23 March 2017
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IVF mix-up: Woman entitled to compensation, court rules

Straits Times
23 Mar 2017
K.C. Vijayan

But Court of Appeal says child should not be seen as 'continuing source of loss' to parents

A woman who conceived a baby with a stranger's sperm in a fertility treatment mix-up was found to have suffered a loss of "genetic affinity" and is entitled to compensation worth nearly a third of the cost for bringing up the child.

But the Court of Appeal, in its ground-breaking judgment yesterday, made it clear that this in no way means that the child should be seen as a "continuing source of loss" to the parents, who have accepted her as their own.

Instead, the damages are awarded because the woman could not fulfil her basic human desire to have a child of her own with her husband.

The court's ruling in what it described as "possibly one of the most difficult" it had to deal with caps a long-running battle between the couple and Thomson Fertility Centre's parent company Thomson Medical, and two embryologists.

In 2010, the couple went to the centre for in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) treatment. A stranger's sperm - instead of her husband's - was used to fertilise her extracted eggs.

The mistake resulted in her giving birth to a baby girl with her genetic make-up but not her husband's.

In 2012, the woman sued for damages, including for the upkeep of the child, known as Baby P in court proceedings.

The High Court disallowed the claim for upkeep in 2015, citing policy considerations which view the birth of a healthy child as a blessing. The woman appealed.

The Court of Appeal, comprising Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, Judges of Appeal Chao Hick Tin, Andrew Phang, Tay Yong Kwang and Justice Steven Chong, admitted it was faced with a conundrum.

If it refuses to grant upkeep costs, the woman "would receive a comparatively modest award for pain and suffering".

This, wrote Judge of Appeal Andrew Phang on the court's behalf, "would appear to undercompensate" the woman.

"After all, the only reason why she elected to conceive via IVF was because she desired a child with her husband but, because of the... mistake, she finds herself the mother of a child fathered by a complete stranger."

It was argued that the award of upkeep costs denigrates the worth of Baby P, he pointed out.

On this point, the Court of Appeal upheld the decision of the High Court, explaining that "the obligation to maintain one's child is an obligation at the heart of parenthood".

But the court also recognised that the woman has lost something of profound significance.

"The ordinary human experience is that parents and children are bound by ties of blood and share physical traits. This fact of biological experience - heredity - carries deep socio-cultural significance," the judgment read, highlighting some of the woman's depositions.

She had told the court how Baby P's different skin tone "never fails to draw curious looks from the public... turning joyous family time into depressing moments".

"Further, it is very disheartening to both my husband and me when my eldest son queries us on the difference in the way his sister looks."

While the court made a "categorical and unequivocal objection to any suggestion that racism has any place in our society", the issue of race was a real one, it said.

The court even highlighted a point made by the Constitutional Commission's report into the Elected Presidency in respect of race, which said that "Singapore cannot yet be considered a post-racial society: This is a reality that must be faced, even if it is one that is not to be endorsed".

The court said it recognised the complex role that physical resemblance, race and cultural and ethnic identity "have had and continue to have on our individual well-being, as they so evidently have had on the appellant's".

The court decided that the loss of genetic affinity has resulted in social stigma and embarrassment for the family. It ruled that the actual sum the woman can claim should be set at 30 per cent of the financial costs of raising Baby P, with the precise quantum to be determined by the High Court.

Lawyers whom The Straits Times spoke to said this should apply to when Baby P reaches the age of 21.

The Court of Appeal added that it would be preferable for the parties to arrive at an amicable settlement in order that closure might be achieved.

The clinic was defended by a team of lawyers led by Senior Counsel Lok Vi Ming and Audrey Chiang while the woman was represented by Senior Counsel N. Sreenivasan, S. Palaniappan and Derek Ow.


DISHEARTENING

It is very disheartening to both my husband and me when my eldest son queries us on the difference in the way his sister looks.

WOMAN IN THE CASE

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ACB v Thomson Medical Pte Ltd and others [2017] SGCA 20

Custody of elderly woman: Family finds closure after viewing police video

Straits Times
18 Mar 2017
K.C. Vijayan

The woman whose 73-year-old mother was arrested for a municipal offence viewed police footage yesterday and accepted that it clearly showed her mother was not physically restrained at any time while in police custody.

Madam Gertrude Simon, 55, who had all along maintained that her mother had been handcuffed by the police, attended a briefing with her mother at the Ang Mo Kio South Neighbourhood Police Centre (NPC).

Madam Simon said: "I appreciate the unprecedented gesture made by the police to show me the video recordings of the sequence of events during the time when my mother was in police custody."

She added: "Based on the police video shown, it is clear that my mum was not physically restrained at any time when she was in their custody."

Singapore Prison Service (SPS) officers, who were also at the briefing, had clarified that physical restraints were used by their officers in accordance with current SPS procedures during the two occasions when her mother, Madam Josephine Savarimuthu, was transported between the State Courts and Changi Women's Prison.

Madam Simon said she was gratified by the transparency displayed by the authorities in coming forward to share their footage and information.

"It has helped to bring a good closure to this unfortunate episode of events," she added.

Madam Savarimuthu was arrested by police on March 4 at the same NPC while making a report for a lost pawn ticket. There, it emerged that there was an outstanding warrant of arrest against her issued by the court last year.

It was for failing to attend court, relating to a town council summons for $400 - for the wrongful placement of potted plants outside her flat.

Madam Simon explained that her mother was still traumatised and could have mixed up the details of what she went through.

She said: "I do understand that if my mother had been able to provide details of her relatives earlier at the police centre, then we could have bailed her immediately and avoided this suffering for her."

Madam Simon urged the authorities to review whether elderly persons can be exempted from physical restraints when in custody.

"Law enforcement officers must also be able to exercise discretion for varying situations on the ground," she said.

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Mediation services at competitive rates

Straits Times
11 Mar 2017
Abigail Ng Wy

The Law Society of Singapore (LawSoc) yesterday launched a new scheme to offer mediation services at competitive prices.

It also plans to develop a specialist panel of mediators for different categories of disputes.

Mediation is on the rise as a form of dispute resolution. The Singapore Mediation Centre (SMC) handled 499 cases last year, a 72 per cent jump over the number in 2015.

In his keynote address at the Law Society Mediation Forum, where he launched the Law Society Mediation Scheme (LSMS), Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon noted that mediation is a crucial part of Singapore's dispute resolution landscape.

"We need to overlay a more user-centric approach on top of the institutional values that define the ideals of our legal system," he said, citing five ideals: affordability, efficiency, accessibility, flexibility and effectiveness.

Certificates of appointment were presented to 21 senior mediators and 53 associate mediators at yesterday's event at the Singapore Management University.

The LSMS offers competitive rates compared with those at the SMC, a similar mediation avenue, for commercial mediation involving claims above $60,000.

Mediation fees for LSMS claims between $100,000 and $250,000 are set at $750 per party, per day.

In contrast, the SMC charges $1,000 per party, per day for claims within the same bracket.

For claims under $60,000, the SMC charges between $75 and $150 per party, per hour while the LSMS charges $350 per party, per day.

Mediators told The Straits Times they see mediation as a better way to resolve disputes than expensive and complicated court processes.

Senior mediator B. Rengajaroo, who is in his 70s, was trained to litigate but shifted towards mediation in 2005. "I find real satisfaction in mediating," he said.

"The parties get to decide and everything is within their control. They're the best judges after all."

Agreeing, associate mediator Valerie Ang, 46, said: "In litigation, there's always a winner and a loser.

"In mediation, autonomy reverts to the parties. It's win-win for not just the disputants but also the lawyers and firms."

LawSoc president Gregory Vijayendran said the LSMS creates more opportunities for lawyers to serve as mediators.

He also called on members of the legal profession to internalise this as "another stream of work".

"I strongly believe that the dispute resolution lawyer of tomorrow will need mediation skills as part of his or her tool box," he said.

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Veteran criminal lawyer struck off the roll

TODAY
23 Mar 2017
Valerie Koh

A veteran criminal lawyer with nearly three decades of experience was struck off the roll on Wednesday, after the Court of Three Judges noted that his “objectionable conduct” – ranging from making false declarations to mislead the court to urging a client to get a medical certificate to explain his absence from court – pointed towards a “gross failure” to fulfil a lawyer’s duty to the court.

Mr Udeh Kumar Sethuraju’s repeated adjournments of cases were also “intolerable”, said Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, delivering the judgement on behalf of the court.

“This is not a case of an occasional lapse that may be forgiven… (Mr Kumar) disregarded the legitimate interest of all the other stakeholders in the justice system over a sustained period of time,” he said.

The ex-lawyer faced 28 charges, brought against him by the Law Society of Singapore (LawSoc) following complaints from the Attorney-General and the State Courts.

A Disciplinary Tribunal found that 11 charges were severe enough to be raised to the Court of Three Judges. These related to Mr Kumar’s conduct in representing a particular client, his habit of being tardy or absent from hearings, and his failure to avoid unnecessary adjournment, expense and waste of the court’s time.

Lawyers representing the LawSoc called for a suspension of 12 to 15 months, but the Court chose instead to disbar Mr Kumar, who has a long history of disciplinary issues.

In 2013, the Court of Three Judges suspended him from practice for three months over improper conduct relating to a client’s sale of a house. A Disciplinary Tribunal fined Mr Kumar S$20,000 on two separate occasions: For being absent or late for hearings in 2013 and for poor case management in 2015.

During Wednesday’s hearing, the court was told of the time when one of Mr Kumar’s clients missed his court hearing, as he had not been informed about it by the lawyer. Mr Kumar later urged the client to see a doctor to “save his ass” and offered to get a doctor’s memo on his behalf – for a fee of S$300.

Due to the court absence, the client’s bail of S$10,000 was forfeited. Mr Kumar offered to repay him, but to date, he has only paid the client S$5,000.

In another charge, Mr Kumar wrote a letter to a High Court judge stating that he had “just recently” been told that a client had appointed him to appeal his case, and he had been unable to see the client “due to a lack of visit slots” in jail.

But in an affidavit, Mr Kumar offered a different version of the incident. “I was looking at the hearing list in relation to other matters, I realised that there was a hearing for his appeal… I was then reminded that he had initially requested me to help with his appeal,” he said.

Senior Counsel N Sreenivasan, who was defending Mr Kumar, said that the ex-lawyer was very hardworking, but faltered due to a mismanagement of his cases. But Mr Sreenivasan conceded that “the totality of the picture is someone very slipshod, someone who doesn’t have regard for the proper way of doing things, someone who has bitten off more than he can chew”.

Chief Justice Menon, however, felt that the problem went beyond poor management. “It seems to be disregard for the court. I was dismayed that an officer of the court would behave this way. I don’t think we can sweep it aside as a matter of mismanagement,” he said. “I can’t think of a more objectionable conduct of a solicitor standing before the court.”

Mr Kumar declined to comment after the hearing.

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Healthway gets MOM reminder on pay issue

Straits Times
18 Mar 2017
Marissa Lee

Ministry says it will take action if medical group fails to pay staff

The Manpower Ministry (MOM) has said it will take appropriate action against beleaguered clinic chain operator Healthway Medical Group if it fails to fulfil its basic obligation to pay all its employees.

As of the end of last week, Healthway's doctors and senior management had not received their February pay.

Although Healthway is one of the largest private clinic chains in Singapore, with close to 100 clinics and about 1,200 corporate clients, it has been plunged into disarray after losing millions of dollars over the years to questionable investments.

On Monday, there were no doctors at seven of its family clinics after Healthway said it had not paid February salaries amounting to $3.9 million.

Following a report by The Straits Times, MOM officials paid a visit to Healthway's office on Tuesday to find out more about the situation.

The ministry told ST in a statement: "MOM has reminded Healthway of its obligation to pay salaries to all its employees. We note that (Healthway Medical Group) is taking action to resolve this issue.

"MOM will take appropriate action if Healthway fails to fulfil this basic obligation expected of an employer."

Under the Employment Act, employers can be charged if they do not pay their workers within seven days after the last day of the salary period. But the law does not cover doctors and executives who earn more than $4,500 a month.

The ministry said it was informed by Healthway that only doctors and senior management had not been paid, whereas "all other employees such as receptionists and clinic assistants have been paid their salaries on time, in line with the Employment Act".

MOM added that from April 1, those who do not come under the Employment Act can approach the new Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management (TADM) for assistance if they have salary claims.

"Before TADM is operational, doctors, professionals, managers and executives can also approach MOM for mediation assistance on a voluntary basis," it said.

Meanwhile, Make Health Connect, the third-party administrator for 39 Healthway clinics, has made $600,000 in advance payments to Healthway to cover doctors from 39 clinics for two months, after learning about the group's cash crunch.

Asked what it has done since the MOM visit, a Healthway spokesman said: "Only payment to a few locums is left and we are in the process of settling that."

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Singapore property market finally sees slight easing - and a new stamp duty

Business Times
11 Mar 2017
Soon Weilun

Relaxing sellers' stamp duty, tweak in TDSR framework and new Additional Conveyance Duties are responses to property market and economic developments

Singapore announced on Friday targeted tweaks to property market measures and a new stamp duty - moves that observers said are in response to recent developments in the property market and the wider economy.

The release by government agencies said that Singapore will lower the seller's stamp duty (SSD) by four percentage points for each tier and shorten its holding period.

The Total Debt Servicing Ratio (TDSR) will also no longer apply to mortgage equity withdrawal loans with loan-to-value ratios of 50 per cent and below.

But even as the government eased these measures, a new stamp duty called the Additional Conveyance Duties (ACD) was introduced to plug a loophole in residential property transactions undertaken via transfer of shares in property-holding entities.

These changes take effect on March 11.

They are the Singapore government's first major response in four years to recent developments in the property market. But unlike Friday's measures, those unveiled in early 2013, including the TDSR, were aimed at cooling a red-hot market.

Market response to Friday's measures, announced just before noon, was swift. The FTSE ST Real Estate Holding and Development Index was up 3.8 per cent at the day's high of 838.24 at 12.39 pm.

Stressing that developers have gone through an "arduous" time since 2013, R'ST Research director Ong Kah Seng said: "These slight relaxations were indeed very hard-earned."

However, industry players say that the impact on the property market will be limited, as the Additional Buyers' Stamp Duties (ABSD), loan-to-value (LTV) and TDSR will still curb demand. They also say that Friday's measures are aimed at ensuring that the property market's development is in line with wider economic trends. Interest rates will be rising amid Singapore's slower growth; the construction sector has also been performing badly.

Christine Li, director of research at Cushman & Wakefield, said: "Once certain segments in the property market fall out of line with the wider developments, the government will try to release the pressure, tweak it to make it more equitable."

The joint statement, issued by the Finance Ministry, the National Development Ministry and the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), said the current set of property market measures are still needed to promote a sustainable residential property market and financial prudence.

Thus, there will be no changes to the ABSD rates and LTV limits.

The release noted that transaction volumes in the private residential property market remain healthy, as interest rates are low and income grows. But analysts expect interest rates to rise at a faster pace this year. Last week, US Federal Reserve chairman Janet Yellen said that a hike this month would be "appropriate".

So while growth in Singapore's outstanding housing loans has slowed, households should still be "prudent" in shoring up financial buffers, said the release.

Even so, the government noted that property sales within a four-year window timeframe has fallen significantly over the years since the SSD was introduced. The SSD, a transaction cost, must be paid by those who sell a residential property within a holding period. This was extended in 2011 to a four-year window.

Now, the holding period is shorter at three years. Rates are also lowered by four percentage points for each tier. They now range from 4 per cent to 12 per cent. These rates will apply to all residential property purchased on and after March 11.

Industry watchers point out that the impact from these changes will be minimal - as buyers are used to a mindset of longer-term investment, shortening of the holding period is unlikely to encourage a speculative mindset. But for those under financial stress, "easing of this measure would reduce or remove the SSD penalty", said JLL director of research Ong Teck Hui.

Also coming into effect on March 11 is a slight easing of the TDSR framework. Mortgage equity withdrawal loans with LTV ratios of 50 per cent and below are not subjected to the TDSR. These are loans that allow borrowers to use residential properties as collateral to get cash.

This comes after MAS received feedback from borrowers that current rules restrict their flexibility to monetise their properties in their retirement years.

But observers say this move is unlikely to stoke demand. "It would likely only promote property purchases by asset-rich individuals," said Desmond Sim, head of CBRE Research for Singapore and South-east Asia.

Even as the market reacted positively to the new easing measures, the government moved swiftly to ringfence a loophole seen in transactions of residential property.

CapitaLand had in January sold its 100 per cent stake in Nassim Hill Realty, which owned the remaining 45 units at The Nassim, to Wee Cho Yaw's family firm Kheng Leong for S$411.6 million.

Only a tax of 0.2 per cent of the net asset value was levied for this transfer. If it was a direct purchase of a residential property, it would have incurred a buyer's stamp duty and also the ABSD.

In an extremely rare move on Friday, an amendment to the Stamp Duties Bill was introduced - and passed - within the same sitting in Parliament. This will close up the stamp duty rate differential, said Lawrence Wong, Second Minister for Finance, who introduced the amendment.

The last time a Finance Ministry measure saw such a rushed treatment is understood to be for the introduction of the SSD in 2010. "We adopt this approach because the measure involved is market sensitive and needs to be effected shortly after the bill has been announced," said Mr Wong.

Starting March 11, the ACD will be levied on the transfer of shares by significant owners of certain property holding entities (PHE). Significant owners are those who presently hold at least a 50 per cent equity interest in the PHE, or else hold at least 50 per cent interest after the transfer.

Such PHEs are defined as those with residential properties here that form at least 50 per cent of its total tangible assets, and will be captured under this new requirement. This can include partnerships, trusts, or companies.

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Pro-bono help over the phone

Straits Times
23 Mar 2017
Ng Huiwen

Needy individuals can soon dial a lawyer for pro-bono legal help, under a pilot initiative by local legal tech start-up Asia Law Network (ALN).

ALN chief executive Cherilyn Tan told The Straits Times that its existing Quick Consult phone calls, where users can seek legal advice from a lawyer at $49 for 15 minutes, will be extended to a non-profit organisation from April 1.

ALN, which features an interactive database of lawyers, is among the five technology solutions under the new Tech Start for Law scheme.

About 20 lawyers across big and small firms have volunteered for its pilot run, said Ms Tan.

If it is successful, she hopes to roll out the platform to family service centres here while cross-border pro-bono work can also be carried out with regional non-profit organisations in the future.

This is an example of how lawyers can leverage technology to improve access to justice, said Ms Tan, 32, who founded ALN in 2014.

"The call reduces wait time for urgent cases, and is especially for beneficiaries who are unable to travel during office hours as they are working multiple jobs to make ends meet."

Others who may benefit include those who cannot afford to travel to meet their lawyers, the elderly and those with disabilities, she added.

Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon has said that legal practice will see an "uberisation", in reference to private-hire car service Uber, as new systems are better able to match the supply of and demand for lawyers.

Beacon Law Corporation director Tan Cheow Hung, who was LawSoc's Pro Bono Ambassador 2016, said he is hopeful that the pilot initiative would encourage more lawyers to do pro-bono work.

He said: "This is especially so if the system is able to match a lawyer to a pro-bono client only when the lawyer is available, thus ensuring that billable hours are not affected."

Added Mr Lau Kah Hee, 34, a partner at Derrick Wong & Lim BC: "Ultimately, as a lawyer, you want to help people solve their legal problems in a cost-efficient and effective way."

Mr Lau, who will be among the lawyers in the pilot run, takes about four Quick Consult paid calls a month.

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Help for motorists to assess blame in accidents

Straits Times
18 Mar 2017
Shaffiq Idris Alkhatib

Online Simulator will be set up to gauge likely liability as part of dispute resolution platform

By the first quarter of 2019, motorists involved in traffic accidents will have access to an Online Simulator that will gauge their likely liability.

This is to help motorists better decide their next course of action, and make processes more affordable, accessible and effective.

The State Courts said that by the end of 2019, there will also be an online platform to recommend settlement amounts based on the information provided by users, and an online mediation platform for more complex cases.

The Online Simulator uses algorithms based on data that parties provide and also on precedent cases and historical data derived from the Electronic Motor Accident Guide and the third edition of the Practitioners' Library: Assessment Of Damages - Personal Injuries And Fatal Accidents, both launched on Feb 22.

The State Courts announced the the use of the simulator, which is part of the Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) platform for motor accident claims, yesterday at its workplan seminar. It said users will be guided through a question-and- answer format.

Speaking at the seminar, Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon said: "Having been apprised of the likely outcomes, the parties will hopefully be guided and able to engage in more meaningful settlement discussions, and be better placed to decide on their best course of action."

In time to come, the ODR platform may be scaled up and adapted for use in a wider range of disputes, and provide a virtual environment for parties to participate actively and constructively manage the progress of all their cases, he added.

Insurance broker Ricky Chia said the Online Simulator is a good idea for handling own-damage claims, not so perhaps for third-party claims. He said: "Third-party claims are more complicated as nobody will readily admit his or her liability in an accident. Motor accident claims are often complicated as they involve a lot of different parties."

Mr Bernard Tay, president of the Automobile Association of Singapore, said the platform is meant to advise motorists on the possible outcomes and liabilities in any accident. "It is a good initiative to be supported, and we are awaiting more details," he said.

Mr Muhammad, 42, hopes the Online Simulator will expedite claims. The businessman, who declined to give his full name, said his case is still pending even though he was involved in a serious traffic accident in 2014 and had to be hospitalised for several weeks.

He added: "Right now, filing for motor accident claims is very messy. There is no consolidated approach, with many parties involved, such as the authorities and my insurance company."

Separately, a new Victim Assistance Scheme will be tested for one year from next month to offer assistance in medical expenses to those who suffer criminal assault but receive no compensation from their attackers. Run by the Community Justice Centre, a charitable organisation, the scheme applies to two kinds of offences: Causing hurt and causing hurt with a dangerous weapon. The offence must be committed in Singapore and original medical receipts have to be provided.


The initiatives at a glance

Online Dispute Resolution for motor accident claims A system for parties to resolve disputes through online mediation, an e-settlement platform and an Outcome Simulator.

The Outcome Simulator is expected to be rolled out in the first quarter of 2019, while online mediation and the e-settlement platform are expected to be completed by the end of that year.

Victim Assistance Scheme (VAS) A scheme to assist victims of criminal assault who have not been compensated by their attackers.

Run by the Community Justice Centre - a charitable organisation - the scheme applies to two kinds of offences: Causing hurt and causing hurt with a dangerous weapon. The maximum claim is $1,000. The VAS will be piloted for a year from next month.

Short mediation and hearing in Small Claims Tribunals (SCT) A fast track for SCT cases with no complex legal issues, which may cut court visits down to one from the current three to four.

Once a case is filed, it will be screened and, if suitable, placed on an expedited track.

It is expected to be implemented in the third quarter of this year.

Real-time payment of fines and fees using hand-held devices. From next month, court fine instalments can be paid via the Justice@State Courts mobile app through a link with the service provider, AXS.

By the end of next year, people can also pay court fines and fees with the app.

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Law passed to strengthen town council governance

Straits Times
11 Mar 2017
Danson Cheong

Regulations part of wide-ranging changes to clarify town councils' role, boost financial management

Town councils that fail to submit their audited financial accounts on time would have committed an offence under a new law passed by Parliament yesterday.

Another offence introduced in the new Town Councils Act is failing to keep a record of the conflicts of interest declared by town councillors and employees when dealing with, say, contracts.

A town council will also run afoul of the law when it carries out commercial activities, such as organising trade fairs, which are not part of its core functions.

The penalties include a fine of up to $5,000 when town councils fail to comply.

The regulations are part of wide- ranging changes that Senior Minister of State for National Development Desmond Lee said would clarify a town council's role, improve governance and strengthen financial management.

His ministry will also have greater regulatory oversight of town councils, a change opposed by the Workers' Party (WP).

Mr Lee said the changes will boost the transparency and public accountability of town councils.

The new law follows a review of the Town Councils Act that was mooted in 2013, following heated parliamentary debates on the running of town councils and the handover of Aljunied GRC, which the WP took over from the People's Action Party after the 2011 polls.

The amendments are the most sweeping since town councils were introduced in 1989.

In explaining their importance, Mr Lee said town councils serve more than 3.2 million residents and collectively manage over $1.6 billion in public funds. This is a sharp rise from 2.4 million residents and $300 million in the early 1990s, he noted.

People's expectations of town councils have also risen. "As public institutions entrusted with millions of dollars received from residents and the Government, town councils should be held to the same standards of governance as charities and public-listed companies," he said.

The robust debate involving 14 MPs lasted three hours. Eventually, all nine WP MPs voted against it.

The law's key changes include:

• Town councils must submit audited financial reports within six months of the financial year ending.

• Conflict of interest when handling say, contracts, must be declared and a record kept by the town council secretary. Those who must declare such conflict include town councillors, employees or anyone delegated with town council responsibilities.

• The ministry now has powers to do regular checks on the financial health of town councils and investigate suspected irregularities. It can appoint inspectors, who could be public officers or professionals, to do it. Key town council officers found guilty can be fined up to $5,000, jailed for up to a year, or given both punishments.

But the stronger enforcement powers to investigate and require specific remedial actions to be taken "will generally be exercised when a town council is uncooperative or recalcitrant, refusing to correct irregularities despite due and fair notice", said Mr Lee.

The WP's Mr Pritam Singh (Aljunied GRC), in opposing it, said: "The MND (Ministry of National Development) risks becoming a tool of the ruling party of the day to fix the opposition."

But Mr Lee stressed that the new law seeks to preserve the autonomy and latitude of town councils while protecting residents' interests and public funds.

"With a stronger regulatory framework, MND will play a more effective role in safeguarding residents' interests," he added.

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Start-up makes case for a knowledge bank

Straits Times
23 Mar 2017
Ng Huiwen

Many law firms count knowledge as one of their greatest assets but few keep a bank of the work produced by their lawyers, said co-founder of local legal tech start-up Intelllex, Mr Chang Zi Qian.

"To compound the problem, work done may be lost because of lawyers leaving the firm," he added, noting that lawyers are sometimes forced to start their research from scratch.

To help lawyers retain knowledge and practise more efficiently, Mr Chang, 30, and his team designed an online workspace with an intelligent search engine and knowledge management system.

Intelllex, which was launched in January last year, now has more than 3,000 users.

Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon has said that such predictive technology will make research "less time-consuming, more accurate and almost certainly cheaper than manual research or tedious document review by junior associates".

In its tie-up with the Tech Start for Law scheme, Intelllex will be rolling out a new enterprise version which allows lawyers of the same firm to share documents.

Law firms will also be able to take stock of the work done by their lawyers across expertise.

This will allow the growing number of multidisciplinary firms to "confidently know who has experience in a particular area and is the most suitable to (be) put together on such teams", said Mr Chang.

Singapore law firms that are eligible under the scheme will pay $35 per lawyer each month. So far, more than 20 firms have shown interest in the enterprise version, added Mr Chang. About three regional law firms have also reached out to his team in the past month, he noted.

Mr Darius Tay, director at boutique law firm BlackOak, said before it started using Intelllex last April, lawyers trawled through databases and textbooks during research, and knowledge management was done on an ad hoc basis.

"It resulted in a lot of redundant effort when lawyers redid research on issues that their colleagues may have looked at on another case."

Leveraging on technology has enabled the firm's lawyers to do more high-level strategic work, he noted.

Mr Chang said that looking ahead, the Intelllex team also hopes to integrate other tools into the workspace, including legal writing and drafting.

In the next two years, the team also aims to venture into other common law jurisdictions, such as Australia and Hong Kong.

Mr Chang said: "The intellectual work still has to be done by a lawyer - robots cannot do everything.

"So, what we really hope to do is change the way law is being practised."


SIMPLIFYING WORK

The intellectual work still has to be done by a lawyer - robots cannot do everything. So, what we really hope to do is change the way law is being practised.

CO-FOUNDER OF LOCAL LEGAL TECH START-UP INTELLLEX, MR CHANG ZI QIAN, on the potential of the software it designed.

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More targeted help on the way for jobless PMETs

Straits Times
18 Mar 2017
Toh Yong Chuan

Unemployed professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs) will get more targeted help in finding jobs through smaller job fairs, Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say said yesterday.

The shift in focus aims to help jobless PMETs find work sooner, and keep the long-term unemployment rate in check, he added.

For PMETs who have been out of work for six months or longer, "organising a job fair with 10,000 jobs won't solve the problem", Mr Lim told reporters at a job fair.

He said these workers need personalised guidance from career coaches and employers who are willing to hire and train them, even if they lack experience in a sector.

Mr Lim's message for employers: "Don't keep looking for so-called plug-and-play kind of workers. Don't keep looking for workers who can fit into your job 100 per cent."

His comments came after the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) released a bleak report on Wednesday which showed that PMETs were the hardest hit by the tepid job market.

They made up 72 per cent of the local workers who were made redundant last year. This is far higher than their share of 55 per cent of the resident workforce.

They are also finding it harder to get back to work. While about 48 per cent of workers who were made redundant last year managed to find new jobs, the rate of re-entry for PMETs was 44 per cent.

To help PMETs get back to work, MOM announced various measures this month to help them switch careers and offered more incentives to employers to hire them.

The moves include training allowances of up to $4,000 a month for those who go on training attachments, and offering employers who hire PMETs aged 40 and above, who have been unemployed for over a year, higher wage subsidies under the Career Support Programme (CSP) for 18 months, up from 12 months.

To make it easier for smaller firms to join the programme, the minimum salary of eligible workers will also be lowered from $4,000 to $3,600 per month for them.

Yesterday, Workforce Singapore and the Employment and Employability Institute gathered more than 20 employers prepared to hire unemployed PMETs in a one-day, small-scale job fair that offered about 260 jobs. All the jobs pay at least $3,600 a month.

Mr Lim noted that enhanced measures saw an increase in the jobs offered at the fair from 150 to about 260. More workers also qualified for schemes like the CSP.

He also said that while the local unemployment rate and long-term unemployment rate - the proportion of residents who could not find a job for 25 weeks or more - had risen to 3 per cent and 0.8 per cent respectively, they are "considered relatively on the lower side by international standards".

To ensure these rates remain low, the Government is stepping up efforts like organising targeted job fairs to help unemployed workers back to work, especially those out of work for 25 weeks or more, he said.

"The longer they stay unemployed, the harder (it is) for them to come back (to work)," he said.

Mr Lim added that the quality of jobs also matters.

He noted that business leaders he met this week appealed for a relaxation of the foreign worker quota. However, they need to find a longer-term solution.

"It is not a sustainable solution. The jobs are there. If they cannot find workers, can we transform the job, make it more of a better job to be more attractive to locals?" he said.

"Moving forward, the quality of jobs is a factor that is going to determine whether we are able to overcome this potential stickiness in our unemployment rate."

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

Who's responsible if a robot runs amok?

Straits Times
11 Mar 2017
Ronald J.J. Wong

S'pore's laws need to be updated to deal with liability in the age of artificial intelligence

We are seeing today novel expressions of artificial intelligence (AI) which were just a while ago the stuff of sci-fi: autonomous vehicles, self-learning machines, fiction-writing programs which may win literary prizes. (An AI program wrote a novel in Japanese that passed the first round of a literary contest).

Yet, what if the AI goes awry? What if an autonomous vehicle malfunctions and damages your property?

What if an AI robot hacks into a smart city's network and steals every citizen's personal data?

(A robot in Sweden was caught buying drugs from the Dark Web with bitcoin.)

Will our current legal liability rules give us satisfactory outcomes when applied to such scenarios? The likely answer is "no".

Generally, the law responds to societal developments in a few ways:

• Regulators pre-empt scenarios and make laws;

• The matter goes before the courts which, under our common-law system, extend principles from analogous situations and develop rules;

• People regulate the scenario by contract.

SMART CONTRACTS

If there are disputes on private contracts, the courts may find it challenging to apply existing contract-law principles to some new scenarios.

This is especially so if the use of smart contracts becomes widespread.

Smart contracts are blockchain programming codes that can self-form and self-execute.

If there are disputes, parties would have to make arguments on the source code before the courts. Will our courts be able to handle such codes? Or if the courts have to decide between conflicting expert opinions, how can they judge when they are not themselves experts of experts?

LEGAL REGULATION

Governments worldwide are grappling with rapidly morphing AI technology, and have to strike a balance between regulating to protect against risks and not regulating to facilitate innovation.

Hence, regulators are increasingly using "regulatory sandboxes", special rules which allow innovators to test their services and products in a live, controlled environment without having to comply with all or some existing legal requirements.

This allows experimentation while regulators observe and make plans.

However, most, if not all, countries to date have not made rules on AI applications going wrong (although many mandate insurance).

This is because such scenarios involve complex ethical, policy and legal issues.

Take, for instance, an autonomous vehicle in an accident, which has to swerve left and kill one person or right and kill 10 (the classic philosophical "trolley problem"). Or what if it has to decide between protecting pedestrians and its passengers?

Autonomous vehicles have to be pre-programmed to make such decisions.

A study last year by researchers Jean-Francois Bonnefon, Azim Shariff and Iyad Rahwan found that a significant majority of people preferred that autonomous vehicles be programmed to sacrifice the least number of people, but are disinclined to buy or use such a vehicle if they were the ones likely sacrificed.

How should such results affect our approach to regulation, if at all? Should the legislature decide beforehand that the fewer number of people should die?

Or should this never be legislated, such that manufacturers get to determine our fate?

COMMON-LAW RULES

We consider another example. Imagine a self-learning machine goes rouge and causes damage to another party's computer system.

(Microsoft's AI Twitter bot went rogue after picking up people's tweets and spewed racist, misogynistic tweets.)

What if this goes before the civil courts? Our current liability rules for machines causing damage, including vehicles causing accidents, are premised on a human operator being negligent (or reckless or deliberately causing harm). What if there are no human operators whose conduct we can examine to determine liability?

Should manufacturers be held liable for programming their machines to learn, just because the machines can possibly learn to commit "evil"?

Our current legal liability rules are not helpful.

Should a manufacturer be deemed negligent for not pre-empting the possibility of its machine learning to cause damage in a particular manner and accordingly programming against such a scenario?

Some lawyers suggest that the most relevant legal rule appears to be one from a 19th century case, Rylands v Fletcher.

The rule often cited to arise from that decision is thus: "The person who for his own purposes brings on his lands and collects and keeps there anything likely to do mischief if it escapes, must keep it at his peril, and, if he does not do so, is prima facie answerable for all the damage which is the natural consequence of its escape."

In that case, Thomas Fletcher engaged some contractors to build a reservoir on his land.

The contractors noticed some old coal shafts filled with debris, but chose to ignore them. When they finished the work and filled the reservoir, it exploded, flooding neighbouring John Rylands' mine.

The English House of Lords ultimately held that Fletcher should pay Rylands damages for bringing such a dangerous thing onto his land which could have, and did, cause damage should it have escaped the land.

An example would be dangerous cattle, which if escaped from one's land could injure a neighbour's cattle if bovine madness ensued.

Some lawyers have suggested that this rule can be applied to autonomous vehicles or AI robots, since they are potentially dangerous if they were to go awry.

However, the courts have developed the rule to apply only to land, particularly non-natural use of land. In some jurisdictions, the rule was seen as so aberrant that it has been abolished.

So even though the principle underlying the rule may be somewhat relevant, the rule is very unlikely to apply in most cases of AI robots going rogue.

CATCHING UP

Technology is developing so quickly that we and our laws are not catching up fast enough.

It is good for us as a society to have conversations on the ethical, policy and liability issues about these impending developments early, so that when the time comes, we will not be caught flat-footed.

Yet, historically, the law has always lagged behind seismic shifts in the societal and economic landscape.

When it is forced to respond, our intuitions of justice and fairness will perhaps get things right.

That is the case, of course, unless the AI robots have taken over first.



Technology is developing so quickly that we and our laws are not catching up fast enough. It is good for us as a society to have conversations on the ethical, policy and liability issues about these impending developments early, so that when the time comes, we will not be caught flat-footed.


The writer is a lawyer at Covenant Chambers, practising litigation and corporate law, including media and technology practice.

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

Mindset change needed for legal tech scene to take off

Straits Times
23 Mar 2017
Ng Huiwen

Experts point out key hurdle as S'pore seeks to grow culture of innovation in the industry

Singapore has made its strongest push yet to get more lawyers to harness technology in their practice, said lawyers, observers and experts.

These include recent efforts led by the judiciary and the Government, such as the Legal Technology Vision and the $2.8 million Tech Start for Law scheme.

But more remains to be done to change mindsets among lawyers while growing a culture of innovation in the sector, they added.

At the official opening of the Singapore Management University law school building on March 15, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said lawyers will not be immune to disruption.

Many routine legal tasks can now be automated while law firms overseas have begun using data science to tackle legal questions, he added.

However, Singapore law firms still "have a way to go", compared to those in the United States and Britain, said Mr Mark Goh, managing director of boutique law firm MG/Chambers.

