21 February 2017
Text: A | A

Businesses to get S$1.4b boost, CIT rebate extended to YA2018

Business Times
21 Feb 2017
Chai Hung Yin

Rebate cap raised to S$25,000 for YA2017, but will be reduced to S$10,000 for YA2018

[Singapore] OVER S$1.4 billion in additional near-term measures, on top of existing measures, will be given to support businesses over the next year, said Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat when delivering Budget 2017 on Monday.

He noted the need for sectors and firms that are doing well to focus on the long term and to build on the momentum to seize new opportunities, while specific measures are put in place to help sectors facing cyclical weaknesses and structural shifts.

Notably, the cap for the corporate income tax (CIT) rebate will be raised from S$20,000 to S$25,000 for year of assessment 2017, with the rebate remaining at 50 per cent of tax payable.

The CIT rebate will also be extended to YA2018, with the rate of tax payable reduced to 20 per cent from the current 50 per cent and capped at S$10,000.

The CIT rebate measures will cost an additional S$310 million over two years.

Existing measures like Wage Credit Scheme, Special Employment Credit (SEC) and SME Working Capital Loan (WCL) will continue.

The government expects to pay out over S$600 million to businesses next month, where about 70 per cent of it will be paid out to small and medium enterprises (SMEs). The scheme co-funds a portion of the wage increments given to Singaporean employees earning S$4,000 a month or less.

A total of 370,000 workers will benefit from over S$300 million expected to be paid out this financial year under the SEC, which has been extended to 2019. It provides wage-offset to employers hiring Singaporean workers aged 55 and above, and earning up to S$4,000.

Take-up rate for the SME WCL has been good - it has catalysed more than S$700 million of loans since its launch in June 2016. Under the scheme, SMEs can apply for unsecured term loans of up to S$300,000 each, where the government co-shares 50 per cent of loan-default risks.

The hard-hit marine and process sectors get some relief as foreign worker levy will remain the same for another year.

But in the construction sector, foreign worker levy will increase, as announced in 2015, in order to sustain the momentum for productivity improvement. At the same time, the start dates of public sector infrastructure projects worth S$700 million will be brought forward to financial years 2017 and 2018 to support the ailing sector.

Local construction firms will be able to bid for and participate in these projects, which include the upgrading of community clubs and sports facilities, said Mr Heng.

ANZ economist Ng Weiwen said: "The acceleration of public infrastructure projects will be a boon to the construction sector and an additional fillip to headline GDP (gross domestic product) growth. The construction sector accounted for 5 per cent of real GDP in 2016."

The increase in CIT rebate cap and extension are a welcome move but it does not provide any relief to loss-making businesses, said Harvey Koenig, tax partner at KPMG in Singapore.

NUS Business School Associate Professor of accounting Simon Poh said: "Struggling companies or, for that matter, even mildly profitable companies that earn up to S$387,794 taxable income, will not enjoy additional CIT rebate for YA 2017."

Thus, chief executive officer of Singapore Business Federation (SBF) Ho Meng Kit said: "We are disappointed and a bit underwhelmed. We have expressed our concerns but many are not met."

In a strongly-worded statement, SBF said there are inadequate short-term support to lower business and compliance costs.

It suggested that the deferment of foreign worker levy increments be extended across other sectors, which are also experiencing cost challenges. It also expected rental rebates but there were none, it said.

Deloitte Singapore tax partner Ong Siok Peng said it would be more helpful to re-introduce SME cash grant to help non-tax-paying businesses cope with rising business costs.

Nevertheless, the increase in CIT rebate cap provides some certainty for businesses on income tax for profit made this and last years, said PwC Singapore's tax leader Chris Woo, as the government continues what it has been doing for the past six years.


HIGHLIGHTS

The cap for the corporate income tax (CIT) rebate will be raised from S$20,000 to S$25,000 for year of assessment 2017.

Existing measures like Wage Credit Scheme, Special Employment Credit and SME Working Capital Loan will continue.

Foreign worker levy increments for the marine and process sectors are deferred by one more year.

Public sector infrastructure projects worth S$700 million will be brought forward to financial years 2017 and 2018.

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

How changes to law will improve town councils

Straits Times
12 Feb 2017
Danson Cheong

There has been lift upgrading and estate upgrading but one aspect affecting Singaporeans' day-to-day lives that is only now set for wide-ranging "upgrading" is the Town Councils Act.

It has been 28 years since town councils were formed under the Act, creating a municipal sub-layer of entities distinct from the national operations of government, but with the vital public service role of being responsible for Housing Board estate management.

Tidy void decks, efficient lifts and clean estates are all down to the often unappreciated, yet much-pondered-upon decisions of the men and women on these town councils.

They comprise MPs from the constituencies making up a town, with one of them taking on the chairman role, and appointed town councillors. They mostly work with an external company - the managing agent - which does the routine work of running the town council, such as cleaning, maintenance and working with sub-contractors.

But recent incidents have shown up weaknesses in the decades-old set-up, such as lift failures that caused online anger among residents.

Then there are broader issues of governance - such as town councils needing the autonomy to operate effectively and quickly to address residents' needs, yet requiring an accountable management regime. After all, it is public funds that are used in the council's operations.

Improving the way town councils work has been on the Government's agenda since 2013 when it announced a review of the Town Councils Act.

Last week, the Ministry of National Development (MND) introduced a Bill in Parliament to amend the Act. Once passed, it will require town councils to adhere to higher standards of transparency and governance.

The proposed changes will be debated in Parliament after the Budget debate this year.

Associate Professor Lan Luh Luh, deputy chair of the National University of Singapore's (NUS) Centre for Law and Business, feels it is about time that the law was reviewed.

"The Act is not clear on how a town council is constituted, and the sort of codes and guidelines it's supposed to follow," says Prof Lan.

WHAT ARE THE PROPOSED CHANGES?

The proposals will give the Government more regulatory oversight, clarify the roles of Singapore's 16 councils, improve governance and strengthen financial management.

The idea is that while town councils should remain autonomous, they should not be unfettered and left unchecked, says the MND.

Currently, the MND has no power to compel town councils to give information on their finances, and there are no penalties if a council refuses to do so.

But if the proposed changes are passed, the ministry will be able to appoint inspectors to investigate if town councils have flouted regulations and issue an order specifying remedial action to be taken.

Councils will also have to keep a registry of conflict of interest disclosures involving staff.

Furthermore, new proposals would prevent shareholders and executive decision-makers of the town council's auditor and managing agent from holding key posts on the town council. These positions include chairman, vice-chairmen, town council secretary, general manager and finance manager.

Town councils will also have to be more transparent.

The proposed changes will compel them to notify the public and the MND within 30 days of changes to their officers. The council would also have to put up public notices around the estate and online.

Key appointments requiring such notice include chairman, vice-chairmen, town councillors, chairmen of key town council committees, town council secretary, general manager and finance manager.

Currently, town councils only have to publish a notice in the Government Gazette to announce such a change "as soon as it is practicable".

As town councils manage large sums of public money, including millions of dollars in annual government grants, the proposed changes will help residents hold to account their MPs and those the MPs appoint to run the councils.

THE ISSUE OF DOUBLE-HATTING

The issue of managing agent staff holding key positions on the town council and the potential for conflict of interest that it holds, has been in the headlines of late. Reports dub it "double-hatting".

At Ang Mo Kio Town Council (AMKTC), the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau is investigating the council's general manager and secretary, Mr Victor Wong, for alleged corruption. Mr Wong is also an employee of CPG Facilities Management, which manages the town.

On a different and wider level are the woes at Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (AHTC), run by the Workers' Party (WP). Independent auditors KPMG identified "systemic difficulties" when they reviewed the council's books. One was conflict of interest in how some shareholders of the managing agent also held management roles in the town council.

This double-hatting phenomenon should change, say experts.

It creates a potential for conflicts of interest to arise, and the best safeguard is to totally separate the two sides, says corporate governance expert Mak Yuen Teen.

"How do you evaluate the performance of the managing agent if the general manager also sits on the council? Once you separate this, everything can be done on a more arm-length basis," says Associate Professor Mak.

However, the proposed new laws only prevent double-hatting if the individual is a shareholder and executive decision-maker of the town council's auditor and managing agent.

Mere employees of the town council's auditor or managing agent would still be able to double-hat, as it is reasoned that only shareholders would stand to gain directly via decisions they make in the town councils.

AHTC has said that double-hatting was "not unusual", according to a report in The Straits Times last November.

Indeed, it turns out that at most town councils here, the general manager - an employee of the managing agent, and the most senior executive of the town council - also double-hats and sits on the council as its secretary. The secretary serves as a link between the decision-making council and its operating staff.

Thirteen of the 16 town councils here are entirely managed and operated by managing agents.

The exceptions are Bishan-Toa Payoh and Aljunied-Hougang, which self-manage, and Jurong-Clementi, which this month embarked on a hybrid management model (see other report).

The overlapping of roles, it seems, is a product of how town councils have evolved.

The first councils started out already engaging the use of managing agents - back then, it was the HDB-owned subsidiary EM Services, formed with HDB staff, that had handled estate management, says NUS real estate professor Yu Shi Ming.

"This was the easiest thing to do. You already had people doing these things day in, day out - take them out and form a company with these people to offer services to town councils," he says, adding that the main consideration was to ensure a seamless transition from one model of estate governance to the next.

This model has stuck because it affords town councils several advantages.

Dr Teo Ho Pin, coordinating chairman of town councils run by the People's Action Party, says the use of managing agents to run estates is a common industry practice in the public and private sectors.

Dr Teo highlighted some advantages that managing agents offer, such as professional support in areas, including engineering, human resources and contracts.

For instance, managing agents would know the track record of companies tendering for town council contracts.

Says Prof Yu: "If you self-manage, how would you know these things?"

There could also potentially be a lack of job continuity for staff directly hired by town councils when political boundaries that constitute different towns are redrawn during general elections.

ENSURING TIMELY REPORTING

Under the proposed changes to the Act, town councils will have to submit audited financial reports within six months of the end of the financial year.

Doing otherwise may constitute an offence, with fines of up to $5,000.

This provides a firm deadline - and penalty - compared with the current requirement of submitting statements "as soon as practicable".

Since the WP took over in 2011, AHTC has missed the deadline set by the MND four times, with the most recent being last year. For the 2014/2015 financial year, the town council submitted its statements on time.

Prof Mak says six months is a reasonable time to get the paperwork in order, in line with what is expected of companies.

"If there are any issues, it will come to attention sooner," he says.

He laments the fact that a financial penalty would mean that constituents could end up bearing the costs, but notes: "That there is a reputational impact on the MPs running the town council may motivate them to avoid this."

The MND may get more bite in other aspects, too. It could soon penalise town councils that do not cooperate with inspectors during compliance reviews or do not register conflict disclosures, among others.

In some cases, key appointment holders may also be held directly accountable.

DO THE CHANGES GO FAR ENOUGH?

The proposed amendments to the Act are the most wide-ranging since town councils were first set up 28 years ago, but some experts feel they do not go far enough.

For instance, they do not require town councils to have members that have specific knowledge or know-how in areas such as accounting or procurement.

At the moment, town councillors are grouped into committees that handle matters such as finances and estate management, and function much like the board of directors of a public-listed company.

Each town council chairman can appoint between six and 30 councillors, or up to 10 councillors per MP in a group representation constituency, whichever option is greater. Two-thirds of the appointed members must be residents, to ensure resident participation.

"What they really need is to identify and have people who are knowledgeable, with expertise to chair specific areas of work," says Prof Yu.

This is done at some town councils, but it is not a mandatory requirement.

For instance, someone with banking experience could chair the finance committee.

Without this expert knowledge, committees would be less likely to question recommendations made to them by contractors or staff from the managing agent.

Another suggestion, which is not in the new Bill, comes from Prof Lan: Reduce the number of town councillors.

Some councils have grown complex and unwieldy. The first town councils had a maximum of 30 councillors, but this limit was revised upwards as GRCs expanded. Town councils now also manage bigger budgets and the needs of a far bigger population than when they first started.

Some councils can have over 60 members. AMKTC, for example - which oversees estates under Ang Mo Kio GRC and Sengkang West SMC - has seven MPs. This means that a maximum of 70 council members can be appointed.

But with so many councillors, there could be a "diffusion of responsibility", where councillors would push the work they should be doing to others, says Prof Lan.

She adds that in comparison, the boards of most public-listed companies usually comprise about a dozen members.

In the end, there is no "perfect model or magic formula", says Associate Professor Lawrence Loh, director of NUS Business School's Centre for Governance, Institutions and Organisations.

What is important, he adds, is to have safeguards to ensure disclosure and transparency.

"Ultimately, it is not about the structure per se, but about having a framework with clear and robust processes to cater to the constituency's needs," he says.

Additional reporting by Rachel Au-Yong


THE PROBLEM WITH DOUBLE-HATTING

How do you evaluate the performance of the managing agent if the general manager also sits on the council? Once you separate this, everything can be done on a more arm-length basis.

CORPORATE GOVERNANCE EXPERT MAK YUEN TEEN, on why the town council and managing agent should be separated.


SELF-MANAGEMENT

We believe our response time to new issues that emerge is faster and we can quickly adjust our budget and deploy financial resources accordingly.

MR CHONG KEE HIONG, chairman of the Bishan-Toa Payoh Town Council, which has done away with a managing agent altogether.


NO MAGIC FORMULA

Ultimately, it is not about the structure per se, but about having a framework with clear and robust processes to cater to the constituency's needs.

ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR LAWRENCE LOH, director of NUS Business School's Centre for Governance, Institutions and Organisations, on why having safeguards to ensure transparency is what really matters.

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

 

Appeals court sets tone on definition of 'accident' in insurance policies

Business Times
04 Feb 2017
Claire Huang

[Singapore] THE highest court in Singapore has ruled that the death of a co-owner of a popular Joo Chiat popiah shop was an accident and not suicide, clarifying the definition of the term "accident" in insurance policies in a first-of-its kind case.

The sister of the deceased, Quek Kiat Siong, in 2014 made a S$1.2 million insurance claim against AIA Singapore to make the insurer pay out on two personal accident policies.

Mr Quek, who helped run the family business Kway Guan Huat Joo Chiat Popiah & Kueh Pie Tie, was admitted to Mount Elizabeth Hospital in July 2012 for back pain. He also underwent treatment for anxiety, depression and insomnia and was prescribed 14 drugs by different doctors.

On Aug 3, 2012, Mr Quek was found unconscious by his nephew at his Everitt Road house and rushed to Changi General Hospital. He died the same day aged 50.

His sister, Victoria, who helped with administration of his estate, had claimed through her lawyers Melanie Ho, Chang Man Phing and Tang Shangwei that Mr Quek's death was completely unintended and accidental, caused by drug interaction from the medications.

But AIA argued that Mr Quek did not injure his body in any accident, so the policies did not apply.

Defence lawyers Lim Tong Chuan and Joel Wee said AIA was not liable as Mr Quek intentionally overdosed on the drugs and that in any case, his death was not classified "accidental" or "involuntary" as drug consumption was not an involuntary act. Mr Quek was found to have elevated drug levels in his blood.

Following a 12-day trial in 2015, Justice Judith Prakash concluded in her judgement released in April 2016 that Mr Quek "must be deemed to have expected to die if he deliberately consumed an overdose".

She found Mr Quek to have deliberately overdosed on drugs, so his death was not an accident falling within the policies.

But the Court of Appeal overruled this decision, stating in its judgement released on Thursday that an injury suffered by an insured due to the consumption of medication may be classified as an injury caused by "accident", where the insured did not intend or expect to suffer the injury when he consumed the medication.

Pointing to Justice Prakash's conclusion, the three Court of Appeal judges said that even if it was the case that Mr Quek had a drug overdose, "this does not, as a matter of logic, necessarily lead to the conclusion that the deceased had done so expecting to die".

They found Mr Quek's behaviour in the period just before his death to be more positive than negative and therefore not suicidal.

Given the psychiatric evidence and the deceased's outlook on life, they said that on a balance of probabilities, what occurred on the night he died was most likely one of two scenarios - that he took his medication in accordance with the prescription or that he had an overdose. But in both instances, Mr Quek did not expect nor intend to suffer injury resulting in death.

This, as "there is virtually no evidence" indicating Mr Quek consumed his medication with the belief or intention to harm himself, even though the respondents raised some evidence that he might have consumed more drugs than prescribed.

When asked, Ms Ho said her clients are grateful for the positive revision of judgement, which cleared doubts about Mr Quek's death.

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

Quek Kwee Kee Victoria (executor of the estate of Quek Kiat Siong, deceased) and another v American International Assurance Co Ltd and another [2017] SGCA 10

Singapore introduces IP Development Incentive to encourage innovation

Business Times
21 Feb 2017
Florence Loh, Leng Harn Szuan & Frederik Boulogne

[Singapore] IN THE wake of the recent Committee on the Future Economy (CFE) report, the Budget had been highly anticipated.

The measures announced are focused on upskilling Singaporeans and enabling companies to compete and globalise.

Innovation is one of the key pillars and intellectual property (IP) a key component. Against that backdrop, the introduction of the IP Development Incentive (IDI), which focuses on IP commercialisation, is aligned with Singapore's strategy for the next phase in encouraging innovation.

Under the IDI, qualifying income will be taxed at a rate lower than the normal income tax rate of 17 per cent. It is not clear yet at which rate(s) exactly, but it may be a rate a taxpayer can achieve under an existing incentive (0, 5 or 10 per cent).

While super deductions for R&D expenditure focus on the "front-end" of IP creation, the new IP regime will centre on the "back-end" of the IP life cycle.

With the introduction of the IDI, IP income will be removed from those incentives for approvals obtained on or after July 1, 2017, and existing incentive recipients will be covered by grandfathering rules until June 30, 2021.

