13 February 2016
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Man in coma since day surgery more than 3 years ago; wife sues Jurong Health for alleged negligence

Straits Times
12 Feb 2016
K.C. Vijayan & Seow Bei Yi

China national's wife sues Jurong Health and 3 doctors for alleged negligence in 2012 op

A patient admitted for day surgery to solve a nose disorder that leads to snoring has remained in a coma for more than three years, sparking a lawsuit for alleged negligence.

Madam Kong Ling Hui, 36, wife of the patient Gu Ziqiang, 37, is seeking damages from Jurong Health Services and three doctors for the July 2012 operation in Alexandra Hospital which left her husband in a permanent vegetative state.

Mr Gu, a China national who had worked here for three years as a bus driver, had sought treatment in 2012 for nasal obstruction at the hospital, which has since closed.

He was diagnosed to have a "deviated nasal septum with a caudal dislocation" - a deviation of the nasal bone that divides the two nostrils.

A common effect is understood to be snoring and nasal blockage.

He went for day surgery to improve his nasal airway and breathing. In the operating theatre, a tube was inserted into his windpipe to help in breathing and protect his airway before the surgery started.

But 20 minutes later, the oxygen level in Mr Gu's blood fell. Subsequently, an Intensive Care Unit (ICU) consultant re-checked the tube placement, among other things, according to court papers.

At issue in the case is whether the tube was appropriately positioned and if this affected his breathing.

Mr Gu remained in the ICU for more than a month and is now in a nursing home, said his wife.

Madam Kong, through lawyer N. Srinivasan from Hoh Law Corporation, said in court papers that he requires constant monitoring and treatment with artificial nutrition and hydration. She is seeking compensation for his upkeep, pain and suffering and loss of earnings, among other things.

Rodyk & Davidson lawyers led by Mr Lek Siang Pheng are representing the doctors while Ms Kuah Boon Theng is defending the hospital.

A spokesman for Jurong Health Services said: "We are unable to comment at this point in time as the matter is now before the court.

"We have been in touch with Mr Gu's family and provided them with support in various ways, including facilitating their visits to Singapore to see Mr Gu," he added.

A High Court pre-trial conference is due early next month. High Court claims start at $250,000.

The mishap occurred after Mr Gu bought a condominium unit in Chengdu, capital of China's Sichuan province, said Madam Kong.

"It was a new beginning for us, but this came as a strike of lightning," she told The Straits Times over the phone from Chengdu.

With the family's sole breadwinner now helpless, she had to work to support her family. She worked in a teahouse after a trip here three years ago to see her husband. She came here again last year with her mother-in-law.

Now, she sells clothing at a store in Chengdu, making around 2,000 yuan (S$420) a month.

"I can barely foot the bill for my sons' daily expenses, let alone give my parents and in-laws allowances and help in medical expenses," said Madam Kong, who lives alone in the new home while her sons, aged four and seven, live with her parents.

"My husband's greatest wish was for our children to have a warm home," she said. "I borrowed money from friends and relatives to pay for the house. I can't lose the one thing that he left for us."

Her younger son was six months old when the mishap happened and had seen his father just once.

"'Daddy is being naughty, He wouldn't wake up,' he'd say. It sounds simple when he says that, but I can tell his elder brother gets upset when he hears it," she said.

"Now, (her older son) wouldn't talk if we brought up his father's condition. He would just sit there and the tears would fall."

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

No need for drone hobbyists here to register their devices: CAAS

Straits Times
04 Feb 2016
Lester Hio

Recreational drone users here can continue flying their machines without needing to first register them.

The Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) has indicated that it is not following in the footsteps of the United States, which recently made it compulsory for recreational drone operators to register their devices.

"There are no plans to implement the registration of unmanned aircraft in Singapore," a CAAS spokesman said in response to queries from The Straits Times.

The local drone community was abuzz after the US announced the new rule last December, with hobbyists wondering if the Singapore authorities would follow suit.

Registration in the US opened on Dec 21 last year and drone owners must register with the Federal Aviation Administration by Feb 19 or face up to a US$250,000 (S$357,000) fine, or three years' jail. To date, the US and Ireland are the only two countries that require mandatory drone registration.

Local hobbyists welcome the clarification, saying that registration would be an unnecessary hassle.

Drone hobbyist Claudia Ng, in her 30s, who owns The Drone Shop, said: "That's good news. I'm glad CAAS has been very supportive of the adoption of drone technology and they have been very open to community feedback."

Said fellow drone hobbyist and sales manager Steven Neo, 48: "If there are restrictions put on this hobby, it may deter people from playing with drones, and stops us from using them in more creative or innovative ways."

The Ministry of Transport and CAAS, along with other government ministries and agencies, have been conducting a year-long review of the regulatory framework for drones. One of the key issues in the review is balancing the safety of drones with the growing popularity of the hobby.

Professor Ben Chen, from the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the National University of Singapore, suggested that registration could be limited to drones above a certain weight.

"Drones, especially those that weigh over a certain limit, can be quite dangerous when they crash," said Prof Chen.

"Registration might create some inconvenience for hobby users. It would, however, benefit the public and the industry in the long run."

Regulators are struggling to keep pace with rapid advances in drone technology as the industry continues to push out more ambitious and innovative products.

For instance, Chinese company EHang unveiled a human-sized drone at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in the US last month.

A human can be fitted inside the drone and flown around, raising questions about the safety of such technology, which are not addressed by current regulations.

But other experts point out that drone manufacturers have increasingly been cooperating with regulatory bodies to ensure that safety concerns are met.

Assistant Professor of Law Chen Siyuan, from the Singapore Management University, agreed with the decision not to have drones registered.

He said:"This is sensible because registration usually leads to other inconveniences, such as certification and insurance.

"There needs to be more flexibility and an appreciation that the improving technology is increasing safety standards, and that manufacturers are actually willing to work with the authorities to make things safer and more reliable."

He added: "Regulations are not the only way to go."


Current drone regulations

Drone operators are not allowed to do the following without first getting a permit from the CAAS:

• Fly within 5km of an aerodrome, such as an airport or airbase.

• Fly more than 200ft (61m) above mean sea level.

• Operate drones that weigh more than 7kg.

• Operate drones for commercial or specialised services, such as surveying or commercial videography.

• Fly within restricted areas, such as army camps or special event zones like the Formula 1 racetrack.

• Use drones to discharge any substances, for instance, at parties, where drones may be used to squirt bubbles or water.

Lester Hio

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Review welcome, but SGX has to tread carefully

Business Times
30 Jan 2016
R. Sivanithy

IT is certainly welcome to hear that Singapore Exchange (SGX) is to review many aspects of its business, the main reason being that it speaks well of an exchange that is willing to listen to feedback from brokers and the corporate sector and possibly reverse some of its less popular policies.

If it does, then it would go a long way towards answering critics who have long complained that SGX has always been high-handed in its dealings with the market.

By the same token though, it is important that the exchange bear in mind that some of the issues to be examined have been raised by the corporate sector and brokers because of the current weak environment that equities everywhere are labouring under, and that any concessions made now may have to be lifted later, which might then prove difficult.

In other words, SGX in its review has to balance long-term market development with short-term quick fixes demanded by those feeling the most pain.

One example is quarterly reporting, whose critics claim it is costly, time consuming, encourages short-termism and thus adds unnecessary volatility to share prices. These claims have probably taken on greater stridency in the past few months because global growth is slowing drastically thus adversely affecting corporate cash flows and profitability.

However, SGX should also know that the anti-quarterly reporting clamour originates mainly from the parties whose job it is to prepare the reports in the first place, and rarely from shareholders.

Quarterly reporting was well-debated more than a decade ago and its introduction was because it is an integral part of a disclosure-based regime that was designed with the provision of maximum information to shareholders in mind. Scrapping it totally would therefore weaken the disclosure framework and is therefore not advisable.

Still, there is scope for a middle ground. The best would be to raise the market cap requirement for quarterly reports from the present S$75 million to, say, S$150 million or even higher. This would then exempt a greater number of companies from having to issue their financials every three months while still requiring larger - and presumably less financially strapped - firms to continue doing so.

Whatever market-cap bar is selected need not be static and can be reviewed after a suitable period, say three years.

If disclosure and governance issues lie at the heart of the quarterly reporting debate, the same applies to dual class (DC) shares. Here the exchange's balancing act involves on one side the commercially exciting prospect of big, entrepreneurial firms listing here, and on the other the need to ensure as far as possible that the rights of all shareholders are preserved.

SGX will have to start by first defining exactly what type of companies can be considered for DC shares since it is surely not feasible to grant blanket permission to practise what is essentially shareholder discrimination.

It must also be able to assure the public that for those companies for which DC shares are allowed, sufficient safeguards are in place to ensure minority or non-controlling rights are not unfairly prejudiced. Only then should it open its doors to DC listings.

Two other areas deserve mention - the scrapping of automatic penalties for buying-in and the minimum trading price (MTP). We have lobbied for the former many times before because most of the affected trades have been inadvertent errors so it is a welcome, if overdue, move.

It is, however, difficult to see how the thorny issue of MTP can be addressed to the full satisfaction of brokers, who have been calling for the abolition of the requirement that mainboard companies comply with a minimum share price of S$0.20 or face possible delisting.

Since dozens of companies have already either consolidated their shares or downgraded their listing to Catalist, a reversal appears to be almost impossible.

One possible concession might be a second extension to the six-month one announced at the end of last year to give affected companies more time to meet the MTP requirement.

Since SGX has decided to delay implementing collateralised trading to 2018, perhaps the same should be done for MTP.

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Rotary Engg's bid to stay lawsuit to be heard on Feb 19

Business Times
12 Feb 2016
Tan Hwee Hwee

[Singapore] THE High Court of Singapore will hear on Feb 19 an application filed by Singapore-listed Rotary Engineering to stay a lawsuit filed by Bahrain-based parties against the company over alleged breaches of contract involving work done in Saudi Arabia.

The Bahrain parties have sought for the lawsuit against Rotary to be heard in Singapore, but Rotary in a Sept 15, 2015 Singapore Exchange (SGX) announcement insisted the case be heard in Saudi Arabia "because Saudi Arabia is the country with which the purported contracts and the matters related to the suit have the closest connection".

The Bahrain parties embroiled in the lawsuit were represented by Kiouji & Eslim Law Firm, Rotary said in its SGX disclosure last September.

One involved source told BT that Rotary has contracted at least one of the Bahrain parties for the provision of services to resolve a contractual dispute on behalf of the Singapore-listed company in Saudi Arabia.

Rotary also alleged that criminal complaints concerning the matters raised in the suit, including one of forgery, have been made in Saudi Arabia against a second unnamed plaintiff.

Bahrain-based Yahya Lutfi Khader - who has come forward to identify himself as the said second unnamed plaintiff in a letter to SGX obtained by BT - has subsequently served a writ to further claim defamatory damages against Rotary.

Rotary did not disclose the nature or the value of the said disputed contract in Saudi Arabia, although an involved source suggested the deal in question relates to a certain oil rig project in the country.

Rotary had in 2012 and 2013 secured fabrication and construction contracts on storage tanks tied to petrochemical and power plant projects in Saudi Arabia.

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Hearing starts for US$5m suit against AIA

Straits Times
03 Feb 2016
Lorna Tan

An elderly Indonesian couple have started their court case against insurer AIA over a fake insurance policy they were sold by a rogue AIA agent for US$5.06 million in 2002.

On the first day yesterday, the battle lines were drawn as the couple - permanent residents here - pressed their case that AIA should have known what was going on.

But AIA has countered that the couple expect the insurer to do what no firm anywhere can do: eliminate fraud completely.

AIA also claims disgruntled customers Mr Ong Han Ling and his wife Enny Ariandini Pramana, both 77, are in a conspiracy with former AIA agent Sally Low to defraud AIA.

In a twist to the case, despite AIA alleging that the three are in a conspiracy, the insurer has asked Low to be its witness. Latest court documents stated that AIA appeared to have paid $35,000 to legal firm JLC Advisors to procure Low's affidavit.

The Ongs commenced this legal suit in 2012 against AIA and Motion Insurance Agency for negligence and breach of duty of care when handling their insurance matters, as well as asserting AIA's vicarious liability for Low's fraudulent acts.

The couple wish to claim damages amounting to between $4.2 million and $7.2 million. They claimed that AIA and Motion breached a duty of care owed them - thereby causing loss to them. These duties included providing a sound internal system to detect and prevent fraud.

The Ongs alleged the firms failed to verify directly with them when five tranches of the AIA Thank You premiums of US$5.06 million did not match premiums payable for the unauthorised policies, resulting in suspiciously large refund cheques not being encashed for a long time.

Low also appeared to have been given free rein in managing these funds, allegedly giving instructions to AIA to issue the unauthorised policies. AIA has counterclaimed against the Ongs by alleging they are part of a conspiracy with Low.

The insurer stated in court documents: "The plaintiffs (the Ongs) expect AIA to achieve what no other company in the world can achieve, that is, AIA has to prevent fraud. This is not possible and would turn the entire industry on its head."

Yesterday, AIA's lawyer Wendell Wong of Drew & Napier cross-examined Health Sciences Authority handwriting expert Yap Bei Sing, who produced an expert report to be used by the Commercial Affairs Department in a long pending criminal case against Low.

AIA also appointed its own handwriting expert Daniel Wong.

The court documents stated that both experts agree that the numerous documents purportedly signed by the Ongs were forged.

Taking the witness stand after the Chinese New Year holidays will be former NTUC Income chief executive Tan Kin Lian. He has been called to be an industry expert by Mr Ong's lawyers KhattarWong.


The saga so far

The saga of the fake AIA Thank You policy began in late 2002, when businessman Ong Han Ling, 77, was allegedly sold the five-year plan by former top AIA agent Sally Low Ai Ming, 38, at a cost of US$5.06 million (S$7.2 million).

The money was paid by Mr Ong in five tranches into an AIA bank account in November 2002 for what he believed was a plan for selected customers. The Ongs were allegedly told by Low that they would receive guaranteed annual fixed returns of 6 per cent and 7.5 per cent, compounded yearly, on the US dollar and Sing dollar components of the plan.

This would have meant sums of US$4.95 million and $4.5 million upon maturity.

Mr Ong claimed that after getting the money, Low, without his knowledge or consent, used the funds to buy five AIA policies for himself, his wife and his daughter, effecting the purchases by submitting forged documents to AIA.

He alleged that midway through the tenure of the AIA Thank You policy, Low deceived him into giving the insurance proceeds from three of the unauthorised policies to her. Low's scheme came to light in 2008, after Mr Ong learnt from AIA that the Thank You policy was bogus.

AIA made a police report against Low and sacked her in December 2009. Mr Ong also made a police report against Low in January 2010 for allegedly cheating him of various sums of money. He sued Low for damages amounting to US$2.25 million and $2.99 million.

Low counterclaimed that the fake policy was part of a ploy cooked up by Mr Ong for both of them to defraud AIA for financial gains. In May 2011, she was charged with 19 criminal charges, including charges for cheating the Ongs, using forged documents and money laundering.>

Although she was charged nearly five years ago, the matter has still not come up for hearing. So far, she has had six sets of lawyers acting for her and her sentencing date has been postponed several times. She admitted herself to the Institute of Mental Health, but was certified as fit to plead and stand trial. In December 2013, Low pleaded guilty to four criminal charges, but retracted her guilty plea six months later.

Lorna Tan

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SGX to relook minimum trading price, quarterly reporting in sweeping review

Business Times
29 Jan 2016
Kenneth Lim & Melissa Tan

CEO Loh Boon Chye announces changes at industry dialogue session aimed at boosting interest in equities market

[Singapore] THE Singapore Exchange (SGX) is looking into a raft of potential changes to the structure of the stock market, including scrapping automatic penalties for buy-in, reviewing its calculation of minimum trading prices and studying the need for quarterly reporting and dual class shares, chief executive Loh Boon Chye announced on Thursday.

Mr Loh was speaking at a dialogue session to discuss the Singapore equities market with industry stakeholders. The session was part of SGX's efforts to boost interest in its stock market.

Within the next month, the market operator will no longer charge a penalty by default when investors that short-sell a stock fail to deliver the shares for settlement, a recognition that many of the penalties are waived anyway upon appeal, Mr Loh said.

Esmond Choo, senior executive director of UOB Kay Hian, said: "Most of the buy-in trades we see relate to small trading errors by retail clients and trading representatives (TRs). This will remove a lot of unnecessary administration."

Following feedback from the market, SGX is also reviewing the way that it will calculate the minimum trading price for mainboard-listed companies. The minimum trading price, which will take effect this year, is currently set at a six-month historical volume weighted average price of 20 Singapore cents, unadjusted for stock splits and share consolidations.

SGX has also set up a team to review the need for quarterly reporting and dual class shares. For dual class shares, the exchange is waiting for advice from the independent listings advisory committee.

"We will be able to catch a cluster of high-tech, pharmaceutical companies," corporate lawyer Robson Lee of Gibson Dunn said of allowing dual-class shares. "We don't want the likes of Alibaba.com to go somewhere else."

Mr Lee said that safeguards can be added to address corporate governance concerns. "There's been a lot of literature on how you can protect minorities, so it's not a carte blanche for management to entrench themselves perpetually."

The review of quarterly reporting was welcomed by the Securities Investors Association (Singapore).

"We supported it (quarterly reporting) because we felt it would provide more timely information on a regular basis and give investors a better chance of making informed decisions," SIAS president David Gerald said. "But we're sympathetic to companies' complaints that quarterly reporting may not be cost-effective. There's merit in reviewing the need for quarterly reporting and I'm beginning to believe that twice a year should be enough."

In terms of new issues, a current proposal for a minimum retail allocation of 5 per cent for mainboard initial public offerings is under review, Mr Loh said. SGX is examining whether the retail allocation should be higher.

"Some of you may question this given current market conditions," he said. "But what this initiative aims to do is building for the future."

Mr Gerald said: "More than 5 per cent would be welcome. Given market conditions, the question is whether there will be enough interest. But if a company comes with attractive fundamentals and a performance record, there will be interest."

Mr Loh also acknowledged that there have been many regulatory changes, both recently and to come. Recognising that "too many changes in a relatively short time can be detrimental or counterproductive", Mr Loh said that SGX and the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) have agreed to allow 6-12 months between the implementation of major initiatives.

In that light, implementation of a 5 per cent collateral requirement for all securities trading - which will mark the end of uncollateralised contra trading - will be pushed to 2018.

Mr Choo said: "Collateralised trading will involve a lot of monitoring and logistics and a delay until 2018 is wise as we can then let our the new post-trade system expected to be implemented this year to settle in.

"In the meantime retail investors can continue with a system which they are so familiar with. TRs are very concerned over the invading influence of other alternative platforms. The continued availability of contra trading offered to our retail clients is a key differentiating factor in providing our locals the ease and convenience in trading global equities in Singapore."

Mr Gerald, however, believed that putting an end to contra trading was still the right step.

"Personally, I'm not keen on maintaining contra. In our market, there seems to be more contra players than long-term investors so more investor education is needed. Removing contra is a good thing in the long term if the local market is to compete globally, we need investors to recognise that they must not take the stock market as a gambling den."

Beyond regulations, SGX has also teamed up with the Institute of Banking and Finance (IBF), the national accreditation and certification agency for financial sector jobs, to provide training courses for remisiers and dealers aimed at uplifting the skills in the profession. IBF has also created a new set of competency standards for those trading representatives.

The move was welcomed by brokers, but others were a little more more sceptical.

"Introducing training programmes for remisiers and dealers is needed but the more pressing question is whether the stock broker system of trading shares will be relevant in the future," said lawyer Stefanie Yuen Thio of TSMP Law Corp. "If not, then a wholesale restructuring and reinvention of the market is what is needed, with technology playing a leading role in this. We need to think big; not just improve incrementally."

Trading representatives will also receive some respite from MAS.

MAS deputy managing director Ong Chong Tee said on Thursday that the financial-sector regulator plans to exempt trading representatives from certain business conduct requirements that are more pertinent for financial advisers. The change is expected by the middle of 2016.

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

Art gallery owner accused of 'scamming' tycoon

Straits Times
12 Feb 2016
Selina Lum

She allegedly forged money transfer form and flouts court orders to disclose her assets

High-profile art gallery owner Jasmine Tay was yesterday accused in court of "pulling a scam" on Indonesian tycoon Tahir, who had sued her to get back the US$1.6 million (S$2.2 million) he had paid her for a sculpture by Colombian artist Fernando Botero.

Confronting her with her own bank statements, Mr Tahir's lawyer, Mr Daniel Chia, also accused Ms Tay of forging a form to show that she had transferred the money from her own account to a London-based middleman in April 2014.

Ms Tay had shown the form, which bore the bank's stamp and an official signature, to Mr Tahir as proof. But her bank statements, which were disclosed by her lawyers only this month, showed no such transaction. Neither did she have such a large amount of money in her account at the time.

Ms Tay was under cross-examination in contempt of court proceedings, brought by Mr Tahir in December last year, for repeatedly breaching court orders to disclose her assets. Mr Chia is seeking a jail term of four to seven months, arguing that Ms Tay, who had been found guilty last month, has been "thumbing her nose" at the court by remaining "oblivious" to the orders.

It was also revealed that she was made a bankrupt in November last year, and has faced at least 15 lawsuits and bankruptcy applications, filed by individuals and companies, who say she owed them money.

Ms Tay opened her first gallery, Jasmine Fine Arts, in 1993 and set up the Museum of Art and Design, or MAD, in 2009.

In March 2014, Mr Tahir - who goes by one name - paid her US$1.6 million for the Botero sculpture, known as Couple Dancing. Three months later, he paid her another US$38,100 for shipping fees.

The deal was called off in July that year. Mr Tahir contended she had failed to provide satisfactory evidence that the sculpture was being delivered to him. Ms Tay's version was that Mr Tahir backed out of the deal after alleging it was a fake.

He lodged a police report against her. Investigations are ongoing.

Separately, he filed a civil suit to get his money back, but dropped it after they had reached a settlement.

When Ms Tay reneged on her agreement to pay him, Mr Tahir filed a second suit. Judgment was entered against her after she failed to respond to it.

To enforce the judgment, Mr Tahir applied in October last year for Ms Tay to be questioned in court to determine the assets she had available for paying him back.

She ignored the court date and failed to complete a questionnaire about her finances.

Mr Tahir then obtained a Mareva injunction to freeze her assets. Under the order, she had to disclose her assets in Singapore within seven days.

She did not do this and was, again, a no-show at a rescheduled court hearing. The questionnaire remained incomplete - she chose to give only information that was already available in public records.

Yesterday, when grilled on why she had failed to attend the two hearings, Ms Tay's replies included: "I didn't know I needed to turn up", "I can't remember" and "I was not in the mood".

When Mr Chia asked if she had transferred US$1.6 million as shown in the form, she replied: "I think so." But after he confronted her with the bank statements, she remained silent and kept flipping the documents in front of her.

Judicial Commissioner Edmund Leow noted: "I think we can take that as a no."

However, at the end of the hearing, the judicial commissioner gave her one last chance. He told her it was a very serious matter and gave her till Feb 25 to comply with the orders. She will be sentenced after this deadline.

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Charity in court to get funds owing to special needs trust

Straits Times
03 Feb 2016
Danson Cheong & K.C. Viyayan

It alleges executor of will failed to provide complete account of estate and gift to trustee

In a novel move, a charity dealing in trusts is taking the executor of a dead woman's will to court to recover monies set aside to look after her daughter, who has Down syndrome.

The charity, known as the Special Needs Trust Company (SNTC), provides low-cost trust management services for persons with special needs, among other things.

Madam Toh Ai Lan had created a trust in 2010 under SNTC's Trusteeship Scheme for the benefit of her 33-year-old daughter. She had named SNTC trustee and had left assets of at least $400,000 to the charity to manage for her daughter's benefit. Her assets included insurance policies, shares and bank accounts.

As trustee, SNTC disburses regular payouts to cover the basic expenses of people with special needs after their caregivers die.

Madam Toh, a clerical officer, died of cancer at age 59 in February 2012. Since her death, her daughter has lived at the Metta Home for the Disabled.

But the dead woman's brother, Mr Toh Hong Kee, 50, appointed as executor of the will, had allegedly failed to provide a complete account of the estate and the gift to SNTC. While he had transferred $288,987 from the estate's account to SNTC in December 2013, a sum of $111,117 that was due to the charity, based on the will, was still outstanding as of May last year, according to court documents filed.

Mr Toh sent some documents and receipts to SNTC between August and September last year but these did not provide a full account. In November, he replied to SNTC saying he had produced every receipt he could produce and that the rest were unavailable.

Court documents claim that various sums were deposited and withdrawn from the estate's account between 2012 and 2014, which Mr Toh had not accounted for. He had also allegedly failed to show if shares in the estate were sold and if its proceeds were accounted for.

More than three years after Mr Toh obtained the probate grant to administer Madam Toh's will, he has yet to provide a complete account of the gift to SNTC.

SNTC is seeking court action to recover the $111,117 and to obtain damages for alleged losses, and a declaration that Mr Toh had breached his duties as executor of the will.

A High Court pre-trial conference was held yesterday. SNTC is represented by Allen & Gledhill lawyer Tay Yong Seng on a pro bono basis.

Mr Toh,who turned up in court unrepresented, said he will "negotiate with SNTC", when asked what would be his next step.

According to the SNTC website, the principal value of the trust funds is guaranteed by the Government and fees are subsidised at least 90 per cent by the Ministry of Social and Family Development.

SNTC is staffed by case managers trained in social work and backed by volunteers from the legal, medical and financial professions.

Yesterday, SNTC general manager Esther Tan said: "The company now has close to 400 trust accounts set up by parents, siblings or spouses for their dependants with special needs. As of December 2015, we have $13.2 million in our trust fund and the monies are invested and managed by the Public Trustee."

She said that after the trust is set up, the settlor can inject monies at any time into the trust account via wills, insurance and Central Provident Fund savings.

"We advise them to name SNTC trust to receive monies on behalf of the persons with special needs so that we have legal right to claim the monies on behalf of their loved ones with special needs."

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MAS to supervise exchange members

Business Times
29 Jan 2016
Kenneth Lim & Melissa Tan

As lead regulator, it will focus on statutory requirements while the exchanges focus on risk management, trading rules

[Singapore]THE Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) will take over a portion of the supervision of brokers from exchanges and provide an additional layer of market surveillance as it adapts to having more than one exchange in Singapore, MAS deputy managing director Ong Chong Tee said on Thursday.

The new framework takes effect this year.

The change that will affect the exchanges the most is in terms of how exchange members are supervised.

Currently, the Singapore Exchange's (SGX) supervision of its members includes checking on statutory requirements such as capital and reserve amounts, business conduct, anti-money laundering and counter-terrorist financing, and operational resilience.

But SGX is no longer the sole exchange in the Singapore derivatives market. Intercontinental Exchange (ICE) is now operating in Singapore, and Eurex is expected to open its doors around 2017.

Requiring each exchange to perform the same level of member supervision will impose upon exchange members the onerous task of undergoing three separate inspections a year with many overlaps, Mr Ong said.

Delegating one of the exchanges as a lead regulator is also problematic from a competitive standpoint - a lead regulator that is also an exchange may have unfair access to information that its rivals do not have.

MAS will therefore take on the role of the lead regulator with a focus on statutory requirements, while the exchanges focus their supervisory work on matters such as risk management and trading rules, Mr Ong said.

As the top-level regulator, MAS will also be able to supervise members with full knowledge of activities and exposures at each of the separate exchanges and even over-the-counter transactions.

In terms of market surveillance, MAS is building up its capabilities to add a layer of oversight on top of what the exchanges are already doing.

As with member supervision, MAS is hoping to improve surveillance by virtue of its position at the top of the information web with knowledge of positions both on and off exchanges.

MAS is also investing in technology to add data analytics to its surveillance capabilities, Mr Ong said.

But exchanges will continue to self regulate when it comes to listing rules. "Much work has been done to enhance the exchange's role around listings," Mr Ong said. "We believe that SGX - as the only securities exchange in Singapore - remains an appropriate listing authority."

Esmond Choo, senior executive director of UOB Kay Hian, was positive about the changes, saying: "MAS taking over some of the member supervision functions is welcomed and logical as it will reduce the duplication we see today."

Stefanie Yuen Thio, joint managing director of TSMP Law Corp, said however that the regulators will have to calibrate their roles and functions so that they do not add to the compliance burden in the market.

"To the extent that these efforts are resulting in the uncovering of financial crimes and encouraging better corporate governance, that's good news," Ms Yuen Thio said. "But if companies feel that there's too much micro-supervision of more technical and reporting requirements, and use their resources to manage the regulator rather than their businesses, then that would be an unfortunate result. This is not the right economic climate to be upping penny ante regulation, so I hope the supervision will be over the substantive issues to protect Singapore's reputation as a first-world market."

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

NS evader jailed; judge gives sentencing guidelines

Straits Times
12 Feb 2016
Selina Lum

Man gets prison term instead of a fine after prosecution's appeal

A 25-year-old man who left Singapore at the age of 14 to study in Australia and evaded enlistment for more than six years was yesterday jailed for 11/2 months.

This was after an appeal by the prosecution against his original sentence of just a $4,500 fine.

Justice Chan Seng Onn told Brian Joseph Chow that he would have been jailed for three months if not for his exceptional performance during his national service (NS), which he eventually served when he voluntarily returned to Singapore in May 2013.

In sentencing Chow, Justice Chan laid down detailed sentencing guidelines with the help of a graph, ruling that jail time is warranted for those who have a "substantial connection" to Singapore but evade NS by remaining overseas for more than two years. He said such defaulters enjoyed the benefits of citizenship but gained an unfair advantage over their peers.

Factors that influence sentencing include the number of years that the culprit evaded NS, whether he surrendered on his own or was arrested, and whether he pleaded guilty instead of claiming trial. The court would also consider the age at which the defaulter started evading NS and apply a discount if he excelled during his service to the country.

But Justice Chan drew a distinction between those with a "substantial connection" to Singapore and those who left the country at a very young age and had very little connection to it. The latter group are typically fined. But the judge declined to give benchmarks for this category, saying this was not the matter currently before the court.

In the current case, Chow first left to study in Australia in 2005. He had finished his primary and some of his secondary education here but his parents felt the local education system was not equipped to deal with his attention deficit disorder.

When he turned 161/2 in 2007, he had to apply for a valid exit permit to remain outside Singapore but did not do so. In January 2008, he was notified to register for NS. After he provided a letter from his school in Australia, the Defence Ministry offered him a deferment for his foundation course - but not for his university studies. It issued follow-up reporting orders.

In March 2009, Chow e-mailed the ministry, asking to defer NS for his university studies. He was told that he had committed an offence and was advised to return to Singapore. In May, he repeated the request and was again rejected.

Four years later, in 2013, two months after he graduated from university, he returned to Singapore.

In January last year, he pleaded guilty to remaining outside Singapore without a valid exit permit for six years and 27 days. He claimed not to have received the second rejection e-mail - an argument Justice Chan described as "spurious".

Second Solicitor-General Kwek Mean Luck argued that a fine was inadequate for defaulters who return only after completing their personal goals and there was a need for a deterrent sentence.

Chow, now training to be a commercial pilot, asked to defer his jail term, but the request was rejected and he started serving the sentence immediately. His father, who declined to be named, said he was "very disappointed" with the decision.


MORE THAN A TECHNICAL ADVANTAGE

It might, on the one hand, seem as if an offender has secured only a technical advantage by being overseas without a valid exit permit, as he would eventually have to serve national service (NS) after having pursued his individual goals. While such a technical advantage is in itself objectionable... I must also point out that the advantage gained here is far more than a technical advantage... An individual may be less suited for a combat role as his age increases (as a result of him postponing his NS obligations); and the later commencement of NS reduces the time available (or may even make it impossible) for the individual to fully complete his post-operationally ready date (post-ORD) reservist obligations.

JUSTICE CHAN SENG ONN

SUBSTANTIAL CONNECTION TO SINGAPORE

I hold as a starting point that the custodial threshold will generally be crossed when an overseas defaulter who has a substantial connection to Singapore remains overseas without a VEP (valid exit permit) for more than two years. I must once again caution that the custodial threshold... and the sentencing benchmark that is set out in this judgment relate only to offenders who have a substantial connection to Singapore... The respondent left Singapore after having completed his primary and some part of his secondary education here and retains a substantial connection to Singapore: His family resides here and the respondent intends to reside in Singapore. He therefore has (reaped) and will reap the benefits of Singapore citizenship...

JUSTICE CHAN

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MUIS ‘oversees all Muslim matters, courts not in position to interfere’

TODAY
03 Feb 2016
Kelly Ng Siqi

Judicial Commissioner makes it clear in light of case involving charitable trust

SINGAPORE — The Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS) is the only body that oversees all Muslim matters, including the administration of Muslim charitable trusts, and the courts are in no position to interfere unless MUIS deems it appropriate to seek judicial assistance, the High Court has found.

In striking out an application by trustees of the Valibhoy Charitable Trust to replace a fellow trustee who had allegedly “deliberately refused to discharge his duty”, Judicial Commissioner (JC) Kannan Ramesh found that the courts have no jurisdiction over such trusts, also known as “wakafs”, under the Administration of Muslim Law Act (AMLA).

First enacted in November 1960 and most recently amended in April 1999, the AMLA is meant to protect the Islamic religion by establishing a Muslim body to deal with the administration of Muslim law and the regulation of Muslim religious affairs in Singapore. MUIS was established as a statutory board in 1968.

The legislative intent, said JC Kannan in a written judgment dated Jan 29, corresponds with the Republic’s Constitution, which sets out that the Government is to “recognise the special position of the Malays” and protect, support and promote their religious, political, economic and cultural interests, among others.

Under the AMLA, MUIS is charged with the responsibility of dealing with the affairs of all Muslim religious trusts, including wakafs.

In particular, the Act gives MUIS the authority to appoint and remove trustees. Should MUIS decide to remove a trustee, it must simultaneously appoint another one.

According to the wakaf.sg website managed by MUIS, the religious body has regulatory oversight of wakafs, while other trustees play managerial roles, but will still have to seek approval for decisions such as the selling and buying of assets.

The AMLA confers the courts’ power in relation to wakafs only when MUIS invokes the courts’ assistance. Even then, the courts can only deliberate on the meaning and effect of the declaration creating the wakaf.

“Importantly, matters concerning the administration of the wakaf have been carefully removed from the equation,” said JC Kannan, adding that MUIS must be the only forum where trustees of a wakaf can direct their disputes.

With the enactment of the AMLA, Parliament could not have intended for trustees of the wakaf, apart from MUIS, to have recourse to the courts, said JC Kannan, as that might lead to inconsistent decisions and different standards applied by MUIS and the courts.

Giving the latter similar power would make “the recipe for an ideal cocktail for inconsistent decisions”, he said.

“(MUIS’) power to remove trustees could effectively be bypassed, making the process a mockery of what Parliament clearly (intended) by enacting the provision,” he said, adding that it would also allow trustees to launch “backdoor challenges” to either MUIS’ or the courts’ decisions.

“These situations would lead to a very uncomfortable paradigm where (MUIS) and the courts could render two conflicting decisions on the same issue, applying different statutory standards ... It is amply clear to me that Parliament could not have intended such a paradigm,” he said.

While the plaintiffs in the Valibhoy Charitable Trust’s case subsequently alleged that MUIS’ administration of the trust was unsatisfactory and that it had “stayed silent” when legal action was launched, JC Kannan noted that the plaintiffs had not raised these arguments in their initial affidavits.

Instead, JC Kannan found that the plaintiffs had avoided going to MUIS, possibly with the view that they might obtain “a more favourable outcome” from the court.

“As an aside, I must highlight that the court’s processes are not to be used to deliberately undermine the statutory authority afforded by Parliament to MUIS. That would be an abuse of process,” he said.

Copyright 2015 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

Mohamed Shariff Valibhoy and others v Arif Valibhoy [2016] SGHC 11

A closer look at NCMP, Elected Presidency reforms

TODAY
29 Jan 2016
Eugene K.B. Tan

The proposed changes to the political system continue the Government’s narrative that political reforms ought to enhance Parliament’s representativeness and increase Singaporeans’ civic participation. They reinforce the Government’s abiding belief that the political system must produce a Government with a clear mandate, demonstrated through a strong parliamentary majority, for it to govern resolutely and decisively in the long-term interests of Singapore.

Probably the most controversial proposal is to give Non-Constituency Members of Parliament (NCMPs) the same voting rights as elected MPs. While this is a concession given to the opposition, the People’s Action Party (PAP) government is doing so from a position of strength. It suggests that the party is confident that the one-party dominant system will persist for some time.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, in proposing the changes, acknowledged that the Government will, in effect, be aiding the opposition, but believes that it will be good for the Government and Singapore in this phase of political evolution to benefit from a contest of ideas in Parliament.

Given that NCMPs do not have the electoral mandate from the voters in the constituencies that they had contested in, issues of democratic accountability are raised in giving what would otherwise be unelected election candidates the right to vote on significant matters such as constitutional amendments, the Budget and Money Bills, motions of no-confidence against the Government and the removal of a President from office.

Who are NCMPs accountable to? Even if the intent is to give NCMPs more teeth, should they be given the full suite of voting powers?

Another proposal is to increase the minimum number of opposition MPs, including NCMPs, from the current nine to 12. Yet, in effecting any change to the NCMP scheme, particularly when NCMPs will have the same voting rights as elected MPs, it is crucial that the voters’ desire to elect opposition candidates is not unduly diluted. This is where voters must appreciate that the NCMP route to Parliament is second best.

NCMPs are likely to exercise their voting rights two or three times a year. But given the PAP’s overwhelming dominance in Parliament, these NCMP votes will not make any difference in the final result.

The impact of this change, however, could result in a more fragmented opposition landscape. Opposition parties will tend to gravitate towards constituencies that they believe will give them the best chance of entering Parliament via the NCMP route. While the opposition will still prefer to be properly elected, the NCMP route is not one that opposition parties will give a miss today if it is offered to their losing candidates.

SMALLER GRCs the trend from 2010

The change towards more Single-Member Constituencies (SMCs) and smaller Group Representation Constituencies (GRCs) continues the trend started in 2010. Again, incremental change is likely: We might see the average GRC size trimmed to 4.5 seats. The current average is 4.75 seats, down from five in the 2011 General Election. But of the 16 GRCs today, 10 have an average of 5.2 MPs, including two 6-member GRCs.

However, what should also be considered is how the redrawing of electoral boundaries can make for a fairer electoral contest. There is a need to go beyond the generic explanation of population shifts and housing development since the last boundary delineation exercise, and offer more transparency in how constituencies are carved up.

The Prime Minister also announced the establishment of a Constitutional Commission, only the second in our independent history, to consider ensuring that “minorities will have a chance to be elected” President. A mechanism similar to the GRC should be considered, he said, “to ensure that minorities can be periodically elected if we have not had a particular minority as President for some time”.