Like many others who spoke to The Straits Times, he added that it begins by getting law firms here to adopt baseline technologies.

These include practice management systems that allow case updates, timekeeping and billing to be carried out online as well as online legal research and marketing tools.

"The courts are aware that legal technology issues are far more complex, especially in terms of cyber security, responsibility and liability," noted Mr Goh, who created in-house legal document assembly software VanillaLaw last year.

"But first, you need to have people come up to the baseline.

"If stakeholders are not working in that environment, how can they debate and discuss these issues?"

Last month, the Ministry of Law, together with the Law Society (LawSoc) and Spring Singapore, launched a new scheme - Tech Start for Law - to help law firms adopt technology by subsidising part of the initial costs.

This comes after a study commissioned by LawSoc last year found that only 9 per cent of small and medium-sized law firms have adopted technology.

The managing director of Eden Law Corporation, Ms June Lim, said the scheme provides an incentive for law firms to try out the technology products.

But it is also crucial for "someone to set the tone and to want to put these things in place", she added.

She has been running her practice in a virtual workspace for the past three years.

"Frankly, mindsets have to change too," Ms Lim noted.

Some law firms continue to do most processes manually due to lack of time to train staff or "simply the fear of things going wrong when automated", said LawSoc chief executive Delphine Loo Tan.

However, as wages continue to rise, firms will be forced to turn from manual labour to technology, she added.

Furthermore, "legal services are now contributing to a greater proportion of the country's gross domestic product than ever before".

Via Law Corporation director Wang Yingyu said: "We have to hire people with an open mindset to learn new things.

"We will keep upgrading our systems and it can be troublesome but we will not shy away from it."

As part of the wide-ranging Legal Technology Vision, Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon has called for the incubation of a legal tech scene in the years ahead.

Mr Lee Ji En, 23, who started Facebook group Legal Hackers SG in January last year, said the legal tech scene here is still at a nascent stage.

"For instance, in the big US cities, there are podcasts, weekly meet- ups and chat groups about how to use technology to resolve problems in the legal industry," said Mr Lee, who is a practice trainee at Bachoo Mohan Singh Law Practice.

Legal Hackers SG, which has about 300 members, began as an informal platform to discuss legal innovation. He added that it is encouraging to see two local start-ups - Asia Law Network and Intelllex - on the Tech Start for Law scheme, and hopes more products will be included over time.

He remains positive that the legal tech community will grow over time. "Our push for legal innovation has started well but we will need to ensure that we keep the momentum going," he noted.


TECH'S THE WAY TO GO FORWARD

We have to hire people with an open mindset to learn new things. We will keep upgrading our systems and it can be troublesome but we will not shy away from it.

VIA LAW CORPORATION DIRECTOR WANG YINGYU, on her law firm's commitment to adopting technology.

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HUDC era ends with privatisation of Braddell View

Business Times
18 Mar 2017
Claire Huang

The estate, comprising 918 flats and two shops, is the largest of the 18 HUDC estates and the last to be privatised

22 years after the government first said it would privatise HUDC (Housing and Urban Development Company) estates, this chapter in Singapore's public housing history has drawn to a close.

The last such estate standing, Braddell View HUDC Estate, was converted into a strata-titled estate under the Land Titles (Strata) Act on Friday.

This development came after the required support for the privatisation was obtained from 75 per cent of flat owners there.

Following this, the estate will no longer come under the HUDC Housing Estates Act, said the Housing and Development Board (HDB) on Friday.

Braddell View, comprising 918 flats and two shops, is the largest of the 18 HUDC estates and the last to be privatised.

HDB said that the common property of Braddell View was, from March 17, to be managed and maintained by its Management Corporation Strata Title Plan No. 4340, which was constituted on the same day.

As provided for under the Land Titles (Strata) Act, the existing management committee assumes the role of the council of the management corporation, HDB said; it added that the committee members are deemed to have been elected as the council members.

The individual owners in the estate will own their respective strata units, as well as the common property as tenants-in-common.

In 1995, the government announced it would privatise HUDC estates under the push to meet the aspirations of Singaporeans to own private housing.

The move was also aimed at giving flat owners greater control over the management and maintenance of their estate.

With the privatisation of Braddell View, a total of 7,731 dwelling units have since been privatised.

The first HUDC estates to be privatised were Pine Grove (660 units) and Gillman Heights (607 units and one shop). That was in November 1996.

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

Proposed laws to keep up with evolving nature of cybercrime

Straits Times
10 Mar 2017
Irene Tham

Four key amendments to Singapore's laws were tabled in the House yesterday to keep up with cybercrime's changing and increasingly transnational nature.

The Computer Misuse and Cybersecurity (Amendment) Bill seeks to criminalise the act of dealing and trading in personal information, such as credit card details for nefarious purposes, even though the trader may not have hacked into computers to obtain it.

The buying and selling of hacking tools, such as malware and port scanners from online marketplaces, will be an offence if the intention is criminal, said the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) in a statement.

If the amendments are passed, it will also criminalise offences under the existing Computer Misuse and Cybersecurity Act which are committed abroad, against an overseas computer.

"This amendment makes this an offence... if the act causes or creates a significant risk of serious harm in Singapore," said MHA.

Serious harm includes illness, injury or death, and disruptions to essential services, national security and Singapore's foreign relations.

Essential services include energy, water, finance, government, healthcare, information communication and transportation.

Examples of offences include releasing to the public people's bank account details, hospital patients' medical records or confidential government documents.

A new Section 11A also proposes to allow, among other things, multiple unauthorised access to one computer, for a period of 12 months or less, to be combined under a single charge. A perpetrator may do this to prepare for a cyber attack on the system.

Combining the multiple acts into a single criminal charge will allow for damage caused to be aggregated, so that a heavier penalty under a specified section can be imposed.

The maximum penalty under the Computer Misuse and Cybersecurity Act varies, depending on the crime, from a $5,000 fine and two years' jail, to a $100,000 fine and 20 years' jail.

The Act was last amended in 2013 - when it was renamed from the previous Computer Misuse Act - to grant the Government enhanced powers to counter cyber threats against Singapore's national security and essential services.

There is currently no overarching cyber security law in Singapore to tackle cyber threats.

But a new Cybersecurity Act will be introduced in the middle of this year, after public consultations to plug any existing legislative gaps.

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

Exercising restraint in the use of restraints

Straits Times
23 Mar 2017
K.C. Vijayan

A review is needed in the handling of minor offences and elderly suspects, with alternatives to warrants of arrest worth considering for municipal infringements

Every year, tens of thousands of Singaporeans fail to pay fines for offences ranging from breaches of town council rules, to illegal parking, speeding and other traffic-related matters, to failure to pay utility bills.

After repeated reminders go unheeded, a warrant of arrest is issued by the courts and that is fed into a police enforcement database.

That is what happened to Madam Josephine Savarimuthu, 73, who had breached town council rules over wrongful placement of potted plants. Her initial fine was $50 but ballooned to $400 by the time she settled the bill on March 7, which included court legal fees.

Madam Savarimuthu was arrested on March 4 when she went to Ang Mo Kio South neighbourhood police centre to report a lost pawn ticket. The police officer discovered an outstanding warrant of arrest for her, issued by the court last year as she had failed to attend court in relation to town council summons.

So on that Saturday, the police offered her bail. She refused. She was then taken to a police station and from there to court. After the matter was processed by the court, she was escorted that same day to Changi Women's Prison - with handcuffs and leg restraints on her.

After being remanded over the weekend, the same restraints were used on her on Monday morning when she was conveyed to the State Courts from the prison to be dealt with for the offence. Her daughter, Madam Gertrude Simon, 55, bailed her out then and on the following day, the fine was settled.

But the manner of her treatment subsequently drew debate. The incident came to public attention after Madam Simon wrote in to The Straits Times Forum to register her unhappiness over the way her mother was treated and to call for law enforcement officers to exercise flexibility in their treatment of elderly folk.

The case actually raises questions about the treatment of two different groups of offenders. The first are elderly suspects in custody, whose numbers could swell in the coming years given the rapid ageing of the population. The second are those guilty of municipal offences and who have, as a result of non-payment of fines, had a warrant of arrest issued against them.

OF FINES AND ARRESTS

Those who commit municipal offences are of all ages and backgrounds. Currently, the police execute warrants of arrest triggered against such defaulters by a host of agencies, such as the Housing Board, Land Transport Authority (LTA) and town councils.

In 2015, the caseload for departmental and statutory board charges and summonses handled by the State Courts rose to 143,700, from 116,865 in 2014. While these figures include charges not handled by police, it stands to reason that at least a share of these cases involve police enforcing warrants of arrest against individuals, as in the case of Madam Savarimuthu. The question is whether this is the best way to deal with such offenders.

There is also the matter of resource allocation, as current process takes up scarce police resources and incurs court costs. Alternative options are worth exploring, especially as other countries, such as Australia, have found different means to deal with such offences.

In the state of New South Wales (NSW), for example, most minor offences would not result in an arrest warrant, a police spokesman for the state said in response to questions from The Straits Times. "Ultimately, the non-payment of fines sees the matter fowarded to the State Debt Recovery Office. They take action to recover the money and then are able to cancel drivers' licences in NSW, for instance in the case of driving offences," he said.

The State Debt Recovery Office (SDRO) administers the NSW fine enforcement system and is responsible for the receipt and collection of outstanding fines and penalties. These fines are for miscellaneous minor infringements, such as parking offences, failure to pay bills like ambulance fees or election-related breaches.

The SDRO is armed with remedies such as garnishing the sums payable from the offender's employer or placing a charge on property and, if such actions fail, then an order for community service is issued.

No equivalent of the SDRO may be justified here in cost-benefit terms but it stands to reason to consider a scenario where agencies like the town councils are empowered to deal with municipal breaches on their own, armed perhaps with remedies similar to those made available to the SDRO. After all, it seems more appropriate for municipal offences to attract penalties proportionate to the nature of the breach.

A review of current processes could also help to shift the burden of enforcement action away from the police and free them to focus on more serious challenges to safety in the face of new security threats.

SENIORS IN TROUBLE

Singapore is not the only country grappling with the issue of senior citizen arrests. In Britain, police arrest some 40 senior citizens a day on average, according to 2010 figures reported in the Daily Mail.

"Their crimes range from failing to pay a fine for overfilling a wheelie bin to not wearing a seat belt or chopping a neighbour's hedge without permission," the newspaper reported.

In Singapore, comparable data is not currently available publicly but The Straits Times reported earlier this month that the number of elderly prisoners has almost doubled in the past five years. The Singapore Prison Service has even retrofitted some prison cells with senior-friendly features like grab bars and handrails. With the ageing of society, the issue of how the elderly should be treated while in police custody gains added significance and urgency.

In the case of Madam Savarimuthu, the prisons officers who handcuffed and used leg restraints on her - virtually maximum-security restraints - were following procedures that have likely evolved over time.

There was one case each in 2007 and 2008 in which remandees attempted to escape.

In 2007, two accused persons broke free from police escorts near District Court 26 in the basement level. They were recaptured within the premises. In June 2008, two accused persons who were not handcuffed fled from the court lock-up but they were promptly apprehended within 100m of the lock-up. Two days later, the pair were back in the then Subordinate Courts, appearing with hands cuffed and legs shackled.

In today's post-Mas Selamat era, the mantra seems to be: Better to be safe than sorry - to a fault. Singaporean terrorist Mas Selamat Kastari escaped from Whitley Road Detention Centre in February 2008 and was on the run before being arrested by the Malaysian Security Branch in April 2009.

Now, the standard operating procedure (SOP) seems to be for prison inmates and remandees to be handcuffed and shackled not only to ensure secure custody but also to prevent them from harming themselves and others, including the officers. Also, it can be risky to expect ground officers to be able to discern quickly the risk level of a person in custody merely from the nature of their offence or age.

The challenge is for the authorities to find a way to relax procedures for minor offences and elderly offenders without raising risks significantly.

Criminal lawyer Josephus Tan argues for a "calibrated" approach in dealing with the elderly, including making provisions for someone to assist the senior in custody. This is "not just a legal issue but a social issue", he said. "There is no 'one size fits all' but what we see are a sign of things to come, given that we are an ageing society."

Retired award-winning social work professional K.V. Veloo urged prisons and police to start developing an SOP on how to deal with seniors that covers each stage of the process - from arrest, interrogation, confinement in police or prisons' remand to court appearance and disposal.

"I will go a step further: They should be treated as in the case of juvenile offenders under the Children and Young Persons Act, which provides protection and care of such young people. The hallmark of a caring society is seen in how it treats its weakest members," said the former chief probation and after-care officer.

It would also be more ideal if the rule is not to use security restraints on elderly offenders and those involved in minor cases but allow officers the discretion to do so.

That is especially so for the elderly, who may be facing their first run-ins with the law after long years of law-abiding existence.

On this issue, a review is timely.

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

Current legislation on stamp duty covers all the bases

Business Times
17 Mar 2017
Goh Bun Hiong

It is interesting that we once again get to revisit the issue of policy changes and whether they have been well designed to address specific shortcomings.

On March 10, the Ministry of Finance announced in a press release legislative changes in Parliament "aimed at treating transactions in residential properties on the same basis irrespective of whether the properties are transacted directly or through a transfer of equity interest in an entity holding residential properties". One can only assume that this is targeted at recent transactions where stamp duty on sale of shares in real estate investment companies was avoided.

My initial reaction to this was one of disappointment as the proposal seems to reflect a lack of clarity in thought.

Singapore has always taken pride in the fact that our fiscal policies are crafted, as a starting point, for strategic macro-economic reasons and rarely for reasons of pure revenue raising. While some might disagree, I would like to believe that even our famous COE and ERP were conceptualised with vehicle-control as a primary motive.

While the change would most certainly bridge a gap in stamp duty collections, what problem are we actually trying to solve if this new development were not a mere revenue raising exercise?

Was there an abuse of current legislation as it stands?

Was it to counteract speculative short-term opportunistic behaviour ?

Or was it to curb excessive interest by foreigners ?

This development is a point of concern as the proposed change would create an anomaly in a longstanding sacred principle: one of separate legal personality. While there can exist good reasons to create deviations in legal principles, it must only be done in situations where the status quo results in a harmful outcome as such deviations affect the credibility of our brand and system.

From a quick assessment of the situation, I am firstly not convinced that there was an abuse as a transfer of shares in a real estate company does not constitute a change in ownership and there is no need to create a deviation from this sacred principle.

While it might be an unfortunate outcome for the regulators, it is not sufficient by itself to constitute abuse. The fact remains that stamp duty is not chargeable on such transactions as real estate conveyance has not taken place and we should not lift the corporate veil frivolously as it sets a poor precedent and sends worrying signals.

In any case, there already exists anti-abuse legislation in section 33A of the Stamp Duties Act where the Comptroller is empowered to disregard any arrangement whose sole purpose is for the avoidance of stamp duty.

In view of the fact that a powerful weapon is already at the disposal of the Comptroller (some say too powerful), it is strange that the ministry was pushing for a legislative change and one can only conclude that without this change, even the regulators are hard-pressed to prove that an abuse has taken place.

If the intention was to curb short-term opportunistic behaviour, then I believe that we are better off crafting specific legislation to deal with short term speculation. While I have no empirical evidence to back me up here, my quick assessment is that corporate owners are typically not the most guilty of flipping real estate investments. In fact, many of the trusts created for real estate ownership hold the assets for much longer periods than the average retail investor.

In addition, there currently already exists a very significant Additional Buyer's Stamp Duty (ABSD) of 15 per cent for properties acquired by Special Purpose Vehicles (SPV). This additional duty alone is already a barrier to short-term profiteering. If the ministry wishes to further tighten the screws, it could perhaps consider specific measures against such practices, such as reintroducing the taxation of short-term gains.

In view of the above, I believe that corporate entities are often created precisely for reasons of longer term investments and the handful of companies created for the sole purpose of flipping of real estate assets can be sufficiently dealt with by section 33A of the Stamp Duties Act without this change.

Such a change also penalises corporate entities set up for bona fide commercial purposes. Hence, the consequences are far-reaching as family succession and other long-term planning arrangements have become collateral damage in the process.

Are the proposed changes then targeted at excessive foreign interest in our real estate scene? If that is indeed the case, I believe that it would be more appropriate to restrict the change to only situations where foreign shareholders are involved.

In short, I believe that it is not in the interest of Singapore to propose changes that fundamentally perverts such a longstanding sacred legal principle as it affects our international standing and credibility. To add salt to the wound, this would be all the more disappointing if the changes fail to rectify the underlying shortcoming that we are trying to address.

Perhaps, more light can be shed on the need for such a change as at first glance, the proposed change does not seem to solve any of the underlying issues.

The all-important question we need to ask is not "How much stamp duty revenue are we losing from Real Estate SPVs ?" but "How are Real Estate SPVs detrimental to the real estate situation in Singapore ?" The answers to the second question will allow us to have a clearer picture of the corrective policies that need to be formulated and put in place.

In addition, I believe that the fiscal health of Singapore is not at the stage where we need to raise revenue at the expense of the conceptual integrity of our legal framework.

The writer is director of taxes at PKF-CAP Advisory Partners Pte Ltd.

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Man gets 90 weeks' jail, $1.1m penalty for corruption

Straits Times
10 Mar 2017
Elena Chong

A former Petrochemical Corporation of Singapore (PCS) marketing and sales executive was jailed for 90 weeks and ordered to pay a penalty of $1.13 million yesterday for corruption.

Low Chin Yuen, 52, pleaded guilty last month to 40 of 122 charges of accepting cash bribes from VLK Traders directors between 2003 and 2014.

The total amount involved in all the charges is about US$800,000 (S$1.1 million), which he accepted as rewards to advance the business interests of VLK with PCS.

VLK provides chemical transportation services to the manufacturing company through its fleet of vessels, among other businesses.

In 2003, VLK secured a petrol chemical shipping contract awarded by PCS to ship toluene and xylene overseas.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Jasmin Kaur said Low had invited VLK to submit a quote as part of his duties, which included evaluating the quotations received and recommending vendors to his management.

VLK, which Low had recommended, submitted the lowest quote among its competitors and was eventually awarded the contract and every subsequent contract.

VLK paid Low US$500 or US$1,000 on a few occasions shortly before the first contract was awarded. After clinching the contract, VLK began making monthly payments ranging from US$1,293 to US$14,125 to Low.

After the first contract, VLK was awarded subsequent contracts for the shipment of the two products, said DPP Kaur.

Low's offences came to light in 2014. Between 2003 and 2014, he accepted bribes that totalled US$797,415.

District Judge Ong Chin Rhu said the facts of the case clearly called for a custodial sentence to be imposed. She disagreed with counsel that the custodial threshold had not been breached.

Low's lawyer Suresh Damodara said in mitigation that his client, who is now unemployed, had always been a "spectacular performer" at PCS.

"He never compromised PCS' interests in any way whatsoever throughout his 21-year career with PCS," he added.

He said Low knew that it was wrong for him to accept money from VLK, but he never asked the company for any money or reward, nor did he dictate to VLK what was to be paid to him.

As Low cannot pay the penalty, he will serve another 10 months behind bars.

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Mastermind to serve life sentence after appeal fails

Straits Times
23 Mar 2017
Selina Lum

The man who abducted the 79-year-old mother of Sheng Siong supermarket chain founder Lim Hock Chee in 2014 and demanded a $20 million ransom will be jailed for life and given three strokes of the cane, after his appeal against conviction was rejected.

Lee Sze Yong, 44, had asked for the death penalty after he was convicted in December last year, saying that he could not bear the thought of "hopeless years ahead". He did not appeal against his sentence.

Yesterday, Lee, who had argued his case before the Court of Appeal without a lawyer, said: "Undoubtedly, I had committed a crime."

Head shaved, wearing a purple prison jumpsuit and holding sheets of paper in his hands, he argued that the question was whether the state of his mind "lies within the language of Section 3 of the Kidnapping Act".

The provision states that an individual who abducts someone with intent to hold that person for ransom faces either the death penalty or life imprisonment with caning.

The former sales executive repeated the argument he had made during his trial - that he was not guilty of kidnap for ransom because he had intended to release Madam Ng Lye Poh by midnight that very day, whether or not the ransom was paid.

But the three-judge court dismissed his argument.

Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon noted that the trial judge did not accept Lee's assertion that he would have released Madam Ng empty-handed when the clock struck 12.

"Even if the appellant did have the intention to release the victim by the end of that fateful day... the offence was complete when he abducted the victim with intent to hold her for ransom."

During his trial last year, Lee admitted that he had been thinking of ways to kidnap rich people in Singapore to clear his debts, which had ballooned to about $200,000.

His first target was billionaire investor Peter Lim's children.

He did research on wealthy people and kept an organiser in which he recorded information on potential targets and the means by which he could execute his plans.

He also bought items such as pepper spray, a taser and masks.

In 2013, he started staking out the Hougang house of the Sheng Siong boss and decided to target Madam Ng after observing her movements.

On the morning of Jan 8, 2014, he approached her at an overhead bridge and asked her in Hokkien if Mr Lim was her son.

After she confirmed that he was, he tricked her into getting into his rented Honda Civic by lying that her son had fallen in his office.

He blindfolded her and phoned Mr Lim, demanding $20 million in $100 and $1,000 notes.

Mr Lim eventually negotiated the sum down to $2 million.

Lee then roped in his former lover, Mr Heng Chen Boon, who was not aware of the plan, to help him swop cars and guard Madam Ng.

When Mr Heng pleaded with him to release her, Lee threatened to expose their sexual history.

After being driven around for 12 hours, Madam Ng was released after her son dropped off a bag with the cash in Sembawang Park.

Lee was arrested in Ang Mo Kio shortly after and led police to the bag of cash, which he had thrown into some bushes at the same park.

Mr Heng, 52, has served a three- year jail term on a reduced charge of helping Lee to abduct Madam Ng.

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

Custody of elderly woman: Questions over discretion

Straits Times
17 Mar 2017
K.C. Vijayan

Observers suggest looking at alternatives when handling seniors who are arrested

The arrest of a 73-year-old woman and the subsequent use of hand and leg restraints on her has raised the question of whether more discretion should be used in the handling of elderly persons in custody.

Several lawyers and observers suggest that the police consider alternatives when dealing with an elderly person such as Madam Josephine Savarimuthu. They also question the need to use security devices in escorting her from prison to court for a low-risk municipal offence.

Madam Savarimuthu was arrested by police on March 4 at a neighbourhood police centre while making a report for a lost pawn ticket.

It emerged there that there was an outstanding warrant of arrest issued by the court last year. This was for failing to attend court relating to a town council summons - for the wrongful placement of potted plants outside her flat.

In a statement yesterday, police maintained she was not restrained while in custody and appeared alert, coherent and communicative.

She was asked if she wanted to call someone to bail her out, once at the police station, and then in court. She declined both times.

It was only when she was being escorted between the courts and Changi Women's Prison (CWP) that she was restrained at the hands and legs. This is part of the prison service's standard operating procedures, which include preventing people in custody from harming themselves.

Her daughter Gertrude Simon, 55, expressed dismay about her mother's treatment and urged a review of procedures. She came to learn of her mother's case after Madam Savarimuthu was remanded in CWP, about seven hours after the arrest.

Commenting on the case yesterday, Association of Criminal Lawyers of Singapore president Sunil Sudheesan said "sensitivity in dealing with the elderly is vital, but this has to be balanced against the protection of the detained persons from themselves and those escorting such persons".

He added: " I do see the merit of having the next of kin informed within a reasonable timeframe. This is, of course, mired in its own difficulties. I have sympathies for both sides."

Veteran lawyer Singa Retnam said it would have been better if police had the discretion to go to her house at the time of arrest to verify who was her next of kin and alert them even if she refused bail.

He said such exceptions could be considered given that she was an elderly person with medical conditions, and her arrest was in relation to a municipal offence.

Ms Jolene Tan, head of civic body Aware's Advocacy and Research Group, said given that Madam Savarimuthu was an elderly woman arrested for a non-serious, non-violent offence and no information had been given about particular risks she posed, neither handcuffs nor leg restraints appear appropriate.

Restraints can be very stressful and intimidating, especially for vulnerable groups.

"In our view, SOPs should not automatically prescribe the use of restraints for people in custody," she said. "Instead, there should be a decision-making process which considers factors such as the severity of the offence, whether it is violent or non-violent, and characteristics of the suspect such as age, gender and disability."

Former civil servant Sheikh Ahmad Adam, 70, who has worked in the security sector, said he was "very disappointed" at seeing a 73-year-old woman in such circumstances, adding that more discretionary measures should have been taken.

But Mr Sunil said:" The problem with discretion is that when things go wrong, the individual officer who decided to exercise an amount of discretion will take the brunt of the blame. So I can understand why there is a strict adherence to established procedures.

"I think procedures were correctly followed here, but we can study the need to handcuff and restrain the elderly, especially in minor cases, and review the arrest process.

"The balance, as always, rests somewhere in between, and I am confident that considered thought will be put into this."

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

Ex-BP exec charged in $5.7m bribery case

Straits Times
10 Mar 2017
Elena Chong

A former executive of BP Singapore was hauled to court yesterday to face charges of obtaining about US$4 million (S$5.7 million) in bribes from businessman Koh Seng Lee.

Clarence Chang Peng Hong, BP's former eastern regional director for marine fuels, allegedly took the bribes to advance the business interests of Mr Koh's company with BP.

Chang, who faces 47 charges, allegedly corruptly obtained bribes amounting to US$3.95 million from Mr Koh, executive director of Pacific Prime Trading (PPT), via Chang's HSBC bank account in Hong Kong.

A total of 19 payments ranging from US$100,000 to US$350,000 were made to his bank account between July 2006 and September 2008.

Chang, 51, is said to have also corruptly agreed to accept a bribe of $500,000 from Mr Koh some time before September 2009 to advance the business interests of PPT with BP.

Besides allegations that he had received bribes, Chang was accused of moving the corrupt proceeds through his various bank accounts and, separately, using some of the proceeds to partially pay for properties.

On 16 occasions between January 2007 and March 2010, while he was at BP, Chang allegedly transferred a total of $4.7 million, which were benefits of corrupt proceeds, from his HSBC account in Hong Kong to a POSB bank account and two other HSBC Singapore accounts. The amounts ranged from $76,568 to $725,500.

He also faces 10 charges of allegedly using the corrupt proceeds to make partial payments for several properties to the tune of $3.97 million. The properties comprise three houses in Da Silva Lane in Hougang, Jalan Limau Purut in Tanah Merah and Ettrick Terrace in Siglap, and two condominium units in Pasir Ris Grove.

He is also accused of using $111,000, which formed part of his benefits of criminal conduct, to acquire share capital in MindChamps Preschool @ City Square on Sept 16, 2009.

Chang's lawyer Alfonso Ang told the court that he had just been briefed. The case was adjourned to April 6, and Chang's $200,000 bail has been extended until then.

A BP spokesman said in an e-mail that Chang's employment with BP ended in July 2010.

"We became aware of some activitiesof concern in 2010 which we reported to the authorities. These charges have been filed by the Singapore authorities, we cannot comment on them," she said.

The Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau said in a statement that Singapore adopts a zero-tolerance approach towards corruption. The bureau said it takes a serious view of any corrupt practices and will not hesitate to take action against any party involved in such acts.

The maximum punishment for corruption is a $100,000 fine and five years' jail on each charge.

If convicted of offences under the Corruption, Drug Trafficking and Other Serious Crimes (Confiscation of Benefits) Act, Chang could be fined up to $500,000 and/or jailed for up to seven years on each charge.

'ACTIVITIES OF CONCERN'

We became aware of some activities of concern in 2010 which we reported to the authorities. These charges have been filed by the Singapore authorities, we cannot comment on them.

A BP SPOKESMAN, who says Chang's employment with BP ended in July 2010.

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

Maid abuser's appeal fails, judge raises jail term from 14 to 16 months instead

Straits Times
23 Mar 2017
Shaffiq Idris Alkhatib

A sales executive who got 14 months' jail for subjecting her maid to abuse almost daily for about three weeks was yesterday unsuccessful in appealing for a lighter sentence.

Instead, High Court judge See Kee Oon increased Ang Lilian's sentence to 16 months' jail.

He said Ang, 45, who asked for a fine or one day in jail, showed a complete lack of remorse.

The judge added that the mother of two, represented by lawyer Foo Cheow Ming, capitalised on her maid's vulnerability.

The prosecution argued that there was no reason for the court to grant Ang's appeal and depart from sentencing precedents.

They noted that the original sentence of 14 months' jail meted out by the State Courts last year was well within the range of sentences given in similar cases.

Ang was found guilty last July on 11 charges of abusing Ms Moe Myint Aye, now 28, after an 11-day trial.

However, she was cleared of one count of using criminal force on the Myanmar national, who began working for Ang's Marine Terrace household in January 2013.

Apart from the jail term, Ang was also ordered to pay $3,150 in compensation.

The maid, who now works for another employer, was assaulted almost daily between mid-April 2013 and May 1 that year.

Ang hit her with her fist and objects such as a dustpan, a shower head and a cane. The attacks were targeted mainly at the maid's head and face.

Ang also pulled the victim's hair, threw her to the ground and slapped her face repeatedly.

The maid testified during trial that her life was "very bad'' and that Ang would attack her for any slight mistake.

Ang's crimes came to light on May 7, 2013 after a public-spirited neighbour noticed the maid's injuries and alerted the police.

The repeated blows resulted in severe bruising around the eyes.

Deputy Public Prosecutors Ruth Teng and James Chew, who sought a jail term in the range of 14 to 16 months in the State Courts, earlier argued that the serious injuries were a significant aggravating factor.

"This is not a case of a light smack or a quick shove. This is a case where the victim was systematically brutalised by Ang," the prosecutors said in their submissions to the court.

District Judge Shaiffudin Saruwan, who presided over Ang's trial, found her conduct particularly egregious.

The abuses were prolonged and showed a pattern of escalating severity, he noted.

He also rejected the defence's argument that the victim had fabricated all the incidents of abuse to engineer the premature termination of her employment contract.

Ang could have been jailed for up to three years and also fined up to $7,500 for each charge of maid abuse.

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

Does ARA's delisting via a scheme of arrangement make sense?

Business Times
17 Mar 2017
David Gerald

Factors for rational evaluation - the offer, future scenario, risk appetite, investment objectives

There are many reasons for a company to be listed on a stock exchange. One key reason is to be able to tap public funds as and when extra capital is needed for expansion and growth. Beyond the initial public offering phase, listed companies can continue to raise public funds through various methods, such as preference shares, rights issues, retail bonds or perpetual securities.

Private placements to institutional investors are also a viable option to raise additional funds.

In addition, publicly-listed companies tend to enjoy better financing terms when seeking bank loans, as they are perceived to have higher standards of corporate governance, financial discipline and management prudence, as compared to privately-held companies.

Therefore, a growing company, which is constantly seeking funds for expansion, would be able to reap the value and benefits of being listed, as the stock exchange provides a ready source of investors as and when the company requires cash for expansion. Investors who believe in the company's growth potential will continue to participate in such cash calls, hoping that their investments will pay off in the long term, in the form of future dividends or share price appreciation.

However, as we have seen in some recent privatisations, the benefits of being listed on a stock exchange are no longer relevant for companies that reach a certain size or a particular stage of development.

Ron Sim, the founder of homegrown OSIM, has acknowledged that being listed has some drawbacks. For example, before embarking on a new initiative or project, he had to consider all stakeholders and their concerns, as well as evaluate the short-term impact on quarterly results. This hampered the entrepreneur's style and stifled the company's growth. In order to fast-track OSIM's growth strategically and opportunistically, Mr Sim made an offer to acquire all OSIM shares that he did not own. OSIM was delisted from the Singapore Exchange in August 2016.

In the case of the proposed privatisation of ARA Asset Management, the real estate fund manager believes that its growth is highly dependent on its ability to raise a huge amount of capital efficiently. In order to further its growth, ARA requires a substantial amount of capital to make strategic co-investments in existing and new funds, as well as make opportunistic acquisitions. ARA founder John Lim and controlling shareholder Straits Trading and Cheung Kong Property, have therefore entered into a partnership with private equity firm Warburg Pincus and AVIC Trust, to form a consortium to privatise ARA via a scheme of arrangement, at a scheme price of S$1.78. By securing the long-term commitment of these two partners, ARA hopes to be able to operate more nimbly and efficiently in achieving its growth objectives.

Despite the merits of the privatisation case, some shareholders may feel that they have been deprived of the opportunity to participate in the company's long-term growth, or that the scheme price is too low as they believe that ARA is worth much more.

In order to help shareholders make an informed decision, I will discuss a few points in greater detail.

Constant need for capital for long-term growth

Since its establishment in 2002, ARA has over time developed increasing investment and asset management capabilities over large-scale properties in multiple asset classes across the Asia-Pacific.

Unlike other traditional real estate players with a significant value of fixed assets on their balance sheet, ARA's debt headroom is limited by its asset light business model. Therefore, ARA will inevitably need to undertake equity fund raisings from time to time to maximise the scalability of its business model in the long term. In November 2015, ARA carried out its first capital market fund raising since its listing in 2007 through a S$152 million rights issue. The proceeds were used for strategic investments and seed capital for its existing and new funds it manages.

While this will tide ARA through the next few years, it will not be a sustainable solution for the company in the long run, as public fund raising is not only highly subject to market conditions, but also very costly. More importantly, it may result in a dilution of shareholders' interest in the long term.

ARA shareholders will need to ask themselves, are they prepared to participate in the company's cash calls in the future, in order to see the company through its next stage of growth? If no, are they willing to accept the fact that their stake will be diluted overtime?

Is the scheme price fair?

In any privatisation or takeover situation, minority shareholders are most concerned about whether the price offered is fair. It is natural for shareholders to seek higher offer prices, especially if they had originally invested at a higher price. However, they must also understand that share price fluctuations are a norm of the stock market, and there are always risks associated with any investments. Naturally, one would hope for the stock they invest in to appreciate over time, based on the company's earnings potential - in a perfect market, this would be the case. But in reality, this usually does not happen and most companies do not trade at value, as the share price is subject to a confluence of multiple factors that may or may not be directly related to the company's earnings potential or fundamentals.

For ARA's proposed privatisation, as stated in the scheme document, the scheme price represents fair premiums of 43.9 per cent over the 12-month VWAP and exceeds the highest closing price of ARA shares since May 2014. The scheme price also implies an EV/AUM, EV/Ebitda and P/E of 5 per cent, 17.5 times and 20.7 times respectively, which are higher than the company's historical averages.

I have always highlighted that shareholders should refer to the opinion of the Independent Financial Adviser (IFA) on the price. The board of ARA has appointed Deloitte as the IFA to opine on the scheme. The IFA is of the view that the financial terms of the scheme are fair and reasonable. The independent directors of ARA concur with the IFA's recommendation and have recommended that ARA minority shareholders vote in favour of the scheme. It is also noteworthy that one of the major institutional investor of ARA, Franklin Templeton, has given an irrevocable undertaking to vote for the scheme.

A Scheme of Arrangement is also much better suited for that than a general offer. This is because a Scheme of Arrangement has a binary outcome. Simply put, it either succeeds or fails. Retail shareholders have an opportunity to cast their vote and decide whether they want to sell their shares or not and be part of a collective decision by the general body of shareholders. If the vote is successful, ARA will be delisted from the Singapore Exchange. If it is not, ARA will continue to remain a listed company with no change in shareholding. In addition, a Scheme of Arrangement affords greater protection to minority shareholders as the overall process is overseen by the high court to ensure minority interests are protected. It is important to note that the rollover shareholders, namely John Lim, Straits Trading and Cheung Kong Property cannot vote.

Given the low trading liquidity of the ARA shares, ARA minority shareholders may wish to consider that this is an opportunity for them to realise their investments through the scheme at an attractive valuation, without incurring any brokerage fees.

Conclusion

It is inevitable that shareholders will mourn the departure of a well-managed company like ARA from the bourse, especially in a turbulent period where we have seen multiple delistings last year. However, ARA sees the privatisation route as the only way for it to fully maximise its growth potential, which will be difficult to achieve as long as it remains listed.

Some may agree that the privatisation represents a win-win situation for both the company and the shareholders, with the company attaining its objectives to achieve greater things, and the shareholders given an opportunity to exit at an opportune time, at a fair and reasonable price. However, some may disagree and decide to vote against the scheme, hoping for a better offer in the future, if there is any.

John Lim and his consortium partners have indicated that the scheme price is final and they will not be able to make another offer for at least 12 months, if the scheme does not go through. Shareholders should consider the fact that the ARA share price is currently being supported by the scheme price and may fall below the current level if the scheme is unsuccessful.

It is, therefore, important for shareholders to rationally evaluate the scheme based on what is on the table now, what the future might look like, and whether the decision is in line with their own risk appetite and investment objectives.

