mar 2018

Justice Woo Bih Li had to make a difficult decision when sentencing a young offender with mild intellectual disabilities who committed a serious crime (Teen's intellectual disability raises issue on lack of sentencing options: Judge; March 13).

Given Justice Woo's comments, it is indeed timely that Parliament is revisiting the Criminal Justice Reform Bill to make the criminal justice system more progressive.

Offenders who have an intellectual disability have certain vulnerabilities when interacting with the criminal justice system.

Although this does not take away the gravity of the harm the victim experienced, offenders with intellectual disabilities are less likely to fully understand what they are being charged with and are at risk of falsely incriminating themselves.

In response, the Appropriate Adult Scheme was set up to provide support during interviews involving detainees, victims or witnesses who may have an intellectual disability, autism or a psychiatric history.

Yet, that support does not necessarily carry through to other areas of the criminal justice system.

Once in prison, offenders with intellectual disabilities are at greater risk of abuse from other inmates and, once in the criminal justice system, these offenders are more likely to be trapped within the system.

A 10-year study by Dr Judith Cockram compared the experience of offenders with and without intellectual disabilities in Western Australia and found that those with intellectual disabilities were rearrested at nearly double the rate compared with the offenders without intellectual disabilities.

These concerns are not limited to just offenders with intellectual disabilities - offenders with invisible disabilities, such as autism, face similar challenges too.

Following a Disabled People's Association (DPA) call for feedback on this case, some in the disability field have raised concerns that sentencing an offender with an intellectual disability differently merely on the basis of disability could be discriminatory.

Instead, the DPA urges the Ministry of Law to hold a wider public consultation that looks at current sentencing options and how appropriate they are for a diverse range of offenders, including those with disabilities, as well as try to identify other areas of the criminal justice system that can be updated to be more inclusive.

Marissa Lee Medjeral-Mills (Dr)

Executive Director

Disabled People's Association

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Taiwanese duo jailed for involvement in global police impersonation scam

09 Mar 2018
Alfred Chua

They were offered jobs here that paid between S$2,200 and S$4,400, but Taiwanese duo Wang Wei Ciang and Wang Wei-Ming ended up being part of a global syndicate that carried out police impersonation scams targetting Singaporeans.

The two men, who are not related to each other, were handed jail sentences on Thursday (March 8) for their roles as money mules who collected hundreds of thousands of dollars from the victims and delivering the money to the syndicate.

They each admitted to one count of dishonestly receiving and handing over the cash.

Wei Ciang, 24, was sentenced to three years’ jail. Wei-Ming, 25, was jailed for three-and-a-half years.

The court heard that Wei Ciang flew to Singapore last August after he was offered a job here by a man called Ah Liang, who promised a monthly salary of up to S$2,200. Wei-Ming was similarly drawn to Singapore in July last year with a job offer promising him around S$4,400 a month.

But the two Taiwanese men were instead drawn into a scam involving perpetrators who impersonated police officials in order to gain access to their victims’ bank accounts. Victims who fell prey to the scam would hand over their money to the mules, who then delivered it to the scammers.

Between August 2 to 8, Wei Ciang was instructed by a man called Da Li to collect envelopes containing cash from various victims - amounting to over S$250,000 - before handing them over to Wei-Ming in a male toilet at Chinatown Point.

Wei-Ming also collected money from two other money mules. Between August 1 and 8, he collected more than S$660,000, which was then handed over to a man identified as Tay Kai Wen.

The two Taiwanese men were arrested on August 8. Tay, who took the money to Malaysia, was sentenced to six months’ jail in November last year, the court was told.

In sentencing the duo, District Judge Terence Tay said that as money mules, the two men “have contributed to the difficulty in detection and enforcement by law enforcement agencies of syndicated crimes”.

Explaining the difference in the jail sentences for both men, the District Judge said Wei Ciang’s involvement was more minor than Wei-Ming, and he had no idea that he was engaging in unlawful activities when he took up the offer to come to Singapore.

Wei-Ming, on the other hand, was aware at the outset that he was travelling to Singapore to engage in illegal activities, the judge noted, adding: “He was involved in a number of transactions and had taken steps to ensure the transactions were carried out in secluded places to avoid detection.”

For dishonestly receiving and handing over the monies, both of them could have been sentenced up to 10 years’ jail, and/or fined up to S$500,000.

Copyright 2017 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

Constitution protects land and proceeds from its sale as past reserves: Swee Keat

Business Times
02 Mar 2018
Chia Yan Min

Principle applies whether it's 20% or 100% of the sale proceeds

Include a portion of land sales proceeds in the Budget, or use more of the returns from the reserves - these are tempting suggestions to raise government revenue and easier to swallow than hiking taxes.

But it would be "ill-disciplined and unwise" for the government to do so by amending the rules as a first resort, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat told Parliament on Thursday.

Singapore's approach strikes a balance between present needs and preserving resources for future generations, said the minister in a speech rounding up the three-day Budget debate.

He was responding to Workers' Party assistant secretary-general Pritam Singh (Aljunied GRC), who had suggested that proceeds from land sales should be used to boost revenue in lieu of raising the Goods and Services Tax (GST).

"Our Constitutional rules protect our financial assets and land as past reserves. As land sales convert physical assets into financial assets, the proceeds from land sales are rightly fully protected as past reserves as well," said Mr Heng.

"This principle of asset conversion is sound. It is irresponsible to mislead people that the principle suddenly does not apply when we use 20 per cent instead of 100 per cent of land sale proceeds."

Under the Constitution, proceeds from land sales are added to the reserves, which are invested.

From the returns, the government takes up to 50 per cent as the net investment returns contribution (NIRC) to supplement its budgetary needs.

The NIRC is now the largest contributor to the annual Budget, he noted.

"If we did not introduce the NIR framework, we would have had to double our personal income tax collection or our GST collection to raise the same amount of revenues," Mr Heng said.

Rules on land sales and the 50 per cent NIRC cap were introduced "so that we do not succumb to the temptation to draw more from our reserves to fund current expenditure or eat into the principal sum", he noted.

"If as soon as we need more money, the first thing we do is to relax the rules, that is the surest way to change Singapore's basic orientation - from saving and building for the future, to living for today and letting tomorrow look after itself."

Mr Heng also sought to respond to concerns about the necessity of the planned GST hike and the potential impact this might have on households and business competitiveness.

He had announced in his Feb 19 Budget speech that the GST will go up by two percentage points - from 7 per cent to 9 per cent - "sometime in the period from 2021 to 2025".

"This is not an option that we have taken lightly," Mr Heng told Parliament on Thursday.

"Not just because raising taxes is unpopular, but because the government should as far as possible avoid taking people's hard-earned money and deciding on their behalf how the money should be spent, unless it has to do so for critical social, economic or national needs."

The GST increase is necessary because healthcare, security and social spending are expected to continue climbing, said Mr Heng.

These are needs that occur year after year and will keep rising especially as Singapore's population ages.

The increase in GST is projected to raise revenues by 0.7 per cent of GDP a year, before accounting for the amount needed to fund GST vouchers.

Mr Heng said Singapore's key expenditure drivers - healthcare, security and preschools - already exceed this amount and there are risks that spending could rise even more than predicted.

"So the two percentage point GST increase will not fully cover our expenditure needs, but only make the fiscal gap more manageable, in conjunction with other measures to manage expenditure.

"It is thus the prudent and responsible approach to raise GST in good time, instead of hoping for expenditure to fall."

He also reiterated that Singapore cannot rely on one-off budget surpluses to fund its growing spending needs.

Much of the surprise S$9.61 billion Budget surplus in the 2017 fiscal year was a result of one-off factors, including an exceptional contribution from the Monetary Authority of Singapore due to unexpected currency translation gains and investment gains from a global rally in equity and bond markets.

The other big contributor to the surplus was higher stamp duty collections following the recent pickup in the property market.

"We cannot fund our plans to secure Singapore's future on the basis of episodic windfalls. If we are fortunate to have these occasional windfalls, we should do the responsible thing and save most of it for our future needs," Mr Heng said.

Parliament approved the Budget, even as Workers' Party MPs said they did not support the proposed hike in the GST. After a vote, 89 MPs voted to approve the Budget, while eight MPs - all from the WP - voted "no".

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

Tackle practice of denying kids access to other parent in divorce cases: Forum

Straits Times
19 Mar 2018

Both Mr Nicholas Tan and Mrs Geraldine Tan Chee Lian bring to light a serious problem faced by thousands of children in Singapore who are affected by divorce (Review how custody of kids is granted in divorce, March 4; and Look into factors leading to abuse of stepchildren, March 8).

Because of the way control is granted by the Family Courts, often solely to the mother, many children of divorce end up in "single-parent" families, often longing for but not able to enjoy the company of their biological fathers.

Recent reports of sexual abuse of stepchildren over a prolonged period of time are but the most egregious manifestations of the tremendous mental and psychological abuse that these children are subject to.

In their replies, the Family Justice Courts and the Ministry of Social and Family Development appear to suggest that divorcing parents are to blame for being unable to put aside their differences and co-parent effectively (Both parents in divorce have to ensure that kids' interest comes first, March 9; and Ring of coordinated efforts to protect children in divorce, March 15).

The reality is starkly different.

I have witnessed accounts of tactics to deny the other parent access to the child beginning even before the divorce is filed.

A client contemplating a divorce is "advised" by his or her lawyer to take the child away - usually citing "safety" concerns - denying access to the other parent.

Having done so, the only recourse the alienated parent has to see the child would be to apply through the courts.

This process could take months.

During this entire period, the alienated parent is able to see the child only at once-a-week, two-hour, supervised sessions at the Divorce Support Specialist Agencies.

Such actions - perpetuated by unethical family lawyers - subject young children to tremendous psychological trauma.

They also send the wrong signal to divorcing parents at a time of great emotional vulnerability that children can be used as "hostages" to gain leverage in their divorce proceedings.

Unfortunately, there is little consequence for either parents or lawyers who employ such tactics.

To move towards a more enlightened family justice system, the Family Courts must take a strong stand against parents and lawyers who engage in such behaviour.

It is already very difficult for children to experience their parents undergoing a divorce.

Let us not subject them to further psychological and emotional trauma.

Gordon Quek

A client contemplating a divorce is "advised" by his or her lawyer to take the child away - usually citing "safety" concerns - denying access to the other parent...

Such actions - perpetuated by unethical family lawyers - subject young children to tremendous psychological trauma.

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

Both parents in divorce have to ensure that kids' interest comes first

Straits Times
09 Mar 2018

We agree with Mr Nicholas Tan (Review how custody of kids is granted in divorce cases; March 4) and Mrs Geraldine Tan Chee Lian (Look into factors leading to abuse of stepchildren; March 8) that a child can be profoundly affected by the breakdown of the family and by divorce proceedings. The need to protect the best interests of the child was one of the key reasons for the establishment of the Family Justice Courts (FJC) in 2014.

Today, court counsellors are brought in on all applications which involve children, to help parents focus on and understand the needs of their children.