Timing, process of change also important

However, in seeking to attain this objective, how we go about doing so is important. What sort of mechanism could possibly ensure this objective? Any affirmative-action policy in this regard will only undermine the office of the Elected President. It will also severely undercut the meritocratic and multiracial foundation of Singapore.

If a minority gets a leg-up to the highest office, questions will arise as to his political authority, legitimacy, and standing. It has been tritely repeated that Singaporeans tend to vote along racial lines. What evidence is there of this phenomenon? Looking at the latest General Election results, PAP GRC teams helmed by minorities have held their own, with Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam’s Jurong GRC team being the best PAP election performer.

If Singaporeans do vote along racial lines, then the more urgent task is to work on getting Singaporeans to shed that behaviour so minority candidates can compete on an even footing with ethnic Chinese candidates.

Another locus of effort would be to reinforce the presidency as an important symbol of national unity. If we succeed, voters are going to consider to what extent a candidate, regardless of the individual’s race, will promote national unity among the races. Such a consideration should go into a voter’s assessment of a candidate’s merit. Efforts should also be made to encourage suitably qualified minorities to step forward and seriously consider running for the presidency.

The eligibility criteria for appointment to the Council of Presidential Advisers (CPA) should also be reviewed in tandem with that of the Elected President. If the CPA’s role is to be enhanced in the exercise of the President’s custodial powers, then the CPA’s capacity to offer robust advice and recommendations must be similarly advanced as well.

Timing is important in bringing into force the changes to the Elected President’s office. Concerns that the likely change in eligibility criteria will exclude previous presidential candidates must be duly addressed. Perhaps the change to the eligibility criteria could take place in the subsequent presidential election rather than in 2017.

The impact of the proposed changes on our political system will depend on how the opposition seeks to take advantage of them. If they do use the changes as a platform to raise their profile and show what they can do, then it will be a political opportunity well taken. To be sure, the changes do not disadvantage the PAP but the opposition needs to work closer with each other and avoid becoming more fragmented.

The changes seek to enable the PAP government to manage the pace of political change without being dictated to. The adaptation of political institutions and processes is seen as being necessary for Singapore’s political survival and prosperity, but the pressure is on the evolving institutional design to become more inclusive, representative, equitable and fair, in tandem with growing democratic aspirations.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Eugene KB Tan is associate professor of law at the School of Law, Singapore Management University, and a former Nominated Member of Parliament.

Copyright 2015 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

MAS, CAD investigating Koyo International MD

Business Times
12 Feb 2016
Melissa Tan

Foo Chek Heng told firm he is being probed for "possible offences" under the Securities and Futures Act

[Singapore] SHARES of penny stock Koyo International took another dive on Thursday, adding to their losses after the Singapore Exchange (SGX) sounded the alarm on the Catalist-listed counter in January.

The stock fell as much as 11.8 per cent or S$0.008 to touch S$0.06 around midday, then recovered marginally. It finished the session at S$0.063, down half a Singapore cent or 7.4 per cent, on 2.5 million shares traded.

The tumble came after the engineering services provider said in a bourse filing late on Wednesday night that its managing director Foo Chek Heng was being investigated by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) and the Commercial Affairs Department (CAD).

Koyo said that the MAS and the CAD have interviewed Mr Foo and he has handed over his travel documents and "certain devices and documents" to them.

Mr Foo had told the company that he is being investigated for "possible offences" under Section 197 of the Securities and Futures Act (SFA), it said. It did not elaborate on what his possible offences were.

Section 197 of the SFA pertains to false trading and market rigging transactions, going by the official website for Singapore statutes.

The company added that Mr Foo had told Koyo's board that he "disputes the allegation" by the MAS and the CAD and will cooperate fully in the investigation.

Thursday's dive comes after an earlier substantial loss for Koyo investors. The stock crashed a stunning 84 per cent in just one session on Jan 18, losing S$0.284 to finish at S$0.056 in heavy trading volume of 27.5 million shares, after the SGX put up a "trade with caution" warning for the investing public to be careful when trading Koyo shares.

Since the crash, the share price has been hovering in the S$0.06 to S$0.07 range.

"SGX's review of the trades in Koyo showed that a small group of individuals was responsible for 60 per cent of the trading volume of Koyo shares during this period, of which at least half of these trades were due to this group of individuals buying and selling among themselves," the bourse had said in its warning.

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High Court gives activist discount on judicial review costs

Straits Times
03 Feb 2016
K.C. Vijayan

Civil activist Jolovan Wham has received a 20 per cent discount from the High Court on the legal costs involved in losing a judicial review case last December.

At a hearing on Monday to assess costs, it ordered him to pay $6,036 instead of the $7,500 sought by the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC).

Mr Wham, 35, failed in his High Court bid last December to quash a police warning issued to him, for breaching the conditions set for a vigil in October 2014 in Hong Lim Park to support protesters in Hong Kong fighting election restrictions.

He was meant to ensure that any foreigners taking part had a permit to attend, but failed to do so. Mr Wham was probed by police who later warned him verbally, telling him similar leniency may not be shown in future. He refused to sign the Notice of Warning and was not given a copy. Such warnings are administered on the advice of the Attorney- General after probes are completed and the findings reviewed.

Two months after he was called and issued the warning at Central Police Division in March last year, he inquired about the outcome of investigations and was told the warning had been administered in March. Police then sent a letter to say the matter was closed.

This triggered his move for a judicial review to quash the warning as he feared it would cause severe prejudice against him as it remained on record.

Justice Woo Bih Li dismissed his application but also said the "state of affairs" in relation to the manner in which the warning was issued "was not satisfactory". He said it would have been "more logical" to hand the notice of warning to Mr Wham and make a note on the police copy saying that he had refused to sign it, rather than withhold it from him. He further noted the document meant for Mr Wham was headed "Notice of Warning" but the content referred to a "stern" warning. He said if there was a difference, the terms should not be used interchangeably.

Mr Wham's lawyer Choo Zheng Xi said the judge cut the legal costs sought by 20 per cent to take into account aspects of the process by which the warning was issued.

A spokesman for the AGC said last December that police and the AGC were "reviewing the process by which stern warnings are administered and the use of the notice, in the light of the High Court's comments in the judgment".

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Changes to Elected Presidency scheme: Call to tighten selection of advisers too

TODAY
29 Jan 2016
Kelly Ng

SINGAPORE — Constitutional law experts weighed in on the proposed changes to the Elected Presidency scheme yesterday, saying there is a need to spell out clearly how the tightened criteria for prospective candidates is determined.

They also suggested beefing up the selection process for the Council of Presidential Advisers (CPA), whose say will be given more weight under proposed changes announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Wednesday.

On the review to ensure that the Republic will have a President from a minority race, periodically, experts agree it bears out the longstanding emphasis on multiracialism, but cautioned it will have to be finely balanced to prevent it from devolving into an “affirmative action” type of move that could erode the authority of the office and, worse, set back the purely meritocratic ideals that have served Singapore well this far.

Noting, for example, that one of the current requirements is that a prospective candidate must have led a company with a paid-up capital of at least S$100 million, the experts said the thinking behind the benchmark figure was not expressly set out when Parliament deliberated on the scheme in the late 1980s.

“Presumably, it was thought at the time that the chairman or chief executive of a company with at least this paid-up capital would possess the financial nous for the office of the President,” said Assistant Professor Jack Lee, from the Singapore Management University (SMU) School of Law.

If the sum is raised by the Constitutional Commission, they said, there needs to be clarity about how the number was derived. Too high a bar will limit the pool of eligible candidates and, in terms of absolute numbers, make it harder for members of minority communities to qualify, said Asst Prof Lee.

Given the intent to give the CPA’s advice to the President more weight, the process of selecting members sitting on it should also be relooked and made more transparent, said the experts.

The current qualifying criteria is “very basic”, said SMU law don Eugene Tan. “I think there is certainly a case to significantly enhance it. They could be pegged to, or perhaps made as demanding as that of the elected president,” he said.

Strengthening the CPA’s powers may diminish the President’s role and discretion, said National University of Singapore (NUS) adjunct law professor Dr Kevin Tan, adding that it “defeats the purpose of having a highly-qualified President”.

He suggested tightening the qualifying criteria for prospective CPA members, so that the President can return to its symbolic and non-executive role. “Then we make the President more accountable to the CPA, we don’t worry about his or her qualifications.”

Echoing these views in Parliament yesterday, Member of Parliament for Marine Parade GRC Edwin Tong suggested enhancing the CPA with experts across diverse fields, including civil society. To ensure transparency and accountability, the council should also be required to outline the grounds on which they give their advice, he added.

While acknowledging that the Republic’s multiracial fabric should be reflected in the nation’s institutions of governance, the experts cautioned that this must not come at the expense of compromising the authority wielded, or competence of the office.

If the electorate has to choose from a slate of minority candidates by design, resentment could surface, said former Attorney-General Walter Woon, now teaching at NUS. “The President has to represent Singapore. His mandate comes from the people, not just his own community ... A minority candidate may have to work a little harder, but we have to trust the electorate,” he said.

An election is necessarily competitive, said Dr Tan, who questioned how the President can be elected based on both merits and race.

“If you are lucky and you see an alignment of the stars, the best man for the job is also an ethnic minority ... but that is not institutionally manageable, nor is it possible to engineer,” he said.


Role, qualifying criteria of Council of Presidential Advisers

The six-member Council of Presidential Advisers (CPA) advises the President in the exercise of his custodial and discretionary powers. The President is obliged to consult the council in the exercise of his discretionary veto powers in matters such as the Government’s budgets and key appointments.

If the council agrees with the President’s veto and the council agrees, then the veto is final and Parliament must comply. If the council disagrees, the President can still use his veto, but Parliament can override the veto with a two-thirds majority.

In other matters, such consultation is optional.

According to qualifying criteria set out in the Constitution, prospective nominees to the six-member Council of Presidential Advisers (CPA) must be Singapore citizens aged 35 and above who reside in Singapore. They must also not be of unsound mind, insolvent or undischarged bankrupts, or been convicted by court and sentenced to a jail term exceeding one year or a fine above S$2,000.

The President and Prime Minister each nominate two appointees, with the Chief Justice and Chairman of the Public Service Commission each nominating one appointee.

There are two alternate members who stand in for the others when needed. One is appointed by the President, and the other is nominated by the Prime Minister.

The present CPA is chaired by Mr J Y Pillay, chairman of Singapore Exchange Limited and formerly a top-ranking civil servant. The other members are Temasek Holdings chairman and former cabinet minister S Dhanabalan, former managing partner of Deloitte & Touche Po’ad Shaik Abu Bakar Mattar, ex-High Court judge Goh Joon Seng, former Tote Board chairman Bobby Chin Yoke Choong and Shell chairman Lee Tzu Yang.

The two alternate members are Mr Lim Chee Onn and Mr Stephen Lee Ching Yen.

Copyright 2015 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

Liposuction GP suspended over treatment gone wrong

Straits Times
12 Feb 2016
Salma Khalik

A general practitioner who does aesthetic treatments has been suspended for four months by the Singapore Medical Council (SMC) for professional misconduct following a case of aesthetic treatment that went wrong.

In the incident that took place in 2010, a patient of the GP, Dr Kevin Teh, ended up with burns on both her thighs following vaser liposuction treatment to reduce fat. She had to be taken to the Singapore General Hospital's (SGH) emergency department and was hospitalised for more than two weeks.

This is Dr Teh's second run-in with the SMC over aesthetic treatment. He was fined $10,000 in 2014 for a 2009 treatment in which a patient almost lost two fingers. He had then tried to cover his tracks dishonestly.

In the latest case, the patient had fluid-filled blisters and some swelling and bruising on the back of both her thighs a day after the treatment on Oct 14, 2010.

Dr Teh told the patient that the blisters were burns that would heal with proper care. He and his nurse saw her every day to treat the burns and bruises.

But a week after the liposuction, there was purple blotchiness on the thighs, and she had chills and a fever of 39.1 deg C. Dr Teh and his nurses went with her to SGH that night. She was admitted to the burns unit and scheduled for skin graft surgery the next morning.

However, how the burns were caused was not looked into by the disciplinary tribunal chaired by Dr Yap Lip Kee, as it did not form part of the three charges against Dr Teh.

The charges were: that he failed to refer the patient to a specialist in a timely manner; failed to ensure that sedation was properly done; and did not have adequate documentation.

He was found guilty of the first two charges and cleared of the third charge.

The tribunal said that waiting till the patient had "clear signs of infection" before sending her to hospital amounted to "serious negligence".

"Based on the clear medical evidence of the experts for both sides, a referral should have been made much earlier," it added.

On the second charge, Dr Teh was found to have given a higher dosage of propofol, a sedative, than recommended by the manufacturer.

The known side effects of propofol include burning at the site of the injection and a seizure.

The tribunal found that Dr Teh was not aware of the guidelines for safe sedation issued by the Ministry of Health in 2002.

It found this, and the high dosage given, "particularly troubling since it would be incumbent on any doctor who intends to conduct high own sedation to ensure that he is familiar with the prevailing guidelines as well as something as basic as a recommended dosage".

It added that Dr Teh "totally disregarded" the manufacturer's guideline that propofol "is to be administered only by anaesthetists or intensivists".

In deciding the penalty, the tribunal said it did not take the other case for which Dr Teh had been found guilty into account as it had run parallel to this one.

It did take into account the "strong testimonials on his behalf from members of the medical profession, his staff and patients".

It also noted that Dr Teh, whose clinic is the Singapore Lipo, Body and Face Centre at Novena Medical Centre, now engages an anaesthetist to sedate patients.

His four-month suspension started on Jan 12.

He also has to promise not to repeat the offence and to pay the cost of the hearing.

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Banker to Jho Low, 1MDB units seeks to unfreeze US$10m in S'pore

Business Times
03 Feb 2016
Anita Gabriel

[Singapore] AS the multiple probes into Malaysia's troubled 1Malaysia Development Berhad appear to switch into high gear, particularly abroad, the first legal case linked to the high-profile scandal is set to take place right here in Singapore.

In a move that may lift the veil on what has mostly been a confidential probe by the Singapore authorities into possible money laundering offences, a senior private banker at BSI Singapore has filed a criminal motion in the High Court seeking the release of his frozen bank accounts that hold some S$10 million.

The Business Times understands that the accounts of Yak Yew Chee, the banking executive who is the relationship manager of Malaysian tycoon Low Taek Jho or better known as Jho Low and several key entities linked to 1MDB, were frozen last September amid the probe by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) and the Commercial Affairs Department (CAD). The 1MDB entities that Mr Yak had serviced as clients, sources said, include 1MDB Global Investments Ltd, Aabar Investment PJS Limited and SRC International Sdn Bhd.

SRC, a firm once wholly-owned by 1MDB but now under the Ministry of Finance, had transferred funds totalling over RM40 million to Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak's bank accounts. Last week, the country's Attorney-General had cleared the leader of any criminal wrongdoing in the matter.

Sources say that Mr Yak is seeking to release some of his bank accounts to pay taxes, legal fees and basic expenses.

According to the Supreme Court schedule for the week, the criminal motion will be heard on Friday morning. The respondent in the hearing is the public prosecutor. Mr Yak, who was understood to be on long leave last year, will be represented by senior counsel Roderick Martin of Martin & Partners.

"This is an extraordinary step," said a lawyer. "In most cases, generally speaking, the person would want to get his or her money back but very few actually go to court and would choose instead to wait for the process to be completed."

That Mr Yak is believed to be the private banker for 34-year-old Mr Low as well as 1MDB-linked entities also brings to light for the first time an indication of a possible connection between the Penang-born tycoon and the scandal-torn state-owned company.

BSI Singapore, the local branch of the Swiss private bank which is owned by Brazilian investment bank BTG Pactual, is where 1MDB had said early last year that its wholly-owned Brazen Sky was keeping US$1.103 billion cash that was part of the US$2.3 billion redeemed from its controversial investments in Cayman Islands funds. 1MDB later clarified that the US$1.103 billion was in "units", confounding observers.

In the past, Mr Low has consistently denied any involvement in 1MDB except for providing early advice during its inception in 2009. Last December, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission said that its officers had travelled overseas to record statements from Mr Low and directors of SRC International in a seven-month probe into the transfer of huge amounts of funds into Mr Najib's accounts.

The report was handed over to Attorney-General Mohamed Apandi Ali, who last week cleared Mr Najib of US$681 million graft allegations and shut down MACC's probe without elaborating on his decision, sparking public obloquy. It also raised deep concerns over the standard of governance in the country's top institutions.

Days later, the Swiss Attorney-General's Office issued a statement that its criminal investigation involving the 1MDB money trail had unearthed "serious indications" of misappropriation involving a whopping US$4 billion.

This was followed by a joint statement by CAD and MAS on Monday that they have been "actively investigating" possible money laundering and other offences carried out in Singapore involving 1MDB.

They also revealed that they had seized a "large number" of bank accounts and were continuing to seek information from several financial institutions while interviewing various individuals and were cooperating closely with relevant authorities in Malaysia, Switzerland and the United States.

The events over the past week led prominent Malaysian banker Nazir Razak, Mr Najib's brother, to liken the unfolding of the protracted 1MDB saga to the popular HBO series Game of Thrones in an Instagram post, where he said that the future "terrifies" him as he can't see "how our institutions can recover" and the "political atmosphere can become less toxic".

Indeed, the toxicity of the controversy has rubbed off on the country's currency which fell 1.5 per cent to 4.2157 against the US dollar on Tuesday.

"It appears that the dust is being kicked up on 1MDB all over again," said Vishnu Varathan, a Singapore-based economist at Mizuho Bank Ltd in a Bloomberg report. "Downside pressures for the ringgit could re-emerge."

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

Surge in people appointing guardians to act for them

Straits Times
29 Jan 2016
Priscilla Goy

There was a big jump last year in the number of people appointing guardians to make decisions on their behalf should they lose their mental faculties, after the process was made cheaper and easier.

In all, about 8,360 applications for the Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) were accepted, an increase of almost 160 per cent over the previous year. About seven out of 10 applications were made by people aged 56 and older.

The LPA is a legal document that lets a person appoint an individual to make key decisions for him when he becomes unable to do so. Anyone who is at least 21 years old can draw up or be named in the LPA.

Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin disclosed the figures yesterday when replying to Mr Seah Kian Peng (Marine Parade GRC).

The changes that made the process easier and more convenient were introduced in late 2014.

The basic form used by most applicants was simplified, with less legal and technical jargon, and reduced from 15 pages to eight.

The $50 application fee for the form was also waived for citizens.

There is another form for those with larger, more complicated assets and who wish to grant specific authorisation to their appointees. Its $200 fee is not waived.

The fee waiver, which started in September 2014, will end on Aug 31 this year.A spokesman for the Ministry of Social and Family Development said it is studying the possibility of extending the waiver.

Since the LPA scheme began in 2010, more than 20,000 LPAs have been accepted - a figure Mr Seah said was "too small", given the much larger number of people eligible to sign up for an LPA.

Mr Tan agreed but added: "It's a balance between making (the application process) easy and safeguarding the interests of the individual."

He said he would look into making people more aware of it.

Dr Fatimah Lateef (Marine Parade GRC) and Dr Lim Wee Kiak (Sembawang GRC) suggested using the approaches taken by such schemes for the elderly as MediShield Life and the Pioneer Generation Package.

With MediShield Life, one-to-one consultations were held at several community clubs to help people understand the new compulsory health insurance scheme.

The Pioneer Generation Package had "ambassadors" visiting seniors at home to explain the healthcare benefits they would receive from the Government.

But Mr Tan said a mindset change might be needed too. "A lot of people talk about Singaporeans being under-insured... I don't know whether it's because we are 'pantang' (Malay for superstitious) or we try not to think about the inevitable.

"But at some point, we will all degenerate as we grow older, physically and mentally, so this is something that we know is necessary."

He added: "I think, intellectually, many of us grasp it. But I'm not sure whether we (can) emotionally... hoist it on board."


A MATTER OF MINDSET

A lot of people talk about Singaporeans being under-insured... I don't know whether it's because we are 'pantang' (Malay for superstitious) or we try not to think about the inevitable...I think, intellectually, many of us grasp it. But I'm not sure whether we (can) emotionally... hoist it on board.

MINISTER FOR SOCIAL AND FAMILY DEVELOPMENT TAN CHUAN-JIN, noting that there is a need for a mindset change.

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Anti-harassment appeal: A-G Chambers gets court's nod

Straits Times
11 Feb 2016

Is the Government entitled to invoke an anti-harassment law that allows persons who are victims of false statements to seek remedies from the court?

The question will be determined by Singapore's apex court, after the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) was yesterday granted permission to appeal against a High Court decision that had answered "no".

The case hinges on whether the Government can be considered a "person" under Section 15 of the Protection from Harassment Act.

In the current case, the AGC had invoked the law against five individuals who run socio-political blog The Online Citizen (TOC) and Dr Ting Choon Meng.

This was after TOC published an interview with Dr Ting, whose company, MobileStats Technologies, had sued the Ministry of Defence (Mindef) in 2011 for infringing its patent for a mobile emergency medical station. The suit was eventually dropped.

Mindef responded with a statement on Facebook. It took issue with Dr Ting's statements in the interview that it had knowingly infringed his patent and that it had dragged out court proceedings to wear him down financially.

When Dr Ting ignored demands to stop making the statements, the AGC applied for a court order that his comments could not be published unless they came with a note to say that they were false and that Mindef's statement gave the truth.

In May last year , a district judge found both of Dr Ting's statements to be false, and granted the AGC's application.

TOC, represented by Mr Eugene Thuraisingam, and Dr Ting, represented by Mr Choo Zheng Xi, appealed, arguing that Mindef cannot apply for such an order as the Government is not a "person" under the provision. Judicial Commissioner See Kee Oon agreed, ruling that only human beings have the right to apply for such court orders.

He found only the second statement to be false, as it was not Mindef but vendor Syntech Engineers that conducted the litigation. He also noted that TOC had presented Mindef's side of the story on its site.

Yesterday, an AGC spokesman said that it applied for permission to appeal against the High Court decision so that this novel question of law of public importance could be placed before the Court of Appeal for its determination.

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

Reprieve on minimum trading price as SGX tweaks calculation method

Business Times
03 Feb 2016
Kenneth Lim

It also gives 20 Mainboard companies hit by market volatility 6 more months to raise their share price above 20 cents

[Singapore] THE Singapore Exchange (SGX) gave Mainboard-listed companies on the margins of a coming minimum-trading-price rule some wiggle room on Tuesday.

About 20 of these companies will have an additional six months to meet the price requirement in light of January's market volatility, the market operator announced on Tuesday.

SGX will also change its formula for calculating the minimum price to now adjust historical data for share consolidations. Doing so will align the formula with "international data companies", it said.

SGX said about 20 companies have experienced for the first time a dip in their six-month volume-weighted average share price (VWAP) to below the regulatory minimum of 20 Singapore cents due to extreme market volatility in January.

Those companies, which will be notified by SGX directly, will have until Sept 1, 2016 to raise their prices above the threshold, failing which they will be placed on a watch list.

The current deadline for the rule, which affects only Mainboard-listed companies, is March 1, 2016. Companies on the watch list for share prices that are too low have three years to cure the breach or face delisting.

In terms of how the VWAP is calculated, SGX said it will now follow industry norms and adjust historical prices for share consolidations. As an illustration, historical prices of a 10-cent stock that undergoes a consolidation of four shares into one will therefore be adjusted as if the share was always a 40-cent stock.

This means that companies will enjoy the full impact of the share consolidation immediately upon completion, instead of having to offset the remnant effect of the unadjusted historical prices by waiting a few months, or by consolidating at more aggressive ratios.

Shook Lin & Bok partner Dayne Ho said: "It should mean that the minimum trading price, using the new methodology, would now be potentially less volatile and reduce the potential for a company's minimum trading price dipping below the requisite threshold too quickly, which is a good thing."

As at end-January, 86 of 181 companies likely to be affected by the minimum trading price had either acted or announced plans to comply, SGX said. And of the 86, 74 have decided on share consolidation; among them, 57 have completed the consolidation.

SGX head of listing compliance June Sim said in a statement: "We have listened to feedback from the public and are adjusting the VWAP calculation methodology.

"The VWAP of the shares of companies will now reflect fully the impact of a completed share consolidation. This will reduce the risk of companies having to consolidate shares at extremely high ratios, or to go for repeated corporate actions.

"We are also giving companies which might have been unduly impacted by the market volatility in January time to react."

David Gerald, president of the Securities Investors Association of Singapore, views the tweaks as SGX recognising that "companies are facing adverse market conditions".

"This is the right thing to do," he said. "We are facing an unusual global downturn."

Harry Elias managing partner Philip Fong said many companies have probably taken a "wait-and-see" approach to compliance, given the uncertainties in the markets.

"The latest changes to the minimum-trading-price requirement would be welcomed by such companies to decide whether to undertake share consolidation, transfers to the Catalist board, or other corporate actions."

Following the 2013 penny stock crash, the minimum-trading-price requirement was last year formally written into the rules, on the argument that higher-priced stocks are less vulnerable to manipulation.

The rule has generated a fair bit of controversy, particularly with critics who point to the large number of companies who are at risk of breaching the rule.

Partly in response, SGX has been modifying the rule, including earlier offering a similar six-month extension to companies that had just completed consolidations.

Shook Lin & Bok's Mr Ho said: "The bigger takeaway though, is that the SGX has shown its willingness to adapt its approach as it implements the minimum-trading-price requirement; that should give companies confidence that the SGX is a partner with them during this transition period and that it listens to feedback."

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

Guide for in-house lawyers on helping out

Straits Times
29 Jan 2016
Lim Yi Han

Move by Law Society and law firm DLA Piper to draw more to voluntary work

To get more in-house lawyers to take up voluntary work, the Law Society of Singapore and law firm DLA Piper will launch a free guide today explaining how they can help.

The 29-page Singapore In-House Legal Counsel Pro Bono Guide will be available online and in hard-copy form.

It includes regulations on voluntary legal work, how to communicate with such clients and case studies of companies offering programmes on it.

Law Society president Thio Shen Yi said that in-house counsel can use their expertise to help voluntary welfare organisations (VWOs) or charities.

Mr Thio, a senior counsel, said: "They have certainly got expertise in governance or transactions and, in fact, they have commercial sensibilities which they can apply to the (organisations), or even international projects for charities which cut across borders.

"Some in-house counsel may be used to dealing with international jurisdictions, so they can help with initial structuring and planning."

DLA Piper's pro bono director in Asia-Pacific, Ms Catriona Martin, said: "The guide provides practical guidance on establishing a pro bono programme.

"(In-house counsel) can volunteer with pro bono schemes through the Law Society, work directly with local community service organisations and legal aid bodies, or partner with a law firm on pro bono projects. "

In-house lawyers do not need practising certificates. Only lawyers with practising certificates, which have to be renewed annually, can attend court. As legal counsel do not need to register with the Law Society, there are no statistics on how many such lawyers there are here.

A spokesman for the Law Society noted that a "very gross estimate is that there should be a few thousand".

He added that there are about 120 in-house lawyers volunteering with the Law Society Pro Bono Services Office, which currently helps about 50 charities and VWOs as well as social enterprises, through clinics and law awareness talks.

The Legal Profession Act was amended in 2013 to allow Singapore-qualified lawyers without a practising certificate to provide pro bono legal advice in certain circumstances, such as for the benefit of a charity or welfare organisation. Previously, they were not allowed to do so.

One company which works with the Law Society on community legal clinics and other projects is technology firm Hewlett-Packard Enterprise.

Ms Jayne Kuriakose, its senior counsel for enterprise services in Asia-Pacific and Japan, said: "Many in-house counsel have a holistic experience in dealing with persons from varied backgrounds on a day-to-day basis.

"These soft skills translate into a very usable attribute while providing pro bono services, where understanding the client's needs and communication skills make a remarkable difference."

YMCA of Singapore general secretary Lo Chee Wen said volunteer lawyers are a "key resource" for all VWOs.

He said: "The (pro bono guide) is a wonderful initiative that will facilitate greater volunteerism and giving from the legal sector in Singapore, and give VWOs greater access to quality and professional legal advice which they otherwise may be unable to readily afford."

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Davinder Singh named vice-chair of global body

Straits Times
11 Feb 2016
K.C. Vijayan

Senior Counsel Davinder Singh is the latest lawyer to join the select group of top Singapore legal minds who have been appointed to serve in renowned international legal bodies.

The chief executive officer of Drew & Napier has been named a vice-chairman of the Paris-based ICC Commission on Corporate Responsibility and Anti-corruption.

Other Singaporean legal lights who hold high office abroad include Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, Senior Counsel Michael Hwang and top corporate lawyer Lee Suet Fern.

The ICC, or International Chamber of Commerce, is a private-sector world business organisation with a central role in international trade and commerce, which forges international rules, mechanisms and standards used across the globe.

SC Singh is understood to be the only Singaporean lawyer appointed to the leadership of one of 13 policy commissions under the ICC.

The Commission on Corporate Responsibility and Anti-corruption develops rules of conduct, best practices and advocacy for fighting corruption, among other things.

It brings together more than 300 members from 40 countries, representing multinational companies, law firms, trade associations, and small and medium-sized enterprises.

Elsewhere, CJ Menon is the current patron of the Britain-based Chartered Institute of Arbitrators (CIArb). The 100-year-old global arbitration body has more than 14,000 members located in more than 130 countries, with 35 branches abroad.

Past patrons include former president of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom Nicholas Phillips - also known as Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers.

The CIArb provides for the education and training of adjudicators, mediators and arbitrators as well as acts as a central venue for those concerned with cost-effective and early settlement of disputes.

In Dubai, Senior Counsel Michael Hwang is Chief Justice of the Dubai International Finance Centre's Courts, presiding over a panel of 10 justices from various countries, including Britain, Australia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

SC Hwang is also an honorary vice-president and governing board member of the International Council for Commercial Arbitration (ICCA), a worldwide body dedicated to developing arbitration and other forms of alternative dispute resolution. CJ Menon is also a member of the ICCA governing board.

Among her various portfolios, Morgan Lewis Stamford's managing partner Lee Suet Fern is a director of the US-based World Justice Project, an independent multi-disciplinary body for advancing the rule of law worldwide. The board chairman is a former president of the American Bar Association and other members come from countries including the United States, Brazil and South Africa.

Mrs Lee is also a board member of global insurance giant AXA, global healthcare company Sanofi and Macquarie International Infrastructure Fund.

She is a former president of the Inter-Pacific Bar Association, an international association of business lawyers interested in the Asia-Pacific.

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Need for courts to treat seafarers fairly

Business Times
03 Feb 2016
David Hughes

Two long-running cases have put the vexed issue of criminalisation of seafarers back in the spotlight

TWO court rulings in recent weeks, both overturning previous decisions by lower courts, have put the spotlight firmly back on the vexed issue of criminalisation of seafarers.

This is a highly contentious area. Sovereign states understandably defend the rights of their judicial systems and courts to exercise jurisdiction and enforce their laws within their territories.

That, though, does not always sit easily with the need to treat the world's merchant seafarers fairly.

The two long-running cases that have come to the fore recently have stirred passions throughout the shipping industry. This industry doesn't normally collectively get angry. By and large, it grits it teeth and carries on, but not in these two instances.

Spain's Supreme Court's decision to overturn a lower court ruling and sentence the master of the Prestige, Apostolos Mangouras, to two years' imprisonment over the 2002 Prestige oil spill has provoked outrage from shipping industry organisations.

The Supreme Court has overturned the 2013 verdict of the Spanish court of first instance in La Coruna which had acquitted Capt Mangouras of charges of criminal damage to the environment. The appeal court has now ruled that Capt Mangouras and the owner of the Prestige acted "recklessly" when the 81,000-dwt tanker and its 50,000-tonne fuel oil cargo were lost off Spain's west coast.

The reaction of tanker owners organisation Intertanko was typical of that of the industry in general. It said in a statement that the findings of Spain's Supreme Court, the new conviction and harsh sentencing of Capt Mangouras were "deplorable, unjustifiable and fundamentally wrong".

"This sets a deplorable precedent," said the organisation's managing director Katharina Stanzel. "Are ships' masters who exercise the best professional judgement in impossible circumstances to be shamefully treated as criminals?"

Gerardo Borromeo, president of shipmanagers' association InterManager, said he was "hugely disappointed by the court ruling" and that it set a very worrying precedent as far as the role and responsibility for masters in certain jurisdictions.

Similarly, International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) seafarers' section chair Dave Heindel said: "This decision represents the dying gasps of a 14-year attempt to deflect blame onto the shoulders of an octogenarian, who has been cleared in the court of world opinion and by his peers. Thankfully it is likely to be as unenforceable as it is illogical. This innocent man cannot again be made to sit needlessly in jail."

It would appear unlikely that Capt Mangouras will actually go back to jail. The situation is very different in the other case that has hit the headlines, that of the seafarers and security guards on the Seaman Guard Ohio (SGO). After initially being exonerated, they have now been convicted on charges of carrying illegal arms, illegal refuelling and unlawfully entering Indian waters off the coast of Tuticorin on Oct 18, 2013. The SGO is an anti-piracy support ship that carries crew and guards to protect merchant shipping.

While there have been some angry words, including from the usually highly diplomatic Mission to Seafarers which has supported the men and their families over the past two years, the emphasis now is on engaging the legal process.

The Security Association for the Maritime Industry (SAMI) said it was "extremely disappointed" by the decision of the Tuticorin Court to sentence all 35 crew and guards from Estonia, India and the UK to five years' imprisonment and a 3,000 rupee (S$63) fine especially "as the guards did not knowingly commit any form of pre-meditated crime and were just in the wrong place at the wrong time". It urged the Indian authorities to review who was responsible for the vessel breaking the law and placing the guards and crew, who were effectively passengers, in a location that constituted an offence.

Meanwhile, The ITF (International Transport Workers' Federation) has announced it is to pay for legal support for the court appeal of the crew members of the Seaman Guard Ohio. ITF seafarers' section chair Dave Heindel said: "We have now completed a full legal analysis of the court's judgement and we firmly believe there are grounds for appeal. We will match our determination with funds. We hope that the - flag of convenience - flag state, Sierra Leone, will also be moved to help these seafarers."

No doubt, quiet representations are being made behind the scenes but the issue is starting to attract the notice of politicians. The European Parliament has issued a statement saying: "Whilst recognising the integrity of the Indian legal system, Parliament urges the authorities to release all those concerned pending the conclusion of the judicial process."

Unfortunately, this case may drag on for some time. In the meantime, the international shipping industry needs to keep making the case that seafarers should be treated fairly as they sail around the globe, keeping world trade moving.

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

Equal voting rights for NCMPs a concern: Forum

Straits Times
29 Jan 2016
S. Kumar

The planned changes to our political system constitute a brave initiative ("Changes to political system to prepare S'pore for long term"; yesterday).

The suggested political reforms merit a full public debate, as well as study by legal and political luminaries.

Many may not have issues with smaller group representation constituencies and more single-member constituencies, as these would likely reflect the new normal in demographic and voting tendencies.

However, Non-Constituency MPs (NCMPs) getting the same voting rights as elected MPs raises some concern.

Parliament is an assembly of the people's elected representatives.

They are chosen by the people and rightfully speak on behalf of their constituents.

An NCMP does not. He is a by-product of an Act of Parliament.

That would remain acceptable if he is expected to advance the framework of debate and add to the cut and thrust of political exchange.

But when he receives the same voting rights as elected MPs by an Act of Parliament, this may not be fair to the people who voted Parliament in.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has clearly articulated the principles of governance.

To be sure, the corruption-free oasis that we have developed will continue to flourish, albeit in a challenging environment.

The foundational principles of political reform are clear.

They have to provide Singapore a sound platform for the nation to flourish for the next 50 years.

We would do well to keep the one-vote-one-MP system.

Parliament can look into other mechanisms to foster more debate, political thoughts and a greater flow of ideas among its populace.

S. Kumar

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Court rejects 'tactical move' to trigger buyout

Straits Times
11 Feb 2016
K.C. Vijayan

A judge has made it clear that a winding-up application of a company cannot be used to trigger a court-ordered buyout, under new laws that kicked in last year.

Judicial Commissioner Edmund Leow dismissed a woman's bid to fold two companies that her late husband co-owned with another partner, after talks to sell hers and her husband's shares back stalled.

Under changes to the Companies Act, the court can order a buyout in lieu of a winding up, but in this case - the first reported since the change - the court saw the woman's application as a tactical move and abuse of process.

"A clear line has to be drawn between bona fide and bad-faith winding-up applications, to sieve out potential vexatious applications," wrote the judge in judgment grounds released recently.

He explained that an application may be started as "a tactical manoeuvre" to leverage on the potential disruption, and pressure the other party to accept a buyout.

"Such concerns should shape the court's assessment of the limits of its own remedial discretion in the context of assessing winding-up applications," he added.

Madam Ting Shwu Ping had applied in August last year to wind up two companies owned and managed by her late husband Chng Koon Seng, together with Mr Chan Key Siang.

After her husband's death in April 2014, she had taken over the administration of his estate and become a director of the two companies, Autopack and Scanone. The former deals in wholesale computer accessories and machinery, while the latter's main revenue comes from property rent. Madam Ting and the wife of Mr Chan each had 20 per cent of the shares in Autopack.

Talks commenced in August 2014 between Mr Chan and Madam Ting on a buyout of shares owned by her and her late husband in the companies, but they could not come to an agreement on price.

Madam Ting was prepared to sell at a price assessed by a mutually agreed valuer, but Mr Chan said that, under company rules, a company auditor should value the shares. Madam Ting refused and applied to wind up the companies.

Her lawyer, Senior Counsel N. Sreenivasan, argued that Autopack was in effect a partnership and Mr Chng's death should lead to the dissolution of the partnership, among other things.

However, her main aim was to get the court to use its discretion to order a buyout in lieu of winding up.

The defendants' lawyer, Mr Vikram Nair from Rajah & Tann, countered that the claim should not be allowed as she had applied for the "collateral purpose" of allowing her to exit from the companies, as well as get around the buyout mechanism provided for under the companies' articles and memoranda of understanding.

The judicial commissioner found that Madam Ting had admitted, several times, that her aim was to sell the shares and not become a director or run the companies. He held that the dispute is about share value and not whether the companies should be wound up.

He pointed out that winding up is not in either side's interests and, if ordered, the "break-up" value would be much lower than if the companies were valued as going concerns.

The application was started shortly after the relevant law came into force and this was "not a coincidence", he added.

He doubted if Madam Ting would have made the application if there was no change in the law, which amounted to an abuse of process.

The judge accepted that she had been left in a difficult position by her husband's sudden and unfortunate death. However, that did not exempt her from the companies' rules for the sale of shares, which provides for an auditor in the event of a dispute.