The writer is president & CEO, Securities Investors Association (Singapore)

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S'pore aims to be a hub to develop bankable projects

Straits Times
10 Mar 2017
Chia Yan Min

Singapore aims to become Asia's hub for structuring and financing large-scale infrastructure projects, such as power stations, waste- and water-management systems, transport and ports.

Senior Minister of State for Finance and Law Indranee Rajah told a conference yesterday that the country is working to develop people with deep expertise in the sector.

She said Asia urgently needs infrastructure, given rapid urbanisation and population growth.

From now until 2030, the region is expected to require US$20 trillion (S$28.4 trillion) of additional infrastructure investment to meet growing demand.

"This is the equivalent of developing infrastructure needed to support the population of one Singapore every week," added Ms Indranee. She was speaking at the Asia Pacific Energy and Infrastructure Finance Forum at the Singapore Marriott Tang Plaza Hotel.

Despite "massive demand" and funds available, however, these needs are largely unmet, mainly because many projects are not bankable and hence cannot get off the ground, she said.

Bankability refers to the ability to obtain project finance.

"If a project is deemed neither bankable nor investible, it means banks will not lend and investors will not put in the money, as they cannot get back sufficient returns within a reasonable timeframe, or the risks are just too high," noted Ms Indranee.

In view of these gaps, Singapore wants to position itself as Asia's infrastructure exchange.

Its strategic location and strong position in world capital markets "make Singapore an ideal place to develop bankable projects to mobilise private sector and institutional investments", Ms Indranee said.

She added that more is being done to build up infrastructure-related skills here and get more small and medium-sized enterprises to be involved in the sector.

For instance, this year's Budget contains measures to strengthen access to cross-border project financing for Singapore-based companies that are expanding overseas.

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

Ex-trader in spoofing case gets 16 weeks' jail

Straits Times
23 Mar 2017
Grace Leong

Former DBS Vickers Securities remisier Dennis Tey Thean Yang was sentenced to 16 weeks' jail yesterday for manipulating prices in the securities market by using an illegal trading tactic called "spoofing".

Tey, 33, filed a notice of appeal against his sentence and was granted bail of $80,000 by District Judge Jasvender Kaur.

Said the judge: "It is in the interest of the community to root out spoofing to ensure that the financial markets are genuine. If such misconduct is not effectively deterred, then the manipulators would be protected at the expense of the market participants, whom the law is supposed to protect."

It was the first such case brought jointly by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) and Singapore Police Force's Commercial Affairs Department. Tey pleaded guilty earlier this month to eight of 23 charges related to his attempt to manipulate prices through fraudulent securities orders made between late 2012 and 2013.

His scheme aimed to defraud IG Asia and CMC Markets Singapore, which provide what are called Contracts for Differences (CFD). These allow investors to profit from the price fluctuations of underlying assets without actually owning them.

Tey's "spoofing" strategy involved entering false orders in underlying securities to temporarily change the prices and, in turn, the prices of the corresponding CFDs.

He then executed the CFD trades at prices which were beneficial to him but were detrimental to the two CFD providers. After executing the CFD trades, Tey removed the false orders for the underlying securities. He entered 465 orders through the securities accounts and 325 trades through the CFD accounts to make a profit of $30,239, the judge said.

He was also charged with unauthorised use of the trading accounts of his parents and clients to perpetrate the fraud.

The judge said "the high level of planning to execute the scheme and to evade detection" and the "scale, frequency and duration of the offence" were significant aggravating factors when considering a jail term.

She also found Tey had breached his responsibilities as a trading representative and breached his duty of fidelity to DBS Vickers when he used nominee accounts to circumvent trading restrictions his employer had imposed on him.

Tey, a Malaysian who left DBS Vickers in March 2014, was arrested in May 2015, charged in July last year and convicted earlier this month.

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MAS proposes new limits on payments made with coins

Straits Times
17 Mar 2017
Tay Hong Yi & Annika Mok

Provision shop owner Shaik Alaudin provides a public service on top of selling assorted wares at his three outlets in Yishun and Toa Payoh.

His regular customers know they can go to him for an informal coin-exchange service, which can see transactions of up to a few hundred dollars in coins, totalling as much as $1,000 per week.

"Unlike banks, I do not charge a fee for exchanging coins to notes, as I believe in giving back to the residents in the area," said the 45-year-old businessman.

"I also accept payment in coins beyond the limits, as my products all cost less than $25."

He added that many of his suppliers, including newspaper distributors, accept large payments in coins despite prevailing rules under the Currency Act that entitle payees to reject payments made with coins exceeding legal tender limits.

The existing limits are pegged at a maximum of $2 per denomination for five-cent, 10-cent and 20-cent coins, and $10 for 50-cent coins.

No limits are in place for $1 coins.

In a release yesterday, the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) proposed a revised limit of 10 coins per denomination in a single transaction, and invited feedback in a public consultation until April 6.

It gave "preventing acts of mischief, minimising inconvenience and cost in handling large quantities of low denomination currency" as the objectives of the new limit.

An online poll on the ST website found that out of 654 respondents, 424, or nearly 65 per cent, were against the proposal.

The Straits Times also interviewed 22 shop owners and shoppers in Toa Payoh and Bishan and found that most were ambivalent about the idea or objected to it.

Phone salesman Y.B. Fong, 35, once had a customer pay for a $50 portable charger using only 50-cent and $1 coins, but he remains neutral about the proposal.

"Other than that (incident), I do not think we have had many problems with customers paying with coins," he said. "I do not think this policy will change things very much except prevent a small group of people from bothering shop owners with many coins."

Meanwhile, medical student Peng Tao, 20, thinks he will never exceed the limits, but expressed concern that some would be affected by it.

"It may be inconvenient for old folk who are paid in coins, such as karung guni (men)," he said.

Student Chara Lam, 19, applauded the proposal: "You cannot expect shop owners to count all the coins; plus, it can hold up the line."


CURRENT LIMITS

$2

For five-cent, 10-cent and 20-cent coins.

$10

For 50-cent coins.

No limit

For $1 coins.

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

Top S'pore judge joins Dubai court

Straits Times
09 Mar 2017
K.C. Vijayan

Justice Judith Prakash will hear appeals at Dubai International Financial Centre Courts

Justice Judith Prakash, who sits on the Court of Appeal, has been appointed to the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) Courts - the first female Singaporean to hold a post there.

The judge will preside over appeals on a part-time basis at the DIFC Courts. She will also continue to serve at Singapore's apex court.

The DIFC Courts, where Singaporean Senior Counsel Michael Hwang serves as Chief Justice, is an independent judiciary, with powers to settle civil and commercial disputes locally and globally.

Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon yesterday lauded Justice Prakash's appointment by Dubai Emir Sheikh Mohammed Rashid Al Maktoum, who is also Vice-President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates.

Said the Chief Justice: "With her vast experience in complex commercial and arbitration cases, I am confident that Justice Prakash will contribute positively to the work of the DIFC Courts. This appointment is not just a recognition of Justice Prakash's ability but a recognition of the calibre and strength of the Singapore Bench in the commercial dispute-resolution arena."

Meanwhile, Mr Hwang said Justice Prakash's appointment will further strengthen the DIFC Courts, which has earned a strong reputation through its ability to deal with highly complex commercial disputes. "We also take great pride in our achievements in terms of gender equality. We are delighted to add further top female talent to our judicial bench with the appointment of Justice Judith Prakash."

He also said her appointment was based purely on merit, not gender. "I have known her for many years as a colleague and consider her as one of the top legal brains in Singapore."

Justice Prakash has served as a judge for more than 20 years. She made history by becoming the first female Judge of Appeal last year.

Law Society president Gregory Vijayendran said: "This is a fitting tribute and achievement for her... It proves that gender is no barrier to first-rate ability. The Bar celebrates Justice Prakash's latest monumental milestone together with her."

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CCS uncovers 5 firms involved in F1 tender bid-rigging

Business Times
22 Mar 2017

The Competition Commission of Singapore (CCS) issued a proposed infringement decision (PID) against five companies on Tuesday for their alleged involvement in tender bid-rigging.

The bids in question include a tender for the provision of electrical services for the Formula 1 Singapore Grand Prix from 2015 to 2017.

The firms are the Cyclect Group, comprising Chemicrete Enterprises, Cyclect Electrical Engineering and Cyclect Holdings, as well as HPH Engineering and Peak Top Engineering.

In a release on Tuesday, the CCS said it began its investigations after receiving a complaint on the alleged anti-competitive agreements.

In the case of the F1 tender, called on Dec 8, 2014 by Faithful+Gould Project Management on behalf of Singapore GP, a total of four bids from Chemicrete, Cyclect Electrical, HPH and Peak Top were submitted.

After assessment, the tender was awarded on April 23, 2015 to Cyclect Electrical, which submitted the lowest bid for the three-year contract.

CCS's investigations found that Chemicrete, Cyclect Electrical, HPH and Peak Top colluded in the submission of their bids for the F1 tender. Instead of each party independently preparing their own competitive bid, the Cyclect Group prepared all price schedules and final bid prices for HPH's and Peak Top's submissions, with the intention that Cyclect Electrical would win the tender.

In a separate case, international school Gems World Academy called for an invitation to quote for the procurement of barcode tagging services for its campus property.

Gems received a total of three quotes, including quotes from Chemicrete and HPH. On March 31, the tender was awarded to Chemicrete, which had submitted the lowest quote.

According to CCS's investigations, Chemicrete sought HPH's assistance to win the tender. Chemicrete forwarded a competing quote to be submitted by HPH to Gems that was higher than Chemicrete's own quote.

Under the Competition Act, business entities should not enter into any agreement or engage in any concerted practice with the object or effect of preventing, restricting or distorting competition.

They should instead independently determine their responses to competition and refrain from participating in any discussion, coordination, or plan which is anti-competitive in nature, the CCS said.

The Cyclect Group, HPH and Peak Top have six weeks from receipt of CCS's decision to make their representations to CCS, before it makes it final decision.

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

Keeping the bar high for finance

Straits Times
17 Mar 2017
Grace Leong

It is a loud and clear wake-up call to anyone working in the financial service sector here.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) this week moved to ban from its securities industry four disgraced bankers and executives, for periods from 10 years to a lifetime, over their role in the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) scandal.

Those in the sector are on notice they must stay vigilant against dubious clients or suspicious transactions, especially those relating to money laundering and terrorism financing. Turning a blind eye or failing to report suspicious transactions is no defence, and deliberately obstructing investigations into such activities will not go unpunished.

On Monday, MAS banned former Goldman Sachs star dealmaker Tim Leissner from the securities industry here for 10 years, and said it intends to slap prohibition orders on three others caught up in the scandal. This move comes after the trio - Jens Sturzenegger, former branch manager of Falcon Private Bank in Singapore, and former BSI bankers Yak Yew Chee and Yvonne Seah Yew Foong - were investigated and convicted here.

Leissner has not been charged for any wrongdoing, but was subpoenaed last year by US investigators over 1MDB work.

Given the gravity of their misconduct, MAS said it intends to issue lifetime bans against Sturzenegger and Yak - potentially the first under the Securities and Futures Act and Financial Advisers Act. Seah faces a 15-year ban.

Even if they tried to find employment in the financial industry outside Singapore, it will likely be difficult as the stigma of being associated with the 1MDB scandal will be hard to shake off, observers say.

The latest MAS action comes on top of the regulator shutting down two Swiss-based banks, Falcon and BSI, last year, and issuing fines against UBS Group AG, DBS Group, Standard Chartered and Coutts for breaches related to 1MDB. These moves send the unequivocal message that the industry has to meet high standards of professional conduct, and if it crosses the line, the consequences will be severe.

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High Court: Banks' interests intact even when pledged goods are mixed up

Business Times
09 Mar 2017
Claire Huang

Judgment comes in the case of Pars Ram Brothers' stock of pepper

Imagine a trader which has various categories of stock kept in a warehouse. The categories of the stock are distinguishable from each other, but within each category, bags of stock that were financed by one bank were mixed up with bags financed by other banks.

Then the trader goes into voluntary liquidation.

The issue that arises is whether the commingling of the pledged goods negates the various banks' security interests.

The High Court, in a decision that is the first of its kind in Singapore and the United Kingdom, has ruled that banks' security interests remain intact despite the mixup among the stock of pledged goods.

The judgment comes for the case involving spice traders Pars Ram Brothers, which went into voluntary liquidation in November 2015, and its various lenders, including the Australian and New Zealand Banking Group (ANZ), Standard Chartered Bank (Singapore), DBS Bank and Bank of India.

The stock in question was pepper - and the court had to determine whether the gross sale proceeds of 12 categories of pepper stock amounting to about S$6.9 million should be held for the general pool of the company's creditors, or be paid to the banks, which could assert a security interest in the pepper stock that they financed.

Justice Steven Chong wrote in a March 2 judgment that he found no principled reason to make a distinction between ownership and security interests in the instance of a mixup in various categories of the bags of pepper.

Lawyer Pradeep Pillai of Shook Lin & Bok, who represented the liquidators in the case, said that the default legal position - in order for a bank to be able to enforce its security - is that it has to be able to identify the pledged goods.

But Justice Chong said in his judgment that since the banks already possessed perfected security interests by virtue of the underlying pledges before the mix up, the failure to segregate the pledged goods did not negate the existence of the banks' security.

This means it is not necessary to ascertain part of the bulk to create or perfect the banks' security interests in the stock they financed.

The issue of identifying whose interest remained in the mixed bulk was an evidential one in this instance, the court said. It added that the just solution was for the mixed stock to be divided among the contributing banks in proportion to the value of their respective contributions.

Justice Chong wrote: "An analogy may be drawn to tracing through mixed funds in equity: where claimants to a mixed fund are each innocent contributors, they share pari passu. It was not disputed by the parties that if the lenders had subsisting security interest in the stocks, this interest can be traced into the proceeds of sale."

The court has thus declared that the gross sale proceeds of S$6.9 million be paid, in proportions to be resolved separately, to the banks that could assert a security interest in the underlying stock they financed.

In a March report, Mr Pillai and his colleague Joycelyn Lin noted the court's decision provides some reassurance to secured bank creditors.

"The decision, while clarifying the law on security interests in commingled goods, serves as a timely reminder to financing banks to ensure that their security documents and trust receipts are in order and accurately describe the goods that they have financed, as this would assist in the identification of their interests in the incoming shipment, notwithstanding the fact that the stock is ultimately mixed."

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Pars Ram Brothers (Pte) Ltd (in creditors’ voluntary liquidation) v Australian & New Zealand Banking Group Ltd and others [2017] SGHC 38

Discipline needed when applying to delay AGMs

Business Times
22 Mar 2017
Mak Yuen Teen & Chew Yi Hong

Rule 707(1) of the Mainboard and Catalist Rulebooks requires all issuers with a primary listing on Singapore Exchange (SGX) to hold their annual general meetings (AGMs) within four months after the financial year-end. They are also required to issue their annual report to shareholders and SGX at least 14 days before the AGM. The Singapore Companies Act requires listed companies to hold their AGMs within the same deadline and to send the audited financial statements and the auditor's report to shareholders at least 14 days before the AGM.

Some issuers apply for a waiver from Rule 707(1) in order to hold their AGM after the four-month deadline. Holding the AGM after the statutory deadline also requires the approval of the relevant regulatory authority. SGX typically expresses no objection to the AGM being held at a later date subject to certain conditions, one of which is that the relevant regulatory authority concerned also approves the extension. For Singapore-incorporated companies, the relevant regulatory authority is the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (Acra).

Issuers that apply for waivers to delay results announcements often apply for waivers from Rule 707(1) as well. Although regulators do grant waivers from Rule 707(1) in most cases, we are pleased that, based on what we have seen in 2016 compared to 2015, they appear to be getting stricter in doing so. In some cases, an application for a waiver or a further waiver was rejected by SGX. In at least six cases in 2016, SGX had granted approval for a waiver or further waiver subject to Acra also giving approval, but Acra subsequently rejected the application.

Issuers should get the message that extensions to release results or to hold AGMs are granted only in exceptional cases. Directors should be held accountable if such delays are due to their lax oversight.

Often, applications for waivers from Rule 707(1) are early indicators of bad news. Therefore, starting from our second yearly report on shareholder meetings last year, we looked at issuers that apply for waivers from holding their AGMs on time.

In our latest report due later this month, we found that 43 issuers made announcements related to a waiver from Rule 707(1). Some applied for multiple waivers. SGX requires issuers to give reasons for applying for a waiver - although some gave rather vague reasons.

Reasons for waiver

One issuer cited the requirement of another exchange where it has a dual listing for 21 days of notice of the AGM, need for translation, and resources being diverted in applying for the dual listing. Another was a new listing.

Four others cited cost savings reasons because of an impending delisting. Other reasons include change of external auditors, special audit or investigation, financial issues (including liquidation, judicial management, going concern problems), resignation or change of key finance personnel, and accounting or audit issues.

Accounting or audit issues were the most commonly mentioned reasons, with 17 of the issuers citing this as a reason, followed by financial issues, with 11 issuers doing so. Often, issuers provided multiple reasons, in which case we classified them based on what we consider to be the major reason.

Issuers were inconsistent in their disclosure of waivers. Some disclosed at the time of application and also when SGX informed them of its decision. Others disclosed only when they were informed by SGX. Some disclosed only when the AGM is already due or nearly due. We cannot even be sure if there were issuers that applied for and failed to obtain a waiver but did not make any announcement.

Delays without waivers

Take the case of YuuZoo Corporation, which in 2015 applied to delay its AGM by one month saying that it was informed by the auditors that the audited accounts would not be ready. The announcement was made only on April 30, the last day to hold its AGM, and in the announcement, it disclosed that it made the application to SGX on March 24. Only when the approval of the waiver was announced on May 8 were more detailed reasons for the delay provided. In 2016, YuuZoo again applied for more time to hold its AGM, this time citing "printing errors" in its annual report. The extension was not granted by SGX. YuuZoo eventually held its AGM on May 27, after its April 30 deadline. There were also some issuers that had applied for extensions of time to announce the full-year results later than 60 days after the end of the full year, as required under Rule 705(1), but did not apply for or announce a waiver to delay their AGM.

For example, China Fishery Group and Pacific Andes Resources Development announced at the end of 2015 and in early 2016 respectively that they have applied for extensions of time to announce the companies' full-year results for the financial year ended Sept 28, 2015. However, they did not announce any applications for waivers to delay their AGMs even though their 2016 AGM deadlines have long since passed - other than both issuing announcements at the end of 2016 that there will be delays to the FY2015 and FY2016 results announcements and AGMs.

The companies have gone totally quiet on their financial reporting for the past 14 months. While it may be somewhat understandable given the circumstances the issuers are in, shareholders are at a complete loss with regard to the financial position of the issuers.

Then there is the case of Transcorp Holdings, which on Dec 29, 2016, disclosed that it had applied for an extension of time to announce its full-year financial statements for the financial year ended Oct 31, 2016. The announcement on SGX was titled "Financial Statements and Related Announcement: Notification of Results Release". Only when one clicks on the announcement would one realise that it was actually an application for approval for an extension of time to announce the full-year results. It has yet to announce if it had obtained SGX's approval. Further, the company is now already past its four-month deadline to hold the AGM but there has been no announcement about the delay or about any application or approval for an extension. We would question the disclosure treatment of the announcement and would urge stronger oversight over how announcements are being made.

Questionable disclosure of waivers

Probably the worst case of questionable disclosures of waivers from Rule 707(1) was China Environment, an issuer which kept delaying its AGM.

On March 22, 2016, China Environment announced that SGX had informed the company that it had no objection to its AGM for the financial year ended Dec 31, 2015, being held two months late, by June 30, 2016. The company disclosed that it had applied for the waiver on March 4, 2016. The reasons it cited was "inter alia, timing considerations which make it unlikely that the Company will be able to finalise the Annual Report (including the Accounts) in time for it to be dispatched to shareholders of the Company and for the AGM to be held no later than 30 April 2016". What these "timing considerations" were or what caused them were unclear.

A week after its announcement, the executive chairman resigned, followed by the chief financial officer (CFO), the external auditor and two other executive directors in April. The new executive chairman who was appointed on March 9 then resigned less than six months after his appointment. There were other board and management changes.

Meanwhile, on June 16, the company revealed that it had to restate and re-file its financial statements for FY2013 and FY2014 under Acra's Financial Reporting Surveillance Programme. It disclosed that Acra had on Aug 21, 2015, issued a warning letter to two of its directors, followed by an advisory letter to the board of directors on Oct 23, 2015, with respect to the FY2013 financial statements. The audited financial statements for FY2015 would also be deferred until the completion of the FY2013 and FY2014 financial statements. Perhaps this was what the company meant by "timing considerations" in its application for the waiver almost three months earlier.

On June 22, the company announced an application to SGX for a further extension to Oct 7, 2016, to hold its AGM, citing the need to re-state and re-file its FY2013 and FY2014 financial statements. On Aug 12, the company disclosed that it had on July 26 applied to SGX again for an extension of time to hold its AGM by Dec 20, 2016, and that SGX had granted an extension on Aug 10. It cited the delay in the audit process for the FY2015 financial statements as a result of the need to restate and re-file the FY2013 and FY2014 financial statements.

On Oct 19, China Environment announced that it had on Sept 14 applied to Acra for an extension of the deadline to restate and re-file its FY2013 and FY2014 financial statements and table them at the AGM by Dec 20, 2016. It also disclosed that it had on Aug 15 applied to Acra for an extension of time to hold its AGM for FY2015 by Dec 20, 2016, and that Acra had approved it.

The company then announced on Nov 10 that it had applied for yet another extension to hold its FY2015 AGM by June 30, 2017. This time it cited "the recent lockout and power supply cut due to rental in arrears have created disruption to the local staff and Singapore management who are trying to prepare for the audit to be done" and that "one of the key accounting personnel, who handled all the major bookkeeping functions and coordinating the sales and purchase contracts had also resigned recently".

Finally, on Dec 21, the company announced that it had made a report to the Commercial Affairs Department against the former executive chairman and former CFO. Up till today, there is still no sign of the AGM.

In the light of situations such as these, we are recommending in our report that issuers should be required to make an announcement at the time when they apply for a waiver to delay the announcement of results or the holding of their AGM, with the reasons for the application. This is because such applications are often red flags that shareholders should watch out for. In fact, as a general principle, consideration should be given to requiring issuers that apply for waivers from any listing rules or statutory requirements to disclose such applications in a timely manner, and with reasons clearly stated.

We also recommend that issuers that are directed by regulators to restate and re-file their financial statements and those that receive warning or advisory letters relating to non-compliance with financial reporting standards should be required to make an immediate announcement indicating clearly the reasons.

In our view, the poor disclosure of waivers is part of a bigger problem - a lackadaisical attitude towards compliance with listing and regulatory requirements on the part of some issuers. Recent examples of apparent disclosure lapses in issuers such as Spindex Industries and Swiber Holdings raise questions as to whether some issuers and their boards are paying lip service to their disclosure obligations under the listing rules and legislation.

There have been criticisms in some quarters that we have focused too much on compliance or conformance, rather than performance, in our corporate governance efforts. While we agree that good corporate governance requires striking the right balance between compliance and performance, there is still a markedly weak compliance discipline among many listed issuers. If we do not take urgent steps to address the disclosure lapses that are becoming all too common, our disclosure-based regime is at risk of becoming a selective disclosure-based regime.


The writers are, respectively, an associate professor of accounting at NUS Business School where he teaches corporate governance and an active investor who has also been involved in various corporate governance research projects in Singapore and the region.

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S'pore M&A off to a slow start; $10b worth so far

Straits Times
17 Mar 2017
Marissa Lee

Dealmakers' appetite for mergers and acquisitions (M&As) has faltered, resulting in the slowest start to the year since the first quarter of 2013.

The value of announced M&A deals involving Singapore companies has reached US$7.7 billion (S$10.8 billion) so far this year, a decline of 21 per cent from the same period last year, according to data compiled by Thomson Reuters and released yesterday.

The number of announced deals has also fallen 38.1 per cent from the first quarter last year, but what 2017 has lacked in volume, it has partially made up for in value.

The average M&A deal size for disclosed deals grew to US$88.1 million this year, compared with US$69.3 million in the same period last year.

This year also witnessed more Singapore companies participating in deals above US$500 million compared with the same period last year.

First quarter cross-border deal activity fell 30.1 per cent from a year ago to US$4.9 billion.

Singapore's inbound M&A activity was down 40 per cent from a year ago, while outbound M&A activity dipped 26.8 per cent from the first quarter last year.

Domestic M&A activity also slowed to US$1.1 billion, a 17.1 per cent decrease in deal value from the first quarter of 2016.

On the domestic scene, real estate was the hottest target industry, with such deals accounting for 31.5 per cent of domestic M&A activity. In second place was healthcare, accounting for 29.4 per cent of market share.

Likewise, the real estate sector accounted for 41.9 per cent of all deals involving Singapore companies in the first quarter, with deals worth US$3.2 billion, the highest-ever first quarter total for the sector since 2015.

The second hottest sector for deals involving Singapore firms was energy and power, with deals worth US$1.1 billion inked in the first quarter, up 523.3 per cent in terms of deal value from a year ago.

Consumer products and services was third place with US$865.5 million by deal value, up 3.5 per cent from the first quarter of 2016.

The biggest deal involving a Singapore investor this year was sovereign wealth fund GIC and Paramount Group's joint venture to acquire 60 Wall Street, an office tower in New York, for US$1.04 billion in January.

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Underage sex case: AGC not appealing against sentence

Straits Times
09 Mar 2017
Seow Bei Yi

Securing a guilty plea had spared three young victims the trauma of testifying and cross-examination

The public prosecutor will not appeal against mixed martial arts instructor Joshua Robinson's four- year jail sentence, the Attorney- General's Chambers (AGC) said yesterday.

But the AGC will discuss with the Ministry of Law whether relevant legislation should be reviewed to enhance sentencing for similar offenders in the future.

In a statement explaining its position yesterday, the AGC said that among its considerations was that securing a guilty plea from Robinson spared his three young victims "the trauma of testifying and being cross-examined at trial".

The American's sentence last Thursday sparked a strong public reaction. An online petition, started on Sunday, called the punishment "unacceptable and absolutely intolerable". It has attracted more than 27,000 signatures.

Robinson, 39, was jailed for making obscene films, having consensual sex with two 15-year-old girls and showing an obscene clip to a six- year-old girl, among other offences.

The AGC said there were calls from the public for an appeal against the sentence imposed, and for caning to be imposed. There were also public comments saying he had committed "sexual assaults" and should have been charged with rape, statutory rape or outrage of modesty.

But the AGC clarified that as the two victims were above 14 years of age when they had sex with Robinson, he had not committed statutory rape. Under the law, having sex with a minor below the age of 14 is recognised as statutory rape.

And because the girls consented to the sexual acts, he could not be charged with rape and outrage of modesty. By the same token, these were not cases of sexual assault.

Responding to suggestions that he should have been sentenced to caning, the AGC added that "caning is not provided for any of the offences Robinson was charged with". The AGC said its decision was "broadly in line with relevant sentencing precedents".

The prosecution had sought a total sentence of four to five years' imprisonment, and its position was made known to the defence counsel and District Court at a pre-trial conference last September. It was also conveyed to Robinson before he decided last December to plead guilty.

In discharging its duties, the AGC said it does not differentiate between Singaporeans and non-Singaporeans.

Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam yesterday said "the original decision on what sentences to ask for was cleared at the highest levels - by the previous A-G himself, based on precedents from previous cases".

But he added that if there is the sense that the sentences, based on precedents, are inadequate, "we consider what can be done".

"I do think that the sentences for such offences committed by Robinson need to be relooked at," he said. "That is why I have asked my ministries to study this."

Said Association of Criminal Lawyers of Singapore president Sunil Sudheesan: "It would be unfair to level undue pressure on the prosecution or district judge, given that they are basing sentencing positions on established case law."

Compared with similar cases, he noted, four years is a long sentence.

For instance, in 2015, the jail term of a 23-year-old man was increased from four to 10 months for having sex with a 14-year-old girl whom he met via an instant messaging application.

When contacted, the six-year-old girl's father told The Straits Times that he accepts Robinson's punishment and hopes the case raises awareness of the man's conduct.

He also hopes the authorities will look into the existing system and consider having harsher punishment for similar cases.

"That's all I want, I want the Government to look into it," he said. "As for my family and I, we want closure. We are not angry. I'm content, and I want to move on."


REVIEW LAW

That's all I want, I want the Government to look into it. As for my family and I, we want closure. We are not angry. I'm content, and I want to move on.

FATHER OF THE SIX-YEAR-OLD GIRL

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Next financial crisis may be triggered by a cyberattack, says MAS chief

Business Times
22 Mar 2017
Angela Tan

Emerging technologies help reduce risks in the financial sector, but they may also accentuate some risks or even create new ones, such as cyberattacks and runaway algorithms, warned Ravi Menon, managing director of the Monetary Authority of Singapore.

In his keynote address at an annual forum by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission in Sydney on Monday, he said cyberattacks, which are less visible and often hit many firms at the same time, are a growing threat to the financial ecosystem, and that financial technology (fintech) could accentuate this risk.

"As more financial services are delivered over the Internet, there will be growing security and privacy concerns from cyber threats," he said. "And maybe even systemic concerns. It is not inconceivable that the next financial crisis is triggered by a cyberattack."

Cyber risk management will thus be the new frontier for global regulatory efforts and supervisory co-operation to address these emerging threats.

He noted that the financial sector has benefited from technological innovation, as is evident from the growing use of digital payments and a wide variety of financial operations; big data is being used in many areas of finance to gain richer insights into customer behaviour and needs, to detect fraud or anomalies in financial transactions and to sharpen surveillance of market trends.

But various risks lurk. Take for example, the nascent use of robo-advisors - software algorithms that recommend a portfolio based on investor preferences and rebalance the portfolio automatically. Shouldn't such robo-advisors be subject to capital requirements, since the financial risks presented by them are similar to that by traditional fund managers, Mr Menon asked.

They also present higher technology risks in the form of runaway algorithms or cyber criminals stealing customer information, not to mention potential systemic or macro-financial risks.

"The failure of a robo-advisor could potentially lead to contagion among other algorithm-driven service providers. This could present systemic risks if investors seek to withdraw their investments in securities through fire sales," he added.

The pro-cyclicality arising from algorithms is another unknown, as the interaction between algorithms could exacerbate market trends.

But Mr Menon suggested that regulators guard against taking approaches that are too pre-emptive when dealing with the uncertainties of fintech; instead, they need to keep pace with innovation.

Turning to how the MAS responds to fintech, he said it uses a regulatory sandbox to test new ideas in a confined environment. The Singapore regulator has also started using techniques such as clustering and network analysis in its supervision of the financial markets and its monitoring of anti-money laundering and countering financing of terrorism risks.

"We are working to develop algorithms that can detect and identify trading accounts suspected of syndicated activities," he said, adding that MAS will soon set up a dedicated unit on supervisory technology to synergise these efforts and to sharpen its supervisory practices.

On cyber security, MAS has collaborated with the Financial Services Information Sharing and Analysis Centre (FS-ISAC) to establish an Asia-Pacific Regional Intelligence and Analysis Centre. The centre will encourage regional sharing and analysis of cybersecurity information within the financial services sector. It is expected to begin operations soon.

Mr Menon noted that, nine years on from the global financial crisis, the financial industry continues to be plagued by egregious misconduct, and financial regulation remains a work in progress.

Regulators must "evaluate the effects of the reforms put in place and make adjustments where appropriate, to maximise their effectiveness and minimise their costs".

But ultimately, it is the financial institution's responsibility to foster "a culture that motivates the right ethical behaviour and responsible risk-taking in the markets" as there are limits to what externally imposed rules can do, he said.

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Woman jailed for killing boyfriend by stomping on his head

Straits Times
17 Mar 2017
Selina Lum

She fractured his skull in fit of anger after he accused her of cheating on him and insulted her parents

When he saw his girlfriend dancing with a male stranger at a night club, he got upset and scolded her.

Later that night in bed, Mr Lee Yang Boo, 55, accused Sukanya Praphuttha of having a sexual relationship with the man and hurled vulgarities at her. In a fit of anger, she attacked him and stomped on his head so hard that she fractured his skull. He died a few hours later.

At 156cm tall and weighing 55kg, she was 10cm shorter than Mr Lee but 10kg heavier.

Yesterday, the Thai national, who is a Singapore permanent resident, pleaded guilty to killing Mr Lee and was sentenced to 5½ years in jail for culpable homicide.

Some time during the assault in their North Bridge Road flat in the early hours of March 1, 2015, a neighbour heard Mr Lee shouting "Don't beat me" and "Stop beating me", the court was told.

Praphuttha, 43, and Mr Lee had lived together in the rented flat for seven years. They had a tumultuous relationship, marked often by quarrels and, at times, physical fights.

On the night of Feb 28, 2015, after going for drinks with friends at a nightclub, where she danced with a stranger, they returned home.

After more drinks, they quarrelled after Mr Lee made the sex accusation. But she eventually placated him and they went to bed.

Later, Mr Lee suddenly woke up and continued to hurl vulgarities at Praphuttha and insulted her parents as well.

A scuffle ensued, which resulted in Mr Lee lying down on his side on the floor of the bedroom.

With her right foot, Praphuttha stomped on the left side of his head. She claimed that she lost her temper when he continued to hurl vulgarities, so she hit him repeatedly on his face, body and limbs.

As she helped Mr Lee onto the bed, she noticed that his left ear was bleeding and he was having breathing difficulties. At about 4.30am, she sought help from a neighbour, who called the police.

Mr Lee was pronounced dead in hospital at about 6.45am.

An autopsy concluded that he died from head injuries "most likely caused by heavy blunt force impact to the sides of the head" and "most likely inflicted by a broad surface". A total of 47 bruises were found all over his body.

Praphuttha was found to have a handful of bruises and abrasions.

She was initially charged with murder but the charge was reduced to culpable homicide, which carries a maximum of 10 years in jail.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Mohamed Faizal sought a six-year jail sentence, arguing that Praphuttha had viciously attacked Mr Lee when he was already "down for the count". Mr Lee died a slow and painful death, he said.

Praphuttha's assigned lawyer Cheryl Ng argued that his "highly provocative" insults at her parents triggered her reaction. She asked for four years in jail, saying her client regrets killing the man she loved.

Ms Ng said Praphuttha moved here in 1991 when she married a Chinese national, with whom she had a daughter. After they divorced, Praphuttha got to know Mr Lee and later moved in with him.

Mr Lee's sister, who was in court, said her brother suffered a death he did not deserve.

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Lawyers suggest certain factors be given more weight: Joshua Robinson underage sex case

Straits Times
09 Mar 2017
Seow Bei Yi

Lawyers and social workers said certain factors could be given more weight in offences relating to sex with minors. These could include distinguishing if the act was done by someone in a "position of trust".

They also suggested reviewing the conditions for statutory rape - having sex with a minor under 14 - which carries a harsher punishment than sexual penetration of a minor under 16.

The Attorney-General's Chambers' (AGC) statement yesterday said the public prosecutor will not appeal against the four-year jail sentence given to mixed martial arts instructor Joshua Robinson for having sex with two 15-year-old girls .

The AGC explained that the 39-year-old's charge of sexual penetration of a minor under 16, in which offenders may be jailed for up to 10 years with a fine, was the "most serious charge that the prosecution could have brought on the facts of this case".

Having sex with a minor under 14, with or without consent, is considered statutory rape. Offenders may be jailed for up to 20 years, with a fine or caning.

Lawyer Amolat Singh, who has been practising criminal law for 25 years, said factors such as injuries sustained and whether drugs were used on the victim could have brought about a longer sentence in cases similar to Robinson's.

But there should also be tougher punishment if the offender is in a position of "trust and confidence", such as being a teacher.

He also suggested that the age limit of below 14 for statutory rape may be rather "arbitrary and artificial", adding that those aged from 14 to 16 should be equally protected.

"While (Robinson) should not be tried in a court of public opinion, the public's view is relevant to show outrage, and that something needs to be done," he said.

Another criminal lawyer, Mr Eugene Thuraisingam, asked whether the law should legislate for a large age disparity between the victim and offender. A large-enough age difference could result in a charge of statutory rape, even if the victim, a minor, was above 14, he suggested.

"But a balance has to be struck between a young man who makes a mistake, and an older man who preys on young victims. Perhaps, the law does not draw that distinction sufficiently," he said.

Ms Iris Lin, a senior social worker at Fei Yue Community Services, said the gap in knowledge of sexuality between 13- and 15-year-olds is not as large these days.

"Nowadays, children have access to a lot of information," she said, adding that the cut-off age for a harsher punishment is debatable. "But the law needs to draw a line somewhere," she conceded.


Key reasons for decision

• Securing a guilty plea would spare three young victims the trauma of testifying and being cross-examined at trial.

• Joshua Robinson did not commit "sexual assault" - two of his victims were aged above 14 when they had consensual sex.

• Victims consented to the sex acts, so he had not committed rape or outrage of modesty.