Compliance with international (OECD) rules

The IDI is targeted at encouraging R&D investment and innovation as well as retaining or attracting high-tech industries to anchor their businesses in Singapore.

Although more details on the IDI will be available only in May, it has already been made clear that the IDI will incorporate the "BEPS-compliant modified nexus approach".

In layman's terms, the OECD has undertaken an anti-Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS) initiative in which profits should be taxed where substantial activities are present and value is created. This initiative sets out the features needed in a preferential tax regime without harming tax practices.

For an IP regime, it clarifies that preferential treatment should be granted only to income arising from IP where the actual R&D activities are undertaken by the taxpayer in-country. This is referred to as the "modified nexus approach".

Tailor IP regime to Singapore's needs

Like a designer dress that is worth its price only when it fits perfectly, Singapore's IP regime should be adjusted to its specific economic environment, which is vastly different from larger countries like Britain and France.

Below are some key considerations in applying the modified nexus approach in Singapore.

Which IP rights should the regime cover?

Most OECD countries take the view that IP rights, such as patents, software and plant breeders' rights, should be covered.

To create those IP rights, Singapore should attract high-tech industries covering anything from advanced manufacturing to urban solutions to digital economy.

It is apparent from the recent report issued by the CFE that Singapore wishes to do so. But with limited supply of land, should Singapore just focus on those R&D-intensive industries?

Perhaps retail industries with strong brands should also be considered. If such taxpayers carry out value-creating substantive activities in Singapore, there should be included in this preferential treatment.

Who should perform the R&D?

Under the OECD's rules, "contract R&D" outsourced to a related party (whether in the same country or abroad) is not considered as being carried out by the taxpayer.

As a result, such R&D does not count under the "modified nexus approach" and the corresponding income does not qualify for preferential treatment.

Similarly, an entity performing "contract R&D" is not considered to be bearing sufficient risk to benefit from an IP regime.

In Singapore's context, applying the "modified nexus approach" wholesale may not be entirely suitable.

For example, multinationals in the pharmaceutical industry may not necessarily want to bear the full economic risks in Singapore even when they carry out R&D activities in the country.

The saving grace is that the stricter nexus approach applies only to European Union member states. Other countries can outsource to related parties in the same country and still benefit from the preferential regime.

A development that we may see more of is the sub-contracting of R&D to neighbouring Asean countries. Fortunately, the modified nexus approach allows the outsourcing of R&D abroad to unrelated parties.

Final comments

We welcome the introduction of the IDI, which encourages the commercialisation of IP and stimulates the performance of valuable R&D activities in Singapore.

Moving IP income from the existing incentives to a separate regime illustrates Singapore's commitment to the OECD's BEPS rules.

What is important is the implementation of the scheme. We expect the IDI to be administered much like any other incentives - it will be based on negotiations.

Compare this with the regimes in some other countries, where taxpayers who meet the prescribed conditions automatically benefit from the preferential tax treatment.

The administration of the IDI could add greater complexity to what is already a complicated incentive regime.

  • The writers are from PwC Singapore. Florence Loh is a Tax Partner, Leng Harn Szuan is a Tax Director, and Dr Frederik Boulogne is a Senior Tax Manager

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

Singaporean fighting deportation from Britain

Straits Times
12 Feb 2017
Ng Jun Sen

52-year-old married to British man detained after apparently flouting immigration rules

In the past few weeks, Singaporean grandmother Irene Clennell has often cried herself to sleep in a Scottish detention facility, fearing her family in Britain will be torn apart.

The 52-year-old, who has been married to a British man for 27 years, faces the prospect of being deported as she had apparently flouted immigration rules.

"Here, I have my husband and my sons. But they want to send me back and I have nothing in Singapore," said a determined Mrs Clennell, who has been fighting to be with her British family for years.

She was detained on Jan 20, after a routine appointment at an immigration reporting centre in Middlesbrough, England. Her plight was highlighted by British non-governmental organisation Migrant Voices recently, and reported by many news outlets, including the BBC.

Speaking to The Sunday Times from the Dungavel Immigration Removal Centre last week, Mrs Clennell said she has sought legal aid to fight her case. Also, her husband's sister has started a Gofundme page titled "Bring Irene Home" to raise funds for her legal fees.

While Mrs Clennell said she is treated well by the officers at Dungavel, and has a proper bedroom, she is desperate not to be deported. "I've gone through so much over the years. I've done all I can and I don't know what else I can do to remain by my husband's side," Mrs Clennell said.

The couple have two adult sons, aged 27 and 25, and a granddaughter, who is less than a year old.

Mrs Clennell, who is forbidden to seek employment in Britain, has been working at the detention facility's laundromat.

Her case is a longstanding one stretching back more than two decades. She was first granted an Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) - which is typically given to foreign spouses of British citizens - when she married Mr John Clennell in 1990, after they met in a London pub. An ILR allows a person to stay in Britain without time restrictions.

But in 1992, Mrs Clennell decided to move back to Singapore with her husband to live and work. Her ILR lapsed due to a clause that said she could not live outside Britain for more than two years.

Mr Clennell and their two sons returned to Britain in 1998, but she remained in Singapore until 1999.

Since then, her applications for another ILR have been rejected multiple times. The applications cost about £500 each time. Said Mrs Clennell: "My mother in Singapore was sick at the time, so I had no choice but to (remain) with her. She passed away in 1999."

She said she did not expect that leaving Britain in 1992 would be the start of her woes. "At that time, I thought it would be easy to apply for another ILR."

The couple lived apart for years until she was finally able to re-enter Britain in 2013, on the basis of making another application within the country. She stayed on even though her subsequent applications failed.

Their situation was made worse when Mr Clennell had health issues. A recent hernia operation and bypass surgery for his femoral artery left him with mobility issues.

Mr Clennell said he quit his job as a gas mains layer last year, and his wife was his sole caregiver.

"I've been speaking to her every day now over the phone and she is coping as best as she can. I feel like we are being deprived of a proper family life," said Mr Clennell.

Britain's Home Office, which is responsible for immigration, told The Sunday Times that Mrs Clennell has no legal basis to remain in the country and that her personal circumstances had been considered. A spokesman said: "As Mrs Clennell has spent the majority of her life, and her married life, living in Singapore, it is deemed she will not face reintegration issues upon her return."

Migrant Voices director Nazek Ramadan said: "Irene Clennell's case is... yet another example of how arbitrary policies tear apart families and ruin lives."

The Clennells have rejected the suggestion that the family move to Singapore. Mrs Clennell, who sold her four-room flat in Yishun in 2008, said: "We don't have much savings left to start another life. It will be hard to afford a home, John's medical fees or find a job."

Both her parents have passed away, and while she has three sisters in Singapore, she said they had problems of their own.

One of her sisters, financial consultant Lily Anthony, 54, said: "It is not so much about (Mrs Clennell's) financial ability to survive in Singapore, but that her family - her husband, sons, granddaughter and in-laws - is based there. It is unfair to force her to move."


Case in spotlight in British media

The British media has cast a spotlight on the case of Singaporean grandmother Irene Clennell and immigration issues in Britain, with British MPs weighing in on the matter.

Several publications had, in the past two weeks, run reports on how Mrs Clennell, 52, faces deportation for running afoul of immigration rules because she left Britain for many years, after marrying her British husband, to look after her elderly parents.

BuzzFeed UK reported on Feb 2 that Mrs Clennell was held in a Scottish detention centre "ahead of her forced removal to Singapore". A day later, the BBC published an article on her case, with the headline: "Woman faces deportation after 27 years."

"Border farce: Immigration officials prepare to throw nan out of the country after 27 years because she spent too long with dying parents", read a headline by The Sun, while The Times went with: "Grandmother fights to halt deportation after decades."

On Feb 8, BuzzFeed UK reported that British MPs were asking Britain's Home Secretary Amber Rudd to not have Mrs Clennell deported.

Mrs Clennell's MP, Mr Kevan Jones, wrote in to Ms Rudd about the matter, while Mr Alistair Carmichael, a spokesman for home affairs for the Liberal Democrats party, said Mrs Clennell's case was a "deeply troubling one".

"Britain is her home, and there can be no justification for forcing her to leave," he told BuzzFeed UK.


ARBITRARY POLICIES

It's yet another example of how arbitrary policies tear apart families and ruin lives. These kind of bureaucratic decisions are a direct result of a relentless drive towards unrealistic migration caps that don't take real lives into account.

MIGRANT VOICES DIRECTOR NAZEK RAMADAN, on Mrs Clennell's case.

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

Malaysia seeks to revise judgment on Pedra Branca, citing 'new facts'

Business Times
04 Feb 2017

[Kuala Lumpur] MALAYSIA has filed an application at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to review a judgment made in May 2008 that awarded Pedra Branca to Singapore after making "discovery of some fact of such a nature as to be a decisive factor".

Malaysia filed the application to the ICJ on Thursday over the sovereignty of the island, said a statement issued by Malaysia's Attorney-General Mohamed Apandi Ali. "The application was made by Malaysia upon the discovery of some fact of such a nature as to be a decisive factor, which fact was, when the judgment was given, unknown to the Court and also to Malaysia as the party claiming revision," the statement said.

"The discovery of the new facts is important and they should be ventilated in a court of law accordingly. Thus, as agreed by both parties in the Special Agreement, the International Court of Justice is the appropriate forum for this."

Mr Apandi added in the statement: "We are also confident that the requirements as stipulated under Article 61 of the Statute of the International Court of Justice have been met in that, inter alia, the application for revision is brought within six (6) months of the discovery of the new fact, and within ten (10) years of the date of the Judgment." He did not elaborate on what the new discovery is.

Singapore said it is studying the application by Malaysia and is looking closely at Malaysia's documentation over the issue.

Singapore has formed a legal team to respond to Malaysia's application, said a statement on Friday from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA). The team includes Attorney-General Lucien Wong, Professor S Jayakumar, Professor Tommy Koh and former chief justice Chan Sek Keong.

The MFA statement noted that the ICJ judgment was "final, binding and without appeal".

The dispute pitted Malaysia's claim of original title to Pedra Branca against Singapore's claim of taking lawful possession in 1847 and continuous exercise of sovereignty ever since. The ICJ was also asked to determine to whom nearby Middle Rocks and South Ledge belong.

Malaysia's legal case rested on its claim that the Sultanate of Johor had possessed title to the island since its establishment in 1512. That original title was then transmitted to the State of Johor, and subsequently to the Federation of Malaya, which Johor joined in 1948.

To explain Singapore's presence on the island, Malaysia cited an 1844 letter that it claimed was a grant of permission by the Johor rulers to the British, for the latter to build and operate a lighthouse there. Malaysia argued that the British and their successor, Singapore, were merely lighthouse operators and never exercised sovereignty over the island.

Singapore said Pedra Branca was terra nullius, or no man's land, when the British took lawful possession of it in 1847. Britain's conduct from 1847 to 1851, in financing and building Horsburgh Lighthouse, and building piers and rain channels on the island, showed its intention to take sovereign control of the island. Britain thus acquired title to the island through its peaceful occupation of it.

Subsequently, Britain and, later, Singapore, maintained that title through an open, continuous and effective display of state authority over the island from the 1850s up to the present. In international law, such conduct is known as effectivites.

Singapore also noted that Malaysia never once protested against Singapore's exercise of sovereignty over the island. Singapore also produced a 1953 letter from Johor's top civil servant at that time to the British authorities, in which the former wrote that "Johore does not claim ownership of Pedra Branca". That letter, Singapore argued, was a disclaimer of title by Johor that was binding on Malaysia. THE STRAITS TIMES

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

Big emitters face carbon tax from 2019

Business Times
21 Feb 2017
Andrea Soh

Tax will be at S$10 to S$20 on each tonne of greenhouse gas emitted; final tax and implementation schedule will be decided after industry and public consultations

[Singapore] SINGAPORE will impose a carbon tax of between S$10 and S$20 on each tonne of greenhouse gas emitted by power generation plants and other large emitters from 2019.

Announcing this on Monday, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said that the final carbon tax and exact implementation schedule will be decided after industry and public consultations, as well as further studies.

"(A carbon tax) will help us to achieve our commitments to reduce emissions under the Paris Agreement, do so efficiently and at as low a cost to the economy as possible," he said. "This may also spur the creation of new opportunities in green growth industries such as clean energy."

Revenue from the carbon tax will help to fund measures by industries to reduce emissions, Mr Heng added. "The impact of the carbon tax on most businesses and households should be modest."

The tax will be applied on power stations and other large direct emitters which produce over 25,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent of greenhouse gases a year. There are currently 30 to 40 of such large emitters, said the National Climate Change Secretariat (NCCS).

The increase in operating cost from such a tax is equivalent to the impact of an increase in crude oil prices of US$3.50-US$7 a barrel, according to NCCS.

The government will study how it can help businesses with the transition. Companies will receive greater support for industrial energy efficiency, including improved awareness of energy efficiency improvement opportunities, enhanced existing energy efficiency incentives, and help to put in place better energy management systems, NCCS added.

For households, the impact of the carbon tax could result in a rise in electricity prices of 0.43 to 0.86 cent per kilowatt hour, or about S$1.70 to S$3.30 for the median household in a four-room flat which pays around S$72 a month in electricity bills, said NCCS.

Carbon pricing broadly takes two forms: a carbon tax, or a cap and trade.

In the former, the government sets the price to be paid for each unit of greenhouse gas emissions. Under a cap-and-trade system, the government sets a cap on the total allowed greenhouse gas emissions by issuing an equivalent amount of permits, the price of which is determined by a trading market.

A carbon tax would be more practical to implement than a cap-and- trade for a small domestic market like Singapore, said NCCS.

"A carbon tax can provide greater price certainty and stability that will incentivise investments in energy efficiency and low-carbon solutions," it said. "Notwithstanding (this), Singapore remains open to linking our carbon tax to external carbon markets where feasible."

Six greenhouse gases will be covered under the carbon tax: carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, and sulphur hexaflouride.

The government has started industry consultations on the carbon tax, and will begin public consultation in March, said Mr Heng, adding that the government will take into consideration lessons from other countries and prevailing economic conditions in Singapore in the implementation.

The announcement received mixed reactions; green advocates welcomed the carbon tax while industry players voiced concern over its impact on Singapore's competitiveness.

ExxonMobil, which has its largest refinery and petrochemical complex in the world in Singapore, noted that a carbon tax represents additional cost for the refining and petrochemical industry in the country.

It would also impact Singapore's competitiveness as an export manufacturing hub, it said.

"We are committed to working together with the government on this important matter in the consultation sessions ahead," said a spokesman, "to find the balance between providing affordable energy and products to support human progress, addressing the risks posed by greenhouse gas emissions and ensuring Singapore's long-term competitiveness."

Shell, too, said the design of the policy is important to ensure Singapore's competitiveness, even as it is committed to working with the government to contribute to reducing emissions intensity.

"We would emphasise the critical importance of a policy design which addresses strong economic growth and the competitiveness of Singapore companies in the international marketplace," said a spokesman. "It must ensure companies can compete effectively with others in the region who are not subject to the same levels of carbon dioxide costs."

Both companies own the largest refining and petrochemical complexes in Singapore, and have spoken in support of a carbon price - in ExxonMobil's case, a carbon tax - globally in the past few years. The petroleum refining, chemicals and semiconductor sectors are the biggest greenhouse gas emitters in the city-state.

Green advocates, meanwhile, are encouraged by the move.

Euston Quah, head of the Department of Economics and deputy chair of Sustainable Earth Office at Nanyang Technological University, said that Singapore's overall competitiveness should not be affected given the small quantum of the tax, and also because other jurisdictions are applying a form of carbon pricing too.

For Constant Van Aerschot, executive director of The Business Council for Sustainable Development Singapore, the proposed amount for the tax might not be sufficient to make a meaningful impact.

"What is generally accepted as a game changer is a price on carbon between US$50 and US$100 (a tonne)," he said, adding that at this level it triggers new investment into low-carbon technologies.

Nevertheless, it represents a good start, he said, especially since Singapore is a first mover in the region.

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

ICJ makes public details of Malaysia's bid to revise 2008 Pedra Branca judgment

Straits Times
11 Feb 2017
Tham Yuen-C

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) yesterday released Malaysia's application to revise the court's 2008 judgment that awarded sovereignty of Pedra Branca to Singapore.

In the 42-page application, Malaysia cited three "new facts" to argue that "Singapore's officials at the highest levels did not consider that Singapore had acquired sovereignty over Pedra Branca from Johor" in the years following 1953.

Malaysia filed the application on Feb 2, asking the court to revise its judgment. Singapore has formed a legal team, including senior lawyers well acquainted with the issue, to study the application.

In its 2008 ruling, the ICJ had considered correspondence from 1953 between Singapore's colonial officials and Johor as being of central importance in determining the sovereignty of Pedra Branca.

In the 1953 letter, Johor's top official wrote that "the Johor government does not claim ownership of Pedra Branca". The court found this showed that while Johor had the original title, "as of 1953, Johor understood that it did not have sovereignty over Pedra Branca".

Malaysia, in its application, cited three documents. This, it said, "cuts deeply against the central thesis of the court's judgment". It contends that the court would have reached a different conclusion "had it been aware of this new evidence".

The first document is a confidential telegram sent from Singapore's top colonial official to the British Secretary of State for the Colonies in 1958. In it, the Governor had proposed establishing "a corridor of international waters passing only one mile from Pedra Branca".

This showed he "did not consider the island of Pedra Branca to be part of Singaporean territory", Malaysia said.

The second document was a report about a naval incident near Pedra Branca.

Malaysia pointed out the report had said a British Navy ship could not go to the aid of a Malaysian vessel being followed by an Indonesian gunboat because it was "still inside Johor territorial waters".