FJC encourages parents to agree on parenting arrangements through court mediation and counselling and only when parents are not able to reach an agreement would a judge be called on to determine custody, care, control and access issues. Child representatives may also be called upon to represent the interests of the child in more complex cases.

The presence of both parents in the life of a child is pivotal to his development and there are a variety of court orders which could facilitate the parent-and-child relationship. "Joint custody'' allows both parents to jointly make major decisions for the child. This is different from a "care and control'' order, which determines which parent the child should live with primarily, while the other parent is granted access to the child.

A shared "care and control'' order means that a child would spend substantial time with both parents and each parent has the responsibility to make day-to-day decisions for the child when he resides with that parent.

However, unless both parents are sufficiently enlightened to put their personal conflicts aside and co-parent with a common set of principles, the child could be subjected to further stress from navigating the different expectations of each parent.

The decisions of FJC often involve intimate issues. It is understandable that an affected parent or a child may feel disappointed with what may seem like an adverse outcome when emotions run high.

However, it is important to recognise that the role of the court is to apply the law to reach a just decision, while protecting the welfare of the children. Ultimately, the responsibility rests on both parents to cooperate with each other to ensure that the children feel safe to continue their relationships with both parents after the divorce.

Social science research says a key tenet to effective co-parenting is to minimise inter-parental conflict. This has shown to help with children's healthy adjustment to their parents' divorce. Thus, we always exhort parents to put aside their personal differences, and be bigger, stronger, wiser and kinder for the sake of their children's future.

Chia Wee Kiat


Family Justice Courts

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Vivian: Anti-globalisation not the answer to problems

Business Times
02 Mar 2018
Janice Heng

S'pore response is to step up economic revamp, skills upgrading, innovation and opening of business doors

Though free trade has been unfairly blamed for economic problems around the world, Singapore believes the answer is not to retreat from global competition, said Minister for Foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan.

"We believe we have to double down on re-structuring our economies, upgrading the skills of our people, supporting innovation and pursuing business opportunities globally," he said in his ministry's Committee of Supply debate yesterday.

This commitment is also why the Asean Economic Community was launched in 2015, he added.

Responding to MPs' questions on Singapore's role as Asean chair this year, he noted that the themes of this chairmanship - "resilience" and "innovation" - express Singapore's hopes for Asean to meet future challenges such as digital disruption.

Globally, though protectionist nationalism is on the rise, the outlook is not completely bleak, said Dr Balakrishnan. Following the US' withdrawal, the 11 remaining parties in the Trans-Pacific Partnership are set to sign the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) in Chile on Mar 8.

"We will continue to leave the door open for the US," he added.

Singapore also hopes to make substantive progress this year on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), with the 10 Asean members and six dialogue partners.

Far from being rival trade blocs, the CPTPP and RCEP are "complementary building blocks" towards a free trade area of the entire Asia-Pacific.

Dr Balakrishnan reaffirmed Singapore's relationship with major powers such as China and the United States, as well as close neighbours.

Negotiations to upgrade the China-Singapore FTA are underway, and there is huge potential for deeper cooperation on China's Belt and Road initiative, he said.

And in Singapore's third year as Asean-China coordinator, it will continue to be an "honest broker" as negotiations on the Code of Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea begin.

But he added: "I cannot promise it will be delivered soon, because of the complexities involved." Singapore's coordinatorship ends this August.

Illustrating Singapore's strong ties with the US, Dr Balakrishnan noted that US exports to Singapore and Singapore investments in the US support over 250,000 American jobs.

"This is a statistic we shared with President Trump to make the point that he has real skin in the game in South-east Asia and especially in Singapore," he added.

President Donald Trump has accepted Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's invitation to visit Singapore later this year. Said Dr Balakrishnan: "We look forward to receiving him."

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

13-year-old youngest to have an abortion: MOH

Straits Times
18 Mar 2018
Janice Tai

A person under 18 years old cannot buy cigarettes and alcohol, or give consent to get married. Nor can he or she give valid consent to sex under the age of 16.

However, the law does allow a girl to go for an abortion no matter how young she is, even if her parents do not give the go-ahead or even know about it.

A reported case on March 5 of a girl becoming pregnant at age 14, undergoing an abortion and even having to split the bill with the man - all without her parents knowing initially - have prompted calls for a review of abortion laws.

The Ministry of Health (MOH) told The Sunday Times that an average of 15 girls under 16 years old have had abortions each year over the past five years, from 2013 to last year. The youngest person ever was 13, said the ministry.

Overall abortion numbers dropped to a record low of 6,815 last year. This is 27 per cent lower than the 9,282 seen in 2013.

However, counsellors say this issue is worth highlighting as children are being sexualised at an earlier age and engaging in underage sex.

There were 69 statutory rape cases involving female minors under 14 last year, up from the 51 reported in 2013.

"It is ironic that under the Termination of Pregnancy Act, there is no minimum age for the abortion procedure or legal requirement for parental consent," said educator Ho Lay Ping, 43, who wrote in to The Straits Times forum page recently.

Abortion was first liberalised in 1969 in Singapore. Then, an unmarried girl under 18 had to obtain the consent of a guardian or at least one of her parents. This requirement was lifted in 1974.

"During the review of the then-Abortion Act in 1974, there was hardly any debate on the issue of parental consent for underage abortions," said Mr Darius Lee, 29, a lawyer in private practice.

"It is time for a review... as it is incongruous with the rest of our laws that generally presume that children are unable to fully understand the nature and consequences of their actions, and are therefore unable to give valid informed consent," he added.

Counsellors say there are concerns that mandating parental consent may compel minors to risk their lives by going for unsafe abortions, as many of these teenagers may not have family support.

That was MOH's response during a public consultation on pre-abortion counselling criteria in 2014. In response to queries, it reiterated last Friday the same reason regarding the lack of requirement for parental consent, adding: "This is aligned to the practice in the United Kingdom and Australia."

However, unmarried minors below 16 have to undergo compulsory pre-abortion counselling at the Health Promotion Board Counselling Centre.

A pregnant woman can give her written consent to abortion only after at least 48 hours following the counselling session. This is to allow her time to carefully consider her decision for abortion, said MOH.

About two in three minors under 16 were accompanied by at least one parent when attending pre-abortion counselling, said MOH. About nine in 10 had self-reported that they had told at least one of their parents about undergoing abortion.

Parents may also find out about their daughters' pregnancies or intention to abort when the police are alerted.

Said Dr Kenneth Wong, director of the Obgyn Centre at Paragon Medical Suites: "If she is below 16, there is a possible legal recourse for police involvement if the patient makes a complaint amounting to carnal connection. If she is below 14, it is statutory rape and police involvement is usually required."

Ms Jennifer Heng, who has been counselling pregnant women in need for over a decade, is of the view that parental consent should be introduced for minors, though she noted that it may become a way for parents to force their daughter to have an abortion.

"Sometimes the minor does want to give birth to the child, but the parents want her to abort, usually because of shame, or worry about her future being ruined. This will be equally, if not, more damaging for the girl," said Ms Heng, director of Safe Place, a programme for women and families with unsupported pregnancies.

Others argue that parents should be brought in to protect minors not fully cognisant of the psychological and physical impact of abortion.

A 2009 study from the United States found that the adoption of a law requiring a parent's notification or consent before a minor can obtain an abortion is linked with a 15 to 25 per cent drop in suicides committed by 15-to 17-year-old females.

Some people, such as Ms Ho, view abortion as an invasive surgical procedure with risks of complications, such as infection to the womb.

Doctors have termed the after-effects of abortion as post-abortion stress syndrome and some even link it to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

But Dr Wong, who has been practising obstetrics and gynaecology for 17 years, disagrees, saying it is uncommon to suffer from PTSD from the procedure. "With the proper expertise, these purported risks... are no greater than those of someone going for a root canal," he said. The youngest girl he has done an abortion for is 16.

Dr Wong said studies do show an improvement in mental state and health for most patients who go for abortions, even though that is not a popular notion.

Ms Heng suggested expanding pre-abortion counselling to include not only the pregnant girl, but also her parents and the father of the child, as well as instituting joint consent - of the girl and one of her parents - for abortion.

She said: "It is also time that we talk about the impact of an abortion on a minor and raise awareness and help for those who have been through it."

Janice Tai

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

New riders for IP plans will include co-pay feature

Straits Times
09 Mar 2018
Salma Khalik

New policyholders will eventually have to pay at least 5% of bill, but amount will be capped

You can no longer go to an insurer and buy riders that pay your entire hospital bill, as the Government is rolling back a regime that threatens to make health insurance unsustainable.

Anyone buying a new rider from today will need to eventually pay at least 5 per cent of his hospital bill. But the total amount a policyholder has to pay can be capped at $3,000 a year, although insurers are free to set a higher threshold. This is to give people the peace of mind that they will not have to dig too deeply into their pockets, whatever the size of their hospital bill.

However, the $3,000 cap applies only if patients are treated by doctors on the insurer's approved panel, or if they had received prior approval from the insurer. Otherwise, they have to pay the 5 per cent, with no cap on their share.

These measures were announced in Parliament yesterday - the same day that The Straits Times reported that insurers had asked the Ministry of Health (MOH) to get people to pay at least part of the bill.

MOH has agreed to this for new riders. However, it has not mandated any change for the 1.1 million people who already have full riders for their Integrated Shield Plans (IPs) - which means they pay nothing for hospital bills.

MOH is giving insurers until April 1 next year to come up with new riders that include the co-payment and cap. At that point, no full riders for IPs can be sold.

Meanwhile, anyone buying a rider from today has to switch to the new scheme by April 1, 2021, at the latest.

Elaborating on the scheme, Senior Minister of State for Health Chee Hong Tat said: "Any pre-existing conditions that are covered prior to the switch will not be excluded."

This should also apply to people with full riders who want to switch to the new scheme. Mr Chee said: "We expect the new riders to have lower premiums than full riders, so the switch will result in premium savings for policyholders."

As for those who already have riders, Mr Chee said: "We recognise that existing rider policies are commercial contracts between insurers and their policyholders.

"If insurers intend to make changes to their existing policies, they should consider the interest and well-being of all policyholders, as they seek to keep premiums affordable for everyone in the longer term."

Health Minister Gan Kim Yong told Parliament that co-payment is an integral part of healthcare schemes as zero payment "dilutes the personal responsibility to choose appropriate and necessary care".

It would "encourage unnecessary treatment, leading to rising healthcare costs not only for those with such riders, but for all of us", he said.

All six IP insurers faced underwriting losses in 2016, but Mr Chee made it clear that this did not influence the latest move.

He said: "Let me be clear that MOH is not issuing these requirements to bail out the insurers. Our objective is to address the concerns with over-consumption, over-servicing and over-charging."

Already, over-consumption on the part of those who do not have to co-pay their bills is putting a strain on the system. People with full riders have bills that are 60 per cent higher than those without riders.

The situation could become more dire if left unchecked as riders are becoming more popular. About 100,000 new ones are sold a year.

Health economist Phua Kai Hong of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy said the new move is one of several actions that MOH is taking to curb spiralling costs.