• Caning is not provided for offences that Robinson was charged with.

• Sentencing is broadly in line with precedents.

• The Attorney-General's Chambers does not differentiate between Singaporeans and non-Singaporeans in discharging duties.


Joshua Robinson's four-year sentence

The District Court ordered the sentences for the following charges to run consecutively:

• One charge of sexual penetration of minor: 24 months;

• One charge of making an obscene film: 12 months;

• The charge of possession of obscene films: six months;

• The charge of exhibiting obscene object to young person: six months.

Another 20 charges were taken into consideration. Total sentence: four years' jail.

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What has happened since the accident

Straits Times
22 Mar 2017
Seow Bei Yi

SMRT

The rail operator has implemented additional safeguards for staff working on running tracks during traffic hours, such as switching on a red flashing light with an appropriate sign displayed. It has also introduced more stringent checks for track access during traffic hours.

Each request is reported to management alongside information such as the location, time and duration of access, as well as protection arrangements - for better monitoring and detecting of deviations in practice.

SMRT has also improved the audit process for track access.

Previously, checks were not conducted as track access is an ad-hoc activity, meaning audits can be done only on short notice. Inspectors have since been attached to signal maintenance, to check on compliance for access during traffic hours.

Other measures include a new department - the Track Access Management Office - to plan, coordinate and control track access in non-traffic hours.

On Feb 28, SMRT pleaded guilty to one charge under the Workplace Safety and Health Act for failing to take measures necessary to ensure the safety and health of its employees in accessing train tracks, and was fined a record $400,000.

MINISTRY OF MANPOWER

The ministry, which did an investigation into the case as well, revealed on Feb 28 that not only did SMRT fail to comply with approved operating procedures on the day of the accident, but non-compliance had been taking place as early as 2002.

It said these deviations were not documented nor properly authorised, which resulted in an "unsafe workplace that eventually led to the death of two of its employees".

SMRT has accepted full responsibility and said it has reviewed safety protocols and procedures.

COURT ACTION

A coroner's inquiry is expected to be held this year. Two SMRT employees - Mr Teo Wee Kiat, 40, director of control operations, and Mr Lim Say Heng, 47, assistant engineer in charge of the March 22 on-track team - have been charged in relation to the accident.

LAND TRANSPORT AUTHORITY

The LTA said it has completed its investigations into the incident but cannot comment further as there are still cases before the court.

A spokesman said it will release its findings at "an appropriate juncture".

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Law schools must produce grads who can meet ‘new demands’

TODAY
16 Mar 2017
Alfred Chua

The legal profession is not immune to disruption and change, and lawyers would need different skills to add value to their practice, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said.

Speaking at the opening ceremony of the School of Law building in Singapore Management University (SMU) on Wednesday (March 15), PM Lee highlighted that technology is automating many routine legal tasks.

“Our law schools will have to keep their curricula up-to-date (for) both undergraduate as well as continuing education to produce lawyers who are prepared for the demands of the new working environment,” he said.

To that end, Mr Lee said the Government would support the legal profession in adapting to these changes.

Pointing to the new Tech Start for Law scheme initiated by the Ministry of Law, the Law Society of Singapore and enterprise agency Spring Singapore to help Singapore law firms adopt new technologies, PM Lee said that the Government would help smaller firms strengthen their capabilities and raise their productivity. For larger ones, the Government will support them in venturing into new areas of legal practice.

At the opening of the Legal Year 2017 in January, Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon revealed that there would be a new five-year technology blueprint to chart the roll-out of various IT initiatives in the legal sector, and a steering committee would review these recommendations.

At the opening ceremony on Wednesday, PM Lee told the 800 guests present that the SMU School of Law was Singapore’s second law school and admitted its first students in August 2007. It now has an enrolment of 730 students in both the undergraduate and postgraduate programmes.

The school building, completed in December last year, is home to the Kwa Geok Choo Law Library, named after the late wife of former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew. The late Madam Kwa, who died in 2010, “would have been proud to have a law library named after her”, PM Lee said.

A conveyancing lawyer for more than 30 years, Madam Kwa accepted many pupils in the law firm she started with her husband and his brother, and was a “good and patient mentor”, he added. She allowed her pupils to follow her to every meeting, listen in on phone calls with clients and, after every client meeting, she would explain to them privately why she advised clients that way.

“Now, quite a few of her former pupils are themselves senior lawyers, and still remember her fondly,” PM Lee said.

He also said his mother paid special attention to the female lawyers in the firm and encouraged them to “find husbands, get married and then have as many children as possible ... in that order”. She was “ahead of the Government in paying attention to work-life balance”, he noted. In the early 1980s when five-and-a-half-day work weeks were the norm, she declared a five-day week for all married female lawyers in her firm, “because she believed that a happy family was a priority for all working mums”.

Apart from the library, the school building — constructed at a cost of S$165 million excluding land cost — houses a moot court, named after Singapore’s first Chief Minister David Marshall. It features flexible furniture and movable walls, as well as IT and audio-visual infrastructure.

Copyright 2017 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

Two fined for unauthorised share trading

Business Times
09 Mar 2017
Lee Meixian

The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) has successfully obtained a civil penalty judgment against Wang Boon Heng and Foo Jee Chin for contravening rules under the Securities and Futures Act (SFA), which prohibit fraud or deception in share trading.

This case was referred to MAS by the Singapore Exchange. When the act was committed, Wang and Foo were divorced, and Wang was an undischarged bankrupt.

Between Sept 3 and Dec 27, 2007, Wang carried out share trading for his own benefit in the accounts opened in Foo's name with DMG & Partners and UOB Kay Hian.

Between Sept 19 and Dec 28, 2007, Wang did the same thing in accounts opened in the name of another person with DMG and UOBKH.

The brokerages did not know that the trades in the accounts were carried out for Wang's benefit and not for the benefit of the named account holders.

Both brokerages did not authorise nor give consent to Wang to trade in the accounts for himself.

MAS said: "In doing so, Wang had intentionally deceived DMG and UOBKH. By allowing Wang to trade in her DMG and UOBKH accounts without obtaining the authorisation and/or consent of DMG and UOBKH, Foo had also intentionally deceived DMG and UOBKH."

In 2013, MAS commenced a civil penalty action against Wang and Foo for contravening section 201(b) of the SFA.

Last December, the Court ruled that Wang and Foo had contravened the section and on Wednesday, the Court further ordered that Wang and Foo pay a civil penalty of S$75,000 and S$50,000, respectively, as well as S$58,636.23 for the legal costs and disbursements incurred by MAS for the civil penalty action.

MAS also issued a warning letter to the second account holder for contravening rules for allowing Wang to trade in his accounts for the latter's benefit. This person was let off the hook for fully cooperating with MAS.

Lee Boon Ngiap, assistant managing director (capital markets) at MAS, said: "This civil penalty action reflects MAS's firm stance against unauthorised share trading, which is a deception against broking firms that are unaware of the beneficial owner behind the trades.

"Such behaviours carry regulatory risks as perpetrators of insider trading and market manipulation often hide behind nominee accounts."

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

ADV: Enter the STEP Private Client Awards 2017/18

Singapore Law Watch
22 Mar 2017
Society of Trusts and Estate Practitioners

Woman loses suit against agency

Straits Times
16 Mar 2017
Selina Lum

Property firm not liable for agent who stole from her using her signed blank cheques

A former teacher trusted a property agent so much she gave him four signed blank cheques to be used to settle a property purchase. But the rogue agent instead used the cheques to embezzle $830,000 from her bank account.

Yesterday, Ms Rohini Balasubramaniam, 56, lost her suit to recover the money from his agency, HSR International Realtors.

She had earlier won a default judgment against the former agent, Kelvin Yeow Khim Whye, but has yet to recover any money. Yeow, a bankrupt, is believed to have fled the country.

Justice Chua Lee Ming said it was unfortunate Ms Rohini had suffered loss at the hands of Yeow. But there was no basis in law to hold HSR liable for Yeow's wrongful acts of misappropriating her money, he said, adding that Yeow was able to do so because she had given him signed blank cheques, trusting him to use them for her property deals.

Ms Rohini had testified that she trusted Yeow as he was from a reputable firm and had acted for her parents in previous transactions, which went well.

She was in and out of hospital as a result of knee problems and relied heavily on him to handle the sale of a Bayshore Park apartment and the purchase of a Bedok Court apartment.

"The first defendant was very kind to me. He would visit me and was very helpful to me," she testified.

She said Yeow advised her to take a loan to buy the Bedok Court unit as the proceeds from the sale of the Bayshore apartment might not arrive in time. On Dec 1, 2009, she gave him four cheques, to be used for various payments, including the first loan instalment.

Yeow wrote the cheques in her presence but she did not see what he wrote.

Her January 2010 bank statement would have shown that her loan had not been repaid but she did not check, as she trusted him.

She discovered the fraud only in mid-2010, when she wanted to sell the property and found that the proceeds from the Bayshore flat sale, which she had told him to collect, were not in her account. In fact, the proceeds of about $833,000 had been deposited. But $830,000 was withdrawn shortly after via the four blank cheques.

Granted legal aid, she sued Yeow, who is no longer a registered property agent, and HSR.

Her lawyer, Mr Edmond Pereira, argued it was not inconceivable that she trusted Yeow as he was not a stranger and she expected the group director of a reputable firm to "do the correct thing".

But yesterday, Justice Chua said: "It is not the plaintiff's case that she gave Kelvin the cheques signed in blank because he was authorised by HSR to ask for cheques signed in blank. The plaintiff's case is that she had done so simply because she had trusted Kelvin. Unfortunately for the plaintiff, that is not sufficient reason to hold HSR liable."

Ms Rohini, who uses a wheelchair, said she was very upset with the "totally unexpected" decision.

HSR, through its lawyer Eugene Thuraisingam, said it was sympathetic. "The court has however scrutinised the facts... and held that HSR was in no way negligent in its conduct and therefore cannot be blamed for her loss."

Under the law, property agents cannot handle transaction money related to the sale and purchase of properties.

Mr David Poh, chief executive of real estate firm Asia Wisdom Group, described the case as "unique". This is not a common practice as "99.9 per cent" of buyers and sellers would fill up a cheque before handing it to an agent, he said.

He noted that this was a case of the consumer "over-trusting" the agent and the agent taking advantage of the trust.

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

Industrial sector to face stricter energy laws

Straits Times
09 Mar 2017
Audrey Tan

Singapore will tackle climate change by targeting the biggest culprits - the industrial sector, responsible for 60 per cent of the country's greenhouse gas emissions.

From next year, the Energy Conservation Act will be enhanced and made more stringent, said Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli yesterday.

The Act now requires large energy users to appoint an energy manager, routinely monitor and report energy use and annual emissions, as well as submit annual energy efficiency improvement plans to the National Environment Agency.

After the laws are tightened, companies will have to ensure common industrial equipment and systems meet minimum energy performance standards, among others.

During the debate on his ministry's budget, Mr Masagos said: "These practices are in line with that of leading jurisdictions and will help companies to adopt more efficient equipment, conserve energy and enjoy life cycle cost savings."

He cited electronic component manufacturer Murata Electronics Singapore as a good example. The firm is replacing 50 motors with higher-efficiency ones, helping it save $21,000 on electricity a year.

Having a structured measurement, reporting and verification system will help pave the way for the carbon tax scheme the Government plans to impose from 2019.

The scheme will tax power stations and other large emitters based on the amount of greenhouse gases they produce, likely in the range of $10 to $20 per tonne.

Other changes to the Act require companies expanding their facilities to factor energy efficiency into their designs, as well as measure and report energy usage for key energy-consuming systems.

Under the Paris climate pact inked in December 2015, Singapore pledged to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases emitted to achieve each dollar of gross domestic product by 36 per cent from 2005 levels, come 2030. It has also pledged to stop any increase to its greenhouse gas emissions by around 2030.

Said Mr Masagos: "As a responsible member of the international community, Singapore is committed to fulfilling our pledge under the Paris Agreement to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions."

But he added the perennial haze - caused by forest fires in countries such as Indonesia due to illegal land clearing methods by palm oil and pulp and paper companies - represents a major setback to global efforts to fight climate change.

Said Mr Masagos: "It is important that we continue to send a strong deterrent signal to errant companies responsible for the fires, that they must change their ways."

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

ADV: Transform your legal department in 6 months

Singapore Law Watch
22 Mar 2017
Thomson Reuters

74-year-old in custody: Procedures followed, say authorities

Straits Times
16 Mar 2017
K.C. Vijayan

Police, prison service respond to woman's letter on treatment of detained mother

Standard procedures were followed and several opportunities were given for a 74-year-old woman to contact her family during her arrest, said the prison service and police force.

They were responding to a letter published on Wednesday in The Straits Times Forum page by Madam Gertrude Simon that her mother Josephine Savarimuthu was handcuffed and had leg restraints on when she was moved between the police station, Changi Women's Prison (CWP) and the court.

She wrote that there was a need for the police and government agencies to re-examine the procedures involving elderly suspects, and that factors like their age, health and mental state, along with the seriousness of the offence, had to be considered.

A joint statement by the Singapore Prison Service (SPS) and Singapore Police Force (SPF) last night said she was not restrained by the police, and this was done only when she was transferred to prison as part of standard procedures.

"Throughout her time with the police, Madam Simon's mother was not restrained, and was offered food and water. She did not show any sign of being traumatised, and was alert when in police custody," it added.

The statement said Madam Savarimuthu had lodged a police report at Ang Mo Kio South Neighbourhood Police Centre on March 4 - a Saturday - for a missing pawn ticket. While processing her report, the police officer discovered that Madam Savarimuthu had an outstanding warrant of arrest issued by the court in 2016 for failing to attend court relating to a town council summons.

It added that Madam Savarimuthu admitted she had an outstanding case with the town council. She was placed under arrest and transferred to Ang Mo Kio Police Division, where she was allowed to call a bailor but declined to do so, said the agencies, adding that she was transferred to the State Courts the same morning to process her outstanding arrest warrant.

The statement said that at the State Courts, Madam Savarimuthu was again asked if she wished to contact anyone for bail, but she declined again.

"If she had accepted the bail offer, she would have been released that day, and attended court another day," it added.

Madam Savarimuthu was then escorted by SPS officers to CWP to be remanded until March 6, a Monday, which was the next available date for court mention.

In her transfer to prison, Madam Savarimuthu was restrained at the hands and legs, which is part of SPS' standard operating procedures, which include preventing persons in custody from harming themselves, the agencies said.

At the prison, Madam Savarimuthu provided the contact details of her granddaughter, who was reached on the same day about what had happened, the next court date and procedure for bail.

The agencies said Madam Simon went to CWP and was informed by SPS officers on the court procedures for bailing out her mother.

"She was also reassured that SPS was aware of her mother's pre-existing medical condition and that she was being provided with the necessary medication and assistance," it added.

"The police and SPS have a duty to enforce the law and to ensure that the rule of law is respected. At the same time, we are committed to ensuring the well-being and safety of persons in our custody."

Speaking to The Straits Times last night at her Ang Mo Kio flat with Madam Simon by her side, the elderly woman said the town council matter involved the wrongful placement of potted plants outside her flat, which amounted to an offence involving a $400 fine.

Of her encounter, she said: "I feel very sad. Why did they do this to an old woman?"

She added of her experience at the police station: "I was confused, I did not know what to say."

Madam Simon, 55, said her mother - who lives alone - could not recall the contact details of any relatives while in custody as she was "stressed and overwhelmed". As a result, the family found out only later that day after a CWP officer contacted them.

Despite the agencies' account, Madam Simon said her mother was handcuffed and restrained when she was moved from the police post to the police division and to the courts. But she said her mother, who suffers from several illness, was thankfully placed in the medical ward in prison, where she received her daily doses of medicine.

"When I saw her after her release, she was very quiet and when I brought her home, she slept with her hands closed to her face, like in handcuffs," she added.


JOINT STATEMENT BY SPS AND SPF

Key points of joint statement from the police and prison service:

When Madam Josephine Savarimuthu was in police custody after her arrest on March 4, she was not restrained, and was offered food and water. She did not show any sign of being traumatised, and was alert when in police custody.

She was asked if she wanted to call someone to bail her out, once at the police station and then in court. She declined both times. If she had accepted the bail offer, she would have been released that day, before going to court another day.

After attending court on the morning of March 4, she was escorted by prison officers to Changi Women's Prison to be remanded until March 6, the next available date for court mention. During her transfer, she was restrained at the hands and legs. This is part of the prison service's standard operating procedures, which include preventing people in custody from harming themselves.

It was while in remand that she provided the contact number of a family member. The prison made contact on the same day. On March 5, Madam Savarimuthu's daughter went to the prison. She was unable to see her mother as there was no visitation on Sunday. Officers told her that they were aware of her mother's pre-existing medical condition and that she was being provided with the necessary help. The daughter bailed her mother out from the State Courts on March 6.


EXERCISE FLEXIBILITY

It is appalling that a weak old woman was subjected to such harsh treatment. Law enforcement officers must be empowered to exercise flexibility to handle such cases with empathy and more humane considerations.

MADAM GERTRUDE SIMON, in her letter published on Wednesday in The Straits Times


WHAT THE AUTHORITIES SAY

Throughout her time with the police, Madam Simon's mother was not restrained, and was offered food and water. She did not show any sign of being traumatised, and was alert when in police custody... During her transfer to CWP, Madam Simon's mother was restrained at the hands and legs. This is part of SPS' standard operating procedures, which include preventing persons in custody from harming themselves.

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

Judge cuts jail term in 'peculiar' drink-driving case

Straits Times
09 Mar 2017
Selina Lum

Culprit was showing valet driver how to drive brand-new Maserati

A third-time drink-driver saw his jail sentence reduced by a third - from six weeks to four - after he succeeded yesterday in his appeal to the High Court over the unusual circumstances of his case.

Having learnt his lesson from two drink-driving convictions, businessman Wang Kim Fatt had hired a valet driver to take him home whenever he went out drinking.

Wang, 53, even included the valet driver in his car insurance policy as the second driver. But after drinks one night last March, the valet asked Wang to demonstrate how to drive his new Maserati. The valet told him he was not familiar with the controls.

Wang had picked up the $600,000 GranTurismo MC Stradale from a dealer just hours earlier. The supercar does not have a gear shift; instead, the gearbox is robotised and the drive modes are activated by paddle shifters.

Wang got into the driver's seat with the valet next to him and drove for 710m before he was stopped at a police roadblock in Mayne Road, off Mackenzie Road. He was arrested after failing a breathalyser test.

Wang was initially sentenced by a district court to six weeks' jail, a $10,000 fine and an eight-year driving ban after he pleaded guilty to his third drink-driving offence.

He accepted the fine and ban but appealed against the jail term.

His lawyer, Mr Daniel Chia, argued that while six weeks' jail is within sentencing norms for the typical third-time offender, Wang's jail term should be shortened as his case was "peculiar and special".

Deputy Public Prosecutor Kong Kuek Foo argued that Wang ought to know he should not have been driving and that six weeks was in the lower range for such offences.

Judge of Appeal Chao Hick Tin agreed that the circumstances were not typical and cut Wang's jail term. He noted that Wang did make an effort to comply with the law but "a certain situation arose".

"He should have left the car in the parking lot rather than try to demonstrate to the driver how to operate the machine," said the judge.

Mr Chia said his client's decision was a "costly lapse of judgment".

He said: "The prospect of leaving the brand-new car overnight in the carpark was unpleasant."

Wang was first convicted of drink driving in 1994; he was fined $3,500 and disqualified from driving for two years. In 2006, he was jailed a week, fined $8,000 and handed a four-year driving ban for his second offence.


WHY CAR WASN'T LEFT IN PARKING LOT

The prospect of leaving the brand-new car overnight in the carpark was unpleasant.

MR DANIEL CHIA, lawyer of businessman Wang Kim Fatt. Mr Chia said Wang's decision to show the valet driver how to operate the $600,000 car was a lapse of judgment.

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

 

Perennial appeals against High Court decision related to Capitol project

Business Times
21 Mar 2017
Lee Meixian

Perennial Real Estate Holdings on Monday filed appeals over the High Court's earlier decision to dismiss the winding-up applications for three joint entities that it holds with Pontiac Land unit, Chesham Properties.

On March 3, Judicial Commissioner Kannan Ramesh had acknowledged the deadlock between the shareholders, but accepted Chesham's argument that it would not be just and equitable to wind up the companies because there is an exit mechanism available to Perennial under the constitutions of the companies - in this case, it provides for one party to offer to sell its shares to the other at a fair value.

He added that where an exit mechanism is available to a shareholder, that shareholder should abide by the agreement and use the exit mechanism.

In this case, Perennial did not use that mechanism, so there was no unfairness in warranting the winding-up of the companies.

The three companies Perennial is seeking to wind up are the joint entities that developed the Capitol integrated development project.

In April last year, Perennial had sought court action to either wind up the three companies that hold the project's luxury hotel, retail shops, residential units, and theatre, or have the court order a sale or buy-out.

All three firms are equally owned by Perennial and Chesham.

Perennial on Monday said it will make the necessary announcements when there are further material developments on this matter.

When contacted, a Pontiac Land spokesman declined to comment.

Perennial's counter ended a cent lower at S$0.825 on the stock market on Monday.

Representing Perennial is TSMP Law Corp's Thio Shen Yi, while Chesham is represented by Davinder Singh and Pardeep Singh of Drew & Napier.

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

SMU law school's feats, at home and abroad

Straits Times
16 Mar 2017
K.C. Vijayan

In the decade since it started in 2007 with the first batch of 116 students, SMU's law school has helped boost the legal profession and chalked up several feats, both here and abroad.

A precursor of dominance to come was seen in the law heavyweights that staffed the law school's first advisory board in 2007. It was chaired by former chief justice Yong Pung How.

The founding members included the present Chief Justice, Mr Sundaresh Menon, who was himself chairman of the board from 2011-2012, former Court of Appeal judge and attorney-general V. K. Rajah, present Court of Appeal judge Andrew Phang, former attorney-general Walter Woon, Senior Counsel Michael Hwang, Senior Counsel Davinder Singh and top corporate lawyer Lee Suet Fern.

The board's role was to advise on the School of Law's academic programmes, curriculum development and graduate employment, among other things.

Law dean Yeo Tiong Min pointed out that one indicator of its signal success was seen last December in the results of the Part B professional examination which all law graduates have to clear as part of requirements to practise in Singapore.

SMU graduates won nine out of 14 prizes awarded for the exam, in competition with graduates from all law schools qualified under the Legal Profession Act.

SMU law students also raised their profile abroad, having reached 37 international mooting championship finals and winning 18 of them since 2007.

The latest win occurred last week in Germany where an SMU law school quartet emerged champions in the 10th edition of the Frankfurt Investment Arbitration Moot and one of the team members was named Best Oralist of the competition.

The team won all eight matches en route to the championship - presided by International Court of Justice Judge Christopher Greenwood - defeating the likes of George Washington, NLU Delhi and Lomonosov university law schools. This year saw a turnout of more than 60 teams from around the world.

" Anecdotal evidence points to increasing appreciation by law firms of the soft skills of our law graduates. Some of our graduates compete head to head with the best for the top jobs in the industry," added Professor Yeo.

Prof Yeo attributed the school's continuing success to several factors, including the "strong collective effort by the professors and administrators, powerful support from industry stakeholders and donors as well as highly motivated students and a young but strongly supportive alumni".

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

ADV: SAL, FLIP Programme Manager

Singapore Law Watch
09 Mar 2017

23 1/2 years' jail for man who sexually abused daughter

Straits Times
21 Mar 2017
Selina Lum

Father also gets maximum 24 strokes of the cane for two-year campaign of degrading acts

A food stall assistant, who sexually abused his biological daughter in the family flat for more than two years, was yesterday sentenced to 23 1/2 years' jail and the maximum 24 strokes of the cane.

The man, 42, denied the charges. He is appealing against his conviction and sentence and was granted $150,000 bail pending appeal.

Among other things, he claimed that it was not possible for him to have committed some of the acts, given the size and condition of his penis, which was deformed after an enlargement procedure.

The man - who cannot be named, to protect the identity of his daughter - committed various sexual offences against her between the end of 2011 and April 2014, when she was aged between 11 and 13.

After her father was sentenced, the girl, now 16, said she was glad he would get the maximum number of strokes of the cane.

"He didn't even show any remorse today. He has the guts to turn around and smile at us. What is that all about?" said the junior college student, who went to court in school uniform.

Her mother, 41, who has divorced the accused, said: "No matter what is the sentence, even if he got the maximum, it's not enough to cover all that we went through."

When the girl was just 11, her father grabbed her hand and made her touch him. The abuse escalated to more intrusive and degrading acts.

Most of the abuse took place in the master bedroom when the girl used the computer there for school projects. Her father would ensure the door was closed and locked before subjecting her to a range of sexual acts.

She kept quiet as she was afraid that the family would break up. But after yet another incident in April 2014, she decided that she had had enough.

She sent her mother a long text message revealing the abuse. "I love Dad... but I hate Dad when he does that to me," she wrote.

After getting over the shock, her mother replied 12 minutes later: "I love you. You have me always."

The next day, the woman threw her husband out of the flat. Three weeks later, she made a police report and filed for divorce.

The man claimed trial to 10 counts of sexual offences - one for committing an indecent act with a child, five for outrage of modesty and four for sexual assault by penetration - and was found guilty last month.

Yesterday, the prosecution sought a sentence of 24 years' jail and 24 strokes of the cane for his "campaign of abuse" in performing "despicable and humiliating" acts on his daughter.

Deputy Public Prosecutor April Phang said the man's "vexatious defence" about his "monstrous" sex organ was a "cock and bull story conceived purely as an afterthought to undermine the prosecution".

"It was really the victim's misfortune to have a sexual pervert for a father," said the prosecutor, adding that this was one of the most deplorable cases to come before the courts.

"Instead of the home being the safest place where the victim could find love, solace and trust, the accused made the home a living hell for the victim."


NO REMORSE SHOWN

He didn't even show any remorse today. He has the guts to turn around and smile at us. What is that all about?

THE VICTIM, who was glad her father was given the maximum caning sentence.


Hurt is more than anyone can imagine: Victim

"Words have not even been invented for what he did to me," said the 16-year-old, when asked to tell the court of the effect of being sexually abused by her own father over two years.

In her victim impact statement, which was submitted to court by the prosecution yesterday, the girl said she still suffers flashbacks and nightmares of what her father did to her.

"There are days when it grips me. I am still in control and I am determined not to be defined by all these, but they will always be a huge part of my identity. There is no way around that."

She said she was relieved when her mother believed her after she revealed the instances of abuse but felt frustrated at having paranoid feelings as if her father was still in the flat.

She had trusted her father, but he hurt her "more than anyone can imagine - physically, mentally and emotionally".

"He had clearly breached his responsibilities as a father."

The girl said she felt baffled by her father's decision to claim trial, during which he slandered her by saying in court that she was framing him because he had scolded her. "I could not comprehend how he could have the guts to wound his own flesh and blood."

She felt betrayed not only by her father, but also his family members who "seemed to accept" what he did to her without feeling apologetic or embarrassed.

"They no longer differentiate the right from the wrong, just because he is a member of their family. I do not see a slight manifestation of guilt or remorse, neither from him nor his family," she said.

The girl's mother, in her statement to the court, expressed worry about how the abuse would taint her daughter's growth in relationship and sexuality matters. The administrative assistant, 41, also blamed herself for "missing all the signs" of the abuse.

"The bottom dropped out of my world the day (my daughter) gathered enough courage to tell me about the sexual abuse... It is something I will never, ever be able to forget; it is a look that continues to haunt me today and reinforces my own feelings of failure.

"For two years, I didn't even know that (my daughter) was suffering. For that two years, I didn't even know that our home was not a safe place for my children to stay."

She said she was "truly disgusted" with what her former husband had done to her daughter. "My children respected him as their father. But the person who is supposed to protect us did not protect us, yet ruined our lives."

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

Bust of David Marshall in 'the right place'

Straits Times
16 Mar 2017
K.C. Vijayan

He grew up seeing his father's picture appear regularly in The Straits Times and assumed it was the same for everyone else.

"I thought it was because you purchased the paper, you got your face sometimes on the front page," Dr Jonathan Marshall said yesterday. His father was Mr David Marshall, Singapore's first chief minister, from April 1955 to June 1956.

He had already grown accustomed to living with his father's constant presence. After all, in the family house stood a large bronze bust of his father. That bust is now on permanent loan from the family and is placed in the David Marshall Moot Court at the Singapore Management University's (SMU) School of Law, which was officially opened by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday.

Sunday was the 109th anniversary of Mr Marshall's birth. A top-notch criminal lawyer in his day, he served as a diplomat from 1978 to 1993. He died in 1995.

Dr Marshall said: "After he died, I would often look at the bust and think of him. And it was pleasant, it was a lovely thing to be able to reflect on my father while looking at an image of him which contained some of his fire and some of his strength and ruggedness.

"I don't think my father was particularly into images of himself. It is a special piece and I am very glad that it is available for others to see in an environment which he would be surprised and delighted."

The bust of the man once described by then Chief Justice Chan Sek Keong in 2008 as "undoubtedly the greatest criminal advocate that has ever graced the halls of justice in Singapore and Malaya", was sculpted by London-based Peter Lambda after the 1956 constitutional talks there that Mr Marshall attended, said his widow Jean.

"David never spoke about it and when I married him in 1961, it was already there, being commissioned in 1956," she added, noting that the bust was "rather big" for the private flat where they lived.

The works of Lambda, a famed Hungarian sculptor-writer, included busts of renowned thespian Laurence Olivier and founder of psychoanalysis Sigmund Freud.

Mrs Marshall said that when she heard SMU's Moot Court was named after Mr Marshall, she thought the bust should go there.

She added: "It is a very powerful piece and gives a forceful impression of David, and has a good likeness, except the chin is not quite right. We are all very happy - it is going to the right place and embodies David's legacy cast in bronze."

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

Government to plug loophole in residential property stamp duty

Straits Times
09 Mar 2017
Lee Xin En

The Government intends to plug a loophole that allows property buyers to avoid stamp duty by purchasing shares in a holding firm rather than buying the property directly.

In recent times, some major developers have made bulk purchases of condo units in this way.

National Development Minister Lawrence Wong told Parliament on Tuesday: "In principle, we should treat transactions in residential property on the same basis, regardless of whether a property is transferred directly or through a transfer of shares in a company whose primary business is in residential property in Singapore."

He was responding to a suggestion from MP Yee Chia Hsing.

"We plan to make legislative changes to effect this," he added.

Currently, a direct purchase of residential property incurs buyer's stamp duty of 3 per cent. Depending on the buyer's citizenship, up to 15 per cent additional buyer's stamp duty (ABSD) is imposed. But the buying of shares in a firm which owns the property incurs a tax of only 0.2 per cent of the firm's net asset value.

The Government's move comes after several such high-profile deals.

Veteran banker Wee Cho Yaw made headlines in January for buying 45 unsold units at upmarket condominium, The Nassim, for $411.6 million. The deal was made through the purchase of a 100 per cent stake in Nassim Hill Realty.

Last July, Wing Tai Holdings sold its share in its joint venture company Summervale Properties, which developed the Nouvel 18 condo, to City Developments. In October, CDL then offloaded Nouvel 18 to a group of Singaporean investors via a $977.6 million profit participation securities platform. Of the $977.6 million, $102 million was raised through issuing equity shares.

Dentons Rodyk & Davidson senior partner Lee Liat Yeang said the news was making the market "very anxious" as it was not clear how or when the rules will be changed.

"The devil is in the details here, because there are many different types of residential assets, as well as questions about whether it matters how long the company has owned the property for," he added.

KPMG Singapore principal tax consultant Leung Yew Kwong emphasised the complexity of the potential legislative changes.

"While each residential property is separate, distinct and comes with a transaction value which lends itself for easy taxation, the transaction value of the shares of a company reflects the net result of its assets and liabilities, which does not lend itself for easy taxation.

"In working out the implementation details, the authorities may have to be discerning so as not to adversely impact share transactions which do not have their primary objective of residential property as an investment asset," he added.

Analysts fear instability in the property market should the prevailing ABSD be imposed. "It may destabilise the property market... particularly the high-end market, where demand is still sluggish," said Ms Christine Li, director of research at Cushman & Wakefield.

Dr Lee Nai Jia, head of South-east Asia research at Edmund Tie and Co, said the measures would hit developers with substantial unsold properties. "Developers will have to consider... the costs of each option, including share transfer, giving discounts or paying the extension and ABSD charges while waiting for the market to improve," he added.

He noted that with more high-profile deals, more buyers could follow suit and possibly exploit the loophole.

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

Helping to address under-reporting of sex crimes

Straits Times
21 Mar 2017
Seow Bei Yi

Recent moves make it easier for sexual assault victims to get help. But more can be done, even for those who decide not to lodge a police report

It was not easy for Cindy, 22, to tell the police that she had been raped by her boyfriend of almost two years in 2015.

She said she did so last year, after he started "stalking" her and threatening to blackmail her with compromising pictures.

But she was told by a police officer that her chances of getting the perpetrator convicted were low, she said. The officer also gave her examples of how the man could defend himself in court against her evidence, and she left feeling anxious.

Cindy - which is a pseudonym to protect her identity - did not lodge a police report eventually, feeling discouraged after the interview, she told The Straits Times last month.

She decided to reach out to ST after reading about the arrest of a Portuguese man in relation to a molestation report. A widely shared Facebook post about the incident suggested that a police officer had made inappropriate comments to the woman who lodged the report during their interview - and it resonated with Cindy.

Such an experience may not be the norm among the 151 rape cases last year. But many who do not go to the authorities cite similar fears of being disbelieved, or having too little evidence.

A series of initiatives announced by the Ministry of Home Affairs last month are set to make the process of reporting sex crimes, as well as court procedures, less intimidating.

While police investigation officers already receive training in victim care and handling serious sexual offences such as rape, a new training video is to be launched in the third quarter of this year. Made in collaboration with the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware), it is aimed at sensitising officers to victims' perspectives.

A pamphlet with information on investigation and court procedures, as well as care and support measures, will be launched as well by the fourth quarter of this year.

Laws and court processes will also be strengthened to reduce victims' trauma, while being fair to the accused.

STREAMLINING SERVICES

Other initiatives show a positive shift in streamlining victim care, and are similar to what is available in other countries.

A one-stop centre set up by the police and Singapore General Hospital (SGH) started operations in January, seeing closer collaboration among the authorities, healthcare experts and victim care professionals. If rape is reported within 72 hours, the victim can be examined by SGH doctors in Police Cantonment Complex, where they are interviewed. Previously, they had to travel to a public hospital for a medical examination - which was stressful and more time-consuming.

Similarly, in Japan, one-stop centres are designed such that victims need not recount their experience at multiple places, including police stations. They have helped with under-reporting of sexual crimes, and the central government's goal is to have at least one such centre in each of the country's 47 prefectures by 2020.

A one-stop centre in Nagasaki saw 225 consultations in the first nine months following its launch last April, compared with a dozen or so inquiries about sexual violence in a year previously. In 2014, Chiba prefecture launched its support centre, where victims can also be checked for sexually transmitted diseases and receive emergency contraception.

Singapore lawyer Gloria James-Civetta, who last year visited a centre in Osaka which operates round the clock, said victims there appreciate having services housed under one roof.

Japan started having such care schemes in 1999, and they do not apply only to those who report sex crimes, she said. She suggested that Singapore extend such services to victims of domestic abuse.

Ms Jolene Tan, head of advocacy and research at Aware, suggests that the one-stop centre here be available for other cases as well besides rape, such as sexual assault by penetration. The initiative could be extended to other police headquarters as well, she said.

She added that the authorities could "consider extending the timeline for forensic examination to 120 hours, which is the practice in some US jurisdictions", and expanding the number of hospitals working with the police in future.

STRENGTHENING VICTIM CARE

Closer collaboration between organisations for a more victim- centric process does not have to end with the one-stop centre.

More could be done for those who have experienced sex crimes, even if they do not end up making a police report quickly, or at all.

London has a network of specialist sexual assault referral centres that are open round the clock and located near acute hospitals. The first was set up in 2000. They are funded by the National Health Service of England and the Metropolitan Police Service.

Anyone who has been sexually assaulted or raped can go to these centres to speak anonymously with a specially trained police officer. The necessary information will be taken from those who decide to lodge a crime report. But people who do not want to lodge a report still have the option to go for a medical examination or sexual health screening and receive follow-up services, including help with emotional support.

Ms Tan said a similar model for Singapore "would be very welcome". "In the long term, we hope that the forensic medical examination can be made available to survivors without the prerequisite of a police report, so that survivors can take some time to decide whether they wish to make a report while also preserving evidence," she said.

In Singapore, there are multiple avenues for people to report sex crimes, such as through a "999" call, visiting a police station, or being referred by agencies such as hospitals, non-governmental organisations and schools.