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

Ting Shwu Ping and another v Autopack Pte Ltd and another matter [2016] SGHC 07

Death of 14-year-old: Experts welcome police review on procedures for questioning youth

Straits Times
03 Feb 2016
Kok Xing Hui, Ng Huiwen & Pang Xue Qiang

Those under age 16 should be treated as vulnerable members of society: Experts

Social workers, lawyers and psychologists have welcomed a decision by the Singapore Police Force to review its procedures when interviewing a minor.

It comes after a 14-year-old boy called Benjamin was found dead at the foot of his Housing Board block in Yishun on Jan 26, 90 minutes after being released from Ang Mo Kio Police Division, where he was questioned regarding an alleged molestation case.

No adult was present at his interview as there is no legal requirement for that in such cases here.

But in Britain and parts of Australia, officers must find an "appropriate adult" - a parent, guardian or social worker - to sit in during the questioning of a person under 18.

In response to public concern following the teenager's death, the police said on Monday that they will review the procedure to allow a grown-up to be present in such cases in future.

Benjamin's father told The Straits Times that his wife received a call from their son to say he was being taken from school to the police station.

The police said they sent plainclothes officers and unmarked cars to pick up Benjamin from school "to keep investigations discreet".

Benjamin's father said that when his wife picked the boy up from the station, "his hands were freezing, he kept to himself, he was quiet".

"We knew that he didn't feel too good," he said.

Social workers and lawyers believe that youngsters under 16 should be treated as vulnerable members of society.

The Association of Women for Action and Research said the case "raises troubling questions about the treatment of minors who come into contact with the criminal justice system".

Dr Carol Balhetchet, senior director for youth services at the Singapore Children's Society, said: "Children below 16 are an especially vulnerable group. We should always seek professionals who are trained to handle children. The children should not be handled like adults, and intervention should be done in a more delicate manner."

Criminal lawyer Sunil Sudheesan believes the appropriate adult should not be a parent but an "independent person" whose job is to prevent each side from making "frivolous accusations" about the other.

"This is the standard problem we have in terms of police investigations. We don't have an independent source of what goes on inside the room."

Former policeman Lim Ah Soon, 70, believes parents should not be present at interviews. "Children may tend to be more defensive when their parents are around. Similarly, the parents would be protective of the child."

Dr Munisada Winslow, senior consultant psychiatrist at Promises Healthcare, Novena Medical Centre, suggested having a counsellor or a trained officer help the minor after a police interview.

Experts also suggested that interviews with minors be recorded on film and that youngsters should be granted access to legal help.

In Singapore, only people with intellectual or mental disabilities are allowed an appropriate adult during investigations.

A Ministry of Education spokesman said that while schools have an obligation to cooperate with the police, they also have a duty of care to students. He said schools have a set of guidelines, including speaking to the student and contacting his parents or guardian first, before he can be taken away by the police.

A spokesman for the secondary school involved has confirmed that the police and student had both spoken to a parent over the phone. "We noted from the conversation that the parent would be going to the police station. Throughout the process, we were mindful that as a young student, he would be frightened and we strove to give him as much emotional support as possible."


HELPLINES

SAMARITANS OF SINGAPORE (SOS)

1800-221-4444

NATIONAL FAMILY SERVICE CENTRE

1800-838-0100

SINGAPORE ASSOCIATION FOR MENTAL HEALTH

1800-283-7019

CARE CORNER MANDARIN COUNSELLING CENTRE

1800-353-5800

TOUCHLINE (TOUCH YOUTH SERVICE)

1800-377-2252

TINKLE FRIEND: CHILDREN

1800-274-4788 on weekdays

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Riding with Uber? Read fine print on extra charges

Straits Times
29 Jan 2016
Toh Yong Chuan

Passengers may be paying extra fees as the credit-card payments are processed abroad

That Uber ride that you took may have cost you more than you think.

Although passengers pay for their rides here in Singapore dollars using locally issued credit cards, the payments are processed overseas, making them foreign transactions.

The little-known procedure attracts additional fees that do not show up on the receipts that Uber e-mails to passengers after the rides.

Instead, the extra charges - about 1 per cent of fares - appear only on the credit-card statements passengers receive from their banks, sometimes a month later. Uber accepts only credit cards, not cash.

Its spokesman Karun Arya noted that it is "common practice for multinational companies to run different parts of their operations in different parts of the world". The company and its payment processing facilities are based in the Netherlands.

"Some card-issuing banks may levy an additional fee on their customers for these international charges coming from Uber," he added.

Asked if Uber passengers are told about the charges, he pointed to the fine print on receipts that reads: "Fare does not include fees that may be charged by your bank."

But local banks and major foreign banks told The Straits Times that they do not impose the extra fees.

"The prevailing charges are imposed by the relevant (credit-card) schemes, and not the bank," said Ms Carol Alisha Chan, Standard Chartered Bank's corporate communications senior manager.

A DBS Bank spokesman said: "Credit-card processing networks charge around 1 per cent for these transactions, and this fee is billed to customers."

OCBC Bank's assistant vice-president for group communications Lim Zi Hao explained: "The fees are 0.8 per cent for Visa and 1 per cent for MasterCard. These fees, imposed by Visa and MasterCard, respectively, are for the additional cost associated with processing cross-border payments."

But Visa country manager for Singapore and Brunei Ooi Huey Tyng pushed the responsibility back to the banks, saying that it does not set or collect cardholder fees, and that "pricing structure" for foreign transactions is a matter between cardholders and their banks.

MasterCard Singapore's group head and general manager Deborah Heng also defended the 1 per cent that it charges banks for international transactions as "a global practice that is not unique to Singapore".

But the extra charges have annoyed some Uber passengers.

"The amount may be small, but it is not like I can avoid it because Uber accepts only credit-card payments," said businesswoman S.L. Chan, 45, who uses Uber about once a week.

For business development director Wei Chan, who uses Uber about 10 times a month, the issue is the lack of transparency.

"The Uber receipt shows one figure and the credit-card statement, another," said the 43-year-old who started noticing the higher charges last year. "Not everyone may check their credit-card statements so closely like me because the amount is small."

Rival app-based taxi service GrabCar processes its payments in Singapore and accepts cash.

At least one credit-card company is reviewing its charges.

Uber passengers in Singapore who use the American Express credit card issued by Citibank and Ez-Link now pay 0.4 per cent in foreign transaction charges.

An American Express spokesman said: "While the fee is part of the card issuer's terms and conditions, American Express now realises in some circumstances that it may not be clear and easily understood by consumers. We are in the process of removing this fee."


What MAS and Case say

The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), which regulates financial transactions, finds nothing wrong with app-based taxi service Uber processing its payments outside of Singapore and passengers bearing the extra fees.

While the trip may have occurred here, "the ride is booked online through an application that is registered overseas", said an MAS spokesman.

"As a result, the credit-card company will impose an international transaction fee on the credit-card issuer, and the issuer may pass on the fee to the cardholder."

Meanwhile, the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) has urged Uber to give an estimate of the bank charges to passengers when the bill is presented.

"The terms and conditions provided (by Uber) are not helpful to consumers at all in determining the final cost of the service, because the bank charges are not disclosed," said Case executive director Seah Seng Choon.

"Consumers who fail to read the terms and conditions will be in a worse position, as they will go away believing the bill shows the final fare when it does not."

The MAS has said that it will work with merchants like Uber, credit-card companies and banks to improve the disclosure of fees and charges.

Toh Yong Chuan

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

Man who defied court order by hiding S$4.5m of assets gets eight months’ jail

TODAY
11 Feb 2016
Valerie Koh Swee Fang

SINGAPORE — A Singaporean businessman who tried to hide about S$4.5 million of his assets to lessen the amount he had to pay his wife after their divorce, then wilfully defied court orders to pay up, was sentenced to eight months’ jail for contempt of court.

Even before filing for divorce, Zheng Zhuan Yao, formerly known as Tay Chuan Yao, secretly mortgaged their Stevens Court home, and pledged his shares to an aunt.

And after proceedings started in February 2010, Zheng continued to transfer his shares in various companies to other family members, including his father — Indonesian tycoon Tay Jui Chuan.

The court ordered Zheng to transfer the S$4.25 million matrimonial home — debt-free — to Madam Mok Kah Hong and pay maintenance of S$1.15 million in November 2013.

The Court of Appeal later ruled that while his known matrimonial assets were worth around S$14.4 million, Zheng’s estimated matrimonial assets were S$20 million, in view of his concealments, and raised Mdm Mok’s share of the assets to S$7.05 million in October 2014.

Zheng flouted the order and even defaulted on mortgage payments, leading to Mdm Mok being thrown out of the house. She then took action to jail him for contempt of court.

The apex court sentenced him to eight months’ jail last September, but also offered him “a final indulgence” by giving Zheng a month to cough up the money.

In a written judgment published yesterday, Justice Steven Chong said this was an unfortunate case involving two elements — concealed assets, and willful defiance of several judgments and orders made by the court.

The couple wedded in 1983 and have a 24-year-old son. But unknown to his ex-wife, Zheng also had two children with a mistress.

In convicting Zheng, Justice Chong said several legal principles had to be considered, including proving that the actions of the party alleged to have breached the court order were intentional. The motive was strictly irrelevant, said the judge.

He added that the courts have to be careful in applying the principle that committal proceedings should not be directed against parties with no or little means to pay up.

“It may be used as a smokescreen for the purposes of relitigating issues already determined by the court,” said Justice Chong.

In this case, Zheng had “steadfastly” claimed to be in debt, and had no means to comply with the court order. But Justice Chong noted that he had no documented evidence in support, and hence his claims “ring hollow”.

“There is no question that the husband has the means to comply with the judgment,” he said.

Furthermore, a distinction had to be made between one-off and repeated breaches, and Zheng had a history of “acting in flagrant disregard” of judgments or orders made by various courts.

Justice Chong cited how Zheng had breached an injunction obtained by Mdm Mok by further mortgaging the Stevens Court property, and later caused her to be evicted from it. Apart from that, he made “sporadic payments” to her and failed to comply “substantially” with the maintenance order. The non-compliance was both deliberate and fraudulent, said Justice Chong.

“(Zheng) has concealed assets and embarked on a course of conduct that is calculated to defeat (Mdm Mok’s) entitlement to a share of the matrimonial assets in deliberate defiance of (the) court order,” said the judge.

“This calls for a sentence that is sufficient to adequately express the court’s opprobrium.”

Copyright 2015 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

Mok Kah Hong v Zheng Zhuan Yao [2016] SGCA 08

Entry-level lawyers earning slightly less amid glut: Morgan McKinley

Straits Times
02 Feb 2016
Marissa Lee

Some legal firms in Singapore have lowered their entry-level salaries amid a glut of younger lawyers and a gloomier business environment, recruitment firm Morgan McKinley has found.

Last year, entry-level lawyers working at any of the "Big Four" - Drew & Napier, Allen & Gledhill, Wong Partnership and Rajah & Tann - drew a basic salary of $5,500 to $6,000 a month.

The same lawyers could have earned $6,000 a month or more in 2014, said Morgan McKinley.

Entry-level lawyers at medium-sized firms earned a basic salary of $4,000 to $5,000 a month last year, down from a range of $4,500 to $5,500 in 2014.

"Due to a larger supply of trainee and newly qualified lawyers currently on the market, we have found that some local law firms have lowered the salaries at entry level," said Ms Lucy Allcard, who is manager of audit, legal and compliance, at Morgan McKinley Singapore.

"They do, however, say that it's just the fixed component, or base salary that has been reduced and that bonuses could make up for this, if a firm has had a profitable year," she added.

She also noted that business has fallen in some areas, such as capital markets work, although demand for employment law services may have risen.

Nevertheless, some international law firms will still pay a basic salary of $7,000 for entry-level lawyers, to attract the best talent, said Ms Allcard, who was speaking on the release of her firm's annual salary survey yesterday.

The survey also found that demand for compliance specialists is rising, and that the focus has shifted from senior-level recruitment towards junior and mid-level hires.

Even so, salaries within compliance have not shown much of a rise, Morgan McKinley said.

"At the director level, it is pretty flat compared to the the last few years as there is not a huge amount of movement or new jobs created at this level," Ms Allcard said.

"The hottest area of compliance this year will be trade surveillance with regard to newly created roles as banks build out teams in Singapore.

"As a result, salaries in this sphere are expected to rise; however, this will mainly be at the junior to mid-level."

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

ADV: Research Assistant / Research Associate / Research Fellow, Centre for Maritime Law, Faculty of Law, NUS

Singapore Law Watch
29 Jan 2016
National University of Singapore

S'poreans need to know their legal rights

Straits Times
11 Feb 2016
Kok Xing Hui

The recent suicide of a teenager after he was questioned by the police has spurred debate and calls for public education about rights

When I was 17, I spent a night in the lockup of Tanglin Police Division - the price I paid for using a school senior's identity card to try and get into a club.

I had been curious about a party many of my junior college schoolmates were at, but the door girl saw through my youthful indiscretion and called the police.

In the cold cell they put me in, I was filled with regret, and desperately worried about being kicked out of school.

I needed to call my parents, and at least let them know where I was past 3am that Saturday morning.

At that time, all I knew about police arrests was what I had seen on American TV programmes. So I was under the misguided notion that I would get one phone call and could call my parents and ask them to come and get me.

It was only later that I realised Singapore takes a different approach, and its reasons for doing so.

In my case, my parents were notified of my arrest at 2pm, after my statement was taken and they were needed to post bail.

That incident provided instant education on my legal rights - something many Singaporeans are seemingly oblivious about.

WHAT ARE YOU ENTITLED TO?

In Singapore, the police can detain a person for 48 hours while they investigate.

The person arrested can request to inform his family or a lawyer of his arrest, ask for a visit from them or to consult a lawyer, but the police can delay that if they think it might interfere with investigations.

The law here is that the accused has the right to legal counsel but that right may not be exercised immediately upon arrest, but only within what the authorities consider a reasonable timeframe.

"This strikes a balance between an accused's rights and the public interest in ensuring thorough and objective investigations," Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam said in Parliament in 2010.

Whether that balance shifts over time remains to be seen. For now, people should be aware of their legal rights within the current system.

Criminal lawyers Sunil Sudheesan and Amolat Singh, with a combined 33 years of experience, estimate that at least eight in 10 of their clients do not understand their legal rights.

Experts and lawyers suggested a combination of reasons for this.

The common man does not expect to be arrested, so does not think he needs to know; education efforts, while growing, are still lacking; and there is a high amount of trust in local institutions.

"There is this view that it won't happen to us because we don't intend to break the law," said National University of Singapore sociologist Paulin Straughan.

"Singapore police also have a good reputation - they are viewed as not corrupt and upright.

"There is very little reason for us to not expect that the police will guard our rights."

This is a testament to the way the police operate here, and the processes they have in place.

While in the United States, there is growing distrust and criticism against the men in blue, the system that evolved in Singapore has kept its crime rates among the lowest in the world - an achievement that those on the right side of the law sometimes take for granted.

Still, knowing one's rights is good for a society built on the rule of law, said Singapore Management University law don Eugene Tan, a former Nominated Member of Parliament. "If a person has basic understanding of his rights and chooses to assert them, we will have justice delivered," he explained.

Associate Professor Straughan said: "If you don't have trusted officers in place, then you become vulnerable and easily victimised."

A CRITICAL DIFFERENCE

Criminal lawyers say knowing your rights can make a critical difference.

Mr Amolat Singh recounted the 1994 Oriental Hotel murder case, in which his client Abdul Nasir Amer Hamsah was accused of murdering a Japanese tourist in her hotel room. "It was only at the trial that he was saved from the gallows," said Mr Singh.

The interpreter who took the accused's statement had wrongly translated the Malay word "pijak", which means step, as stomp - and that led the court towards believing he had an intention to murder.

"One word like that could have sent him to death. After the interpreter explained that in court, the murder charge was reduced to robbery with hurt," said Mr Singh.

He believes it is crucial for Singaporeans to know how to handle the police statement. They need to know that they have the right to amend or delete any part of the statement before they sign it.

Mr Sudheesan said: "A person can potentially be convicted on a statement that is inaccurate. If statements are paraphrased, sometimes the person transcribing may change the meaning unintentionally.

"That affects the accuracy of the statement."

Under Section 22 of Singapore's Criminal Procedure Code, any person being questioned by the police "shall be bound to state truly what he knows of the facts and circumstances of the case".

But immediately after come the words, "except that he need not say anything that might expose him to a criminal charge, penalty or forfeiture" - the right against self-incrimination.

Still, the courts can and have drawn adverse findings if a suspect does not put forward a defence of his innocence to the police.

If these arguments are raised only in court, the judge may not believe them.

Mr Sudheesan said: "Unfortunately, people only realise these issues too late."

The Law Society of Singapore is working to get more people to know the law. Last April, it launched a four-page "pamphlet of rights" to help the public better understand their rights in the course of a criminal investigation, search or prosecution.

Mr Wendell Wong, co-chairman of the society's criminal law practice committee, said: "We recognise that information about legal rights during investigations may not be easy for members of the public to find or understand without the assistance of lawyers.

"The pamphlet is meant to enhance access to information and justice."

To add more transparency to the investigation process, the Ministry of Home Affairs is also piloting a system in which questioning sessions are recorded. Mr Wong said: "We believe this is a step in the right direction."

WHAT MORE TO DO

Knowing one's legal rights is also the first step to understanding criminal procedures, and paves the way for citizens to make informed decisions about whether the current system provides enough protection to suspects and whether there is a need for change.

Concerns were raised recently over the case of a 14-year-old boy who fell to his death after being taken to a police station from school and then arrested for molestation.

His parents had asked why the teen was handed over to the police by his school and why his mother was not allowed to see him during the investigation, or be with him when he was being questioned.

As far as stakeholders know, the police were operating as normal, and seemed to take the boy's age into consideration.

For instance, he was questioned in an open-plan office.

Still, some people, such as Mr Singh, point out that while the Children and Young Persons Act goes a long way in ensuring there is protection for minors when they enter the court system, there is little legislation on how they should be treated before they are charged.

He said: "Young suspects are also not called 'accused' but 'offenders'; they are sent to the boys' home and not jail. The legislation has taken great pains to try and handle young offenders very differently from adults.

"But when it comes to arrest and questioning, the laws for adults and minors are not very different."

Experts are calling for youth to be treated as a vulnerable group, and to have an appropriate adult alongside during questioning.

Associate Professor Tan said: "As a parent, I absolutely wouldn't want my child to be overwhelmed by that experience."

Criminal lawyers, through the Law Society and the Association of Criminal Lawyers Singapore (ACLS), have long been calling for suspects to have immediate access to counsel .

"We have engaged and continue to engage the Home Ministry, Ministry of Law and the Attorney-General on this issue," said Mr Wong.

"Sometimes you need a lawyer just to answer questions," said Mr Sudheesan, who is also the acting president of the ACLS.

"Lawyers can advise you to list down your core defence, because if you don't say it now, the judge is less likely to believe it later.

"But you might not do that if you think you can just keep silent."

These are important issues and members of society need to get involved in the discussion on what is the best balance between giving police the tools- including the option of being firm when needed - to do their job and ensuring that the young, and other vulnerable groups such as the mentally disabled, are protected.

But such debates require that citizens know what the rules are, and where the trade-offs lie, to avoid unhelpful finger-pointing.

As Mr Singh said: "It's a fine balance between the public interest of keeping society safe and the rights of a suspect.

"But rights bring about a level playing field."

At the same time, "we must not become so fixated by the notion of 'rights' that we miss out on what they ought to facilitate", said Prof Tan.

In my teenage brush with the law, I would have appreciated it very much if the police had let me speak to my parents.

But at the same time, staying overnight in that cell ensured that I learnt my lesson.

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Global law firm Butler Snow sets up in Singapore

Straits Times
02 Feb 2016
Jacqueline Woo

Global law firm Butler Snow has set up shop in Singapore, with an eye on opportunities within the region.

The United States-based firm last month opened a regional office in Collyer Quay - its first in Asia. It will focus on offering tax and estate planning advice to high net worth families and family-controlled businesses in South-east Asia which have US business interests.

Its key markets include Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines. "We selected Singapore because it is a leading financial hub with a business-friendly environment and offers a strong legal framework," Mr Kurt Rademacher, head of the local office, said.

Butler Snow has also opened a virtual office in Hong Kong, where it is looking to "establish a more permanent presence in the future", said Mr Rademacher, a partner in the firm.

"With a reputation for providing clients with solutions for navigating complex US tax rules and regulations, Butler Snow sees tremendous opportunities and growth as the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (Fatca) and the Common Reporting Standard continue to impact the region."

Mr Rademacher said in an interview that Fatca, in particular, continues to have "huge implications" for both Americans and financial institutions based outside the US.

Under Fatca, which took effect in 2014, banks around the world are required to provide the US taxman with contact and financial details of clients who are American citizens or green card-holders.

"It's awfully difficult for an American to get a bank account these days," said Mr Rademacher.

"Some financial institutions, including retail banks, have taken a decision to not accept American clients because it's just too much trouble, too much risk," he noted, adding that they are also spending "a huge amount of time and money" building compliance systems and providing the US with information.

But he said there is a "growing awareness" of the issue in the past few years, as more people seek legal advice. "They get good advice hopefully and they don't ignore the problem any more," he said, adding that global compliance is key in today's world, where transparency is increasingly important.

Jacqueline Woo

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

7 S'poreans face charges in Taiwan over $80m gold scam

Straits Times
29 Jan 2016
Jeremy Lee

Several Singaporeans have been charged in Taiwan over a gold scam involving some NT$1.9 billion (S$80 million), the Taiwanese media has reported.

Prosecutors in Taoyuan district on Tuesday charged Xie Siliang, 48, head honcho of the Tianjin Group, and six other Singaporeans with violating Taiwan's Banking Act over the enterprise that was reportedly inspired by a similar one in Singapore, according to the China Times news website.

Of the NT$1.9 billion that was amassed in the scam, about NT$1.6 billion has been wired to Singapore, the China Times reported.

Xie, who opened the investment company in March 2013, had promised investors 24 per cent in returns if they took part in the scheme to invest in Swiss Pamp gold bars.

According to investigators, Tianjin's scheme also guaranteed investors 1 per cent interest every month for two years, after which the company would buy back the gold at its original price.

The gold, which cost just NT$1.23 million per kg, was marketed at NT$2.6 million per kg, reported the semi-official Central News Agency.

The probe also found that the certificates for the gold given to investors were photocopies.

The company lured members in with the tantalising slogan "Gold, babes, high interest" and the persuasions of pretty 39-year-old spokesman Zeng Shaoli, dubbed the "Gold Fortune Goddess".

The core members also wooed more investors by flaunting their wealth, renting luxury cars and taking members out to sea on yachts.

Hiring Taiwan-area chairman Lin Songmao, 44, who reportedly has a wealth of experience in direct sales, Tianjin also set up an extensive multi-level marketing network so its existing members could look for other members.

To be a member and be eligible to buy the gold products, one had to pay NT$80,800 upfront.

Members got a commission of 2 per cent to 16 per cent depending on the number of other members they managed to recruit, according to Taiwan's United Daily News (UDN).

Some 200 Taiwanese were reportedly duped, said media reports.

UDN also named two other Singaporeans involved as Tianjin general manager Xie Jiaye, 42, and deputy general manager Jiang Ziwen, 57.

Twenty-five Taiwanese were also roped into the company. All 32 were charged on Tuesday.

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

Why judges should not be moral arbiters

Straits Times
11 Feb 2016
K.C. Vijayan

Issues of social preferences can be expressed only through electoral process, US judge tells Singapore audience

After the United States Supreme Court gave same-sex marriages the green light, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was asked if, in his view, such thorny issues were better decided through politics or in the courts.

In his response to the question, which was posed at a dialogue at the Singapore Management University (SMU) last June, he said of the US ruling that any ban on such unions was unconstitutional: "That is their (the US) system. They will not say that they made a decision on the issue; they will say that they interpreted the Constitution in its true sense and this is what it has always meant.

"Things like abortion, racial discrimination, drugs, all sorts of things go to the Supreme Court."

And that means that the US Congress, made up of those elected by the people, does not have the last word, he highlighted at the SMU's Ho Rih Hwa Leadership in Asia Public Lecture.

That same issue was at the heart of a lecture that Justice Antonin Scalia delivered here late last month.

Justice Scalia, 79, the longest-serving judge with the US Supreme Court, took office in 1986 when Mr Ronald Reagan was president. He voiced his objection to recent developments in the US which were in his view making "moral experts" out of judges and giving rise to judicial hegemony even when "it is abidingly clear that judges have no better ability than the rest of us in deciding what's moral".

Speaking to a packed audience at the National University of Singapore during a public lecture titled "Judges as Moral Arbiters" under the Lee Kuan Yew Distinguished Visitors Programme, Justice Scalia said he believed instead that the "most important issues have no right or wrong answers".

"They involve social preferences, which in democracies can be expressed only through the electoral process."

More than 50 years ago, he explained, there was belief in looking to experts to provide direction, but in the US and the West, these have been replaced by the "judge moralist" in issues like abortion, the death penalty, denial of equal protection for marriage between people of the same sex and euthanasia.

But Justice Scalia said there is no reason that decisions over such issues should be taken away from the people and given to judges to determine in black-and- white terms. "We have become addicted to abstract morality," he went on. "And abstract morality is dangerous when it is given force of law."

He cited the European Convention on Human Rights which had ruled on people's right to respect of their private life.

"But what does respect for private life mean? The European Court of Human Rights has had to decide that. Should the right to orgies be part of the right to respect for one's private life? The answer is that the question shouldn't be answered by seven unelected judges. But my court does that all the time!"

(The orgies case refers to a 2000 case involving a British homosexual whose home was raided by police. They found videotapes showing the accused and up to four other men engaged in sex. He was convicted of gross indecency, but on appeal the European Court ruled that the conviction violated his right to respect his private life and ordered the British government to pay him £34,000 in compensation.)

Justice Scalia referred to how far judges have taken the "due process" clause in the American Constitution. Its Fifth Amendment, for instance, states that no one can be deprived of "life, liberty, or property, without due process of law...".

Until relatively recently, the meaning of such laws was "static" and could be changed only by amending the US Constitution.

But in present times, Justice Scalia said that "my court" changed that; it invented the notion of a "living Constitution"? where the meaning of the Constitution can change over time, along with evolving standards of decency.

"So judges decide when there has been evolution and when evolution equals progress," he added.

The Supreme Court "has used the due process clause to hold that it is not permissible for military colleges to be men-only, even though it has been constitutional at West Point for centuries", he said.

"It has used the due process clause to include the right to assisted suicide."

He went on to say: "So judges decide when there has been evolution and when evolution equals progress. We are the envy of Western judicial powers and even the constitutional courts in Europe have followed us.

"But I am questioning the propriety and sanity of a decision like that (on orgies) being made by unelected judges.

"Nothing in their experience, whether in law school or in practice, enables judges to decide on the right to assisted suicide. Why would they have special abilities to come up with the correct answers?"

Just as scientific experts are not qualified to give answers in policy issues, judges are not qualified to give judgments in cases just because they involve human rights.

ROLE OF POLITICS IN U.S. SYSTEM

Justice Scalia said the issue is compounded by the fact that (Supreme Court) judges are nominated by the US president and confirmed by the Senate - which means that "politics cannot be taken out of the judicial system".

"Every liberal president has promised to appoint judges that uphold the abortion rights case," he pointed out, and this essentially is judicial activism - which is when judges colour their decisions based on their liberal or conservative backgounds.

Expressing unhappiness about the intrusion of politics into judicial selection, he added: "I am not sure whether (judicial) hegemony has reached Asia, but be on guard.

"The temptation of judicial arrogance exists."

Justice Scalia's remarks can perhaps be understood when seen in a social context in the US. The historical record there suggests the difficulty in getting constitutional amendments through Congress, hence the preferred recourse to the US courts.

But as PM Lee pointed out at the SMU dialogue last June, the US system "is not our system".

"In our system, the Parliament decides, the Executive through the Parliament, takes the lead, legislates and legislates on behalf of the population. On an issue like LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) where there are very strong views in the society, I think the legislature has to act very cautiously.

"We have a much more cautious approach towards social issues. Because it is really a conservative population and I think we let the views evolve with time. The population has to decide collectively rather than the Government decide that I am going to go one way or the other."

Still, the reality is that individuals who are dissatisfied with the status quo will try to seek redress through the courts, as has already happened here. That has also been the US experience, and Justin Scalia's warning against judicial activism is a timely reminder of the consequences of going down that route.


JUDICIAL HEGEMONY

Nothing in their experience, whether in law school or in practice, enables judges to decide on the right to assisted suicide. Why would they have special abilities to come up with the correct answers?

JUSTICE ANTONIN SCALIA, the US Supreme Court's longest-serving judge, on developments in the US making "moral experts" out of judges.

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

Judge throws out Dennis Foo's claims

Straits Times
02 Feb 2016
K.C. Vijayan

Conspiracy claims against Raffles Town Club co-founders dismissed in 'non-starter' case

A High Court judge dismissed the claims of nightclub boss Dennis Foo against two co-founders of Raffles Town Club (RTC), calling the case a "complete non-starter" built on erroneous factual premises.

Mr Foo had taken the Raffles Town Club saga back to court some 13 years after he had sold his stake.

He had alleged that fellow founding shareholders Lawrence Ang - to whom he sold his shares and those in two other firms to resolve a legal tussle - and William Tan had planned a conspiracy to hide from him their plan to sell his stake on to new owners.

But Justice Chan Seng Onn, in judgment grounds released yesterday, emphasised that the law was not to be used to "provide remedies for bad bargains and poor commercial judgment".

At the trial last November, the court heard Mr Foo would not have sold his shares if he had known they would be re-sold. If he had remained an RTC shareholder, he would have stood to gain $13.2 million in dividends, but instead suffered a loss by selling his stake in the three firms to Mr Ang for $11 million.

The other two companies were food and beverage firm ABR Holdings, which holds the Swensen's franchise, and its subsidiary, Europa Holdings.

The legal saga started in 2000 when billionaire Peter Lim sued Mr Ang and Mr Tan for reneging on an agreement to give him a 40 per cent stake in RTC.

Mr Foo was also a defendant but did not contest Mr Lim's claim. The case was settled out of court on April 19, 2001, with Mr Foo agreeing to sell his shares in RTC, Europa and ABR to Mr Ang.

But some six years later, Mr Foo came to see documents relating to a meeting between Mr Ang, Mr Tan and new owners Margaret Tung and Lin Jianwei - tagged as TYL Consortium - that were dated five days before his April 19, 2001, sales deal with Mr Ang and Mr Tan.

Mr Foo, represented by Morgan Lewis Stamford lawyers led by Daniel Chia, said this was evidence of an agreement to sell their own shares to TYL, which breached the relevant RTC articles that they should have offered him their shares first before disposing of them.

But lawyers from Harry Elias led by Andy Lem argued for the defendants that the document, titled Minutes of Meeting dated April 14 (01), was simply a record of a discussion with TYL Consortium.

They added that even if it were an agreement, it was one wherein they were contemplating the sale of the shares once they were acquired and did not refer to their own shares in RTC. They claimed to have offered their own shares to Mr Lim and Mr Foo for $36 million during mediation in the run-up to Mr Lim's out-of-court settlement but this was not taken up.

The judge found that at the end of mediation on April 12, it was agreed the defendants would buy Mr Lim's and Mr Foo's shares and interests for $36 million, on condition they could find the financing for it.

The defendants then met TYL to seek the funds for the sale, which would transfer those shares and interests to the consortium.

As the defendants never sold their own shares to TYL Consortium, Mr Foo's right to have the first bite at them under the relevant club rules did not kick in, he added.

He said it did not make sense for TYL to buy the defendants' shares as they were then the subject of a court suit, among other things.

Justice Chan found that the claims of conspiracy, fraud and misrepresentation against the defendants were not supported by the facts and dismissed the case. It is understood that Mr Foo is considering an appeal against the decision.

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

Foo Jong Long Dennis v Ang Yee Lim Lawrence and another [2016] SGHC 10

Businessman barred from leaving country: Penny stock crash

Straits Times
28 Jan 2016
Grace Leong

A Malaysian businessman, identified as the "probable mastermind" behind one of Singapore's biggest and most complex stock market fraud cases, was yesterday denied permission to leave the country.

Mr John Soh Chee Wen, 57, whose passport has been impounded since April 2014, is assisting the Commercial Affairs Department (CAD) with a probe into the penny stock crash that wiped out $8 billion in market value in just days in October 2013. He is on $500,000 police bail.

Judge of Appeal Chao Hick Tin rejected his request to vary bail terms to allow him to travel to Malaysia from Feb 6 to 23 to visit his ailing 80-year-old mother and attend his son's wedding on Feb 20.

Small investors were hit hard by the 2013 meltdown as penny stocks are the cheapest to buy. Many lost vast sums in the crash, which battered investor confidence and led to tighter trading rules.

Documents presented in court referred to market rigging involving 25 trading representatives - and said the ongoing probe had already uncovered "serious criminal activities involving fraudulent trading".

Deputy Public Prosecutor Gordon Oh said investigations are at an "advanced stage" and that charges may be brought by the end of the year, possibly around September.

Mr Oh said investigators have concluded that Mr Soh is "not just connected to the case, but may also be the mastermind".

Mr Soh attended the hearing and later told reporters he was "disappointed" but wants to have "light shed on the collapse". "The public, investors are very keen to get to the bottom of the matter, what caused the crash, and who benefited. That's why I've been going all out to cooperate. If things happen as prosecution says it may, so be it. We are motivated to have this cleared up."

On being labelled the "mastermind", Mr Soh said: "I won't like my comments to be misconstrued... Let's just say that we understand and respect what the CAD and MAS (Monetary Authority of Singapore) are trying to do, and we are on the same page."

The probe centres on possible violations of the Securities and Futures Act over trading in Blumont Group, LionGold Corp and Asiasons Capital, which surged between 150 per cent and 800 per cent in less than nine months before losing most of their value in just three days in October 2013, wiping out $8 billion.

The CAD raided some 50 locations, including residences, offices and brokerages, interviewed more than 70 people, and seized hundreds of electronic devices. One raid pointed to Mr Soh's involvement in the trading of the three stocks.

Mr Oh said Mr Soh had played a "primary role" in alleged "manipulative activities". Mr Soh, a bankrupt in Malaysia with no known assets or family ties here, posed a "serious flight risk", he said.

Senior Counsel Tan Chee Meng, who represents Mr Soh, called the restriction of his movements "unfair and unreasonable". Mr Tan, deputy chairman of WongPartnership, noted that the probe had been going on for 22 months, and Mr Soh had answered more than 2,000 questions in his statements and undergone "many statement takings that lasted 10 hours and longer".

Mr Soh has not been charged with any offence, while his requests to travel have been refused without explanation, Mr Tan said.

But MAS assistant managing director Lee Boon Ngiap disclosed, in affidavits, that 25 trading representatives are believed to have assisted or participated in an "elaborate scheme relating to false trading and market rigging".

On whether he intends to appeal against the ruling, Mr Soh said he will "consider (his) options".

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Nine-member panel to review Elected Presidency

Straits Times
11 Feb 2016
Walter Sim

Constitutional Commission includes public, private sector leaders, and will consult people

Nine prominent Singaporeans have been named to a committee to study the Elected Presidency and recommend how it can be updated.

Their appointment comes two weeks after Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong told Parliament that the President had to remain elected, but certain aspects of the process had to be reviewed.

The growth in Singapore's reserves, of which the President is custodian, means that individuals with character as well as competence are needed.

Another consideration is the need for candidates from the minority races to get a chance at being elected from time to time.

Leading the group of eight men and one woman is Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon. They will hold their first meeting next week.

This Constitutional Commission includes Public Service Commission chairman Eddie Teo, who helmed the Presidential Elections Committee that vetted potential candidates in 2011.

Also on the panel are Supreme Court judge Tay Yong Kwang, former Speaker of Parliament Abdullah Tarmugi and Ambassador-at-Large Chan Heng Chee.

The rest are business leaders Chua Thian Poh of Ho Bee Land, Philip Ng of Far East Organization, Peter Seah of DBS Bank, and Wong Ngit Liong of Venture Corp.

The names were announced by the Prime Minister's Office yesterday, which also set out the panel's terms of reference. People will be invited to give their views.

CJ Menon said yesterday that the members of the committee "bring with them the valuable perspectives of their diverse backgrounds and experience". "We will undertake and complete our work with due care and expedition," he said.

Although no timeline was given, PM Lee told Parliament he hoped the Commission could make its recommendations by the third quarter of the year. This would pave the way for changes to be made ahead of the next presidential election, which is due by August next year.

Mr Lee had said the Elected President is above politics and acts as a "stabiliser in our political system", but three areas had to be reviewed.

These were spelt out in the committee's terms of reference.

First, review the criteria for who is eligible to stand. This must consider the President's custodial role over the reserves and public service - a role that requires "individuals of character and standing" with experience and ability to do the job "with dignity and distinction".

Second, consider provisions for minority candidates to have "fair and adequate opportunity" to be elected, given the President's status as a unifying figure who represents a multiracial Singapore.

Third, consider refinements to the role and composition of the Council of Presidential Advisers, to ensure that key decisions are made after careful consideration from people with substantial suitable experience in the public and private sectors.

Mr Seah said: "I hope that my years of experience will help me contribute to the very important task of the Commission."

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

Bank accounts seized here in relation to 1MDB case

Business Times
02 Feb 2016
Kelly Tay

CAD, MAS say a probe is on into possible money- laundering, in response to media queries

[Singapore] A "LARGE number" of bank accounts have been seized by the Commercial Affairs Department (CAD) and the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) in connection with investigations into possible money-laundering and other offences carried out here, the two bodies said in a joint statement on Monday evening.

The two-paragraph statement, coming in response to media queries related to 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), also revealed that Singapore is cooperating with the US authorities - the first official sign that the US is looking into the 1MDB case.

Before this, the only indication that the Americans were on the trail came from media reports quoting unnamed sources. The US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has yet to confirm whether it has opened a probe into the Malaysia state investment firm.

Said the CAD and MAS: "Singapore does not tolerate the use of its financial system as a refuge or conduit for illicit funds. Since the middle of last year, CAD and MAS have been actively investigating possible money laundering and other offences carried out in Singapore. In connection with these investigations, we have sought and are continuing to seek information from several financial institutions, are interviewing various individuals, and have seized a large number of bank accounts.

"Singapore is also cooperating closely with relevant authorities, including those in Malaysia, Switzerland and the United States. We have responded to all foreign requests for information and have requested information from relevant counterparts to aid in our investigations. As investigations are still on-going, we are not able to provide more details at this stage."

That a "large number" of bank accounts have been seized is also a new development. Last July, the Singapore Police Force (SPF) told The Business Times that it had launched a probe into possible money laundering offences in relation to two Singapore bank accounts involved in the 1MDB saga - issuing orders on July 15 to freeze both.

Last Friday, Swiss Attorney-General Michael Lauber said that he had formally asked Malaysia for help with his probe into the alleged misappropriation of US$4 billion (S$5.7 billion) linked to 1MDB.