Malaysia said this showed that the "military authorities responsible for Singapore's defence at the time did not view the waters around Pedra Branca as belonging to Singapore".

The third document - a map of naval operations in the Malacca and Singapore straits from 1962 - showed Singapore's territorial waters "do not extend to the vicinity of Pedra Branca", Malaysia said.

It also said two of the documents - from the UK National Archives - were declassified after the 2008 judgment. The third document's date of release is unknown. Malaysia discovered them on or after Aug 4 last year, it said, and had filed its application within six months of getting the documents.

Based on the ICJ's rules, an application for revision may be made only when there is discovery of a fact that would be a "decisive factor" and was not known at the time of judgment. The application must be filed within six months of the new fact being found and 10 years of the judgment, which means the window for filing it closes next year.

The territorial dispute between Singapore and Malaysia had also involved two smaller maritime features, Middle Rocks and South Ledge, near Pedra Branca.

The ICJ, in its 2008 judgment, found that sovereignty over Middle Rocks belonged to Malaysia and sovereignty over South Ledge belongs to the state in the territorial waters of which it is located.

The three features in the Singapore Strait are located about 40km east of the Republic's main island.

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

MFA: Singapore studying closely KL's application over Pedra Branca

Straits Times
04 Feb 2017
Chong Zi Lian & Reme Ahmad

The Republic's legal team includes senior lawyers well acquainted with the issue

Singapore's legal team is closely studying Malaysia's application and documentation for a revision of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) judgment on sovereignty over Pedra Branca, Middle Rocks and South Ledge, a Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) spokesman said yesterday.

The team includes senior lawyers well acquainted with the issue. It includes Attorney-General Lucien Wong, former deputy prime minister and law minister S. Jayakumar, Ambassador-at-Large Tommy Koh and former Chief Justice Chan Sek Keong.

Professor Jayakumar, Professor Koh and Mr Chan were leading figures in the team that represented Singapore when Singapore and Malaysia referred the dispute over Pedra Branca, Middle Rocks and South Ledge to the ICJ in 2003. Both countries made their respective cases at a three-week-long hearing in 2007 before judges of the ICJ in The Hague, the Netherlands.

In its 2008 judgment, the ICJ found that sovereignty over Pedra Branca belonged to Singapore, sovereignty over Middle Rocks belonged to Malaysia and sovereignty over South Ledge belongs to the state in the territorial waters of which it is located.

The three features in the Singapore Strait are located some 40km east of the Republic's main island.

Yesterday, the MFA spokesman noted of the ICJ's ruling: "Its judgment was final, binding and without appeal."

He added: "Under Article 61 of the Statute of the ICJ, an application for revision of a judgment may be made only when it is based upon the discovery of some fact of such a nature as to be a decisive factor, and which was, when judgment was given, unknown to the court and the party claiming revision. Such an application must be made within 10 years of the date of the judgment, and at latest within six months of the discovery of the new fact.

"Malaysia has informed us that it has made an application for revision of the ICJ's judgment."

Malaysia filed its application to revise the judgment on Thursday. Its Attorney-General Mohamed Apandi Ali said in a statement that the application was made "upon the discovery of some fact of such a nature as to be a decisive factor, which fact was, when the judgment was given, unknown to the court and also to Malaysia as the party claiming revision".

He added: "We are also confident that the requirements as stipulated under Article 61 of the Statute of the International Court of Justice have been met in that... the application for revision is brought within six months of the discovery of the new fact, and within 10 years of the date of the judgment."

He did not elaborate on what the new discovery entailed.

But Mr Apandi noted that Malaysia's application for a revision of the judgment is "a continuation of the process" both countries embarked on when they agreed to submit the dispute on sovereignty over Pedra Branca, Middle Rocks and South Ledge to the ICJ.

He added: "The discovery of the new facts is important, and they should be ventilated in a court of law accordingly. Thus, as agreed by both parties in the Special Agreement, the ICJ is the appropriate forum for this."

The ICJ comprises 15 judges, who are elected to nine-year terms by the United Nations General Assembly and the UN Security Council.

Singapore will submit its observations to the ICJ after studying Malaysia's application.

At the same time, the ICJ will begin deciding on the admissibility of the application - that is, whether the facts submitted were presented within six months of being discovered, as well as whether they are decisive.

The Straits Times understands that this process alone may take more than a year to complete.

If the court decides that the criteria are met, the case will go on to the next stage of proceedings.

Representatives of both countries may also have to appear before the ICJ to argue their case.


TIMELINE

1979

Dec 21: Malaysia publishes a new map of its territorial waters and continental shelf, including Pedra Branca in its territory.

1980

Feb 14: Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs issues a diplomatic note rejecting Malaysia's new claim.

1981

Dec 17: Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew and his Malaysian counterpart Mahathir Mohamad agree to resolve the ownership of Pedra Branca through the exchange of documents.

1994

Sept 6: Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong and Dr Mahathir agree to submit the Pedra Branca case to the International Court of Justice (ICJ). Officials meet nine months later.

2003

Feb 6: Singapore and Malaysia sign a pact to refer the Pedra Branca dispute to the ICJ.

2004

March 25: Singapore and Malaysia submit their first set of written arguments on the Pedra Branca dispute to the ICJ.

2007

Nov 6-23: A three-week hearing before 16 judges of the ICJ in The Hague begins. Singapore and Malaysia put up their cases.

2008

May 23: The ICJ delivers its ruling, awarding Pedra Branca to Singapore, Middle Rocks to Malaysia, and South Ledge to the state in whose territorial waters it is located. Both sides have since met regularly to discuss the implementation of the ICJ judgment.


ICJ ruling on Pedra Branca dispute

In 2008, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) awarded Pedra Branca to Singapore. It recognised that Johor had the original title to Pedra Branca, but found that sovereignty over the island had passed to Singapore by the time the dispute crystallised in 1980.

Malaysia had argued that the Sultanate of Johor had possessed the title to the island since its establishment in 1512. That original title was then transmitted to the State of Johor, and subsequently to the Federation of Malaya.

It also put forth that the British and their successor, Singapore, were merely lighthouse operators and never exercised sovereignty over the island.

Singapore's case was that Pedra Branca was terra nullius, or no man's land, when the British took lawful possession of it in 1847.

In building the Horsburgh Lighthouse and other infrastructure, Britain showed its intention to take sovereign control of the island. Subsequently, Britain, and later, Singapore, maintained that title through an open, continuous and effective display of state authority over the island from the 1850s up to the present.

Singapore noted that Malaysia never once protested against Singapore's exercise of sovereignty over the island. It also produced a 1953 letter from Johor's top civil servant at that time to the British authorities, in which the former wrote that "Johor does not claim ownership of Pedra Branca".

The ICJ noted that Johor's 1953 reply showed that as of then, Johor understood that it did not have sovereignty over Pedra Branca.

It found Singapore's activities since then - investigating shipwrecks, granting permission to Malaysian officials to visit and survey surrounding waters, installing military communications equipment, and proposing reclamation plans - a titre de souverain, that is, conduct that confers title on the party responsible.

The court also found that the original title to Middle Rocks - two smaller outcrops nearby - should remain with Malaysia as the successor to the Sultanate of Johor.

As for South Ledge, the court said it belongs to the state in whose territorial waters it is located.

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

No wealth taxes yet; govt looking at new or higher taxes

Business Times
21 Feb 2017
Siow Li Sen

[Singapore] THERE were no wealth taxes announced in Monday's Budget, but observers say it's likely to come, just a matter of when, as Singapore spends more on healthcare and infrastructure.

Indeed Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said his ministry is studying new taxes or raising tax rates.

"Domestically, we will also face rising expenditures over the longer term as we invest more in healthcare and infrastructure," he said.

"We will have to raise revenues through new taxes or raise new rates. We are studying the options carefully," he said.

Observers say higher tax rates on personal income tax, property tax and the goods and services tax (GST) are the most likely sources of additional revenues.

Suan Teck Kin, United Overseas Bank senior economist, said Singapore's labour force growth is set to slow, in part due to the ageing population, and this could moderate the potential growth rate of Singapore companies downwards.

"Given the changing demographic and economic profiles, the fiscal revenue (tax) and expenditure structure would be substantially different five years from now than 10 to 15 years ago," he said.

"To compensate the likely drop in direct tax revenue (both corporate and personal) against a backdrop of rising expenditure such as health care and security, indirect taxes such as GST may be one avenue to raise revenue," he said.

Chung-Sim Siew Moon, head of tax, Ernst & Young Solutions, said it is unlikely that Singapore corporate tax rate will be tweaked upwards as the current corporate tax rate of 17 per cent remains competitive.

It is very likely that the current GST rate of 7 per cent will be increased, most likely progressively (eg, one per cent over a few years) to reach possibly 10 per cent, she said.

"When the GST rate would start increasing would likely be after 2020," said Mrs Chung-Sim.

"In line with a progressive tax system, there is a high probability that new income band (or bands) of above S$320,000 may be introduced with a new personal tax top rate of above 22 per cent in the coming future," she added.

The personal tax top rate of 22 per cent effective this year was raised from 20 per cent two years ago.

"There was no word on wealth tax, but it is the easiest way," said CIMB economist Song Seng Wun who expects higher property tax.

To levy higher property tax is also straightforward and transparent, he said.

Property taxes were raised in 2015 to as high as 16 per cent for owner occupation and 20 per cent for rental property.

"You live in HDB, you get more help. You live in a swanky property or own several swanky properties, you contribute more," said Mr Song.

But the government needs to get the timing right on when to hike taxes because then "politically it'll be less of a headache", he said.

BJ Ooi, KPMG head of global mobility services, said he was worried that personal income taxes would be raised further. Still, he hopes the government would look beyond traditional sources of tax revenue.

"The future however is not that clear but I know that the government would be wise and innovative enough to start looking beyond the traditional revenue base of corporate, personal, GST, vehicle quota premiums and other taxes (which include property taxes)."

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

Regulations essential to support innovation, say analysts

Straits Times
11 Feb 2017
Yasmine Yahya

It may not have been the sexiest line in the report, but a recommendation by the Committee on the Future Economy (CFE) for more "forward-looking" regulations could be a game changer for the Singapore economy, experts said.

The committee called on the Government to "create a regulatory environment to support innovation and risk-taking".

This, it added, means placing safeguards against the risks inherent in new industries while still enhancing the ease of doing business.

This may sound contradictory, but Professor Wong Poh Kam of the Department of Strategy and Policy at the National University of Singapore Business School said regulations are essential for innovation.

"You need regulations to ensure a level playing field for new innovators versus incumbents that are large and powerful organisations, or you may have big companies abusing their power to squeeze start-ups out of the field," he noted.

"Also, regulations provide innovators with the certainty of parameters. Without regulations, companies sometimes don't feel confident to innovate, for fear that there will be a sudden implementation of rules that could land them in trouble."

The trick is to have balanced regulations, noted Maybank Kim Eng economist Chua Hak Bin. He said: "Various governments have arrived at different outcomes on how to regulate Airbnb, for example. Barcelona, for example, has an outright ban. The CFE is recommending a more balanced and pragmatic approach, especially since we are encouraging businesses to use Singapore as a test-bed for new ideas."

PwC Singapore's digital business leader Greg Unsworth said that if this fine balance is struck, it would really set Singapore apart from other leading economies and position the Republic as a global hub for innovation.

He noted, however, that this will be no small task.

"It is extremely difficult to regulate for the future. Governments around the world have found it challenging to keep up with the speed of the impact of industry disruption in the digital economy," he said.

"This is about ensuring smart regulation that meets both objectives and keeps pace with change and even anticipates the future."

However, experts are also confident that the Singapore Government is in a good position to embark on such a challenge.

After all, some of its agencies have already begun regulating new and disruptive industries, such as the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) for financial technology or fintech, and the Land Transport Authority for autonomous vehicles - a point that the CFE noted in its report.

For MAS, a major component of its regulatory system towards fintech has been the "regulatory sandbox". It provides a safe space where Singapore's banks can experiment with and test new technology, without potentially affecting their main operations or customers, even if the project fails.

However, Mr Matt Pollins, a partner of technology law firm Olswang, said that there is no reason why sandboxes cannot be used across all industries.

"Sandboxes are just the start," he said. "Over time, we will see many more technology-friendly regulations, and not just in limited sandbox scenarios, that empower organisations to innovate - provided, of course, that appropriate measures are in place on matters such as privacy and security."

After all, he added, regulators around the world are recognising that the definition of risk has changed.

Mr Pollins said: "Risk used to be doing something new, or adopting a new technology. In this era of digital transformation, risk is now standing still and not adopting new technologies, because companies will very quickly be overtaken."

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

GLP CEO and non-exec director involved in non-binding bids

Business Times
04 Feb 2017
Lynette Khoo

Special panel of four IDs and headed by chairman will evaluate proposals with help of financial and legal advisers

[Singapore] GLOBAL Logistic Properties (GLP) said it has received various non-binding proposals from a number of parties, which include its CEO Ming Z Mei and non-executive director Fang Fenglei.

Mr Mei and Mr Fang have interest in one of the parties that have submitted the offers for the group.

Disclosing this on Friday after market closed, GLP said since the start of the strategic review in December, Mr Mei and Mr Fang have recused themselves from all board discussions and decisions relating to the strategic review.

"The company is mindful that the strategic review be undertaken independently and in the interests of all shareholders, and has undertaken measures to alleviate potential conflicts of interest," the company said in a filing on Singapore Exchange.

A special committee consisting of four independent directors (IDs) and headed by group chairman Seek Ngee Huat will be evaluating the proposals with the help of its financial adviser JPMorgan (SEA) and legal adviser Allen & Gledhill.

This committee was formed to oversee the strategic review of options to improve shareholder value. GLP had embarked on this review upon the request of its single largest shareholder GIC, Singapore's sovereign wealth fund.

GIC, which manages Singapore's foreign reserves, holds a 36.9 per cent stake in GLP, while Hillhouse Capital Management owns 8.2 per cent, according to Bloomberg data. Mr Fang owns a direct 1.59 per cent stake while Mr Mei owns 1.08 per cent.

There were rumours earlier that US private equity giants Warburg Pincus and The Blackstone Group are each forming a consortium to make an offer for GLP.

Another investor group may include Beijing-based Hopu Investment Management, which is founded by Mr Fang, and Hillhouse Capital Management. Mr Mei is believed to be part of the Hopu consortium.

Warburg Pincus recently made its moves in the logistics sector in Asia, having invested in e-Shang Redwood Group, a developer and operator of logistics properties in China, Japan and South Korea.

Last month, e-Shang acquired 80 per cent of the manager of Cambridge Industrial Trust (CIT), following an option agreement in October to buy up to 10.65 per cent of CIT from three existing unitholders.

GLP shares rose 1.16 per cent on active trade on Friday to S$2.62. They had risen to a 52-week high of S$2.65 in January on the back of a buyout interest stemming from a demand boom for warehouse space from e-commerce companies around the world, especially in China.

The group's global portfolio of logistics properties in China, Japan, the United States and Brazil spans 53 million square metres; it has US$39 billion of assets under management.

Of its latest acquisitions, GLP announced on Wednesday that it is buying two facilities in Chicago for US$33 million. One is a 29,000-sq-m distribution building near Midway Airport; the other is a 13,000-sq-m facility in Western Cook County. This brings its Chicago logistics portfolio to one million sq m, and 16 million sq m of facilities for the entire US portfolio.

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

Divorce cases now settled more speedily in court

Straits Times
21 Feb 2017
K.C. Vijayan

New schemes by Family Justice Courts reduce by a quarter time taken to grant final judgment

Divorce cases are being handled more speedily, minimising the animosity between couples and the impact on children even as the family courts retool their processes and schemes to create a more robust future-ready system.

The number of divorce cases settled within the year they were filed jumped to 74 per cent last year, up from 46 per cent in 2012, said Judicial Commissioner Valerie Thean, Presiding Judge of the Family Justice Courts (FJC).

Speaking at the FJC's Work Plan 2017 seminar yesterday, she noted that the average time taken to handle each case has shortened too, from 68.6 days in 2012 to 53.1 last year. The average time taken for final judgment to be granted has also been reduced by a quarter from 155.2 days in 2012 to 114.6 last year.

The process was speedier even though there were a total of 6,301 cases filed last year, 380 more than in 2015. They involved custody over 4,834 children.

The FJC is also looking at possible new laws together with other agencies that would stop one parent breaching court orders and taking the children out of the country without the consent of the other.

Judicial Commissioner Thean attributed the better efficiency to new initiatives from the FJC, which was set up in October 2014, such as the Individual Docketing System.

The system assigns selected categories of cases to designated judges so that they can be more familiar with the issues, manage the case from start to end, and ensure better outcomes for parties who may have multiple applications and proceedings in court. She said the system will be extended to all divorce cases in the second half of the year.

Other FJC measures include a new Family Protection Centre where family violence applicants can be handled in a more private and calming environment and an electronic case-management system for personal protection and maintenance cases.

Teamwork boosts family courts' efficiency

The new docketing system will allow applications to be filed electronically and integrated with the divorce and Youth Court's electronic systems so cases are handled in a more holistic way.

Her speech, presented to an audience that included Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon and Justice See Kee Oon, stressed FJC's role in meeting the various needs of families embroiled in legal disputes.

There can be complex issues in joint parenting. In one case, a child was caught between his father, who had a hoarding illness, and his mother, who felt it threatened the son's living environment. Counselling, taken through FJC's Child Inclusive Dispute Resolution (CIDR) scheme, helped the child understand the divorce was not his fault, and his parents to understand their conflict caused him great distress.

Last year, in 80 per cent of 62 cases when CIDR was applied, "some or all children's issues were settled". Judicial Commissioner Thean credited the improved statistics to the whole court working as a team to enact changes that benefit the parties involved directly.