But they need to lodge a police report first before they get a medical examination to assess injuries and preserve DNA evidence against the attacker.

Most reports of sexual assault are made after 72 hours, the police say. Significant medical evidence is difficult to gather by then.

While there are fears of frivolous reporting, that must be weighed against the larger fear that victims of sexual assault do not get the emotional help they need, or the physical examination that might help secure a conviction.

CHANGE OF ATTITUDES TO REDUCE FEAR

Aware's Sexual Assault Care Centre (SACC) handled 338 cases last year - including Cindy's - up from 234 in 2014 when it was launched. In January and February this year, it handled some 90 cases - a sign that more people are willing to seek help.

But many might still be choosing not to come forward, with international statistics showing that sexual crimes often go unreported.

A 2013 report bringing together official statistics on sexual offences in England and Wales said that according to crime survey numbers, only 15 per cent of women who reported being victims of the most serious sex crimes such as rape or attempted rape went to the police. About 90 per cent of victims knew the perpetrator - compared with less than half for less serious sexual offences.

Similarly, even as more people have been approaching Aware's SACC, most - 69 per cent last year - do not make police reports. Their fears: not being believed, and worry over how friends and family would react.

While steps are being taken for investigation and court processes to become more accommodating to victims, support also has to come from the people closest to them.

Justice may be important, but for victims, it is not necessarily their end goal, said experts. Victims often want such incidents to stop, and not have them happen to others. They want the perpetrators to know they are responsible for their actions, and they also want to seek personal recovery.

And loved ones can help by supporting victims in seeking help.

It may not be possible to eradicate sex crimes, but the least a community should do is to ensure that those who dare lodge a report do not feel afraid, or discouraged for doing so.


MORE WILLING TO SEEK HELP

90

Number of cases Aware's SACC handled in January and February this year.

338

Number of cases it handled last year.

234

Number of cases it handled in 2014, when it was launched.

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Man who had no motorbike licence still gets $690,000 in damages

Straits Times
15 Mar 2017
K.C. Vijayan & Abigail Ng

Rushing to his first grandson's first haircut ceremony - an important religious ritual - a motorcyclist without a valid licence took his son's motorbike to get there on time.

But a traffic accident on the way left Mr Aziz Dolah, 59, permanently disabled from the middle of his chest downwards.

He suffered severe head and spinal injuries in a noon collision with a van, which dragged him on Bedok Reservoir Road, in October 2011. His right leg was amputated after complications from the accident.

Mr Aziz sued the van driver, Ms Fadzila Syed Mohamed - who was also fined $800 for inconsiderate driving - for personal injuries and losses in court.

Following court-sanctioned talks, the parties came to an agreement on damages amounting to $690,000 for Mr Aziz, who used to hold two jobs - as a warehouse assistant by day and cleaner by night - before the accident.

Lawyers say the unusual case emphasised that the duty of care owed to the victim by the van driver took precedence over the fact that Mr Aziz was riding without a licence.

Ms Fadzila accepted 85 per cent blame for the accident in the civil suit.

Mr Aziz, through his lawyer, Ms Vivienne Sandhu, had claimed damages for pain and suffering, loss of earnings and medical costs, among other things.

Their agreement on the payout was inked by way of a court order issued by a State Courts deputy registrar last week. The sum comprised $504,000 in general damages, $96,000 for injury-related special damages and $90,000 in interest.

The move averted court hearings and witness cross-examination, which could have gone on for a week, to assess the damages payable.

Accident left him devastated

"Illegality is no bar to a claim in the circumstances of the case," said Hoh Law Corporation lawyer N. Srinivasan of his experience with such cases, noting that Mr Aziz's wrongful conduct was incidental to his claim against someone who had committed a serious wrong against him and was largely at fault.

Mr Aziz told The Straits Times yesterday that he had been taking motorcycle riding lessons and used his son's bike to try to get to the family event in Telok Blangah on time.

But as he was riding across a junction with the light in his favour in Bedok Reservoir Road, the van emerged from a side road and collided with him.

He was dragged along as the driver did not realise that she had hit him until a passer-by alerted her.

Mr Aziz's only child, food delivery rider Muhammad Faizal, 32, said: "We left my mother to handle the ceremony while we rushed to Changi General Hospital. We didn't think it would be so serious."

Mr Aziz, who is divorced and lives with Mr Faizal, said he was devastated and went into a deep depression while in hospital for more than six months.

He said he had been very active before the accident, playing soccer and sepak takraw with neighbours or swimming and cycling on his own. "Now I spend most of the time in bed, playing games on a laptop and spending time with my four grandchildren."

Mr Faizal also takes him out in a wheelchair twice a week.

"Although I am not sure if this court award will be able to cover all my expenses, I'm grateful for it. It doesn't change the state I'm in, but it helps financially,"said Mr Aziz.


A SMALL HELP

Although I am not sure if this court award will be able to cover all my expenses, I'm grateful for it. It doesn't change the state I'm in, but it helps financially.

MR AZIZ DOLLAH

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

S'pore corporate lawyers among the top in S-E Asia

Straits Times
08 Mar 2017
NG HUIWEN

More than 50 are named as most influential and innovative counsel in new Legal 500 list

Over 50 Singapore-based corporate lawyers have proven to be among the most influential and innovative in the region, according to an inaugural list by Legal 500.

The country's lawyers made up 52 of the top 120 in-house counsel named in the GC Powerlist: Southeast Asia, which featured the Asean countries except Laos.

Singapore has the largest group of lawyers on the list, followed by Malaysia with 16 and Indonesia with 15.

Among the in-house lawyers recognised for their outstanding work are Singapore Press Holdings' (SPH) Ms Ginney Lim, McDonald's Singapore's Mr Faz Hussen, Sentosa Development Corporation's Ms Theresa Low and CapitaLand's Ms Michelle Koh.

Legal 500 - a global legal rankings publication which has been studying law firms across more than 100 jurisdictions for 29 years - said its research team gathered nominations, and spoke to law firm partners and in-house counsel across the region, before finalising its list.

Selection criteria include developing technical solutions to complex issues and creating innovative structures to drive businesses forward.

"Today, general counsel have a remit that extends well beyond the traditional role of legal advisors," said Mr Dominic Williams, who led the research on the GC Powerlist series.

"They are expected to provide vital input and new strategies for a variety of tasks when conducting business domestically and internationally," he said.

Many companies also believe that the in-house counsel's abilities to analyse issues from an ethical and objective perspective have helped to bring unique insights on strategic decisions, added Mr Williams.

President of the Singapore Corporate Counsel Association (SCCA) Wong Taur-Jiun told The Straits Times yesterday that while the rankings shows that in-house lawyers remain in demand, it is crucial not to take the work that Singapore has received for granted.

He said it is crucial "to ensure a large enough talent pool of highly qualified in-house counsel who are able to work not only in Singapore but anywhere in the region".

A new nationwide competency framework for in-house lawyers, which was announced in parliament last Friday, will aim to raise industry standards, added Mr Wong.

The South-east Asia list - the first of its kind - is among Legal 500's latest additions to the GC Powerlist series, which was started about four years ago.

In 2014, the first and only list for the Asia-Pacific region for the series was published.

Ms Lim, who has been with Singapore Press Holdings for about 25 years, was previously also named in the Corporate Counsel 100: Asia Pacific list.

She is also SPH's group company secretary and executive vice-president of corporate communications and corporate social responsibility.

Said Ms Lim yesterday: "This honour should be attributed to my bosses and colleagues in SPH who have given me their unstinting support and encouragement over the years."

Mr Hussen is director of legal, government relations and communications at McDonald's Singapore.

Since joining the fast-food chain as general counsel in 2015, he has had to look for new ways to search, recruit and retain employees in the wake of the increasingly strict quotas on migrant labour in Singapore.

"My role goes far beyond legal and compliance; you need to be someone who helps to grow the business as opposed to just advising," he told The Straits Times.

Mr Hussen also said that it has been a "privilege for me to work for a brand that I grew up with and loved as a child".

"If you told 10-year-old me that I would be a director in McDonald's, he'd never stop smiling," he added.


EXPANDED ROLES

Today, general counsel have a remit that extends well beyond the traditional role of legal advisers... They are expected to provide vital input and new strategies for a variety of tasks when conducting business domestically and internationally.

MR DOMINIC WILLIAMS, who led the research for the GC Powerlist series.


Some who made it to the new list

MS GINNEY LIM

Singapore Press Holdings general counsel Ms Lim helped set up SPH's legal department and has been with the company since 1992. She has had to cope with the company's diversification into different business segments.

She also oversees risk management, compliance, sustainability, corporate communications and corporate and social responsibility for the group.

MR WAN KWONG WENG

Mapletree Investments group general counsel After joining in 2009, Mr Wan was asked to build up the company's legal department at a time when it was expanding dramatically.

A lawyer with substantial experience in real estate transactions, he impressed with his work on the acquisition of the Festival Walk shopping mall in Kowloon, Hong Kong.

MS GERALDINE LIM

Heineken Asia Pacific regional legal director Ms Lim began her role at Heineken in 2013 after its acquisition of Asia Pacific Breweries (APB).

As the then general counsel of APB, she was involved in its de-listing and integration process.

She leads a team of three lawyers at Heineken.Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

Tanglin Club members reject move to redevelop clubhouse

Straits Times
21 Mar 2017
K.C. Vijayan

Tanglin Club members at a special general meeting last week turned down a move to consider redeveloping its clubhouse building and grounds, along with its sports complex, which is already under study for redevelopment.

Members defeated 234 to 76 the proposal to empower a task force to study the viability of the project, understood to reflect a conservative mood among many who preferred to keep the status quo. According to its website, the club has more than 7,000 members.

The club last August had mandated a nine-member task force to explore how to maximise land use of "Plot B", consisting of the sports complex, tennis courts and squash centre, and located next to The American Club in Claymore Hill.

It was also tasked, among other things, to look into applying to the Urban Redevelopment Authority for permission to build a high-rise, mixed recreation and commercial development on the land.

The task force was formed as the club wanted to maximise its prime location and thus secure it by optimising the land use.

It is understood that "Plot A", where the clubhouse building is located, was suggested for inclusion, as the scope for redeveloping the land potential at Plot B should not be looked at in isolation.

The plots are on opposite sides of Stevens Road.

Club president Robert Wiener, in a message to members in the current issue of the club's magazine, explained the latest move to include the main clubhouse was a follow-up from the work of the task force since its inception last year.

"In the 70s, a decision was taken to redevelop the old clubhouse into the current facility we see today. I can clearly recall the sentimental tone and the resistance.

"Many of us couldn't imagine Tanglin without our beloved bungalow.

"True enough, as time passes by, history does repeat itself and again today, there is development contemplation at the club," he said.

Savills Singapore research head Alan Cheong said the club is "sitting on prime land and it is a pity if the site is not converted to its highest and best use within the permissible planning parameters".

It is understood some older members may have had concerns with costs and not being able to see the benefits of rebuilding.

"The Club Development Task Force is continuing its mandate to explore development opportunities on Plot B (as per the May 2016 AGM-carried resolution)," said a club spokesman responding to The Straits Times.

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

Alleged match fixer wins bid to unfreeze his assets

Straits Times
15 Mar 2017
Selina Lum

An alleged match fixer had his assets worth around $550,000 unfrozen after Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon ruled that prosecutors did not do enough to show that the funds should continue to be seized.

The initial seizure had blocked Rajendar Prasad Rai, who was charged in 2015 for allegedly offering bribes to football players to fix the outcome of a league cup match, from accessing three bank accounts.

But under the Criminal Procedure Code, the authorities have to go to court to justify continued seizure after a year has passed.

Last November, the prosecution got an extension of until June 30 from a magistrate to freeze the accounts for the purpose of investigating money laundering offences.

But Rai, 43, went to the High Court to challenge the order, and the Chief Justice decided that the prosecution's evidence had fallen "far short".

"Such a draconian action must be shown to be justifiable," he said, referring to continuing the freezing of the assets.

Rai's lawyer, Senior Counsel N. Sreenivasan, had pointed out that the prosecution did not explain to the magistrate the basis for why the funds still had to be frozen.

Despite this, the magistrate allowed the prosecution's application.

In his written judgment on Monday, the Chief Justice said that the magistrate had erred.

There was no reasonable basis, on the evidence before her, to find that the seized funds were relevant to any of the purposes set out in the law, he explained.

The prosecution did offer to furnish the Chief Justice with more evidence, saying investigations had progressed since the case was before the magistrate.

But the Chief Justice said this was inappropriate. It would "not be just to enable the prosecution to attempt to remedy the flawed proceedings in this way", he said.

Yesterday, prosecutors sought a stay of the Chief Justice's order to unfreeze the accounts to give them time to use another legal regime to do so, but he rejected this.

Rai's match-fixing trial is ongoing.

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

Rajendar Prasad Rai v Public Prosecutor [2017] SGHC 49

SBI's ex-CEO drops appeal against court decision

Business Times
08 Mar 2017
Lee Meixian

SBI Offshore on Tuesday said that former executive director and chief executive officer Tan Woo Thian has decided to drop the appeal that he filed against the High Court's decision to grant final judgment for the sum of S$624,631 plus interest and legal costs and disbursements in favour of the company.

The appeal was scheduled to be heard on March 6, 2017. In January this year, Mr Tan paid S$648,495.41 to the company, comprising the judgment sum of S$624,631 plus interest and the company's costs incurred in the case.

The payment was made without prejudice to the appeal.

On March 2, SBI Offshore's solicitors, Rajah & Tann, received a letter from Mr Tan's solicitors, Messrs Vijay & Co, stating that he would not proceed with the appeal and would seek leave of Court to withdraw the appeal.

Four days later, SBI Offshore and Mr Tan's solicitors attended before the judge, who granted leave for Mr Tan to withdraw the appeal with costs fixed at S$1,500.

Mr Tan had stepped down as chief in March 2016; then-chairman Chan Lai Thong took over his role. Mr Tan, who had been CEO since 1997, stepped down "to facilitate the execution of the group's new business strategies and model following the diversification into the renewable energy business", the company said.

SBI Offshore is faring poorly. In its full year ended Dec 31, 2016, it revealed that its net losses had deepened to US$4.5 million, while revenue fell 82 per cent to US$1.3 million. It blamed "challenging market conditions which were affected by the downturn of the global oil and offshore market", as well as thinning profit margins due to competitive pressures in the sector.

It said that the group's diversification into the solar business has made some progress, with projects being evaluated in South Africa, among others. However, it has yet to deliver results as it takes time for long-term contractual arrangements in developing countries to materialise.

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

Ezra calls for trading suspension in S'pore

Straits Times
21 Mar 2017
Jacqueline Woo

Beleaguered Ezra Holdings called for trading in its shares here to be suspended yesterday - a day after it filed for bankruptcy in the US .

The group's yard operating arm Triyards Holdings, the last of its three Singapore-listed units still trading last week, had also requested a trading halt.

Ezra shares last traded on March 15 at an all-time low of 1.1 cents, down 77.6 per cent this year, while Triyards shares finished at 28.5 cents last Friday, dropping 1.7 per cent from Thursday's close. Shares of the group's other Singapore-listed entity, Emas Offshore, have been in suspension since earlier this month, last trading at five cents on March 3.

Ezra announced on Sunday that it had filed for bankruptcy protection under Chapter 11 of the US Bankruptcy Code to facilitate its financial restructuring. Its debt-laden joint venture Emas Chiyoda Subsea sought the same process late last month.

"The prolonged challenging operating environment in the oil and gas industry made it difficult for Ezra to carry out fund raising as a company listed on the SGX-ST," said Ezra.

Documents showed Ezra has declared estimated assets of between US$500,000 (S$699,000) and US$1 billion against estimated liabilities of between US$100 million and US$500 million. It also has $150 million of 4.875 per cent notes due in May next year. But Ezra's total debt numbers could be higher. It faces over US$1 billion of short- term debt, going by its 2016 earnings report, and has at least US$900 million in total exposure to guarantees extended to charter hire liabilities and loans for Emas Chiyoda.

According to the court papers, Ezra's largest unsecured creditors include all three Singapore banks: DBS Bank with claims totalling US$281.4 million, OCBC Bank at around US$207 million, and United Overseas Bank (UOB) with US$22.8 million. In terms of secured debt, OCBC and DBS each have claims of more than US$47.2 million, while UOB has US$10.2 million. OCBC also has a secured claim of over US$26 million against Ezra Marine Services.

CIMB head of research Lim Siew Khee said it was likely that the banks' exposure to Ezra exceeds their exposure to Swiber Holdings, which filed for judicial management here in July last year.

A DBS spokesman said the bank had moved the loans of Ezra and Emas Chiyoda into non-performing loans in previous quarters and "suitable provisions have been made". OCBC and UOB said they have made provisions for vulnerable accounts in the sector.

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

Plea bargaining, Singapore-style

Straits Times
15 Mar 2017
Selina Lum

Viewers of American legal dramas would be familiar with scenes of defence lawyers and prosecutors bargaining over whether the accused should take a guilty plea in return for a lighter sentence.

This practice, which is called plea bargaining, came into the spotlight recently after a high-profile court case here involving American mixed martial arts instructor Joshua Robinson, who was convicted of having sex with minors, among other offences.

Amid a public outcry that his four-year sentence was too lenient, the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) said it had made known to the accused's lawyer at a pre-trial conference that the prosecution would be seeking a total sentence of four to five years' jail.

While the AGC did not explicitly say it had reached an agreement with Robinson's lawyer, its statement said that, in arriving at this sentencing position, it took into account that by securing a guilty plea, Robinson's three young victims would be spared the trauma of testifying in a trial.

How does a plea bargain work? How is it practised in Singapore and how does it differ from that in other legal jurisdictions?

What are the pros and cons of such a practice?

UNFORMALISED PRACTICE

Plea bargaining, or plea negotiation, comes in many forms.

In essence, it is an agreement between the prosecution and the defence that, if the accused pleads guilty, he will receive some sort of concession, such as a lower sentence.

It can be an agreement about the type of charges against the accused, the facts that will be presented to the court or the sentence to be imposed by the court.

In the United States, the federal government and many states have written rules that explicitly set out how plea bargains may be arranged and accepted by the court.

Plea agreements are set out in writing, detailing the terms and conditions of the deal.

Unlike in the US, the practice is not formalised in Singapore's criminal justice system.

But it is nevertheless a well-established and common practice for the prosecution and defence to negotiate on many levels, even if many lawyers here are reluctant to call it plea bargaining, for various reasons.

Currently, negotiations here are typically done under the Criminal Case Management System, started in 2003 for the defence and prosecution to meet and discuss their cases in private.

Another scheme, known as Criminal Case Resolution (CCR), set up in 2011, allows prosecutors and defence counsel to explore the early resolution of the case, facilitated by a district judge as a neutral party.

In 2013, more than 80 per cent of the cases referred for CCR were successfully resolved.

If the case is not resolved, another judge will hear the actual case so that the matter is not prejudged.

These two negotiation processes are open only to those represented by lawyers. Those without lawyers can apply, if they are eligible under the Primary Justice Project, for a lawyer to represent them at these two processes.

In Singapore's system, the most common form of plea bargaining is an offer made by the prosecution to reduce the charges or proceed with fewer charges, with the rest taken into consideration, if the accused pleads guilty.

According to figures from the AGC, 810 of the 851 convictions in January and February saw accused persons pleading guilty after some sort of talks between the prosecution and defence.

CONTROVERSIAL PRACTICE

The practice is not without controversy.

Proponents say that instead of having to go through lengthy trials, the process of negotiating and coming to an agreement saves time and costs. It also gives both prosecution and defence some certainty over the outcome, even though the ultimate decision lies in the hands of a third party, the judge.

Each side evaluates the strength of its case before deciding if they should come to an agreement.

For instance, if an accused denies the charge but his case is not strong, he will be more prepared to negotiate, as sentencing discounts are usually given for pleas of guilt at the earliest opportunity. And if the prosecutor's case is not watertight, a guilty plea ensures at least some punishment. Half a loaf is better than none, so to speak.

But critics say plea bargaining can lead to "over-charging", with the prosecution bringing a more serious charge in anticipation of it being "bargained down".

Others view plea bargains as compromising on justice.

This was addressed by Deputy Attorney-General Tan Siong Thye at a law conference last year, when he stressed that the prosecution presses charges based on the evidence and seeks sentences based on the facts and sentencing precedents. "We never prefer a charge which is not made out, to induce a guilty plea to a reduced charge," he said. The prosecution also does not intentionally ask for excessive sentences or seek inadequate sentences as part of plea bargains, he added.

REVIEW COMPLETED

In 2010, then Chief Justice Chan Sek Keong expressed concerns that more than 40 per cent of criminal trials "cracked" - either the accused pleads guilty or the cases are withdrawn - resulting in a waste of trial dates. One way to cut down the number of cracked trials was to introduce plea bargaining, he said, as he introduced a pilot scheme of what is now the CCR programme.

A year later, he invited the AG, then Mr Sundaresh Menon, to look into plea bargaining, which he said he would endorse, provided there are enough safeguards to protect the integrity of the criminal justice system.

The next AG, Mr Steven Chong, said in 2013 that a proposed framework for plea bargaining, devised after meetings with stakeholders and study trips overseas, was with the Law Ministry for consideration.

In 2014, Law Minister K. Shanmugam said his ministry and the AGC were studying a formalised plea bargaining framework.

Yesterday, the Law Ministry said that its review, carried out together with the relevant agencies, concluded that no major changes were desirable or necessary to the system in place.

"Under the present system, discussions between the prosecution and defence on how to resolve a case are facilitated by face-to-face meetings between parties under the Criminal Case Management System, and by Criminal Case Resolution hearings before a judge, who is able to give sentencing indications," said a Law Ministry spokesman.

That plea negotiation schemes are in place in Singapore suggests they are viewed positively by the courts, prosecution and accused.

However, some lawyers are in favour of an "institutionalised" plea bargaining process which is seen as a part of the open court process, like in the US.

Lawyer Amolat Singh said, under the current process here, much depends on the prosecutor. "Some are more forthcoming, some play their cards closer to their chest," he noted.

A criminal lawyer with more than 20 years' experience, who did not want to be named, said some judges do not like to be told that the prosecution and defence have come to an agreement on sentence.

In its current practice, plea bargaining keeps the wheels of justice here moving along, but taking the next step to lay down a clear set of rules - to ensure transparency, clarity and consistent practices - will help justice be seen to be done as well.


In its current practice, plea bargaining keeps the wheels of justice here moving along, but taking the next step to lay down a clear set of rules - to ensure transparency, clarity and consistent practices - will help justice be seen to be done as well.

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

Transfer of home-owning entities: Government plans to apply residential stamp duties

Business Times
08 Mar 2017
Lynette Khoo

Lawrence Wong says the aim is not to impact the ordinary buying and selling of shares in listed companies

The government is planning to make legislative changes to subject "significant owners of residential-property-holding entities" to stamp duties when they transfer equity interest in such entities, in the same way they would be subjected to stamp duties if they were to buy or sell the properties directly.

This planned move is perceived by some industry players as plugging an existing regulatory loophole.

Currently, a direct purchase of a residential property will incur buyer's stamp duty of 3 per cent plus 15 per cent additional buyer's stamp duty (ABSD), but the buying of shares of the holding company that owns the property will incur a tax of only 0.2 per cent of the net asset value of the holding company.

The seller's stamp duty (SSD), which applies to the sale of residential properties within a four-year holding period, also does not apply to the sale of shares of the holding company.

In response to a suggestion from member of parliament Yee Chia Hsing on reviewing the concept of ownership of residential properties, Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong told Parliament on Tuesday that the government has been studying this issue.

Mr Yee had proposed that if a residential property is held by a corporate entity or a special purpose vehicle, and the shares of the company are transferred from seller to buyer, the normal residential stamp duties should apply.

Mr Wong said: "In principle, we should treat transactions in residential property on the same basis, regardless of whether a property is transferred directly or through a transfer of shares in a company that holds primarily residential property in Singapore. We plan to make legislative changes to effect this."

He explained that the aim is not to impact the ordinary buying and selling of shares in such companies, if they are listed on the stock market, by retail investors.

"However, significant owners of residential-property-holding entities will be subject to the usual stamp duties when they transfer equity interest in such entities, like what would happen if they were to buy or sell the properties directly," said Mr Wong.

Legal and tax professionals note that such a change in legislation may affect developers with large unsold inventory.

Several of them have undertaken bulk sale of residential properties via the sale of shares in property-holding entities to avoid hefty extension charges under qualifying certificate (QC) conditions for unsold units.

Among them, CapitaLand had in January sold its 100 per cent stake in Nassim Hill Realty, which owned the remaining 45 units at The Nassim, to Wee Cho Yaw's family firm Kheng Leong for S$411.6 million.

Wing Tai Holdings had sold its half share in its joint venture company Summervale Properties to CDL last July, followed by the sale of shares in Summervale by CDL in October to high-net worth Singaporeans through an innovative platform known as profit participation securities (PPS).

Teo Wee Hwee, PwC's real estate and hospitality tax leader, noted that the proposed legislative change is not likely to put a brake on such transactions for developers saddled with massive bank loans, QC extension charges and, in some cases, the looming clawback on ABSD remission.

"But developers will have to sell at substantially discounted prices with the government closing this loophole," he added.

Dentons Rodyk & Davidson senior partner Lee Liat Yeang noted that any amendment to the Stamp Duty Act on this has to be clear that it applies only to a pure SPV with no other businesses and whether the transfer of shares will incur buyer's stamp duty, ABSD or SSD. He recalled that a similar rule that the government introduced in 1996 applied only the SSD on sale of shares of the property holding company.

Another real estate legal partner, who declined to be named, felt that a tricky situation may also arise if a developer buys shares of a company holding a commercial property, only to convert it into residential later on.

KPMG Singapore principal tax consultant Leung Yew Kwong noted that the proposed legislative change looks straightforward on the outset but there may be other conceptual issues.

"Are you selling the holding company or a business if you, as the developer, cannot finish building a project and sell the holding company to another developer to complete? If the SPV has other businesses, what value do you peg to the net asset value of the holding company?"

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

Helping S'pore SMEs stay agile in the digital economy

Business Times
21 Mar 2017
Chai Wai Fook & Teh Swee Thiam

The SMEs Go Digital Programme helps local enterprises move ahead with digital deployment initiatives

The rise of the digital economy is recognised as a promising growth area for Singapore, validated by various perspectives gleaned from work by the Committee on the Future Economy (CFE) and the measures targeted at deepening digital capabilities, as unveiled in Budget 2017.

At the same time, small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) remain a fundamental growth segment for Singapore, notwithstanding the pressures on costs and profitability that have beleaguered many in the last few years, exacerbated by wider economic and geopolitical volatility that has dampened local economic growth.

According to the CFE, the digital economy in South-east Asia is expected to grow to US$200 billion by 2025, with e-commerce accounting for US$88 billion.

From 2016 to 2018, the digital economy is expected to generate some 53,000 new jobs in information and communication roles in Singapore.

Given Singapore's strengths - such as proximity and access to key markets in the region, reliable and connected infrastructure, trusted reputation, well-educated workforce and a strong and pro-business government - local enterprises should be well-positioned to capture the opportunities arising from the digital economy.

Yet, it remains questionable as to how well the majority of SMEs are able to participate and, by that extension, thrive in the digital future.

Clearly, many SMEs will need to make upfront investments, whether in upgrading of hardware, software or workforce transformation, as part of their digital initiatives execution.

These investments may be significant, and considering the limited and stretched resources SMEs are already challenged with, there is a real risk that many may fail to reposition their business to fully capitalise on the growth potential that the digital economy brings to their business.

Helping SMEs Go Digital

SMEs have often been a key beneficiary of past Budget measures.

Budget 2017, building on foundations set by previous Budgets, reaffirms the need to help SMEs build capabilities.

To strengthen our SMEs' digital capabilities, the government introduced the SMEs Go Digital Programme to help local enterprises move ahead with digital deployment initiatives.

Administered by the Info-communications Media Development Authority (IMDA), Spring and other sector lead agencies, SMEs can expect to receive multi-prong guidance under three components: advice on technologies to be used at each stage of growth, in-person help at SME Centres and a new SME Technology Hub, and funding support for the piloting of emerging info-communications and technology (ICT) solutions.

Among others, the programme will target retail, food services, wholesale trade and logistics, where digital technology can significantly improve productivity.

The SMEs Go Digital Programme, building on the foundation of IMDA's iSprint programme, is not new. Pre-qualified solutions that have been proven beneficial will be tailored and consistently used by the SMEs participating in the programme.

SMEs with limited resources and that are at the early stages of experimentation in their digital transformation journey can consider tapping on this programme to improve their customer experience or digitise internal work processes for quick wins.

This may include offering a new online customer service portal or enhancing their online marketing and distribution channels.

SMEs that are jump-starting their digital transformation by launching new digital products or services may need to invest in more sophisticated information technology infrastructure, such as a strong enterprise resource planning and customer relationship management system.

For this, SMEs can approach SME Centres for advice on off-the-shelf technology solutions that are pre-approved for funding support, or connect with ICT vendors and consultants under the programme.

The digitally-advanced firms can get specialist advice from the SME Technology Hub.

Help to transform

As SMEs roll out their digital initiatives, they need to support their employees in upskilling and reskilling to transit into new or expanded roles.

And what would have been even more helpful for SMEs, but were missing from the Budget announcement, are tax incentives to help defray peripheral costs incurred in their digital journey.

Considering that the Productivity and Innovation Credit scheme will lapse after the year of assessment (YA) 2018, training costs incurred by SMEs for their employees thereafter will no longer enjoy enhanced tax deductions.

This may result in a gap in the ecosystem - as SMEs choose between investing in digital capability development and employee upskilling.

In his Budget speech, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat encouraged employers, unions, trade associations and chambers of commerce to develop more structured training programmes for workers.

Notwithstanding this, considering that many SMEs have limited resources, an extension of enhanced deduction claims on training costs they for their employees after YA2018 could be helpful.

Taking this a step further, perhaps double tax deductions could be granted for consultancy fees or charges, or special tax deductions on investments in technology infrastructure and development expenses for digital platforms (after offsets by any supporting grants) incurred by SMEs for initiatives aimed at scaling up their digital capabilities.

The scope of such double tax deductions can even be widened to cover the operating expenses in relation to these initiatives, such as search engine optimisation fees, which can be useful when SMEs extend the reach of their digital platforms as they expand overseas.

Cash incentives are usually more effective than tax savings for small businesses, so the enhanced deduction claims or enhanced capital allowances can come with the option to convert qualifying expenditure into a non-taxable cash benefit, which can potentially be capped annually.

A barrier to digital adoption in SMEs is a self-limiting mindset: Many SMEs feel that they are too small in scale or command too insignificant a customer base to warrant any investments in digital.

Large corporations may traditionally have the scale and financial might to win in the market, but with the disruptions and enablement that technologies bring, SMEs too can be serious competitors to upend market incumbents and seize the upsides of the digital future.

With SMEs making up 99 per cent of all local enterprises and employing 70 per cent of the workforce, they are one of Singapore's greatest sources of growth and innovation. Digital holds the key to unlocking much of their future potential and, by that extension, Singapore's economic potential.


The writers are Partners, Tax Services at Ernst & Young Solutions LLP. The views in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the global EY organisation or its member firms.

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Addressing weaknesses in the judicial management process

Business Times
15 Mar 2017
Chong Chin Cheong & Frank Sin Fook Hoo

In view of recent cases of several listed companies going under judicial management, it is timely for the general public as stakeholders to better understand the intended purpose of such an undertaking.

Judicial management is a temporary court-supervised rescue plan for financially distressed companies to be returned to financial health after debt and corporate restructuring. It is not, as some might think, an exercise to dispose of assets at a better price compared to a liquidation in order to pay off creditors.

An application for judicial management can be made by the company, its directors or creditors. Upon successful application, a court order will be issued and a reputable public accountant (but not an auditor of the company) will be appointed as the judicial manager (JM).

The power and functions of the board of directors will be vested in the JM with its primary responsibility to manage the affairs of the company and to restore it back to financial health. The process is 180 days and can be extended by the applicant. During this time, the company is protected from creditor claims and no legal proceeding or actions can be taken to enforce any security over the assets of the company.

According to an article in Lianhe Zaobao published on Jan 23, 2017, since the judicial management system was introduced in 1987, few companies that went through the process have come out of it and survived as a going-concern.

Several companies from the oil and gas offshore support industry are already currently under judicial management - for example, namely Technic Oil and Gas, Swiber and Swissco. The trends today - rising interest rates in a turbulent global environment, and with potentially more trade barriers sprouting up around the world in response to the Trump administration withdrawing the US from the Trans-Pacific Partnership - will most likely adversely impact Singapore with its very open economy and large merchant trade volume.

As a result, Singapore should be prepared for the possibility that more companies may resort to judicial management given the headwinds and challenges ahead. It behooves us to discuss potential issues that may contribute to an unsuccessful journey taken by companies to the desired destination of financial rehabilitation.

1. CONFLICT OF INTEREST OF JM

a) Allegiance to major creditor(s)

While several parties - the company, its directors or creditors - can apply for judicial management, it is common knowledge that the choice of public accounting firm to be appointed the JM is often influenced by the largest creditor. Hence, although technically an officer of the court, some appointed JM may become biased and align its decision more favourably towards the creditor who recommended it for the job. The JM may then take the cue from the creditor on the endpoint it is seeking and lean towards shaping the desired outcome.

During the process, the JM has to adhere to certain procedures to prepare and submit various documents, such as statement of affairs and statement of proposals, to the court for approval by the majority of the creditors.

But there is little or no direct supervision over the JM to ensure it is doing the job entrusted and not favouring major creditor(s) at the expense of other stakeholders, usually small unsecured creditors such as individual investors who may have invested a large part of their savings in the medium term notes (MTN) issued by these companies.

For a company already in the JM process, its largest creditor may have already classified the money owed as non-performing loans and written it off, with little interest to spend time and effort reviewing a debt restructuring proposal and/or new business plan from a prospective strategic investor. Such a creditor would prefer that the company dispose of its assets, in an orderly manner under protection of judicial management, so that it can recoup more as opposed to having the company undergo a liquidation process.

This position is fundamentally different from that of small MTN investors or other creditors and stakeholders, who put their trust in the court-supervised process, hoping that the company has a fighting chance to come through it intact and viable, as is the original objective of judicial management.

b) Self-serving interest

Another possible area of conflict is the JM serving its own interest. Who is there to supervise the JM to ensure that it is not merely doing the minimum to stretch out the 180 days, or even longer with extension by the court? If the JM has such a mindset, it just needs to ensure it does not make any mistakes so that it can collect its professional service fee. This behaviour will drain the already scarce resources of the financially distressed company, defeating the very purpose of putting the company under judicial management.

Under normal business circumstance, management runs the business and reports to the board of directors, who in turn have an oversight responsibility and are accountable to the company shareholders.

Under judicial management, though periodic updates to creditors and seeking their approvals will be necessary for the important matters, the JM reports directly only to the court. It is fair to say that the court is not business savvy nor in a good position to oversee general business decisions taken by the JM that could have a significant impact on the survival of the company.

2. INDISCRIMINATE SALE OF COMPANY'S ASSETS

Working out a comprehensive debt restructuring plan and identifying suitable strategic investors are all heavy lifting work and by no means easy for the JM. The spectrum of activities include (but are not limited to) negotiating with all creditors to lessen the company's debt burden; arranging a future repayment scheme; devising a term sheet and to persuade prospective strategic investors to invest sufficient capital and management resources to reinvigorate the business, etc.

So the JM could possibly choose the easy way forward by selling off assets indiscriminately to raise money to, among other uses, pay itself the professional fee. Unfortunately, some of these assets could be pivotal for the company to have a fighting chance as a continuing business concern.

The relevant authorities should look into the above issues and address some of the concerns from the various stakeholders who might unfortunately be involved in a JM situation. If we can improve the judicial management process in Singapore and allow it to be an effective course of action, it will further enhance the resiliency of our enterprise-based economic milieu.


Chong Chin Cheong is managing director of Huios Pte Ltd, a consulting firm that advises firms on expansion strategy. Frank Sin Fook Hoong is a senior project consultant working with Huios

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Woman sues property agent over $830k

Straits Times
08 Mar 2017
Selina Lum

She claims agent used her signed cheques to make unauthorised withdrawals

A woman provided her real estate agent with four signed cheques to buy a Bedok Court flat, but he allegedly used them to withdraw over $830,000 from her bank account.

Ms Rohini Balasubramaniam, 56, a former teacher, is suing the agent, Mr Kelvin Yeow Khim Whye, 39, and real estate agency HSR International Realtors to get the cash back.

Mr Yeow, a bankrupt, is uncontactable and believed to be in China.

Ms Rohini got to know him in 2007, when she was looking for a property agency to act for her father, who wanted to sell a Neptune Court flat and buy a Bayshore Park apartment.