The office of Switzerland's top prosecutor added that so far, it had been ascertained that "a small portion" of the money was transferred to accounts held in Switzerland by former Malaysian public officials and both former and current public officials from the United Arab Emirates.

Mr Lauber's office added: "So far, four cases involving allegations of criminal conduct and covering the period from 2009 to 2013 have come to light in this connection (relating to Petrosaudi, former 1MDB subsidiary SRC, Genting/Tanjong and Abu Dhabi Malaysia Investment Company), each involving a systematic course of action carried out by means of complex financial structures."

Two days later, Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi told reporters in Kuala Lumpur that the Swiss should not have made public its request for help, saying the move strains ties between the two countries.

Just last week, Malaysian Attorney-General Mohamed Apandi Ali cleared Prime Minister Najib Razak of criminal offences or corruption, declaring that the RM2.6 billion (S$870 million) found in the personal bank accounts of Mr Najib was a donation from the Saudi royal family.

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

NCMPs to get equal voting rights as elected MPs: PM Lee

Business Times
28 Jan 2016
Lee U-Wen

Minimum number of opposition MPs in Parliament to be raised from 9 to 12 at next GE

[Singapore] THE Constitution will be amended to give Non-Constituency Members of Parliament (NCMPs) the same voting rights as their elected counterparts, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced in Parliament on Wednesday.

He also said that the minimum number of opposition MPs, including NCMPs, will be increased to 12 - from the current nine - at the next general election (GE).

Speaking on the third day of the week-long debate on the President's Address, Mr Lee felt that NCMPs should have the ability to vote on all issues, even confidence motions.

NCMPs are appointed from the batch of losing candidates with the best results in a general election. They are allowed to speak in all debates, move motions and file parliamentary questions, but are unable to vote on several matters.

These are constitutional changes, supply and money Bills, votes of no-confidence in the government, and removing a president from office.

As he outlined the thinking behind this decision, Mr Lee said it was time to re-examine this aspect of the NCMP scheme given that Singapore is in a different phase of its political development.

"If we accept that NCMPs have as much of a mandate from voters to be in the House as constituency MPs - and more than party list MPs would in a proportional representation system - then NCMPs, even in a vote of no-confidence and other restricted matters, should be able not just to speak but to vote," he said.

Giving MPs the ability to vote in Parliament would mean that there would be no reason to perceive them as "second-class", Mr Lee added.

As for the decision to boost the opposition presence in the House to 12, Mr Lee noted this was a "reasonable" figure in a House comprising about 100 members, and given that at least 30 per cent of citizens vote against the government in an election.

"The opposition often claims that they are unable to put up a stronger showing in Parliament because they have too few MPs. This is an excuse, because the opposition's impact depends on the quality of opposition MPs and arguments, far more than on their number," said Mr Lee.

The ruling People's Action Party (PAP) has 83 members in the current Parliament, with the Workers' Party (WP) occupying eight seats. This group is made up of six elected MPs and two NCMPs.

With the existing law allowing for at least nine opposition voices, there could be a third NCMP appointed in future, with the WP looking to nominate Daniel Goh to the post after former Punggol East MP Lee Li-Lian turned down the opportunity after her defeat in the last GE.

To qualify as an NCMP, opposition candidates need to belong to a political party and obtain at least 15 per cent of the votes cast.

In his speech, Mr Lee made the point that having more NCMPs will give the opposition "more opportunity" to show what they are capable of.

"If the NCMPs are capable and effective, the exposure will win them recognition and help them win a constituency the next time," he said.

Mr Lee shared that the Nominated MP (NMP) scheme would continue. With nine places in this scheme, the next Parliament will see at least 21 non-ruling-party MPs.

Regardless of election outcomes, Mr Lee said that the NCMP scheme ensured a stronger opposition presence in the House. Even if the government won overwhelming support, it would still have to argue for and defend its policies robustly.

"In effect, we will be aiding the opposition, giving their best losers more exposure, very possibly building them for the next GE. But I believe that in this phase of our political development, this is good for the government, good for Singapore.

"No ruling party or government should ever be afraid of open argument. The PAP never has been. And, ultimately, Singapore will benefit from a contest of ideas in the House."

Another change that the PM mooted to the electoral system was to reduce the average size of group representation constituencies (GRCs) even further at future polls, and to have more single-member constituencies (SMCs).

This would continue a trend seen at the last two GEs in May 2011 and September 2015.

"The GRC system has been good, and we should keep it," he said, calling for the right balance between the economies of scale of larger GRCs and the closer MP-resident connection in smaller constituencies.

The GRC scheme was started in 1988 to ensure a minimum number of minority-race MPs in Parliament. There are presently two six-member GRCs, eight five-member ones, and six four-member teams.

Mr Lee shared that, when he appoints the Electoral Boundaries Review Committee before the next GE, he would instruct the committee to reduce the average size of GRCs further and to create more SMCs.

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

Marina Square tenants suing mall over rat problem

TODAY
11 Feb 2016
Kenneth Cheng

SINGAPORE — Two more businesses are locked in a legal tug-of-war with Marina Square — joining a former tenant, which is counterclaiming damages from the mall’s operator — over rodent activity there.

Former tenant Pita Pan Management Pte Ltd is countersuing the mall for damages, after the latter started legal proceedings against it. Saigon Times Pte Ltd, an existing tenant, is claiming damages from the mall and several of its fellow tenants, after the rat problem resulted in a significant drop in business.

Pita Pan Management, which manages former tenant Pita Pan, had been drawn into a lawsuit after the mall operator, Marina Centre Holdings, initiated legal proceedings against it last August, court papers obtained by TODAY showed.

In an amended statement of claim filed on Oct 29 last year, the mall claimed Pita Pan Management had breached the terms of its lease and failed to pay the sums agreed under it.

In total, the mall operator is claiming S$189,680.10 from Pita Pan Management for rent and other items.

Occupying a second-floor unit and serving vegetarian Mediterranean food, Pita Pan had stopped operations on Nov 2 last year, eight months shy of the expiry of its three-year lease.

In its Nov 12 amended defence and counterclaim, Pita Pan Management argued that the mall had breached the implied terms of its letter of offer.

It claimed that the letter had implied that the mall was responsible for ensuring that a rat infestation would not occur “that would disrupt and/or cause damage” to the business, among other things. The firm also alleged that the mall operator had been “negligent”.

Pita Pan had faced a continuous decline in sales in the wake of the bad press surrounding the mall’s rodent problems, which began in January last year, when a rat was found in a tray of vegetables at Hotpot Culture, a restaurant in the mall.

After the adverse publicity, Pita Pan’s average monthly sales from last January to August plummeted about 37 per cent to $27,747.06, from an average of S$44,300.47 between July 2013 and December 2014.

For loss of sales, Pita Pan Management is counterclaiming damages from the mall operator totalling S$132,427.48. The mall, in its Nov 26 reply and defence to this counterclaim, had denied that there was a rodent infestation, and said it did not cause Pita Pan “loss and damage”.

It noted that Pita Pan Management had agreed under a clause in the lease that the lease constituted “the entire and only agreement”. Furthermore, exclusions set out in some of the lease’s clauses meant that the mall was not liable for breaches of any implied terms, it added. The mall denied that it owed a duty of care to Pita Pan, as tenants are required, under their lease, to upkeep their premises and keep them free of rodents. It owed a duty of care only in relation to the common areas of the mall, it noted.

Court documents showed that the mall operator has applied for a summary judgment against Pita Pan Management for S$166,621.00, largely for rent owed from last January to July.

In a separate case filed last month, Saigon Times Pte Ltd, which operates Saigon Baguette, had sued the mall operator and eight tenants, including Mouth Restaurant and Han’s, claiming damages totalling S$249,000.

Business at Saigon Baguette, which serves Vietnamese cuisine, had plunged 80 per cent since news emerged in January last year that the National Environment Agency had detected rodent activity in the false ceilings of 14 of the mall’s food-and-beverage establishments and at a bin centre, the firm said in its statement of claim on Jan 18.

The restaurant claimed that the mall had “wilfully ignored” all of its requests. It had asked the mall to seal a hole in its storeroom through which an aluminium pipe runs, which it believes was a source of the rat problem.

Saigon Baguette owner Kok Chiang Loong, 35, said yesterday the mall had repossessed its unit last month, although its lease had not been terminated.

He added that it is in discussions with the management to explore the possibility of resuming operations at an alternative location in the mall.

TODAY had earlier reported that the mall operator was seeking compensation and damages from Caerus Holding, which manages former tenant Lady M, after the confectionery pulled out of the mall in January last year.

Caerus had counterclaimed damages from the mall, citing the “loss and damage” it suffered as a result of the rodent problems.

Copyright 2015 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

Police to review the way youth are questioned

Straits Times
02 Feb 2016
Calvin Yang

The police are reviewing their procedures for interviewing young persons after a 14-year-old boy fell to his death last week following questioning by the police.

A police statement yesterday said: "The police have been asked whether it should review the procedure to allow an appropriate adult to be present when a young person is interviewed. The police will review and address this issue."

Concerns have surfaced online following reports that the student was questioned by police at his school without his parents being present or aware of it.

Police said officers went in plainclothes and unmarked cars - "to keep investigations discreet" - to his school on Jan 26 after a report of molestation was lodged the day before.

Naming him for the first time in their statements, police said that after discussions with school officials, "Benjamin" was identified through closed circuit television records.

"He was brought to the principal's office by a school official and was spoken with in the presence of a police officer," police said.

Before he was taken to the Ang Mo Kio division for more interviews, he called his mother to let her know what was going on.

The police said an officer also spoke to his mother. At the division, Benjamin was interviewed by an investigation officer at his workstation in an open office.

Benjamin was later released on bail and left the headquarters with his mother, said the police.

According to media reports, he then went home to the family's 14th-floor flat in Yishun with his mother and sister. His mother said she found the window of his room open and rushed to the ground floor, to see him lying on the ground.

"Benjamin's passing was tragic," said the police, adding that they had met the family to address their questions and provide clarifications on the police officers' actions.

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

Why NCMPs were not given equal voting rights

Straits Times
28 Jan 2016
Walter Sim

In 1984, then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew was concerned about the possibility of a split in the ruling party leading to a motion of no confidence in the House.

In such a situation, he felt that Non-Constituency MPs (NCMPs) should not have a say in determining the Government under the scheme introduced the same year.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday recounted this in Parliament, as he explained why NCMPs were not given voting powers in Parliament equal to those of their elected peers.

But the Constitution will be amended within this term of Parliament to give NCMPs the same voting rights as elected MPs, he said.

This means they will soon be able to vote on five matters: constitutional changes, Supply Bills on government spending, Money Bills that deal with issues like taxation, votes of confidence, and motions to remove the President from office.

The Prime Minister yesterday recounted to the House Mr Lee Kuan Yew's reasons for not giving NCMPs equal voting rights: "Mr Lee would still have fresh in his mind the memory of what had happened in 1961, when the extreme left wing split off from the PAP and formed the Barisan Sosialis, and the PAP hung on in the Legislative Assembly with a one-vote majority.

"I think Mr Lee must have been conscious that, even in 1984 within the PAP, there was opposition to the pace of leadership renewal, which could have led to a leadership challenge," he said, referring to the ruling People's Action Party.

At the General Election that year, a team of third-generation leaders - including himself - was due to enter politics, PM Lee said. He added that there were "very strong different views within the PAP on whether this was going too fast and it was not to be ruled out that there could have been a challenge".

The Prime Minister yesterday said that it was time for the rules to be relooked today, some 32 years since the scheme's inception.

Although he has a cohesive team, he said: "We will never rule out the possibility of leadership change or challenge within the ruling party."

This has happened regularly in countries such as Australia and the United Kingdom, he said.

In the United Kingdom, for example, former prime minister Margaret Thatcher was challenged and ousted. And Mr Tony Blair, who led the country from 1997 to 2007, left because "he knew if he didn't leave, somebody would challenge him and he would be pushed out".

"We cannot rule this out from happening in Singapore," Mr Lee said.

"But if we accept that NCMPs have as much of a mandate... then I think, even in the case of the vote of no confidence and the other restricted matters, we can make the case and I will make the case that they should not only be allowed to speak, but to vote."

Walter Sim

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

Midas Promotions and LAMC Productions in courtroom tussle over Russell Peters show

TODAY
11 Feb 2016
Serene Lim

The concert promoters are in dispute over comedian Russell Peters’ sold-out show here in 2012

SINGAPORE — Concert promoter Midas Promotions has sued LAMC Productions for alleged reneging on an agreement on a joint venture to bring stage comedian Russell Peters to Singapore in 2012.

The company claims it is entitled to 50 per cent of the profits from the two sold-out shows, which it estimates at S$500,000 or more.

LAMC Productions, however, contends that there is no joint venture to speak of since Mr Peters agreed to stage his Notorious World Tour at the Singapore Indoor Stadium on May 5 and 6, 2012, on a percentage deal, instead of on a flat fee basis as the two promoters had agreed on.

In the hearing that started today (Feb 10), the court heard that Midas Promotions’ founder and managing director Michael Hosking approached LAMC Productions around March 15, 2012, with a proposal to co-promote Mr Peters’ show.

Over a phone conversation with LAMC Productions’ co-owner and co-director James Ross Knudson, Mr Hosking said both agreed to each submit a flat fee of US$200,000 (S$278,000) separately to Mr Peters’ agent, and that whichever party got the show would split the cost and profits on a 50-50 basis.

The co-owner and co-director of LAMC Productions, Ms Lauretta Alabons, who took the witness stand today, said she reluctantly went along with this agreement to “save face for her husband (Mr Knudson)” even though she was already in talks with Mr Peters’ agent since December 2011.

Mr Peters’ agent eventually rejected the offers from both companies, insisting on a percentage deal instead.

Ms Alabons claimed it was clear that Mr Peters’ agent would only agree on a percentage deal and did not want to work with Midas Promotions.

Since there was no discussion for Midas Promotions and LAMC Productions to work together based on a percentage deal, as it “would not have made financial sense”, there was no joint venture to speak of, said Ms Alabons. In her affidavit, Ms Alabons said a second show date on May 6, 2012, was only added around April 11, 2012, as the show for May 5, 2012, sold out in early April.

A second show “was not contemplated” at the time when Mr Hosking first approached LAMC Productions, she said.

Mr Hosking claimed that LAMC Productions “would have made about S$500,000 or more in terms of profits fron the show based on our estimate of the overheads and costs, and our knowledge of the fact that both shows were sold out at a venue where the capacity was set up for in-excess of 10,000 per night”.

Ms Alabons, however, revealed that LAMC Productions’ net revenue from the show on May 5, 2012, was S$122,137.74.

Midas Promotions and LAMC Productions previously worked together to bring muscial acts Placebo and Justin Bieber to Singapore in March 2010 and April 2011, respectively.

The hearing for the case continues.

Copyright 2015 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

Jolovan Wham to pay costs after failed bid to quash warning

TODAY
02 Feb 2016
Kelly Ng Siqi

The High Court had dismissed his application to cancel a police warning against him

SINGAPORE — Civil activist Jolovan Wham has been ordered to pay S$6,063 in costs to the Attorney-General for his failed bid to quash a police warning that had been issued against him.

The police warning came after Mr Wham breached rules against foreigners participating in events at Hong Lim Park without a permit, several years ago.

The member of non-governmental group Community Action Network and executive director of HOME, a migrant worker help group, had organised a candlelight vigil to show support for protestors in Hong Kong fighting election restrictions in October 2014.

The event was publicised on Facebook, but despite the condition that foreigners and permanent residents could not take part without a permit, some foreigners still showed up, leading to investigations against Mr Wham.

In March last year, under the direction of the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC), Mr Wham was verbally warned.

However, he refused to sign the Notice of Warning without having a copy to consult his lawyer first. The police declined to give him a copy of the document.

Two months later, the police followed up with a letter saying the warning had been delivered and the matter closed.

Concerned that the warning would stick in his record and be used against him in future, Mr Wham went to court to try to quash the police warning under a judicial review.

In dismissing his suit last December, High Court judge Woo Bih Li said that such warnings are nothing more than an opinion of the relevant authority that the recipient has committed an offence, and have no legal effect on the recipient.

“It does not and cannot amount to a legally binding pronouncement of guilt or finding of fact.

“Only a court of law has the power to make such a pronouncement or finding,” the judge had said.

The court is not entitled to treat such warnings as antecedents or aggravating factors for subsequent convictions, Justice Woo said in dismissing the suit.

The judge also said the police’s handling of the matter had left much to be desired, while noting, among other things, that the Notice of Warning was undated and employed inconsistent wording.

After the court issued its judgment in December last year, a spokesman for the AGC said: “AGC and the Singapore Police Force are reviewing the process by which stern warnings are administered and the use of the notice, in light of the High Court’s comments in the judgment.”

Copyright 2015 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

Wham Kwok Han Jolovan v Attorney-General [2015] SGHC 324

Elected Presidency: Raising the bar for candidates

Straits Times
28 Jan 2016
Charissa Yong

The current eligibility criteria for presidential hopefuls may no longer be a good way of vetting how suitable individuals are for the job.

This is because the economy and large corporations here have grown exponentially in size and complexity since the introduction of the Elected Presidency in 1991, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

Reviewing the eligibility criteria for presidential candidates is therefore timely, he added.

Mr Lee said that the Elected President must be capable of carrying out his custodial duties, and needs experience to be able to judge and to make decisions.

"They have to assess and decide on financial proposals which will involve billions of dollars, and they must decide, judge and decide to approve or reject appointments of people into posts which will involve running big organisations," he said.

This is why candidates from the public service are required under the Constitution to have held key appointments like judges, ministers and permanent secretaries.

Those from the private sector must have comparable experience running large and complex companies with at least $100 million in paid-up capital.

"The principle remains valid but I think the details may need to be brought up to date," said Mr Lee.

He pointed out that based on inflation alone, $100 million in 1990 is equivalent to $158 million today.

Furthermore, in the past 25 years, government spending and the national reserves have increased.

Mr Lee cited figures that showed how the Government Budget has increased six times from $11 billion in 1990 to $68 billion today.

The size and the complexity of the organisations safeguarded by the President have also grown tremendously. For instance, Temasek was worth $10 billion in 1990 but now has a net portfolio value of $266 billion.

On the other hand, the $100 million paid-up capital threshold may no longer be a good benchmark against which organisations should be compared for size and complexity. In 1993, there were 158 companies that fit the criteria, a number that climbed to 1,200 in 2010 and 2,114 today.

"So more and more people on paper are qualified to do this job," said Mr Lee. However, the smallest companies in Singapore with a paid-up capital of $100 million today are neither large nor complex enough to give their chiefs the experience needed to be President.

This was a concern voiced by Mr Eddie Teo, the chairman of the Presidential Elections Committee, which vets presidential candidates, at the 2011 presidential election.

Mr Teo wrote to PM Lee after the election: "The criterion of $100 million paid-up capital... was set more than 20 years ago. It is, therefore, unclear whether or not with inflation, the threshold continues to reflect the original intent of the requirement."

Mr Lee said he agreed with Mr Teo - the chairman of the Public Service Commission - on the need to review this.

Constitutional law expert Thio Li-ann zeroed in on the need for presidential candidates to have some financial competency, given the primarily financial bent of the President's supervisory powers.

What was more important was the need for mature and competent judgment, she said, which should be written into the Constitution.

But given the expertise and advice from the Council of Presidential Advisers, she said: "The candidate should have financial literacy, not financial wizardry."

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

S'pore tops in Asia-Pac for intellectual property environment

Business Times
11 Feb 2016
Melissa Tan

[Singapore] SINGAPORE has room to improve when it comes to its relatively elevated rates of software piracy. But the country's intellectual property (IP) environment still scores well overall due to factors such as having an advanced IP framework and a patent enforcement legal framework that is "adequate and generally applied", according to an index ranking by the United States Chamber of Commerce that was released on Wednesday.

The country came in sixth out of 38 economies, behind the US (which was No 1), the United Kingdom, Germany, France, and Sweden.

It did better than all the other Asia-Pacific economies considered in the ranking, including countries such as Australia, Japan, Malaysia, China and India. India, in fact. did the poorest in the region and ended up in the second-last place. Venezuela scored the worst.

The index was based on 30 measurable criteria including patent, copyright and trademark protections, enforcement and engagement in international treaties.

Singapore got full marks when it came to trade secrets and market access. The chamber noted that it had life sciences IP rights in place, had strengthened its copyright framework over the past few years and that its legal framework provided for the protection of unregistered marks.

Also in the country's favour was that border officials here have "ex officio" authority to act against suspected goods, the chamber said. That means officials can act on their own initiative to seize suspect shipments.

However, it pointed out that there were still limits on customs authorities' ex officio powers when it came to in-transit goods seizures.

And although software piracy rates in Singapore are "dropping" they still remain relatively high, the chamber noted.

The 38 economies benchmarked in the 2016 index together account for nearly 85 per cent of global gross domestic product, the chamber noted in the report.

Singapore was also ranked fourth out of 56 countries by think tank Information Technology and Innovation Foundation in January this year, for having domestic policies that support global innovation.

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

Quarterly reporting: Why a review makes sense

Straits Times
02 Feb 2016
Adrian Chan

To report or not to report quarterly results is again asked of Singapore-listed companies.

Such soul-searching has taken place from time to time since Singapore mandated quarterly reporting in 2003. The outcomes of past episodes have been to keep the status quo.

However, when larger capital markets do away with this practice completely, Singapore cannot but take heed.

The jurisdictions in question are the United Kingdom and European Union. Since last year, their listed companies have been freed from the need to release quarterly reports. This came on the back of over 10 years of strong opposition from those in favour of abolishing such reports because of the perception that they lead to an undue focus on "short-termism" by management.

In the aftermath of the global financial crisis in 2012, John Kay, a prominent economist in the UK, mooted this idea powerfully in The Kay Review. This report set the ball rolling in the rest of the continent. In the EU, a lack of harmonisation in reporting regulations had given rise to an inconsistent quality of disclosure in quarterly reports. Criticism from various quarters slowly turned the tide decisively to end them in the EU.

Thus the UK and EU have joined the ranks of the Hong Kong stock exchange in not requiring quarterly reporting. The practice in Hong Kong to report financial results only semi-annually was defended vociferously by the local business community in 2002 and 2007, when there were attempts to introduce quarterly reporting there.

Nevertheless, the practice continues in the US. Despite various dissenting voices in the wake of the global financial crisis in 2008, the status quo has prevailed. US-listed companies continue to disclose quarterly results that are condensed and unaudited in a prescribed format, as they have been doing since 1970.

SINGAPORE'S SITUATION

In its public statement last month, the Singapore Exchange confirmed that it is reviewing recent developments in financial reporting, noting that the regulatory landscape has changed since 2003 when quarterly reporting was made mandatory.

So what has changed that might affect local policy on quarterly reporting?

To start, the fact that other stock markets have changed their stance is significant. Amidst shifting global norms and expectations, the decision to go against the crowd may affect investor sentiment and the willingness of companies to list in Singapore.

The rationale against quarterly reporting has not gone away: It encourages excessive short-termism and forces the incurrence of additional administrative burdens and costs. Before it was mandated, the rule was strenuously debated and had many opponents. Among them, Mr S. Dhanabalan, then chairman of Temasek Holdings, famously said of the short-termism of quarterly reporting: "We seem to have tilted in favour of traders in stocks rather than investors in stocks."

After the passage of more than 10 years, that sentiment seems to be even stronger among corporate insiders. An opinion poll on quarterly reporting was taken at the Singapore Institute of Directors (SID) Directors' Conference in September 2014. An overwhelming 78 per cent of the over 600 directors and corporate leaders who attended voted in favour of abolishing mandatory quarterly reports and making it voluntary.

What if the rule is indeed changed from mandatory to voluntary quarterly reporting?

The experience in the UK seems to be that most companies will be slow to depart from quarterly reporting. Since the UK removed the mandatory requirement to issue quarterly reports in November 2014, there has not been a rush by listed companies to abandon quarterly reporting by taking advantage of the new rules.

In fact, the asset manager, Schroders, was moved at the end of last year to write directly to all the FTSE-350 companies that it had invested in to encourage them to step away from quarterly reporting and instead focus on longer-term performance. It is not certain if these companies have opted to continue the quarterly reporting practice because of a firm belief in the inherent merits of the policy, to meet investor or stakeholder expectation or pressure, or if it is merely a case of their banking documentation containing provisions that oblige them to continue the reporting frequency.

STAYING RELEVANT

To be sure, there are good reasons to insist on mandatory regular disclosures on the basis that shareholders are entitled to know more regularly what is going on in the companies they own and more timely disclosures will give rise to more transparent and efficient capital markets.

This is especially so in today's volatile markets. Smaller investors may depend on quarterly reports to level the playing field between them and the larger controlling shareholders. Quarterly reports also instil financial discipline in companies and put them on a par with global standards, particularly if they are trying to attract foreign investors.

Given this, if the authorities do decide not to do away with mandatory quarterly reporting, they could at least tweak the rules to make it less onerous.

First, the bar for mandatory quarterly reporting can be raised as smaller companies face a relatively larger compliance and resource burden. The bar for quarterly reporting is currently set at companies with a market capitalisation at or above $75 million on Dec 31 each year. This is an arbitrary level that seems to be too low.

It should be borne in mind that once a listed company crosses that threshold, it will be saddled with the burden of quarterly reporting forever more, even if its market cap should subsequently fall below $75 million.

The Singapore Corporate Awards, on the other hand, define small caps as those below $300 million in market cap. If the quarterly reporting threshold was raised to $300 million, some 230 companies, or about 30 per cent of our listed companies, will still be subject to mandatory quarterly reporting.

Another tweak to the rule would be to amend the single-day test on Dec 31 to determine market cap. A sudden spike in the share price on Dec 31 may cause a company to meet the required market cap for mandatory quarterly reporting, even though the market cap may sink far below that threshold for most of the year.

A much more reliable determinant would be one based on a longer period of time, such as a weighted average share price over a continuous period of, say, 120 market days. This would be more representative of a listed company's true size and reflective of the resources it can muster.

It is as good a time as any to bring back quarterly reporting on the agenda for discussion.

Making it voluntary may not be as big of a change, given the experience of other jurisdictions that have made the change. But even if it stays mandatory, there are other areas of improvement that can be made.

Singapore cannot stand still as the world moves on to keep investors better informed.


It is as good a time as any to bring back quarterly reporting on the agenda for discussion. Making it voluntary may not be as big of a change, given the experience of other jurisdictions that have made the change. But even if it stays mandatory, there are other areas of improvement that can be made. Singapore cannot stand still as the world moves on to keep investors better informed.

• The writer is Head of Corporate at the law firm Lee & Lee, and Deputy Chairman of the Advocacy Committee of the Singapore Institute of Directors.

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Surprising PAP does it again: Changes to political system

Straits Times
28 Jan 2016
Chua Mui Hoong

The People's Action Party (PAP) has always been a party that can surprise the electorate, and it did so again yesterday.

Just four months after a landslide win in the general election, and on Day 2 of the debate on the President's Address to open the new Parliament, the Prime Minister served notice of the Government's intention to make a few significant political changes.

The first set of changes was not unexpected: To reduce the average size of Group Representation Constituencies (GRC), and have more single-member constituencies. This will be done by the next general election.

The second set of proposed changes to the Elected Presidency had been hinted at, and again, was not so surprising. The changes will cover: Updating the eligibility criteria; the weight given to the voice of the Council of Presidential Advisers; and how to ensure someone from the minority community can be elected periodically.

A Constitutional Commission headed by the Chief Justice will study the issues, get views from the public and make recommendations, slated by the third quarter of the year.

The tightening of criteria was expected, following the 2011 Presidential Election when four candidates contested, including some who campaigned as though they would form an alternate government, disingenuously ignoring the fact that the Constitution gives the President only limited custodial powers - the power to say "no" to spending on reserves and key public appointments.

Although PM Lee Hsien Loong said several times in his 90-minute speech that there was no urgency as the changes were for the long term, he appeared to be a man in a hurry to institute political reform. This would be understandable, as the six-year term presidency is due for another election by August next year.

But it was the changes to the Non-Constituency MP (NCMP) scheme that were a surprise. On this, there was no need for a committee or public feedback. Instead, Mr Lee said categorically: "I intend to amend the Constitution during this term to give NCMPs the same voting rights as constituency MPs."

NCMPs are top losers among opposition candidates invited to take up seats in Parliament.

Mr Lee said their number could go up, from nine now, to 12.

With the change, NCMPs will be able to vote on all Bills, including on the Constitution and the Budget, and on motions of confidence.

Said Mr Lee: "They will be equal in powers, although not in responsibility and scope, to constituency MPs because they do not have specific voters to look after. But there will be no reason at all to perceive NCMPs as being second class."

Mr Lee argued that NCMPs have more of a mandate to enter Parliament than an MP elected under proportional representation, a system some countries have, in which the party decides which of its MPs should enter the Chamber.

Here, by contrast, the NCMP would have won many votes directly.

An NCMP may also have a bigger mandate than some constituency MPs in a GRC, Mr Lee pointed out.

This is entirely possible: Consider an MP in a GRC who won just 48 per cent of the vote in his division, but enters Parliament because his colleagues in other wards in the GRC helped lift the total vote there to 51 per cent. In comparison, a top-losing NCMP may have received 49 per cent of the vote in his single seat. The latter may thus be said to have a stronger mandate to be in Parliament than the former.

By making this argument, Mr Lee appears to be lending weight to the views of opponents of the GRC system, who say weaker candidates enter Parliament on the "coat-tails" of stronger ones, and don't really have a mandate of their own.

What is one to make of the changes to the NCMP scheme?

Overall, as Mr Lee himself acknowledged, upgrading NCMPs to give them full voting rights with elected MPs will be good for the opposition - "giving their best losers more exposure, very possibly building them up for the next general election".

Democratic Progressive Party chief Benjamin Pwee hailed the bold changes. But Singapore Democratic Party secretary-general Chee Soon Juan considered them a distraction.

Workers' Party leader Low Thia Khiang said NCMPs were like "a vase" - for show - unlike elected constituency MPs.

The political sceptic in me jumped ahead to a possible scenario where the PAP is in opposition and in a position to take part in a no-confidence vote against the governing party.

But what works for the PAP might also work against it.

There is a more benign explanation for the change, and it is consistent with the PAP's longstanding position, which is to change the political system before it is forced to, or as the late founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew used to say, citing British political theorist Harold Laski: "If you don't have a system that allows fundamental change by consent, you will have a revolution by violence."

This is a party that believes in revolution by consent. It has tried to entrench opposition and alternative voices in Parliament since the 1980s, with the NCMP and the Nominated MP schemes.

The NCMP scheme has come a long way since two top losers turned down the seat in succession after the 1984 General Election.

These days, parties are keen to have their most outstanding candidates take up the post.

One can object to the NCMP scheme in principle for keeping Singapore voters and opposition candidates content on a baby diet of gruel, never graduating to solids.

Giving full voting rights without the requisite constituency responsibilities might prove seductive and over time cause the opposition to "become just satisfied with competing for NCMP instead of trying to get elected", Mr Low warned.

Or one can adopt a pragmatic position, take up an NCMP post, learn from it and come charging full tilt at the PAP at the next election.

Indeed, odd as it may seem, egging the opposition on to contest the PAP was one objective of the scheme. Mr Lee Kuan Yew, moving the Bills to introduce the scheme in 1984, said one of its aims was to embolden political contenders.

"I am saying to them, 'Come out. Take advantage of the next four to five years of exposure. Build up'.

"And if we find that they accept our parameters, we may well develop a two-party system."

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Relook Singapore's tax structure for greater competitiveness: EY

Business Times
11 Feb 2016

Ahead of the Budget, it suggests offering incentives to encourage R&D, and lowering GST registration threshold

[Singapore] SINGAPORE should examine its tax structure for ways to make its economy more competitive - such as by giving incentives for research and development (R&D) and by tweaking its approach to the goods and services tax (GST) to support government spending, says Ernst & Young (EY).

The firm's head of tax services Chung-Sim Siew Moon said: "We propose that Singapore's income tax system be simplified and made more competitive to promote Singapore as Asia's business and financial hub, and that certain policies be tweaked to ease business costs and promote business growth."

EY released these recommendations to the government on Wednesday, ahead of the unveiling of the Budget in late March.

The firm is calling for a sharper focus on tax-related matters concerning the deployment of R&D in firms.

Doing so will ensure that Singapore's tax structures and business environment can foster innovation and enable growth in the private sector, said EY.

It proposed that the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (IRAS) set up a technical evaluation team to handle R&D claims that fall under the Productivity and Innovation Credit (PIC) Scheme; such a team can assess the technical eligibility of projects and ensure that R&D tax-deduction claims are dealt with efficiently.

EY also proposes that the PIC scheme be tweaked by re-allocating the support for the automation-equipment segment to other categories. This is to ensure that the scheme supports companies which make "productivity leap-throughs", rather than those which take only incremental steps or use the subsidies to reduce "business-as-usual" costs.

Other recommendations include improving the international competitiveness of its tax treaties, removing the sunset clause for the tax-exemption and concession regime of Singapore-listed real-estate investment trusts (Reits), maintaining the corporate tax rate, and raising the cap for tax deduction for medical expenses.

To support government spending, EY proposes opening up revenue streams through new GST initiatives.

One of these is to lower the GST registration threshold, currently set at S$1 million per annum, to S$500,000.

As GST has become an integral part of businesses, such a move will enable the government to capture more revenue, with more firms contributing to the tax base.

EY has also proposed imposing GST on the digital economy. The government can consider requiring overseas service providers to register for GST in Singapore if their sales exceed the GST registration threshold.

Kor Bing Keong, a GST Services partner at EY, said: "The non-taxation of supplies made by overseas service providers through the digital economy does not only create a GST leakage to the government, but also a price disadvantage to domestic suppliers, resulting in an uneven playing field."

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

ADV: Research Assistant / Research Associate / Research Fellow, Centre for Maritime Law, Faculty of Law, NUS

Singapore Law Watch
02 Feb 2016
National University of Singapore

Yang Yin saga: Widow and niece find star witness

Straits Times
28 Jan 2016
Carolyn Khew &Toh Yong Chuan

Personal banker says widow's money to be held in trust, not gifted to ex-guide Yang Yin

The Yang Yin saga, which had fallen off the radar some months back, has returned to the spotlight, thanks to new evidence produced in court on Tuesday.

Wealthy widow Chung Khin Chun, 89, and her niece, Madam Hedy Mok, 62, have tracked down a star witness - the personal banker who served Madam Chung and former tour guide Yang Yin.

The key witness has given written testimony that the money that Yang claimed was gifted to him by the widow was, in fact, held in trust so that he could look after her.

Madam Mok, a tour agency owner, had sued Yang in the High Court in 2014 for allegedly manipulating her aunt into handing over control of her assets - estimated to be worth $40 million, including a Gerald Drive bungalow.

The new evidence, which was submitted at a closed-door pre-trial conference at the High Court on Tuesday, has prompted the court to set new trial dates so that Yang has time to prepare his rebuttal. The trial was to have started in March.

"The new trial is likely to be held next year," said Madam Mok's lawyer, Mr Peter Doraisamy.

In court papers seen by The Straits Times, the former bank relationship manager described Madam Chung as a "high net worth customer" whom he attended to in 2009 when she visited the bank with Yang.

Madam Chung had updated her bank and investment accounts to make Yang a joint account holder with full access, changes that the bank approved.

"At all times, there was no mention (by Madam Chung) that the first defendant (Yang) could use any of Madam Chung's monies for his own, save for the monthly sum of $5,000 to pay for his personal expenses while he resides in Singapore," said the witness in his affidavit.

"I assisted with the transactions on the understanding that the funds would be used by the first defendant (Yang) to take care of Madam Chung."

His statement contradicts Yang's claim that the monies were gifts from Madam Chung because she treated him as her "grandson".

In his affidavit, the witness said that he also handled the purchase of two endowment plans by Madam Chung and Yang in 2010.

The plans were bought on the agreement between Madam Chung and Yang that the widow's estate is the "ultimate beneficiary" in the event of her death and Yang would hold the policies as trustee, said the witness.

They are now the subject of a High Court tussle between Yang and Madam Mok. In April, the High Court allowed Yang to dip into the policies worth about $98,000 to pay for his legal fees.

Madam Mok has appealed against the High Court decision to release the insurance policies and the appeal will be heard next month.


The saga so far

Former tour guide Yang Yin met Madam Chung Khin Chun, 89, in 2008 when he acted as her private guide during a China trip. A year later, he moved into her bungalow and claimed the widow wanted him to be her "grandson".

After setting up a music and dance school, the 42-year-old Chinese national obtained permanent residency in 2011 and brought his wife and two young children to Singapore as dependants. Madam Chung, a retired physiotherapist, has no children. Her husband, Dr Chou Sip King, died in 2007.

Yang was given the right to manage her assets and welfare under the Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) that she supposedly gave him in 2011. The LPA was revoked after a court hearing in November 2014. Madam Chung's niece, Madam Hedy Mok, 62, kicked Yang's family out of the bungalow and sued him in 2014, accusing him of siphoning money from the widow. Madam Mok and Yang are also fighting over Madam Chung's will. The Family Court ruled in April to recognise a new will made by Madam Chung leaving most of her assets to charity. This revokes a 2010 will in which Yang was to inherit all her assets; Yang's appeal is set to be heard next month.

Yang has also been charged with falsifying receipts at his firm and misappropriating $1.1 million from the estate of Madam Chung. He has been in remand since Oct 31, 2014 after his bail application was denied.

Toh Yong Chuan

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Looking out for Mr Right as Singapore law firm cruises

Business Times
08 Feb 2016
Claire Huang

TSMP eyes high-end litigation and arbitration as S'pore positions itself as dispute resolution hub

WITH a pedigree like TSMP's, one could be forgiven for wondering why the law firm is left on the shelf while several of its peers have been courted and had gotten hitched to notable international practices in recent years.

And it is certainly not for a lack of suitors, shared Stephanie Yuen-Thio, who is at the helm of the 18-year-old practice together with her husband and Senior Counsel, Thio Shen Yi.

As pressure on local firms to marry overseas practices mounts, the duo have "continually been approached" by interested parties who find the 55-lawyer outfit "a lovely size". It also helps that the firm specialises in areas that catches the big boys' eyes, including banking and finance, commercial and corporate litigation, as well as mergers and acquisitions (M&As).

"Whenever we've been approached, we have told the potential partner that it needs to be a compelling story because we'd be giving up a lot of good relationships with international firms if we were to get hitched to somebody, so it has to be a prince charming," said a candid Ms Yuen.

Prince charming or not, the firm, which began operations with just seven lawyers, cemented its status in the legal sphere when in 2012 it successfully defended billionaire Peter Lim in the Raffles Town Club class action suit. It also acted for Overseas Union Enterprise in a S$13 billion takeover bid for Fraser & Neave, making it the largest such case in Singapore's corporate history.