Another important move, he said, are the fee benchmarks coming out later this year, which will provide a yardstick for medical charges in the private sector.

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

Former City Harvest leader starts jail sentence

Straits Times
02 Mar 2018
Elena Chong

Former City Harvest Church (CHC) leader Chew Eng Han began his jail sentence of three years and four months yesterday for his role in the misuse of millions in church funds.

The 57-year-old has no fresh charge, but Tan Poh Teck, 53, a fish farm owner who helped Chew's bid to flee, faces an amended charge and a fresh charge.

Chew was originally scheduled to begin his sentence for criminal breach of trust last Thursday but was nabbed at sea the day before for allegedly trying to flee to Malaysia on a motorised boat.

He is accused of leaving Singapore unlawfully at Pulau Ubin Jetty - which is not an authorised place of embarkation, departing place or point of departure - by boarding the boat at 8.47am on Feb 21.

Chew's case will be mentioned via video link on March 29. He is represented by Mr Jonathan Phipps from YS Chung Law Corporation.

Five other CHC leaders - including founder-pastor Kong Hee - who were also convicted of misusing church funds, began serving their terms last April. But Chew, who was out on $1 million bail, had secured multiple deferments.

After his jail term - which was reduced from six years by the High Court in April last year - was upheld by the Court of Appeal on Feb 1, Chew was allowed to defer his sentence until after Chinese New Year.

Tan's amended charge says he abetted the former CHC fund manager to leave Singapore by conveying him on the boat to the north-east part of Pulau Ubin, where Chew would board another boat which would leave for Malaysia.

He is accused in the fresh charge of abetting one Shanker Maghalingam to leave Singapore on the same boat at sea off Changi, which is not an authorised place of embarkation, to Malaysia at about 8.40am on Dec 17 last year.

Tan's lawyer, Mr Tan Hee Joek, from Tan See Swan & Co, told the court that he has written to the prosecution and the police to ask for access, to take instructions and understand how Tan is doing.

The prosecution asked that Tan be remanded for another week to help them complete investigations. Tan's case will be mentioned on March 7.

The maximum punishment for leaving the country unlawfully is a $2,000 fine and six months' jail.

If convicted of abetting in the offence, Tan can be jailed for up to two years and fined up to $6,000 on each charge.

Chew and Tan claimed they were fishing. But based on earlier information received, the police established that the duo were trying to leave Singapore illegally for Malaysia.

Elena Chong

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

Actions taken by several countries

Straits Times
18 Mar 2018
Charissa Yong

Laws passed


Social media companies can be fined up to €50 million (S$81 million) for failing to remove "obviously illegal content" within 24 hours of receiving a complaint.

Laws pending


Individuals who publish or spread fake news online could be fined up to €5,000. Internet service providers will have to monitor viral content and ensure it is reliable. Schools will have to teach media literacy.


Creators and distributors of fake news could be fined or jailed. Public officials found guilty face fines and jail terms double that of ordinary citizens. Mass media and social media companies could also be fined for neglecting or refusing to remove fake news.


The publishing of fake news by social media companies could be a criminal offence punishable by fines.


The Honest Ads Act seeks to require Internet companies to disclose details on political ads placed on their platforms, and to prevent foreign nationals from coming up with such ads.


A Bill to let the courts order social media companies to remove incendiary online content is in the initial stages of being passed.


In the Varanasi district, social media group administrators could be investigated if fake news circulates in their group.

Government measures


Each country has set up a government website to debunk online rumours and counter fake news.


A website to report leaks, fake news and illegal online activities by military personnel has been set up.


A police unit has been formed to monitor social media for misinformation. Its mandate includes disseminating information related to public order as well as educating users on pro-social usage of social media. Hate speech websites have been blocked.


The National Communications Commission wants to set up a fact-checking mechanism with Facebook and other social media platforms.


Students are being taught in schools to spot fake news and read news critically. Finnish officials are also being trained to respond to fake news.


Students will soon learn how to recognise reliable sources. The government also wants to stop taxing ad revenue for daily newspapers and periodicals, to make print media more competitive.


The National Science Foundation supports projects like Claimbuster, an automated live fact-checking tool that was used during the 2016 US presidential election.

Charissa Yong

• Source: S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies' Centre of Excellence for National Security "Countering Fake News: A Survey of Recent Global Initiatives" report

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Stopping full riders just one part of solution to soaring medical bills

Straits Times
09 Mar 2018
Salma Khalik

Issue of doctors who overcharge or overtreat must be looked at as well, say experts

The die is cast and the Ministry of Health (MOH) has made it clear that going forward, new riders for Integrated Shield Plans (IPs) that fully pay the patient's portion of the bill will no longer be allowed.

Several health economists are now saying: "We told you so."

Experience from other countries has shown that when patients pay nothing, bills soar. When that is coupled with no guidelines on how much doctors can charge, the bills can be astronomical. Singapore, too, has seen this at first hand.

In announcing the changes, Senior Minister of State for Health Chee Hong Tat cited the example of a woman who needed a small breast lump removed. Normally, this would cost about $5,000 in the private sector. But she decided, or was persuaded, to have it done robotically. The surgeon's fee alone topped $70,000.

She had an as-charged plan and a full rider. The insurer paid.

So, how did Singapore end up in a position where bills by the 1.1 million people with full riders have pushed up healthcare costs for everyone, even the poor person who needs subsidised care and has only the mandatory MediShield Life?

And more importantly, will this new move halt runaway healthcare costs?

The first question is easier to answer. The problem crept up on us slowly. When riders were introduced, private insurance plans had caps on the amounts they would reimburse for different treatments. MOH was not happy with the riders and did not allow Medisave money to pay for the premiums.

But it did not interfere, viewing it as a business decision. Meanwhile, the caps acted as a check on overspending as the patient would have to dip into his own pocket for bills beyond the ceiling.

The problem escalated when insurers started offering to pick up the tab no matter its size, by offering "as-charged" plans in 2005 to 2006. Around the same time, in 2007, the Singapore Medical Association's fee guideline for different treatments was deemed anti-competitive and had to be scrapped.

This opened the gates to limitless medical spending and the assurance that insurers would pay for the treatment - in full for those with the right riders.

Said Professor Teo Yik Ying, dean of the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health: "Perhaps full riders should have never been allowed in the first place since this pattern of over-consumption and over-treatment is already well-known with a buffet-style system of insurance coverage."

He said that as long as it was legal to do so, market forces would push firms to offer such products. "Now, the law is catching up to plug a gap."

So, will this move solve the problem?

Not on its own, said Associate Professor Phua Kai Hong of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy. This can only be just one part of the solution.

Dr Jeremy Lim of consultant firm Oliver Wyman agreed: "This is not a stand-alone policy and must be an integral and holistic part of the roll-out of the Health Insurance Task Force (HITF) recommendations."

The HITF, set up to address escalating insurance premiums, recommended in 2016 a slew of actions that need to be taken.

MOH has already set some of them in motion. It is stopping the sale of full riders and coming up with fee guidelines later this year .

The new 5 per cent rider will also require insurers to set up panels of approved doctors - another HITF recommendation - if they want to offer their policyholders an annual cap to their share of the bill. Such panels, the task force argued, would give the assurance that charges "are appropriate".

Dr Lim said the partial rider would "create awareness and sensitise patients to the realities of healthcare pricing and costing, and align policyholders' interests to some extent with that of the payers."

But Prof Teo said the rider addresses only "one aspect of the problem, by managing demand from patients". He added: "There is similarly a need to address the supply side as well."

In other words, while insurers have paid for their misguided move and patients now know they have to co-pay for treatments, what happens to the doctors who overcharge or overtreat? In some cases, doctors were the ones who persuaded patients to seek expensive, sometimes needless, treatments while someone else was footing the bill. Behaviour like this must be called to account so that there is a change of mindset, and not just a change of rules.

Perhaps the Singapore Medical Council, the medical professional watchdog, should work with insurers to identify doctors who bring disrepute to the profession. If all doctors had worked ethically and charged reasonably, the problem would not have arisen in the first place.

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

Proposed changes show shift in Govt's thinking on criminal justice

Straits Times
01 Mar 2018
K.C. Vijayan

Proposed changes to the criminal justice system , such as video recording of police interviews, mark a "major step in the long-term move towards a more progressive, balanced and modern criminal justice system that still protects society from crime effectively", said the Ministry of Law (MinLaw).

Other changes under the Criminal Justice Reform Bill and the Evidence (Amendment) Bill tabled in Parliament yesterday include safeguards to prevent defence lawyers from questioning victims of sexual and child abuse on their sexual behaviour, and expansion of community-based sentencing options.

There are also proposals to require the prosecution to share details of its case in a wider range of offences and on strengthening the regime of victim compensation.

MinLaw added yesterday the proposed changes are in the spirit of past reforms and many build directly on those reforms.

It also outlined how the Government has advanced from its position on these issues through the latest changes and amendments to the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) in 2010 and to the Evidence Act in 2012.

The introduction of video recording for interviews marks a tectonic shift from 2010, when the Government did not consider it beneficial.

Extensive study of both local conditions and overseas best practices and intensive stakeholder consultation led to its inception in the current Bill.

Another area involved building upon the 2012 changes to the Evidence Act and strengthening safeguards to further protect the identities and privacy of complainants in sexual and child abuse offences, including restrictions on questioning. The court may allow vulnerable victims to testify behind a physical screen to prevent them from being seen by the accused.

The proposed changes also build on the Government's move in 2010 to add Community-Based Sentences (CBS) as an option to deal with offenders, alongside fines or jail terms.

Describing CBS as "popular and successful", MinLaw said the scheme is being enhanced by expanding the range of offenders and offences that are eligible.

This will include specified minimum-fine offences, where no particular type of sentence is mandatory but a fine is imposed of a certain minimum amount.

Two other prominent changes involve victim compensation in the criminal justice system and pre-disclosure of documents in criminal cases.

In 2010, the law was tightened to oblige judges to consider compensation for victims and is now being enhanced to require judges to give reasons if they do not order compensation. The proposed changes will enable victims to participate directly in the compensation process in court.

Agreeing with the ministry, legal experts said the changes show that the "significant shift" in the Government's philosophical thinking in relation to the criminal justice framework from as early as 2010 remains well in progress.

Additional changes within the framework include the introduction in 2013 of giving judges discretion in meting out the previously mandatory death sentence under certain circumstances.

They pointed to the process, backed by consultation between the Government, the public and key stakeholders, as well as recalibration of the proposed changes following the input received.

Sharing the sentiments of others, Association of Criminal Lawyers Singapore president Sunil Sudheesan said the changes are positive and show confidence on the part of relevant agencies.

"Issues like the video-recorded interviews are part of a long journey to study, consult and build in the infrastructure after seeing models elsewhere before the roll-out," he told The Straits Times.

Drew & Napier director Wendell Wong added: "The changes are timely and a recognition of the community's evolving expectations and needs. It also reflects the fruits of positive engagement and feedback with members of the criminal Bar over the years."