In 2009, she engaged Mr Yeow to sell the Bayshore Park apartment, which was left to her by her father - who died a year earlier.

In October 2009, Mr Yeow advised her to buy an apartment at Bedok Court for $1.28 million.

She said he also advised her to provide him with signed cheques for various payments, including for commission fees and legal costs.

As she was hospitalised in late 2009, she relied heavily on Mr Yeow on matters relating to the two property transactions, she said.

She instructed Mr Yeow to collect two cashier's orders and a cheque worth about $832,000 in total from her lawyers.

The money came from the sales proceeds of the Bayshore Park unit.

However, Ms Rohini noticed in 2010 that her bank account seemed to show that the money had not been credited.

On investigating the matter, she found out that the money had indeed been deposited into her account.

But $830,000 was withdrawn from the account by way of four cheques shortly after.

Two of the cheques were made out to Mr Yeow, while one was encashed and made out to Ms Sammi Ching May, who turned out to be Mr Yeow's creditor who made him bankrupt in 2013.

In her lawsuit, Ms Rohini, represented by lawyer Edmond Pereira, said the withdrawals were not authorised by her.

She said she had trusted Mr Yeow as a real estate broker, and believed the cheques would go towards her property purchase.

Meanwhile, HSR, represented by lawyer Eugene Thuraisingam, asserted it is unaware of Ms Rohini's claims.

The agency said it is not responsible for the actions of Mr Yeow, who was an independent contractor.

HSR said Ms Rohini's voluntary signing of her cheques was a "direct and substantial" cause of her alleged loss.

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

Mastermind in IPPT cheating scheme jailed for 18 months

Straits Times
21 Mar 2017
Shaffiq Idris Alkhatib

He and two accomplices took fitness tests for NSmen, pocketing Mindef incentive payouts

What started out as a favour to help his friends pass their Individual Physical Proficiency Test (IPPT) morphed into a scheme that cheated the Ministry of Defence (Mindef) of $24,700.

Salesman Lim Chun Chyi, now 37, who initially took the IPPT on his friends' behalf, also roped in friends to pretend to be other operationally ready national servicemen (NSmen) - sometimes for a fee.

Between 2011 and 2014, he and his friends took the IPPT for 72 NSmen and pocketed the Mindef incentive payouts.

Lim was caught on Dec 6, 2014, after an eagle-eyed fitness trainer at Khatib Camp noticed that he looked familiar. He recalled that the same man had taken the IPPT a few weeks ago.

Lim was jailed for 18 months yesterday after pleading guilty to 20 cheating charges involving $8,000. In each of these charges, he had attained the gold award for others. Another 73 charges for similar offences involving $16,700 were taken into consideration during sentencing.

According to court documents, Lim and two accomplices - Nicholas Tan Kun Sung, 37, and Kho Puay Meng, 39 - entered various army camps to take the IPPT on behalf of other NSmen. Lim was the only one who interacted with the clients.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Ng Jean Ting said Lim would either actively solicit clients or receive requests from them via phone calls or WhatsApp messages. He would then register for the IPPT on his clients' behalf.

DPP Ng said: "In return, depending on whether the accused obtained a gold, silver or pass-with-incentive award, the accused would receive the corresponding incentive payout disbursed by the Ministry of Defence to the NSmen as payment."

A gold award recipient is entitled to $400, while a silver award garners $200. A pass-with-incentive award is $100.

DPP Ng said the clients passed the money to Lim after receiving their payouts.

Occasionally, Lim would ask clients for an additional $50 fee for engaging his services. If they agreed to his terms, he would ask for their personal details and use these to register online via the NS portal for a time slot at one of the many army fitness centres islandwide.

He would then meet his clients to collect their identity documents, such as identity cards and driver's licences, to get into the centres.

He would go to the centres himself or get one of his accomplices to do so.

DPP Ng said Lim would give Tan and Kho a cut of the incentive payouts when they were involved.

The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Provost started its investigations soon after Lim was caught pretending to be someone else, and the matter was referred to the police in April 2015. On Sept 13 last year, Kho was jailed for two months after pleading guilty to one charge of conspiring to cheat. The case involving Tan is still pending.

Yesterday, DPP Ng told the court that Lim had made full restitution, and urged District Judge Low Wee Ping to jail him for between 18 and 24 months, stressing that his offences were difficult to detect.

Defence counsel Raphael Louis pleaded for nine months in jail, and said his client was embarrassed at bringing shame to his family.

When handing out the sentence, Judge Low said he agreed with the prosecution, adding that the fact the trio ran more than 80 times in the IPPT in three years as part of the scheme bewildered him.

Addressing Lim, he said: "You could have used your fitness for other positive outcomes but decided to take the criminal road."

Mindef said a total of 58 SAF, six Singapore Civil Defence Force and five Singapore Police Force NSmen had been disciplined according to the respective service's disciplinary framework.

Verification measures have since been stepped up to apprehend and punish those who attempt to cheat during IPPT. A Mindef spokesman said: "In addition to identity verification during IPPT registration, facial checks will also be conducted against their 11Bs or NRICs.

"Since the start of 2015, biometric fingerprinting technology has progressively been introduced at SAF camps to complement the existing security procedures."

A 11B is a military identity card.

Currently, Bedok Camp and Maju Camp are equipped with biometric fingerprinting technology.

To strengthen the security of SAF camps, all personnel, including NSmen taking their IPPT, will have to undergo biometric fingerprinting to get in by next year, said DPP Ng.

This applies to all SAF camps and fitness conditioning centres.

For each count of cheating, Lim could have been jailed for up to 10 years and fined.


72

Number of NSmen for whom Lim and his friends took the IPPT, pocketing the Mindef incentive payouts.

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Feedback sought on Muslim law Act changes

Straits Times
15 Mar 2017
Chong Zi Liang

The Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) will have a bigger say on the appointment of trustees of properties or assets bequeathed by Muslims to their community, under proposed changes to the law governing Muslim affairs in Singapore.

It has to give approval in writing before a new trustee can be named for an endowed property, or wakaf.

Another planned move requires couples, where one party is younger than 21, to attend a preparation programme before they can marry.

These are among planned changes to the Administration of Muslim Law Act (Amla), on which the Government is seeking public feedback.

They were spelt out in a consultation paper released yesterday on the websites of the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY) and feedback unit Reach.

MCCY said the new requirement on wakaf trustees is a key measure to safeguard Muis' responsibility to administer all such assets. Also, Muis' consent must be obtained before any court proceedings on the removal or appointment of wakaf trustees can be started.

MCCY cited a High Court case last year in which trustees of the Valibhoy Charitable Trust wakaf sought to remove and replace another trustee. The court struck out the application as it held that jurisdiction to do so rested solely in Muis.

"The proposed amendment seeks to ensure that Muis is apprised of any trustee disputes and where possible, it may try to resolve these at the outset," MCCY said.

A wakaf will also have to establish a separate sinking fund for the future maintenance of the properties.

How much to set aside will be decided by Muis according to the income level of the wakaf and the needs of its beneficiaries, but the amount will not exceed 20 per cent of the wakaf's annual net income.

A Muis spokesman said yesterday it will hold sessions with wakaf trustees, mosque leaders and others to explain and seek feedback on the changes. "It is hoped that through these amendments, the community will benefit from better governance, efficiency and sustainability of its key religious institutions."

Amla is regularly reviewed to ensure it is relevant, stays up to date and serves the needs of the Muslim community. MCCY said the latest proposed changes "seek to reinforce Muslim institutions, enhance the management of Muslim assets and strengthen Muslim families".

The requirement to attend the pre-marriage course aims to help raise young couples' awareness of potential challenges, guide them in managing these issues and flag the available support after marriage. Couples will also have to obtain their parents' consent to get married if one party is younger than 21.

As for couples planning to divorce, an existing requirement that they be referred to counselling or a family support programme at any stage of the proceedings will be enshrined in Amla. This will instil a more "child-centric" approach during the proceedings, MCCY said.

The deadline for comments is 6pm on April 13, via e-mail to amlafeedback@mccy.gov.sg or by post to MCCY.

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

Crane technician wins $346k in damages after worksite accident

Straits Times
07 Mar 2017
K.C. Vijayan

He survived 52m plunge but 6 years on, he still suffers pain all over body

A crane technician who miraculously survived a 52m plunge from a work platform that dislodged from the mast of a tower crane was awarded some $346,000 in damages for pain and suffering, loss of amenities, current and future medical costs, and loss of earnings.

A six-day High Court hearing, scheduled to start yesterday to assess the damages payable to technician Wong Lim Kang, ended on day one when all three defendants mutually agreed on the sums to be paid based on their share of liability.

Mr Wong, a Malaysian, had brought a negligence suit against crane supplier Soon Douglas and subcontractor FES Engineering, which tasked the 46-year-old to carry out the jacking of a mast on the tower crane at the worksite.

The third defendant, Novelty Builders, was the main contractor of the construction project site at River Valley Grove.

Liability for the worksite accident among all parties had been hammered out last year in mediation talks brokered by Senior Judge Lai Siu Chiu. The three defendants agreed to accept 88.75 per cent share of the blame with 41.25 per cent apportioned to FES, 36.25 per cent to Soon Douglas and 11.25 per cent to Novelty Builders. Mr Wong accepted the remaining 11.25 per cent share.

This was done before High Court Justice George Wei last April.

Mr Wong had sustained serious multiple fractures, including neck and organ injuries, and remained unconscious for two days in hospital and took a year's medical leave.

The multiple fractures on his body affected his spine, pelvic area and rib, and the injuries affected his hand, shoulder, buttock and groin areas as well.

It is understood that he survived the 52m plunge when he landed on a waste plastic bin which cushioned his fall in the April 13, 2010 accident in River Valley Grove.

It emerged that the work platform on which Mr Wong stood was not properly secured to the tower crane, leading to the accident, according to court documents filed by his lawyer N. Srinivasan from Hoh Law Corporation.

Novelty Builders, defended by lawyers Niru Pillai and Priya Pillay, had argued that Mr Wong had contributed to the accident, as being a skilled team leader, he should have anchored his safety harness onto the mast of the tower crane, but instead, had hooked onto the railing of the platform. As a result, he was dragged down when the platform fell. Mr Wong denied this.

FES was defended by lawyer Michael Eu, while Soon Douglas was represented by lawyers Charles Phua and Charlene Chee.

Six years on, the father of three continues to suffer significant pain in his neck, chest, shoulders and limbs, among other ailments. He is unable to squat, jump or run.

He was alone on the platform at the time to facilitate the installation of a trolley jacking platform, which has to be done at the top of the crane's mast first.

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ADV: Enter the STEP Private Client Awards 2017-18

Singapore Law Watch
21 Mar 2017
Society of Trusts and Estate Practitioners

Training individuals for IP or innovation roles

Straits Times
15 Mar 2017
Grace Leong

A new programme that trains people to help businesses translate their intellectual property (IP) and innovation expertise into products and assets has been launched.

A collaboration between Workforce Singapore and Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (Ipos), the professional conversion programme for IP professionals hires and trains individuals for IP or innovation job roles in companies. It provides course fee and salary support to train individuals.

This programme is part of Ipos' ongoing efforts to prepare for rising demand for such expertise as projected in the Committee on the Future Economy report. Ipos cited studies showing jobs in IP-intensive industries pay 30 per cent more than jobs in other fields.

A new course, SIM University's (UniSIM) graduate programme in IP and innovation management, is offered under the programme. Designed for mid-career professionals, modules taken under the UniSIM course can lead to a master's degree or graduate diploma.

Applications for the first intake of the course will open on March 20 - till May 31. The first round of interviews and selection will be in April. The course starts in July.

"IP assets are key to an organisation's competitive edge and need to be managed appropriately. The launch of the (programme) is timely, as it helps employers access a pipeline of talent with IP skillsets, and at the same time provides mid-career professionals the opportunity to build careers in a growing sector," Mr Tan Choon Shian, chief executive of Workforce Singapore, said.

Ipos chief executive Daren Tang said: "Singapore needs people skilled in translating ideas and IP into products and assets. Such expertise... will be of immense value to any enterprise whose business model is centred around technology, brands, designs or content."

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AGC looking into Joshua Robinson case: Shanmugam

TODAY
07 Mar 2017
Christopher Toh

The Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) is looking into the case of convicted sex predator Joshua Robinson, as a petition calling for a harsher sentence for the American mixed martial arts (MMA) instructor gained traction on Monday (March 6).

Speaking on the sidelines of a community event, Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam, noting the “public disquiet” over Robinson’s four-year jail sentence, said people are “naturally upset, parents in particular”, and explained that what kind of sentence is meted out depends on previous cases.

“Having said that, my understanding is that AGC is looking into this,” he said, adding: “I personally should not be commenting, because the matter is not concluded, as time for appeal has not ended. It is therefore not appropriate for me to comment.”

Robinson, who was sentenced last Thursday, had pleaded guilty to nine charges, including charges of sexually assaulting two teenage girls, making and possessing obscene films, and showing an obscene film to a six-year-old girl.

Police officers had seized 5,902 obscene films, including 321 films of child pornography, when they raided his apartment. Robinson had faced 29 charges in total, and the prosecution had proceeded with nine of these charges, with the rest taken into consideration during sentencing.

In one instance, he contacted a 15-year-old girl through social media repeatedly until they eventually exchanged contact numbers. He claimed that he was 27, and told the girl that he had a fetish for young girls in uniform.

In June 2015, he asked to meet the girl, instructing her to wear her school uniform. They went to his apartment along Upper Circular Road, where he filmed them engaging in sexual acts. After the encounter, she had a mental breakdown and filed a police report.

Asked about the case yesterday, Mr Shanmugam said that the decisions on which charges to proceed is a matter within AGC’s discretion, and the AGC makes these decisions based on precedents.

More than 10,000 people, including the father of one of the children affected, had signed the online petition asking for harsher penalties against Robinson for his sex crimes as of 10pm yesterday.

The petition was started by Ms Sarah Woon on Sunday, a friend of the six-year-old victim’s father, and had called for 100 signatories. It is addressed to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Mr Shanmugam and the AGC, among others. 

For sexually assaulting a minor, Robinson could have been jailed up to 10 years and fined, for each charge. For the possession of obscene films, he could have been jailed up to six months or fined at least S$500 for each film, up to S$20,000.

Copyright 2017 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

Jailed 10 years, caned for robbing, stabbing woman 16 years ago

Straits Times
21 Mar 2017
Elena Chong

A 32-year-old man who robbed and stabbed a woman with a knife in a lift when he was 16 years old was sentenced to the maximum 10 years' jail and 12 strokes of the cane yesterday for robbery with hurt.

The woman, Ms Soh San, 28, was stabbed nine times and died from stab wounds to the chest and abdomen on Oct 2, 2001.

Gunasegaran Ramasamy turned himself in at a neighbourhood police centre on Nov 17, 2013, after he was pricked by his conscience.

His lawyer, Criminal Legal Aid Scheme Advocate Ng Shi Yang, said Gunasegaran heard "voices" shortly after the 2001 offence, which worsened in the years leading up to his confession in 2013.

A district court heard that on the day of the crime, Gunasegaran's sister had told him to buy instant noodles at a shop in Bukit Batok when he decided to look for targets to rob. He wrapped a knife about 28cm long with a newspaper and tucked it at the back of his pants.

When he arrived at a block in Bukit Batok West Avenue 8, he spotted Ms Soh. The manager with a telecommunications firm had just returned home from work.

Gunasegaran followed the victim to the lift lobby, pressed the lift button and used his knuckle to rub against the button in a bid to remove his finger print.

After they got into the lift, he whipped out his knife and demanded money.

Ms Soh put up a struggle and was stabbed in her arm. She then gave him three $10 notes.

Dissatisfied, he tried to snatch her purse. When she resisted, he became angry and stabbed her repeatedly on her arm and body.

He then fled by running down the stairs.

Gunasegaran had convictions in 1998, 2000, 2002 and 2006 for burglary, robbery and theft, and was last given four years' jail and six strokes in 2011 for causing grievous hurt, breach of a personal protection order and concealing stolen property.

District Judge Tan Jen Tse said Gunasegaran had committed a very serious offence and noted several aggravating factors in this case.

"I also note that you were very young at the time and was remorseful," he said.

After Gunasegaran's arrest following his surrender, the urine sample he provided tested positive for methamphetamine.

He admitted he had smoked Ice two days earlier and had been smoking the drug over two years. The maximum penalty for the offence is 10 years and $20,000 fine.

Gunasegaran's jail sentence includes eight months for taking methamphetamine, which is to run concurrently.

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

MC barred from removing condo's cooling tower

Straits Times
14 Mar 2017
K.C. Vijayan

82% of owners okayed disposal of ageing facility, but one resident gets Strata Titles Board to block move

One apartment owner at Leonie Towers managed to block the estate's management corporation (MC) from removing the central cooling tower that serviced the 35-year-old air-conditioning system in the condominium.

The MC of Leonie Towers had sought to dismantle the system, which had outlived its estimated service life of 20 years. The MC was backed by 82 per cent of unit owners at an extraordinary general meeting last year.

The unit owners then enacted a by-law under the Building Maintenance and Strata Management (BMSM) Act to empower the MC to proceed. But dissenting unit owner Yap Choo Moi applied to the Strata Titles Board (STB) to invalidate the by-law last year.

Her lawyer, Ms Valerie Ang, argued that the Act only provided for the making of by-laws that performed a regulatory role but not for the making of by-laws for disposing common property.

The MC's lawyer, Ms Teh Ee-von, accepted there was no provision in the Act for the removal of common property but countered, among other things, that there was no provision that prohibited removal either.

Both parties, at a hearing last month, agreed that the air-con system was common property.

In a novel ruling, the board, comprising deputy president Francis Remedios and its members, Professor Teo Keang Sood and Mr Chua Koon Hoe, blocked the MC's bid, saying the relevant laws do not allow the MC to dispose of such common property.

"There is currently no provision in the BMSM Act or the Land Titles (Strata) Act that allows for a management corporation to dispose of common property," said the board in judgment grounds issued on March 3. "It is noteworthy that even when this could be done, it could only be done by way of a unanimous resolution," it added.

Leonie Towers, in the River Valley Road area, comprises 92 units in two tower blocks of 25 storeys each. Among other things, consulting engineers hired to study the system reported there was corrosion in the steel piping, which required expensive replacements. The system was also operating at below-average level because 60 per cent of residents were using their own air-con units.

The general body which voted to remove the system last year were also told major repairs would cost $520,000, a replacement system would cost $750,000, while removing it would cost only $85,000.

Madam Yap argued that she relied on the cooling towers and removing them would require her to install a new system, which would lower her quality of life.

The board said Madam Yap held a share in the common property proportional to her share values in the estate.

While the BMSM Act provides that subsidiary proprietors like Madam Yap can be deprived of the use of common property, "the section does not provide for the removal or discarding of common property".

Counsel for the MC is considering various options following the board's rejection of its move.


Case puts amended laws under scrutiny

The relevant section of the Land Titles (Strata) Act which provided for the disposal of common property was deleted and replaced by the Building Maintenance and Strata Management (BMSM) Act in 2004 and Statutes (Miscellaneous Amendments)(No.2) Act in 2005.

The new provisions did not provide for disposal of common property by the management corporation.

Lawyers say if there is unanimous support for the disposal of common property, such as obsolete play swings or other items in a common playground for residents, it is likely the matter will pass without further objections or notice.But in this case, a dissenting resident filed formal objections to the Strata Titles Board for a ruling on the disposal of a condominium cooling tower and triggered a test case which brought the relevant laws under its scrutiny.

If the case is about replacement of and not disposal per se, then the case is treated as one of maintenance of common property, which is provided for under the BMSM Act.

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

Disagreeing with excessive penalty submission, judge puts off sentencing of maid

TODAY
07 Mar 2017
Faris Mokhtar

A judge in the district court on Monday (March 6) put off sentencing a foreign domestic worker who put a disabled child’s life at risk, after he disagreed with prosecutors who sought a “manifestly excessive” 18-month jail term.

District Judge Low Wee Ping said that the penalty jars with the range of punishment for previous cases involving intentional acts, and asked for a lawyer to assist the court with the legal principles for the sentencing of the worker, who was unrepresented when she pleaded guilty to the charge.

He added that he could not, “in good conscience”, accept the prosecution’s submissions without hearing the views of a defence counsel.

At one point during the hearing, Justice Low asked the other lawyers present in the courtroom — waiting for their cases to be heard — whether they could represent the domestic helper, “instead of her being left undefended”. Lawyer Mahmood Gaznavi said that he would take up the case pro bono.

In appealing for legal aid, Mr Low said: “Let’s do justice, and dispense what we call mercy.”

Kusrini Caslan Arja, 36, an Indonesian, on Monday pleaded guilty to forcefully inserting her entire right hand into the mouth and throat of a four-year-old child to retrieve a 4cm-long suction cap that had fallen into his mouth. The bedridden boy, who suffers from spinal muscular atrophy, needed a suction machine to remove his phlegm and mucus; the cap was part of the device.

Kusrini’s actions, captured by a surveillance camera placed near the boy’s bed by his parents, caused him to bleed profusely. The suction cap remained stuck in his throat for 12 hours as she did not alert her employers.

The incident happened on Nov 23 last year. That morning, Kusrini, noticing that the boy had more phlegm and mucus than usual, decided to put the suction cap into his mouth because she felt it was a faster and more effective way to clean up his respiratory tract, even though she was taught to place the cap outside his nose and lips by the boy’s mother, who is a nurse.

When the cap fell into his mouth, Kusrini tried to fish it out with her finger, but could not. When she saw blood, she panicked and put her entire right hand in to retrieve it.

She did this for about eight minutes, causing more blood to ooze out of the mouth, while the boy’s head turned reddish-purplish. During this time, she sometimes stopped digging so she could pump oxygen into his mouth, because the machine showed that his oxygen levels were low.

The boy’s mother, who was viewing the camera footage on her mobile phone that morning to check on him, was concerned and alerted her husband, but Kusrini told her employers that there was some blood and everything was fine. The parents were unable to spot the blood stains because they were covered by a towel.

At about 9.15pm that day, the boy’s parents discovered that the pump container of the suction machine was filled with blood, and that his heart rate was high. Realising there was an object stuck inside his throat, the mother retrieved it with a pair of tweezers. The boy was admitted to KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital’s high dependency unit and discharged two days later.

In asking for an 18-month jail term, Deputy Public Prosecutor (DPP) Teo Lu Jia said that the child was extremely vulnerable and could not seek help. She also said that Kusrini did not have any regard for the victim’s pain and suffering, and that the boy was “utterly at her mercy”.

Pleading for a lenient sentence, Kusrini said that she regretted her actions.

Mr Low told the court that he was “taken aback” by the proposed penalty, saying that this case was unlike those of other convicted foreign domestic workers, who had intentionally ill-treated children out of anger.

He also said that Kusrini was not a trained nurse and the footage showed that she was desperately trying to retrieve the suction cap. “I’m sure she didn’t intend to do all those things ... I’m sure she was equally traumatised,” he added.

However, DPP Teo argued that Kusrini knew she had to call the ambulance and her employers in an emergency, but chose to cover up her actions. She also cited a medical report that showed that the victim could have choked to death.

Before adjourning the case, which will be heard again on March 23, Mr Low said that perhaps “the system is at fault” for allowing domestic workers to perform medical care even though they are not trained to do so.

“We employ domestic maids too generally ... employ them as car washers, plumbers, house painters, medical caregivers ... when we shouldn’t be. And when they do something wrong, we point our faults at them,” he said.

“I hope there won’t come a day when we employ them as drivers or chauffeurs.” a disabled child’s life at risk, after he disagreed with prosecutors who sought a “manifestly excessive” 18-month jail term.

Copyright 2017 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

Row over power supply: Three years' jail for slashing landlord

Straits Times
21 Mar 2017
Elena Chong

A mentally ill woman, angry with her landlord for switching off the main power supply, slashed him in the forearm with a paper cutter.

Mr Wong Keng Woo, 76, died about 1½ hours later from acute haemorrhage due to an incised wound of the left radial artery. The contributory cause was ischaemic heart disease.

Malaysian Woo Mui Mee, 36, claimed she attacked Mr Wong after he took a bamboo pole and poked her repeatedly in her abdomen at Block 114, Yishun Ring Road, on Nov 21, 2015.

Woo, who was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, was yesterday sentenced to three years' jail after admitting to causing grievous hurt to Mr Wong at about 10pm that day.

Woo had entered Singapore days earlier on Nov 15 that year to look for a job, said Deputy Public Prosecutor Zhuo Wenzhao. The former dishwasher, who had previously rented a room from Mr Wong, returned to his flat as a tenant again.

Investigations showed that on the night of the attack, Woo became angry with Mr Wong after he switched off the main power supply. When she saw him seated at a bus stop opposite the block, she shouted at him to return. When he was back at the flat, she scolded him and he threw something on her room door which made her angrier.

She then confronted Mr Wong with the paper cutter. She slashed him once on his left forearm outside the flat when she saw him trying to switch on the power supply.

He then took a wooden pole and walked towards her. When she saw this, she slashed him again on the forearm before running away. By then, neighbours had called the police who found blood along the corridor but could not access the unit.

Singapore Civil Defence Force personnel cut the padlock on the window and an officer climbed into the unit and unlocked the wooden door. Mr Wong was found motionless on the bed in the master bedroom and pronounced dead at 11.38pm.

In a mitigation plea, Woo's assigned lawyers from the Criminal Legal Aid Scheme, Mr Amarick Gill and Ms Cheryl Ng, said the accused's actions were a result of her mental condition which made her believe Mr Wong was sexually attracted to her.

An Institute of Mental Health report found Woo had no insight into her mental condition, but if given proper treatment before release, her condition could be managed and she would not repeat similar acts in future.

"A significant and lengthy sentence will be unjustifiable, purposeless and will serve neither Ms Woo's interest nor the public interest," said the defence.

Woo, whose sentence was backdated to Nov 23, 2015, could have been jailed for up to 15 years and fined.

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

Ex-star banker banned from securities sector for 1MDB-linked offences

Business Times
14 Mar 2017
Anita Gabriel

Tim Leissner gets 10-year prohibition order; MAS plans to ban three others for longer spells for undermining trust in the financial system

The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) has followed through on its recent announcement and handed down an order banning former Goldman Sachs banker Tim Leissner from the city state's securities industry for 10 years, over breaches related to 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).

The regulator also served notice of its intention to issue prohibition orders (POs) against three bankers from Falcon Private Bank (Singapore) and BSI Bank. Two of this trio could face a life-time ban from the securities and financial services sectors here.

If the lifetime POs are issued, The Business Times understands, they would be the first ones meted out by MAS under the Securities and Futures Act and the Financial Advisers Act.

Ong Chong Tee, MAS deputy managing director of financial supervision, said in a statement: "MAS will not tolerate conduct by any finance professional that threatens to undermine trust and confidence in Singapore's financial system.

"MAS will not hesitate to bar such individuals from carrying out regulated activities in the financial industry. It is imperative that industry professionals and representatives of financial institutions are fit and proper persons. They must be worthy of the trust that people place in them and their institutions."

The PO against Mr Leissner took effect on Monday and follows the notice MAS gave last December. The regulator had sought a written explanation from Mr Leissner - the Goldman Sachs star who landed the bank multi-million-dollar deals with Malaysia's state-owned company - in defence of his position.

He was found to have issued an unauthorised letter in June 2015 to a Luxembourg-based financial institution and to have made false statements on behalf of Goldman Sachs (Asia) without the firm's knowledge.

MAS said: "Following careful consideration of the representations made by Mr Leissner and the relevant facts, MAS has decided to issue a PO for a period of 10 years."

The other three facing bans are Falcon Singapore branch manager Jens Fred Sturzenegger and former BSI private bankers Yak Yew Chee and Yvonne Seah; they were all investigated by the Commercial Affairs Department (CAD) on 1MDB-related matters and have been convicted in Singapore courts.

MAS intends to issue life-time bans on Sturzenegger and Yak, "given the gravity of their misconduct", and a 15-year ban on Seah.

Such orders will bar the trio from regulated activities or taking part directly or indirectly in management or as directors or substantial shareholders in Singapore's securities and financial services segments.

In January this year, Sturzenegger was convicted on several charges; these included consenting to Falcon Bank's failure to file suspicious transaction reports on the inflows into the bank, failing to disclose information on suspicious outflows and furnishing false information to MAS and CAD to cover up his relationship with Malaysian tycoon Low Taek Jho and Mr Low's involvement in the bank accounts maintained by Falcon Bank.

Yak was the relationship manager for Mr Low and Mr Low's father, and was closely assisted by Seah in managing the relationship.

Yak and Seah were convicted last November and December respectively, in relation to forged reference letters sent to Switzerland-based entities using the letterhead of BSI to misrepresent Mr Low's net worth or to conceal the source of his fund transfers. The pair had also failed to flag his movement of funds as suspicious.

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

Killer fails in bid to keep stolen money

Straits Times
07 Mar 2017
Selina Lum

A Pakistani man, one of two who have been sentenced to hang for murdering a compatriot in a robbery, yesterday fought to keep the $5,745 that was found on him, insisting that the whole sum belonged to him.

But Rasheed Muhammad, 46, only managed to keep $845, as the High Court ordered $4,900 - the amount taken from the victim - to be forfeited.

Rasheed and his accomplice, Ramzan Rizwan, 28, were found guilty last month of murdering 59-year-old Muhammad Noor to recover money they had lost to him in a game of cards. All three had come to Singapore to sell tissue paper.

After the victim was smothered in his room at their Rowell Road lodging house on June 11, 2014, the pair sawed off his legs and packed his remains into two suitcases.

The killing came to light when an 81-year-old man made a grisly find in Syed Alwi Road - a grey suitcase containing the victim's legless body. Rasheed later led police to a black suitcase containing the victim's legs at the Jalan Kubor Muslim cemetery.

Each blamed the other for killing the victim. But the High Court concluded that the pair had acted as team in carrying out their common intention to kill the victim and rob him of his money.

After the pair were sentenced, the prosecution applied for their respective share of the loot to be forfeited. When they were arrested, Ramzan was found with $3,318, while Rasheed had $5,745 on him.

Ramzan told police that Rasheed had taken $6,000 from the victim and then gave him $1,100.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Ong Luan Tze argued that Rasheed's share of the loot worked out to $4,900 and sought to forfeit the sum.

But Rasheed objected to this.

A hearing, known as a disposal inquiry, was held to determine what happens to the money.

Yesterday, his assigned lawyer Wong Siew Hong said Rasheed denied taking money from the victim and said that the entire sum of $5,745 was his own money.

Mr Wong said his client asserts that Ramzan "took everything" from the victim, not only $1,100.

Ramzan did not object to $1,100 being forfeited, leaving him with $2,218.


$5,745

What Rasheed Muhammad wanted to keep. This was the amount found on him when he was arrested.

$845

What the court ruled was rightfully his. The rest of the money belonged to his victim.

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

Unwise to base sentencing on ‘ground sensitivity’: AGC: Voices

TODAY
20 Mar 2017

In his letter “AGC should ensure that firm — but fair — justice is meted” (March 17), Mr Sunny Goh said that the AGC (Attorney-General’s Chambers) in the Joshua Robinson case should have “exercised more ground sensitivity, it could have pushed for a full trial”, and that an “open trial” would allow “a stiffer sentence ... [to] be sought” and can be for “public education”. This misunderstands the trial process and AGC’s role.

In deciding to prefer charges, the AGC assesses what offences may have been committed and whether the available evidence is sufficient to prove those offences beyond a reasonable doubt.

When charges are preferred, our laws do not permit the AGC to force an accused to either claim trial or plead guilty. It is for the accused to decide what course to take.

If the accused claims trial, the purpose of that trial is to resolve the factual and legal disputes raised. Trials are not conducted for the purpose of “public education”.

Mr Goh suggested that AGC had played “judge and jury” in the Joshua Robinson case, and that AGC should “leave it to the judge to show compassion”. It is unclear what he means.

In our criminal justice system, as in many others, it is not uncommon for an accused to plead guilty to some charges in order to reduce his sentence. This has a number of important advantages, including the certainty of securing a conviction, saving time and judicial resources and, particularly in cases involving children or victims of sexual crimes, sparing them the stress of giving evidence. That is why accused persons who plead guilty generally receive a lighter sentence compared to those convicted after a trial.

It is for the Court to decide on the appropriate sentence after assessing all relevant considerations. These include: (i) the facts that are legally relevant to sentencing (ii) the relevant sentencing precedents (iii) mitigating and aggravating factors and (iv) the prosecution and defence counsels’ submissions.

When AGC makes submissions on sentencing to the court, we are always mindful that the suggestions are fair and appropriate. It is important that the sentence must befit the crime and the offender, which will depend on the facts and the circumstances of each case. It is unwise to punish the offender on the basis of “ground sensitivity”.

Kow Keng Siong, Chief Prosecutor, Attorney-General's Chambers

Copyright 2017 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

CapitaLand calls for more time to sell units

Straits Times
14 Mar 2017
Wong Siew Ying

With extended timeframe, market can find equilibrium and soft landing, says developer

Property developer CapitaLand said last week's tweaking of some property cooling measures demonstrates the Government's readiness to calibrate curbs according to market conditions.

The changes are incremental steps in the right direction, said CapitaLand Singapore chief executive Wen Khai Meng yesterday.

He also suggested that the Government consider extending the timeframe for developers to sell units under the additional buyer's stamp duty (ABSD) and qualifying certificate (QC) rules.

"My view is that the transaction volume has halved. So I think the Government should give developers a longer time to sell the units," Mr Wen said at a media preview of CapitaLand's upcoming launch of Marine Blue condominium.

New home sales have slowed markedly in recent years, after a raft of cooling measures. More than 7,000 units were sold in each of the last three years, down from nearly 15,000 units in 2013 and 22,000 units in 2012.

Developers have a five-year deadline to complete and sell all units under the ABSD rule, introduced in December 2011. Those with unsold stock after the deadline face penalties that could run into millions of dollars.

Meanwhile, the QC rules apply specifically to foreign developers, including Singapore developers listed here with foreign shareholders.

Under the rules, they must sell all units on private residential land within two years of obtaining the Temporary Occupation Permit, failing which the developer will have to pay extension charges, pro-rated to the proportion of unsold units.

Mr Wen suggested these deadlines be extended by two years.

He said: "I don't think it is in the interest of the Government to see any abrupt changes or instability in the market. By allowing a longer time to sell, the market could find its equilibrium and a soft landing."

He also hopes the definition of a foreign developer can be relooked.

So far, CapitaLand has paid $8.03 million in extension charges for The Interlace and $2.56 million for d'Leedon. But the charges are unlikely to have a major impact, as the two projects are substantially sold.

The developer is also confident of selling all units at the newly completed 124-unit Marine Blue in Marine Parade, set to be launched this weekend. It has already sold 38 units in a soft-launch last year.

The 86 units left include 52 one-bedroom plus study units, sized between 635 sq ft and 980 sq ft, which cost between $1.13 million and $1.39 million.

Prices for 27 loft suites, which span between 1,270 sq ft and 1,593 sq ft, start from $1.56 million.

Three penthouses, sized between 3,025 sq ft and 3,261 sq ft, cost at least $4.11 million.

The freehold project also has four large strata homes with pool terraces, sized between 3,670 sq ft and 3,993 sq ft, and priced between $4.87 million and $5.24 million.

The average price at the project - located near the upcoming Marine Parade MRT station - works out to slightly more than $1,700 psf.

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

Films Act, Broadcasting Act to be updated: Yaacob

Business Times
07 Mar 2017
Amit Roy Choudhury

The government will update both the Films Act and the Broadcasting Act to take into account various forms of content delivery that have been made possible by technology, such as OTT (over the top) broadcasts and live streaming, Yaacob Ibrahim, Minister for Communications and Information, told Parliament on Monday.

Noting that films can be streamed from overseas without a physical copy of the reel, Dr Yaacob said that the government had started consulting some key stakeholders to update the Films Act. Speaking at the committee of supply debate for the Ministry of Communication and Information, he added that a wider public consultation would be done very soon.

Dr Yaacob said that there's also a need to update the Broadcasting Act as Singaporeans now have access to a wide variety of content on the Internet through OTT content providers, and "are no longer limited to services offered by Mediacorp or our subscription TV operators".

The minister observed that when overseas content providers are directly targeting Singaporeans, "we need to ensure that their content is in line with our community values, including the need to uphold racial and religious harmony".

"We are studying this carefully, to make sure that any changes we make will not add undue burden to businesses. I am happy to say that we have made good progress in engaging overseas content providers such as iTunes and Netflix, both of which classify their content according to our guidelines. Netflix has also implemented a PIN system to prevent children from accessing R21 content."

The minister said that in reviewing the amendment to the act, the government will rationalise some of the changes made in past years.

"One example is the 2013 Online News Licensing Scheme for accountability and responsibility in news reporting. Many members have spoken about the increase in and dangers of 'fake news'. The Internet is vast and open, but if an entity reports news about Singapore regularly to inform Singaporeans on matters of public interest, we expect them to do so responsibly.