From 2012 to 2014, the firm's professional fee revenue has grown steadily year on year by between eight and 16 per cent.

The tough economic backdrop last year inevitably affected the legal sector, but TSMP managed to record revenue growth in the mid-single digit. Excluding real estate and oil and gas work, revenue grew 13 per cent year on year in 2015.

On average, TSMP lawyers typically clock more than 1,000 hours in billable work annually, over and above their pro bono work, said Ms Yuen.

The firm, started by Thio Su Mien, one of Singapore's banking law pioneers and mother of Mr Thio, is now eyeing high-end litigation and arbitration as Singapore positions itself as the dispute resolution hub.

"There is competition law and as we become sensitised to competitive and anti-competitive pressures, firms need to know what to do. We have regulators who are more zealous, rightly so, and there will be more work in those sorts of areas," said Mr Thio, adding that he hopes to expand the offerings to regional advisory or arbitration work on construction or the engineering front as the region prospers.

So, while 2016 went off to a rocky start and activity on the real estate front might have stalled in recent times, legal work related to bank financing continues, albeit with smaller profit margins, noted Ms Yuen, who added that all signs so far point to a relatively good year ahead for M&A legal work.

Disputes in the construction sector because of cash-flow problems, shareholder disagreements and company restructuring are other areas that spell good news for the legal sector as the economy worsens.

Given the headwinds facing the sector, TSMP's strategy to have partners who are "specialised generalists", able to switch from one discipline to another and organise work according to clients' needs, comes in handy.

It also helps that the firm is willing to ride out tough times with businesses that are tightening their belts as part of its philosophy to build long-term relationships with clients.

"In the global financial crisis in 2008, we proactively reached out to our clients to voluntarily reduce our rates by 10 to 20 per cent for the year. We wanted to support the clients, continue to work together with them, and show them that we would bear the pain of the downturn with them," Mr Thio said.

For now, as the firm continues on its upward trajectory, the Thios are sparing no effort in attracting and grooming future partners as they look to lay the foundation for the next generation.

"We used to hire young lawyers who were good associates, hard-working, organised, willing to play in a team and very good research assistants. But we found that when they got to the fifth year or the seventh year we weren't able to promote them because they didn't have the partnership thinking, they weren't strategic enough, they didn't think outside boxes enough," Ms Yuen said, adding that they then changed the firm's pay structure and the way they hired some three years ago.

The practice is now among the firms here that pay top dollar for their trainees.

Naturally, high pay comes with comparable expectations.

"We don't say "you've a lot of time, make mistakes, do some research if you like"; we say: "you have one week to get up to speed and after that, start running, madly"," she added.

The Thios said their team is projected to swell by 10 to 15 lawyers every year for the next three to four years - sizeable as various law firms here have either reduced or stagnated their intake.

"I think the message that we're sending to the market is 'We do very good work here, we have very good training. From Day One when you come in, we start training you to be a partner'. In other words, you're punching above your cohort's weight by the time you start your practice with us," Ms Yuen said.

In the meantime, it would take more than strength to sweep TSMP off its feet. After all, everyone knows breaking up is hard to do.

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

China Fishery: Provisional liquidators discharged

Business Times
02 Feb 2016
Lee Meixian

[Singapore] FINANCIALLY beleaguered China Fishery Group on Monday said that its provisional liquidators have been discharged, and the control of the company has been returned to the board.

Following the order of the Cayman Islands Grand Court, the winding up petition and summons filed by the joint provisional liquidators have also been dismissed.

This followed action in the Hong Kong High Court, which in January also put a halt to the liquidation process after three of the company's lenders agreed to support the case for the company not to be wound up.

But tragedy for the company seems far from over. On Monday, Standard & Poor's Ratings Services (S&P) lowered its long-term corporate credit rating on China Fishery to "D" (default) from "SD" (selective default).

This came after China Fishery missed a coupon payment on the US$300 million senior unsecured notes due 2019 that it guarantees. The coupon payment of about US$14.63 million was due on Jan 30, 2016.

At the same time, the credit rating agency lowered its long-term issue rating on the senior unsecured notes due 2019 to "D" from "CC" (ie, currently highly vulnerable). S&P also lowered its long-term Greater China regional scale ratings on China Fishery to "D" from "SD".

It also downgraded the outstanding notes to "D" from "cnCC". (This latter rating means that it is currently highly vulnerable to non-payment; it is used when a default has not yet occurred, but S&P expects default to be a virtual certainty.)

China Fishery is a fishing company with operations in Peruvian, African and Russian waters.

S&P credit analyst Lillian Chiou said: "We do not expect China Fishery to make the payment within the 30-day grace period, given that the company may need to reserve all available cash to fund its fishing operations in Peru." She added: "We also do not believe the company will pay its other debt obligations, given its tight liquidity position."

All of China Fishery's banking facilities are at a standstill, and it has no additional liquidity support, S&P said.

It added that China Fishery's operating performance is expected to continue to deteriorate over the next 12 months, with revenue for its fiscal 2015 (ended September) dropping 30-35 per cent year on year.

This is due to the adverse weather conditions that have affected fishing catches in Peru, significantly reduced sales from the fish supply business in Russia, and still-weak operations in Namibia in south-west Africa.

S&P also expects revenue growth in fiscal 2016 to remain flat, given the impact of El Nino on the 2015 "Season B", and possible delays in fishing activities, given the company's liquidity distress.

Its shares have been suspended from trading since the company's creditors succeeded in pushing for provisional liquidators to be appointed, in the wake of China Fishery's inability to pay its debts. It last traded on Nov 25, 2015, at S$0.076.

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

ADV: Research Assistant / Research Associate / Research Fellow, Centre for Maritime Law, Faculty of Law, NUS

Singapore Law Watch
28 Jan 2016
National University of Singapore

Shooting groups in legal dispute over armoury

Straits Times
08 Feb 2016
K.C. Vijayan

Parent body, rifle group disagree on who will operate facility after upgrading to meet security rules

The armoury from which the police seized more than 70 weapons last week has come under the spotlight in an ongoing legal tussle between the parent body overseeing shooting in Singapore and the Singapore Rifle Association (SRA), which runs the armoury.

The Singapore Shooting Association (SSA), which wants to upgrade the space at the National Shooting Centre in Old Choa Chu Kang Road, in line with new security requirements, had asked the SRA to hand over the space.

But the SRA refused to meet the deadline of Oct 3 last year, countering that the one-month notice to clear out is invalid and too short.

The SRA is also counterclaiming for breach of agreement, arguing that there was an understanding that it would continue to operate the armoury and office after it signed a fresh pact - known as the proprietary range agreement - in 2014.

The SRA, in defence papers filed by its lawyer Wendell Wong, argued that when the 2014 agreement allowed it to maintain a shooting range for 10 years, there was also an implied agreement that it was entitled to operate, manage and occupy the SRA armoury and office for a similar 10-year period.

This was the understanding, given that the range and the premises were inseparable functions in the context of the sport. The SRA said it was ready to do its part to pay for upgrading works to the SRA armoury to meet new police requirements.

The upgrading works include replacing the existing gates with a vault door and grille gate, making sure that firearms and ammunition are stored in separate storage cabinets to meet required specifications, and installing closed-circuit television cameras to monitor activities within the armoury.

The SRA claimed the deal was to formalise its right to manage and operate the armoury and office when the upgrading works were done.

But the SSA disputes this, countering that it was instead agreed that it would do the upgrading works and be reimbursed by the SRA, and it would then lease the armoury to the SRA for ammunition storage only.

In court papers filed by its lawyer Anthony Lee, the SSA said the police had advised it of new security requirements in November 2014, which included those pertaining to the SRA armoury, and the SRA was aware of them.

The SSA council's adviser, Brigadier-General (Ret) Lim Kim Lye, then suggested a single-armoury concept, including a centralised place to keep all firearms and some ammunition and a basement vault to keep most of the ammunition.

But in May last year, the police met SSA officials and expressed concern that the SRA had not complied with the security requirements, said court papers.

The SSA said at a council meeting four days later that it was agreed that a ground-level armoury run by the Singapore Gun Club (SGC) would be the only firearms store at the National Shooting Centre, while two basement armoury rooms would be used to store SRA and SGC ammunition separately.

The move was to strengthen workflow and security to put into effect the single-armoury concept, and the meeting agreed to it. But one month later, the SRA said it had not agreed to the armouries being shared and had to ask its members.

The SSA said it was in this context that it made clear to the SRA on July 21 last year that it owned the National Shooting Centre facilities and that after upgrading was done, the SRA armoury would be leased to the SRA only for ammunition storage.

Deadlocked, the SSA gave the SRA a month's notice last September to quit the armoury. It pointed out that the SRA's chairman had replied a week later to ask for six months' notice, which implied that the SRA understood that the SSA had the right to revoke the lease.

A pre-trial conference is due to be held in the High Court this month.


Shooting: Laxness behind lapses - Shooting body chief

A tighter rein will be kept on armoury management at the National Shooting Centre (NSC) with licensing watched closely in particular, following an unprecedented seizure of firearms from the facility last week.

Singapore Shooting Association (SSA) president Michael Vaz told The Straits Times yesterday that, having run into resistance while trying to introduce a security revamp over the last year, the latest episode now means additional backing from Sport Singapore (SportSG) and other stakeholders to crack the whip.

"This was a complete lapse and breach of every rule in running an armoury. It's a major issue," he said.

While one or two licensing irregularities showing up on routine audits is fairly common, this latest check of the Old Choa Chu Kang Road facility that resulted in the police seizing a total of 77 firearms is out of the ordinary.

Among the firearms seized: One with an expired licence came under the Safra Shooting Club, one belonged to a Singapore Gun Club (SGC) member who had not paid the licence fee, while the rest came under the Singapore Rifle Association (SRA). All are member clubs of the SSA.

It is believed these irregularities are a result of some of the arms not having the proper licences. This could be due to members quitting the club, leaving the country or, in some cases, having passed away.

A statement from the Singapore Police Force said: "On Feb 2, the Police Licensing & Regulatory Department conducted an arms audit at the armouries of the SGC and the SRA. Due to serious licensing irregularities, the police took possession of a number of arms. Police investigations are ongoing."

SportSG, the national sports governing body, has closed the ranges at the NSC while the issue is being resolved. It will give the green light to reopen the facility after the police sign off on it.

The Straits Times understands that such lapses, if left unaddressed, could lead to the police withdrawing the licence to operate the armoury.

In response to queries from ST, an SRA official said the club will cooperate fully with investigations.

Said Mr Conrad Chung, the SRA's first assistant honorary secretary: "We are disappointed and regret this has happened, and are unaware of such an event ever occurring in our history.

"We will work with the authorities in relation to systems and procedures in order to achieve the highest level of safety and security."

While a scheduled annual shoot involving Singapore and Japan shooters this weekend at the NSC has been cancelled, provisions have been made for the national shooters to continue training at the facility so that their training will not be affected.

The SGC has informed its members of the temporary closure of the range while reminding them to renew their firearms licences on time.

Mr Vaz, who is also the SGC's president, said lax attitudes in terms of managing an armoury have led to these lapses.

He said: "This is the first time I've heard (of so many lapses).

"The audit was far more intensive than ever before. We decided to close the NSC to facilitate the investigations, help clean things up faster."

Amy Chen

  • Additional reporting by Jonathan Wong

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

Police NSF gets 18 years' jail, 15 strokes of cane

Straits Times
02 Feb 2016
Selina Lum

He pleads guilty to rape, oral sex, outrage of modesty, extortion while abusing authority

A full-time police national serviceman sneaked up on couples behaving intimately at Housing Board staircases, recorded their acts on video and then used his status to extort money from them.

The third time he did this, Muhammad Shazwan Sapuwan went a step further - he brazenly raped a 16-year-old girl he had "caught" in intimate acts with her boyfriend, who was also 16.

Yesterday, Shazwan, now 23, was jailed for 18 years and ordered to be caned 15 strokes after he pleaded guilty to rape, oral sex, outrage of modesty and extortion.

Five other charges for extortion, cheating and sexual assault were taken into consideration.

While court was stood down for Judicial Commissioner Foo Chee Hock to deliberate on the sentence, Shazwan sobbed loudly as relatives urged him to behave himself while in prison.

The court heard that on Oct 24, 2014, Shazwan followed the young couple to a block of flats, where he quietly observed them from one floor above and took two photos of them being intimate.

He then approached them, identifying himself as a police officer. At the time, he was wearing a Jurong Police Division polo T-shirt, his blue police trousers and a lanyard displaying his police warrant card.

When he asked for their particulars, the couple handed over their identity cards and gave him their mobile phone numbers.

Shazwan told them he would be taking them to the police station. He claimed that footage of their behaviour was already in the "system" and that other officers were nearby.

As the couple cried and begged him to let them go, he told them they had committed the offence of "public nudity". After the girl said she did not want her parents to know about it, they tried to work out a solution to their predicament. During the discussion, Shazwan told them his name.

After an hour, Shazwan hurled vulgarities at them and told them that he was going to "submit" their names as he did not want to lose his job. He told them he would delete the video that was in the "system" and let them go. But they had to repeat their intimate acts for him to record on his phone.

He also told them that if he were to lose his job for letting them go, he would use the recording to threaten them for money.

While the couple were performing sexual acts, Shazwan touched the girl's breast and forced her to perform oral sex on him. He told the boy to have sex with the girl but the teenager refused.

Shazwan then raped the girl. After the rape, he asked the couple why they did not continue the sex acts. He left the scene, telling the couple not to go down until he made sure that the other officers were gone.

That evening, he told the boy on WhatsApp that he had lost his job and needed "help".

Two days later, he told the boy he needed $40. The teenager, fearing that Shazwan would release the video, transferred the money to him.

Three days after the rape, the girl broke down in front of her friends in school and told them what had happened.

Her friends managed to find out Shazwan's identity on Facebook and encouraged her to make a police report. Later that day, she told her family, who went with her to the police.

Deputy Public Prosecutor S. Sellakumaran argued that Shazwan's brazen acts warranted a deterrent sentence; instead of upholding the law, Shazwan had abused his authority as a police officer.

Shazwan, who was represented by lawyers Ravinderpal Singh and James Ow Yong, apologised in court for his "raucous" actions.

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

SingPost saga: Untenable for PwC to stay on as special auditor

Business Times
28 Jan 2016
Mak Yuen Teen & Chew Yi Hong

In a study of 31 firms that had appointed a special auditor since 2011, only SingPost has picked its external auditor, or its internal auditor, to undertake the special audit

THE appointment of PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) to undertake the special audit of Singapore Post (SingPost) has further deepened the controversy surrounding the latter, with a number of commentators criticising the appointment of the incumbent external auditor to undertake the special audit.

The criticisms have highlighted the long-standing relationship between PwC and SingPost, with PwC having been the external auditor since SingPost's listing in 2003, the non-audit services already provided by PwC to SingPost, the possible conflict between PwC's role as external auditor and special auditor, and the failure of SingPost to go through a request for proposal in selecting the special auditor.

APPOINTMENT OF SPECIAL AUDITORS

Using filters such as "special audit", "investigation", "independent review" and "special review", we identified 31 cases of issuers undertaking a special audit or independent review from 2011 onwards.

Besides these 31 cases where a special audit was commissioned, there were two cases where issuers faced short-seller attacks but opted for an internal review, one case where a special audit was called off because of lack of funds, one case where a special audit will be called if necessary and one case where no special auditor has been appointed yet.

We look more closely at these 36 issuers, including their external auditors, internal auditors and special auditors (where appointed).

If an issuer has robust external and internal audit functions and good corporate governance, it should reduce the risk of an issuer facing internal control and corporate governance lapses.

Twenty of these 36 issuers (55.6 per cent) had a Big Four firm as an external auditor. Not surprisingly, smaller issuers are more likely to have internal control and corporate governance lapses.

However, since our statistics on external auditors show that about 56.7 per cent of all small-cap issuers (with a market cap below S$300 million) have a Big Four firm as external auditor, there is no evidence that having a Big Four external auditor reduces the issuer's exposure to internal control and corporate governance issues - and precipitating a special audit or further action by the issuer to address these issues.

In terms of internal audit, it is a real mixed bag. One issuer had no internal audit, one had no mention about internal audit and one said it had an internal audit but provided no details. Fourteen issuers said they had an in-house internal audit (in one case, with additional outsourcing), but in at least three cases, it appears that the internal audit function consisted of just one person.

In the other 19 cases, internal audit was outsourced. Four of these issuers did not disclose the identity of the firm they outsourced to. Of the remaining 15, three outsourced to a Big Four firm and the rest to a plethora of firms, ranging from well-known mid-tier and specialist internal audit or risk consulting firms such as Baker Tilly (one issuer), Grant Thornton (two) and Protiviti (one) to unheard-of firms.

Turning to the 31 issuers that commissioned a special audit during the period of our study, PwC was the most popular choice, accounting for eight out of 31 (25.8 per cent) special audit engagements, followed by KPMG with five, Stone Forest with four, EY with three, and Baker Tilly, Deloitte & Touche and nTan Corporate Advisory with two each.

SINGPOST AND THE EXTRA SPECIAL AUDIT

Of the 31 issuers that appointed a special auditor, we found only one issuer appointing either its external auditor or internal auditor to undertake the special audit - that one exception being of course SingPost.

It seems that other issuers better recognise the actual and potential conflict of interest in having the external or internal auditor undertake the special audit. As mentioned earlier, various commentators have already explained their objections to SingPost appointing PwC, their external auditor, as the special auditor. Note that PwC is also the external auditor of Famous Holdings, which is one of the acquisitions covered by the special audit. There are further concerns.

First, consider just the first two parts of the scope of the special audit, which will cover:

• whether the relevant policies, processes and procedures of the company were followed in the evaluation and approval process relating to the Famous Acquisitions; and
• whether the requisite internal approvals of the company were obtained in respect of the Famous Acquisitions.

In the course of conducting the audit, one would expect PwC to have reviewed whether the proper policies, processes and procedures had been followed and the requisite approvals obtained for the acquisitions. Would there be a self-review threat when undertaking the special audit?

In addition to a long-standing relationship with SingPost, PwC has also provided significant non-audit services to SingPost over the last five years. In 2015, the percentage of non-audit fees to audit fees was 39.7 per cent. The percentages for the preceding years were 50.5 per cent for 2014, 126 per cent for 2013, 141 per cent for 2012 and 83.8 per cent for 2011. In fact, the total percentage of non-audit fees to audit fees cumulatively over the last five years is 80.8 per cent.

Note that we have only included the amounts disclosed as audit fees and non-audit fees paid to the "auditor of the Company", which means that they may exclude fees that are paid to PwC and its network firms for audit and non-audit work in subsidiaries. SingPost does not disclose the nature of the non-audit services provided by PwC, so we are unable to assess if there may be conflicts between these non-audit services, the external audit and special audit.

The percentage of non-audit fees to audit fees for four of the last five years exceeds the 50 per cent threshold which the Code of Professional Conduct and Ethics for public accountants, under the purview of the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority, deems as high for public company clients. Under the Code, in such situations, the following safeguards must be considered and applied as necessary:

"1. Discussing the extent and nature of fees charged with the audit committee, or others charged with governance;

2. Taking steps to reduce dependency on the client;

3. External quality control reviews; and

4. Consulting a third party, such as a professional regulatory body or another professional accountant."

Presumably, PwC would have undertaken such steps. However, its involvement as the special auditor may once again raise issues of dependency on the client.

In the corporate governance report of SingPost in each of those years, there is the standard statement that the audit committee has reviewed with management the non-audit services and is of the opinion that the independence of the external auditor would not be impaired and that they have received a confirmation of independence from the external auditors. We now have a situation of the audit committee affirming PwC's independence, notwithstanding the significant non-audit services, and PwC being put in a position to review the actions of the board and a former chairman and current member of the audit committee.

We believe it is untenable for PwC to continue to accept the appointment as special auditor of SingPost.

• Mak Yuen Teen is an associate professor at the NUS Business School, where he specialises in corporate governance and ethics, and an investor in SingPost. Chew Yi Hong is an active investor and has participated in a number of corporate governance projects in Singapore and the region

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SingPost appoints Drew & Napier joint special auditor

Straits Times
06 Feb 2016
Marissa Lee

Singapore Post has moved to assure shareholders by appointing Drew & Napier as joint independent special auditor alongside PricewaterhouseCoopers for the investigation into the firm's corporate governance.

The board and audit committee said they stood by the decision that PwC was a suitable independent special auditor but they also recognised that there was disquiet among investors about the choice and how it is being perceived by the market.

SingPost said last night that Drew & Napier's scope of work and detailed terms of reference in the audit will be the same as those of PwC, and the two will jointly issue a report. PwC, which was named SingPost's special auditor in January, has been the company's external auditor since the group listed in 2003.

This has sparked concern among media commentators, shareholders and the SGX over the auditor's perceived lack of independence.

The special audit will examine issues surrounding SingPost director Keith Tay Ah Kee's interests relating to SingPost's acquisition of stakes in three companies: Famous Holdings, FS Mackenzie and Famous Pacific Shipping (NZ).

SingPost shareholder and associate professor at the National University of Singapore business school Mak Yuen Teen said that last night's announcement would help allay concerns.

"My view is that Drew & Napier being the more independent party should lead the process," he said.

Professor Mak noted that in 31 special audits over the past five years, there was only one case involving an S-chip (Singapore-listed Chinese company) where two audits were commissioned.

"It does not really make sense from a cost perspective but the additional costs could have been avoided with a more considered approach to appointing the special auditor to start with," added Prof Mak. SingPost had said that the scope of work is the same for the two special auditors.

The audit, which is expected to be completed next month, will be released in full on the Singapore Exchange, including a summary of all key findings. The Securities Investors Association of Singapore (Sias) welcomed the appointment of Drew & Napier and the promise to send the full report to the SGX.


The special audit will examine issues surrounding SingPost director Keith Tay Ah Kee's interests relating to SingPost's acquisition of stakes in three companies: Famous Holdings, FS Mackenzie and Famous Pacific Shipping (NZ).

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Global Yellow Pages loses copyright lawsuit

Straits Times
01 Feb 2016
K.C. Vijayan

The publisher behind the Yellow Pages directories has lost its suit against a rival for alleged copyright infringement, after the High Court dismissed its claims.

Global Yellow Pages (GYP) had alleged that Promedia Directories, which publishes the Green Book, had copied from four of its directories from 2003 to 2009. The directories are three printed ones - the Business Listings, the Yellow Pages Business and the Yellow Pages Consumer - and the online Internet Yellow Pages.

But Justice George Wei, in judgment grounds issued last week, ruled that GYP did not have copyright in some of the works cited. As there was no copyright, there was no infringement.

In the cited works in which GYP had copyright, the judge found that there was no infringement by Promedia, as there was no substantial reproduction that could amount to infringement.

The judge dismissed GYP' s entire claim of copyright infringement and allowed Promedia's counter-claim against it for groundless threat of copyright infringement. He ordered damages on the counter-claim payable by GYP to be assessed separately; Promedia was also awarded costs.

It is understood the test case - first filed in 2009 and culminating in a 23-day trial in late 2014 - is important in clarifying copyright laws, with potential impact on other directory publishers.

At issue is whether any firm should have intellectual property rights over published names, addresses, phone and fax numbers of firms and businesses, which are facts for information.

"Copyright does not subsist in individual listings. The form of expression contained in the listings does not meet the level of originality - if there is any originality at all - for copyright protection to be conferred," said Justice Wei.

To grant GYP copyright protection over the individual listings would be tantamount to granting it copyright over them, and "thus a monopoly over the use of the bare facts themselves", he said in the judgment grounds.

GYP's lawyers Bryan Ghows and Wang Yingyu had argued there were "substantial similarities" between Promedia's printed Green Book, digital CD-ROM directory and online directory, and the Yellow Pages listings.

GYP claimed copyright in the individual listings, such as a name, address and telephone number, noting that it had to verify, enhance and classify the raw data from telcos Singtel and M1.

It also claimed copyright in listings under a classification such as engineers or doctors.

GYP alleged that Promedia could not have obtained information on these listings without copying them from GYP's own directories.

Promedia's lawyers G. Radakrishnan and Mark Teng denied GYP's claims "tooth and nail", pointing out that telephone directories, being fact-based, will inevitably be similar in content.

Promedia added that it had its own database of companies and businesses, which was regularly updated from different sources.

The judge held that while GYP would own the copyright in its directories as a whole and the copyright in the compilations in each directory, there is no copyright in the individual listings as "they are essentially facts, and there cannot be copyright in facts".

"It is senseless to speak of anyone... owning or having copyright monopoly over the use of the information in each parcel of subscriber information or each subscriber listing.

"These are facts which no one can claim copyright ownership over; they are entitled to be used by everyone," said Justice Wei.

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

Global Yellow Pages Ltd v Promedia Directories Pte Ltd [2016] SGHC 09

Restructuring of IDA and MDA a step in the right direction

Business Times
28 Jan 2016

THE government's decision to restructure the Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) and Media Development Authority (MDA) to form the Info-communications Media Development Authority (IMDA) and the Government Technology Organisation (GTO) is timely. As Communications and Information Minister Yaacob Ibrahim said in Parliament on Tuesday, it will help Singapore seize opportunities presented by technological changes. The reorganisation will take effect from April 1 and both bodies will be officially established in the second half of the year.

Few industry sectors have experienced as much change as ICT (information and communications technology) and the media over the past decade and a half. It is increasingly acknowledged at the international level that the convergence of the media and technology landscapes needs a convergence of regulators - since consumers no longer draw a line between media and technology, and rather look at great platforms, services and content. Singapore is not the first country to change policy to accommodate this need. In the UK, for example, communications regulator Ofcom's remit already spans communications and media.

The ability to change and adapt is something regulators and policymakers need to have, as otherwise policy and regulation can end up being a hindrance rather than helping to improve Singapore's position in the infocomm media sector. For example, it is possible today to watch international TV programmes on any device via an Internet connection at any time, bypassing cable TV service providers as well as free-to-air TV channels. The content provider could be located in a different jurisdiction, subject to a different set of regulations. From a regulatory point of view, who should regulate and monitor the content in Singapore? The body in charge of telecom regulation (since the content is streamed over the Internet), or the body in charge of media content regulation?

In the new set-up, IMDA will look after regulatory and policy initiatives in the infocomm and media sectors, while GTO will provide enterprise IT solutions to more than 90 government agencies, govern ICT standards within public agencies, and coordinate the three-year ICT masterplans across the government. The Infocomm Media 2025 masterplan, which came out last August, pointed out that this sector can positively impact people in a very direct and personal way, making their lives richer, easier and more fulfilling. In many respects, Singapore's move to become a Smart Nation is intricately linked to a thriving infocomm media sector.

IDA itself is the product of technology convergence. It was set up in 1999 with the merger of the National Computer Board and Telecommunication Authority of Singapore, as a result of a growing convergence of IT and telephony. MDA was set up in 2003 with the merger of the Singapore Broadcasting Authority, the Films and Publication Department, and the Singapore Film Commission to develop a vibrant media sector. This year's changes are, again, a response to technology convergence. The move is a step in the right direction, and the government now needs to educate industry on the implications and impact on different sectors. Infocomm media has great potential to contribute to Singapore's growth, and improve the quality of jobs and career prospects for Singaporeans.

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AHTC wants more time to pick Big Four firm

Straits Times
06 Feb 2016
Lim Yan Liang

The Workers' Party-run Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (AHTC) is writing to the Court of Appeal to ask for more time to appoint a Big Four accounting firm to examine its books.

On Jan 22, the court ordered AHTC to pick accountants from a Big Four firm within two weeks. The deadline was yesterday.

The town council said yesterday that while it initiated contact with one of the firms on Jan 23, it needed "more time to provide information relevant to the appointment of the accountants to the HDB".

AHTC added in a statement that it "will be writing to the court to request an extension".

In a separate statement, the Housing Board told The Straits Times that it had been informed by AHTC about the need for an extension to the court-mandated deadline.

The HDB said: "The Court of Appeal, in its judgment, stated that, as this was a matter of public interest and involving public funds, it should not be delayed further.

"AHTC has informed HDB that it requires more time before it can provide HDB with the relevant information concerning its proposed accountants. HDB has no objection to AHTC's request for time extension but has requested that AHTC write to the Court of Appeal to request that the deadline for appointment be extended."

In the Jan 22 ruling, Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon said the accountants' task "should not be underestimated" as they had to make sure a public body was fulfilling its legal obligations, and using its public funds properly.

The three-judge apex court also set April 15 as the deadline for the accounting firm to submit its first monthly progress report to HDB.

The town council saga hit the headlines last year when the Auditor-General's Office (AGO) highlighted lapses in governance and compliance with the law by the town council since 2011.

The National Development Ministry, and later HDB, applied to have the court appoint independent accountants to look into the town council's books. In November last year, the Court of Appeal ordered AHTC to appoint accountants to fix lapses uncovered by the AGO.

A combination of objections by HDB to the town council's choices - and withdrawals by two firms initially picked by AHTC - led to the Jan 22 order by the court that AHTC pick from a Big Four firm.

These would be PwC, Deloitte, KPMG and Ernst & Young.

• Additional reporting by Chong Zi Liang

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Upholding the integrity of the NCMP scheme

TODAY
01 Feb 2016
Eugene K.B. Tan

Last Friday’s combative parliamentary debate on filling Ms Lee Li Lian’s vacated Non-Constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP) seat offered a foretaste of the dynamics between the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) and the Workers’ Party’s (WP) in the 13th Parliament.

The transfer of an NCMP seat within an opposition party has no precedent. The closest similarity happened in 1985, when the People’s Action Party (PAP) moved a motion to fill the vacated NCMP seat after WP’s M P D Nair had declined it after the 1984 General Election (GE). It was then offered to Singapore United Front’s Tan Chee Kien, who also declined the seat. Parliament then opted to keep NCMP seat empty even though it was the first time the NCMP scheme was introduced.

It is perhaps timely to relook the law governing the filling of vacated NCMP seats. Currently, the law provides that Parliament may fill a vacated NCMP seat. This should be changed to make the filling of a vacated seat automatic without Parliament having to decide whether to fill the vacated seat or not.

Secondly, the law should prohibit “intra-party” transfer of seats (as with the Lee Li Lian and Daniel Goh situation). This precludes parties engaging in a “political manoeuvre”, in the words of Government Whip Chan Chun Sing in last Friday’s debate.

The overall intent of both proposals is to ensure the integrity of the NCMP scheme. The first avoids a situation where an NCMP seat is left vacant for whatever reasons at the will of the ruling party. The second prevents a situation where an opposition party can act anti-democratically by thwarting the expressed political choice of the electorate.

There is a tendency to overlook the democratic element that underpins the NCMP scheme. The Parliamentary Elections Act provides that the NCMP seats are to be filled on the basis of the percentage of the votes polled in a general election (the so-called “best losers” requirement). Clearly, the voters’ preference is determinative with regards to the filling of NCMP seats.

Opposition parties should not be allowed to go against the choice of voters in filling NCMP seats because that is tantamount to letting a party, rather than the voters, decide on the NCMPs. This enables an opposition party to place a NCMP out of self-interest rather than respecting the expressed will of the voters, contrary to what the Constitution requires.

This was the essence of PAP’s amendment of WP’s parliamentary motion for Associate Professor Daniel Goh to fill Ms Lee’s vacated NCMP seat at last Friday’s debate.

In a tactically shrewd move — cognisant of public sentiment supporting Parliament having its full complement of three NCMP seats — the PAP took advantage of its numerical dominance in Parliament to amend the WP motion to reflect the point that the WP was making a “political manoeuvre” to take full advantage of the NCMP scheme, even as WP secretary-general Low Thia Khiang had been dismissive of the scheme.

In so doing, the PAP also sought to establish it was acting from a principled stance in which the WP should not ride roughshod over the preference of Punggol East voters.

It is worth recalling that in the September 2015 GE, 48.23 per cent of voters in Punggol East voted for then-incumbent Ms Lee, while only 39.27 per cent of East Coast GRC voters supported the WP team there, which included Dr Goh and three candidates.

To the extent that the NCMP derives its currency from seeking to maintain Parliament’s relevance in a one-party dominant system, it is clear that the NCMP has benefited both the PAP and the WP.

For the PAP, having a nominal, if not minimum, representation of opposition parliamentarians helps ensure that Parliament is more representative than it otherwise would be, and is better able to act as a check and balance in our constitutional system of government.

Most significantly, the NCMP scheme also helps assure the Singaporean electorate that it should not be overly concerned with Parliament being dominated by the PAP, since there will be a guaranteed minimum number of non-PAP MPs.

For all intents and purposes, the WP has benefited from strategically utilising the NCMP scheme even as Mr Low derisively described NCMPs as rootless “duckweed on the water of a pond”. Its official stance — faithfully and consistently reflected in the party’s election manifestos — is that it is opposed to the scheme and would abolish the scheme if it were the Government. The WP’s premise is that elections should not dilute the individual voter’s voice and should therefore only be run on single member seats, with individual MPs fully accountable to constituents.

However, in reality, the WP adopts a different reasoning when it says that it would accept an eligible WP candidate’s decision to take up a NCMP seat so as to contribute to parliamentary debates and because “the struggle for a functional democracy … must be fought from within the existing system”.

The scheme has enabled the WP to profile itself and its NCMPs while also providing more opportunities to raise parliamentary questions, debate Bills, file motions and speak on PAP motions.

Besides M P D Nair and Ms Lee, WP losing candidates in the past have accepted NCMP seats: Lee Siew Choh (1989-1991), JB Jeyaretnam (1997-2001), Ms Sylvia Lim (2006-2011), Mr Yee Jen Jong and Mr Gerald Giam (2011-2015), and their current three NCMPs.

There needs, in my view, to be greater clarity and consistency in the WP’s position on the NCMP scheme. In light of the Government’s proposal to increase the number of NCMPs (from nine to 12) and for them to have the same voting rights as elected MPs, the WP should not permit its members to accept NCMP seats when offered in future. Given the WP’s severe criticisms of the scheme, surely it cannot have its cake and eat it, too.

This will raise the stakes for voters in constituencies where the WP’s best candidates are contesting. It will also make the WP’s objection to the NCMP scheme principled and not self-serving. The artificial distinction between the party’s vehement objection to and an individual WP member’s inclination to take up an NCMP seat is an untenable proposition going forward.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Eugene K B Tan is associate professor of law at the School of Law, Singapore Management University, and a former Nominated Member of Parliament.

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Changes proposed to CPF and Women's Charter

Straits Times
27 Jan 2016
Pearl Lee

Changes that will allow Central Provident Fund (CPF) members to choose their CPF Life plan only when they want to start receiving their payouts from the national annuity scheme were presented in Parliament yesterday.

Instead of making a decision at age 55, as was the case previously, the proposed amendments will let members opt for their preferred plan just before they want to start receiving monthly payouts - which will be from age 65.

The change was among the recommendations made by the CPF Advisory Panel last year. The proposed changes to the CPF Act will enable these to be implemented.

Other proposed changes include giving members more flexibility to withdraw savings from their CPF retirement accounts without having to pledge their properties, and enhancements to two CPF insurance schemes - the Dependants' Protection Scheme and the Home Protection Scheme.

Other changes proposed yesterday were to the Women's Charter.

These include voiding a marriage of convenience, which is an immigration offence; allowing women to provide for their current or ex-husband if he becomes incapacitated and cannot work; and making parents going through a divorce attend a mandatory parenting programme to reduce the impact of the divorce on their children.

Also tabled was the Pioneer Generation Fund (Amendment) Bill, which proposes that the income or means of a pioneer generation individual - most of whom are aged 67 and above this year - be disregarded when benefits are determined. They include subsidies to healthcare costs. The Finance Ministry said that benefits given to the pioneer generation are meant to "honour their contributions and therefore do not vary based on income or means".

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PPP Laser Clinic files lawsuit against founder and his daughter

TODAY
06 Feb 2016

SINGAPORE — PPP Laser Clinic has fired the next salvo against company founder Dr Goh Seng Heng, filing a lawsuit against him, his daughter Michelle Goh and a company named QuikGlow, to seek “interim injunctions to preserve the assets and interests of the PPP companies”, it said today (Feb 5).

Dr Goh announced on Tuesday he was stepping down from the company he founded, saying that “under the leadership of the new investors, the company has lost its way and in my opinion, is now driven by the wrong values”.

The company said in a statement that the court has ordered an injunction against Dr Goh and Ms Goh barring them from poaching PPP staff, revealing or using confidential information acquired during their time at PPP, and ordering them to disclose the names of all the employees or contractors whom the two have directly or indirectly “solicited or enticed”.

The court has also ordered the two not to enter the premises of PPP companies, the company added.

“The new PPP management is pleased that the court has made orders for the protection of the PPP companies’ business and assets,” it said in a statement.

As for further injunction applications restraining QuikGlow from poaching existing PPP staff and for Dr Goh and Ms Goh from joining or continuing to be employed by QuikGlow, “will be heard in court at a future date”, said the company.

Copyright 2015 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

Tan Wah Piow asks for case review after Phey's conviction

Straits Times
31 Jan 2016
Lim Yan Liang

Former student union leader and fugitive Tan Wah Piow has written to Attorney-General V. K. Rajah, asking for his criminal conviction for rioting in 1975 to be overturned in the light of the recent conviction of former labour leader Phey Yew Kok.

Tan said Phey's conviction calls into question his credibility as the Government's key prosecution witness in that rioting case.

Phey, 81, was sentenced to five years' jail on Jan 22 for criminal breach of trust, after being on the run for more than 30 years.

In Tan's letter, which was seen by The Sunday Times and which was posted on several socio-political websites, he reiterated his defence from 41 years ago that the riot was "staged by trade union officials at the instigation of Phey".

Tan is now living in Britain. He fled Singapore in 1976 after failing to report for national service enlistment and was stripped of his Singapore citizenship in 1987.

In 1975, he and two others, Ng Wah Leng and Yap Kim Hong, were found guilty of unlawful assembly, criminal trespass and rioting at the Pioneer Industries Employees' Union (PIEU), where Phey was then general secretary.

Tan was sentenced to a year in prison.

In his letter, he cited how, in sentencing Phey this month, presiding judge Jennifer Marie said the former union leader had, "like a serial criminal, systematically and with deliberation" committed his offences such as embezzlement, and "had no qualms in trying to evade detection and had the temerity to instigate his staff to fabricate false evidence".

"This revelation impinges on the credibility of Phey Yew Kok as a prosecution witness," Tan added.

"The trial judge, T. S. Sinnathuray, arrived at a guilty verdict based on the evidence of someone we now know to be a crook and a thief, and who had the capacity to exert his criminal influence over his staff," Tan also said.

A spokesman for the Attorney- General's Chambers confirmed it had received the letter.

Lawyers contacted told The Sunday Times that Tan could apply directly to the High Court to review his conviction, and there is no time limit.

Criminal lawyer Sunil Sudheesan added that Phey's conviction does not make him an unreliable witness unless it pertains to Tan's case.