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Bill to tackle terror threat up for debate in Parliament

Straits Times
17 Mar 2018
Yuen Sin

Three-day session set to see passing of 11 new laws, including those on criminal justice

Robust debates can be expected when Parliament begins a three-day sitting from Monday, with up to 11 new laws set to be passed.

Some of the proposed legislations have roused concern among several civil society groups.

Among those likely to be debated vigorously are the Public Order and Safety (Special Powers) Bill, the Films (Amendment) Bill and the Criminal Justice Reform Bill.

Earlier this week, six local civil society groups claimed provisions in the Public Order and Safety (Special Powers) Bill could lead to abuse of power by the police and oppression of peaceful protesters.

The Home Affairs Ministry responded the following day, saying the Bill is not for day-to-day policing but has new provisions that would "allow us to better deal with today's prevailing terror threat".

The Bill makes it an offence for people to film or take photographs of what is taking place in the vicinity of a terror attack if a stop order is issued. The Government says this has to be done as such footage has undermined security operations during these attacks elsewhere.

This proposed change has also been criticised by international media watch groups, including Reporters Without Borders.

The Films (Amendment) Bill, introduced last month, incorporates feedback from the film community, which had expressed concerns about the "sweeping and invasive powers" proposed initially.

The earlier suggestion sought to shift the enforcement and investigation of all offences under the Films Act from the police to the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA).

Following a public consultation in December, which garnered 134 submissions, the IMDA said the expansion of officers' powers will apply only to specific offences under the Films Act, including unlicensed public exhibition of films and obscene and prohibited films.

Some members of the House will probably seek more assurances.

The Criminal Justice Reform Bill and the Evidence (Amendment) Bill cover more than 50 changes to the criminal justice process, from investigation and court processes to sentencing.

The proposed changes are part of the Government's efforts to have a more progressive, balanced and modern criminal justice system. These include letting the police take statements from suspects and victims via video recording.

The move will give the court an objective account of interviews with suspects, while video-recorded statements of vulnerable victims can replace court testimony to minimise their trauma.

Other Bills include the Carbon Pricing Bill, which sets out a framework for implementing the carbon tax announced in Budget 2018.

Before the debate on the Bills, office-holders will respond to questions submitted by MPs.

The parliamentary order paper, issued yesterday by the Clerk of Parliament, lists 19 questions, including disruptions to the SingPass and CorpPass services.

Last month, two disruptions in one week led some IT professionals to express concern about the robustness of the gateway systems and the impact on the new national digital identity system. Dr Tan Wu Meng (Jurong GRC) wants to know the outcome of investigations into the disruptions, and what measures are in place to prevent them.


The number of new laws that could be passed in the three-day sitting of Parliament, which starts on Monday.

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Member sues Tanglin Club for ‘humiliation and mental distress’ caused by ‘biased’ disciplinary proceedings

08 Mar 2018
Louisa Tang

An aggrieved member is taking Tanglin Club and its general committee to court, alleging that he was unfairly subjected to disciplinary procedures because of personal vendetta and the episode affected the health of both him and his wife.

The case will be heard on Thursday (Mar 8) in the High Court. Among other things, Mr Henry Ling, 66, is seeking damages for the “deprivation of his rights” as a club member, and the “humiliation, embarrassment and mental distress” he suffered as a result of the proceedings — which were initiated after Mr Ling was accused of sending “offensive and disrespectful emails and WhatsApp messages”. According to the originating summons, he is also asking for the court to order that the club set aside its decision that he had breached club rules and by-laws, and to expunge all related records and documents.

Tanglin Club, which was founded in 1865, is among Singapore’s oldest social clubs and has more than 7,000 members currently, said the club’s website.

In his affidavit, Mr Ling said the disciplinary proceedings caused his wife to be “so distressed that she was hospitalised for five days” due to high blood pressure during the couple’s trip to Hong Kong in April last year. He also suffered a heart condition in August last year and was admitted to the emergency department at Gleneagles Hospital, where he underwent an angioplasty operation. “My own health and my wife’s health have been affected by this entire ordeal,” Mr Ling said.

The saga had begun when the club’s bridge players were asked to vacate a room which they were using temporarily, as their usual room was being redeveloped. When the bridge players petitioned against it around January last year, the general committee “narrowly voted” against the petition two months later, leading to the players having to vacate the room.

Mr Ling, who was on the general committee at that time serving the 2016-2017 term, said that soon after, the club received several alleged complaints from club members against him, the committee and its honourary treasurer Zoeb Sadiq.

Mr Ling had held the position of Co-Convenor of the Development, Planning and Maintenance Sub-Committee, and it was his responsibility to see that the redevelopment project was carried out. His wife was a “very active” member of the club’s bridge section.

Subsequently, in April last year, the general committee convened an inquiry sub-committee against Mr Ling and Mr Sadiq for “purported breaches of the club rules and/or by-laws”.

Mr Ling alleged that a proper formal vote on whether the inquiry sub-committee should be formed did not take place. The hearing was also timed “suspiciously close to and during” the campaigning period and elections for the 2017-2018 general committee.

Among other things, Mr Ling said he was kept in the dark of which rules or by-laws he had purportedly breached, until he was informed at the hearing itself. As a result, he was unable to put up a proper defence. He also claimed that several members of the inquiry sub-committee were “biased”, including its chair, Mr Eugene Lim, who is also the club’s vice-president. They voted against the petition and had taken part in WhatsApp conversations admonishing the players’ actions, for example, Mr Ling claimed. In total, nine complaints were filed against him for offensive messages or emails that he had allegedly sent, Mr Ling said. However, none of the complainants were interviewed, he said.

Moreover, for all but one of the complaints, the alleged offensive emails or messages were not shown to him. The exception was a message which had no sender details, time or date stated. “It appears to have been a ‘cut and paste’ from elsewhere and could have been sent by anyone,” Mr Ling said in his affidavit.

Last August, the general committee issued a letter of reprimand, signed by club president Robert Wiener, to Mr Ling.

Mr Ling noted that Mr Wiener previously had to resign from office in 2014, after Mr Ling had raised an alleged conflict of interest. Mr Ling also pointed out that he ran in the general committee elections against Mr Wiener twice.

In an affidavit supporting Mr Ling, Mr Franklin Wong, who sits on the general committee, said he believes Mr Wiener “sees (Mr Ling) as a threat and was thus devising a way to disqualify him from running for office”.

A member who has been issued a letter of reprimand may be barred from running in the club’s elections for at least three years. Mr Ling said he has intentions to run for the 2018-2019 general committee but he will “almost effectively” be barred from doing so.

Tanglin Club, as well as its legal counsel Allen & Gledhill, did not respond to queries on the matter.

Copyright 2017 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

Concerns addressed over video recording of interviews

Straits Times
01 Mar 2018
Selina Lum

Should individuals be allowed to opt out of video-recorded interviews when questioned by the police - a new initiative being proposed by the Government? Should editing of video-recorded interviews be allowed?

These were some of the concerns raised to the Ministry of Law (MinLaw) during a public consultation held from July to August last year to discuss some 50 proposed changes spanning the criminal justice process, from investigation to court processes and sentencing.

The changes were tabled yesterday in Parliament under the Criminal Justice Reform Bill and the Evidence (Amendment) Bill.

In response to the concerns raised over the video recording of police interviews, the ministry said individuals should be allowed to opt out, as some may be willing to give a statement to the police only off-camera.

An insistence on video recording might undermine investigations, the ministry said. It was responding to concerns that allowing opt-outs might lead to accusations that the individual had been coerced into this.

Editing of video-recorded interviews is also required to protect sensitive information on national security or intelligence sources, said MinLaw.

It added that, if necessary, the court can decide to view the edited portions.

MinLaw said that it received feedback from the public, civil society organisations, the Bar and others. It also held dialogues with the Law Society and the criminal Bar, and consulted with the judiciary, the Attorney-General's Chambers and other ministries.

While there was broad support for the proposals, there was also a difference of views in some areas.

For instance, MinLaw dropped a proposed procedure to deal with disputes over legal professional privilege during police investigations. Legal professional privilege protects communication between lawyers and their clients from being disclosed.

Some expressed reservations about the practical implementation of such a procedure, saying it would effectively undermine legal professional privilege.

Some were also against the proposal that defence lawyers cannot ask questions about a complainant's sexual history that is unrelated to the charge, unless the court allows it.

The ministry said it went ahead with the proposal as there is public interest in ensuring that victims are not deterred from coming forward.

However, MinLaw agreed to lower the threshold for the court to consider in deciding whether to allow such questions, from "manifestly unjust" to "in the interests of justice". It added that the latter phrase would be left for the court to interpret and apply.

Selina Lum

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Law silent on adoption of boys by gay singles

Straits Times
17 Mar 2018
K.C. Vijayan

Judge says it may be time to address issue of parenting and a person's sexual orientation

In rejecting a gay man's application to adopt a boy, a judge pointed out that while the Adoption Act protects girls from potential sexual abuse in the hands of single male adopters, it is silent on boys being adopted.

In flagging the issue, District Judge Shobha G. Nair said: "Would we not need to be concerned about male children in the care of single male applicants with a different sexual orientation?

"Should the same position not be taken with respect to single female applicants? Are these very suggestions ignorant or has history shown us that these are legitimate concerns to be looked into?"

Judge Nair said it may be time to address the issue of parenting by an individual with a different sexual orientation or parenting by a same gender couple, but the case and the courts are not the forum for this.

"There is nothing to suggest the applicant has ill intentions towards the child simply because of his sexual orientation," she stressed.

In a detailed written judgment released last week after the man filed an appeal, Judge Nair also explained why in December 2017 she rejected the gay Singaporean doctor's application to adopt his own biological son, now four years old.

The man had been in a relationship with his partner here for 13 years when they approached the Ministry of Social and Family Development to inquire about the possibility of adopting a child. They were told the ministry was unlikely to recommend adoption of children by a homosexual couple.

The man then travelled to the US where he paid about US$200,000 (S$268,000) to father the boy through surrogacy arrangements.

As the biological father, he was allowed to bring the child back here to live with him. He then started adoption proceedings to legitimise his relationship with the child, a US citizen.

During the hearing last year, his lawyer, Mr Koh Tien Hua argued among other things that surrogacy is not illegal in Singapore.

Judge Nair said she accepted that local laws did not criminalise surrogacy but pointed out that doctors who facilitate the procedure here stand to face disciplinary or criminal sanctions.

She also expressed concerns about the practice of surrogacy in the context of the Adoption Act. She noted that in this case, no money was involved in the adoption of the child as the man was not adopting from a parent or guardian, as is the usual case. Instead, a stranger agreed to be paid to carry a child to term, she said.

"The use of money to encourage the movement of life from one hand to another is the very thing the spirit of the Adoption Act... seeks to prevent. It matters not the figure that was paid.

"I am not able to ignore the commercial complexion of the transaction. Among a plethora of devastating consequences, commercial surrogacy demeans and exploits human beings at various levels, especially women in poverty. This explains Singapore's position on the practice," she said.

In dismissing the case, Judge Nair said this was an adoption application in form but not in substance.

She noted it is an unusual request by a biological parent to adopt his child to legitimise a relationship in Singapore, wherethe position on who can use IVF procedures is clear, she said.