Family lawyer Rajan Chettiar lauded court-mandated counselling and mediation by court judges for divorcing couples with children as instrumental to a speedier resolution. "The presence of a judge-mediator lends authority," he said.


6,301

Number of divorce cases filed last year - 380 more than in 2015.

4,834

Number of kids involved in custody cases linked to divorce last year.

Family Justice Courts on the case

Initiatives by the Family Justice Courts include:

• More to be trained as parenting coordinators to help parties focus on children post-divorce or in a post-separation conflict resolution process.
• Extending court docket system to manage all divorce cases where parties at the outset say they want to contest the divorce.
• Amend Legal Profession ( Professional Conduct) Rules to guide lawyers in family proceedings to navigate ethical issues.
• Looking into establishing a rule-based child maintenance table to help judges decide quantums and ensure parity in awards.
• New IT system called Fams to file applications electronically in relation to personal protection orders.
• Upgraded one-stop Family Protection Centre.
• Studying new stop-order laws to prevent parent leaving country with child in breach of court orders.
• Joint research with the National Institute of Education on the outcomes of 300 families who underwent counselling and mediation at the Family Dispute Resolution Division.

• Additional reporting by Tay Hong Yi

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

Redas calls for review of property tax, transparency in valuation

Business Times
11 Feb 2017
LYNETTE KHOO

Singapore

THE Real Estate Developers' Association of Singapore (Redas) is urging the government to review property tax for vacant private land, and exempt property tax for land under or slated for development or buildings undergoing renovations.

Among other key suggestions, it is asking the government to offer more transparency in valuation when it comes to computing development charges to top up lease tenures as well as lower certain regulatory fees to reduce business costs.

Redas president Augustine Tan briefly shared the Budget wish-list at the Redas Spring Festival lunch on Friday.

The wish-list was submitted by the association to the Ministry of Finance (MOF) in late December. What was absent from the wish-list was any request to review property cooling measures.

Redas, which did not submit a wish-list for Budget last year, is concerned how negative sentiments can weigh heavily on the property market should there be a confluence of recessionary factors and destabilising events, Mr Tan said.

"This will in turn adversely affect Singapore's economy," he added, citing the worrisome rise in unemployment to a six-year high of 2.1 per cent, pressures on prices and rents across property segments plagued by persistent oversupply situation, rising vacancy rates and weak demand.

Mr Tan believes it is "still too soon to conclude that a market recovery is in sight" despite the renewed interest seen in recent residential property launches.

"The 2017 outlook remains murky with uncertainties surrounding global geopolitics and macroeconomic developments. With the weakened labour market, slower growth in employment and earnings, declining population growth, coupled with the prospect of rising interest rates, the current slowdown is expected to continue into 2017."

With slow economic growth and property cooling measures still in place, dampened demand and rising operating costs remain key concerns for the sector, Mr Tan added.

Urging a review of the property tax on vacant land, Redas argued that an equitable system would be to have a tax that reflects the lease term.

The Property Tax Act states that the annual value of vacant land shall be assessed at 5 per cent of its capital value. This is based on the assumption that the land has a freehold title. But the annual value of a freehold site tends to be 10 per cent higher than that of a 99-year leasehold, Redas said in its paper to MOF.

"The disparity widens for say a 30-year leasehold industrial property or a petrol station or a piece of transitional office land on a 15-year lease, where they are assessed on the basis of a freehold title," it explained. "Operators of such properties will find the current assessment a cost burden to their businesses."

Redas also pointed out that this 5 per cent tax is also considered high given today's high land value vis-a-vis the relatively lower rate of 2-3 per cent annual yield that one would expect from land investments.

There is a lack of incentives for developers to hoard land, given the various statutory provisions in place to discourage such practice. "Qualifying certificates (QC) and the attendant bankers' guarantee requirements are measures to discourage developers from holding back development plans," Redas said.

On that note, a fair assessment will be 2.5 per cent or a progressive tax rate of 2.5 to 5 per cent based on considerations such as annual yield or holding period, Redas added.

The association is also of the view that it is equitable to grant property tax exemption for land under, or slated for, development. In such situation, no income is received yet by the developer. A tax exemption will help reduce development cost and business risks for developers significantly.

Redas also urged the government to grant subsidies for additions and alterations (A&A) in the form of an exemption or concessionary rate to buildings undergoing A&A. "A policy change would encourage owners to retrofit and upgrade their buildings as well as adopt innovative solutions. This is in line with the government's effort to rejuvenate the city and ensure a more sustainable built environment," it said.

Redas is also hoping that a tax concession be extended to vacant properties, amid current high vacancy rates and risk of prolonged vacant periods as property owners are having a harder time finding tenants.

Vacancy of private residential units at end-2016 was 8.4 per cent, close to the peak of 8.6 per cent in 2005, when there was an oversupply of private housing stock.

Giving his regular update on the hefty fees that developers incur for holding unsold residential units beyond stipulated periods, Mr Tan estimated that about 730 units remain unsold in developments affected by extension charges under the QC conditions. Another 3,500 units in nearly 40 developments are impacted by the ABSD remission claw-back in 2017 and 2018.

On the key areas drawn up by the Committee on the Future Economy, Mr Tan said that Redas looks forward to participating and weighing in on innovating, developing and adopting digital capabilities for the real estate industry, elevating skills and raising the bar of competency within the industry, and playing a part in developing Singapore into a connected and sustainable city.

"The recommendations on urban solutions provide a wide scope for Redas members to respond with our collective action plans. Specifically, we will garner feedback from our members on how we can partner the public sector in the master developer scheme to develop, place-make and manage future precincts," Mr Tan added.

�

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

Kovan deaths: Killer fails in bid to escape gallows

Straits Times
04 Feb 2017
Selina Lum

His legal recourse ends as apex court rejects his contentions and 'unbelievable' account

A policeman who killed a father and son during a botched robbery in 2013 yesterday failed in his bid to escape the hangman's noose, when Singapore's highest court dismissed his appeal.

Iskandar Rahmat had mounted a multi-pronged defence before the Court of Appeal to argue why he should not be sentenced to death for fatally stabbing car workshop owner Tan Boon Sin, 67, and his son Chee Heong, 42, in what became known as the Kovan double murder.

In various contentions, Iskandar had argued through his lawyer Wendell Wong that he had had no intention to kill, was merely acting in self- defence, had stabbed the victims in the heat of a sudden fight, and was suffering from a mental illness.

However, Judge of Appeal Andrew Phang, delivering the decision of the three-judge court, rejected each of the contentions and found his account to be "unbelievable", "incredible" and "mere afterthoughts".

After the verdict, more than a dozen friends and family members, including his parents and sister, took turns to speak to the man in the dock. Many cried and hugged one another.

Iskandar appeared mostly relaxed and even broke into a broad smile at the sight of an infant. But he later turned misty-eyed and was seen taking off his spectacles and dabbing at his eyes.

His family declined to speak to reporters.

The family of the two victims were not in court.

Iskandar had been suspended from duties since July 15, 2013, after his arrest, and will be dismissed from service, a police spokesman said yesterday.

With the rejection of his appeal, his legal recourse ends. The next step would be to file a clemency petition to the president.

Iskandar was found guilty in December 2015 of murdering the two men on July 10, 2013, at the older man's Hillside Drive house in Kovan.

Iskandar, who was facing imminent bankruptcy, said during his trial that his plan had been simply to rob the car workshop owner, but the victim attacked him with a knife when he realised Iskandar was up to no good.

The son then arrived at the house and, seeing his father's body on the floor, charged and threw a punch at Iskandar, who retaliated.

The older victim suffered 27 stab and slash wounds, and died from a slit throat. His son, who was dragged for nearly 1km under his father's car which Iskandar had stolen to get away, was found with 20 knife wounds, and died from one to the neck. Iskandar had relatively minor injuries on his hands.

The High Court rejected Iskandar's claim of self-defence in a sudden fight, given the number and severity of the victims' wounds.

In October last year, Iskandar appealed against his murder conviction, relying on the same arguments, but raising a new defence of an acute stress reaction and adjustment disorder which qualified him for diminished responsibility.

Yesterday, Justice Phang noted that Iskandar's case depended on the court believing his version of events that the older man had come at him with a knife after finding out he had been duped.

But the court had seen no evidence of anything that could have aroused Mr Tan's suspicions. Even if Mr Tan had somehow uncovered Iskandar's ploy, it was "simply unbelievable" that the 67-year-old with a chronic knee problem would attack Iskandar, then 34, with a knife.

The court was also unconvinced by his "incredible" claim that he did not realise the knife was still in his hand when he swung punches at the younger Tan.

The injuries inflicted on both men also showed that Iskandar had intended to "do more harm than was necessary" for the purpose of defending himself.

Turning to the diminished responsibility defence, Justice Phang noted that Iskandar had not raised this during his trial. The court preferred the evidence of the prosecution psychiatrist that Iskandar did not have a mental illness at the time.


About the case

Iskandar Rahmat joined the police force in 1999 and regularly won commendations.

But a short-lived marriage landed him with various unpaid loans. Facing bankruptcy and the loss of his job, he hatched a plan to steal from car workshop owner Tan Boon Sin. He knew Mr Tan had a large amount of cash in a Certis Cisco safe deposit box, from a police report he made about a theft.

Pretending to carry out a sting operation to catch the thief, he coaxed Mr Tan to remove his money so a surveillance camera could be placed inside the box. He then escorted Mr Tan home.

What happened in the 30 minutes inside the house on July 10, 2013, is disputed. Iskandar claimed Mr Tan realised he was being tricked, became angry and attacked him first, and that Mr Tan's son Chee Heong arrived at the house, and also attacked him.

But the prosecution argued that Iskandar had planned Mr Tan's murder and then killed the son, when he arrived, to silence him.

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

Iskandar bin Rahmat v Public Prosecutor and other matters [2017] SGCA 09

New rules proposed to help family lawyers manage conflict

Straits Times
21 Feb 2017
K.C. Vijayan

New professional conduct rules will help lawyers navigate the difficult ethical issues they face in family law cases because of the inherent conflict.

The proposed rules, aimed at constraining the contentious nature of family proceedings, require lawyers to advise their clients of alternative ways to resolve their disputes before going to court, among other things.

Judicial Commissioner Valerie Thean, presiding judge of the Family Justice Courts, yesterday launched a month-long consultation exercise for the legal profession on the proposed rules, undertaken jointly by the Family Justice Courts and the Law Society.

The rules, if accepted, will be enshrined in amendments to the existing Legal Profession (Professional Conduct) Rules 2015.

The move is timely as the existing regulations provide specific rules for the conduct of criminal proceedings but no guidelines in relation to family proceedings, say lawyers.

Among other things, the rules make clear that lawyers have a duty to advise their clients to consider the potentially adverse impact of the family proceedings on any children who may be involved.

It also sets out the duties of lawyers in relation to conflicts of interests where they are appointed as child representatives or parenting coordinators, and provides that they cannot represent any of the parties involved.

Family lawyer Rajan Chettiar noted that family law has seen significant growth and development over the last three years, since the formation of the Family Justice Courts.

"The current Professional Conduct Rules are general and do not apply to family lawyers specifically. The demand and pressures from clients often make lawyers take steps just to please and to assist their clients, as in the case of a very emotional and aggrieved father who may want to litigate for care and control of the children," he said.

"The lawyer may very well know that he is unlikely to get it, and yet is compelled to file the court application and voluminous affidavits... With the proposed rules, he now has a duty to advise the client on options like private mediation or collaborative family practice."

The judge said lawyers know their case and how best to present it to the court. "If they do this in a problem-solving and constructive way, their clients benefit from the properly informed adjudication of all issues," she added.

"At the same time, they have to advise their clients to look beyond the immediate legal issues - to consider, for instance, the financial, emotional impact on the family which are all too often shrouded in the fog of litigation."


ALTERNATIVES TO COURT

With the proposed rules, he (the lawyer) now has a duty to advise the client on options like private mediation or collaborative family practice.

FAMILY LAWYER RAJAN CHETTIAR

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

Landmark sea treaty with Jakarta underscores trust: Vivian

Straits Times
11 Feb 2017
Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh

Minister highlights swift progress of pact demarcating boundaries in Singapore Strait

The swiftness with which a landmark maritime treaty between Singapore and Indonesia was concluded underscores the deep strategic trust between the two countries, Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said yesterday.

The treaty, which is now in force, demarcates maritime boundaries in the eastern part of the Strait of Singapore.

Yesterday, Dr Balakrishnan and his Indonesian counterpart Retno Marsudi exchanged ratification instruments for the pact in a ceremony at the Foreign Affairs Ministry.

After the event, Dr Balakrishnan said at a joint press conference: "Without trust, you cannot make progress, especially on delicate and sensitive issues like sovereignty."

This is one of the fastest such treaties that Indonesia has concluded, Ms Retno said.

The treaty was inked in 2014, and covers a 9.5km stretch in the Singapore Strait between Changi and Batam.

It is the third of its kind between the two neighbours.

They first agreed on the maritime boundary along the central part of the Singapore Strait in 1973, and in 2009 signed another pact on the western section, between Indonesia's Pulau Nipa and Singapore's Sultan Shoal.

With the latest treaty in place, the three account for a continuous 67.3km-long sea border in the Singapore Strait.

Dr Balakrishnan said: "This has been a major testament to our ability to amiably resolve complex bilateral issues, and to do so through negotiations, and in accordance with international law."

One outstanding stretch remains to be demarcated between Pedra Branca and Bintan.

But it will have to wait for talks between Singapore and Malaysia on maritime boundaries around Pedra Branca, Middle Rocks and South Ledge.

Ms Retno, who was in Singapore at Dr Balakrishnan's invitation, said the two of them discussed a wide range of issues earlier in the day, including ways to boost cooperation in areas such as the economy and countering terrorism.

They also followed up on developments from Indonesian President Joko Widodo and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's Leaders' Retreat in Semarang last year, such as the setting up of the Indonesia-Singapore Business Council.

The Kendal Industrial Park, which was launched during the retreat, has drawn interest from 27 companies, whose potential investments will exceed US$330 million (S$467 million).

Ms Retno and Dr Balakrishnan also discussed Asean, which turns 50 this year. Both countries have a shared aim of strengthening Asean unity and centrality.

Ms Retno said: "Asean has been central in contributing to peace, stability and prosperity in the region and beyond, and Indonesia is very committed to keeping it this way."

Yesterday, the two foreign ministers also announced the start of celebrations to mark 50 years of diplomatic ties between their countries. The celebrations will be known under the name RISING50, with a logo designed jointly by both nations.

There will be a slew of events to celebrate the multi-faceted relationship, paying tribute to cultural and historical links as well as budding areas of economic cooperation such as the digital economy. The planned activities include cultural performances and film screenings.

The events will be announced in due course, said Dr Balakrishnan.

Later this year, Mr Lee will host Mr Joko at the Leaders' Retreat in Singapore.


GOOD PARTNERSHIP

This has been a major testament to our ability to amiably resolve complex bilateral issues, and to do so through negotiations, and in accordance with international law.

FOREIGN MINISTER VIVIAN BALAKRISHNAN, on the landmark maritime treaty which has been concluded between Singapore and Indonesia.

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

Practise law for the right reasons: LawSoc chief

TODAY
03 Feb 2017
Kelly Ng

SINGAPORE — Prospective law students must examine their motives before pursuing their course of study, cautioned newly minted Law Society (LawSoc) chief Gregory Vijayendran, while also urging current practitioners to “check their hearts” regularly.

“Do I see a mission in my practice of law? Can I use my legal skills to help someone in society? (These are) questions to be asked across the board,” he said.

A partner in Rajah & Tann, the 48-year-old had served as LawSoc’s vice-president for a year before succeeding Senior Counsel Thio Shen Yi as president on Jan 1.

In an interview with TODAY last week on his vision and plans for LawSoc, Mr Vijayendran warned the legal fraternity to guard against “external trappings”, such as perceptions of a good salary and prestige.

Reiterating Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon’s comments during the Mass Call, a proceeding that formally admits lawyers to the Bar, last August, Mr Vijayendran said “motive examination” would meaningfully address the current glut of younger lawyers here.

“Lawyers and law students must see the practice as a long-term vocation...If we don’t have the right motives and resilience, the challenges that come with the practice like stress and failures can enervate and paralyse us,” he added.

Legal practitioners must constantly put themselves in the context of the community, he said. Quoting the New York State Bar Association’s Professional Responsibility Code, as “guardians of the law”, they play an important role in the “preservation of society”.

“If it is just about money, you will feel jaded after a while. You will lose your soul ... For long-term staying power, we need to embrace the noble calling of law in the various spheres of the profession that we practise in,” said Mr Vijayendran, who is also a member of the Bioethics Advisory Committee and the Tribunal for Maintenance of Parents.

For the LawSoc president, what fuels him is the “deep sense of fulfilment which money cannot buy” from solving a legal problem to helping a needy client, and being involved in advocating justice.

“It was when I started legal practice that I saw real-life problems faced by real-life clients, and found myself going the extra mile to find a conventional or creative legal solution ... Undergrads, master your subject areas well in law school but remember that a different journey will begin for you once you start legal practice,” he said.

To help the younger members of the legal fraternity, Mr Vijayendran said the LawSoc will take on a more active role in supporting law graduates seeking training contracts and legal trainees who have failed to secure a job, such as by matching them with other openings within the industry, or pointing them to opportunities outside the industry.

“We hope to reach out to (those affected) this year and advise them on what they can do in this interim phase, based on their areas of interest.”

Honing their skills in specific industry disciplines such as financial markets, will make them “more marketable” in their future practice, he said.

The LawSoc will also step up efforts to publicise and refresh its existing directory that matches firms offering training contracts with applicants.

Mr Vijayendran plans to devote more attention to caring for lawyers’ mental health during his term.