"I am heartened that industry giants like Facebook and Google have realised that some control is necessary in this environment where misinformation can spread so easily."

Dr Yaacob said that Google had prohibited advertisements on sites with deliberate misinformation, while Facebook was mobilising users to call out misinformation in their news feeds.

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

Ezra bites bullet, files Chapter 11 protection with US court

Business Times
20 Mar 2017
Tan Hwee Hwee

Company currently has about 17,000 shareholders; it also has S$150 million of outstanding notes due in May

Offshore and marine (O&M) firm Ezra Holdings, once a stock-market darling, has chosen to go down the same path as its associate, Emas Chiyoda Subsea (ECS), and sought Chapter 11 protection with the US bankruptcy court - yet another victim of the prolonged and debilitating downturn in the sector.

Ezra's holding company and two other entities under the group, Emas IT Solutions Pte Ltd (EMIT) and Ezra Marine Services Pte Ltd (EMS), submitted their Chapter 11 applications on Saturday to the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York, stating in court papers that Ezra has found it difficult to carry out fund-raising as an entity listed on Singapore Exchange (SGX) owing to the prolonged challenging operating environment in the O&G industry.

In a follow-up announcement on SGX on Sunday, Ezra said the Chapter 11 filing "is intended to optimise the scope and extent of the restructuring options available" and "to protect the interests of all stakeholders . . . including creditors and shareholders".

Ezra's problems are not new as the market has known of its difficulties for many months. Most recently, on Feb 3, Ezra disclosed a potential US$170 million writedown tied to its interest in ECS. This followed two Jan 31 announcements from Ezra's partners in the ECS joint venture (JV), Chiyoda and NYK Line, detailing 51 billion yen (S$634 million) in combined writedowns for their respective equity and loans to the JV.

The ECS writedown was in addition to US$370.3 million impairments and provisions Ezra made in Q4 FY16, which dragged the group into a massive net loss of US$339.6 million and saw its equity to controlling interest plunge to US$232.98 million against over US$1 billion of short-term debt on its books.

In noting the deterioration in its FY16 financial statement, Ezra had warned against "going concern issues". Furthermore, as an OCBC Credit Research note issued before the Sunday announcement suggested, ECS's US bankruptcy filing on Feb 28 exacerbated the plight of the highly geared holding company.

So it was that Ezra's Sunday disclosure and its March 18 bankruptcy filing flagged accelerated legal proceedings against the holding company on claims linked to corporate guarantees extended in support of ECS.

Ezra's court filing further said two statutory demands from Svenska Handelsbanken AB (Publ), Singapore branch and Forland Subsea AS have since expired under Singapore law. This extends the two creditors the liberty to commence winding-up applications against the holding company.

Robson Lee, partner of law firm Gibson Dunn, in pointing to the developments since ECS's Chapter 11 filing, noted that the writing may have been on the wall for weeks now that the holding group "as a mothership with all group companies under its stable . . . needs to seek legal shelter to pre-empt inundations of litigations from the creditors".

In this respect, Ezra and its subsea associate ECS have taken a different route from Swiber Holdings, another erstwhile darling of Singapore's stock market, which entered into judicial management through an application with the Singapore court.

Ezra had said in its Sunday SGX disclosure that its Chapter 11 application is intended to "expand rehabilitation options to preserve value for all stakeholders of the group".

Legal experts had also identified the "debtor-in-possession financing" as a key characteristic of US bankruptcy code, which provides debtor companies more flexibility in prioritising financial resources for the purpose of rehabilitating their businesses over repaying their liabilities.

ECS is widely believed to have sought Chapter 11 protection to ring-fence US$90 million new funding from Chiyoda and Subsea 7.

While Ezra could be also seeking to protect whatever financial resources it has on the books, Mr Lee of Gibson Dunn said stakeholders may take comfort from media reports suggesting that with group "net assets exceeding net liabilities", there exists "a prospect of rehabilitation".

Court filings obtained by BT show Ezra had declared estimated assets of between US$500,000 and US$1 billion against estimated liabilities of between US$100 million and US$500 million.

The documents showed DBS Bank and OCBC Bank have over US$47 million secured claims each against Ezra; UOB ranked at a distant third with over US$10 million secured claims against the holding company. In addition, OCBC is listed as the only secured creditor with over US$26 million claim against EMS.

The three local banks also made Ezra's creditor list for its 20 largest unsecured and contingent claims: DBS with over US$280 million, OCBC with in excess US$200 million and UOB with under US$23 million. Ezra also has S$150 million worth of outstanding notes, the principal of which is due for redemption in May.

SGX has called on Ezra to convene a meeting with noteholders, to which the company said it will comply. The exchange also said it will write to holders of the notes which are custodised with the Central Depository (CDP). Investors whose notes are not held directly via their own CDP accounts but through nominee accounts are advised to contact the nominee directly.

SGX has also compiled details of these noteholders and will make them available to the trustee of the note issue, HSBC Institutional Trust Services (Singapore) Ltd.

The Securities Investors Association (Singapore) has been informed of the development and invited to participate, together with its legal advisers, in the arrangements put in place for noteholders.

Ezra's court filings showed the holding company has issued in excess of 2.9 billion shares of publicly held stock in Singapore that were held by about 17,400 persons or entities.

The group has two other listed entities on the Singapore bourse, Emas Offshore Limited (EOL) and Triyards. EOL had gone on a trading suspension since March 6 while its holding company entered into its latest trading halt on March 15. Triyards is the only counter still trading on SGX as at press time.

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

S'pore tax: Bold steps for a stronger future

Business Times
14 Mar 2017
Chris Woo & Vivienne Junzhao Ong

Singapore Budget 2017 is not only focused on building a sustainable and prudent fiscal situation but also, in substance, it is forward-looking

In his Budget 2017 round-up speech in Parliament, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat emphasised that "at a time when other economies are lowering corporate tax rates, Singapore must do what it can to remain an attractive place to work and do business".

In a short span of 50 years since independence, Singapore has successfully evolved into a globally significant first world country.

It is however, at an inflexion point. The business environment continues to be volatile and growth sentiment remains weak. The regulatory and tax environment is necessarily tightening as broader society and community demand greater accountability and governance. Rising costs and the need to internationalise continue to be the top concerns of Singapore businesses today, while a changing (ageing) social demographic puts new dimensions on fiscal policy.

The economy is fuelled both by foreign direct investments by multinational corporations looking to grow in this region, and homegrown enterprises seeking to upscale and venture beyond Singapore. The island-state is a melting pot of such enterprises operating across a wide spectrum of industries. Increased social spending and many other needs in Singapore press it to seek revenue-raising measures.

So how might Singapore recalibrate its tax system to raise revenue but remain competitive?

The Singapore Budget 2017 is forward-looking - with a big focus on building a sustainable and prudent fiscal situation. Recent Singapore Budget announcements have been modest on major tax changes, with just small tweaks to the core tax system. But, now more than ever, Singapore needs to take bold steps to continue enhancing its tax regime to continue to help the economy remain competitive through new challenges.

To celebrate SG50 in 2015, PwC Singapore published a white paper on Singapore's tax policy titled Singapore: Sovereignty, Society, Substance, Success, with recommendations on how greater substance requirements, transparency and enhanced certainty will help build a sustainable and competitive tax system for the country:

Substance and transparency to underpin its incentive regime

Singapore should continue to use tax incentives to attract the industries it believes will add value to the economy. We recommended a number of enhancements including (i) increasing transparency around incentives through publishing industry summary data about the schemes (such as the broad requirements, the number of taxpayers enjoying the incentives, the economic spin-offs anticipated); (ii) strengthening compliance for incentivised companies; and (iii) enhancing inclusiveness by extending these incentives and applying these on a larger scale to local enterprises.

It is heartening that the Singapore Budget 2017 has incorporated a number of these concepts, including the latest enhancements to the incentive regime such as the new Intellectual Property Development Incentive and enhancements to the Global Traders' Programme incentive.

These developments are forward-looking as they align Singapore's regime with the prevailing international standards and yet continue to incentivise greater growth in the economic base and therefore tax revenue. This is critical for safeguarding Singapore's reputation as a responsible member of the international community.

We continue to urge the authorities to consider how to introduce further transparency within the incentive programmes. We strongly believe these will go a long way to securing added tax certainty for the business community.

While there is an argument that "opening our kimono" exposes Singapore to give away its competitive edge, we believe that it will instead attract more investments. Having greater transparency will also help provide the certainty needed to promote foreign direct investments amid an increasingly extensive tax audit environment. Singapore can be agile in making adjustments to stay ahead. Also, can the competition really match the many other intangible qualities that Singapore has that attract investors and growth in the first place?

Tax certainty through double tax treaties

Tax treaties are key for securing tax certainty on cross-border transactions and trades. Whilst Singapore admittedly already has a strong treaty network, a number of treaties with its key trading partners (such as Australia , Indonesia) are not in keeping with the OECD Model Convention. A number are also less favourable compared to the treaties which these countries have recently concluded with others. Enterprises need up-to-date tax treaties reflective of the trade dynamics to remain competitive in this challenging economic climate.

As Singapore's firms are encouraged to expand beyond its shores and explore new markets, a key weak spot remains - the country does not have comprehensive tax treaties with key trading partners such as the United States and Brazil. These need to be rectified quickly to ensure that Singapore enterprises will have a level playing field against enterprises from other countries.

Tax certainty in cross-border transactions and dispute resolution

As the global tax environment continues to tighten, cross-border tax disputes (in particular, on transfer pricing matters) will continue to increase. The ability for Singapore to play a key role in resolving international tax disputes can be a key differentiator in enhancing its business and regulatory ecosystem.

As cross border disputes increase in frequency and substance, it would be extremely meaningful if the IRAS could take the lead in agreeing on specific transfer pricing positions with key trading partners (such as broad principles to be applied for determining transfer pricing positions and arm's length margins).

While we appreciate that these developments may require significant efforts and time of the authorities, we are of the view that such an initiative will be pioneering and will go a long way to ensuring tax certainty (and competitiveness) for local enterprises.

THE TIME IS NOW!

A conducive business environment needs to be backed by a competitive but sustainable tax system. This will require Singapore's tax system to be backed by robust policies able to withstand peer reviews on how well the country implements these new standards on transparency and substance. Taxpayers should accordingly prepare themselves based on these new standards.

Some of our suggestions will undoubtedly be viewed as "inconvenient" and require a change in mindset. These may also seem "painful" in the current economic context. Undoubtedly, taking major steps to upscale Singapore's tax system requires strong commitment and will for change. Singapore has consistently demonstrated its ability to embrace challenges to lay the foundation for a stronger future. We are confident of that and the time is now!


The writers are from PwC S'pore. Chris Woo is tax leader and Vivienne Junzhao Ong is a tax director specialising in international tax

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

Salary base for local workers to go up

Straits Times
07 Mar 2017
Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh

From July this year, the minimum salary firms must pay their local workers each month if they want to hire foreign workers will go up.

The amount a resident worker must earn to count as a full-time worker will rise from $1,000 now to $1,100 in July, and $1,200 from July next year, Minister of State for Manpower Sam Tan said.

Sustainable wage increases are one way to lift the lot of low-wage workers, Mr Tan said at the debate on the Ministry of Manpower's (MOM) budget, as he detailed changes to the salary threshold .

The number of foreign workers a company can hire is tied to its number of full-time local workers, under a quota system known as the Dependency Ratio Ceiling (DRC). The DRC of 60 per cent in the manufacturing sector, for instance, means an employer can hire up to 1.5 foreign workers for every full-time local worker.

This salary threshold is regularly reviewed to stay in line with income trends, said Mr Tan. "If not, it means that we are gradually loosening our foreign worker controls simply due to rising nominal wages," he added.

The figure was last reviewed in 2013, when it went up from $850 to $1,000. Then, the income of workers at the 10th percentile was $1,200. This rose to $1,300 in 2015. Given rising income levels, the ministry has decided to adopt the new salary threshold.

"If we do not update the salary threshold now, it will mean having to make an even larger increase in future," Mr Tan said.

Low-wage workers are being helped by supplementing their incomes and retirement savings, through the progressive wage model, and stepping up "best sourcing" efforts, which encourage service buyers to award contracts based not just on price.

An updated Tripartite Advisory on Best Sourcing Practices was released yesterday. MOM is also working with other agencies to review further measures against contractors that fail to safeguard basic employment rights of outsourced workers under government contracts. More details will be announced at a later date.

Mr Tan noted that measures are also in place to ensure vulnerable workers, such as the elderly and injured, are looked after. The re-employment age will be raised to 67 from July this year, so that a growing pool of older workers can contribute as long as they are able to.

A Return to Work programme - which will give personalised help to injured workers and their companies - will be introduced this year.

Coordinators will help employers make adjustments to workplaces and jobs to facilitate the rehabilitation of injured workers. This will be an effort by the Government, employers and unions, he added.

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

Greater public-private partnership needed in tackling trade in illicit goods

Straits Times
20 Mar 2017
Cyril Chua

Last September, Singapore Customs officers seized a large shipment of wallets, purses and bags suspected to be counterfeit, while inspecting a container coming in from China.

Two months later, they seized some 130 tonnes of counterfeit rice shipped in from India. The rice had a similar trademark to that of a Singapore-registered brand, whose rightful owner had alerted the officials to the shipment.

To be sure, that such discoveries are made periodically should come as little surprise, given the trade volumes that Singapore's port - one of the busiest transhipment hubs in the world - handles. With more than 30 million containers passing through every year, a certain proportion would be expected to contain counterfeit or smuggled goods. However, the Republic's performance can be improved when it comes to dealing with such shipments.

Singapore ranked seventh out of 17 Asian economies surveyed, based on a survey conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit in September last year. It came behind regional players such as Malaysia, Hong Kong, South Korea and Japan, and has drawn some criticism for not doing enough to monitor its trade. It has been reported that as much as 2 per cent of the world's counterfeit goods are shipped through Singapore.

The country has also been tagged as a hub for contraband cigarettes - according to reports, 15 per cent of cigarettes smoked here are smuggled in. The impact goes much further than lost taxes; sales of such cigarettes have been linked to the funding of organised crime and even terrorism.

Such findings and proposals do not augur well for a country that has wowed the world with its progress in research and innovation and, with it, the creation of intellectual property (IP).

Having such illicit goods pass through Singapore undermines its reputation as a creator and protector of IP. The Republic needs to protect IP better by improving its oversight over the flow of goods that may infringe such property.

What can be done?

For a start, some border enforcement procedures could be simplified. At the moment, different aspects of border controls are managed by different departments.

Counterfeit goods imported into Singapore by human traffic through airports are handled by the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority as well as the police, while goods imported through logistics companies or courier services are under the purview of Customs.

The enforcement processes are quite different for cases handled by different departments. It is often confusing for rightful owners who are not familiar with the enforcement processes.

Perhaps a central system of some sort can be set up to help coordinate such efforts. It is essential to create a system that would remove some of the existing bureaucracy in the current processes.

Customs does act on such information if brand owners lodge a notice informing officials of suspected fake goods being imported. This empowers officers to detain a particular shipment on arrival or before it is shipped onwards.

This ex officio approach, however, requires written notice. This can take time to process, increasing the lag between application and enforcement. Customs officers may also be unfamiliar with the trademarks and logos, which can create challenges in field checks.

One system that provides for a stronger partnership between enforcement agency and businesses - and which enables greater proactive measures by both sides - is the recordal system. This allows IP rights owners to pre-register their trademarks with Customs.

Detailed information and images of their trademarks, logos and brand names enable border officials to proactively monitor and check imported goods for IP infringements when they are alerted to suspect shipments.

Recordal or similar systems have been used with much success in places such as the United States, Hong Kong, Japan, Australia, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam, and bear several advantages over the ex officio approach.

Such a system eliminates the need for paper applications and provides a single point of contact for all stakeholders, so that Customs officials also know who to contact should they discover fake goods during routine checks.

It also helps them to focus their efforts - they would need to look out for infringements of only trademarks that have been registered, and expend less effort on IP whose owners appear less interested in curbing illicit goods.

A comprehensive system to record trademarks and exchange IP information more effectively will enable greater proactive measures to stem the flow of counterfeit goods.

Ultimately, it will give Singapore a competitive advantage in a trade environment that is moving towards greater protectionism, enhance the reputation of our ports and show our commitment to the protection of intellectual property rights.


Having such illicit goods pass through Singapore undermines its reputation as a creator and protector of intellectual property (IP). The Republic needs to protect IP better by improving its oversight over the flow of goods that may infringe such property.


The writer is an intellectual property lawyer from law firm Robinson.

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

Need for more lawyers to assist foreign workers in court cases: Voices

TODAY
14 Mar 2017

I refer to the report, “Disagreeing with excessive penalty submission, judge puts off sentencing of maid” (March 7).

This case brings up a salient point about foreign workers, who come from faraway lands hoping to earn a living for their families back home. With their salaries, it is immensely difficult for them to afford services such as legal representation.

There is a need for more lawyers who are willing to take on cases on a pro-bono basis. After all, the legal service is first and foremost a public service in upholding a just and equitable society.

In this case, where the defendant was unrepresented, it was right that sentencing be held off.

Working in a foreign land, the domestic helper may have minimal knowledge of the legal system. It is not reasonable to expect her to defend herself fairly and bring out mitigating factors that may explain her actions. This can be properly done with professional legal assistance.

Louis Lau Yi Hang

Copyright 2017 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

Workers' rights gaining ground

Business Times
06 Mar 2017
Siow Li Sen

New pro-employee Employment Claims Tribunal will handle disputes faster and make it easier for workers to file salary claims

At a results briefing last month, DBS Bank chief executive Piyush Gupta startled the roomful of reporters when he raised his voice to say "Don't say we cut!" to a question on the group's staffing level, which had fallen by about 300 from the previous year. Mr Gupta, who normally speaks fast, explained in some detail that the staff who left did so on their own accord, and were not "cut".

Indeed, employers need to be very careful these days in handling staff exits, says Jonathan Yuen, partner at law firm Rajah & Tann, who heads the firm's employment and benefits (disputes) practice. You do not want to be "excoriated in Parliament", he adds.

In early February, Temasek Holdings-owned and award winning company Surbana Jurong was castigated in Parliament for the way it sacked 54 employees just before Chinese New Year, rubbing salt into their wounds in calling the axed staff "poor performers".

While such instances "keep us employed", Mr Yuen quips, referring to employers who fail to understand their responsibilities towards workers, it should be apparent that the government is getting tough on errant bosses.

Business friendly 

Singapore may be business friendly - consistently coming in among the top for ease of doing business in yearly World Bank rankings - but that national strategy does not mean workers get short changed, he says. In fact, worker protection rules have been increasing and the "Ministry of Manpower (MOM) is very powerful", he notes.

Mr Yuen relates how one client was investigated by MOM for alleged discrimination against local staff in promotion. MOM investigators seized company documents, questioned the directors and impounded their passports. In the meantime, there was also a moratorium on employment pass applications and renewals for its foreign staff.

"My strategy is to be upfront to MOM . . . in this case we were completely vindicated," he says. The client was able to explain why the particular person was promoted as he had the specific skills and experience required which the Singaporean employee did not.

The company also realised that it needed to put in place a skills building programme for local staff.

"We tell our clients which want to start operations in Singapore to hire locals across the board," Mr Yuen says, calling it a "legitimate" practice given the trade-offs the foreign firms enjoy from being here.

Another "scary" development is the new pro-employee Employment Claims Tribunal (ECT) slated to be launched this year, he says. The ECT - which replaces the Labour Court - will handle disputes faster and make it easier for workers to file their salary claims.

The ECT will take over the Labour Court's function of hearing salary-related disputes on employee entitlements under the Employment Act, Retirement & Re-employment Act and the Child Development Co-Savings Act. These include unpaid salary, overtime pay, salary in lieu of notice, employment assistance payment and maternity benefits.

The ECT will also hear claims from employers, but on only one specific type of claim - notice pay. The notice pay claim refers to an employee who has left without serving proper notice as required under the employment contract. For instance, the contract may require giving two months' notice but the employee walks out without serving the notice period and the employer goes to the ECT to get back two months' pay. If the employer wins, he still has to go to the Civil Court to try to recover the two months' pay from the staff.

"This reflects the pro-employee nature of the ECT," says Mr Yuen.

The ECT will be set up under the State Courts, so the rulings have the force of a court order, he says.

But there are still gaps, he adds, citing instances where the company declares bankruptcy.

"Even with a binding court order, it may be an illusory victory if the poor employee has to spend precious resources to try to enforce the court order or, in any event, the employer is impecunious or insolvent," he says.

There is also currently no legal impediment for directors of failed companies, who have skirted their responsibilities to pay staff, to register new companies and to start afresh with hardly any consequences, says Mr Yuen.

He suggests that perhaps some thought needs to be put into crafting a framework, and setting up a database of people who have been directors of failed companies (maybe for a limited period of, say, three to five years). This will let prospective employees do their own searches on the company and its directors for an organisation they are about to join, he said.

Nurturing risk-taking

This of course must be balanced with the need to ensure that the directors are not overly penalised for failing, especially if Singapore wants to nurture risk-taking and entrepreneurship, he says.

"If this is too general to be applied across the board, then limitations need to be put on specific types of industries, such as F&B, construction, etc - if a construction company folds (regardless of the reason) leaving behind a trail of unpaid workers . . . surely it cannot be the case that the owner can immediately restart his business under a different entity with hardly any consequences?" asks Mr Yuen.

There are also other areas that Singapore can look at in enhancing worker protection, he says.

In the United States, for instance, some states do not allow employers to ask for the gender, nor a photo nor age, of a job applicant, he says.

Generally multinationals in Singapore have stronger worker protection practices than existing laws.

He worries about the small and medium enterprises which get more employee complaints, and given that these firms account for the majority of jobs. The estimated 188,000 SMEs in Singapore are the backbone of the economy, providing two-thirds of jobs here.

Frameworks

Usually it's poor awareness or knowledge of the law that's behind many cases of employment disputes, and it's often SMEs that fall into these issues simply because they do not have the frameworks in place, he says.

"Unlike MNCs, who have established grievance processes, what usually happens is that maybe after a heated disagreement between a manager and staff in an SME company, the manager will just purport to terminate the employee by saying 'get out' or something like that."

This is especially so if the SME is a family company where the sense of ownership is a lot stronger and the management sees every infraction as a personal slight, he says.

"That's why we advise our clients in conducting training for their managers and human resource departments and for SME business owners to teach them about frameworks and due process, to allow parties to air their grievances before a neutral party, for instance," he says.

"And if in a disciplinary case where accusations have been levelled - then an opportunity for the employee to respond," he says.

Will increasing worker protection erode Singapore's competitiveness?

Singapore is such a safe place to do business, says Mr Yuen, who is confident companies won't exit as long as due process and safeguards are followed.

"Whatever laws we have pales as hurdles to the stable environment Singapore offers," he says.

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

Interior design trade bodies act to lift standards

Business Times
20 Mar 2017
Chai Hung Yin

Sids has set up China design outposts, IDCS working on consultancy, legal services to advance industry's interests

Local interior design firms looking to move into China will soon be able to count on assistance from the recently revived Society of Interior Designers Singapore (Sids) which has lined up ambitious plans to advance the industry's interests.

Back after more than a decade of dormancy, Sids is now working with design associations and design institutes in China and has set up four Singapore Design Outposts (SDOs) in Yunnan, Hangzhou, Changsha and Chongqing.

Through the SDOs, Sids aims to facilitate collaborations and partnerships via activities such as public lectures and exhibitions, and in so doing, expand the reach of Singapore interior designers into China.

Similarly, through the SDOs, its Chinese counterparts can use Singapore as a gateway and launch pad to penetrate markets in South-east Asia and beyond.

Said Keat Ong, president of Sids, who wants to make the association the bridge to the world: "We are engaging and outward-looking now to work in a more collaborative manner."

Mr Ong also wants Sids to be a platform where everyone comes together to elevate the industry and the profession with activities such as lectures and industry engagement programmes.

Other trade bodies such as the Singapore Food Manufacturers' Association and Singapore Furniture Industries Council have successfully helped members internationalise by exploring overseas markets together.

The other design industry trade body, Interior Design Confederation (Singapore) (IDCS), also has a slew of measures to take the industry forward.

At the end of 2016, it asked its 360-strong members to re-register at a higher membership rate of S$150 a year and to update their working experiences and education backgrounds.

George Budiman, president of IDCS, said: "The reason is after they had registered as members, they were not really contributing, they were not participating in events and programmes."

So far, it has gathered about 130 paid members, excluding students whose membership is free.

It also signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Renovation and Decoration Advisory Centre (Radac), during the recently concluded Singapore Design Week held from March 3 to March 12.

The MOU aims to promote professional interior design consultancy services and thus prevent public misunderstanding of interior design contractors and designers.

IDCS is also tying up with lawyers to offer services such as pro bono legal mediation services to members to resolve issues between members and clients.

These developments are a far cry from over a decade ago when the industry was fraught with rampant undercutting, intense rivalry, petty politicking and slipping standards of professionalism as it grappled with issues of accreditation.

Then, two rival trade bodies - Sids and the now-defunct Interior Design Association - had merged in 2004 to form IDCS, aimed at lifting standards in interior design in Singapore, after trying unsuccessfully to do so for at least eight years before.

There was talk of drawing up accreditation standards for the industry and a database of reputable designers for public reference, but these failed to materialise.

Fast forward to 2016 and the industry is still talking about having an accreditation scheme for Singapore interior designers.

Mr Ong, who took up the presidency of SIDS in January 2016, said an accreditation scheme is on the cards to protect and raise the profile of the profession.

He said: "We have been fighting for the longest time for ID (interior designer) to get properly recognised against the untrained. The accreditation is to differentiate the two.

"It doesn't mean we are discriminating; we want the untrained or the undertrained to move up to the professional level. It needs time to be able to develop that."

Unlike professions such as medicine, dentistry and architecture, there are currently no accreditation standards for interior designers.

"So the only way is assessment through the society. That is the last filter mechanism that we have to differentiate the trained and the untrained ones," said Mr Ong.

Currently, Sids has in excess of 150 members, with more applications yet to be assessed, said Mr Ong.

The qualifications and backgrounds of applicants will be evaluated before professional membership is awarded. Those who don't make the mark will become associate members, said Mr Ong.

Singapore is late to the game as markets such as Hong Kong, Malaysia and Philippines already have accreditation systems in place, with Taiwan having it legislated, he said.

Mr Ong said: "This a very urgent task that we want to get on track. It is one of our long term plans because these are things where we need to engage more than a party to execute and not something you can do alone."

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

Changes to Companies Act take effect March 31

Business Times
13 Mar 2017
Michelle Quah

Significant changes to the law governing companies will come into effect in just a matter of weeks.

Singapore will be implementing changes to its Companies Act - which will include making the beneficial ownership of business entities more transparent - come March 31.

Senior Minister of State for Finance and Law Indranee Rajah announced this in her speech on the second reading of the Companies (Amendment) Bill to Parliament last Friday. The Bill was passed on the same day.

Among the key changes are a set of amendments "to make the ownership and control of business entities more transparent and thus reduce opportunities for the misuse of corporate entities for illicit purposes," she said.

Locally incorporated companies and foreign companies registered in Singapore will be required to maintain registers of controllers at prescribed places. A controller, or beneficial owner, is the individual or legal entity that has more than 25 per cent interest in or control over a company.

"Companies will be required to take reasonable steps to identify and obtain information on their controllers, including sending notices to potential controllers or persons who have information about the controllers," said Ms Indranee.

The amendments will also compel beneficial owners or controllers to provide and update their particulars to the company.

Foreign companies registered in Singapore will also have to maintain public registers of their members.

And lastly, locally incorporated companies will be required to maintain a register of their nominee directors. "This mitigates the risks of money laundering and terrorist financing being done through nominees," said Ms Indranee.

The changes follow from the Financial Action Task Force's recommendation that Singapore enhance the accessibility of information on beneficial ownership of legal persons to law enforcement agencies.

Singapore is also hoping that, as a member of the Global Forum on Transparency and Exchange of Information for Tax Purposes, these changes will enable it to better implement international standards on tax transparency.

Another key change to the Companies Act pertains to record-keeping. The liquidator of a wound-up company will have to retain the company's records for at least five years, instead of the current two. A company wound up by its members or creditors will have to retain its records for at least five years.

The former officers of a company that has been struck off and dissolved will have to similarly retain all books and papers of the company for at least five years, including its accounting records and registers.

"These amendments will boost Singapore's ongoing efforts to maintain its strong reputation as a trusted and clean financial hub," said Ms Indranee.

While the amendments are intended to come into effect at month's end, existing companies will have a transitional period of 60 days from March 31 to maintain the registers of controllers. This is to help them prepare to comply with these new requirements.

"Acra (Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority) will also issue further guidance to companies. This includes samples of the notice that companies can use to send to their shareholders, directors and any other relevant persons to assist them in obtaining the information required for their register of controllers."

Other amendments that will come into effect later seek to reduce the regulatory burden on companies and improve the ease of doing business here.

The timelines for holding annual general meetings (AGMs) and filing annual returns will be aligned with the companies' financial year-end.

The amendments will require listed companies to hold AGMs within four months and file annual returns within five months after their financial year-end. Non-listed companies must hold AGMs within six months and file annual returns within seven months after their financial year-end.

All private companies will be exempted from AGMs, subject to safeguards. This is in addition to the current regime where private companies can dispense with the holding of AGMs if all shareholders approve.

The Bill will also introduce an inward re-domiciliation regime in Singapore. Foreign corporate entities will be allowed to transfer their registration to Singapore, besides the current options of setting up a subsidiary or branch in Singapore.

Ms Indranee also detailed changes in the Companies Act that aim to enhance Singapore's corporate rescue and restructuring processes. "The proposed changes will further enhance our legal framework and status as a centre for international debt restructuring," she said.

These amendments will strengthen the scheme of arrangement and judicial management regimes, which are the procedures used for corporate rescue and restructuring in Singapore.

Additionally, amendments will also be made to enhance Singapore's capability in dealing with cross-border insolvencies.

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

Coordinators to help couples cooperate in parenting after split

Straits Times
06 Mar 2017
Theresa Tan

When a marriage ends bitterly, anything and everything involving the children can be contentious.

For example, fights can be over minor issues such as where to hand a child over to the parent who does not live with the kid so that they can spend time together.

Warring couples take these fights to court, deepening the acrimony between them and clogging the courts' caseload. Often, their children are suffering silently, caught between both parents.

The Family Justice Courts (FJC) started a pilot scheme last year to train a pool of professionals, known as parenting coordinators, to help feuding couples cooperate in parenting after the divorce and to carry out access arrangements the courts have ordered.

These arrangements include where and when the parent who does not live with the child gets to spend time with the kid.

The FJC told The Straits Times that it is studying the possibility of amending the law to give parenting coordinators the power to make minor changes to court orders, to resolve disputes so that feuding couples do not continually take their fights back to court.

The FJC spokesman said if this happens, parenting coordinators would have the power, for example, to vary access arrangements.

FJC Presiding Judge Valerie Thean said last month, during its workplan announcements for the year, that professionals from the social sciences field will also be trained as parenting coordinators this year. A total of 24 lawyers have been trained so far.

Parenting coordinators now do not have the legal powers to make minor changes to court orders, and can depend only on mediation to resolve disputes over the orders.

However, if mediation does not work, some couples turn to litigation, a process that increases the tension as people often feel the need to fight back once the other party levels a charge at them, lawyers said.

When asked about the number of cases that coordinators have handled, the FJC said the pilot scheme was launched only in November last year and added: "There have not been many cases as yet as it is not widely known."

Senior Counsel Engelin Teh, a lawyer who has been trained as a parenting coordinator, said some couples declare war over small matters as they are bitter from all the unhappiness that led to the divorce.

She said: "They find it hard to allow the other parent to be involved in their child's life, so they make it hard for them to spend time with the child.

"My role as a parenting coordinator is to mediate and encourage co-parenting, to find ways to reduce the conflict and to help them understand it is in the child's interests to be able to bond with both parents and for the child to know he or she is loved by both parents."


More divorcees visiting kids under supervision 

Such visits, in counsellors' presence, help those with problems gaining access to kids  

Parents who face problems seeing their children after a divorce are getting to spend time with them under the supervision of counsellors.

Last year, the Family Justice Courts (FJC) sent 112 families for supervised visitations and related services such as counselling, up from 81 families in 2015 and 79 families in 2014.

During a supervised visitation, the parent who lives with the child will drop him off at a social service centre specialising in handling divorce issues. These are called divorce support specialist agencies (DSSA). The other parent spends time with the child at the DSSA, under counsellors' supervision.

Such an arrangement minimises the potential for conflict between parents.

An FJC spokesman said more parents are opting for supervised visits as a result of greater awareness of the programme.

The FJC and the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) have been educating family lawyers and parents about it, while more lawyers are also recommending to the courts to place their clients on it.

Couples who are ordered by the FJC to use this service now do not have to pay, making it a more feasible option for more families.

It is free for up to 24 sessions for couples where at least one party is a Singaporean or a permanent resident.

In April last year, the MSF started funding two DSSAs - the Thye Hua Kwan Centre for Family Harmony @ Commonwealth and the Care Corner Centre for Co-Parenting - to handle court-ordered cases involving Singaporeans or PRs.

Before the MSF funding started, couples sent by the courts for the service had to pay. The THK Centre for Family Harmony @ Circuit currently charges $180 an hour on weekdays and $220 on Saturdays.

Family lawyers say parents who face persistent difficulties in seeing their children after the divorce could be sent for supervised visits. Their former spouses may have denied access or made it hard for them to spend time with their children, to get back at them for infidelity, money woes or other resentments.

Lawyer Rajan Chettiar said: "After the divorce, they don't see the children as 'our children' but as 'my children'. Access problems are the toughest to tackle."

So some parents have not seen their children for a few years, even though they have a legal right to see the children once a week.

Then, there are children who are "so influenced" by one parent that they refuse to have any contact with the other parent, the FJC spokesman said.

Lawyer Lim Chong Boon says visits supervised by a neutral third party work as they ease fears, for example, that the other parent may snatch the child away or abuse the child during the visits.

A businessman, who wanted to be known only as Andy, 43, did not see his children for six months. He said his former wife had cheated on him, left home with their two children and wanted a divorce. They fought over how often he could visit and she refused to open the door when he tried to visit.

He managed to spend time with his six-year-old boy and 12-year-old girl only when the court sent them for supervised visits at the THK Centre for Family Harmony @ Circuit.

He said: "My daughter was cold towards me at first but she gradually warmed up. I'm very thankful to have an avenue to meet, talk, play and bond with them."


112 Number of families sent for supervised visitations and related services last year by the Family Justice Courts (FJC).

24 Number of sessions that are free for couples who are ordered by the FJC to use this service, and where at least one party is a Singaporean or a permanent resident.

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

Doctor's hubby loses appeal in Law Soc case

Straits Times
19 Mar 2017
Selina Lum

Court dismisses bid for judicial review of panel's decision

A retired banker has lost his appeal in challenging a decision by a Law Society review committee to dismiss his complaint that opposing lawyers in disciplinary proceedings against his wife, prominent surgeon Susan Lim, had inflated their fees.

Mr Deepak Sharma had based his complaint on, among other things, the fact that WongPartnership's claim for $1 million in legal costs against his wife was eventually driven down to $370,000.

The law firm had represented the Singapore Medical Council (SMC) in a long-running and high- profile case against Dr Lim for overcharging a Bruneian royal patient.

But in a written judgment last week, the Court of Appeal dismissed Mr Sharma's bid for judicial review of the committee's decision, ruling that the committee had not committed an error of law.

The apex court upheld the legal principle put forward by the committee - that, in the absence of proof that a lawyer has put up improper or fraudulent claims, a significant reduction by the court of costs would not, in and of itself, amount to professional misconduct.

Judge of Appeal Andrew Phang, delivering the decision of the three-judge court, noted that in the case of costs between lawyer and client, overcharging can, in and of itself, amount to misconduct.

However, the current case does not involve a lawyer billing his client, he said. Instead, it is a case involving party and party costs, in which the losing party is ordered to pay costs to the winning party.

The final amount is determined by the court, in a process known as taxation, after hearing from the winning side who puts up the bill as well as the objections of the losing side. "It is often, if not invariably, the case that a party's claim for party and party costs will be reduced by the court on taxation, for the reason (if nothing else) that taxation is an adversarial process and the quantum of costs to be allowed will typically be disputed by the opposing party," said Justice Phang.

The corollary, he said, is that an excessive claim for such costs would not, in and of itself, generally constitute professional misconduct by the lawyer concerned.

In the current case, Justice Phang said the committee had concluded that there were no improper or fraudulent claims.