The judge said that while the boy will obtain tangible benefits such as a home and education, he would "labour over issues of identity".

"Identity is not a question where answers are sought at four years of age. Clearly this court is not the place nor is it equipped to undo knots created by acts of the applicant."

Judge Nair added that "an adoption order on the facts of this case would be to smear the thin line between the rights and interests of adults and those of children. It is a line we must endeavour to respect if we are to truly honour children everywhere.

"Having said that, in the eyes of this court, the innocence of the child legitimises him and I wish both the applicant and his child the very best in their journey forward together."

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More global parties taking disputes here

Straits Times
08 Mar 2018
K.C. Vijayan

International arbitration centre in S'pore saw highest number of new cases in 2017, up 32%.

Users across six continents, from countries as varied as Madagascar, Germany and the US, have been taking their disputes to Singapore's arbitration flagship, the Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC), which recorded its highest number of new cases last year.

The 452 new cases filed in 2017 from parties in 58 countries involved US$4.07 billion ($5.3 billion). This is a 32 per cent jump from the number of cases seen in 2016, and more than five times the number a decade ago, according to the centre's 2017 annual report, which was released yesterday.

"While India and China remain significant contributors to our caseload, the top 10 foreign user rankings saw new entrants from Europe and the Middle East, underscoring SIAC's global appeal to users from diverse legal systems and cultures," said Ms Lim Seok Hui, the centre's chief executive.

The top 10 foreign users hailed from countries such as the United States, the United Arab Emirates and Germany. Other users, not in the top 10, came from a broad spectrum of countries, including Madagascar, Bermuda and Turkey.

Industry players say SIAC's upward trajectory will continue, given the growing popularity of arbitration to settle disputes and the increasing number of foreign parties which name Singapore as the arbitration venue of choice.

Cases filed with SIAC involved a slew of sectors, including banking and financial services, shipping and construction, with trade and commercial disputes making up some 53 per cent of the claims.

SIAC chairman and Senior Counsel Davinder Singh said: "SIAC is where it is today because of Singapore's reputation for integrity and the rule of law, its status as a trusted and sophisticated hub, and the Singapore Courts' support for and active contribution to develop the law and practice of arbitration."

Rajah & Tann partner Paul Tan, who deals in international arbitration, said SIAC's success can be credited to its ability to constantly innovate. For example, the centre is embarking on a protocol for the consolidation of arbitration proceedings across different institutions.

He said SIAC also benefited from the Government's commitment to ensure all the hallmarks of a great arbitration venue, including infrastructure such as the new Maxwell Chambers Suites which, when completed next year, will provide about 50 new offices.

Singapore Institute of Arbitrators president Dinesh Dhillon said "as the Asia-Pacific is a global leader in terms of infrastructure and economic development, there is every reason to be optimistic about SIAC's future prospects to do even better".

International arbitration specialist and lawyer Tay Yu-Jin of Mayer Brown JSM said the success means the arbitration community in Singapore will have a very vibrant space.

London-based veteran industry player Brian Lee said: "Despite the rocky world economy since 2008, arbitration has gone from strength to strength and there is no reason why this will not continue in that Switzerland of Asia - Singapore."

The practice development and marketing manager of 7KBW Barristers in London and former chair of the Institute of Barristers' Clerks added that Singapore is the No. 1 hub in Asia and is vying with Paris and London as one of the world's leading venues. "Singapore sets the gold standard for user-friendliness, fantastic infrastructure, good hotels and, above all, world-class facilities in Maxwell Chambers," he said.


SIAC is where it is today because of Singapore's reputation for integrity and the rule of law, its status as a trusted and sophisticated hub, and the Singapore Courts' support for and active contribution to develop the law and practice of arbitration.


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GST hike: MPs voice concerns, suggest alternatives

Business Times
01 Mar 2018
Janice Heng

The future goods and services tax (GST) hike drew varied responses on the first day of the Budget debate, with some Members of Parliament proposing alternative revenue sources and the Workers' Party saying it was "unable to support" the announcement at this point.

Liang Eng Hwa (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) cheered the adequate warning given for the hike in GST from 7 per cent to 9 per cent, set for sometime from 2021 to 2025.

But other MPs hoped the timeline was not cast in stone.

If Singapore's economy outperforms forecasts in the coming years, the hike could be postponed or the need for it be reviewed, suggested Chong Kee Hiong (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC) and Foo Mee Har (West Coast GRC) respectively.

Mr Chong wanted to know the expected GDP contribution from large-scale infrastructure projects such as Changi Airport Terminal 5, and how these could reduce Singapore's reliance on future GST hikes.

He also asked if the government would set a cap on GST's contribution to total revenue, or a ceiling to the GST rate.

Many of the 28 MPs who spoke yesterday suggested alternative revenue sources. Ms Foo proposed a broader e-commerce tax extending to goods, higher taxes on liquor and gambling, and a sugar tax.

She also raised the possibility of a capital gains tax or an increase in property tax for non-resident owners.

Similarly, Ong Teng Koon (Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC) asked if Singapore might have to consider a wealth tax: "As technology advances, wages will likely fall as a share of GDP - so making the owners of land and capital pay their fair share may make sense."

Yee Chia Hsing (Chua Chu Kang GRC) suggested having a department to close tax loopholes and look at "creative ways" to raise revenue, offering two ideas of his own: the tender of SG-series car plates, and charging luxury alcohol and tobacco duties based on a percentage of value rather than volume or weight.

One proposal kept off the table, however, was tapping the reserves further. Mr Liang, Ms Foo and Seah Kian Peng (Marine Parade GRC) were among those who cautioned against raising the net investment returns (NIR) contribution to the Budget.

Currently, under the NIR framework, the government can spend up to half of the long-term expected real returns from the assets managed by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), GIC and Temasek Holdings.

Workers' Party MP Pritam Singh (Aljunied GRC) noted that there have been public suggestions to raise this to 60 per cent.

His own proposal was for land sales proceeds to be considered for government spending - a call the WP also made in last year's Budget debate.

Under the Constitution, land sales revenues are part of the reserves and cannot fund government spending.

Mr Singh added that his party was "unable to support the announcement of a GST hike at this point", citing a lack of clarity about projected expenditure and a lack of information on whether there is scope to "look at the reserves". The WP also needs an understanding of the government's planned offset package, he said.

People's Action Party MPs Lim Biow Chuan (Mountbatten), Lee Bee Wah (Nee Soon GRC) and Vikram Nair (Sembawang GRC) rejected the WP's idea.

"It is wrong in principle to sell land and spend that capital upfront," said Mr Nair, adding that the current approach was "more responsible".[/GONE]

Mr Lim and Ms Lee did have concerns about the GST hike, however, asking if a committee against profiteering would be set up, as was done for previous hikes. Speaking up for businesses instead was Nominated MP Thomas Chua. He noted that some small retailers - particularly in the north of Singapore - worry that the GST hike will drive consumers over the Causeway to shop in Malaysia.

This is particularly with the Johor Bahru-Singapore Rapid Transit System due to start running in 2024, and the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High Speed Rail in 2026, he added.

Mr Chua, who is immediate past president of the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry, also addressed the introduction of GST on imported services from 2020.

Although this is a long-awaited levelling of the playing field for local service providers, many firms - especially small and medium enterprises - will face pressure from the rise in operating costs, he said.

Imported business-to-business services include software applications, accounting and IT services.

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Minors who seek abortion encouraged to inform parents: Forum

Straits Times
17 Mar 2018

We refer to Ms Ho Lay Ping's letter (Impose parental consent requirement for minors undergoing abortions; March 10).

Under the Termination of Pregnancy Regulations, all pregnant women seeking an abortion in Singapore are required to undergo pre-abortion counselling with a trained counsellor.

Unmarried minors below 16 are required to undergo compulsory pre-abortion counselling at the Health Promotion Board Counselling Centre.

The session will provide these women with information on the abortion procedure, educate them on issues such as responsible love, sexual behaviour and contraceptive methods and advise them on social support to prevent repeated unwanted pregnancies.

The pregnant woman can only give her written consent to the abortion at least 48 hours after the counselling session. This is to allow her time to carefully consider her decision for abortion. Those who require further support and follow-up are also directed to the Family Service Centres or helplines.

Currently, parental consent is not required due to concerns that mandating parental consent for such abortions may compel these minors to risk their lives by seeking unsafe abortions.

Minors seeking abortions are encouraged to inform and discuss with their parents and families on their decision to undergo an abortion. From 2013 to last year, approximately two in three minors under 16 were accompanied by at least one parent when attending pre-abortion counselling. About nine in 10 had self-reported that they had informed at least one of their parents about the decision to undergo an abortion.

Lim Siok Peng (Ms)

Director, Corporate Communications

Ministry of Health

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No-caning deal for bank robbery suspect: Some justice or zero justice?

Straits Times
08 Mar 2018
K.C. Vijayan

The no-caning undertaking involving suspected bank robber David Roach has sparked questions on whether Singapore did right to agree to the British condition for extradition

In an unusual but not unprecedented move, Singapore has pledged not to cane Canadian robbery suspect David Roach if he is extradited from London to face robbery charges here and found guilty.

Roach, currently detained in London, is accused of robbing Standard Chartered Bank's Holland Village branch of $30,000 on July 7, 2016. He fled to Bangkok and after serving time there for money laundering, was deported to Canada - but en route at London, he was detained at Singapore's request.

As part of the efforts to ensure his extradition, the Singapore authorities gave the assurance to the British government that Roach would not be caned even if he were to be convicted of the robbery offence here, which carries mandatory caning.

Singapore's move follows a request from the UK government as British laws prohibit the authorities from extraditing Roach without such an undertaking. Britain abolished caning as a punishment for criminals in 1948.

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said on Feb 20 that the assurance was made to "try and ensure that Roach does not escape justice, and does not affect the general position taken by Singapore on corporal punishment".

But the move has also sparked questions among some on whether the move is constitutional according to local laws; if it impinges on Singapore's sovereignty; how Singapore is likely to fulfil its assurance; and how one should choose between zero justice or securing some form of justice.


National University of Singapore (NUS) adjunct professor Kevin Tan previously argued in a 2003 extradition case in Australia that an assurance was unconstitutional as it was premature.

He and law professor Thio Li-ann were brought in as expert witnesses to testify in the case of Briton Michael McCrea, who was facing extradition from Australia for two homicides here.

McCrea had challenged his extradition even after Singapore gave the Australian government the assurance that he would not suffer the death penalty. Australia does not allow extradition to a country were there are death penalty laws as such capital punishment is not used in Australia.

The two professors were asked to testify in the Melbourne court if Singapore's assurance was unconstitutional under the Singapore Constitution.

In a recent e-mail interview on the case, Professor Tan told The Straits Times: "We argued that based on our interpretation of the Constitution, it was unconstitutional on the grounds that the assurance was premature since the executive branch of the Government was then not vested with authority to act since the case had not yet gone to trial."

But the Australian court did not agree with the points raised by the two professors after considering Singapore's position.