Noting that studies in the West have often found lawyers to be at higher risk of depression than the general population, he stressed the importance of having “healthy outlets (to) de-stress” and being able to “fail forward”.

“Learning to accept the mistakes as part of life’s learning ensures that we do not place unrealistic expectations on ourselves that could become a huge pressure point. We need to allow room for ourselves for self-improvement,” he said.

Copyright 2017 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

Govt looks into levying 'Netflix tax' on digital buys

Business Times
21 Feb 2017
Siow Li Sen

[Singapore] THE government is looking to collect Goods and Services Tax (GST), currently at seven per cent, from digital transactions.

This could mean that consumers will have to pay GST on lower-value goods and for e-services such as downloading books, music or videos. At the moment, GST is levied only if goods bought from overseas are worth more than S$400. No GST is currently levied on services.

Countries large and small are reviewing their corporate tax regimes to keep them competitive, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said on Monday. "With increasing digital transactions and cross-border trade, some countries have taken steps to adjust their GST system to ensure a level playing field between their local businessess, which are GST-registered, and foreign-based ones, which are not.

"We are studying how we can do likewise," he said.

In Australia, GST will be imposed from July on e-services. The country's press have dubbed it the Netflix tax.

A consultant said the days of buying much cheaper goods online may be a thing of the past.

Generally speaking, all goods imported into Singapore are subject to GST, except for non-dutiable goods imported by post and worth below S$400.

Singapore GST is also currently not levied on online purchases of services and content from overseas suppliers; these include downloads of media, music and software or online subscriptions, said Koh Soo How, PwC tax partner.

This effectively means that Singapore consumers can save on Singapore GST on purchases by doing their shopping online or overseas. "Essentially, it means that we'll need to prepare ourselves to pay GST on the music and video downloads from overseas and possibly on low-value goods that we purchase from overseas," he said.

A recent Temasek-Google report projected the Singapore e-commerce market to grow to US$5.4 billion by 2025; it has been estimated that more than half of that (55 per cent) comprises cross-border sales, he noted, citing a Payvision study.

Besides the EU countries and South Africa, countries which have introduced or are in the process of introducing such a tax are Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, China, Taiwan and Australia.

Mr Koh said Singapore could impose the GST on e-commerce by lowering the S$400 threshold.

Alternatively, it could effect a GST registration for the overseas vendor or the online platform (which Australia is proposing to do from July), and make the overseas vendor account for the online sales to Singapore consumers. "There is nothing to stop Singapore from doing both, but that would be unusual. I suspect that the government will probably study both options before arriving at a decision," he said.

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

Singapore advised to be ready to review tax regime

Business Times
10 Feb 2017
Soon Weilun

[Singapore] SINGAPORE should stand ready to review its tax regime so that the economy's growth down the road is sustainable, said Heng Swee Keat, chairman of a high-powered committee tasked with reviewing how the economy should be restructured.

When asked by reporters for specifics on the tweaks to the tax regime, he replied: "As to whether there are grand, specific changes to be implemented, that will be a separate process for us to do the consultation, to run through what is needed to be done."

He was speaking at a press conference held upon the release of the 109-page report by the Committee on the Future Economy (CFE), which urged the government to maintain a tax regime that is "broad-based, progressive and fair", while also remaining "competitive and pro-growth".

The standalone recommendation caught the eyes of many analysts and observers, but the report's three paragraphs offered little by way of details.

Chiu Wu Hong, head of tax at KPMG in Singapore, said in response to the CFE report: "I hope to see more concrete tax measures and an outcome of the review of the competitiveness of our direct and indirect taxes, especially in the coming Budget 2017, as this would set a clear direction of our tax system moving forward."

The CFE report acknowledged the government's efforts in keeping the country's tax rates internationally competitive and in building a base of direct and indirect taxes. "This has allowed us to encourage effort and enterprise, and create good jobs."

But it also said that domestic and global changes will require Singapore to review and refine its tax policies. Some concerns include an ageing population, and increased international pressures, one source of which is the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS) project, which seeks to clamp down on tax avoidance; Singapore has signed on to be an associate of this project.

Meanwhile, as observers await more details on how Singapore's tax regime may be tweaked to support its restructuring efforts, Mr Heng said on Thursday that the very inclusion of the recommendation sends a strong signal: "It shows a certain stance where we basically look ahead, and make sure that whatever we do is sustainable."

Mr Heng, who is also Singapore's Finance Minister, is due to unveil the nation's fiscal budget for 2017 on Feb 20.

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

High Court orders taxman to disclose audit papers sought

Straits Times
03 Feb 2017
K.C. Vijayan

Judge rules such documents not protected by legal privilege nor immune to disclosure

A company which is being sued by the Singapore taxman for the return of some $9.6 million in tax refunds will be allowed access to relevant documents to aid its defence, the High Court ruled.

In the first such reported case here, the court said the documents were not protected and were not immune to disclosure.

At issue was "whether documents, communications and other papers generated in the course of an investigatory audit by a public authority are protected by legal professional privilege", wrote Judicial Commissioner Aedit Abdullah in judgment grounds issued on Tuesday.

Legal professional privilege protects all communications between a lawyer and client from being revealed without the client's consent.

The defendant company had applied for access to documents relating to tax refunds granted by the Comptroller of IncomeTax.

Documents pertaining to a field audit of the company, when issues arose over the tax refunds, were also sought.

The case is rooted in tax returns that the company submitted between 2004 and 2006, seeking tax refunds for interest expenses on a $225 million loan from a bank.

Based on these returns, the comptroller granted some $9.6 million in tax refunds.

But following a review and audit completed in 2008, the comptroller concluded the company had used a tax avoidance arrangement and wrongly claimed the refunds.

The anti-tax avoidance laws empower the comptroller to disregard or vary an arrangement which is aimed at reducing tax liability.

The defendant's group of companies had undergone restructuring and obtained the $225 million bank loan, but this amount was returned through a complex series of transactions which were allegedly done to get the tax refunds.

The comptroller followed up with additional assessments, in a bid to recover the sums.

The bid was challenged by the company before the Income Tax Board of Review and the case went all the way to the Court of Appeal in what became Singapore's first anti-tax avoidance case in 2014.

The apex court had ruled that the company claimed the tax refunds under a tax avoidance arrangement but said the comptroller could not recover the money through additional assessments.

The ruling said the comptroller could instead sue the company for mistaken payment, which the comptroller indeed went on to do.

The company in turn sought access to the tax documents to prepare for its defence. Its Drew & Napier lawyers, led by Mr Jaikanth Shankar, argued that the documents would help make out if the comptroller's claims were valid.

The three groups of documents were meant to show, among other things, that the internal discussions of the officials who assessed the company for tax could show whether the comptroller was mistaken about the tax refunds.

Wong Partnership lawyers, led by Senior Counsel Alvin Yeo, countered for the comptroller that the company's bid was "a fishing expedition".

They argued that legal advice and litigation privilege applied to two of the three sets of documents.

The judicial commissioner held that all three groups of documents were "relevant and necessary" to help the company in its case and show the basis for the taxman's decision.

The judge also ruled that no legal professional privilege was attached to the documents claimed, as they were not created for the "dominant purpose" of litigation.

For instance, the audit documents sought were created to help the comptroller review the decision to grant the tax refund, and not for the lawyers to advise on the audit and the decisions taken, although it was possible the lawyers were "eventually involved".

"There was no link drawn between the documents and the (legal) advice. Without this, there can be no claim of privilege," said the judge.

He ruled that detailed directions on the orders sought and costs would be given separately.


Judicial Commissioner Aedit Abdullah held that all the documents were "relevant and necessary " to help the company in its case and show the basis for the taxman's decision.

The judge also ruled that no legal professional privilege was attached to the documents claimed, as they were not created for the "dominant purpose" of litigation.

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

Comptroller of Income Tax v ARW and another [2017] SGHC 16

UK court rules S'pore woman's kids be given up for adoption

Straits Times
20 Feb 2017
K.C. Vijayan

A woman from Singapore, who was in financial difficulty with her husband, had two of her children taken away from her and placed in foster care while she was living in Britain.

The authorities there said the couple used their children - a boy, seven, and girl, five - to demand welfare benefits and even coached the daughter to claim that social workers had sexually abused her.

The UK High Court decided earlier this month that the children will not be reunited with their mother, but will be given up for adoption there instead.

The woman, who held a Singapore identity card and is said to be of South Indian origin like her husband, gave birth to their third child in Singapore in December 2015 and has lived here since.

Court documents did not reveal the nationalities of the couple and their children.

The UK court heard that she returned to Singapore when she was 38 weeks pregnant. This was a month after the local authorities in Britain started proceedings to remove her third child at birth, to also be placed into foster care.

In deciding that the two children should be put up for adoption, UK High Court Justice Michael Keehan said in judgment grounds: "I am satisfied that nothing else will do in the welfare best interest of the children, other than to be placed for adoption.

"The parents do not consent to the same. I have no doubt that, very sadly, they will be heartbroken at my decision. I am satisfied for the reasons given, that the welfare of the children requires me to dispense with the parents' consent."

The family's problems came on the radar of the authorities in Birmingham, where they lived, after the husband lost his job in 2013.

It emerged that he did not have valid immigration entry papers and the mother was an overstayer, having first arrived in 2004. They were ineligible for state benefits and the family became destitute by April 2014. The family was referred to the local authority but the parents held the authority wholly responsible for providing for the family.

"The father's extreme behaviour was exhibited as early as May 14, 2014 when he threatened to jump into the river off a bridge together with the children if a new house and financial assistance to the level sought were not provided," noted Judge Keehan.

The couple did not care for the emotional well-being of the children, using them to demand more money, as well as keeping them out of school and even hiding them in cupboards to prevent social workers from seeing them, he added.

In 2015, the father coached the girl to falsely make serious allegations of sexual abuse against the school and social workers, which triggered a full probe by the police. The boy's school attendance was also falling away and his behaviour was deteriorating.

In August that year, the children were removed from the parents and placed in foster care to prevent further absconding after they had earlier tried to flee to Glasgow but returned to Birmingham.

At an earlier court hearing in February last year, the father had sought the return of his children to reunite with his wife and new baby in Singapore, with subsequent documents claiming the couple would be able to care for the children financially with family support.

The judge found this was not a "realistic option", given the evidence and serious findings of emotional abuse, and ordered foster care placements. The case then went to appeal as the parents tried to be reunited with their children.

A three-judge court last October ruled that the case be remitted for a further hearing to the High Court.

At issue before Judge Keehan was whether the children should continue with long-term foster care, or be placed for adoption with a "forever family" as sought by the local authority.

Based on the woman's written submissions and the father's testimony at a hearing last month, the judge concluded that their "beliefs, views and stance" had not changed "one jot" since the proceedings first started in August 2015.

Justice Keehan concluded if the children remained in long-term foster care and the father had contact, he would do everything to "undermine the placement" and be wholly incapable of supporting them.

"Neither parent accepts that there are any deficits in their parenting or any reason why the children should live separately from them."

He added there was no evidence of any material change in the circumstances of the mother, the father or the children so far to cancel the foster care order as sought by the father, and ruled that there be a review in due course on the progress of finding suitable adopters.

"Adoption would bring to the children a degree of stability, security and permanence that long-term foster care cannot achieve."


At a court hearing in February last year, the father had sought the return of his children to reunite with his wife and new baby in Singapore, with subsequent documents claiming the couple would be able to care for the children financially with family support. The judge found this was not a "realistic option", given the evidence and serious findings of emotional abuse, and ordered foster care placements.

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

Don't let tax issues trip up your digital strategy

Business Times
10 Feb 2017
Tan Ching Khee & Wong Hsin Yee

THE potential of the digital economy is undeniable and the statistics speak for themselves. According to reports, the digital economy in South-east Asia alone has the potential to grow to US$200 billion by 2025, with e-commerce accounting for US$88 billion.

It is clear that there is a huge business opportunity in the digital economy. The Singapore government has put forth a strategy to nurture the country's digital economy, including numerous investments to build up infrastructure and encourage businesses to ride the digital wave.

The rise of globalisation and the digital economy has caught the eye of governments and tax authorities around the world. Many are concerned that their existing tax laws are outdated and not aligned with the way multinational enterprises are operating, hence leading to a loss of tax revenues.

The Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS) project spearheaded by the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development was set up to address this. Specifically under Action Plan 1, the Task Force on the Digital Economy is to release a report on how to address the tax challenges of the digital economy in 2020. Until then, the lack of clarity means uncertainty for businesses that looks to participate in the digital economy.

One of the BEPS objectives is to put all multinational companies on a level playing field. However, in the fast-evolving digital economy, business models are constantly being disrupted and changed. Given that there is no constant model that tax authorities can benchmark against, it can be difficult for the authorities to put in practice any BEPS recommendations. This may lead to an increase in tax controversy and businesses may have to divert resources, which would otherwise be allocated to other value-adding activities, to resolve tax disputes and queries.

Having said that, businesses should not hold back from reaping opportunities in the digital economy just because of BEPS.

There are certainly upsides: For one, BEPS has highlighted the importance of corporate governance, substance, risk assessment and communication between taxpayers and authorities. With that, more business executives are recognising the need for the tax function to be involved upfront in the early stages of business planning so as to reduce the risk of any tax fallout - a good management practice. Essentially, the earlier businesses start preparing to be BEPS-ready, the better equipped they will be in managing the potential challenges that it will bring.

To that end, Singapore businesses should start to take a critical look at their digital supply and value chain to assess the potential tax opportunities and risks, prioritise these and introduce necessary measures to manage the risks.

Examples of some of these measures could be to create a standard set of procedures to improve corporate governance; match profits with the level of substance in the jurisdiction they operate in; and consider the feasibility of tax incentives or grants that are available based on their projected substance.

At the same time, they should monitor BEPS developments around the world and adapt their business models accordingly. Where possible, businesses can also engage with the tax authorities to proactively manage cross-border tax risk and controversy.

The digital economy abounds with many exciting opportunities even as uncertainty remains over how tax administration and compliance will evolve with the fast-moving changes that come with digital.

What is certain is that companies must continue to seek the right balance between allocating sufficient resources between tax risk management and business operations - this is not entirely new but will no doubt escalate in importance with the complexities of operating in the digital economy.

  • The writers are from Ernst & Young Solutions LLP. Tan Ching Khee is a partner and Wong Hsin Yee is director, tax services. The views reflected in this article are their own, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the global EY organisation or its member firms.

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

Patient challenges SMC ruling on plastic surgeon over alleged botched breast reconstruction

Straits Times
03 Feb 2017
Salma Khalik

She claims he botched breast reconstruction surgery, complaints panel says no misconduct

The Singapore Medical Council's complaints committee has ruled there was no professional misconduct by a plastic surgeon whose patient complained he had botched her breast reconstruction 2½ years ago.

Ms Chia Wei Hong, 56, is now challenging this decision by appealing to Health Minister Gan Kim Yong.

She said Dr Tan Bien Keem, the head of Plastic, Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgery at Singapore General Hospital (SGH), had not given her a reconstructed breast that was close to the look of her natural breast.

Because of this, she said she needed additional surgery to correct the reconstruction, resulting in more scarring and medical fees.

Ms Chia complained to the SMC in September 2014. The council replied in November last year to say there was no professional misconduct on the part of Dr Tan. It said "symmetry of the breast cannot be achieved immediately", and that a second stage of reconstruction could solve the problem.

However, Ms Chia had not chosen to have that second stage of reconstruction by Dr Tan.

She was diagnosed with breast cancer in April 2014. Following a mastectomy and tests which showed the cancer had not spread, she opted for a breast implant, which was inserted in two stages.

First, an expander was inserted under the skin immediately after the mastectomy, stretching the skin as it was gradually filled with saline. This was replaced 10 weeks later, in July, by a 310cc implant.

She did not require either radiotherapy or chemotherapy.

Ms Chia said her reconstructed breast was more than twice the size of her remaining natural breast even after the swelling had receded. "I could not wear my normal fitting clothes. The reconstructed breast 'starts' high up on my chest and takes up a lot of volume so my clothes are pulled in a series of folds upwards to the shoulder," she told The Straits Times.

Dr Tan assured her the size would go down once the swelling caused by the surgery had subsided. He also told her that if she was not satisfied, she could return to have it downsized.

In September, she filed a complaint with the Singapore Medical Council (SMC).

While revisions of reconstruction do not happen often, they are not unheard of.

Dr Ong Wei Chen, a senior reconstructive surgeon at the National University Cancer Institute, Singapore (NCIS) and the National University Hospital (NUH), estimates the number of women needing such revision to be less than 20 per cent. She said: "The aim of breast reconstructive surgery is to reconstruct a mound that is as symmetrical to the other breast (as possible). However, it may not always be so.

"As long as the patient is able to fit her breasts... in a bra without too much discomfort, it should be an acceptable difference."

Being unable to fit her breast inside a bra, Ms Chia decided to look elsewhere for corrective surgery. In February 2015, she went to Raffles Hospital where plastic surgeon Walter Tan replaced the 310cc implant with one that was 120cc.

This cost her more than $15,000, for which she had to fork over $4,000, with the rest paid for by insurance. Her insurance plan covered the full bill of more than $25,000 for both operations at SGH but pro-rated coverage for surgery at a private hospital.

In its reply to her, SMC's complaints committee said it would advise Dr Tan by letter to "improve on his communication with his patients".

But Ms Chia has decided not to let her grievance rest. She said: "I appealed to Health Minister Gan Kim Yong on Dec 2, 2016, against the decision of the SMC."

The law allows the minister to ask the SMC to hold a disciplinary hearing if he feels the case justifies it. When contacted, the spokesman for SGH said the hospital and the doctor would not comment.


CASE FOR CORRECTIVE SURGERY?