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Owner of Link group sued over 'breach of duties'

Straits Times
27 Jan 2016
Selina Lum

Liquidators for one of her companies say she stripped away its assets to avoid liability

Fashion retailer Tina Tan-Leo, 55, appeared in the High Court yesterday to defend a $7 million lawsuit brought by the liquidators of one of the companies under her Link group for alleged breach of fiduciary duties.

Mrs Tan-Leo is the sole owner of the three luxury fashion companies: Link Boutique, Alldressedup International and Living the Link.

In May 2010, she took steps to wind up Living the Link, a luxury fashion and lifestyle shop, which was not profitable and became insolvent by end 2008 - a little under two years after it was set up.

But liquidators Chia Soo Hien and Leow Quek Shiong found that while Living the Link was insolvent, Mrs Tan-Leo had transferred cash and assets from it to Link Boutique and Alldressedup.

Among other things, inventory with a book value totalling $2.6 million was moved to Alldressedup and Link Boutique on Dec 31, 2008.

Cash payments of $3.87 million were also made to Link Boutique throughout 2008. Between May 2008 and July 2009, Living the Link also paid about $98,000 for the personal expenses of Mrs Tan-Leo and her husband, Lionel.

In June 2012, the liquidators filed a lawsuit against her, Link Boutique and Alldressedup, alleging that she had breached her duties to Living the Link with these transfers. The pair sought to set aside the transactions "tainted by undue preferences and undervalues", said their lawyer, Mr Suresh Nair, in his opening statement yesterday.

He contended that Mrs Tan-Leo had "stripped" Living the Link of all its assets to avoid liability as she had provided personal guarantees for its banking facilities.

"The evidence will show that when times got bad, Tina Tan decided to forsake her duties as director of (Living the Link) to mitigate her own personal losses, and she chose to saddle (Living the Link) with expenses it ought not to have borne," said Mr Nair.

The defendants, represented by Mr Alvin Tan, do not deny the transfers of cash and assets.

They contend that the transfers were justified. Living the Link was merely holding the inventory on consignment; Link Boutique and Alldressedup had paid for the inventory, so they were entitled to have it back.

As for the cash payments made, the defendants said that Link Boutique and Alldressedup had paid various expenses and made cash advances to Living the Link and so were entitled to be reimbursed.

Mrs Tan-Leo denies breaching her duties to Living the Link; she contends that she had acted honestly and reasonably. The trial, to be heard over 11 days, continues.

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S'pore private banker denies any wrongdoing: 1MDB probe

Straits Times
06 Feb 2016
Chong Koh Ping

The Singapore private banker caught up in a probe related to Malaysian state investor 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) has denied any wrongdoing, according to court papers released yesterday.

Mr Yak Yew Chee, who started working at Swiss bank BSI here in 2009, was put on unpaid leave by the bank between May and September last year as BSI launched investigations into whether there had been any "impropriety or misconduct" relating to client accounts.

On April 27 last year, prior to that leave, Mr Yak had signed a declaration stating that he did not give or receive any benefits from managing the accounts of 1MDB unit Brazen Sky, Abu Dhabi's Aabar Investments PJSC and Malaysian businessman Low Taek Jho.

In a series of 23 e-mail messages and letters exchanged between Mr Yak and BSI, reproduced in the court papers, Mr Yak maintained that he had been "wrongly accused" by the bank "of bribing clients to get business".

However, in mid-September last year, the Commercial Affairs Department (CAD) froze 12 of Mr Yak's bank accounts, including those with DBS Bank, CMIB, OCBC and the Bank of China, which hold some $9.71 million.

This was part of the CAD's investigations into whether the huge bonuses he earned from 2011 to 2014 were the fruit of criminal conduct.

The court papers show that, over the four years from 2011 to 2015, Mr Yak earned more than $27 million in salary and bonuses from BSI.

His base annual salary had jumped from $500,000 in 2011, to $600,000 the following year, and then to $1 million from 2013 on, the documents showed.

Mr Yak was commended by BSI group chief executive Alfredo Gysi, in a letter dated Dec 12, 2011, for his business successes and contributions to the bank - also reproduced in the court documents.

The bonuses that he was given saw big jumps during the same period. In 2011, he earned $649,000 in bonuses, and more than $2.5 million the following year. In 2013, his bonus ballooned to nearly $9.6 million and, in 2014, it grew to $10.5 million.

BSI, as part of its investigation, had asked Mr Yak repeatedly to go to its office in Suntec City, from August to September. Mr Yak refused to comply with the instructions until Oct 1, the e-mail messages show.

Mr Yak also asserted in his e-mail communication with the bank that it was trying to terminate his employment and deny him some $8.8 million of bonuses that had yet to be paid. The court documents indicate that Mr Yak was most recently paid his monthly salary of nearly $83,000 in a cheque dated Jan 27, 2016.

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I've survived worse, says Malaysian businessman Soh Chee Wen in penny stock crash probe

Straits Times
31 Jan 2016
Grace Leong

Just who is the Malaysian businessman now assisting probe into 2013 penny stock crash?

Tycoon. Corporate bigwig. Dealmaker. These are among the terms used to describe Mr John Soh Chee Wen, 56, the Malaysian businessman labelled by the authorities as the "probable mastermind" behind what is arguably Singapore's biggest and most complex fraud case in recent years.

In Oct 2013, several Singapore-listed companies crashed spectacularly, in particular Blumont Group, LionGold Corp and Asiasons Capital, whose shares had skyrocketed over just nine months but saw $8 billion in market value wiped out in just days. Brokerage firms, remisiers, dealers and small investors were among the casualties of the meltdown. Many lost large sums. Banks and brokerages lodged lawsuits to get clients to pay up. Investor confidence was hit and trading volumes on the Singapore Exchange (SGX) sharply fell off.

A significant development came last week at a public hearing in the High Court. It emerged that Mr Soh was assisting the authorities with their investigations when he applied to vary his bail to be allowed to travel to Malaysia.

WHO IS SOH CHEE WEN?

Mr Soh was once one of Malaysia's biggest stock market investors. His fortunes soared in 1996 from a partnership with Mr Ling Hee Liong, son of former Malaysian transport minister and former Malaysian Chinese Association president Ling Liong Sik. They subsequently fell out.

He had started out as a salesman but later cut his teeth on restructuring troubled companies. He went on to build several companies in sectors such as construction and hospitality. By the mid-1990s, he was making headlines dabbling in numerous mergers and takeovers.

Formerly a top member of the Malaysian Chinese Association, Mr Soh was linked to listed Malaysian entities, including Promet; Uniphoenix Corp; Plantation and Development; and Kelanamas Industries, most of which went under in the 1997-1998 Asian financial crisis.

In 1995, he became the largest shareholder and director in Singapore-listed Inno-Pacific Holdings, now known as Innopac, and also controlled Ipco International. But he stepped away from those companies around 1999.

In 1998, Malaysia's Securities Commission launched an investigation into whether Mr Soh used nominees to gain control of brokerage firm Omega Securities, violating a Malaysian law that forbids anyone from owning more than one brokerage without government approval. He already controlled at least one other brokerage.

In 1999, there was an arrest warrant put out on him, when he was out of the country.

He returned to Malaysia in 2002 and was immediately arrested. He was charged and convicted in 2007. Mr Soh admitted to abetting former TA Securities boss Tiah Thee Kian to provide false statements to the Kuala Lumpur stock exchange involving shares of Omega Securities in 1997. He was given the maximum fine of RM6 million.

NOT PERMITTED TO LEAVE S'PORE

Nearly a decade after his conviction in Malaysia, Mr Soh is again facing the authorities, this time in Singapore, over what prosecutors called his "significant role" in the penny stock crash.

"I've survived worse," Mr Soh told The Straits Times, a day after the High Court denied him permission to leave the country.

The widower had asked for permission to visit his ailing 80-year-old mother and to attend his son's wedding in Malaysia on Feb 20, but prosecutors argued that investigations into the case are at an advanced stage.

Mr Soh's lawyer, Senior Counsel Tan Chee Meng of WongPartnership, pointed out that the businessman had been fully cooperative with investigators and given over 800 pages in statements containing more than 2,000 questions and undergone "many statement takings that lasted 10 hours and longer".

And, in fact, Mr Soh has just recently taken on a job in Singapore as the chief operating officer of Dongshan, an investment holding company formerly known as Greatronic, where he is getting paid $3,000 a month to turn its fortunes around. On top of that, he is getting a salary of RM100,000 (S$34,000) a year paid by The Lakeview Club, a sports club in Malaysia.

WHAT NOW?

Documents filed by the prosecution in Mr Soh's case reveal the extent of the probe into the penny stock crash, conducted jointly by white-collar crimebuster the Commercial Affairs Department (CAD) and the Monetary Authority of Singapore. They raided more than 50 locations, including residences, offices and brokerages, and have so far interviewed some 70 witnesses.

Some 147 telephones and tablets, 413 desktop and laptop computers and 175 boxes of documents, including accounting records, bank and trading statements and corporate secretarial records, have also been seized. Investigators have reviewed around 20,000 electronic mail items, monthly account statements relating to more than 500 trading accounts, and more than 1,100 bank accounts.

For the many investors who have had their fingers burnt in the penny stock crash, getting closer to the causes of the crash will be important.

Veteran investor Mano Sabnani is relieved that the investigations may soon see closure.

"If they can conclude the investigation, that would be good for the Singapore market, which has been under a cloud since 2013," he said.

"SGX is already reviewing the minimum trading price rule (a proposal that mainboard-listed stocks must have a minimum trading price), and trying to grow retail participation and improve the regulatory framework. If the penny stock issue could be resolved also, then the market is in a good position to grow and revitalise itself."


$8 billion

The amount in market value that was wiped out during the Singapore penny stock crash in Oct 2013 for Singapore-listed companies Blumont Group, LionGold Corp and Asiasons Capital, whose shares had previously skyrocketed over just nine months.

20,000

Investigators have reviewed around 20,000 electronic mail items, monthly account statements relating to more than 500 trading accounts, and more than 1,100 bank accounts. Mr John Soh Chee Wen had asked for permission to visit his ailing 80-year-old mother and to attend his son's wedding in Malaysia on Feb 20, but prosecutors argued that investigations into the case are at an advanced stage.


Mr John Soh Chee Wen had asked for permission to visit his ailing 80-year-old mother and to attend his son's wedding in Malaysia on Feb 20, but prosecutors argued that investigations into the case are at an advanced stage

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Former MP settles lawsuit against Hainan clan members

Straits Times
27 Jan 2016
Selina Lum

After five days of hearing in the High Court, lawyer and former Member of Parliament Sin Boon Ann has settled his defamation suit against three former officials of the Hainan Tan Clan Association.

A joint statement from all four parties on Jan 20 said the lawsuit had arisen from an "unfortunate misunderstanding" of what Mr Sin had told the trio at a lunch meeting in June 2013.

"For the sake of our association and our fellow clansmen, all of us have decided to settle this matter amicably in the spirit of the association and on the mutual understanding that there are no winners and losers in this case," it said.

Mr Sin, 57, an honorary adviser to the association, had sued the trio for alleging that he had abused his position to push for his elder brother, Mr Sin Boon Wah, to become the association's president.

The defendants were past president Tan Boon Hai, 74; then president Tan Han Kwang, 82; and past vice-president Tan Khin Pang, 83.

The hearing into the case started on Jan 12. Last Wednesday, both sides reached a settlement.

Each side will bear its own costs. Mr Sin was represented by Senior Counsel Jimmy Yim and Mr Tan Hee Joek, and the defendants by Senior Counsel N. Sreenivasan and Mr Tan Joo Seng.

The association, which has about 900 members, is a society for members of the Hainanese community with the surname Tan. Although anglicised differently, Mr Sin's surname shares the same character.

Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin and former MP Tan Boon Wan are also honorary advisers to the society.

The events that led to the defamation suit unfolded in the run-up to the December 2013 elections.

In June 2013, Mr Sin invited the trio for lunch to talk about leadership renewal. He suggested that the elders step down and form a council to guide a younger leadership.

Mr Tan Han Kwang and Mr Tan Boon Hai, who are related, have taken turns to be president since 2004.

The trio later said Mr Sin had told them that his elder brother was to be made president. Mr Sin Boon Wah, 63, belonged to the camp opposing the trio's faction.

Mr Sin contends they meant he had abused his position.

Eventually, the post of president went to Mr Tan Kia Kok, who is from Mr Sin Boon Wah's camp. He was reappointed in the recent elections last December, after the defendants' supporters staged a walkout.

Now, association members are hoping the dust will settle.

Retiree J. T. Tan told The Straits Times that the settlement was "a good result". "If one side loses, it will lead to resentment and further disharmony," said the 64-year-old.

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Yak's lawyer withdraws request for release of frozen money

Straits Times
06 Feb 2016
Chong Koh Ping

In a surprise move, private banker Yak Yew Chee has withdrawn a request for the release of some of the money frozen by the authorities as part of a probe over 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).

His application is the first legal case arising from the authorities' probe into funds possibly linked to 1MDB. A senior private banker with the local unit of Swiss bank BSI, Mr Yak did not appear at yesterday's hearing at the High Court, but The Straits Times understands he is in Singapore.

Mr Yak was the relationship manager for 1MDB Global Investments, Aabar Investment PJS and SRC International, as well as for Malaysian businessman Low Taek Jho.

He had earlier applied to release the funds in his accounts with DBS Bank, CIMB, OCBC and Bank of China, to pay taxes and legal fees as well as for basic expenses. A total of 12 bank accounts with about $9.71 million were seized by the authorities last September.

However, yesterday morning, his lawyer, Senior Counsel Roderick Martin of Martin & Partners, said in court that his client has sufficient funds in his foreign bank accounts to pay for his taxes and legal fees.

Mr Martin asked Deputy Public Prosecutor Tan Kiat Pheng for assurance that the funds, amounting to about $1.75 million in the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, would not be seized if his client were to remit it back to Singapore for the payments.

DPP Tan said Mr Yak should have asked this before making the application, and saved everyone's time.

Whether or not Mr Yak remits the money back to Singapore was for him to decide, said DPP Tan.

Mr Martin then asked for the application to be withdrawn.

BSI's lawyer, Senior Counsel Cavinder Bull of Drew & Napier, said at the hearing that the bank is prepared to assist the court in any way.

The court documents filed by the DPP objecting to Mr Yak's earlier application, released yesterday, said that the banker had failed to disclose material facts relating to his available finances.

After Mr Yak was put on unpaid leave in May last year, he transferred a "staggering $5.7 million to his foreign bank accounts".

The Commercial Affairs Department (CAD) and the Monetary Authority of Singapore have been investigating possible offences relating to 1MDB since the middle of last year. They said on Monday that they had seized a "large number" of bank accounts over possible money laundering and other offences linked to alleged financial mismanagement at 1MDB.

In response to media queries yesterday, the CAD said its investigations relate only to persons and entities involved in possible offences in Singapore.

Most of the bank accounts were seized in the second half of last year, it added.

Chong Koh Ping

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Mindef course trains defending officers who represent court-martialled personnel

Straits Times
31 Jan 2016
Danson Cheong

100 officers have attended Mindef's revised legal training course to help them defend servicemen in military courts

At university, Captain Samuel Tan was an SAF scholarship holder studying international relations and public policy. In the army, he earned his epaulettes as an artillery officer.

But as an officer, the 26-year-old can also be called upon to defend servicemen in a court of law.

He is one of about 100 Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) officers who have attended Mindef's newly revised legal training course that will help them in their role as defending officers or DOs - a position that sees them representing personnel who have been court-martialled.

Under the SAF Act, any commissioned officer can represent servicemen in the military courts, where they are tried for military offences. The cases are heard at the Court-Martial Centre in Kranji Camp II.

According to Mindef, the day-long legal training course for defending officers was started in 2005, but it was revised in July last year, with more of the curriculum focused on the practical aspects of lawyering. DOs can also call a helpline for legal assistance.

Before 2005, there was no formal training for DOs.

Mindef's course is the only formal legal training DOs receive. However, not all DOs are trained.

The current revised course is held four times a year with a class size of about 30.

Capt Tan was taught basic court etiquette, how to draft mitigation pleas and how to make representations for his clients.

"Prior to attending the course, I thought the only avenue for redress or mitigation was the mitigation plea during a general court martial," he said.

He now knows that DOs can write to military prosecutors to get them to consider a lesser charge, drop charges entirely and get character references for their soldiers.

Last month, he managed to get the charges reduced for a soldier in his unit who ended up serving a sentence of six weeks.

Mr Asher Chin, 22, represented two soldiers - one for theft and the other for going absent without leave - in 2013 when he was a second lieutenant in the air force.

In both cases, he served as the soldiers' DO and the investigating officer.

"One of the bigger problems we faced back then was that there was not much of a concrete guide with respect to court procedures," said Mr Chin, now a second-year law student at the National University of Singapore (NUS).

He is part of a group of NUS law students, called the Military Justice Project (MJP), which is trying to raise awareness of how the military courts work.

Soldiers can also choose to hire lawyers outside the SAF. Among these legal professionals, there is debate over whether the training for DOs is sufficient.

Veteran criminal lawyer Amolat Singh, who conducted the DO course pro bono for three years until it was revised, felt that the training adequately equipped DOs for the duties they typically perform.

He pointed out that most military court cases are not complex and servicemen often plead guilty.

"You can run a one-day or a five-day course; at the end of the day, the quality of the DOs comes from practice," said Mr Singh, who was an army officer for 15 years.

"It's just like how there are many lawyers who after law school don't do any litigation. After a while, these lawyers can also lose touch."

Criminal lawyer Anand Nalachandran pointed out that the system at least ensures every soldier will get some form of representation.

"In the civilian court, if an accused person is unable to afford or engage counsel, he may apply for legal assistance - but if pro bono aid is not granted, he may be unrepresented," said Mr Nalachandran.

But lawyer Laurence Goh Eng Yau, who has more than two decades of experience with military cases, said there was a perceived "imbalance" in the system because DOs tend to be junior officers with no legal background.

"The DO, being a non-lawyer, will be at a disadvantage because he will be arguing against a prosecutor who is legally trained and has access to materials for research and support," said Mr Goh.

That said, both Mr Goh and Mr Singh pointed out that in their experience, military prosecutors are conscious of the DOs' inexperience and do not exploit their advantage.

"It's not a game of who performs better," said Mr Singh. "It's really about whatever punishment the serviceman gets at the end of the day - that it's just, fair and according to the law."

But Mr Goh also said that the current system, while robust, has room for improvement.

He is part of a group of volunteer lawyers - including Mr Singh - who regularly help DOs vet their mitigation pleas and legal documents.

They are also working with the MJP, which has approached the Law Society's Pro Bono Services Office to see if it can extend its pro bono services to the military courts.

The Sunday Times understands that the matter is still under discussion.

Mr Goh said: "We are trying to work towards a situation whereby, perhaps in the long term, volunteer lawyers from the Criminal Legal Aid Scheme can extend their help to court-martial cases."


IMBALANCE IN SYSTEM

The DO, being a non-lawyer, will be at a disadvantage because he will be arguing against a prosecutor who is legally trained and has access to materials for research and support.

LAWYER LAURENCE GOH ENG YAU, on how defending officers tend to be junior officers with no legal background.

JUSTICE IS THE GOAL

It's not a game of who performs better. It's really about whatever punishment the serviceman gets at the end of the day - that it's just, fair and according to the law.

VETERAN CRIMINAL LAWYER AMOLAT SINGH, on how military prosecutors are conscious of the DOs' inexperience and do not exploit their advantage.


The military justice system in SAF

The military justice system underpins discipline in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) and is the main reason why offences that have a bearing on integrity, discipline and honesty have to be court-martialled, according to lawyer Amolat Singh.

These misdemeanours can range from cheating at physical fitness tests, to going absent without leave (Awol), to theft.

Depending on the offence, soldiers are brought before either a Judge Court Martial or Panel Court Martial.

The former, presided over by a district judge from the State Courts, deals with civil offences such as theft and drug consumption.

In the latter, the judge is joined by two senior military officers on a panel which deals with "purely military offences", including Awol and desertion, said Mr Singh.

Like the civilian courts, soldiers who are unhappy with their conviction or sentence can appeal to the Military Court of Appeal - the highest authority.

They can also petition the Armed Forces Council, which consists of the Chief of Defence Force, a Service Chief, and the Ministry of Defence's permanent secretary for defence development. The council can quash a court-martial sentence or reduce it.

Less severe offences are summarily tried. The soldier is charged before his commanding officer and does not go to court.

Lawyers also point out that a military conviction does not necessarily translate into a civilian criminal record. "The conviction and record stays within the SAF - it's considered military conduct which is reflected in his conduct sheet," said lawyer Laurence Goh Eng Yau.

However, The Sunday Times understands that more serious crimes, such as drug offences and misappropriation of public property, will be transferred over to the criminal records office.

Regardless of the offence, the ultimate goal is to rehabilitate the serviceman.

"It's not about throwing the book at the person or locking him up and throwing away the key," said Mr Singh.

"It's about reintegrating him back into his unit as an effective member of the fighting force."

Danson Cheong

Correction note: An earlier version of the story said that convicted servicemen can petition the Armed Forces Council, which can quash or reduce their court martial sentences. We would like to clarify that servicemen can petition the Reviewing Authority of the Armed Forces Council. This authority consists of the Chief of Defence Force, a Service Chief, and the Ministry of Defence's permanent secretary for defence development.

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Penny stock crash: Malaysian businessman aiding in probe

Straits Times
27 Jan 2016
Grace Leong

Malaysian businessman John Soh Chee Wen is assisting the Commercial Affairs Department (CAD) in investigations into Singapore's penny stock crash of October 2013.

Mr Soh, 57, has not been charged.

A public court notice shows that a criminal motion hearing is scheduled in the High Court today before Judge of Appeal Chao Hick Tin.

Mr Soh is being represented by senior counsel Tan Chee Meng, deputy chairman of WongPartnership.

Criminal motions include applications to vary the bail sum or to transfer a case from the State Courts to the High Court, for example.

In April 2014, the CAD and the Monetary Authority of Singapore launched a joint probe into the crash that wiped out $8 billion in market value in just three days.

The probe centres on possible violations of the Securities and Futures Act. They stem from alleged trading irregularities in the shares of Blumont Group, LionGold Corp and Asiasons Capital. The latter is now called Attilan Group.

The CAD, in its 2014 annual report issued in August last year, described its efforts as the "biggest securities fraud investigation to date".

Mr Soh was formerly a top member of the Malaysian Chinese Association and hails from Selangor.

He rose to prominence in the 1990s with deals involving Malaysia-listed firms. Several of these later failed in the Asian financial crisis.

His fortunes took a further dive in 2007 when he was fined the maximum RM6 million, after pleading guilty to two charges of conspiracy to provide false information to the Kuala Lumpur stock exchange.

The three penny stocks had surged by more than 800 per cent in less than nine months before plunging by between 91 per cent and 96 per cent in October 2013, wiping out $8 billion in value in three days.

Market confidence was badly bruised, with a more than 60 per cent fall in the average daily traded volume on the Singapore Exchange (SGX) in the 12 months after September 2013, according to SGX data.

The trading value over the same period fell by more than 30 per cent, as the crash made investors more cautious, particularly about small and medium-sized firms.

Since the probe began into several of these mainboard-listed firms and several key executives, a number have suffered hefty financial losses and issued profit warnings.

The meltdown is partly behind regulators' recent moves to propose tighter trading rules and add circuit breakers, among other things, to protect investors from excessive price swings and speculation.

The CAD also said in its annual report: "We are acutely aware of the impact on investor confidence and the need to resolve this quickly and effectively."

It added that "the joint team is working tirelessly to get to the bottom of the matter" so as "to bring those responsible to justice".

The CAD declined to comment yesterday.

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More women on Muis Board of Appeal

Straits Times
06 Feb 2016

More women have been appointed to the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore's (Muis) Board of Appeal, which hears appeals against the decisions of the Syariah Court and the Registry of Muslim Marriages.

The number of women members has now increased to five, up from four in the previous term.

The 23-member panel - which is made up of district judges, lawyers, legal and religious scholars - was officially appointed at a ceremony held at the Singapore Islamic Hub in Braddell Road yesterday.

Members will serve a two-year term until Dec 31 next year.

In 2008, three women were appointed to the Board of Appeal for the first time in the board's history. Until then, it was made up entirely of men.

Muis, in a statement yesterday, said: "This is a reflection of the Singapore Muslim community's appreciation and value placed on the positive contributions of women in leadership roles in the community.

"Their appointment also ensures that the Appeal Board has the expertise needed from a female perspective, apart from their contributions in their own fields."

Board members are appointed by President Tony Tan Keng Yam, on Muis' advice.

They will deal with issues such as the custody of minors, and the disposition or division of matrimonial property after a divorce.

From time to time, three people will be chosen from the panel by the Muis president to sit on an ad-hoc board to handle appeals.

Calvin Yang

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Political system ripe for review: PM Lee Hsien Loong proposes changes to Elected Presidency, NCMP scheme

Straits Times
31 Jan 2016
Charissa Yong

Update of Elected Presidency scheme, and more opposition MP

It has been an unusually exciting week in Parliament.

The debut speeches on a wide range of topics by new Members of Parliament aside, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong gave his take on a key aspect of the President's Address.

PM Lee announced a review of the political system that will have long-term effects on two key areas: the nature of the Elected Presidency, and the representation of the opposition in Parliament.

He also hinted that change would be sought sooner rather than later, with presidential elections to be held by August next year.

Three areas of the Elected Presidency (EP) scheme need to be updated, he told Parliament.

They are: raising the qualifying criteria for presidential hopefuls; strengthening the powers of the Council of Presidential Advisers; and ensuring opportunities for minority candidates to be elected President. A Constitutional Commission - only the second in independent Singapore's history - will be set up to study these areas.

Ahead of it, Insight looks at suggestions from experts and political watchers on what to tweak.

Retired senior minister S. Jayakumar, who as law minister helped draft laws on the EP 25 years ago, tells The Sunday Times he agrees it is time the scheme was updated - and why.

And former president S R Nathan, Singapore's only minority-race President - he is Indian - since the EP began in 1991, says race may always be a factor in an election here.

The other big change on the cards is PM Lee's pledge to increase the number of Non-Constituency Members of Parliament to ensure a minimum of 12 opposition MPs, up from the current nine. But would these changes satisfy the desire for more alternative voices in Parliament? And how might they change the landscape of opposition politics?

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Man in row with bank over hacked phone

Straits Times
27 Jan 2016
Danson Cheong & Lester Hio

"System update in progress. Please wait," read the prompt on Mr Philip Loh's Samsung Galaxy Note 4 smartphone last September. Thinking nothing of it, he went to bed.

Meanwhile, hackers got hold of his credit card details. Six flight tickets were purchased in Eastern Europe - from countries including Russia, Estonia and Latvia. The total price was $12,327.

Now the 47-year-old first aid trainer is entangled in a dispute with United Overseas Bank (UOB) as he tries to get the charges waived.

The bank, which insists its security system was never compromised, is asking him to pay $5,000 of the $12,327, having reduced the amount out of goodwill, or it would take legal action, said Mr Loh.

"How can I pay for something I didn't purchase? I've never even visited those countries before," he told The Straits Times.

When he woke up on Sept 30 last year, his phone was still "updating". He forcibly rebooted it by removing the battery, only to find SMS alerts from UOB on the purchases, as well as the one-time passwords (OTPs) used to authenticate them.

Shocked, he cancelled his credit card before going to the police and Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) for help.

Mr Loh appears to be one of the victims of a malicious program that the Association of Banks in Singapore (ABS) warned the public about last month. He insists he has entered his credit card details on his phone only twice or thrice in the past year - to buy movie tickets online.

He was told by the bank that one of the reasons the payments could not be waived was that they were made under the "3D secure payment system" - which authenticates online transactions by sending an OTP to the customer's cellphone. The Straits Times understands that because the hackers obtained the OTPs, the payment system was not compromised.

UOB said: "We review each customer dispute case thoroughly and take into account a number of contributing or mitigating factors. These include whether a customer had provided his credit card information on a phishing site or if transactions were authorised with an SMS OTP. In this present case, the bank's security measures were not compromised."

An ABS spokesman said that in some reported cases, consumers provided their credit card information on websites without checking if they were legitimate. "These allowed hackers to 'take control' of their smartphones to perform fraudulent online transactions."

Case executive director Seah Seng Choon said banks need to keep in mind shifting security vulnerabilities. "If a third party can hack into the system and perform transactions in this manner, it shows that the system needs to be reviewed to protect consumer interests."

Information technology lawyers said crooks are starting to get the better of two-factor authentication systems. "The question is: Is it fair for consumers to bear the liability when it is the system that has been compromised by hackers?" said lawyer Bryan Tan.

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Protecting investors from controlling shareholders

Business Times
05 Feb 2016
David Smith

It is time to rethink the way independent non-executive directors are elected so that they can provide thoughtful and robust challenge to management in the boardroom.

DISCUSSIONS on corporate governance, particularly in the aftermath of a corporate governance scandal, tend to focus on the non-executive directors, and in particular the role and performance of independent non-executive directors (INEDs).

The role of the INED came to the forefront with the Cadbury Report in the UK almost 25 years ago. That report is often considered the philosophical root from which many subsequent codes of corporate governance have grown. It acknowledged the role of INEDs in promoting business success, but also in monitoring executives, noting that "the specific interests of the executive management and the wider interests of the company may at times diverge". So, whilst non-executive directors owe a fiduciary duty to the company, there is an acknowledgement that they have a role to monitor and challenge management on behalf of both the company and shareholders.

The UK saw a market failure and sought to correct it - arguing that dominant management, with interests sometimes at odds with the company, could be reined in by an active and engaged independent element on the board.

Subsequently, the INED role has grown in importance and has been reinforced by subsequent corporate governance reviews. Dispersed shareholders, each holding a relatively small percentage of the company, are said to be unable to effectively monitor management individually. As a result, they look to INEDs to uphold their interests.

Asia has enthusiastically welcomed these ideas. In Singapore, for example, the 2005 Code of Corporate Governance suggested that "there should be a strong and independent element on the board, which is able to exercise objective judgement on corporate affairs independently, in particular, from management", with a suggestion that one-third of the board be independent. In 2012 an updated Code strengthened the role of independent directors, requiring half of the board to be independent in certain circumstances. Other markets around the region have codes of corporate governance that suggest one-third, or more, of the board be independent.

Yet the market failure in Asia is not the same as the UK's. In Asia, we have strong management and strong controlling shareholders. In many cases they are one and the same. So, if the UK is looking to protect shareholders from management, from whom are investors in Asian companies to be protected?

The answer, of course, is the controlling shareholder. At present we allow the controlling shareholder to vote on the election of the individuals - the INEDs - charged with reviewing the performance of the executive. But how can an individual be expected to be independent from management if management are the controlling shareholder who recruited, nominated and elected that individual?

Despite this structural flaw, we have continued to lay more responsibility at the feet of INEDs; we seek their opinions on certain transactions, such as for related-party transactions, knowing full well that expropriation and corporate tunnelling are permanent threats. In fairness, there are some excellent INEDs, but they are excellent only because the controlling shareholder does allow them to provide thoughtful and robust challenge in the boardroom. The majority serve instead "at the pleasure of the king"!

It is time, therefore, to re-consider the accepted wisdom of "best practice", recognising that what is appropriate for the UK may not be right for Asia. With the issue of protection from controlling shareholders especially in mind, how might we do things differently?

TWO-TIER VOTING STRUCTURE

• The first, and most extreme, option is to acknowledge the inherent contradictions and simply allow companies to justify whatever board composition they feel is suitable - even if that means they dispense with INEDs altogether.

• The second option is to disenfranchise controlling shareholders from the election of a few or more directors. Only independent shareholders would vote, thereby ensuring that whoever is elected is agreeable to independent shareholders. These independent directors would have the explicit support of, and would be effectively answerable to, independent shareholders who would in turn look to them to provide an independent and robust challenge of management, including scrutiny of certain transactions where, to paraphrase Cadbury, the specific interests of the controlling shareholder and the wider interests of minority shareholders diverge. Such structures exist in a number of other markets, including for example Italy.

• The third option is to adopt a variation of the mechanism that the UK has adopted on the election of directors at controlled companies with a premium listing. The UK has recognised that controlled companies must be approached in a different way from other companies. Essentially the market from which Asia copied corporate governance rules has realised that these rules are unsuitable for the companies that exist in Asia. For these controlled companies with premium listings, INEDs are separately approved by both a) all shareholders and b) just independent shareholders. Where directors do not pass the vote of just independent shareholders, a separate vote is held after another 90 days, for which a simple majority of all votes is required. The UK's Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) was clear that it wished to avoid "turning minority protection into minority control", and this mechanism strikes a conciliatory balance.

While the second option may be accused, perhaps unfairly, of creating constituency directors, the third option would be an affirmation by independent shareholders rather than a disenfranchisement of majority shareholders.

It is this third option that I propose we consider in Singapore. We may wish to dispense with a second vote and simply require that where an individual does not pass the "independent vote", the board make representations as to why the individual is fit to be an independent director at the company. On certain transactions, those that did not pass the "independent vote" could be restricted from providing an opinion. There are other permutations, processes and procedures to consider, but the two-tier voting structure is one we should give serious thought to.

Some in the market will say it is an abuse of "one share, one vote", but as mentioned earlier we already disenfranchise controlling shareholders on certain transactions. The two-tier vote is an extension of this, and a recognition of the importance of the institution of INEDs.

It is important that before we consider further amendments to the Listing Rules or Codes of Corporate Governance, which inevitably pile even more responsibilities onto INEDs, we should step back and consider a) the abuses we seek to prevent, and b) the mechanisms that we might wish to implement by which we can prevent such abuses.

We should not simply look to other markets with different market dynamics, but should instead think about the underlying purpose, and seek a specific response to a specific issue. The UK has adopted rules to do so and it is time that Singapore, and other markets in the region, consider doing so too.

The writer is head of corporate governance at Aberdeen Asset Management Asia Limited

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

3 Areas that are up for tweaking: 1. Raising the bar for candidates; 2: Council of Presidential Advisers; 3. Ensuring minorities have a turn

Straits Times
31 Jan 2016
Charissa Yong

A Constitutional Commission will review three aspects of the Elected Presidency. Insight takes a look at each of them.

On the face of it, one way to ensure that a private sector candidate for the presidency has the executive capability needed today is simple - just tweak the numbers.

Currently, such a candidate must have served no less than three years as chairman or chief executive of a company with a paid-up capital of at least $100 million, or any other comparable position of seniority.

But that was made law 25 years ago and, as Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said last week in Parliament when suggesting a review of the qualifying criteria for candidates, inflation alone makes that $158 million today.

Lawyers and constitutional law experts The Sunday Times spoke to suggested increasing the paid-up capital threshold. This would reduce the pool of eligible candidates to only those who have more senior-level management experience for a post which, while largely ceremonial, has custodial responsibilities for Singapore's massive national reserves.

Public sector candidates, meanwhile, must have held key appointments like judges, ministers, permanent secretaries or heads of statutory boards.

Experts also suggested looking at whether other criteria should be written into law, such as requiring private sector candidates to have headed companies of a specific degree of complexity and suitability, for them to take on the role of the President.

But then again, some criteria are more qualitative than quantitative.

Former deputy prime minister and retired law minister S. Jayakumar, who was instrumental in drafting the law governing the Elected Presidency in the late 1980s, has written about the ideal type of candidate for the President.

This would be a respected elder statesman, a distinguished public officer or a successful corporate leader with the temperament to resolutely discharge his custodial duties, Professor Jayakumar wrote in his memoirs published last year, Be At The Table Or Be On The Menu.

"I recognise, however, that it is impossible to legislatively prescribe requirements to ensure that only such candidates can stand for President," he wrote.

It is a position he continues to hold today (see related story).

Experts said enshrining something in law beyond numbers - or even beyond words - is tricky.

For example, it is hard to see what wording could be inserted into the Constitution to define how complex a company needs to be before its CEO is seen as having the right level of expertise and experience to be a presidential candidate, said Singapore Management University constitutional law lecturer Jack Lee.

Referring to the high-level public committee that advises the President, he said: "At some stage, I think we need to trust the Council of Presidential Advisers (CPA) to do its job."

National University of Singapore constitutional law professor Thio Li-ann agreed, saying the President should have access to expertise from the CPA.

ABOUT THAT THRESHOLD

Still, in terms of identifying concrete criteria, PM Lee last week said: "They have to assess and decide on financial proposals which will involve billions of dollars."

He added that the number of $100 million companies has increased at least thirteen-fold since 1990, to more than 2,100.

Lawyer and Marine Parade GRC MP Edwin Tong said the threshold is "obsolete and outdated", as he made a call last Thursday in Parliament for it to be raised.

But former Attorney-General Walter Woon, now a law professor at NUS, said he is unconvinced it must be changed, calling $100 million a "purely arbitrary" figure.

He said: "The point was to have someone who had experience at the helm of a large company, so that he or she could understand enough about finance to be effective as a check on a profligate government. Even today, a $100 million company is still a very big business."

Constitutional law expert and NUS adjunct professor Kevin Tan said increasing the paid-up capital minimum may not necessarily refine the criteria for selection.

He said: "I reckon that anyone who can run a $100 million company can just as well run a $300 million company.

"To further tighten the requirements only serves to narrow the total number of possible presidential aspirants, nothing more. It does not necessarily mean you will get qualitatively better candidates."

Still, experts said the commission that will explore changes to the Constitution needs to look beyond mere numbers.

Mr Tong said: "Just because a candidate has been a CEO of a company with $x million paid-up capital or turnover does not necessarily make that person a suitable candidate for the office of the Elected President."

Candidates should be familiar with the constitutional limits on the Elected President and demonstrate an understanding of this as a basic qualification, said Prof Thio.

She said: "Surely a prerequisite for running for this office is to uphold the office and the province the Constitution has set for it, rather than to try and reconfigure the office in one's preferred image."

Some observers are also wary of setting the bar too high.

Assistant Professor Lee said there are no equivalent, stringent criteria for candidates standing in a general election.

"Yet, we trust the people to judge whether candidates possess the right qualifications to serve as MPs, and, possibly, to even hold key positions such as prime minister or finance minister," he said.

But the position of President is one that requires stringent criteria, said Mr Tong.

"It is serious business making sure that the Constitutional responsibilities are properly discharged," he added. "If the Elected Presidency fails as the guardian, Singapore fails. If we elect either a populist or a partisan President, what kind of an effective second key can he or she be?"


2. All the President's wise men and women

Who watches the watchman?

If Singapore's Elected President is the watchman guarding the national reserves and the integrity of the public service, then his watchmen are those that advise him.

These wise men are known as the Council of Presidential Advisers (CPA), whom the President consults with before making certain key decisions within his power. This is by deliberate design.