Prof Tan said: "The High Court of Australia held that it was not concerned with the interpretation of a foreign Constitution and that ultimately, since it was a government-to-government assurance, it was binding on Singapore as a matter of international law and comity."

NUS law assistant professor Jaclyn Neo notes that such undertakings are agreements between sovereign states. She points out, based on previous rulings, that the courts are not bound by the Government's undertaking to Britain.

"Indeed, it would be an interference with judicial power provided under the Singapore Constitution and the separation of powers if the Government sought to impose the undertaking on the courts," she told The Straits Times.

As for how the Singapore Government will honour its undertaking, she explained that "if the accused is convicted and sentenced to caning, and if Cabinet wishes to comply with their obligations to the UK, they can advise the President to remit the sentence", which is provided for under the Singapore Constitution.

In the McCrea case, the Australian High Court recognised that the President's prerogative is exercised "on advice" and "not just the whim of the President of the State of Singapore".

"It is something that is done on the advice of the Executive Government of Singapore," said Justice Michael Kirby.

McCrea was eventually deported to Singapore in 2005, and pleaded guilty to two homicide charges and for concealing evidence of the killings in the High Court. He was sentenced in 2006 to 24 years' jail.

Prof Tan said that in the Roach case, in order to honour the undertaking given by Singapore not to cane him if he is convicted, the "only way to do so is to bring him back to Singapore, let the public prosecutor decide what to charge him with, go through the whole trial and conviction, and then procure a part pardon from the President - which is well within the executive domain to do".

It is also possible that Roach may convince the English court that he be tried domestically in a Canadian court, citing the potential severity of punishment in Singapore compared with in Britain, the European Union or Canada.

Lawyers will also be watching to see how the British court views the no-caning undertaking offered by the Singapore authorities for Roach, and see if the UK approach differs or reflects the Australian court's stand in the McCrea case.

The Roach case is understood to be the second reported case of Singapore giving such an undertaking to a foreign government to avoid imposing a potential punishment not used by the foreign country concerned under its own laws. The first reported was the McCrea case in the Australian court.


Experts say that in acting on the Cabinet's advice, the President would have to take into account the consequences of the Government reneging on its assurance to Britain not to cane Roach, if he is convicted.

Undertakings based on the expectations of diplomacy between countries are part of the landscape of good international relations.

For example, in September last year, Canada's Supreme Court agreed to send back two suspects, including a Canadian citizen, to face a murder trial in India for an "honour killing" after ruling as valid government-to-government assurances that the pair would not face the death penalty, if convicted.

It is not uncommon for countries to make such undertakings, and also rare for any to renege on the assurances.

Justice Kirby, in the 2005 Australian High Court proceedings, had asked McCrea's counsel then if "there has been a single case in Singapore where the dire consequences" of the country breaching its undertaking has occurred.

"It would be such a scandal that it just is hard to conceive, at least in a Commonwealth country," he said, adding: "It seems very unlikely, at least in a country like Singapore."

Asked if there was any Commonwealth country that subsequently reneged on an undertaking , Senior Counsel M.M. Gordon for the Australian Government Solicitor said there was none and that this was "not surprising".

"It is not surprising because, as your Honour pointed out, it would be (a) diabolical situation not only for the country (concerned) in its relations with Australia but its relations with every other country," she added.

Asked by The Straits Times what Canada's position is on the extradition case, spokesman Philip Hannan for Ottawa-based Global Affairs Canada, a government department that manages its diplomatic and consular relations, declined to comment, citing the provisions under Canada's Privacy Act.

However, its online guide to Canadians imprisoned abroad bears this advisory: "If you break the laws of another country, you are subject to the judicial system of that country. Being a foreigner or not knowing the local laws is not an excuse. Global Affairs Canada can neither protect you from the consequences of your actions nor override the decisions of local authorities."

Added Mr Hannan: "Global Affairs Canada is providing consular services to Mr Roach."


In a letter published on Feb 22 in The Straits Times, reader Sean Lim wrote that he was disappointed with Singapore's assurance, saying it might give a wrong impression to foreigners that it is all right to commit crimes in Singapore since they will not be subjected to the same punishment.

"In addition, this has implications on how the international community perceives our sovereignty. Singapore should be seen as an independent state which stands firm on its laws, and not be viewed as a small state that buckles under pressure from its former colonial rulers."

In a March 1 letter responding to Mr Lim, MHA's media relations director Sunny Lee wrote that it was necessary to provide the assurance that Roach would not be caned, or Britain would not have permitted the extradition.

"This assurance does not mean a compromise of our sovereignty. Rather, it reflects that countries have differing views on crime and punishment," he said, reiterating what Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam had told reporters on Feb 22.

Mr Shanmugam said Singapore faced a choice in whether to accede to Britain's request for an assurance.

"And so you have a choice: You can either say okay, I will not do the undertaking, in which case, he will not be extradited, he will go off to lead his life in Canada or wherever else.

"Or we can say, we will give the undertaking not to cane, but he will come to face all the other punishments, if he is convicted.

"So, I think we will have to decide which is the better option for us - let him go off scot-free, as it were, or get him back to face a trial. I think it is a fairly obvious answer."

But would Singaporeans and lawyers here be miffed that Roach, if he is tried here and convicted of robbery, be spared the rod where a local offender may not?

Echoing a sentiment shared by some lawyers, lawyer Grace Malathy said: "The Singapore assurance grounds the potential extradition. Otherwise, Roach will go scot-free (from) having to face a serious charge and that is, by far, a greater evil."

Whatever side of the divide one may stand on, it is difficult to disagree on the common ground that there is a need to ensure the suspect returns to face charges and settle the case.

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

Noble auditors raise doubts on company as a going concern

Business Times
01 Mar 2018
Andrea Soh

But board is confident in it continuing as a going concern until revamp is complete, which could be in a few weeks

Noble Group said it is expecting to reach a final conclusion on its restructuring plan with some of its creditors in a few weeks, or even days, as it announced a loss of US$4.94 billion for 2017 and its auditor flagged concerns over the group's ability to continue as a going concern.

The group recorded a net profit of US$8.7 million in 2016.

Revenue tumbled 26 per cent to US$6.43 billion, from US$8.67 billion in 2016, as traded volumes dropped due to constraints in trade finance and liquidity.

Its auditor EY said in the financial statements that the 2017 losses, Noble's current liabilities of US$1.19 billion of bank debt and US$378.8 million of senior notes due in March this year, as well as its net deficiency of US$800.9 million, "indicate the existence of a material uncertainty which may cast significant doubt over the group's ability to continue as a going concern".

But Noble's board said it is satisfied the group can continue as a going concern until the restructuring is completed, given the state of its restructuring discussions with the ad hoc creditor group representing about 36 per cent of its senior debt instruments, and trade finance facilities currently provided by its banks.

Progress in the talks with the ad hoc group has been "quite good", said its chairman Paul Brough in an earnings call. "We hope to come to some conclusion with the ad hoc group in the course of the next few days or weeks."

Noble will call for a shareholders' meeting after the final terms are nailed down with these creditors, he said.

He added that Noble's restructuring plan - described by its advisors as the most complex to have been undertaken in Asia - has faced both support and opposition.

That is a reflection of the consensual basis the group has chosen to conduct its restructuring, rather than through a formal liquidation process. Besides producing a better outcome and being less costly, such a consensual basis also helps to protect the group's trading business, said Mr Brough.

"Because (Noble) is a business that relies on that franchise, to put it through any insolvency process would be very damaging indeed. The issue with a consensual restructuring is that everybody is unhappy with what they're offered."

Noble's perpetual bondholders, some retail bondholders and shareholders have voiced their unhappiness over what they deem to be unfair terms.

A group of its perpetual bondholders, holding more than 25 per cent of the securities, has hired lawyers Latham & Watkins LLP to negotiate a better deal or "exercise remedies" against the firm, a group representative said in an e-mail statement on Wednesday.

Asked whether this group would be able to block Noble's restructuring plan, Mr Brough said its first conversations have to be with its creditors, which it has done.

"Time is of the essence. We apprecate that and the ad hoc group appreciates that," he said, adding that Noble is in talks with strategic investors, but they will likely come in after restructuring.

The group declined to comment on whether it will be making payment on its coupon and bonds due in March, saying that the call was not the appropriate forum to do so. "We will do that through the SGX at the appropriate time," said its chief financial officer Paul Jackaman.

The group made the coupon payment due on Jan 29 in order to protect its trading franchise, as "it is important from our customer and supplier perspective that we are compliant with our borrowing obligations".

But Mr Jackaman declined to reveal whether its long-term contracts have any credit event clause, saying these are closely-guarded trade secrets.

Noble's 2017 loss figure includes a US$1.053 billion loss from discontinued operations, and US$3.24 billion of exceptional items recorded from its continuing operations.

The latter comprises US$2.15 billion in adjustments to net fair value gains on commodity contracts and derivative financial instruments, and US$1.04 billion in impairments on some current and non-current assets, as well as a non-cash loss resulting from a significant dilution of its shareholding in Yancoal Australia.

Still, volumes in the coal business remained "fairly stable" with a 7 per cent decline from 2016, as it was able to increase its marketing volumes which does not require trade finance support, said Noble.

Volumes in the metals, minerals and ores division declined due to a significant long-term iron ore contract ending in end-2016, and a focus on profitability over volumes in its freight business.

Noble's shares closed 0.5 Singapore cent, or 2.83 per cent, lower at 17.2 Singapore cents before the results announcement.

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Experts mixed on whether fake-news laws can protect society from ‘threat of our times’

16 Mar 2018
Kelly Ng

Given racial and religious fault lines as well as its high Internet penetration rate, Singapore could become a “sandbox for subversion” preyed upon by groups looking to test their methods, warned national security expert Shashi Jayakumar on Thursday (March 15).

Testifying on the second day of the public hearing held by the Select Committee studying online falsehoods, Dr Jayakumar also pointed to the presence of “hired guns” and fake news mills in Singapore’s immediate neighbours, Malaysia and Indonesia.

“Let’s say, touch wood, in a worst-case scenario where we have a serious mishap in relations with one of our near neighbours. It will be a mistake to assume the means employed against us will be merely kinetic,” said Dr Jayakumar, who heads the Centre of Excellence for National Security at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies.

He cited how Saracen, a notorious fake news factory in Indonesia, was involved bringing down former Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama — popularly known by his Hakka name Ahok — such as by attacking his Chinese ancestry and Christian faith. Similar techniques have also been used to launch character assassinations against other high-level politicians.

Dr Jayakumar warned: “So far, that (has been) limited to Indonesian domestic political machinations, but the planning could be turned with a tweak against Singapore in the event of a serious mishap or falling out.”

Political parties in Malaysia have also reportedly used big data analytics and disinformation to appeal to the electorate ahead of the upcoming general election.

Dr Jayakumar said: “The means and tools are actually there…I don’t want to cast allegations, or smears, or be a fear monger, but in my view, it would be amazing to assume this is not already happening in Singapore. These are advanced persistent threats.”

The most advanced and persistent forms of cyber threats are deployed “long in advance” and “reside in your system long before you detect it”, he said.