The aim of breast reconstructive surgery is to reconstruct a mound that is as symmetrical to the other breast (as possible). However, it may not always be so. As long as the patient is able to fit her breasts... in a bra without too much discomfort, it should be an acceptable difference.

DR ONG WEI CHEN, a senior reconstructive surgeon.

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

Annual reviews of condo managing agents may be dropped

Straits Times
20 Feb 2017
Lee Xin En

The stage is set for a showdown between managing agents and residents at strata-titled properties such as condominiums over a proposed legislative amendment.

The tweak would allow condo managing agents to do away with a mandatory annual review of their appointment.

The Ministry of National Development and the Building Construction Authority (BCA) are inviting public feedback until tomorrow on 33 proposed amendments to the Building Maintenance and Strata Management Act, which governs buildings such as condominiums.

Under current rules, a managing agent's contract is reviewed at every annual general meeting, and can be terminated. An agent can be appointed by the Management Corporation Strata Title (MCST), the managing body of a condominium, for up to three years.

The proposal to scrap the mandatory review is based on the rationale that "it is redundant to review the appointment of managing agents every year if the managing agent has already been appointed by the MCST for three years", according to a BCA media release.

Some condo residents The Straits Times spoke to were against the amendment.

One of them, retired corporate secretary Winnie Tan, 63, who lives in an Upper East Coast Road condo, said its managing agent had been appointed for three years.

But the "council is having difficulties negotiating the fees with the managing agent".

"With a three-year contract which does not allow for annual review, condominium owners will have difficulty terminating non-performing managing agents without incurring penalty costs," she noted.

Also, "a managing agent with a long tenure is unlikely to align its interests with the condominium owners' but is more likely to protect its own interests. The check and balance is lost if the three-year contract is non-reviewable".

Undergraduate Chan Kai Yan, 21, said managing agents tend to form close relationships with the management council, which may not be in the interest of residents, especially without the annual review.

He noted that the managing agent at his grandmother's Bukit Timah condo had not accounted for wheel-clamp release fees, but as the management council had approved the accounts without the fees at the AGM, "there was nothing the BCA could do".

In contrast, managing agents cheered the proposed amendment, citing benefits such as being able to plan for the long term.

Ms Eleana Teo, managing director at Knight Frank Property Asset Management (Strata Management), said the amendment was "good news" as it would allow agents to discuss and work on longer-term plans with the council.

"This amendment does not accord the managing agent any special privileges, nor does it give any leeway to the managing agent in the decision-making process.

"Should there be any reason the council finds that there is a need to part ways with the managing agent, similar to all contracts, there is always a provision for termination which can be exercised by either party," she added.

Dr Lim Lan Yuan, president of the Association of Property and Facility Managers, said "if managing agents were reviewed every year, no managing agent will want to do anything more than a year, as they could have put in all their resources, but their appointment may not be renewed".

He added that for longer-term asset enhancement, managing agents need more than a year to execute the plans. For instance, for painting work, a consensus would be needed on the design and time frame and to put up structures.

A spokesman for the BCA said "where appropriate BCA will take the feedback into consideration when finalising the amendments to the Bill".

"The effective date of the amendments will be announced when the draft Bill is read in Parliament."

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

ADV: SAL - Deputy Research Director - Law Reform Committee

Singapore Law Watch
10 Feb 2017
Singapore Academy of Law

Getting married? Know your rights, obligations

Straits Times
03 Feb 2017
Janice Tai

Jennifer Yeo's book provides legal know-how for young adults planning to get hitched

Some hesitate to marry because of a long list of fears. Others plunge into marriage after a whirlwind romance without thinking twice.

At a time when the institution of marriage in Singapore is seeing certain trends - with more marrying later and more divorcing - a new book hopes to equip Singaporeans with the legal know-how to understand what they are getting themselves into when they marry, and their rights if things turn sour.

It is written by lawyer Jennifer Yeo, wife of former foreign minister George Yeo, and is believed to be the first here that targets young adults on the issues of family law.

Mrs Yeo, 58, decided to write the book after noticing an increasing number of young couples with troubled marriages going to her firm for legal advice. She declined to give figures.

"Alarmingly, many young couples impulsively enter into it without knowing or considering its legal, economic and social consequences," said Mrs Yeo, chairman and founder of law firm Yeo-Leong & Peh LLC.

"Many (marriages) have come to grief, resulting in rising divorce numbers and people who choose cohabitation over marriage," she added.

There were 7,522 divorces and annulments in 2015, the third-highest annual figure on record.

Marriages are also breaking up far more often and at an earlier stage than those in the past.

Among those who married in 2003, 16.1 per cent went their separate ways within a decade.

This is around double the 8.7 per cent for the 1987 cohort.

Some marriages ended barely before they began, with the number of annulments under the Women's Charter hitting a 20-year high of 446 in 2014.

An annulment is a legal procedure for declaring a marriage null and void. It usually happens early on in the marriage, with one of the most common reasons being non-consummation of the marriage.

Mrs Yeo sees her new book - I Want To Marry You But... A Marriage Guide For The Young Adult - as a form of social mission to help young people navigate complicated legal rights, responsibilities and implications that come with marriage, divorce and parenthood.

It covers topics such as pre-marital disclosure for dating couples, property rights and financial obligations for married couples, abortion, and maintenance and division of assets in the event of a divorce.

Questions that are tackled in the book include: Should a couple sign a pre-nuptial agreement before they get married? Can a woman keep her maiden name after marriage? Is a woman's boyfriend or husband allowed to force her to go for an abortion?

The book took Mrs Yeo three years to write, with the assistance of younger law trainees.

Mrs Yeo, who has a daughter and three sons who are all in their 20s, has already given each of her children a copy of the book.

"May the book encourage young people to have long-lasting and successful marriages," she said.

"For the cynic, I hope the book will allay fears or spawn a better understanding of what marriage entails. For the romantic, I hope they are alerted to the potential consequences of a 'spur of the moment' decision."

The book will be sold at $19.80 at major bookstores from Feb 20.


Local court cases from the book

WHO DID I MARRY?

A woman underwent a sex reassignment procedure when she was 35. She changed her name to Eric, and her identity card was amended to reflect that she was male. Three years later, Eric got married. After a prolonged period of failing to consummate the marriage, Eric finally admitted to his wife that he was a transsexual. Feeling deceived, the woman tried to annul the marriage on the basis that Eric was biologically a female. This took place in 1991.

What the law says Their marriage was declared void as the court held then that a person's gender was determined biologically. The case, however, resulted in a change in the Women's Charter in 1996. Under today's law, the marriage between Eric and his wife would be legal as the sex reassignment procedure would render Eric a male and Eric's gender would be determined by that stated in his identity card.


THE RUNAWAY WIFE

Mr Ng was 42 and hoped to start a family of his own. Through an agency, he entered into an arranged marriage with a 21-year-old woman from China. After the wedding, she repeatedly refused intimacy with him and frequently stayed over at a friend's place. Five months later, she returned to China and never came back. In a phone call to Mr Ng, she said the marriage was a mistake and she would "rather die" than return to him.

What the law says A marriage must last at least three years before a divorce can be granted. However, the law makes exceptions under certain conditions. The court found that Mr Ng had entered into the marriage wholeheartedly. To force him to wait for the three-year time bar to expire would be to make him pay for his wife's wrongdoing. He was granted a divorce.


ONE CHILD, TWO PRESCHOOLS

Their marriage was deteriorating and, a week before the birth of their daughter, the wife left the matrimonial home to live with her parents. The couple disagreed on many things, including which preschool their daughter should attend. In the end, they sent her to both - she had to go to one in the morning and the other in the afternoon. During the divorce proceedings, the husband appealed to the court for shared care and control of his daughter.

What the law says The court refused to grant shared care and control of the child to both parents as they had very different ideas about how to bring her up. The mother, whom the child was closer to, was given sole care and control. As a result, the girl no longer needed to attend two schools. Her father was allowed to visit her for four hours every weekday and six hours on Saturdays.

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

Legless body in suitcase: Duo to hang for murder

Straits Times
18 Feb 2017
Selina Lum

Two men from Pakistan, who came to Singapore to sell tissue paper, were yesterday sentenced to hang for murdering a compatriot to recover money that they had lost to him in a game of cards.

The duo, Rasheed Muhammad, 46, and Ramzan Rizwan, 28, took $6,000 from the victim after smothering him, and then sawed off his legs to pack his remains into two suitcases.

Each blamed the other for killing 59-year-old Muhammad Noor at their Rowell Road lodging house on June 11, 2014.

But the High Court concluded that the duo - who were caught on surveillance footage going together to buy suitcases and saws - had acted as a team in carrying out their common intention to kill the victim and rob him of his money.

"It seems clear that robbery was the motive to kill, as the money found on both accused persons shows," said Justice Choo Han Teck.

Ramzan was found with $3,318, while Rasheed had $5,745 on him. Ramzan claimed that his share of the loot was $1,100.

Said Justice Choo: "The motives were common; the plan required two persons... I do not think that one man alone could have carried out the dismemberment of Muhammad Noor's body."

Rasheed and Ramzan were calm after their death sentence was passed, and spoke briefly to their assigned lawyers - Mr Wong Siew Hong and Mr R. S. Bajwa, respectively - and a representative from the Pakistani High Commission.

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.

Several passers-by tried to help him push the bag, but when they learnt there was a body inside, one of them called the police.

Investigations led police to the lodging house, and the duo were arrested the next day.

Rasheed later led police to a black suitcase containing the victim's legs at the Jalan Kubor Muslim cemetery.

During the five-day trial, the court heard that Rasheed and the victim were roommates at the lodging house. Ramzan arrived later and lodged in another room. All were in Singapore to sell tissue paper.

Rasheed said Ramzan was the one who wanted to kill the victim. He said he was forced to help because Ramzan had threatened to harm his family, and that it was Ramzan who smothered the victim.

Ramzan's version was that when he went to Mr Muhammad Noor's room to plead for the return of his money, Rasheed suddenly smothered the victim with a shirt. Ramzan said he took over the smothering on the instructions of Rasheed, who strangled the victim with a string. He said the victim was still alive when he ran out of the room in fear.

An autopsy confirmed that the victim was smothered; while there were marks on his neck, he was most likely dead by the time he was strangled.

Rasheed and Ramzan later went to buy a suitcase and two saws.

They then sawed off the victim's legs and stuffed his upper body in the bag, before going out to buy another bag for the legs.

Ramzan pulled the bag with the legs to the cemetery before returning to help Rasheed with the other bag.

But one of the wheels on the suitcase broke and the duo abandoned the bag when blood dripped out as they tried to lift it.

Yesterday, Justice Choo said he did not believe that Rasheed was threatened into helping Ramzan, who is 18 years his junior. If Rasheed had wanted no part in the plan, he could have simply walked away from the room, said the judge.

The judge also did not believe Ramzan's claim that he was outside the room during the murder.

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

Public Prosecutor v Rasheed Muhammad and another [2017] SGHC 29

Two lawyers suspended for professional misconduct

Straits Times
09 Feb 2017
Selina Lum

A lawyer who asked a fellow practitioner to certify a lasting power of attorney (LPA) which would give her sister, SA Tours managing director Kay Swee Pin, the power to act on behalf of her de facto husband, was yesterday suspended from practice for 2½ years.

Ms Kay Swee Tuan had asked Mr Sum Chong Mun, whose firm was on the same floor as hers, after her signature was rejected because of her relationship to the donee.

An LPA is a legal document which allows a person, known as a donor, to appoint another, known as a donee, to make decisions on his behalf should he lose the mental capacity to do so.

Mr Sum agreed to sign the form after she assured him she had witnessed the signature of the donor, Mr Ng Kong Yeam, and had explained the document to him.

In fact, it was Ms Kay Swee Pin who had signed on Mr Ng's behalf.

For signing the form without witnessing Mr Ng's signature or certifying he understood the document, Mr Sum was suspended for a year.

The suspensions were meted out by a Court of Three Judges, the highest disciplinary body for the legal profession. The case was referred to the court after a disciplinary tribunal found the pair guilty of professional misconduct.

Ms Kay Swee Pin and Mr Ng , who have lived together for 30 years and have a daughter, are not legally married. Mr Ng has a wife and three children in Malaysia.

In 2012, Ms Kay Swee Pin and her daughter were appointed as Mr Ng's donees after the Office of the Public Guardian (OPG) accepted the LPA application. In 2014, Mr Ng's Malaysian family, seeking to revoke the LPA, approached Mr Sum for his account of the events. The LPA was later cancelled by the OPG.

Yesterday, Mr Edric Pan, acting for the Law Society, noted that while Mr Sum has shown remorse, Ms Kay Swee Tuan continues to deny she had induced another lawyer to do something wrongful.

Mr Sum's lawyer, Mr Lim Kia Tong, said his "misstep" was led on by Ms Kay Swee Tuan's assurances. But her lawyer, Mr Chenthil Kumarasingam, argued that she had not pressured him to do it.

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

Honing competitive edge of legal profession

Straits Times
02 Feb 2017
K.C. Vijayan

Law Society's new president on challenges lawyers face and the need to leverage on tech

Newly elected Law Society president Gregory Vijayendran has urged lawyers to improve their competitive edge as the legal services market here becomes internationalised.

In an interview with The Straits Times last week, Mr Vijayendran, 48, said: "Bread-and-butter issues are coming at a critical time when there are unprecedented economic challenges... being felt by every law firm... And related to that is the whole theme of disruption that comes about as a result of technology."

Mr Vijayendran, a partner with Rajah & Tann, succeeded Senior Counsel Thio Shen Yi as the society's president on Jan 1, taking office as it turns 50.

He cited three innovative approaches, including "low bono" firms which provide legal services at lower-than-market rates and cut costs by running a paperless and virtual office. Such firms increase access to legal services for people of moderate means.

Eden Law, headed by lawyer June Lim, is one such example. It is paperless and rides on the best legal tech options in the market. Its staff can work from anywhere with clients - at void decks and hospitals and shelters or even abroad during extended vacations.

Ms Lim said leveraging on legal technology means there is no mark-up of legal costs to pay for rent and staff - the two big-ticket items for any small business.

There is also Vanilla Law, which Mr Vijayendran describes as one that combines "the best of tradition, traditional model practice and the best of the technological model of practice".

The firm gives clients access to an online portal to draw up their legal documents from the templates offered, and their prepared documents are reviewed by a lawyer.

Then there is lawyer Lalitha Srinivasan who, according to client feedback, distinguishes herself by going the extra mile.

On the technology front, Mr Vijayendran - vice-president of the Law Society last year - said there is a critical gap in innovation, citing a key industry study from commissioned consultants last year which found 95 per cent of participants did not experiment or innovate within their firms.

The study also found that in going paperless and operating a virtual office - using an iPad and working on the move without permanent office space - law firms could cut operating costs by 66 per cent.

He said locally-qualified lawyers should think in "fresh, innovative ways", in the wake of some 1,300 foreign lawyers being registered here and efforts to grow Singapore as a leading international legal hub.

"I've met lawyers who are enterprising enough not to see foreign lawyers as a threat and who see the world as their oyster. And we are very blessed because the Singapore brand is a very strong international brand," he added.

The society is launching an initiative with Spring Singapore next month where law firms can seek financial support to raise their productivity and business capabilities.

The society also sees opportunities in the mediation industry and is set to launch a mediation scheme next month.

Mr Vijayendran earned the Law Society's inaugural Pro Bono Ambassador Award in 2009, and the Good Samaritan Award from the Washington-based Advocates International in 2008.

This year, the Law Society will see a consolidation of its various pro bono services under a single subsidiary - the Law Society Pro Bono Services Ltd.

"There's a passion about pro bono that is... stronger than in some of the preceding generations. And I think we need to harness that energy, that altruistic energy in a better way than we have," he said.

• Additional reporting by Ng Huiwen

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

Man gets 10 years in jail for role in $6 million car import scam

Straits Times
18 Feb 2017
Shaffiq Idris Alkhatib

Three Singaporeans cheated 182 people of more than $6 million in what is possibly the largest cheating case in the local car industry's history.

They had set up a company in 2014 that purportedly imported cars, collected the money from buyers, but did not deliver a single car.

Instead, they took the money and fled the country.

Yesterday, one of the trio, Koh Chek Seng, 35, was jailed for 10 years after he pleaded guilty to 17 counts of cheating and one count each of converting and transferring the benefits of criminal conduct. He also admitted to one count of removing the benefits of criminal conduct from jurisdiction.

The court heard that 180 other charges were taken into consideration during sentencing.

According to court documents, the trio cheated their victims of $6,163,772 between May and December 2014.

In March that year, Koh and his alleged accomplices - Alvin Loo Mun Yu and Jason Koh Chi Kang, both 36 - discussed how to earn cash by setting up a company dealing with parallel imported cars.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Ng Jean Ting said Jason Koh then suggested that if the company "failed", the trio would close it and flee with customers' deposits.

A company known as Volks Auto was formed on April 1 that year, with Loo as the sole director and shareholder. It had two bank accounts, and he was the sole authorised signatory for both of them.

The following month, the company began operations at a showroom in MacPherson Road.

Koh Chek Seng then arranged for cars, including a Mercedes E-Class and a Porsche Boxster, to be placed there. Several sales staff were also recruited.

DPP Ng said: "Through the trio and the recruited salespersons, it was represented to the customers that the company would procure the cars ordered through direct imports into Singapore.

"Although customers placed orders for cars and made their deposit payments to the company, no effort was made to fulfil these orders."

Most of the cash collected from the victims was then deposited into the company's bank accounts.

However, the firm did not apply for car importation with Singapore Customs. It also did not bid for any certificates of entitlement.

None of the victims received the cars they ordered.

The court heard that Loo rewarded his accomplices for their roles, and Koh Chek Seng received at least $450,000. Loo left Singapore on Dec 5, 2014, while the two others fled a week later.