"The system does not solely rely on the judgment of a single person acting alone but rather, on the President well advised by a team of wise and experienced men and women," Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said last Wednesday in Parliament.

He added that the Elected Presidency has two parts to it: the President, and the CPA.

He called for more weight to be given to the CPA, as he outlined the areas of the Elected Presidency and the political system to be reviewed.

It may be time for them to be given more powers. But how?

Experts say there are two ways this could be done. First, by making the council more inclusive so that its members have a wider range of experience to draw on, and second, by giving it more or wider powers under the Constitution.

On the first point, lawyer and Marine Parade GRC MP Edwin Tong said the council could be drawn from a wider range of backgrounds.

Formed in 1992, the council has six full members. They currently are: former Singapore Exchange chairman J. Y. Pillay, who chairs the council, former Cabinet minister S. Dhanabalan; retired senior partner of accounting firm Deloitte & Touche Po'ad Mattar; retired Supreme Court judge Goh Joon Seng; FairPrice chairman Bobby Chin; and Esplanade chairman Lee Tzu Yang.

There are two alternate members: former Keppel Corp chairman Lim Chee Onn, and Singapore Airlines chairman Stephen Lee.

Of the six full members, two are appointed by the President at his discretion, two are nominated by the Prime Minister, one by the Chief Justice, and the last by the chairman of the Public Service Commission.

Mr Tong, in Parliament last Thursday, said the CPA should be made up of not only competent experts from across a diverse range of fields, but also representatives from civil society. He said: "The CPA should be strengthened with society and industry experts who are non-partisan and who collectively represent a broad cross-section of stakeholders in society."

These experts could be drawn from an institution akin to Britain's House of Lords - "an expert body of men and women who could make a significant contribution to the conduct of public affairs", he added.

WIDER VETO POWERS?

As for the second broad suggestion, analysts said Parliament could be given the power - in more situations - to override the President if he goes against the council's recommendations. This would make the CPA's recommendations count for more.

Now, the President is required to seek the recommendation of the CPA when exercising some discretionary powers. For example, he must consult it before he approves proposed drawdowns on past financial reserves, and the appointments and dismissals of key office holders.

In these cases, where the CPA disagrees with his decision to veto, Parliament has the ability to override this veto if at least two-thirds of elected MPs vote to do so.

But in other cases, such as whether to order the release of a person detained without trial under the Internal Security Act, he can choose whether or not to consult the CPA.

In these cases, when the President decides not to heed the CPA's recommendation, the President's veto is final.

Singapore Management University law lecturer Jack Lee said: "The override mechanism may be extended to other discretionary powers of the President. From the Prime Minister's remarks, it seems that the President may be obliged to consult the CPA in more areas."

But, as PM Lee said: "We have to strike a delicate balance because the President must have the right to exercise his veto powers, even against the advice of the CPA. He's thought about it, he believes that he should say 'No', he should have the right to say 'No'.

"But a veto which is supported by the CPA should carry more weight than a veto which the CPA disagrees with."

In short: The CPA should be strengthened, but not to an extent that undermines the President.

At least two legal experts said they have reservations about strengthening the CPA, however.

Constitutional law expert Kevin Tan said he is "personally very uncomfortable with the role of the CPA and its heightened importance in the protection of reserves scheme". He added that CPA members are appointed, not elected, and do not have the people's mandate.

Former Attorney-General Walter Woon said he is in favour of allowing the President to pick all the members of the CPA, in contrast to the system today where the President has unfettered discretion to pick only two of the six members.


3. Ensuring minorities have a turn

The President may be a symbol of national unity, but the move to review how a person from a minority race can be periodically elected to the highest office of the land has divided political watchers.

While some note that the intent of the review is laudable, others believe that engineering to have a President of a particular race will reduce the moral authority of the role and perhaps even breed cynicism.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong suggested last week that Singapore should consider a "similar mechanism" to that of the group representation constituency (GRC) system for the Elected Presidency.

This will "ensure that minorities can be periodically elected if we have not had a particular minority as President for some time".

The GRC system, which has its own critics who say it tilts the playing field in favour of the ruling party, was started in 1988 to ensure adequate minority representation in Parliament.

Each GRC team is required to field at least one minority candidate, and its genesis was over concerns that, despite strides being made in racial ties, voters in multi- racial Singapore were still prone to voting along racial lines.

Mr Lee said of the review: "In future, when Presidential Elections are more likely to be contested - even hotly contested - I believe it will become much harder for a minority President to get elected."

Political analysts and constitutional experts give their ideas on possible mechanisms that could incorporate the GRC's general principle of enshrining minority representation.

A CYCLICAL SYSTEM

One suggestion is to confine each President to just a single term, and for each alternate term, only ethnic minority candidates who meet the qualifying bar can contest.

A variation is to establish a form of a rotational system, in which only members of one community can contest in each election.

This could in effect revert to what experts call an "unspoken rule" in the days of the appointed President, as opposed to an Elected President, when the role was rotated among the four main ethnicities.

Singapore's first head of state was Mr Yusof Ishak, a Malay, who served from 1965 to 1970. He was followed by Dr Benjamin Sheares, a Eurasian, from 1971 to 1981.

The next was an Indian, Mr Devan Nair, who served from 1981 to 1985, while the last appointed head of state was Mr Wee Kim Wee, of Chinese descent, who was President from 1985 to 1993.

But these suggestions have their critics, especially as they come with the risk that a more deserving candidate of another ethnicity might miss out if it is not their "turn".

Doing so is tantamount to "electoral affirmative action, and undermines the ability of the electorate to elect the best person for the office", says SMU law don Eugene Tan, a former Nominated MP (NMP), who has done research on racial issues.

Taking such a step may also be potentially offensive to some, says National University of Singapore (NUS) constitutional law expert Kevin Tan, given the "imputation is that no minority can ever throw up the best possible candidate".

Ultimately, doing so goes against the spirit of fostering a colour-blind society, says Dr Norshahril Saat of the Iseas-Yusof Ishak Institute, as candidates are first and foremost identified by their ethnicity.

OFFICE OF VICE-PRESIDENT

A second possibility that has been previously mooted is the creation of an elected Vice-President role alongside the President, with each seat filled by a candidate of a different ethnicity.

Presidential candidates must then campaign in pairs, with there being at least one minority candidate in each duo. NUS political scientist Bilveer Singh suggests as an example: "It could be a very strong Malay candidate running alongside a Chinese candidate. That way, we would have racial representation all the time."

This proposal was also mooted by Chua Chu Kang GRC MP Zaqy Mohamad in Parliament last Friday.

Mr Zaqy said a Vice-President from a minority race could then "build his credentials and stand in good stead for the Presidency in subsequent elections".

Singapore could also consider going the way of countries like Bosnia-Herzegovina in Europe where, as NUS constitutional law expert Thio Li-ann points out, there are three elected heads of state. They each come from one of the three main races, namely Bosniak, Serb and Croat. And in pluralistic Lebanon, the president must be a Maronite Christian, the prime minister a Sunni Muslim, and the Speaker of Parliament a Shi'ite Muslim.

'FORWARD-LOOKING' CHANGE

Regardless of how the process takes shape, it is intended as a positive safeguard to ensure minorities have a chance to hold the highest office of the land.

There has not been a Malay President - elected or otherwise - since Mr Yusof.

Singapore's first Elected President was Mr Ong Teng Cheong, a Chinese, who served from 1993 to 1999. He won against Mr Chua Kim Yeow, also Chinese. From 1999 to 2011, Singapore had an Indian President, Mr S R Nathan. But he was elected unopposed, both in 1999 and 2005.

The incumbent, Dr Tony Tan Keng Yam, was elected in 2011, defeating three other Chinese candidates.

Jurong GRC MP Rahayu Mahzam, a lawyer, tells The Sunday Times: "The President represents all Singaporeans in our multiracial society, so there is a need to ensure that a deserving member from a minority community can have the opportunity to run for election."

NUS political scientist Hussin Mutalib calls it a "laudable" move that will "further consolidate the image of a multiracial country that we all wish to preserve and portray to the world".

His colleague Reuben Wong also thinks it is a forward-looking move, saying: "Over time, it might not be a good thing if the Elected President is always from a dominant group."

Indeed, Dr Norshahril says an elected Malay President can become a prominent rallying figure both for the Malay community and for Singapore - just as Mr Yusof was as the country's first President.

Providing for this will unify society amid the "different forces, ideas or ideologies that are coming to this region", he says. He adds that it will be a shot in the arm for a Malay community which is perceived by some quarters to be lagging behind the other communities.

WHERE ARE THE CANDIDATES?

The review, however, should not distract from the fact that all the contested presidential elections thus far have involved only Chinese candidates. Adjunct Professor Tan of NUS says: "Simply because there will be many more Chinese candidates than candidates from the minority races, the likelihood of electing an ethnic minority as President will be that much smaller."

SMU's Associate Professor Tan adds: "The question is not that minority candidates are unelectable, but rather that not enough suitably qualified minorities have stepped forward and seriously considered running for the presidency."

Indeed, a quick check in terms of criteria throws up many eligible minority candidates.

Possible candidates from the Malay community include politicians such as Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob and Communications and Information Minister Yaacob Ibrahim, and retired top accountant Po'ad Mattar, a member of the Council of Presidential Advisers.

But even if they do step forward, are the concerns of Singaporean voters casting their ballots along racial lines overblown? Former NMP and political watcher Zulkifli Baharudin observes: "On deeply emotive gut issues, people do make decisions based on the fact that they are more comfortable with someone of the same race or religion.

"It is important that the position of the highest office be accessible to people of all races. If we have to depart from the democratic norms of the day to ensure this, so be it."

But others remain sceptical.

Former Attorney-General Walter Woon says of the review: "It assumes that the Singapore electorate is not mature or sophisticated enough to elect someone solely because he is from a minority race. This is very condescending."

SMU's Assoc Prof Tan calls it a "political myth", pointing out that at last year's General Election, the PAP team which won the highest percentage of votes was the GRC team led by Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam.

Assoc Prof Tan says requiring candidates to come from a certain group might run counter to the President as the symbol of national unity: "This instead smacks of national disunity, where the majority view the minority candidates as being unelectable. That's an indictment of our state of nation building."

And there are concerns that such a step may be seen as mere tokenism. Marine Parade GRC MP Edwin Tong says he is not sure how a minority candidate could be preferred just based on his or her race. "It has to be on merit, coupled with the fundamental point that everyone of every race who qualifies on merit must be considered."

Ms Rahayu tells The Sunday Times: "We must ensure that we elect the best, qualified candidate, so we do not diminish the legitimacy of our President in representing all Singaporeans.

"It would not be helpful if the Malay community or the wider community thinks it is symbolic."

This could be a potential issue, agrees Dr Norshahril, as regardless of how high the qualifying criteria are to become a presidential candidate, "the moment a seat is reserved, it becomes an affirmative action and might not dispel the notion that the community is lagging behind. Are we really there because we are good enough? Or simply because the seat was reserved".

Ultimately, it will be in the country's best interest if the President can appeal to all, says Prof Woon, who teaches law at NUS.

Adds Ms Rahayu: "Singaporeans need to look at the candidate, be able to see beyond his race and say, yes, he can be my President."


GOOD MOVE

I support this proposal. It is not good for Singapore to have too lengthy a hiatus where no one from the Malay or other minority communities is President.

Precisely because the Presidential Election is now highly infused with politics of the day, and the whole of Singapore is one constituency for that election, a minority community candidate will find it difficult to be elected under the present system.

The challenge for the Constitutional Commission is how to craft a creative solution that achieves this objective without abandoning or compromising the qualifications and criteria.

That is important because the minority community candidate elected as President - whatever his race - must command the respect and confidence of all Singaporeans.

FORMER DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER AND LAW MINISTER S. JAYAKUMAR on the Prime Minister's call to ensure that Singapore periodically has a minority representative as President

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

More people now qualify for legal aid, says Indranee

Straits Times
27 Jan 2016

The Government has expanded criminal legal aid here and is committed to promoting access to justice, Senior Minister of State (Law) Indranee Rajah said yesterday.

She told Workers' Party Non-Constituency MP Dennis Tan that the Law Ministry broadened the means test for legal aid in 2013, and 25 per cent of Singaporeans and permanent residents now qualify for legal aid - up from 17 per cent before.

This means about 300,000 more people are potentially covered under the Legal Aid and Advice Act.

She was replying to Mr Tan, who wanted a review of the limits as the annual disposable income eligibility cap of $10,000 was "too restrictive".

But Ms Indranee said the $10,000 cap was arrived at after taking into account deductibles, which were expanded in 2013: "Sometimes, the perception is that that parameter of the $10,000 is too strict. But, in fact, what we have done over the last couple of years is to expand the coverage even though the amount of $10,000 has not itself increased."

Someone who makes $30,000 a year but has a net disposable income of $9,000 would thus qualify for legal aid, she added.

Under the Enhanced Criminal Legal Aid Scheme (Clas), the Government commits up to $3.5 million yearly to cover operational costs, disbursements and below-market rate fees to volunteer lawyers, she added.

The additional funding helped Clas lawyers provide legal aid to 1,300 people last year, compared to 431 people in 2014. "In effect, by providing the increased funding, my ministry is supporting criminal legal aid," she said.

Mr Tan, a lawyer, also wanted accused persons to be able to consult a lawyer privately, for up to one hour, before their police statements were taken. He said suspects should have early access to legal counsel, instead of possibly being detained for days or weeks without the chance to speak to one.

But Ms Indranee said the courts determined that access to legal counsel should be available within a reasonable time, and not immediately after arrest: "It has been explained in this Parliament before that we need to strike a balance between the rights of the accused person to consult his legal counsel, and the public interest in ensuring that the police are able to effectively investigate each case."

Allowing a suspect to communicate with third parties before police conclude their work can compromise investigations, she said.

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

With TPP signed, 2-year ratification process is up next

Business Times
05 Feb 2016
Lee U-Wen

AFTER five long years of tough negotiations and several missed deadlines, Singapore and 11 other Pacific-Rim nations finally put pen to paper on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a big step towards establishing what will be the biggest trade deal in history.

The US-led pact was signed by the countries' respective trade ministers in Auckland on Thursday; Singapore was represented by Trade and Industry Minister Lim Hng Kiang, who hailed the agreement as an important milestone for regional trade liberalisation.

The TPP signatories are Singapore, Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, the US and Vietnam.

Collectively, they have a combined trade of more than US$1.5 trillion, make up nearly 40 per cent of world trade and account for more than 30 per cent of Singapore's total trade.

Australia's Andrew Robb was the first of the ministers to sign the landmark document. The audience cheered when his counterpart, Todd McClay from New Zealand, added the final signature.

The signing ceremony was perhaps the easiest hurdle to clear. Up next is the tricky ratification process, which could take as long as two years to complete.

At least six countries - accounting for 85 per cent of the combined gross domestic product of the 12 TPP nations - must approve the final text before it becomes legally binding.

Given their sheer size, both the United States and Japan - the two largest TPP members - would need to ratify the ambitious deal, which aims to slash trade and investment barriers.

The business community in Singapore praised the signing of the agreement, describing it as a piece of good news against the backdrop of the poor global economic outlook and weaker trade growth.

Singapore Business Federation chief executive officer Ho Meng Kit said: "The sooner the deal is ratified, the better, as the agreement will provide additional pathways of growth for our companies."

In a separate statement, Mr Lim said the Singapore government looked forward to the ratification "as soon as possible" so that companies here could benefit from increased trade and investment opportunities.

"The new and updated trade rules under the TPP will assure Singapore investors and businesses of a more open, predictable and transparent regional marketplace," he said.

The minister added that Singapore expects the TPP to enter into force within two years, when all the countries are ready.

Whether they can meet this deadline is still anyone's guess at this point. The US is gearing up for its next presidential elections in November, and fierce opposition from many US Democrats and some Republicans could mean a vote on the TPP is unlikely before Barack Obama leaves the White House in early-2017.

The American leader said that TPP would allow the US - and not countries like China - to "write the rules of the road in the 21st century, which is especially important in a region as dynamic as the Asia-Pacific".

"We should get TPP done this year and give more American workers the shot at success they deserve and help more American businesses compete and win around the world," he said.

There is also some uncertainty over in Japan. Last week's surprise resignation of Economics Minister Akira Amari, the country's chief TPP negotiator, could make it harder for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his government to sell the deal.

The build-up to the signing ceremony in Auckland was also anything but smooth. The streets around the city's central business district were disrupted by groups blocking access to the Auckland Harbour Bridge.

There were scattered protests as thousands of people thronged major road intersections to protest against the deal. Among other grievances, they claim that the TPP was only designed to benefit big corporations at the expense of smaller firms. They also argue that the TPP will cost jobs and have an impact on sovereignty.

South Korea, Indonesia and Taiwan have already expressed interest to join the TPP family at some point; China, on the other hand, had a muted reaction to news of Thursday's signing.

A statement from its Commerce Ministry said its officials would study the text of the TPP, and added that China would "actively participate in and facilitate highly transparent, open and inclusive free-trade arrangements in the region".

"We hope the various free-trade arrangements in the Asia-Pacific region will complement each other and jointly contribute to trade, investment and economic growth of this region."

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

Constitutional Commission's task

Straits Times
31 Jan 2016
Walter Sim

For just the second time in independent Singapore's history, a Constitutional Commission led by the Chief Justice will be convened.

The task of this year's commission led by Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon will be to study changes to the Elected Presidency system.

The panel will involve "distinguished jurists, academics and corporate executives", Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said last week.

It will consult with the public, and is expected to deliver its findings by the third quarter of this year.

This will pave the way for any changes to be made in time for the next presidential election, which must be held by August next year.

But the job scope of this year's panel is markedly different from that of the first Constitutional Commission called in December 1965 by then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew.

The work of that commission was centred on coming up with ways to safeguard the rights of racial, linguistic and religious minorities in the Constitution.

It was also to "consider how to constitutionally provide for methods and remedies to guard against legislation considered to be discriminatory against members of any racial, linguistic or religious group", note constitutional law experts Kevin Tan and Thio Li-ann in their book Singapore: 50 Constitutional Moments That Defined A Nation.

The commission was set up against the backdrop of racial and religious sensitivities in a newly independent Singapore which existed despite the vision of its pioneer leaders to build a multiracial society where everybody is equal.

It was chaired by then Chief Justice Wee Chong Jin, and comprised 11 "eminent legal persons" from various racial groups.

It completed its work within eight months and submitted a 31-page report.

Justice Wee said then that the recommendations were the "unanimous view" of all 11 members who "share one vital common belief that peoples of Singapore desire, above all else, to live together as equals in mutual peace and harmony".

Over the course of its work, it held 10 public meetings and received 40 memoranda from individuals and various ethnic and religious groups. The report was debated in Parliament over five days.

But most of the recommendations were not accepted, including the appointment of an unelected ombudsman who would act as a check against malfeasance and discriminatory legislation or policies.

One proposal that was taken on board was the formation of an advisory council to scrutinise laws to ensure they do not discriminate against any racial or religious community.

This is known today as the Presidential Council for Minority Rights.

Walter Sim

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

SingHaiyi must finish City Suites before it can sell stake

Straits Times
27 Jan 2016
Rennie Whang

Company must fulfil obligation to complete Balestier condo under Qualifying Certificate: SLA

Developers facing penalties over unsold housing stock will not be allowed to offload these units before they are completed.

Property firm SingHaiyi had asked the Controller of Residential Property to agree to its proposed sale of City Suites - a condominium in Balestier. The developer said last week that its application was rejected, as was a subsequent appeal.

The transaction was to have taken place through the sale of its stake in Corporate Residence, the developer of City Suites, to Ang Cheng Guan Construction, the project's main contractor and an unrelated third party.

SingHaiyi said in April that it intended to sell its holding for $16.38 million "in view of the possible levy as a result of the Qualifying Certificate on unsold units".

"The development has 56 units and the sales progress has been slow, at approximately 10 per cent since it was launched in May 2013," it said at the time.

The Singapore Land Authority (SLA) told The Straits Times that the application was rejected "to ensure that the developer fulfils its obligations to complete the development under the Qualifying Certificate (QC)". The rule states that the developer must complete a development and obtain the Temporary Occupation Permit (TOP) within five years from the date of issue of the QC, which foreign developers must obtain to buy private residential land here.

It is not the first time such an application has been rejected, an SLA spokesman noted.

The estimated TOP for City Suites is this year. "We are working closely with the main contractor to come up with the project timeline," a SingHaiyi spokesman said.

Mr Lee Liat Yeang, partner at Rodyk & Davidson, noted that under QC conditions, there can be no transfer of a developer's shares without the prior approval of the Controller of Residential Property until the TOP has been issued or when all the units have been sold, whichever comes later.

This condition is similar to that applied to Government Land Sales (GLS) sites, which are exempted from QC requirements.

On these sites, the shares of the developer cannot be transferred without the prior consent of the relevant government agency until the TOP has been issued.

And even if consent is given, the original shareholders must retain control of more than 50 per cent of the developer.

This is to uphold a principle of the Residential Property Act, which bars a developer from trading in undeveloped residential land, he said.

Mr Lee noted that there might be a better chance to get approval in a case of extreme financial distress, where the developer is close to or in involuntary liquidation.

This would be to allow another party to come in to develop the site and sell the units, rather than let it lie fallow.

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

Acra tells PwC to ensure independence on SingPost

Business Times
05 Feb 2016
Melissa Tan

[Singapore] THE Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (Acra) has told consultancy PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) that it must put in place "any necessary safeguards" to ensure its independence as special auditor into Singapore Post's (SingPost) corporate governance issues.

This was according to a statement on Thursday from the Securities Investors Association (Singapore) or SIAS, in which SIAS president David Gerald noted there were "serious concerns" about SingPost's appointment of PwC as special auditor given PwC's long relationship with SingPost.

"SIAS understands from Acra that it has communicated clearly to PwC that . . . any necessary safeguards must be applied to ensure the independence of PwC, whether acting as the external auditor signing off on the financial statements of SingPost, or in their capacity as the special auditor," Mr Gerald said.

SIAS also "understands" that Acra will take "the necessary regulatory action" if PwC does not meet the requirements of Acra's Code of Professional Conduct and Ethics for Public Accountants and Accounting Entities, he added, noting that the requirements of the Code include an assessment of threats to independence and to apply safeguards where necessary.

In view of that, "SIAS calls on all parties concerned to allow PwC to conduct the special audit, knowing that PwC will maintain its independence in strict compliance with the Acra Code", he said. "Given the high reputation and the credibility of PwC, SIAS expects that PwC will be able to remain independent in undertaking the special audit and hence address all serious concerns of the stakeholders surrounding PwC's appointment."

SingPost picked PwC as special auditor in January, in a move that raised questions about the lack of a request for proposal when making the decision and about PwC's relationship with SingPost. PwC has been the group's external auditor since SingPost's listing in 2003.

The group's choice of special auditor came nearly a month after it admitted on Dec 22, 2015, that it had made an "administrative oversight" in a July 2014 deal disclosure - by not having properly disclosed board director Keith Tay's interest in its acquisition of FS Mackenzie - and said on Dec 23 that it would commission a corporate governance probe.

After the group announced its decision to tap PwC for this probe on Jan 19, Mr Gerald had said in a Jan 21 commentary "the issue in this case is whether PwC should even take the job".

"By accepting this appointment, PwC may be seriously compromised as SingPost's external auditor. . . It cannot be denied that PwC is too close to the board and senior management in this instance, being its long-time external auditor," he had added.

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

Related headlines

SingPost defends appointment of PwC as special auditor, BT, 30 Jan

SingPost clarifies matters to public: Mailbag, BT 30 Jan

SingPost saga: Untenable for PwC to stay on as special auditor, 28 Jan, BT

SingPost should not have picked PwC as special auditor: Mailbag, 21 Jan, BT

Keith Tay should take leave of absence: SingPost scrutiny, 21 Jan, BT

Francis Seow: Prosecutor in some of S'pore's iconic trials

Straits Times
31 Jan 2016
K.C. Vijayan

"He was the best prosecutor we ever had," said former colleague and one-time star prosecutor Glenn Knight, 70, and now a lawyer in private practice. "He could hammer me out of shape!"

While it is arguable if Mr Francis Seow was one of Singapore's top prosecutors, it bears reflection that he successfully presided over some of Singapore's iconic criminal cases, which made him a titan.

Mr Seow died two weeks ago in Boston, aged 88, having exiled himself in the United States for nearly three decades to avoid tax evasion charges here, of which he was convicted in absentia in 1991.

He began his legal career in 1956 when Singapore was a Crown colony, rose up to become Solicitor- General - the No. 2 post in the Attorney-General's Chambers in post-independent Singapore - in 1969 and served until 1972 when he resigned to enter private practice.

In recognition of his distinguished services to the public sector, Mr Seow was awarded the Public Administration (Gold) Medal in that same year.

Mr Seow's signature case was in prosecuting 40 of the detainees who rioted on Pulau Senang and killed three prison staff. The incident which occurred in 1963 on the coral island 13km off Singapore wrecked an experiment in prison rehabilitation for detained secret society gangsters.

As Crown prosecutor in the 64-day trial before a seven-man jury in 1964,he sent 18 rioters to the gallows for killing the three prison staff. The 18 were found guilty of murder and sentenced to death by the court. Twelve others were acquitted and another 29 were jailed for rioting.

The Pulau Senang case was the first time in legal annals here where so many were tried and convicted for a capital offence at the same time.

Before the trial, Mr Seow made it clear he was determined to send at least a dozen of the accused to the gallows - for the deaths of the prison staff.

"In the end he succeeded in sending 18 to the gallows as he felt that the culprits deserved to be fatally dealt with to send a very clear signal to all prisoners that intentional killing of a prison officer must attract a death penalty," said a retired civil servant.

In 1962, prior to the Pulau Senang case, Mr Seow prosecuted as DPP the then high-profile secretary-general of the Singapore Harbour Board Staff Association (SHBSA), Jamit Singh, for criminal breach of trust. The prominent, charismatic and left-leaning unionist was accused with another of misappropriating $7,000 from the SHBSA.

After a 23-day trial, Jamit was found guilty and jailed 18 months. On appeal, Chief Justice Wee Chong Jin upheld the initial verdict but suspended the jail term and replaced it with a fine. As secretary -general of SHBSA, Jamit Singh played a prominent role in the political turbulence of that era. He was arrested in 1963 in "Operation Coldstore" for alleged communist-led politically subversive activities, detained and subsequently banned from entering Singapore. The ban was lifted in 1990.

A month after the Pulau Senang riots occurred, a most infamous murder occurred in August 1963 in the strait between Sisters' Islands off Singapore. The victim was bar hostess Jenny Cheok, who was taken scuba diving by boyfriend Sunny Ang, a former Grand Prix driver.

Ang, who contrived to have her drowned by tampering with a flipper she wore, had sought to collect insurance monies on her death. He was found guilty by the jury and sentenced to death on May 18, 1965 and hanged two years later. Cheok's body was never found.

Mr Seow,who prosecuted the case, said in a 2003 interview that he had planned to write a book on the case, titled Murder By Scuba: The Sunny Ang Trial.

Legend has it that Ang's civil servant father,who knew Mr Seow in the course of his work, unsuccessfully approached him to plead on his son's behalf in relation to the pending murder charge. The elder Ang died in 1986.

In 1970, Mr Seow prosecuted cabaret queen Mimi Wong and her husband for the murder of her Japanese lover's wife, Ayako Watanabe. The couple were found guilty after a 26-day trial and executed in 1973. Wong, then aged 33, was the first woman to be hanged in independent Singapore. Wong was unique in the way she went - she was said to have smiled on her walk to the execution chamber and the smile remained on her lifeless face post-execution.

Wong's trial in 1970 was heard by two High Court judges instead of a jury and presiding judge.

Two years before Wong's trial, Mr Seow had undertaken the prosecution of a case that triggered a tectonic shift in the legal system - the abolition of the jury trial.

He prosecuted London-trained marketing executive Freddy Tan for the murder of a multi-millionaire's son, Gene Koh. But the jury found Tan guilty of manslaughter instead and Tan was spared the gallows and jailed for life. This outcome, no discredit to Mr Seow's performance, subsequently led then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew to call for a public inquiry into the desirability and soundness of the jury system, a move which even led Singapore's then leading criminal lawyer David Marshall to hold a public rally at Fullerton Square to voice vigorous dissent. All said and done, jury trials were discontinued in 1969.

Perhaps Mr Seow's mettle as prosecutor was wrought in even earlier days when he prosecuted in the lower criminal district court, given the formidable parties he faced.

One case he pursued then was against a senior fire officer for corruption. The judge wasMr Joshua Benjamin Jeyaretnam and the defence counsel was then lawyer Lee Kuan Yew, who was a People's Action Party assemblyman.

The accused was found guilty and convicted, but Mr Lee argued the appeal and won in the High Court. Mr Seow was not there at the appeal as he had been transferred for a stint at the official assignee's office by then. But Mr Seow was to recall that the senior fire officer, who subsequently was reinstated in service, drew notice on one occasion at an official function in the Istana, where he attended with his wife expensively attired and complete with jewellery. The scene was not lost on the then PM, who apparently sensed the remiss, and later had him dismissed.

Law Society president Thio Shen Yi, in a statement for the Law Society on Mr Seow's death, said the former Society president was "both a controversial and memorable figure".

"But let us not forget that he was also a son, husband and father. May he rest in peace."

Mr Seow began his legal career in 1956 and rose up to become Solicitor-General. ST FILE PHOTO

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

ADV: Kaplan - Murdoch Double Major Business Law degree

Singapore Law Watch
27 Jan 2016
Kaplan

PwC urges Singapore to tweak tax and share option policies

Straits Times
05 Feb 2016
Marissa Lee

A top global consultancy is urging the Government to tweak its policies in areas such as tax and pay schemes offering stock as incentives to liven up local enterprise.

The proposals from PricewaterhouseCoopers echo the Government's own call for Singapore to reinvent itself in its next phase of economic restructuring.

"To spur innovation, new ventures could be accorded a more liberal tax treatment of expenses," suggested Mr Chris Woo, tax leader at PwC Singapore. The tax system should accommodate the evolving nature of businesses today by allowing firms in an existing trade to deduct expenses incurred in their new business ventures against profits from their older ones, PwC suggested in a proposal out on Wednesday.

Another idea was for the Government to promote the use of share option and stock award schemes at smaller and younger firms to incentivise workers to be more entrepreneurial. This could be restricted to workers of start-ups or small and medium-sized enterprises, said PwC.

The Manpower Ministry should also let firms use the value of these equity-based remuneration schemes to meet the minimum salary requirements for employment pass applications, PwC said, thus lowering the cost of foreign hires.

The flurry of recommendations comes ahead of next month's Budget, the first to be delivered in Parliament in the new term of government after last year's elections.

Firms will also be watching keenly when the Future Economy Committee submits its report - setting the tone for the next phase of restructuring - at the end of the year.

Budget 2016 comes at a critical crossroads, said DBS economist Irvin Seah. "Growth averaged a whopping 7.6 per cent per year for the past 50 years - and lifted per capita gross domestic product to one of the world's highest - but it has dropped to half that over the past five years."

The path ahead is all the more daunting as firms anticipate a departure from Singapore's model of foreign investment-led growth.

"Historically, Singapore's growth was largely driven by foreign multinationals (MNCs). This will likely prove more challenging as the population ages," said Mr Seah. "Although MNCs will remain key, having a pool of Singapore-based global companies with unique value propositions will help to deepen competitiveness."

Mr Seah added: "The emphasis will be on domestic capability development, which encourages growth to be more 'organic' and holistic in nature. This will differ from past policies of 'picking winners', which tended to stress pre-selected sectors for promotion."

Marissa Lee


LIBERAL TAX TREATMENT WANTED

To spur innovation, new ventures could be accorded a more liberal tax treatment of expenses.

MR CHRIS WOO, tax leader at PwC Singapore, on the consultancy's proposals to the Government

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Susan Lim loses UK case over notice of suspension

Straits Times
30 Jan 2016
K.C. Vijayan

Surgeon had duty to tell Britain's General Medical Council of SMC finding, not wait for appeal ruling

Currently suspended from practising in Singapore, surgeon Susan Lim has also lost a legal challenge in a London court over when she should have informed Britain's General Medical Council (GMC) about the Singapore outcome.

The GMC registers and serves as a regulatory body for all doctors qualified to work in Britain.

Dr Lim has been registered with the GMC for about 30 years and graduated with a scholarship-funded doctorate from Cambridge University. It is understood, however, that she has never practised in Britain.

In 2012, Singapore-based Dr Lim was suspended from practice for three years and fined $10,000 by the Singapore Medical Council (SMC) for the excessive billing of a patient that amounted to professional misconduct.

Her suspension took effect the following year after she had failed in her appeal to a court. It is due to end in July this year.

In July 2013, the SMC notified the GMC of its findings and sanction against Dr Lim. In turn, the GMC pointed out to Dr Lim that she had failed to inform them of the SMC's adverse finding - something that she should have done, according to the GMC's Good Practice Guide.

The GMC referred Dr Lim's case to the Fitness to Practise Panel (FPP), which can take action against doctors. The SMC's professional misconduct ruling against Dr Lim and her failure to inform the GMC were among the issues at hand.

Dr Lim, an expert in robotic- assisted surgery and stem cell research, sought a judicial review in London to clarify the GMC panel's interpretation of the rules.

At the hearing in the London High Court last November, her lawyers argued that she was under a duty to inform the GMC only after her appeal had been dismissed in the Singapore High Court in June 2013. This meant, they said, that the SMC order was suspended till then.

But the FPP countered that she was obliged to report the matter in July 2012, when the SMC disciplinary tribunal had found her guilty.

British High Court Justice Charles Haddon-Cave, in judgment grounds issued on Thursday, ruled that Dr Lim was obliged to report the SMC finding in July 2012, even though the order to suspend and fine her was put on hold until the appeal outcome in 2013.

"It is plainly in the public interest that the GMC has early notice of matters which potentially impact on a medical practitioner's fitness to practise and, therefore, has the opportunity to take appropriate interim action," he added.

Queen's Counsel M. Fordham further argued for Dr Lim that more than five years had lapsed since the misconduct last occurred in 2007 and the rationale of the five-year rule was to avoid hearings related to stale events, among other things.

But GMC counsel D. Pievsky pointed out that the five-year period began to run from the date of the Singapore tribunal's finding in 2012 and not from the misconduct date.

Justice Haddon-Cave found the GMC's stand made "good sense".

He said the "GMC would have no knowledge of, let alone control over, how long particular foreign professional bodies might take to bring disciplinary proceedings, which might vary widely".

"Mr Fordham QC's construction requires a rewriting of both the Singapore legislation and the GMC rules and guidance," he added.

The judge further held that a challenge to the five-year rule should have been made within three months of the GMC's notice in August last year to Dr Lim on the issue.

"(Dr Lim)'s challenge was, therefore, well over a year out of time," said Justice Haddon-Cave.


Justice Haddon-Cave said the "GMC would have no knowledge of, let alone control over, how long particular foreign professional bodiesmight take to bring disciplinary proceedings, which might vary widely".

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

Registry of Moneylenders issues new directions to curb abuses

Straits Times
27 Jan 2016
Tiffany Fumiko Tay

The Registry of Moneylenders yesterday issued new measures to clamp down on abuses by moneylenders here.

Under the directions it issued to all licensed moneylenders, which take immediate effect, lenders are required to stop offering loans to those who are likely to find it hard to keep up with repayment and thus incur multiple administrative or late payment fees, among other things.

"This is to prevent the snowballing of debts, which borrowers might have difficulty repaying," the Ministry of Law, which the registry comes under, said in a statement yesterday.

The directions also reminded lenders that under the Moneylenders Act and Rules, they are required to inform borrowers of the terms and conditions of loans, which includes information on how interest and fees are computed and when these will be charged.

Lenders will also have to provide borrowers with a written cautionary statement on exploitative loans - such as short-term ones of less than a month in duration that lead to overcharging - before any such loan can be granted.

The directions came just months after new rules to cap the fees and interest rates that moneylenders can charge took effect last October.

The ministry said the measures, which serve as a supplement to the Moneylenders Act and Rules, aim to address the "undesirable conduct" by some licensed lenders.

This includes offering short-term loans of less than one month in duration, which borrowers have to repeatedly re-finance by paying an administrative fee.

Another malpractice involves splitting a single loan, such that a late fee of $60 can be imposed on each component that borrowers are unable to repay on time.

Also a cause for concern is the practice of falsely informing borrowers that they can be granted only weekly loans under a "new law".

Borrowers who have been given such loans may lodge a formalcomplaint with the Registry of Moneylenders.

Those convicted of breaches of the Moneylenders Act and Rules face a fine and or an imprisonment term on each charge.

Licensed moneylenders found to be in breach of the newly issued directions will be investigated and dealt with accordingly, said the registry, which carries out regular inspections.

As of Jan 1, there were 169 licensed moneylenders in Singapore, according to the registry.

Moneylender's Association of Singapore president Peter Tan, 67, said the new directions are necessary to stop the overcharging of borrowers by a small number of unscrupulous lenders.

"As with every industry, there are bad seeds, and what some of these people do by splitting loans and charging all these fees is unconscionable," he said, adding that he believes the new measures will be effective in curbing such practices.

Mr Tan, also owner of Yong Seng Credit, described the warning statement as win-win for both sides, as disgruntled borrowers are prevented from lodging unnecessary complaints.

"They cannot claim that they have been misled, because this cautionary statement makes it clear to them; they go into it with their eyes wide open," he said.

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

Probation for teen couple who abandoned baby

Straits Times
05 Feb 2016
Amir Hussain

They secretly left newborn son with paternal grandparents hoping they would raise him

An 18-year-old teen and his 14-year-old girlfriend placed their newborn son in an SG50 bag and left it outside his parents' home last year, hoping that they would raise him. He was sentenced to two years' probation and 100 hours of community service yesterday.

The teenager - who cannot be named to protect the identity of the baby and mother - pleaded guilty last month to a charge of committing a rash act to endanger a human life and four counts of underage sex.

In sentencing him, Community Court Judge Mathew Joseph expressed his hope that the teenager would become a good father.

He is now working as an Internet network cabling technician and contributes $200 monthly towards his child's maintenance.

The baby is currently being cared for by his maternal grandmother.

The child's mother has been sentenced to probation in a youth court and the parents are still seeing each other.

The court heard that the couple were both in secondary school when they met at a function celebrating a neighbour's new baby. In January last year, after she turned 14, the couple had unprotected sex on a staircase landing at the HDB block where she lived.

They then decided to focus on their studies and to meet less frequently. But in May or June, the girl found herself pregnant. The couple kept the news to themselves.

On Aug 2, the girl went to the toilet with stomach cramps but suddenly heard crying. She looked into the toilet bowl and saw the baby. After picking him up and washing him in the sink, she called her boyfriend. He suggested they place the baby outside his home so that his family could raise him. He wanted to see his son grow up, without anyone knowing the child was his, the court heard.