“You don’t realise you’re being boiled…And when you detect it, that means the communal resilience or the body politic has already started to fray,” he added.

With the aid of social media, many forms of intolerance in the region, including non-Islam extremists, could seep into Singapore.

“So Singapore can be a sandbox for subversion and these issues and they should be looked into. We shouldn’t isolate one particular type of strain or intolerance at all,” said Dr Jayakumar.

It does not take a large team with deep pockets to launch a disinformation campaign, Dr Jayakumar cautioned. Some of the attackers are co-opted from within the target country, with little or no reimbursement, he said.

In his written submission, Dr Jayakumar cited how a group of about 10 people with “pronounced right-wing sympathies” living in Moscow had “strong ideological impetus” to spread falsehoods in their home country, which he did not name, in Western Europe.

“They felt that their country had gone down the wrong path when it came to multiculturalism, and in terms of its immigration and refugee policy, and felt that they and the fake social media accounts they had created will aid in the ‘legitimate’ resistance that would bring their country to the ‘correct’ path again,” he wrote.

Mr Ruslan Deynychenko, co-founder of Ukrainian fact-checking outfit StopFake.org, also stressed that Singapore must not be complacent, despite not having been a target of such campaigns in recent times.

Speaking to reporters after giving oral evidence on Thursday, Mr Deynychenko drew insights from the Russian invasion of Ukraine from 2014, often cited as the bloodiest war in European history since the early 1990s.

He cautioned: “It is possible that someone would send weapons to your country, to some radical groups, either religious or nationalistic groups… Our example demonstrates that it is possible. No one believed that (Ukraine) could ever have military conflict with Russia, because we were persuaded that we are brothers. We speak the same language, and half of the population are Russians.”

“We thought we had nothing to fight for, then suddenly it happened because someone in Russia decided that they need this trophy,” he said, referring to Russia’s annexation of Crimea in early 2014.


Experts who presented on Thursday were divided on whether legislation should form a crucial piece of the Republic’s arsenal against falsehoods.

Dr Jayakumar, for instance, felt legal recourse would be helpful in calling to account agencies and individuals who have “actively seeded subversion”.

Government and legislative intervention must be complemented with other measures, such as education, he said. For instance, the social studies curriculum in secondary schools could be revamped to include topics that raise awareness of falsehoods and disinformation, which Dr Jayakumar called “the threat of our times”.

However, information warfare analyst Ben Nimmo, who presented his evidence via video-conferencing from the United Kingdom, felt that legislation should be “the very last resort”.

A more effective and prompt approach is to work directly with the tech platforms to take out misinformation, he suggested.

Countering Mr Nimmo’s suggestion, Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam said that the platforms may not be keen to engage with Singapore.

The minister said: “When you’re in the United States, I suppose you can talk to (large Internet platforms)… What if they say no to you, to a country like Singapore? What do we do?”

While acknowledging that legislation is a recourse when platforms are reluctant to engage, Mr Nimmo, who is a fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, maintained that laws have limitations in terms of flexibility and speed.

“It’s much quicker to be able to have… a dedicated contact system whereby in severe cases, you can reach directly to (the platforms)… If they don’t appear to respond, then you (can use laws), but it’s much better not to,” he said.

There are many “grey areas”, he added, such as how some pieces of misinformation may not be entirely false.

“How will you define the problem? There are so many grey areas here. Just the preamble to your legislation is going to be the size of the Oxford Dictionary,” he said.

The debate went on for about 10 minutes before Mr Shanmugam concluded: “It’s a matter of values, but I think it is entirely justified for the state to intervene and say, ‘This is not allowed’…Legislation may not necessarily just be one solution, there might have to be different solutions for slightly differentiated outcomes.”

Copyright 2017 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

MAS sets out new measures to tackle mass movements of financial advisers

Business Times
08 Mar 2018
Stephanie Luo

Four proposed measures follow talks with Life Insurance Association and are currently open for public consultation

The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) on Wednesday proposed four measures to address large-scale movements of financial advisory (FA) representatives from one FA firm to another.

It is calling for a public consultation, after which it will then be decided if these measures might eventually become regulations.

"We'll see what the response is. We haven't decided. This is what we think the industry should do. It's co-created with the industry and we'll see," Ong Chong Tee, deputy managing director (Financial Supervision), MAS, told The Business Times on the sidelines of the Life Insurance Association Singapore's (LIA) annual luncheon.

For a start, the LIA will be issuing the proposed measures as guidelines for the association's member companies and related parties next week.

Patrick Teow, president of LIA, told BT: "We have gone through many rounds of discussions between MAS and our member companies and finally, MAS is agreeable on these four areas. LIA is taking the forefront by going with a guideline first."

The first proposed measure recommends that the first-year sales target tied to sign-on incentives should not be higher than the representative's average annual sales in the preceding three years.

"Sales targets for subsequent years should be set at a reasonable level based on the representatives' past performance, and would be subject to supervisory review by MAS," the central bank said.

The measure aims to reduce the risk of representatives engaging in aggressive sales tactics to meet inflated sales targets.

The second measure suggests that sign-on incentives be spread over a minimum six years. The first-year payment should be capped at 50 per cent of the representative's average annual remuneration in the preceding three years. The remaining sign-on incentives are to be spread over the next five or more years.

The third measure proposes that FA firms be required to claw back the representative's sign-on incentives if the percentage of insurance policies serviced by the representative at the previous FA firm and which remain in force, falls below a threshold of between 75 per cent and 85 per cent two years after the representative's departure.

The last measure states that FA firms will need to undertake "enhanced monitoring" of newly-hired representatives' sales transactions for at least two years. This includes appointing an independent external party to conduct customer call-backs to verify that the sales and advisory process has been properly conducted.

MAS said that the last two measures apply only to the mass movement of 30 or more representatives from one FA firm to another within a 60-day rolling period.

The public consultation will end on April 9.

In the second half of last year, BT reported that a total of about 300 financial advisors from Great Eastern moved to rival AIA's newly set-up FA arm, AIA Financial Advisers, in what was seen as the biggest migration in recent years. It was understood that a smaller group of AIA financial advisors was moving to the new FA firm.

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

More divorces being settled by mediation

Straits Times
01 Mar 2018
Rahimah Rashith

Fewer cases having to go through contested hearings as more help in place: Family court

Almost seven out of 10 divorce cases that went to mediation last year were resolved through the process, without the need to go to contested hearings.

The "encouraging results" were helped by support schemes and simplified processes, as well as the efforts of family court staff and partners in the community, Justice Debbie Ong, Presiding Judge of the Family Justice Courts (FJC), said yesterday.

The figures are an improvement from 2016, when 6.5 out of 10 cases were fully resolved through mediation, and in line with plans to make divorce proceedings less adversarial, minimising conflict for the sake of any children involved.

Speaking at the FJC's Workplan 2018 seminar, Justice Ong also noted that 15 per cent of the cases were partially resolved, meaning that fewer issues went on to contested hearings.

She was speaking at the Supreme Court in her first public speech since her appointment as Presiding Judge of FJC last September. During the session, she laid out the court's priorities and plans for the next phase of family justice in Singapore.

Justice Ong said that even when parties make applications to court, there "will always be the possibility of mediation or non-litigious resolution at all stages in the divorce process".

The FJC is setting up an online dispute resolution (ODR) system - which will allow users to seek resolution without having to litigate - for child maintenance claims.

It will include a simulator to help parties understand the possible outcome of a maintenance claim, and a forum for both parties to negotiate. If negotiation fails, online mediation of the claims will be provided.

"It is envisaged that ODR will help parties to resolve their child maintenance claims earlier and with less costs, ultimately benefiting the children," said Justice Ong.

Other FJC plans include a study of how elderly and vulnerable court users can be helped through the court process.

Her speech stressed the FJC's role in meeting the needs of various family members embroiled in legal disputes.

"It is important that parties recognise the role of FJC as a court which applies the law to reach a just decision between both parties; it is not an 'agency' that serves the needs of only one party," she said. "Respect for the court's authority is necessary in the family justice system."

She added that the presence of children makes it necessary for the FJC to take on a broader role and that the recently formed inter-agency Review and Enhance Reforms in the Family Justice System (RERF) committee will work to empower parties to make decisions that are good for their children.

Measures include facilitating access to various support services before they even file for divorce.

Justice Ong co-chairs the RERF committee along with the permanent secretaries of the Ministry of Social and Family Development and Ministry of Law.

Its purview includes promoting alternative and multi-disciplinary approaches to conflict resolution, reducing the cost and complexity of proceedings, and strengthening access to family justice.

As part of the work plan, lawyers and judges will also be trained. The FJC will work with The Law Society of Singapore and the Singapore Academy of Law to offer appropriate training in two upcoming conferences on family law and justice.

FJC is also looking into developing a targeted and specialised curriculum for family judges that emphasises the specific competencies in family justice.

Lawyer Raymond Yeo said: "Mediation has always been the forefront where the family court is concerned, because this will be the alternative route to an adversarial approach."

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Public order Bill not for day-to-day policing: MHA

Straits Times
16 Mar 2018
Rahimah Rashith

No intention to use proposed update to law to regulate peaceful public assemblies; it is aimed at tackling terror

A law enacted in 1958 to provide special powers to deal with large-scale communal riots has never been used against public assemblies and there is no intention to use an updated version of the law to regulate peaceful public assemblies.

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said yesterday that the Public Order and Safety (Special Powers) Bill is "not meant for day-to-day policing".

The difference between the existing Act and the Bill is "new provisions which would allow us to better deal with today's prevailing terror threat", it added.

This was in response to concerns raised in a joint statement on Wednesday by several local civil society groups, claiming that provisions in the Bill could lead to an abuse of power by the police and oppression against peaceful protesters.

In the Bill, which was tabled in Parliament on Feb 27, serious incidents are described as terrorist acts, serious violence affecting the public, and acts causing large-scale public disorder.

In their statement, the groups called on the Government to narrow the definition of "serious incident", arguing that peaceful protests should not be treated in the same way as terrorist violence, describing such protests as non-violent and not threatening public safety.

But the MHA said it is disingenuous to assert that large-scale assemblies are devoid of violence and injuries. "In the 2011 London riots, at least 202 people, including police officers, were injured, and five people died, after what started off as a peaceful assembly," said the ministry.

The civil society groups said that with existing strict laws against assembly, the police are already empowered to respond to peaceful protests "as they would any prohibited activity, and have done so", and that special powers are not needed.

The MHA said the threshold for special powers to be activated in the Bill is high and can be used by the police only after the Minister for Home Affairs has issued an activation order. This can be done only after the minister is satisfied that a serious incident has occurred or is occurring in Singapore.

The order, which can also be issued when there is a threat of such a serious incident occurring, gives special powers to the police to prevent the incident, reduce its impact, or control, restore or maintain public order.

"Such assessments are not made lightly," said the MHA.

The proposed law would give the Commissioner of Police power to issue a communications stop order (CSO) while security operations are ongoing during a serious incident. People will then have to stop filming or taking pictures of the incident area, or from sending what they have taken on to others.