DPP Ng said the first police report was made only on Dec 13.

By Dec 16 that year, one of the company's bank accounts was cleaned out, while another was left with only $4,138.98 in it.

Koh Chek Seng returned to Singapore on Dec 23, 2015, and was arrested at Changi Airport.

His alleged accomplices remain at large and to date, no restitution has been made.

Yesterday, DPP Ng asked Principal District Judge Ong Hian Sun to jail the accused for between 10 and 12 years. She said: "Given the staggering quantum of loss involved and the fact that this loss can be attributed virtually exclusively to the greed of the trio, a stiff deterrent sentence is necessary to reflect the magnitude of the accused's wrongdoing."

Koh Chek Seng's lawyer Cheryl Ng, who represented him pro bono, asked for a sentence of less than 10 years. She said he played a minor role, and named the two others as the "main actors". She added: "Koh returned to Singapore to face the music despite knowing that he was wanted by the police."

For each cheating charge, he could have been jailed up to 10 years and fined.

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

High Court clears owners' panel over en bloc sale

Straits Times
09 Feb 2017
K.C. Vijayan

It says Shunfu Ville decision was made in good faith; two owners turning to Court of Appeal

The High Court cleared the sale committee behind the collective sale of Shunfu Ville estate, noting that the move was done in good faith and sparked by the inability of the ageing residents to keep up with maintenance payments in the ageing estate.

Explaining the court's decision to overrule the Strata Titles Board which had stopped the sale last September, Judicial Commissioner Aedit Abdullah held the committee had "properly made" the application, obtaining the requisite 80 per cent consent and complying with the Land Titles (Strata) Act.

"In relation to the conduct of the sale committee and its agents, I found that there was no breach of the duty of good faith, no founded allegations of bias, and no undue influence or pressure exerted on the subsidiary proprietors of the property," he added among other reasons in judgment grounds issued last week.

Last May, some 82 per cent of Shunfu Ville owners agreed to sell the 358-unit privatised Housing and Urban Development Company estate to Qingjian Realty.

Each unit owner of the property stood to get an average $1.78 million, after they had agreed to lower the reserve price from $688 million to $638 million. But five owners objected - given that owners can object on grounds such as financial loss, even after the sale committee gets the requisite percentage of owners' approval - which led the sale committee to seek the go ahead from the High Court.

Of the original five objectors, two withdrew, one settled her case, leaving two who argued the committee "breached its duty of even-handedness by preferring the interests" of the consenting owners.

The committee, represented by Senior Counsel N. Sreenivasan, lawyers Valerie Ang and Vithyashree, countered that it acted fairly to all owners, "whether consenting or otherwise, providing them with updated information and being fully transparent with them".

Judicial Commissioner Aedit found " nothing alleged by the (objectors) was substantiated" to show any material breach by the sale committee.

He added that the first objector's claim that some owners were hounded into agreeing to the sale was not backed by evidence.

He noted some of the allegations of pressure related to discussion about the possible impact of the collective sale not going through but clarified that forecasts of returns or lack thereof are to be expected.

"What is not permitted is anything that goes beyond the presentation of arguments for and against the sale: certainly threats of violence or anything of that nature would be clearly beyond the pale."

The two objectors, Mr R. Jayakumar and Mr Simon Mahendran, are appealing to the Court of Appeal.

Last week, the committee obtained approval from the court for the appeal to be heard in April in order for the outcome to be known before the contractual deadline.

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

Woo Hon Wai and others v Ramachandran Jayakumar and others - [2017] SGHC 17 

Pioneering move on cross-border insolvency

Straits Times
02 Feb 2017
K.C. Vijayan

Pioneering move on cross-border insolvency

With major firms having a footprint all over the world, there is a need for a common court framework that makes tackling cross- border insolvency matters more efficient and less expensive.

The first step was taken yesterday, with the Singapore Supreme Court and US Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware adopting guidelines for cost-cutting cooperation and communication.

Delaware is historically the most popular state in the United States to incorporate companies.

More countries, including Australia, and England and Wales, are expected to join in the pioneering move. They were all represented at the inaugural Judicial Insolvency Network (JIN) meeting initiated by Singapore last October.

The guidelines released by the Supreme Court yesterday were first worked on during the JIN meeting and provide a road map for how courts communicate.

In appropriate situations, the different courts may hold joint hearings while each retains its independence and impartiality.

Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon had mooted the idea for greater coordination early last year.

The Supreme Court then reached out to other commercial courts around the world, with Judicial Commissioners Aedit Abdullah and Kannan Ramesh representing the Singapore judiciary.

"In substance, the philosophy is to avoid inconsistency between courts involved in a cross-border insolvency case," said Judicial Commissioner Ramesh yesterday, while describing the guidelines as bold and forward-looking.

The scheme will benefit stakeholders by reducing legal costs and preserving the value of financially distressed businesses.

It comes at a time of globalisation and the shift in how corporations conduct their businesses and organise themselves.

"If you don't have these guidelines, people have to start from scratch each time a case crops up," added Judicial Commissioner Abdullah.

Prior to these guidelines, communication between the courts was ad hoc and uncertainty prevailed.

Rajah &Tann deputy managing partner Patrick Ang cited the Lehman Brothers collapse in 2008 as an example. A US judge tried to move a common approach by suggesting a protocol for the Lehman entities worldwide but that took a long time and incurred a lot of professional fees to negotiate the terms of the protocol.

"The JIN initiative is great because if another Lehman were to happen there would be default guidelines that people can turn to immediately to save time and costs," he added.

The pact with Delaware is a good start, say lawyers.

That is where more than 60 per cent of Fortune 500 companies, including Google, Coca-Cola and Bank of America, and more than half of publicly traded US companies are incorporated.

WongPartnership lawyer Chou Sean Yu said: "As a result, its company law has been the most progressive because of the higher volume of cases and, consequently, it also has a wider restructuring/ insolvency profile.

"The latest guidelines are a significant step forward and will help bolster Singapore's aspirations to be a global restructuring hub."


How the guidelines apply

• Parties notify courts if the case would benefit from cross-court coordination; courts encourage parties to consider guidelines

• Where appropriate, a protocol or court order is issued following parties' application or at court's own motion

• Court order may include means or circumstances in which courts coordinate or communicate

• For instance, courts may communicate directly or send documents such as judgments or transcripts of proceedings to each other or direct counsel to send pleadings to courts concerned

• Courts may also conduct joint hearings so that two or more courts may simultaneously record evidence and hear arguments, but each court retains independence and impartiality.

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

Ex-tour guide Yang Yin's PR status revoked in Nov: ICA

Straits Times
18 Feb 2017
Carolyn Khew & Toh Yong Chuan

Yang Yin, the former tour guide who was convicted of cheating a rich Singaporean widow of $1.1 million, is no longer a Singapore permanent resident.

The Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) revoked his permanent residency status after he was convicted in September last year for two offences of criminal breach of trust and sentenced to six years in jail.

Confirming the revocation, the ICA told The Straits Times: "Any permanent resident (PR) who has been convicted of an offence will have his PR status reviewed by the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority."

It said Yang Yin's PR status was revoked on Nov 1 last year.

The authority had previously told ST that individuals who provide false information in their application for immigration facilities will be dealt with firmly under the law.

Besides being convicted of cheating Madam Chung Khin Chun, 90, Yang was also jailed for two years and two months in September last year for a slew of crimes over his immigration status, including falsifying receipts for a sham company in order to stay in Singapore.

The 42-year-old Chinese na- tional is serving the sentences consecutively.

When the case broke in 2014, questions had been raised about how the former tour guide had been granted permanent residency here. He was subsequently found to have lied to the ICA that he was running a profitable business and earning a salary via his sham company Young Music and Dance Studio, so it would grant him PR status, and his wife, a long-term visit pass. He was convicted of the offence.

The ICA had said previously that PR applications are decided by factors including qualifications, income and length of stay here. It also has a longstanding policy of revoking the PR status of foreigners who are convicted of crimes.

In August 2012, the law was amended to make it administratively easier for the ICA to revoke permanent residency.

Then, Mr S. Iswaran, who was second minister for home affairs, said that while the vast majority of Singapore PRs do not pose any threat to Singapore's law and order, the amendment would send out a clear message that PRs must respect and abide by Singapore's laws.

Though Yang faces a total of eight years and two months in jail, there is a chance that he will remain in jail longer because the prosecution has appealed against the sentence.

The appeal scheduled to be heard yesterday was postponed. The new date has not been fixed.

Meanwhile, ST understands that Yang has been moved from Changi Prison to Admiralty West Prison.

Besides the criminal cases, Yang has also been sued by the widow's niece, Madam Hedy Mok, for allegedly manipulating the elderly woman into handing over her assets worth an estimated $40 million.

The civil case is still ongoing.

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

Q&M Dental sues ex-Malaysian beauty queen and her husband

Straits Times
09 Feb 2017

A former Malaysian beauty queen and her husband are embroiled in a legal spat with dental chain operator Q&M Dental Group.

The Singapore-listed company has sued Madam Zoe Chong Lee Lee and her husband, Dr Matthew Hong An Liang, after uncovering evidence that suggested that both have breached various agreements.

The couple used to run Q&M clinics in Johor.

In a stock exchange filing, Q&M Dental said its evidence suggested that the duo had deposited or transferred company funds into their personal accounts and set up a competing business directly behind one of the Q&M Johor clinics, using the company's resources without approval.

Dr Hong was a director of Q&M Molek and Q&M Austin in Johor.

He was also practising as a dentist in the Johor clinics, until he was suspended in June last year.

Madam Chong was the general manager of the clinics until she was relieved of her services last July.

The mother of two made headlines after winning the Mrs Malaysia Universe pageant in 2015.

Relatives of the couple who worked at the clinics also had their employment terminated.

In its filing late on Tuesday, Q&M Dental said the High Court of Malaya had granted several injunctions prohibiting Dr Hong, Madam Chong and their related parties from entering any Q&M Johor clinics.

The injunctions were also said to prohibit them from interfering with the clinics' business, tampering with or removing the company's property and intimidating or coercing its staff and patients.

The filing said the public prosecutor in Malaysia has charged Dr Hong in the Johor Baru Magistrate Court with using criminal force against one of the dentists.

He was also charged over the criminal intimidation of a dentist.

Q&M Dental has lodged a complaint with the Malaysia Dental Council against Dr Hong for unprofessional conduct as a dentist, for carrying out unapproved procedures in its clinics.

The company said contributions from Johor do not materially affect its performance and financial results.

Q&M Dental shares closed down half a cent to 69.5 cents yesterday.

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

Proposed strata rule changes a nod to governance and transparency

Business Times
02 Feb 2017
Lynette Khoo

[Singapore] PROPOSED changes to the law that governs the management and maintenance of strata properties here were announced on Wednesday, aimed at improving the governance and transparency in the management of strata-titled developments, and providing greater clarity to existing provisions.

Chief among the proposals is a cap on the number of proxies one can hold during a general meeting, to prevent abuse by those who garner proxy votes to influence decision-making; allowing management corporations - commonly known as MCSTs (Management Corporation Strata Title) - the option to pay honorarium to council members; and defining what constitutes common property.

One other proposed change seeks to allow owners to install safety grilles to protect children where there are no design guidelines for the development.

Market watchers note that amendments to the Building Maintenance and Strata Management Act (BMSMA) will help to remove ambiguities in existing provisions and address recurring issues that cropped up in past disputes between MCSTs and owners of strata units.

Melvin Chan, TSMP Law Corporation's head of litigation and dispute resolution, said: "These proposed changes tighten up the way the MCST is run. They also codify what has been stated by the Court in past disputes.

"Some areas that were unclear and subject to the discretion of the MCST have become clearer," he added.

Lee & Lee's senior partner for litigation and dispute resolution Toh Kok Seng felt that the proposal to limit the number of proxies for each person to either 2 per cent of total lots in a development or two owners - whichever is higher - is a step in the right direction. This would make it harder for a single owner to collect numerous proxies to out-vote others.

Eleana Teo, managing director of Knight Frank Property Asset Management (strata management), however, is concerned that some owners may still game the system by redistributing the proxies to more persons.

She flagged that one proposed amendment that may affect developers is the requirement for them to seek the approval on the amount of maintenance charges before selling any strata lot.

While this may provide more clarity for property buyers, it is not easy for developers to accurately estimate the actual maintenance charges for projects to be completed two to three years' later, having to factor in wage inflation, said Ms Teo.

But this proposed change to the Act is not without reason. Mr Toh said he has lately come across cases where buyers are upset that the actual amount of maintenance charges they are made to pay is significantly higher than the estimated amount at the time of purchase.

CBRE associate director for asset services Serene Koh felt that the Act then has to address how the approved maintenance fund can be adjusted, if it turns out to be insufficient.

She felt that there could also be more clarity on other sections of the Act. For instance, the Act is silent on how potential income from common areas can be used to offset operating expenses and reduce the contribution to the maintenance fund.

"Such income, particularly from car parks in commercial developments, can be a substantial amount," she said.

Industry players generally welcome the proposed definition of "common property" in the BMSMA to include key structural elements of the building, following court cases in recent years that took issue with the ambiguity of the current definition.

One case saw the management corporation of Highpoint in Mount Elizabeth taking a couple to the Strata Titles Board (STB), after they claimed they were not responsible for repairing cracks in the ceiling above their kitchen and bedroom toilet. The High Court ruling later clarified in 2014 that condo unit owners are not responsible for repairing defects in structural beams above their properties.

The proposed provision for owners to install safety grilles in their units is also widely hailed by industry players, given the several skirmishes between the MCST and residents when the residents were prevented from installing safety grilles to prevent harm to children.

Mr Toh noted that it is necessary to make this clear in legislation, as there are still MCSTs that refuse to allow safety grilles in balconies, even though the STB had ruled in the case of One North Residences in 2015 to allow an owner to install safety grilles in his balcony, and public opinion that supports putting safety ahead of appearance.

Lee Liat Yeang, senior partner at Dentons Rodyk, noted that it is progressive to adopt the proposed amendment to allow strata rolls to be kept in electronic forms, and to allow notices to be served by electronic mail. "This will enable timely dissemination of information. It is also interesting to allow audio/virtual conferencing for Council meetings," he added, citing increased reliance on technology to facilitate communication.

In all, a total of 33 items were listed in the proposed amendments to the BMSMA. A spokeswoman from the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) on Wednesday told BT that these amendments are proposed as part of BCA's regular review of the legislations to ensure that they are relevant to current needs.

This will mark the first revision to the Act since the BMSMA came into force in April 2005. A final public consultation round, which followed two earlier rounds since 2012, will end on Feb 21.

BCA said it has sought the views of stakeholders such as the industry associations, developers, lawyers, academics, managing agents, subsidiary proprietors and council members of MCSTs. It is gathering further feedback on the consolidated list of amendments before finalising the legislative changes. The effective date of the amendments will be announced when the draft Bill is tabled and read in Parliament.

"As the BMSMA has a wide impact on strata-titled developments, there was a need to carry out a comprehensive and robust review, providing all stakeholders the opportunity to give feedback, comments and suggestion on changes needed to improve strata living," the BCA spokeswoman said.

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

Jail for ex-PCF principal who took $70,000

Straits Times
18 Feb 2017
Shaffiq Idris Alkhatib

She gets five months' prison time for pilfering pre-school fees

As principal of a PAP Community Foundation (PCF) pre-school, she was entrusted with the fees collected.

But Anna Koh, alias Susie Koh, 54, abused her position and misappropriated more than $70,000 from her workplace in Jurong West Street 52.

Koh was jailed for five months yesterday for committing the offence between 2010 and 2012.

On Jan 26, she had pleaded guilty to one count of criminal breach of trust involving about $50,000. Two similar charges involving the rest of the money were taken into consideration during sentencing.

Deputy Public Prosecutor David Koh said parents would pay the centre's teachers and the money would then be given to Koh.

She was the only officer entrusted with depositing the money into the centre's bank account. But she would deposit only some of the money, the prosecutor said, adding that Koh spent the rest on "her personal and family expenses".

Her offences came to light after an anonymous tip-off to PCF in October 2012. An internal audit showed that Koh had received fees without depositing the money.

A police report was made three months later.

The court heard that she had made no restitution.

Her lawyer, Mr Wendell Wong, had asked for District Judge Jasvender Kaur to call for a pre-sentencing report to determine his client's suitability for probation.

If not, he urged the judge to sentence Koh to between two and three months' jail.

Mr Wong said his client faced financial difficulties as a result of a "matrimonial betrayal" by her former husband, who he said had abandoned the family and left her with his debts of about $90,000.

Yesterday, Judge Kaur said that there was no need to call for the pre-sentencing report.

She said Koh should have looked for lawful ways to ease her financial burden, adding that she had taken advantage of her trusted position as the centre's principal.

In response to Straits Times queries, PCF said Koh had worked for the foundation for about six years.

It added: "PCF staff are provided with regular training and are required to adhere to the organisation's financial standard operating procedures.

"Audits are conducted regularly to verify compliance. Any non- compliance is thoroughly investigated and subject to PCF's disciplinary panel."

For criminal breach of trust, Koh could have been jailed for up to 15 years and fined.

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

HK judge rejects appeal bid by S'porean woman

Straits Times
09 Feb 2017
K.C. Vijayan

Court affirms ruling that the son should instead act for businessman with dementia

A Hong Kong judge recently refused permission for a Singaporean woman to appeal against his order that she be removed from acting for her de facto spouse in a suit over business interests there.

Madam Kay Swee Pin, 64, managing director of travel agency SA Tours, had been appointed in August 2013 to act for Mr Ng Kong Yeam in Hong Kong in relation to his suit there when it emerged he was mentally incapacitated.