Before leaving their child outside his home, the boyfriend wrote a letter and placed it in the bag with the baby. It asked for "help to take care of this baby because I cannot afford to take care of him".

"His name has been decided as (redacted)... if I have extra income, I will send money monthly," it said.

At about 4pm, the boyfriend's mother found the half-zipped bag and took it indoors. She then heard some sounds from inside the bag. Thinking there might be a baby or kitten in it, she put the bag back outside and told her husband, who called the police.

Paramedics took the infant to hospital. At about 9pm, the young couple confessed to the boy's father. DNA analysis confirmed that the baby was theirs.

The maximum penalty for doing a rash act to endanger human life is six months' jail and a $2,500 fine. The maximum penalty for sexual penetration of a minor is 10 years' jail and a fine.

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

SingPost defends appointment of PwC as special auditor

Business Times
30 Jan 2016
Melissa Tan

[Singapore] A COMMENTARY on Singapore Post's choice of special auditor published in The Business Times on Thursday was a possible culprit for the stock's 6.5 per cent plunge to a 22-month low that day, the postal and e-commerce group has claimed.

It separately defended its choice of PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) as special auditor for a corporate governance probe, in a roughly 2,500-word letter on Friday evening.

These came as the stock recovered slightly on Friday from its drubbing the previous day, rallying 2.7 per cent or 3.5 Singapore cents to end at S$1.335. The percentage gain was its biggest one-day rally since it climbed 4.5 per cent on Oct 16 last year.

SingPost shares had dived 6.5 per cent or S$0.09 to S$1.30 on Thursday, the lowest price since March 2014, drawing a query from the Singapore Exchange (SGX).

SingPost replied in an SGX filing on Friday morning that a possible explanation was market reaction to the commentary "SingPost saga: Untenable for PwC to stay on as special auditor", in BT on Thursday, Jan 28.

"We are not aware of any information not previously announced concerning SingPost or our subsidiaries or associated companies which may explain the trading activity."

The Jan 28 commentary, written by corporate governance specialist and SingPost shareholder Mak Yuen Teen and investor Chew Yi Hong, had argued that it was "untenable" for PwC to continue to accept its appointment as special auditor.

Out of 31 firms that have appointed a special auditor since 2011, SingPost was the only one that picked its external or internal auditor to do the special audit, the two men said. PwC has been SingPost's external auditor since the group's listing in 2003.

In a separate bourse filing, the group also published an eight-page letter on Friday evening in response to two commentaries and one letter, published in BT on Jan 21, that criticised its choice ofPwC.

In the letter, SingPost defended its decision, saying that the special audit's scope "does not in any way conflict with PwC's role as the company's external auditors . . . the performance of the special audit will not result in a self-review which would impact the external audit".

It added that the audit committee "is satisfied that the fees were reasonable" for the special audit. But it did not say why it considered PwC able to carry out the special audit without a conflict of interest or applied the same line of reasoning to the other Big Four firms.

SingPost also said that it wanted to "clear any misconception" that its acquisitions of stakes in three companies - Famous Holdings, FS Mackenzie and Famous Pacific Shipping (NZ) - were interested person transactions (IPTs).

Its board director, Keith Tay, is a director at Stirling Coleman, which had acted as the arranger appointed by the seller for the Famous Holdings deal and as the financial adviser to the seller for the FS Mackenzie and Famous Pacific deals.

But his director role at Stirling does not make the three deals IPTs as defined in SGX listing rules, SingPost said, pointing out: "The sellers of the stakes . . . were not interested persons of the company under the SGX listing rules."

Though the board said in its letter that Mr Tay had recused himself from special audit deliberations, it was quiet on whether he had recused himself from discussions on the acquisitions.

Prof Mak told BT on Friday night that he was disappointed that SingPost's board had made up its mind to stick with PwC.

"Disclosing, abstaining or even recusing does not make a conflict magically disappear," he added. "I just cannot understand why, in a market where there are so many firms that can act as adviser, the three sellers ended up with Stirling Coleman - including two sellers based in UK and New Zealand."

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

Travel ban for GST abuse proposed

Straits Times
26 Jan 2016
Rachel Au-Yong

People who wrongfully claim refunds of goods and services tax (GST) meant for tourists will be barred from leaving Singapore, under proposed changes to the law.

Only eligible tourists can claim a GST refund for goods bought in and taken out of Singapore.

But some people, such as permanent residents and foreigners on work permits have made such claims and they would be allowed to leave the country only after repaying the wrongly claimed sum.

This move under the GST (Amendment) Bill expands the Comptroller of GST's powers to impose travel restriction orders on those who make wrongful tourist refund tax claims.

The Bill is among three new ones tabled in Parliament yesterday.

A Ministry of Finance spokesman said the change would "not affect the local tourism industry, as genuine tourists remain eligible to claim the GST refunds and will not be affected by the change".

Under the Income Tax (Amendment) Bill, Singapore companies will get government help for mergers and acquisitions as the scheme, which would have ended last year, will be extended for five years to March 31, 2020.

The Bill, with 38 proposed changes, will also raise the amount of allowance a company can claim - from 5 per cent to 25 per cent of the value of the acquisition or merger, capped at $20 million.

The changes are "to provide more meaningful support for companies, especially small- and medium-sized enterprises, which typically conduct smaller deals", said the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore.

Another change grants tax exemption to withdrawals of up to $400,000 from the Supplementary Retirement Scheme, on the death or terminal illness of the member.

The third Bill will empower the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), among other things, to require foreign banks to locally incorporate all or part of their banking business, if deemed necessary.

The Banking (Amendment) Act also allows MAS to remove key appointment holders of banks if they are found to be unfit. The aim of the Bill is to improve prudential safeguards, corporate governance and risk management controls in the banking industry, said the MAS.

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

ADV: Research Assistant / Research Associate / Research Fellow, Centre for Maritime Law, Faculty of Law, NUS

Singapore Law Watch
05 Feb 2016
National University of Singapore

SingPost clarifies matters to public: Mailbag

Business Times
30 Jan 2016

WE refer to two articles and a letter published in The Business Times on Jan 21, 2016 ("Auditor choice raises more doubts" by Melissa Tan; "Keith Tay should take leave of absence" by David Gerald; and Prof Mak Yuen Teen's letter, "SingPost should not have picked PwC as special auditor".

We also refer to the commentary by Prof Mak and Chew Yi Hong, "SingPost saga: Untenable for PwC to stay on as special auditor" published in BT on Jan 28, 2016.

We would like to respond to them and also to clarify some misconceptions that the public may have about our Company.

The Special Audit

As mentioned in our SGXNet announcement of Dec 23, 2015, the Board decided to appoint Special Auditors to review the issues that were raised about the Company in two articles published on Dec 23, 2015 in BT.

These issues concerned Mr Keith Tay Ah Kee's interest relating to the Group's acquisitions of stakes in Famous Holdings Pte Ltd, FS Mackenzie Limited and Famous Pacific Shipping (NZ) Limited (the "Acquisitions"). In the Acquisitions, Stirling Coleman Capital Limited (SCCL) acted for the respective sellers as arranger or financial adviser, and Mr Tay is the non-executive chairman and shareholder of SCCL. In essence, the issues raised were whether Mr Tay had disclosed his interest to the Board, whether he had abstained from voting, and whether he had recused himself from discussions, in relation to the Acquisitions, as well as the Company's omission to disclose his interest in its announcements of the latter two transactions. The scope of the Special Audit requires PwC to conduct a fact finding review of the circumstances surrounding the aforementioned disclosures of interests by Mr Tay, and can be distinguished from other "special audits" which typically involve investigations into alleged accounting irregularities, fraud and error on the accounts of the companies in question.

The detailed terms of reference of the Special Auditors were crystallised in the Company's SGXNet announcement of Jan 19, 2016. The terms of reference were drawn up to ensure that all the above issues that had been raised by the BT articles would be the subject of review by the Special Auditors.

The Special Auditors were appointed voluntarily because the Board takes the issues that have been raised very seriously, and not because the Board knew of more serious corporate governance lapses that warranted the appointment, as suggested by Mr Gerald in his article in BT. There are no other reasons for the appointment of the Special Auditors apart from what the Company has communicated in its SGXNet announcements; all material information concerning the appointment of the Special Auditors has been disclosed by the Company, and no false market has been created.

The Special Auditors will be in a position to provide an independent objective review of the matters detailed in the Company's SGXNet announcement of Jan 19, 2016, and their findings will be communicated to the Company, the SGX and the public.

Appointment of PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP (PwC) as Special Auditors

The fact that PwC are the Company's external auditors has been disclosed in the Company's annual reports which are available on SGXNet as well as on the Company's website, and is already known to the market. The specific scope that was set by the Board for the Special Audit does not in any way conflict with PwC's role as the Company's external auditors. In respect of acquisitions, an external audit will focus on appropriateness of management's accounting, and disclosure thereof, of material acquisitions in the financial statements. Accordingly, based on the scope of the Special Audit as detailed in the Company's SGXNet announcement of Jan 19, 2016, the performance of the Special Audit will not result in a self-review which would impact the external audit of SingPost.

As noted by Prof Mak in his commentary on Jan 28, 2016, PwC is also the external auditor of Famous Holdings Pte Ltd. However, the Company highlights that PwC was not the external auditor of Famous Holdings Pte Ltd at the time when it was acquired by the Company. PwC was appointed as the external auditor of Famous Holdings Pte Ltd only post-acquisition when it became part of the SingPost Group, in accordance with Rule 715 of the SGX listing rules which, save for provisions in Rule 716, requires a listed company to appoint the same auditing firm to audit its Singapore-incorporated subsidiaries and significant associated companies.

Before coming to the decision to appoint PwC as the Special Auditors, the Audit Committee and the Board exhaustively evaluated various options. After lengthy consideration, it was felt that, given the seriousness of the issues that had been raised, and the potential impact on the Company's reputation internationally as well as locally, a Big Four accounting firm with global name recognition should be appointed as the Special Auditors. With its larger headcount pool, it would also have the necessary resources available to it to undertake the Special Audit expeditiously.

The Audit Committee then considered whether to call for a Request-for Proposals (RFP) from the Big Four accounting firms, and made its recommendation to the Board. After prolonged deliberation, the conclusion was reached that, in this exceptional situation, no RFP need be called, and that among the Big Four accounting firms, PwC would be the most appropriate choice. Our reasons are as set out below.

As mentioned in Mr Gerald's article, one of the other Big Four accounting firms is the existing external auditor of SCCL. Mr Tay's relationship with SCCL is the subject of the review by the Special Auditors. Another of the Big Four accounting firms was involved in due diligence on the two Acquisitions whose announcements are the subject of the Special Audit. The third Big Four accounting firm has been providing and continues to provide a range of consultancy services including internal audit/corporate governance to the Company, and the Audit Committee considered that it would be difficult for it to be considered for appointment as the independent Special Auditor in the circumstances given its role in advising Management in the course of such services.

While we acknowledge that the Special Auditors should be perceived to be independent by the market, the Audit Committee and Board are of the view that ensuring actual independence is, equally if not more, critical.

The Audit Committee and Board concluded that they were satisfied that PwC would be able to act as independent Special Auditors to the Company, after taking into consideration the steps, described below, that have been undertaken to ensure that there is no conflict of interest notwithstanding PwC's role as the external auditors of the Company.

The audit team at PwC and the team performing the Special Audit for the Company are entirely separate, and the lead partner and all members of the team performing the Special Audit have had no prior or existing professional relationship with the Company.

The Audit Committee annually reviews the non-audit services provided by the external auditors and assesses their independence, and the Company makes the relevant disclosures in its annual report as required by the listing rules and Code of Corporate Governance. Indeed, in this instance, prior to appointment, the Audit Committee evaluated the non-audit fees paid and payable to PwC and concluded that the appointment of PwC as Special Auditors would not affect the independence of PwC as the Company's external auditors. The Audit Committee also evaluated the fee proposal of PwC for the Special Audit and is satisfied that the fees were reasonable.

On its part, PwC is bound by very strict conflict management rules imposed across the firm globally, as well as by the Code of Professional Conduct and Ethics for Public Accountants and Accounting Entities in the Fourth Schedule of the Accountants (Public Accountants) (Amendment) Rules 2015 (Code). The Company is satisfied that PwC cleared conflicts based on the rigorous standards imposed on them, and PwC has confirmed that they uphold strict compliance to the independence rules and are in compliance with the PwC Global Independence Policy (based on The Code of Ethics for Professional Accountants of the International Ethics Standards Board for Accountants) and the Code (as defined above).

We would like to stress that we have the utmost respect for the capabilities of the smaller accounting firms, and have no hesitation in considering them for other appointments. Our reasons for selecting a Big Four accounting firm to undertake the Special Audit have already been set out above.

Indeed, as the Board announced on Jan 19, 2016, a committee of the Board (the CG Review Committee) has been appointed to lead and accelerate a broader, more comprehensive Corporate Governance Review of the Company which is already underway. The CG Review Committee will be inviting a range of firms with the requisite expertise, not limited to the Big Four accounting firms, to participate in a Request-for-Proposals (RFP) exercise.

Mr Keith Tay Ah Kee's recusal, and management of conflicts of interest

Mr Keith Tay Ah Kee was not present at the Board meeting that deliberated on and appointed PwC as the Special Auditors. The Special Auditors will report to the Board and the Audit Committee, and Mr Tay will recuse himself completely in relation to all proceedings of the Audit Committee and the Board in connection with the Special Audit (as was stated in our Dec 23, 2015 announcement).

Senior management of the Company will not be involved in the Special Audit other than to make themselves available for interviews by the Special Auditors if required.

In relation to the Corporate Governance Review, as stated in the Company's announcement of Jan 19, 2016, all Directors on the CG Review Committee will recuse themselves from and will not participate in any CG Review Committee discussions in any instance where they may have an actual or perceived conflict of interest. Needless to say, they will also not vote on any such matters. All the members of the CG Review Committee bar one are Non-Executive Independent Directors of the Company. The Chairman of the Board is not on the CG Review Committee.

The acquisitions are not interested person transactions

The Board would like to clear any misconception that the Acquisitions are interested person transactions of the Company. They are not.

To clarify, the SGX listing rules define an "interested person transaction" as a transaction which is entered into with an interested person ie a director, chief executive officer or controlling shareholder, or the associate of such a person. An "associate", in turn is defined in the SGX listing rules as being, in the case of a director, his immediate family, the trustees of a trust under which he and/or his immediate family benefits, or a company in which he and/or his immediate family has an interest of 30 per cent or more.

The sellers of the stakes in Famous Holdings Pte Ltd, FS Mackenzie Limited and Famous Pacific Shipping (NZ) Limited to the Group were not interested persons of the Company under the SGX listing rules. The Acquisitions were not interested person transactions of the Company.

Compliance with accounting standards

The Board would like to stress that the Company's financial statements are fully compliant with the requirements of the Singapore Financial Accounting Standards.

Process for evaluation of the Acquisitions

The Board was aware of Mr Keith Tay Ah Kee's relationship with SCCL from the time the first Acquisition was entered into.

The Directors emphasise that Mr Tay's interest in SCCL had no bearing or influence whatsoever on their decision to approve the Acquisitions at the price and terms agreed with the respective sellers.

Senior management and Directors evaluate potential investments based on a set of criteria and considerations and an evaluation matrix which form part of the Company's procedures and are generally applicable across all M&A transactions. They evaluate the costs and the rationale and potential benefits of each prospective transaction for the sustainable contribution it can make to the Group's vision to be a regional leader and an international player in the eCommerce logistics and trusted communications space. The decision to approve a particular transaction is always made in the best interests of the Group and shareholders of the Company, and needless to say, this applies to the Acquisitions.

Each of the Acquisitions went through the same evaluation process applicable to other M&A transactions that are brought to the Directors for consideration and approval. For all three Acquisitions, due diligence was conducted by the Company in compliance with the Company's procedures and the due diligence results reported to the Directors for their assessment of the Acquisitions.

As stated in the Company's announcement of Jan 19, 2016, as part of their terms of reference, the Special Auditors will review whether the Company's procedures were followed in the evaluation and approval of the Acquisitions. As mentioned in the Company's announcement of Jan 19, 2016, part of the wider Corporate Governance Review will involve a review of the adequacy of various internal procedures, processes and policies of the Company, and recommendations will be sought from the independent consulting firm appointed to assist with the Corporate Governance Review on improvements that can be made to them.

Other matters

SingPost has been on an accelerated transformation journey from a domestic postal company into an international end-to-end eCommerce logistics provider. Significant acquisitions and ventures have been strategic to this transformation, including the Acquisitions and the acquisition of TradeGlobal mentioned in Mr Gerald's article.

We would also like to thank the Securities Investors Association (Singapore) for sharing concerns of retail investors in our meeting with them on Jan 19, 2016. Most of these questions will be addressed by the Special Audit and the Corporate Governance Review. The findings and recommendations arising from both exercises will be announced by the Company in due course. We will reply publicly to the other concerns not covered.

The Board and Management of SingPost understand the concerns and sentiment of our shareholders. We are treating the Special Audit with complete seriousness. As stated above and in our Jan 19, 2016 announcement, the findings of the Special Auditors will be announced to the public. The full report of the Special Auditors will be shared with the SGX, and the Board will ensure all key findings of the Special Auditors are highlighted to the market, and will take on board the SGX's views. The Board is fully committed to acting on any recommendations that are made by the Special Auditors to improve the Company's corporate governance processes in the interests of all shareholders.

The Board would like to reiterate its utmost commitment to do the necessary to regain public confidence in the Company and improve the Company's corporate governance. The Board recognises that institutionalising the best corporate governance practices is integral to meeting the business goals of the Company. It is precisely because of this that the Board embarked on the Corporate Governance Review exercise. The Board is unconditionally committed to ensuring that the Company upholds the highest standards of corporate governance and transparency.

Goh Yeow Tin
Executive Director
for and on behalf of
the Board of Directors
Singapore Post Limited

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Dealmaking remisier Wong Teck Kui fined, banned for insider trading

Business Times
26 Jan 2016
Kenneth Lim

[Singapore] THE Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) has fined dealmaker Wong Teck Kui S$110,000 and issued him with a two-year ban on regulated securities and futures activities for insider trading of Time Watch Investments (TWI) shares.

Mr Wong, who is a remisier at UOB Kay Hian, has admitted to breaking the law, MAS said.

He bought 1.3 million shares of TWI on Jan 17 and Jan 18, 2011 through accounts held by his wife, sister and mother while he knew of an as-yet undisclosed proposed voluntary delisting and exit offer for TWI, MAS said. On Jan 19, Red Rewarding offered to delist TWI and buy out its minority shareholders for 27 Singapore cents per share, a 15 per cent premium to TWI's last traded price before the announcement.

MAS said that Mr Wong made a profit of S$43,636 from his trades.

Mr Wong was one of Singapore's biggest remisiers in the 1990s, and even held the title of the largest payer of personal income tax at one point. But he eventually became known as an adept overhauler of businesses who had a hand in the restructuring of Mayfran International, Poh Lian and Chew Eu Hock.

He was chairman of construction firm Wee Poh Holdings before it became TWI. His role at the company made headlines in 2003 and 2004 when he led a contentious restructuring and helped to complete a reverse takeover that turned Wee Poh into a watch company. He stepped down as chairman of Wee Poh in 2005.

The sanctions handed down by MAS are civil penalties, and are not considered criminal penalties.

Mr Wong could have been fined up to three times his profit, or S$130,908, under the current stipulations of the law.

TWI is currently listed in Hong Kong.

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Big Four continue to sweep top law rankings

Business Times
04 Feb 2016
Grace So

[Singapore] The Big Four law firms here continue to sweep most of the top rankings in the domestic categories of Singapore's top lawyers and law firms, according to the latest rankings published in the 2016 Chambers Asia Pacific guide.

Chambers said that the Big Four law firms continue to monopolise the top of the Singapore law tables this year, with Allen & Gledhill LLP clinching Band 1 rankings in thirteen categories; Rajah & Tann LLP tying with WongPartnership LLP with seven Band 1 rankings each; and Drew & Napier LLC close behind with five Band 1 rankings.

WongPartnership achieved a Band 1 ranking in Banking & Finance for the first time, making it the first law firm to be ranked alongside Allen & Gledhill LLP in this category since the Asia-Pacific guide was launched.

This year's guide also introduced rankings for Construction, with WongPartnership and Pinsent Masons LLP ranked in Band 1.

Allen & Gledhill has the most ranked lawyers in the Singapore market, with 47 individuals, followed by Rajah & Tann, with 40 lawyers.

Meanwhile, Drew & Napier leads in both the Technology, Media, Telecoms (TMT): Domestic and Dispute Resolution: Litigation categories as the only firm to be ranked Band 1 in both the tables. This is the tenth consecutive year that Drew's litigation practice has been ranked Band 1, and the ninth consecutive year for its TMT practice.

For the sixth year running, the firm's CEO Davinder Singh, Senior Counsel, also remains the only litigator in the country to be ranked a "Star Individual", a category above Band 1.

The guide, which is one of the world's largest circulating legal ranking publications, ranks law firms and individual lawyers in bands from 1 to 6, with 1 being the best. The qualities on which rankings are based include technical legal ability, professional conduct, client service, commercial astuteness, diligence, commitment, and other qualities most valued by the client, according to Chambers.

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Firm fined $180k for role in arms shipment

Straits Times
30 Jan 2016
Elena Chong

S'pore shipping company transferred funds to help passage of cargo bound for North Korea from Cuba

A Singapore shipping company which transferred funds to facilitate the passage of a North Korea-bound arms shipment through the Panama Canal was fined a total of $180,000 yesterday.

Chinpo Shipping Company was fined $80,000 for transferring US$72,017 (about S$103,000) from its bank account to that of C.B. Fenton and Co, a shipping agent operating at the canal, on July 8, 2013.

Chinpo was also given the maximum fine of $100,000 for carrying on a remittance business between April 2, 2009, and July 3, 2013, without a valid licence.

The North Korea-owned and flagged cargo ship Chong Chon Gang was carrying cargo that included two MiG-21 jet fighters and anti-tank rockets, as well as SA-2 and SA-3 Russian surface-to-air missile systems and their parts.

The arms, being transported from Cuba to North Korea, were hidden in the cargo hold under 10,500 tonnes of sugar.

The 25 containers and six trailers of arms and related material weighing 474 tonnes were seized by the authorities in Panama in July 2013.

It is the biggest arms shipment to be intercepted on the way to or from North Korea.

The Chong Chon Gang was managed by North Korean firm Ocean Maritime Management (OMM), a long-time client of Chinpo. The court heard that Chinpo agreed to help send funds and make transfers for OMM, which wanted to hide the fact that the money came from a North Korean entity.

Chinpo transferred US$54,270 to pay for the passage of the ship through the Panama Canal on its way to Cuba on May 28, 2013. On July 8 that year, it transferred another US$72,017 to pay for the ship's passage back.

The company was convicted after a trial. Deputy Public Prosecutor Ang Feng Qian sought a maximum $100,000 fine to be imposed on each of the two charges.

She cited aggravating factors such as the premeditated and active evasion of United Nations and United States sanctions, concealed systematic abuse of the financial system and negative impact on Singapore's international reputation.

Chinpo's lawyer, Mr Edmond Pereira, argued that the prosecution had over-emphasised Chinpo's involvement. He said in mitigation that there was no evidence to show whether the arms and related materials had any commercial value, considering that the planes were "out of date and of vintage grade".

He said his client was not motivated by financial gain when it applied for the remittance applications. He also said that all the directors and shareholders of Chinpo, including managing director Tan Cheng Hoe, 83, had their personal accounts closed by their banks.

The case had greatly affected the lives of the directors of the company and their family.

Passing sentence, District Judge Jasvender Kaur said: "For the first charge, Singapore being a responsible member of the international community, there is strong public interest in preventing breach of UN sanctions."

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Repco case a reality check for those watching Singapore penny stock probe

Business Times
26 Jan 2016
Anita Gabriel

THE saga involving Malaysia's Repco Holdings, arguably the biggest market manipulation incident its stock market has witnessed - at the very least, it is the most jaw-dropping event in the country's mid-90s bull run - has reached closure almost two decades since the alleged offence took place.

The protracted timeline - highly disenchanting for impatient governance hawks - should serve as a reality check for investors here hankering for visible progress on Singapore regulators' probe into possible false trading and market rigging which could have triggered the epic rise and fall of certain penny stocks on the Singapore Exchange three years ago.

Malaysia's case involving Repco, a gaming concern, and its former executive chairman Low Thiam Hock who was found guilty this month for manipulating its share price, involves many twists and turns that almost match the stock's stunning gyrations during the "wild west days" of Malaysia's second-board bull run.

Wrap your head around this - Repco stock traded at around RM5 in 1996, would vault to a high of RM140 a year later and in 1998, one year later, plumb to RM2.98. The counter was subsequently suspended in 2000 and delisted three years later.

The stock's fallout, precipitated by the Asian financial crisis, left punters sorely burnt but as in many of these cases, there were lucky ones (among the outsiders) who pocketed gains.

"At that point, it (the rise) seemed unstoppable. As a trader, you feel you cannot lose. I made money," said an avid stock market investor who scooped up thousands of Repco shares at RM22 and got out at RM25, seemingly unregretful that he should have held out for more.

There were other counters which saw dizzying rises, although none as gravity defying as Repco, namely timber companies Aokam Perdana and Idris Hydraulic, PWE Industries, Hwa Tai Industries and Promet - names that may throw up bittersweet memories for old timers who punted big time on Malaysian stocks back then.

While it took two years for Malaysia's securities regulator to throw the book at Low for breaching securities laws - the offence he was convicted of took place in December 1997 - it was at the courts that the case would be prolonged.

An acquittal in 2006 after a seven-year trial involving 25 witnesses at the Sessions Court, a failed appeal by the prosecution in 2010 in the High Court and three years later, a reversal by the Court of Appeal of the acquittal which led Low to enter his defence culminated in a conviction this month; the sentencing has been deferred twice to next month.

The Singapore market has also had its poster boy(s) of wild swings - although none as colourful as "Rampco", the moniker earned by Repco from market watchers then - the latest involving the shares of penny stocks, chiefly Blumont Group, LionGold Corp and Asiasons Capital (now called Attilan Group).

These stocks are now trading at near-zero levels - LionGold at 0.4 Singapore cent, Blumont 0.1 Singapore cent and Attilan at 0.2 Singapore cent - a far cry from their highs reached in 2013 before the start of the ignominious descent in October of that year.

Many of the other penny stocks that were caught up in the rally and later, suffered from the rout, are also trading at humbling levels.

About six months following the mysterious collapse of their stock prices, Singapore's Commercial Affairs Department (CAD), working jointly with the Monetary Authority of Singapore, launched a massive probe into trading irregularities involving the penny stock trio.

This may have provided some comfort to victims of the fallout - afterall, if the regulators succeed in hunting down the culprits, it would be retribution of sorts for those who feel they may have been hoodwinked.

That was April 2014. While the regulators have visibly stepped up their policy response and enforcement powers in the wake of the penny stock rout and while the probe - CAD's "biggest securities fraud investigation" - is clearly ongoing, the outcome of the investigations remains uncertain.

If Malaysia's Repco case is anything to go by - notwithstanding the different regulatory and enforcement environment in varying markets and the complexities of proving market misconduct - closure for Singapore's penny stock saga could remain elusive awhile longer. But one hopes that it doesn't take two decades for that to come around.

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Spotlight now on Swiss bank caught up in 1MDB saga

Straits Times
04 Feb 2016
Yasmine Yahya & Chong Koh Ping

This comes after BSI exec files request with High Court to free up his accounts

Swiss bank BSI has attracted media attention in recent months, after becoming caught up in the controversy surrounding Malaysian state investor 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).

The latest development came when one of BSI's senior private bankers here - Mr Yak Yew Chee - filed a request with Singapore's High Court for some of his money to be released.

It has been reported that several of his bank accounts, containing about $10 million, were frozen as part of investigations surrounding 1MDB Global last September.

BSI is a relative latecomer in Singapore's private banking scene, having started business here only in 2010.

It created headlines when it was said to have poached about 80 employees from rival private bank RBS Coutts in 2009, in what was the biggest staff move in Singapore's private banking sector at the time.

According to the bank's website, it was established in Lugano in 1873, making it one of the oldest Swiss banks. It was bought by Italian insurer Generali in 1998 and was sold to Brazilian investment bank BTG Pactual last year.

Its new Brazilian owner kept the BSI brand and identity, using it as a platform to globalise the business.

BSI has around US$100 billion (S$142.6 billion) in client assets and about 2,000 employees, according to a newspaper report in July 2014.

BSI spokesman Luciano Crobu said its branch in Singapore, located at Suntec City, has about 240 people and is focused on servicing clients in South-east Asia. He added that no one single market accounts for more than 20 per cent of its global assets under management.

The bank's chief executive here is Mr Hanspeter Brunner, a Swiss national and a Singapore permanent resident since 2005.

BSI might very well be just one of several banks caught up in the 1MDB investigation, which political pundits warn is an issue that Singapore will have to handle with care, given the importance of maintaining good relations with Malaysia.

Dr Mustafa Izzuddin, a research fellow at the Iseas-Yusof Ishak Institute, said one approach would be to make it loud and clear that the investigation at this end is being conducted as a matter of upholding the rule of law.

"The most viable approach is to focus on the facts, and not on polemics, which is exactly what Singapore is doing now," he added.

"It is essential for Singapore not to be tangled up in the volatile domestic politics of Malaysia and not to pass judgments or point the finger at anyone, most notably, the Prime Minister of Malaysia."

Dr Alan Chong, a political scientist at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, agreed, adding it is also in Malaysia's best interest not to criticise Singapore's investigation and politicise the matter.

RHTLaw Taylor Wessing partner Nizam Ismail noted that, regardless, Singapore has to press on with the probe as it is a matter of maintaining its reputation as an international financial hub.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) and Commercial Affairs Department (CAD) have their work cut out for them, he added.

"In terms of next steps, MAS will ascertain whether banks have complied with anti-money laundering regulatory requirements - to see if their monitoring programme had been sufficiently robust to flag certain transactions as suspicious... to scrutinise decisions taken by the compliance and management teams of banks, and whether the banks had filed suspicious transaction reports," said Mr Nizam.

The CAD, meanwhile, may investigate if any person or entity had engaged in money laundering, and possibly follow up with prosecution and confiscation orders in court, he added, noting that this work could take many months.

"Money laundering investigations are very complex, especially when it comes to reconstructing money and documentary trails, and obtaining evidence which can be used in court."

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Related headlines

Banker to Jho Low, 1MDB units seeks to unfreeze US$10m in S'pore, BT, 03 Feb

Bank accounts seized here in relation to 1MDB case, BT, 02 Feb

Better sharing of info to fight crime

Straits Times
30 Jan 2016
Ng Huiwen

In a bid to tackle transnational organised crime and terrorism, Singapore's law enforcement agencies will work more closely with their international counterparts.

This includes a move to share information to tackle crime.

It was one of two key proposed amendments to the Registration of Criminals Act introduced in Parliament yesterday by Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs Desmond Lee.

The changes will make the exchange of information with foreign agencies more timely and effective, said the Home Affairs Ministry in a statement yesterday. They will also strengthen operational procedures for the registration of criminals, it added.

The Registration of Criminals Act, which was last amended in 2005, enables police to register the particulars of convicted individuals, including criminal records, fingerprints and photographs, in the Register of Criminals. It also provides for the collection of DNA information to help identify suspects and aid in criminal investigations.

When sentencing a repeat offender, the court also considers relevant information in the register.

With the changes, local law enforcement agencies can share some information from the register while seeking information from the foreign agencies to go after criminals in Singapore.

Safeguards will be put in place to ensure that the information and sharing process are not abused.

In the other proposed amendment, law enforcement agencies here will be allowed to take particulars, such as fingerprints and body samples, from a suspect released on bail and under investigation.

Currently, these particulars can be obtained from a suspect only within 48 hours while he is under arrest.

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Clearing the air on sustainability reporting

Business Times
26 Jan 2016
Ian Hong

MENTION sustainability reporting and it is enough to cause company executives to shudder about the potential compliance costs. Such concerns, however, fail to take into account the higher corporate social responsibility expectations that a more enlightened populace demands of companies. Stakeholders increasingly expect access to non-financial information in these sustainability reports, such as investors who incorporate sustainability factors in their investment decisions.

In another sign of the changing times, more than 185 countries committed to setting national targets to reduce carbon emissions at the recent 2015 Paris Climate Change Conference of Parties. Businesses in these countries may now face pressure from their governments to develop, disclose and align their carbon reduction strategies with the respective national targets.

"Comply or explain" requirements have already been put in place in a number of global stock exchanges including Australia, Brazil and South Africa to varying degrees. For example, large listed companies in the European Union will have to disclose non-financial issues such as environmental, social or employee matters and bribery from 2018 onwards.

The Hong Kong stock exchange's sustainability reporting guide will be on a "comply or explain" basis, raised from a "recommended" basis, with effect from this year.

Singapore Exchange (SGX) first announced its intention to introduce "comply or explain" sustainability reporting regulations in October 2014. Since then, SGX has engaged extensively with various stakeholders to communicate the importance and timeliness of these requirements, and has gathered feedback from listed companies that may be affected by the change.

REPORTING REQUIREMENTS TIMELY AND RESPONSIBLE

The worldwide push towards more responsible global citizenship makes SGX's sustainability reporting requirements a timely measure. SGX released a public consultation paper on the draft sustainability reporting guidelines ("the Guide") most recently on Jan 5. The Guide asks companies to identify and communicate material environmental, social and governance (ESG) risks and opportunities based on feedback from key stakeholders. Companies will also need to disclose the respective governance structures used in managing those risks and opportunities.

To enhance the accountability of firms on their sustainability performance, SGX is proposing they develop policies, performance indicators as well as reasonable targets. An internationally recognised reporting framework, suitable for the business, has also been listed as a primary requirement in the Guide. Such a framework should be used to navigate the reporting and disclosure exercise to lend credibility to the sustainability report.

Some Singapore-listed companies have raised concerns about the initial investment needed to satisfy another regulatory requirement and that's before they have proof that doing so will deliver tangible results. SGX does not view this as "just another compliance exercise".

If taken seriously and done correctly, the sustainability reporting journey will allow companies to identify risks within the value chain at a much earlier stage, and take timely mitigating actions. At the same time, companies can pinpoint and capitalise on opportunities at a much earlier stage, potentially opening new markets or product lines. An ability to swiftly address ESG risks and opportunities signals to a company's investors that the management team is forward-looking, proactive and adept at safeguarding the business.

COMMITMENT AT THE TOP IS CRUCIAL

Management teams face the biggest challenge, on the road to sustainability reporting, in demonstrating to stakeholders how ESG factors align with and impact the firm's business model and performance. The key to overcoming this challenge is in understanding SGX's sustainability reporting requirements and the rationale behind them. Doing so will help the management direct the efforts of the business towards a common goal, and obtain buy-in from stakeholders within the company.

All the companies interviewed in the KPMG study stressed that strong commitment from top management is critical when introducing sustainability reporting, and this commitment must be demonstrated through tangible targets and performance reporting. As such, SGX strongly emphasised board responsibility in the public consultation paper and draft requirements.

The next challenge is assessing the business's progress in its sustainability journey, and the benchmark against which it plans to measure its performance within a set time frame. Companies can overcome this issue by identifying performance indicators to close the gap between where the company is and where it wants to be.

Communicating this process to the company's stakeholders improves transparency around business operations, safeguarding the business amid intense scrutiny of ESG issues. Sustainability reporting frameworks exist to support the development of ESG strategies and facilitate this communication process. Given that sustainability reporting is a reality in today's business environment, the earlier companies embark on this journey the sooner they will reap the benefits.

The writer is partner, sustainability advisory & assurance, at KPMG in Singapore

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Current packages will be honoured: PPP Laser Clinics

Straits Times
04 Feb 2016
Melissa Lin

Board says chain in healthy financial position, allaying concerns following founder's quitting

A local chain of beauty clinics, which closed a string of outlets and shortened opening hours, has said it will honour packages that its customers have bought.

Fears were raised for PPP Laser Clinics on Tuesday, when Dr Goh Seng Heng quit as director of Aesthetic Medical Partners (AMP) and Aesthetic Medical Holdings - the two companies that operate it.

The five-year-old chain runs 14 Singapore outlets that use laser and light technology to treat skin problems such as pimples.

Dr Goh said his departure was down to internal disputes and the company being "driven by the wrong values".

But PPP's board told The Straits Times yesterday it has "no plans to retrench staff and will continue to honour" pre-paid packages. It also claimed Dr Goh was responsible for closing the clinics, but now he has departed, it hopes to extend hours, hire more doctors and "reopen as many clinics closed by Dr Goh as possible". It said it reopened three yesterday and is "in a healthy financial position".

PPP has filed a lawsuit against Dr Goh and his daughter Michelle Goh, seeking injunctions for the preservation of its assets and interests.

On Tuesday, PPP's website showed that its Dhoby Ghaut clinic opened for only an hour and its Marine Parade outlet for two. Over the last six months, eight of its 14 clinics closed suddenly.

As of Tuesday, the Consumers Association of Singapore has had 14 complaints about the changes.

Operating hours at the clinics have always varied, but never been as short as an hour, customers said.

Branches have been facing long queues, a problem exacerbated by the fact that customers tend to go for repeated treatments in a day.

"The consultant said I should do at least two treatments a day, preferably four times, but how to, when waiting times are so long?" said an admin clerk, 56, who wanted to be known only as Madam Chng.

Travel agent Linda Gan, 48, who queued for almost three hours at its Bishan outlet on Monday, paid around $1,500 for a one-year package. "I don't care who's the boss, as long as the clinics are still open and I can use my package," she said.

Dr Goh, who also operates an aesthetics clinic in Paragon Medical, launched PPP with his daughter in 2011 - describing it as the "budget airline" of aesthetic clinics, as it provides only one type of treatment meant for normal or mildly-problematic skin.

In a statement on Tuesday, he said the Gohs began transferring PPP shares to private investors in 2013, in a bid to open clinics globally. Partners included Rock Star Partners (RSP) Investments, a private equity investment fund in Shanghai, and Ms Wang Xiaopu, owner of China skincare brand Marubi.

Early last year, the Gohs began to disagree with how some partners and investors ran the business.

Dr Goh, a Singaporean, claimed they registered the PPP trademarks in China without his knowledge and took equipment from the clinics without paying for them. The Chinese clinics were also "selling skincare products that had no scientific basis".

After he confronted the parties involved, RSP called an extraordinary general meeting, which resulted in Dr Michelle Goh quitting last June. Another such meeting is due to be held today to appoint a second director from RSP. This prompted the senior Dr Goh's resignation.

The Gohs own about 12 per cent of AMP. Dr Goh said he lost control of the firm last June and had "little choice" but to resign, adding: "the Goh family will no longer be involved in overseeing business operations of PPP Laser Clinics".

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