The civil society groups took issue with this, saying it was puzzling as it "gives rise to fears of undocumented abuse of police powers". Should there be disputes later about police actions, "the police would benefit from independent documentation", the groups said in their statement.

The MHA reiterated that the CSO serves to prevent security operations from being compromised and to protect the safety of officers and members of the public involved or caught up in the operations.

The ministry said that those who encounter any cases of misconduct or abuse of powers by police officers can lodge a police report or complain directly to the ministry.

"We have always taken a serious view of all feedback about police officers and will investigate thoroughly," said the MHA.

The MHA said the threshold for special powers to be activated in the Bill is high and can be used by the police only after the Minister for Home Affairs has issued an activation order. This can be done only after the minister is satisfied that a serious incident has occurred or is occurring in Singapore.

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

Maritime industry gets S$100m more to push for automated, digital future

Business Times
08 Mar 2018
Tan Hwee Hwee

The Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) will pump another S$100 million into the Maritime Cluster Fund (MCF) to help the industry test and embrace new technologies, and groom talent for a digital, automated maritime future.

Senior Minister of State for Transport Lam Pin Min said at the Committee of Supply debate for his ministry on Wednesday that the MCF is expected to support about 30 new projects and benefit some 5,000 people annually. The injection of funds by the MPA will lift the total investment in the MCF since 2007 to S$285 million.

Dr Lam, who is also the Senior Minister of State for Health, added that the Maritime Transformation Map (MTP) programme to be rolled out over the next few months will co-fund, with matching investments from industry partners, the development of technology with high potential for industry application.

Automation and digitalisation in particular, have been identified as key growth drivers for Maritime Singapore by enhancing connectivity and productivity and encouraging innovation.

Singapore saw strong throughput growth last year, despite tough headwinds and keener competition from neighbouring ports in Malaysia and the larger Asia. The volume of boxed cargoes handled here grew 8.9 per cent to 33.7 million TEUs (20-ft equivalent units) last year.

But MPA chief executive Andrew Tan said there is no time for complacency. Singapore needs to "continue to enhance its value proposition by strengthening its connectivity, building a vibrant innovation ecosystem, and developing a future-ready and skilled maritime workforce".

Digitalisation has been transforming global transportation and supply chains, blurring the lines between the shipping and logistics industries and forcing companies to rethink the way they do business - or risk being bypassed, said Dr Lam.

In the marine-fuel trade for instance, major shipping lines are now more inclined to deal directly with physical suppliers. Traders who used to act as middle-men on the supply chain now risk being bypassed.

The MTP aims to help the industry stay ahead of the pack by deepening Singapore's maritime R&D capabilities in four focus areas:

• Being an intelligent world-class, next-generation port
• Operating smart autonomous vessels and maritime operations;
• Managing strategic sea space and maritime traffic; and
• Ensuring effective maritime safety and security.

From 2021, Singapore's NGP, now being developed in Tuas, will start operating in phases. PSA Singapore is testing the facility's automated terminal operation systems, including automated guided vehicles and yard and quay cranes, with an eye on deploying such systems.

The MPA, PSA and other government agencies will also experiment with concepts such as inter-modal logistics, and look into setting up a port and logistics cluster in Tuas to spur the development of more efficient supply-chain systems.

But to ensure companies and workers here benefit from the sector's transformation, concerted efforts must be directed at building the capabilities of local enterprises.

The MPA has identified technology enterprises as among the non-traditional players it hopes to groom, with the aim of expanding the range of maritime services available here.

Dr Lam said the MPA has already extended funding to local start-up XjeraLabs, which has been working with Jurong Port to develop proof-of-concept for a system that uses video analytics to track container vehicles at the port; the system will remove the need for manpower to run additional checks on cargo trucks entering or exiting Jurong Port.

To give more start-ups like XjeraLabs a helping hand, the MPA has teamed up with the National University of Singapore to jointly launch the Maritime Technology Acceleration Programme (MTAP). The MTAP aims to encourage maritime players to ramp up innovation, experiment with concepts and venture into new growth areas by working with technology start-ups.

The MPA is also setting up a one-stop data repository, known only as the SG-MDH, which will enable the development and test-bedding of digital apps and services for the maritime industry.

By the third quarter, the SG-MDH will make available public access to real-time port and ship-related data including vessels' arrival and departure times and their positions.

Beyond systems and technologies, the MTP recognises that the transformation of the sector needs to be backed up by re-skilling and re-tooling of the maritime workforce.

To this end, the MPA has lined up a programme - to debut by next year - to groom a pipeline of talent for leadership and management positions in the industry's digital future.

The MPA will co-fund 70 per cent of eligible expenses incurred by companies committed to training local talent through structured rotations and overseas attachments. It aims to partner up to 20 maritime companies with a strong focus on human capital under GTP over the next seven years.

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

Laws on division of matrimonial assets may be reviewed

01 Mar 2018
Kelly Ng

Laws governing how matrimonial assets will be divided — often a hotly contested issue in divorce cases — could be reviewed under an ongoing study to further develop family law jurisprudence.

Speaking at the Family Justice Courts’ (FJC) annual workplan seminar on Wednesday (February 28), Presiding Judge Debbie Ong said an inter-agency committee has been formed to “review and enhance reforms in the family justice system”.

Without elaborating, she singled out a section under the Women’s Charter providing for the courts to order the division of matrimonial assets as an “area for possible review”.

Among other things, the review committee, co-chaired by Justice Ong, Mr Ng How Yue and Mr Chew Hock Yong — the permanent secretaries of the Ministry of Law, and the Ministry of Social and Family Development respectively — will look at promoting alternative approaches to conflict resolution, reducing the cost of proceedings, and strengthening access to family justice.

The level of protection women here are entitled to in divorce-related issues has been a subject of perennial debate. Currently, the courts take into account several factors in dividing contested assets, including each party’s financial contributions towards the assets, non-financial contributions towards the family’s welfare, their needs after the divorce and who has been granted custody of their children, if any.

In a judgement in March last year, the Court of Appeal recognised that such a “structured approach” may not be applicable to single-income marriages as it would unduly favour the working spouse, at the expense of the other party.

It held that such an outcome was inconsistent with the courts’ recognition of marriage as an equal partnership where both financial and non-financial contributions are equally crucial.

In another case which Justice Ong presided over last year, she ruled that single-income marriages should also include situations where one spouse was “primarily the breadwinner and the other primarily the homemaker”, and not just those where the homemaker “did not work at all”.

Following the last amendments to the Women’s Charter passed in Parliament in February 2016, a woman must now provide for her husband or ex-husband, should he be unable to work because of physical or mental disabilities or illness.

On the FJC’s work in general, Justice Ong said the courts’ intervention should be the “last resort” for disputing families. The FJC has a “broader role” than conventional courts, she added, because the cases they handle often involve children, she said.

“On the one hand, the law should not be quick to intrude at every turn into family relationships which are so intimate and private in character, thus we should encourage rather than force good behaviour,” said Justice Ong.

However, family law has a “pedagogical” role, she noted. “Family law is ‘interventionist’ to some extent, demanding parties to cooperate for the welfare of their children,” she said.

About half of the divorce cases were concluded under the “simplified track” with no contested issues last year, up from 24 per cent in 2015. Last year, almost seven in 10 divorce cases were fully resolved through mediation.

Facilities for online mediation will be built up to allow more harmonious resolutions. For a start, the FJC will look at applying this for child maintenance claims. It aims to help parties compute the possible outcomes of a maintenance claim and provide an online forum for parties to negotiate between themselves.

To enhance access to justice, the FJC is exploring assistance schemes to help those in the “sandwich class” who require legal support but have financial difficulties obtaining it. Law students could be roped in to assist lawyers in supporting this group of people. It is also studying how to better support “vulnerable segments” of users, including the elderly, as they navigate through court processes.

Copyright 2017 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

Thaipusam clash: Jail and fine for one, and fine for two others

Straits Times
16 Mar 2018
Shaffiq Idris Alkhatib

A man was jailed and fined yesterday for clashing with police officers during the 2015 Thaipusam procession. Two others were also fined over the same incident.

Businessman Ramachandra Chandramohan, 35, was sentenced to jail for a year and a week, and fined $8,000. He told the court that he will not be paying the fine. So, he will have to spend an additional three weeks and five days behind bars.

Safety officer Gunasegaran Rajendran, 36, was fined $8,000, while operations manager Jaya Kumar Krishnasamy, 31, was fined $8,500.

The trio attended the annual Hindu event on Feb 3, 2015. Gunasegaran and Ramachandra had engaged a troupe to play urumi - a traditional Indian drum - during the procession and were joined by Jaya Kumar.

But the musicians were stopped by the police as there was a ban on the playing of musical instruments during Thaipusam at the time. This upset Ramachandra and Gunasegaran, who shouted at the police officers.

When Staff Sergeant Dennis Lee Aik Seng arrested Gunasegaran, Ramachandra punched the officer in the jaw. Ramachandra also verbally abused Senior Staff Sergeant Azli Othman on two occasions.

Jaya Kumar tried to stop Senior Staff Sgts Azli and Chew Wei Bin from taking Ramachandra into the police van. He also verbally abused Senior Staff Sgt Azli inside the van.

While the van was travelling from Desker Road in Little India to Police Cantonment Complex, Ramachandra kicked Senior Staff Sgt Chew in the jaw and verbally abused Senior Staff Sgt Azli in Malay and English.

Yesterday, District Judge Kessler Soh noted that the men's offences took place at a public event. He added that the incident was also widely reported by the media and had caused public disquiet.

After a 13-day trial, Ramachandra was found guilty of seven charges, including assault on three police officers. Jaya Kumar was convicted of three charges; Gunasegaran, two.

Following the 2015 Thaipusam procession, now-defunct sociopolitical site The Real Singapore (TRS) published an article that claimed that complaints from a Filipino family over noise had caused a scuffle between police officers and participants at the procession.

This did not happen. Police later arrested the duo behind TRS after a report was made against the website for inciting hatred against the Filipino community in Singapore.

For publishing the above and other seditious articles, the Australian editor of Japanese descent, Ai Takagi, was sentenced to 10 months' jail. Her Singaporean husband Yang Kaiheng, who was co-founder of the site, received a sentence of eight months' jail.

Live music during procession since 2016

In 2016, police allowed live music to be played in the Thaipusam procession for the first time in 42 years at three live music stages.

Music was also broadcast along the 4km route at nine points for the Hindu festival. This came about following community feedback after the festival in 2015.

Last year, music was broadcast at 23 points along the route. This was in addition to the three stages where musicians played traditional instruments such as the nadhaswaram, a type of clarinet, and thavil, a barrel-shaped drum.

This year, there were 19 music transmission points and three music stages along the route during the festival in January.

Music and the singing of religious hymns are an essential part of this religious foot procession.

While the singing of religious hymns is allowed, devotees were barred from playing musical instrument along the procession route from 1973. The ban was imposed due to fights in the past between competing groups, which disrupted the procession.

But the rule has been relaxed since 2011 and devotees have been able to sing religious hymns during the procession if no amplification devices are used.

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