Dr Lim had been ordered to pay the SMC's legal costs after she lost a court battle to block a disciplinary hearing against her. The hearing was over a $24 million bill for the patient in 2007. She was eventually suspended for three years and fined $10,000.

In 2013, WongPartnership put up three bills detailing the fees of Senior Counsel Alvin Yeo and Ms Melanie Ho, amounting to about $1 million. The fees were brought down to $340,000 by an assistant registrar, and finally adjusted to $370,000 by High Court judge Woo Bih Li.

In 2014, Mr Sharma, who had funded Dr Lim's legal expenses, complained to the Law Society against Mr Yeo and Ms Ho for "gross overcharging".

A two-member review committee dismissed his complaints, except for one against Ms Ho. Dissatisfied, he asked the High Court to quash the decision and order a fresh review of his complaints.

His lawyer, Mr Abraham Vergis, argued that, given the significant reduction of costs by the court, the committee should have referred the case for an inquiry.

Mr Sharma's bid for judicial review was dismissed by Justice Woo, who said the committee had not made errors of law and was entitled to dismiss his complaints.

He appealed. But the Law Society and the Attorney-General's Chambers argued that Justice Woo's findings should be upheld.


Crux of Sharma's case

Prominent surgeon Susan Lim had been ordered to pay the SMC's legal costs after she lost a court battle to block a disciplinary hearing against her over a $24 million bill for her Bruneian royal patient in 2007. She was suspended for three years and fined $10,000.

In 2013, WongPartnership put up three bills detailing the fees of Senior Counsel Alvin Yeo and Ms Melanie Ho, amounting to about $1 million. The fees were brought down to $340,000 by an assistant registrar and adjusted to $370,000 by a High Court judge.

In 2014, Mr Sharma complained to the Law Society against Mr Yeo and Ms Ho for "gross overcharging" which he said amounted to professional misconduct.

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

Deepak Sharma v Law Society of Singapore - [2017] SGCA 18

Children's Society to run scheme to help young suspects

Straits Times
13 Mar 2017
Seow Bei Yi

A new scheme allowing young suspects to be accompanied by an independent party during police interviews will be administered by the Singapore Children's Society (SCS), sources told The Straits Times.

On track to be rolled out in stages from next month, the Appropriate Adult (AA) Scheme for Young Suspects will benefit those under 16.

When minors have to be taken to a police station for an interview, the authorities will call upon its pool of trained volunteers, who must arrive within 1½ of being activated.

These volunteers, or AAs, will help to look for signs of distress in the young suspects and provide them with emotional support.

They may take notes of the interview process and intervene if necessary, such as to request a break or ask officers to rephrase a question, if they notice that a young suspect may have trouble understanding it. But they must remain neutral.

Volunteers may not provide legal advice or disrupt the course of justice in any way.

The Straits Times understands that about 180 members of the public have indicated their interest to the National Council of Social Service (NCSS) in becoming a volunteer.

Close to 100 have been through a training session on working with youth, and basic police procedures.

Among them are retired educators. ST understands that the Education Ministry had reached out to them about the new programme.

NCSS, which is appointing SCS as the service provider, is expected to reveal more details about the roll-out soon.

The AA scheme for minors, similar to an existing one for offenders with intellectual or mental disabilities, was announced by the Ministry of Home Affairs in January.

It followed an inter-agency review of investigation processes after a 14-year-old schoolboy, Benjamin Lim, fell to his death on Jan 26 last year, hours after being questioned by the police. No other adult, such as Benjamin's parents, was present during his interview at the police station, and it sparked a discussion on whether officers should be able to interview minors alone.

The new AA pilot is expected to start at the Bedok Division, the Criminal Investigation Department of the police as well as the investigation division of the Central Narcotics Bureau.

A recently confirmed volunteer, Mr Henry Wang, 45, has a child who was diagnosed with mild autism six years ago. He hopes that his knowledge and experience in handling a young child in stressful situations will come in useful.

Mr Wang recalled how his son, now eight years old, would scream in public if he was uncomfortable with the environment.

"Initially, I felt quite embarrassed, could not control my own anger and shouted back at him," said the director of a business consultancy.

But through his own research, Mr Wang learnt to change his attitude and consider how his actions affected his son, who has begun to open up to him, and is doing well in school after getting professional help from therapists, he said.

"I felt that since I learnt a lot, I wanted to volunteer and give back to society," he added.

Others, like civil servant Vincent Tan, 46, decided to join the scheme after learning of Benjamin's death in order to help young people who may find themselves in a similar situation. "I feel for (Benjamin) and his family, and I think that this scheme can help to minimise such incidents," he said.

An AA can look out for young persons so they are not left to "fend for themselves during the interview".

"As a father, I definitely would want the well-being of my children to be taken care of, if they have any brushes with the law," added Mr Tan, who has three children aged 18 to 21.

"Everyone makes mistakes. My belief is that we should not allow such mistakes to cost a life."


180 Approximate number of members of the public who indicated interest to the National Council of Social Service in becoming a volunteer.

100 Approximate number who have been through a training session on working with youth, and basic police procedures.

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

Ministry of Law to grow new legal practice areas

Business Times
04 Mar 2017
Claire Huang

Plans are underway to develop and grow new practice areas beyond that of dispute resolution and debt restructuring, even as Singapore's legal sector faces headwinds.

More information on the new areas will be unveiled when the Committee on the Future Economy Working Group on Legal and Accounting Services releases its report in April, said Minister for Law K Shanmugam.

Speaking during the Committee of Supply debate for his ministry in Parliament on Friday, he outlined the initiatives that have been rolled out in the last few years to grow Singapore's position as a legal hub.

Even as new practice areas are explored, the government will continue to work on intellectual property (IP) as a growth area, he said.

"It's important that the IP regime allows businesses to commercialise IP in a cost-effective way. So we are considering ways to improve our IP dispute-resolution mechanism, and we are considering the recommendations made by the IP Dispute Resolution Committee."

To fortify the Republic's status as a dispute-resolution hub, the government has, in the past year, ratified the Hague Convention on Choice of Court Agreements to enhance the enforceability of Singapore Court judgments. It has also enacted a new Mediation Act to strengthen mediated settlements, and introduced a third-party funding framework to give businesses additional financing options for international commercial arbitration.

Plans have also been drawn up to expand the capacity of Maxwell Chambers, which would attract more international institutions, arbitration chambers and law firms to Singapore, the minister said.

He added that the Ministry of Law (MinLaw) is also working with public- and private-sector parties to promote Singapore's debt restructuring regime, among other things.

In his speech, Mr Shanmugam also touched on the promotion of Singapore law, in light of the increasing use of Singapore law in cross-border transactions in the region.

In fact, Singapore law is one of the default options in some Baltic and International Maritime Council standard forms.

"Growth in this trend must come from businesses, led by parties and industries. They will benefit from the emergence of a default Asian law," said the minister.

To this end, MinLaw has financially supported the development of the Centre for Asian Legal Studies, the Centre for Banking and Finance Law and the Centre for Law and Business - institutions which he said would add to Singapore's reputation as a thought leader in law and anchor regional legal expertise here.

On Friday, Member of Parliament (MP) Rahayu Mahzam (Jurong GRC) asked how the ministry would help Singapore's small and medium-sized law practices develop their businesses.

Citing the examples of IE Singapore's global company partnership and double tax deduction schemes, Mr Shanmugam replied that there are a number of programmes to help these practices take wing in the region; he added that MinLaw would continue to work with relevant economic agencies to support these firms.

The government will also support Singapore law practices in the area of technology, he said; he noted that the "Tech Start for Law" initiative was launched this week to help firms with up to 70 per cent of the cost of adopting basic technology products, including practice management and online legal research.

Other ideas being explored include online dispute resolution and having regulations that facilitate innovation and development of legal-technology solutions.

Separately, Senior Minister of State for Law Indranee Rajah stressed the importance of future-proofing legal professionals by deepening their skillsets and industry expertise, so as to ensure that the legal industry here is competitive internationally.

Already, the UniSIM School of Law has been set up to address the projected shortage of family and criminal practitioners here, she said, of the school which took in its first batch of 60 students in January.

The government has also taken steps to ensure lawyers here possess cross-disciplinary skills through a more practice-oriented, multi-disciplinary law curriculum, she noted.

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

Hot and bothered over condo's cooling towers

Straits Times
19 Mar 2017
Melissa Lin

The saga behind a resident's fight to save Leonie Towers' central air-con system

In 1979, Madam Yap Choo Moi moved into the Leonie Towers condominium off Orchard Road.

Over the past four decades, the businesswoman has never installed air-conditioning in her home. Instead, she has relied on the condo's central air-con system, which is serviced by cooling towers on the rooftop.

When the vast majority of her neighbours decided to have the ageing towers dismantled last year, Madam Yap, 67, objected - and hired a lawyer to fight her case.

She won.

In an interview with The Sunday Times last week, held in her well-furnished living room, Madam Yap, who is also known as Ms Lee Lee Langdale, said: "I've been very happy with the system and have been using it for years... If there are any problems with it, it should be fixed."

She got her wish when the Strata Titles Board (STB) earlier this month blocked the management corporation's (MC) bid to dispose of the cooling towers.

The saga began last September, when the MC held an extraordinary general meeting about removing the system.

It had existed for almost twice its estimated service life of 20 years.

Consulting engineers had found, among other things, that the system's steel piping had corroded, requiring expensive replacements.

Its water quality was poor, meaning that there was the likelihood that the water droplets contained bacteria that, when breathed in, could cause a type of pneumonia known as Legionnaires' disease.

At the meeting, unit owners were told that major repairs would cost $520,000 and a replacement system would cost $750,000, while removing it would cost only $85,000.

Leonie Towers comprises 92 units in two 25-storey tower blocks. Each tower is serviced by two central cooling towers.

With just 40 per cent of residents using them - the rest had installed their own air-con units, the majority decided that the towers should just be dismantled. The MC's proposal was backed by 82 per cent of unit owners.

The unit owners then enacted a by-law under the Building Maintenance and Strata Management (BMSM) Act to empower the MC to proceed.

But Madam Yap applied to the STB to invalidate the by-law, and succeeded. Now, the cooling towers will stay put.

"We went to the STB because that was the only thing we could do if the condo is doing something that we think it shouldn't be doing," said Madam Yap's husband, Mr Roger Gaimster Langdale, 81, a retired accountant.

The couple, who did not want to be photographed, declined to say how much they spent on legal fees, and whether ties with their neighbours have been affected. Mr Langdale is part of the condo's management council.

Madam Yap had told the STB that she relied on the cooling towers and removing them would require her to install a new system, which would "lower her quality of life". She declined to explain further.

Another unit owner who wants the system retained, a housewife who wanted to be known only as Mrs Wu, 70, told The Sunday Times: "The central air-con system was something we always had. It's working well, why demolish it?"

The board ruled that no provision in the BMSM Act or the Land Titles (Strata) Act allows for an MC to dispose of common property.

"It is noteworthy that even when this could be done, it could only be done by way of a unanimous resolution," it added in judgment grounds issued on March 3.

The MC will be holding another extraordinary general meeting on Friday to decide if it should appeal and, if so, pay the legal costs - estimated to be up to $60,000 - using management funds.

Another battle looms.

Mrs Wu said of the MC's plan to appeal: "Why would we use our own money to fight ourselves?"


Keeping cool in the heat

In general, cooling towers extract waste heat to the atmosphere. In air-conditioning systems, they chill water to run the air-con.

Part of the maintenance fees that Leonie Towers' owners pay goes towards the upkeep of the cooling towers. But each owner's electricity bill depends on how often he switches on the air-conditioning.

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

Singapore certification for data protection officers

Straits Times
13 Mar 2017
Irene Tham

It will help them in role and boost recognition; 10,000 such jobs expected in next three years

Singapore's privacy watchdog is developing a local certification programme for data protection officers (DPOs), whose job is to better equip companies for a digital future in which more and more data must be protected.

Besides equipping DPOs to do a better job, it is hoped that the certification programme will also give more recognition to the role and attract more people to take it up.

Experts estimate that there will be more than 10,000 DPO jobs here over the next three years.

Mr Tan Kiat How, commissioner of the Personal Data Protection Commission (PDPC), which was set up by the Ministry of Communications and Information in 2013, told The Straits Times: "Certification will accord DPOs with professional recognition and equip them with the skills and knowledge to better carry out their responsibilities."

Mr Tan said details would be revealed in a later announcement.

The Straits Times understands that the local certification programme will be cheaper than an international one available today.

So far, only 100 DPOs here are certified by the International Association of Privacy Professionals, a not-for-profit organisation based in the United States, said local data protection software firm Straits Interactive, which conducts the training here. Certification costs more than $1,000, even after a 70 per cent government subsidy.

Also, based on the PDPC's survey of 1,513 organisations between March and June last year, only about 40 per cent of organisations here have a DPO on their payroll.

This is despite the appointment being mandated for all organisations by the Personal Data Protection Act, fully enforced in July 2014.

A DPO ensures that organisations safeguard against the wrongful collection, use and disclosure of personal data for marketing, which is required by the law.

Mr Chan Yew Kee, head of development at the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises, told The Straits Times that the 40 per cent DPO rate has not improved much today, as many companies have little understanding of the law.

Ms Lyn Boxall, director of boutique fintech advisory law firm Lyn Boxall, said a DPO looks at the process, whereas an IT manager looks at systems. "It is the DPO's job to vet the process of data flow internally and with third parties, and ensure that there are reasonable security measures in place," she said.

Over the past 2½ years, Singapore's privacy watchdog has responded to complaints and hauled up 26 organisations - including well-known brand names - due mainly to the lack of protection measures for consumer data. They include not protecting sensitive data with a password and not rectifying security flaws on websites or in computer systems.

Organisations that fail to protect personal data can be fined up to $1 million per breach under the Act.

Dr Lim Lai Cheng, executive director of SMU Academy at the Singapore Management University, said data protection "must be handled at the management level".

The Singapore Government's push for more organisations to turn data into an asset, such as analysing consumer buying patterns to recommend more relevant future promotions, will create demand for more DPOs to address privacy issues, she added.

As of last month, some 118 DPO or data protection-related positions were posted on job sites such as JobStreet, Monster and LinkedIn.

Said Mr Kevin Shepherdson, chief executive officer of Straits Interactive: "We are expecting a significant increase in demand for data protection skills once heavier fines are imposed and as new laws in the region and the European Union are introduced over the next year or so."

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

Framework for in-house counsel to take effect this year

Straits Times
04 Mar 2017
Ng Huiwen

It will act as national standard and cover three competencies - legal, business and conduct

A new competency framework to raise the standards of in-house counsel will be launched this year, and the Ministry of Law will explore if it should be made mandatory in the future, said Senior Minister of State for Law Indranee Rajah.

Speaking during the debate on the ministry's budget yesterday, she said it will monitor the adoption of the framework.

She added that the ministry, together with the Economic Development Board, has been actively encouraging companies to "anchor their decision makers with global or regional mandate in Singapore". This includes in-house legal teams.

Singapore had more in-house legal employees than Hong Kong and Shanghai in 2014, she noted, citing a study of Fortune Global 500 employment in corporate functions by Aon.

Mr Patrick Tay (West Coast GRC) said the framework will set out a clearer career pathway for in-house counsel at different seniority levels.

It will act as a national standard for the in-house industry, he added.

Developed by the Singapore Corporate Counsel Association (SCCA), it will cover three categories of competencies: legal, business and conduct.

"Singapore should aim to be, and is certainly capable of becoming, the Asian hub for in-house legal capability," said Mr Tay, a corporate member of the SCCA. "This will help attract multinational corporations, whether Western or Asian, to invest or continue to invest here."

SCCA president Wong Taur-Jiun told The Straits Times yesterday that the association has been working on the framework for about a year, with its launch targeted for the second or third quarter of the year .

On top of some 2,000 in-house counsel here, recruiters and employers can benefit by referring to the framework during their hiring and training processes, he added.

To further develop the in-house legal talent pool, Mr Tay urged the Government to make the framework mandatory "at some point".

"Singapore is one of the few countries in which in-house counsel are not required to meet any form of professional standards, or any form of continuing education," he said.

Ms Indranee agreed with the need to upgrade capabilities among legal professionals: "To ensure that our legal industry continues to be vibrant and competitive internationally, key stakeholders must actively embrace disruptive change and grasp the opportunities at hand."

Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam, in his speech, called for more growth in the use of Singapore law in the region.

Mr Christopher de Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) asked how the ministry can boost the country's status as a dispute resolution hub.

Mr Shanmugam said there is an increasing use of Singapore law in cross-border transactions in the region. However, "growth in this trend must come from businesses, led by parties and industries".

He added that "they will benefit from the emergence of a default Asian law." He noted that the ministry has supported various centres of excellence, including those specialising in regional law.

Several MPs also asked about enhancing access to justice. Mr Tay sought an update on cases under the Protection from Harassment Act, which came into force in November 2014.

As of Jan 31 this year, there have been 268 applications for protection orders filed by victims of sexual, workplace and online harassment, Ms Indranee said. And 96 protection orders have been granted, with 99 applications withdrawn. There were also 77 expedited protection orders granted.


$523.39 million

Total bill: Down 6.4 per cent

268

applications for protection orders under the Protection from Harassment Act as of Jan 31 this year

2,000

in-house counsel in Singapore

2,308

applications to the Criminal Legal Aid Scheme for legal help last year


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

Lawyers on disposal of common property

Straits Times
19 Mar 2017
Melissa Lin

Some lawyers say that the law should be changed to allow a condominium management corporation (MC) to dispose of common property, so long as the majority of residents agree.

Said lawyer Amolat Singh of Amolat & Partners: "It would be paradoxical that a unanimous decision should be required to dispose part of the common property when a unanimous decision is not even required for the whole condo to be sold en bloc."

For a property to be sold en bloc, the consent of at least 80 per cent of the owners must be obtained before a sale tender can be called.

Mr Singh added: "Further, if the law is not changed, then one could have a situation, say, of a refrigerator or even a table-tennis table that is no longer being used but cannot be disposed of without a unanimous decision."

A lawyer who has over 20 years of experience dealing with management corporation strata title issues said the ruling was "impractical and unreasonable".

The lawyer, who declined to be named, said the MC has the right to dispose of damaged or unused property. To check with the unit owners for such decisions would be "unmanageable", he added.

He suggested that the MC of Leonie Towers could turn off the central air-con system and get those who want to use it to pay for the repair costs.

Owners who are unhappy with the MC's decisions can choose not to vote in the same committee members in future, he added.

But Mr Nicholas Aw of Clifford Law said he agreed with the Strata Titles Board's decision.

"We are talking about common property, that is, every subsidiary proprietor has a say in what happens to it," he said.

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

Man given life sentence for drug trafficking is acquitted

Straits Times
11 Mar 2017
K.C. Vijayan

In split 2-1 ruling, apex court accepts man's defence he didn't know he was carrying drugs

A man convicted of drug trafficking and sentenced to life imprisonment has been acquitted of all charges by the apex court, in a split 2-1 decision.

Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon and Judge of Appeal Chao Hick Tin, in judgment grounds released yesterday, accepted Harven Segar's defence that he did not know, and could not reasonably be expected to have known, the nature of the drugs in his possession, on the balance of probabilities.

However, Judge of Appeal Tay Yong Kwang disagreed, saying Harven's defence was no different from the not-uncommonly heard plaintive plea of "I really didn't know they were drugs but I also didn't know what they were".

Harven, 23, a Malaysian, had been sentenced by the High Court in 2015 to life imprisonment and 24 strokes of the cane, after he was nabbed carrying three bundles of cannabis and 53.74g of heroin in a haversack on June 12, 2013.

He was convicted of drug trafficking and two other charges but escaped the gallows after he was certified as a courier. He was given the life term and 15 strokes of the cane for trafficking, and five years' jail and five strokes of the cane for each of the other two charges.

The maximum number of strokes the courts can impose is 24.

His sole defence at trial was that he did not know the bundles contained drugs and claimed they were passed to him by an acquaintance named Mogan in Johor Baru.

Mogan said he lost his passport and needed Harven to deliver the items to a friend in Singapore, the latter claimed.

Harven cleared Customs with the bundles in his haversack, but was nabbed in Jalan Besar.

The High Court found Harven failed to rebut the presumption that he knew the bundles contained drugs, although one factor in his favour was that he had given the haversack to a Singapore Customs staff without trying to hide anything.

On appeal against conviction, Harven's lawyers Ram Goswami and Cheng Kim Kuan argued that the High Court judge failed to give enough weight to their client's evidence in specific areas, and did not rule on his credibility.

The Chief Justice and Justice Chao said, among other things, that Harven's casual handling of the bundles "even at the Singapore Customs suggests an openness that is consistent with his genuinely not knowing the bundles contained drugs".

The judges said the fact that the bundles were heavy and wrapped in black tape need not have raised Harven's suspicion.

"To be fair to an accused like (Harven), it is important that the court does not readily assume that an ordinary reasonable person would be familiar with the practices of the drug trade," wrote Justice Chao, delivering the majority decision.

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

Harven a/l Segar v Public Prosecutor [2017] SGCA 16

Court dismisses Perennial's winding-up application for Capitol entities

Business Times
04 Mar 2017
Lee Meixian

The High Court has dismissed Perennial Real Estate Holdings' (Perennial) application to wind up its joint entities with Pontiac Land unit Chesham Properties. These were the entities that developed the Capitol integrated development project.

Judicial Commissioner Kannan Ramesh acknowledged the deadlock between the shareholders, but accepted Chesham's argument that it would not be just and equitable to wind up the companies because there is an exit mechanism available to Perennial under the constitutions of the companies which provide one party to offer to sell its shares to the other at a fair value.

He added that where an exit mechanism is available to a shareholder, that shareholder should abide by the agreement and use the exit mechanism. In this case, Perennial did not use that mechanism, so there was no unfairness in warranting the winding-up of the companies.

The High Court's decision is subject to appeal for one month. Perennial said that it would review the court's judgement and explore all its available options, including an appeal, before deciding on the next course of action. Perennial's stock fell one cent to end at S$0.855 on Friday.

When contacted, a Chesham spokesman said that the company was pleased with the court's decision. "We respect the court's decision to dismiss the winding-up application with costs. We hope that Perennial will take the same view as the court's judgment and abide by the joint venture's constitutions. Chesham remains committed to a long-term interest in the Capitol Singapore Development."

In April last year, Perennial had sought court action to either wind up the three companies that hold the project's luxury hotel, retail shops, residential units, and theatre, or have the court order a sale or buy-out. All three firms are equally owned by Perennial and Chesham.

The impact of the ongoing dispute was reflected in Perennial's latest financials. Last month, it reported a 37.8 per cent fall in its fourth-quarter net profit, dragged in part by impairment costs related to Eden Residences Capitol and revaluation of investment properties, including the retail and hotel components of the Capitol project.

Net profit for the three months ended Dec 31, 2016 stood at S$25.6 million, compared to S$41.1 million a year ago. Earnings per share for the quarter came to 1.53 Singapore cents, down from 2.48 cents for the previous year.

Its Q4 revenue also fell 24 per cent to S$21.5 million, due to lower rental revenue from TripleOne Somerset, as expiring leases were not renewed due to asset enhancement works that had commenced since Q2.

Perennial and Chesham did not begin with a 50-50 partnership at the start. When the consortium won the bid to develop the site in 2010, it was 40 per cent owned by Pua Seck Guan's Perennial , 30 per cent by Kwee Liong Seen's Chesham, and 30 per cent by Top Global.

In 2012, when Top Global sold its stake to Chesham and OSIM founder Ron Sim, Chesham became the biggest shareholder with 50 per cent. Perennial had 40 per cent and Mr Sim, 10 per cent. (Mr Sim also owned 40 per cent of Perennial, which made his effective stake 26 per cent.)

In 2014, when Perennial listed via a reverse takeover with entertainment business St James Holdings, Mr Sim and Mr Pua both injected their effective stakes in Capitol Singapore into St James in exchange for shares. The end result is a 50-50 shareholding between Perennial and Chesham in the Capitol project.

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

Nightclubs in trouble: Salary woes after Lamborghini club lasts just one day

Straits Times
19 Mar 2017
Tan Tam Mei & Seow Bei Yi

It was named after the son of the creator of supercar brand Lamborghini and was meant to rev up Singapore's nightlife.

But, the Tonino Lamborghini Club at Clarke Quay came to a screeching halt, lasting all of one day after its opening on Oct 20 last year, which was attended by the younger Mr Lamborghini himself.

Now, it is accused of having failed to pay salaries to its staff.

Former employees from the Tonino Lamborghini Club, its operator TL Landmark Asia, and Pixie Group- which manages the former - say they are owed up to three months of salary. At least 20 are affected. A contractor also said that he is owed about $400,000.

The companies are being investigated for infringements under the Employment Act, a Manpower Ministry spokesman told The Sunday Times. It had issued orders of payment to Pixie Group and TL Landmark Asia, but payment was defaulted.

The Central Provident Fund Board is also taking enforcement action against the two firms to recover CPF monies owed to former employees.

The employees have pursued other legal options as well. According to court papers seen by The Sunday Times, a writ of summons was issued against the Pixie Group on Feb 6 by three former employees. On Feb 22, State Courts ruled that Pixie Group had to pay the trio a total of $55,886.61.

Another State Court judgment this month ordered TL Landmark to pay another five-figure sum to a group of four former workers.

The plight of Tonino Lamborghini Club comes in the wake of a few similar cases in recent times.

Nightclub veterans say that the industry is volatile.

Mr Godwin Pereira, 42, founder of club Kyo, said that the nightclub business sees "good runs" and tougher times.

Mr Andrew Ing, 49, who was with Zouk from 1993 to 2001, and is now chief operating officer of The Lo & Behold Group, added: "It boils down to the usual stuff when starting a new business: the right funding, working capital, experienced operators and managers.

"All these, plus a good concept will work, and stand the test of time."

It is not clear what led to Tonino Lamborghini Club's current situation.

A former employee in operations said bosses told them there were funding issues. The man, in his 30s, who declined to be named, said he is owed 2 1/2 months of salary.

"We were caught between leaving and going all out to make the opening night a success so we could recoup losses. They explained to us that if we worked until then, the cash would start coming in."

And so, the club opened with Mr Lamborghini, the son of famed auto designer Ferruccio Lamborghini, and two of its directors Victor Hoo and Eugene Tin in attendance.

Mr Adrian Lai, centre manager for landlord Clarke Quay, confirmed that the club had held a private launch on Oct 20, but did not open for business thereafter.

Renovation contractor Aaron Teo, 42, said that he is owed about $400,000 and his company, Mercury Werks, is in debt to its suppliers and subcontractors and owes them about $200,000 because of it.

Added the operations employee, who had left a previous job early last year for the club: "When I first heard about it, it sounded good. The bosses had big plans and franchise rights to expand to many countries, and I thought it was an exciting challenge," he said. "But, after not getting paid, I decided enough is enough."

A Pixie Group announcement on the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX) last September had stated that after the Singapore club, it intended to open clubs in cities like Shanghai and Bangkok by the end of last year.

The company was registered in 2007 and has four directors - among them are Mr Tin, a Singaporean, and Mr Hoo, a datuk from Malaysia. The latter is also the executive chairman of V Capital, a corporate advisory service firm based in Malaysia.

When contacted, Mr Hoo said that "settlement is under way". At least one Pixie Group employee received a letter dated March 17 offering a pay-off settlement.

Mr Hoo also said that the company was pursuing a A$160 million (S$173 million) acquisition.

According to an ASX announcement on Feb 22, the company had entered a memorandum of understanding to acquire Mineral Bull, a Singapore company in the business of developing zinc and lead reserves in Indonesia.


Clubs in trouble

CLUB NOVA

Last December, nine former workers of the electronic dance music club in Orchard Hotel complained to the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) over unpaid wages.

The former part-time staff of Club Nova said they were each owed wages of up to $2,000. Following an MOM inquiry last December, the workers managed to get their money back.

A co-founder of Nova, Mr Wyman Lee, is the cousin of Mr Eugene Tin, director of TL Landmark Asia, which is the operator of Tonino Lamborghini Club. Mr Tin said their businesses are not related.

CE LA VI

A former boss of the high-end club at Marina Bay Sands (MBS), Mr Chris Au, was embroiled in several legal suits last August.

These included trademark infringement and a bounced cheque in a supercar deal. His other companies were also besieged by lawsuits, and his restaurants closed one after the other, which led to suppliers and contractors taking up cases against him regarding outstanding payments.

The MBS club is now under different management, with L Capital Asia owning a majority stake in it.

LIFEBRANDZ

In March 2015, more than 70 employees working at several established nightspots in Clarke Quay lodged complaints to MOM over unpaid wages. The employees said they were employed by Cannery Leisure, Brandz+, Tribeca Leisure and Lux Leisure - companies owned by public-listed group LifeBrandz.

LifeBrandz said then that it was working with the employees to resolve the salary payment amicably.

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Arbitration centre hits record numbers

Straits Times
11 Mar 2017
K.C. Vijayan

SIAC received 343 new cases involving $17.13b from 56 jurisdictions last year

Back when it began operations in 1991, the Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC) handled just two cases.

Last year, it received 343 new cases from 56 jurisdictions, the highest number of new cases filed.

This was a 55 per cent jump from the 222 cases filed in 2014.

The sum involved in last year's new cases was $17.13 billion, the highest amount in dispute it has registered, according to SIAC's annual report released yesterday.

Singapore's arbitration flagship also handled a case involving $5.02 billion - the highest sum in a single case in its 25-year history.

The SIAC is steered by a board of directors chaired by Senior Counsel Davinder Singh. Its Court of Arbitration is presided by international arbitration star Gary Born and 17 others, such as Queen's Counsel Toby Landau and Senior Counsel Cavinder Bull and Alvin Yeo.

Lawyers said SIAC's report card showed that Singapore has cemented its position as a preferred seat for international arbitration in Asia.

Respondents in the White & Case 2015 International Arbitration survey by Queen Mary College of London University ranked Singapore as the most improved seat.

The survey cited high administration standards, neutrality and global presence as top reasons.

Said WongPartnership lawyer Chou Shean Yu: "There was a sense that in 2013 to 2014, the number of new cases had hit a plateau, meaning the year-on-year increase was not going to be sustained, but the 2015 statistics and now 2016's show that SIAC in fact continues to grow in prominence as a favoured arbitral institution.

"It also remains in the forefront as a thought leader."

SIAC's upward trajectory is also backed by an arbitration-friendly legal ecosystem and framework here, which includes world-class facilities at Maxwell Chambers.

Speaking at its congress last year, Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam lauded SIAC for having built a brand name and reputation based on trust, neutrality and efficiency.

Some 80 per cent of the 343 new cases filed last year were international in nature.

About half did not involve Singaporean parties.

Parties from India were the top foreign user of the SIAC, followed by those from China and the United States.

Other countries in the top-10 list included Indonesia, South Korea and Britain.

About 40 per cent of the new cases filed last year involved the construction, engineering and commercial sectors.

Speaking at SIAC's annual appreciation event yesterday, Mr Born, president of its Court of Arbitration, said "users are increasingly entrusting SIAC with the administration of complex and high-value disputes in arbitration".

He paid tribute to former SIAC chairman Lucien Wong who, in December, stepped down to become Singapore's Attorney-General.

"His vision and inspiration have been essential to SIAC's success.

"It has been a great privilege, and pleasure, to work together with Lucien Wong," said Mr Born.

Mr Singh said the SIAC will stay firmly focused on the things that matter to users.

"These include regular reviews of its rules, enhancing the range, quality and speed of its services and offerings, and increasing the opportunities for arbitrators, both experienced and young."

At yesterday's event, SIAC chief executive Lim Seok Hui also thanked the local and international legal and business communities for their support.


Out of public glare

Cases that go to arbitration are usually confidential and settled behind closed doors.

But some end up in the public domain when, for example, parties dissatisfied with an outcome take them to court to quash an award.

Last month, Judicial Commissioner Kannan Ramesh dismissed a bid by yacht brokerage firm Prometheus Marine to set aside an arbitrator's award.

This was in relation to the sale of a US$1.35 million (S$1.91 million) yacht in 2011 to British national Ann Rice, a company managing director.

She sued Prometheus for breach of contractual terms and was last year awarded US$947,403 in damages and legal costs by the arbitrator.

Prometheus sought to set aside the ruling but judge Kannan said the company's "litany of complaints" were all "clearly unmeritorious".

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Parents get $203,000 in damages over son's death

Straits Times
04 Mar 2017
K.C. Vijayan

Judge addresses issue of whether passenger should also be liable in motorcycle accident

The parents of a pillion passenger who died in a motorcycle accident along the Pan-Island Expressway (PIE) were awarded some $203,000 in damages in the State Courts - one of highest reported sums awarded there.

Mr Edil Asyraff Supa'at's parents sued their son's childhood friend, Mr Nur Azhar Sulaiman, in 2013 ,after an accident five years earlier. Mr Nur Azhar was the motorcyclist.

Deputy Registrar Georgina Lum noted in judgment grounds released last week that Mr Edil's parents, aged 75 and 68, had testified that their son, then 26, was a filial child who had consistently supported them with his earnings as a chef.

The sums were awarded for pre- and post-trial dependency losses for the couple, as well as funeral and bereavement expenses for their son, following assessment hearings held last year.

The sum was computed on the grounds that Mr Nur Azhar was found 100 per cent to blame for the accident, at a separate court hearing in 2015 on liability.

The case had raised a landmark point not previously decided here: Should a passenger also share the blame if he agrees to risk a ride from someone he knew was drink driving?

Mr Edil and Mr Nur Azhar - then 26 and a flight steward - had been friends since their teens and lived near each other.

They met and drank alcohol at about 12.30am on June 27, 2010 at Bras Basah Complex, then went dancing and had supper.

They did not consume any more alcohol at supper.

Mr Nur Azhar headed home at 5am, with Mr Edil riding pillion.

About half an hour later, the motorcycle hit the railing along a slip road that led from the PIE into the Bukit Timah Expressway.

Mr Edil was flung off and died of multiple injuries at the scene.

Mr Nur Azhar was hurt and was taken to hospital unconscious.

He later pleaded guilty to causing death by a negligent act, and was jailed for two weeks and disqualified from driving for five years.

Mr Nur Azhar also pleaded guilty to a second charge of riding the motorcycle when the level of alcohol in his blood exceeded the limit of 80mg per 100ml by at least 3mg.

The dead man had a similar blood alcohol content.

Ms Cecilia Hendrick, lawyer for Mr Nur Azhar, argued that - knowing they had earlier consumed alcohol, Mr Edil had risked death or injury in agreeing to ride pillion with Mr Nur Azhar, and damages payable should come down by 50 per cent.

In 2015, District Judge Loo Ngan Chor, in judgment grounds, found that Mr Nur Azhar's ability to manage and control the motorcycle was not impaired by his drinking of several hours before. "Neither would the deceased have thought so."

He made clear that there is a "serious need to deprecate drink driving" and that effective law enforcement and prosecution are ways to show "our displeasure" at drink driving.

"But I did not think it right to reduce the compensation payable to the deceased's estate only because he had had a drink with the defendant, even though this in no way caused the subsequent and tragic mishap.

"In these circumstances, I was not prepared to assign any contribution against the deceased," said Judge Loo, in ordering 100 per cent liability against Nur Azhar.


100%

Percentage blame for the accident for Mr Nur Azhar, at a court hearing on liability in 2015.

50%

Percentage by which damages payable should come down, as argued by lawyer Cecilia Hendrick for Mr Nur Azhar.


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State Courts Towers construction in full swing

Straits Times
18 Mar 2017
Shaffiq Idris Alkhatib

The first beam of the superstructure of the new State Courts Towers was hoisted into place yesterday morning.

In his address during the launch, Presiding Judge of the State Courts See Kee Oon said that the existing State Courts building in Havelock Square near Chinatown has served well for the past 42 years, but it is unlikely to be able to support long-term demands.

He added: "To ensure that we have the necessary facilities and infrastructure to address our projected needs, expansion plans were made and the blueprint towards the construction of the new State Courts Towers was mapped out around 2011."

The State Courts said that the new towers, which are being built beside the current State Courts building, will allow the courts to meet future needs and support the push for an efficient, effective and responsive judiciary.

A spokesman said: "The State Courts handle 90 per cent of Singapore's caseload, which equates to more than 300,000 cases per year, and we expect the number of cases to increase as the Singapore population grows.

"With the increase in the State Courts' jurisdiction and caseload over the years, and the introduction of new functions to better serve our court users, the current building is well beyond its original capacity."

Being built at a cost of $450 million, the State Courts Towers will be 178m tall and have three basement levels. There will also be two structures, a court tower and an office tower.

It will also have more than 60 courtrooms and over 50 hearing chambers, compared with the current 37 courtrooms and 40 hearing chambers in the existing building.

The groundbreaking ceremony was held in May 2014, and it is expected to be operational from 2020.

The current State Courts building will then be retrofitted and the Family Justice Courts - also in Havelock Square now - will operate there from 2023.

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