Mr Ng, 77, was the former boss of SA Tours, and the Hong Kong court accepted that Madam Kay was his mistress and had cohabited with him for nearly 30 years before she and his family decided to move him back to Johor after he started suffering from dementia.

Given his dementia, which started around 2012, the court had accepted there was an "apparently irretrievable breakdown of relationship between Dato Ng and Madam Kay" since July 2013 and he was looked after by his family in Johor Baru.

There was no explanation why she applied to become his "next friend" to act for him in the suit after she had broken off with him, said Hong Kong High Court Recorder Jason Pow in judgment grounds released last year that is the subject of the current appeal.

It is understood Mr Ng's Hong Kong lawyers made the move based on a general power of attorney executed by Mr Ng in 2010 in Hong Kong for her to act for him.

But in December 2013, a Malaysian court appointed his four children as a committee to administer his affairs after declaring him mentally incapable. His son, Mr Ng Chung San, then applied to the Hong Kong court to replace Madam Kay and act on his father's behalf in the suit that the older Ng had initiated against four defendants there in 2011 but was unable to continue because of his dementia.

Madam Kay countered Mr Ng was not fit to take over and she was a better choice as she had full knowledge of the underlying facts in the suit.

Judge Pow wrote in his judgment grounds: "Given the breakdown of relationship; given the fact that Dato Ng had returned to the care of his wife and children in Malaysia; and given that the Malaysian High Court had appointed the committee to take care of the interest and affairs of Dato Ng, why is Madam Kay still insisting on acting as the next friend of Dato Ng in this Hong Kong proceedings?"

The court noted she was unable to show that she remained close to Mr Ng after the relationship broke down in 2013, unlike his family who are now taking care of him, but added she could still offer herself as a factual witness if she wanted to help him.

There was also a series of litigation launched by the family against Madam Kay here which the court noted she had not tried to challenge by filing an affidavit in the Hong Kong court to render her version.

Among other things, the judge cited the Singapore court decision where she sued the Singapore Island Country Club for libel and the judge found she had lied about her marital status when she declared Mr Ng was her spouse in 1992.

The judge also mentioned the Singapore episode where her lawyer- sister Kay Swee Tuan admitted she did not actually witness Mr Ng signing a lasting power of attorney for Madam Kay, according to the declaration by Singapore lawyer Sum Chong Mun. Expressing "grave doubts"about Madam Kay, the judge affirmed her removal and replacement by the younger Ng.

Madam Kay then applied for leave to appeal to the Court of Appeal against his order and last month, Judge Pow ruled after examining her submissions that she was unable to show her appeal grounds would "have reasonable prospect of success", if allowed to proceed.

The judge ordered her to bear the costs of the appeal.

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

Patent, trademark protection fees to be cut

Business Times
02 Feb 2017
Claudia Chong

[Singapore] BUSINESSES will pay lower fees when they apply for patent and trademark protection with the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (IPOS) from April 1.

But those seeking to renew their patents and trademarks will have to pay more; the higher fee for trademarks is the first hike in about a decade.

IPOS said in a statement on Wednesday that the higher fee is aimed at discouraging intellectual property (IP) hoarding by businesses.

With the changes, the cost of a request for a patent search and examination report will fall by about a quarter to an estimated S$1,950. The cost of a request for a patent search and examination report established under the international Patents Cooperation Treaty will go down by about 27 per cent to an estimated S$1,650.

B rand owners applying for a trademark using a pre-approved list of goods and services will pay 30 per cent less than they did last year - an estimated S$240 for each class of goods or services.

IPOS's chief executive Daren Tang said: "Singapore's innovation scene is becoming more vibrant, with more companies and start-ups seeking to create business value through IP.

"The fee revisions make it easier and cheaper for them to protect their brands and technology." Meanwhile, fees for the renewal of a patent from its eighth to 10th year will be raised by 37 per cent, while that for the renewal of a trademark will jump by 52 per cent.

However, patent owners who are willing to license their patents will continue to enjoy a 50 per cent discount in patent renewal fees.

And IP owners who release their patents will enjoy a waiver of the administrative costs involved.

This is to encourage business owners to either actively use their patents or release them to the public domain, said IPOS.

While the estimated life cycle costs for filing patents and trademarks in Singapore will rise slightly, they remain competitive when compared to rates in major jurisdictions.

For instance, the life cycle cost of maintaining a patent in Singapore will be lower than that in Korea, Japan, Australia, China and the US, but higher than that in the UK.

Desmond Tan, patent attorney of IP law firm Davies Collision Cave, said: "Given the current uncertain economic and political outlook, the fee review is timely.

"My clients who want to build a competitive edge through IP in today's highly globalised innovation economy will be encouraged to know that IPOS has taken steps to address their cost concerns and help them in the midst of a challenging business environment."

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

Enhanced support welcomed by Aware, lawyers

Straits Times
18 Feb 2017
Seow Bei Yi

Advocacy group the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware) welcomed initiatives to enhance support for sexual crime victims, but said it hoped improvements would help address the under-reporting it has observed of sexual crimes.

The Ministry of Home Affairs announced new measures yesterday including a centre at the Police Cantonment Complex where adult rape victims can undergo medical examinations without having to go to a public hospital.

Aware, which runs a Sexual Assault Care Centre (SACC), said its clients have often met with frustration and difficulty in reporting alleged assault.

This is because they have to make multiple trips to different agencies, experience long waiting times for interviews or examinations, and find themselves giving statements about an incident several times.

"By combining medical assistance, forensic examination and police reporting, this initiative has the potential to make the reporting process much less onerous and stressful," said Aware.

Last year, 41 per cent of the 338 people who reached out to the SACC did so in connection with an incident of alleged rape - making it the most frequently reported offence there.

But Aware's head of advocacy and research Jolene Tan said: "A majority of our clients do not report their experiences to the police." This is often out of fear they will not be believed or do not have enough evidence to back their accusations.

Lawyers also welcomed extending greater protection to sexual crime victims by reducing the stress of court processes on them. Mr Rajan Supramaniam said: "Sometimes, victims may break down during cross-examination and this could lead to psychological harm in the long run."

Ms Tan Bee Keow, director of youth service at the Singapore Children's Society, said re-telling an assault experience could be traumatising, especially if interviews by different parties take place over time.

She said she was heartened that the authorities are studying multidisciplinary interviewing models for children who have been sexually abused by a family member. "Different professionals look for different information, but this may overlap," she said. "If everyone can come together... and guide the victims by their various fields of expertise, that would help."

Seow Bei Yi

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

English law faces Brexit uncertainties

Business Times
09 Feb 2017
Sriram Chakravarthi & John Ho Hee Jung

At the same time, more contracts are choosing to be governed by Singapore law

A GOVERNING law clause in a contract determines which state or country's laws will be used to interpret and enforce the agreement the clause is found in.

English law (or the law of England and Wales) has long been the popular choice of governing law for commercial parties doing business internationally. Colonial history aside, English law is considered to be stable and is supported by a large body of case law that can be drawn on to predict a greater certainty of outcome.

But more recently, two emerging developments threaten the traditional dominance of English law: The uncertainty created by Brexit - UK's decision to leave the EU - and the growing influence and acceptance of Singapore law in Asia.

Brexit creates uncertainty

A particular area of concern is the ramification of Brexit on English law, not just in terms of its continued viability in governing cross-border business contracts, but also whether Brexit would adversely impact existing English law-governed contracts.

Post-Brexit, UK must decide how to disentangle its domestic laws and regulations from the EU framework. Given that much of UK law currently derives from the EU, many of these laws will need to be repealed or replaced. The consequential implication of this move on existing English law-governed contracts is currently uncertain.

An attendant issue relates to the enforceability of English court judgments in the EU member courts. The choice of English law and the choice of English courts are intertwined as parties typically choose the same law and jurisdiction.

Post-Brexit, the jurisdiction of the English courts and the mutual recognition and enforcement of judgments between UK and the EU may be affected. Key EU legislation regarding jurisdiction and reciprocal enforcement of judgments (the Brussels Regulation) will likely no longer apply to UK.

In such a case, whether an EU member state court will decline jurisdiction in favour of a UK court, or recognise or enforce a UK court's judgment will depend on that member state's domestic rules. While it is envisaged that UK will undoubtedly seek an agreement with the EU or seek to join existing conventions on enforcement of judgments, there is uncertainty as to how and when this will happen.

All the uncertainties have had an unsettling effect on businesses. In December 2016, a Brexit Working Group of the Bar Council of England and Wales stated in a publication called Brexit Papers that it had "heard of a number of cases where parties are being advised not to choose English jurisdiction clauses in their contracts, where previously this would have been an almost automatic choice, because of the uncertainty surrounding the jurisdiction and judgments regime."

Singapore law gains acceptance

Meanwhile, Singapore law appears to be gaining acceptance as a viable alternative to English law. The commercial laws of Singapore offer the predictability and familiarity of English commercial laws without any EU influence, making the legal regime feel familiar to multi-national corporations and close to home for corporates from Asian jurisdictions.

In a Singapore Academy of Law survey of 500 lawyers and in-house counsel working on regional cross-border deals published in January 2016, Singapore law was chosen as the second most common choice to govern cross-border transactions, after English law. One in four of the respondents indicated an awareness of choosing Singapore law as compared to 48 per cent for English law. Respondents cited Singapore's established legal system and the certainty of law as important factors for their preference.

A significant reason for parties choosing Singapore law is the growing acceptance of Singapore as a reputable dispute resolution venue. Commercial parties who choose Singapore to resolve disputes are inclined to have their contracts governed under Singapore law as it offers them a one-stop solution for their transactional and dispute resolution needs.

Statistics from the Singapore International Arbitration Centre relating to parties' choice of law show that in 2014, 49 per cent of contracts contained a Singapore law clause compared to 25 per cent containing an English law clause. In 2015, the number of contracts containing a Singapore law clause rose to 59 per cent while English law-governed contracts fell to 21 per cent. A majority of these contracts were international in nature and a significant number had no connection to Singapore.

This trend has not gone unnoticed with the Singapore government stepping up its efforts to promote Singapore law. In a speech in Parliament in April 2016, Minister for Law K Shanmugam stated that the law ministry "will continue supporting the adoption of Singapore law through education and promotional efforts".

These efforts include encouraging law firms to promote Singapore law to their clients, engaging companies on the benefits of adopting Singapore law in their cross-border contracts, and supporting thought leadership in areas of business, banking, financial and maritime law where Singapore has a strategic interest or comparative advantage.

In the coming years, as Singapore develops into a regional hub seizing increased economic opportunities from rising inter- and intra-Asia trade and investment flows, the popularity of Singapore law will, no doubt, only increase.

Wither English law dominance?

Both Brexit and Singapore law pose unique challenges to English law's dominance.

Brexit poses a broader - it affects international contracts with underlying European or continental exposure - yet transitional - it will remain until clarity emerges around the Brexit terms - challenge.

On the other hand, Singapore law poses a narrower - it applies essentially to Asian contracts - yet enduring - once a choice is made by parties to adopt Singapore law, it prevails as the parties' governing law of choice - challenge.

Despite these challenges, the clout of English law is unlikely to diminish overnight. Most international commercial transactions and standard form banking and finance documents are English law-governed. The long history of English law and the commercial expertise of English courts will also keep it in good stead. It is therefore reasonable to assume that the popularity of English law will remain.

Commercial considerations could however dictate otherwise. Given the uncertainties surrounding Brexit and the increasing acceptance of Singapore law, a vote by businesses, especially in Asia, to leave English law out of their commercial contracts cannot be ruled out.

Mr Chakravarthi is senior director & chief legal counsel at the Singapore Academy of Law, and Mr Ho is head of legal at Standard Chartered.

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

Ezra in choppy waters as trade claims pile up

Straits Times
02 Feb 2017
Marissa Lee

More uncertainty surrounds Ezra Holdings as financial claims against the offshore and subsea contractor pile up while its talks with lenders seem to crawl along after a fiasco involving Malaysian associate Perisai.

It came out on Tuesday that subsea services provider Bibby Offshore had filed for arbitration against Emas Chiyoda Subsea, claiming it is owed a reported US$14.7 million (S$20.8 million) from US$18.1 million of contracts performed in Trinidad last year.

This is the subsea business that Ezra sold to Chiyoda Corp and Nippon Yusen Kabushiki Kaisha (NYK) last year. Emas Chiyoda Subsea is 40 per cent owned by Ezra. Chiyoda has a 35 per cent interest and NYK holds a 25 per cent stake.

Although few analysts still cover Ezra, many believe its fate hangs on the patience of its bankers, including all three local lenders.

In an update last month, Ezra said it was still in talks with various stakeholders to consolidate its funding requirements.

Ezra will face a "going concern" issue if these efforts do not achieve a favourable and timely outcome.

A spokesman for Ezra declined to comment on the firm's solvency in the light of recent developments, stating that Emas Chiyoda Subsea is a joint-venture company.

On Tuesday, Chiyoda said it expects to incur risks and expenses of about 38 billion yen (S$475 million) from its stake in Emas Chiyoda Subsea; NYK expects an extraordinary loss of about 13 billion yen (S$162 million).

In December, Norwegian shipowner Forland Subsea AS said a unit of Emas Chiyoda had defaulted on a charter payment due Nov 30 for the vessel Lewek Inspector, which the unit said it was unable to settle "due to financial distress". A temporary agreement was reached and the Lewek Inspector allowed to resume work offshore Congo.

During the same time, the Emas Chiyoda unit sought a short-term standstill agreement from another trade creditor - Ocean Yield ASA - relating to charter payments for the Lewek Connector for the months of December and January.

Both the obligations to Forland Subsea and Ocean Yield are guaranteed by Ezra.

Ezra has bought time with the standstills, but much depends on when it will resolve a US$43 million put option with defaulted associate Perisai Petroleum Teknologi, which triggered cross defaults at other Emas Offshore (EOL) entities. Ezra unit EOL said last month that though all its lenders had agreed to a refinancing, this was delayed due to a lack of resolution with Perisai.

Ezra called for a trading halt yesterday morning pending an announcement. It has applied to the Singapore Exchange for a 30-day extension from Jan 14 to announce its financial statements for the first quarter ended Nov 30 last year.


  • $21m

    Amount reportedly owed to Bibby Offshore for work performed in Trinidad last year

  • $475m

    Chiyoda's expected risk and expenses for its stake in Emas Chiyoda Subsea

  • $162m

    NYK's expected extraordinary loss

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

ADV: Acquire legal knowledge and its practice with Kaplan!

Singapore Law Watch
18 Feb 2017
Kaplan

Malaysian ex-minister's son gets bankruptcy annulled

Straits Times
09 Feb 2017
K.C. Vijayan

A bankruptcy order against businessman Md Wira Dani Abdul Daim, son of Malaysia's former finance minister Daim Zainuddin, has been annulled, suggesting that a $1.65 million debt he owed a broking firm here has been settled.

His updated status was gazetted last month, the sole entry for an annulment, alongside 34 other names that were discharged from bankruptcy in the same notice.

The annulment was issued by the Official Assignee.

Compared with bankruptcy discharges, annulments are rare. The Ministry of Law's Insolvency Office website states that "an annulment cancels the Bankruptcy Order that was made against the debtor.

"This means that it is as if the Bankruptcy Order was never made against the debtor. A discharge does not have the same effect."

Mr Wira, 37, was made bankrupt in August last year over some $1.65 million he owed Maybank Kim Eng Securities. After his bankruptcy, he stepped down as non-independent and non-executive director of LionGold Corp, indicating he wanted to settle personal affairs.

Maybank Kim Eng had earlier secured a High Court judgment against him in March last year to reclaim a debt of $2.459 million.

Mr Wira is said to have borrowed the money to buy LionGold shares on a leveraged account. He had agreed to repay the debt via instalments, but by August 2014, had repaid back only $100,000.

In April last year, Maybank Kim Eng accepted an offer from Mr Wira's lawyer, Mr Woo Tchi Chu, to settle the debt - with $1 million to be paid in two tranches within the month, and the remaining amount by end-June.

Meanwhile, Maybank Kim Eng's Allen & Gledhill lawyer, Mr Vincent Leow, made it clear that bankruptcy was an option, in the event of a default by Mr Wira.

Maybank Kim Eng received about $835,950 of the debt, and the $1,650,642 shortfall triggered Mr Wira's bankruptcy last August.

Mr Woo yesterday declined to comment on the matter.

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

Terrex return upholds rule of law

Straits Times
02 Feb 2017

The case of nine Singapore Armed Forces armoured vehicles, held in Hong Kong for more than two months, shows how the rule of law can help to resolve international problems when legal processes are aided by quiet and patient action that abjures megaphone diplomacy. Singapore's clear and consistent position was that the seizure of the Terrex infantry carriers did not comply with international or Hong Kong law. The vehicles being the property of the Singapore Government, they were protected by sovereign immunity. This meant that they could not legally be detained or confiscated by other countries.

It was reassuring earlier on when the Hong Kong authorities gave the assurance that the Special Administrative Region government would handle the matter according to its laws. They have since done so, and the vehicles are now back in Singapore. In the process, Hong Kong has upheld its reputation as a port and transshipment hub. Global ports cannot maintain their cutting edge unless customers believe that they will implement the rule of law stringently and transparently in their everyday dealings. There is nothing worse for hubs than to be suspected of acting under the duress of political or economic forces that make it difficult for them to disclose the real reasons for any action that they take.

Despite the speculation in the wilder fringes of social media that Hong Kong's action actually was a punitive move by China - namely, Beijing wanted to impress on Singapore the need to stop its military exercises with Taiwan, where the Terrex carriers had been before their aborted return to Singapore - wise and cool heads chose not to be drawn into a testy public exchange. Hong Kong dismissed talk of a conspiracy by reiterating the autonomy of its governing and administrative agencies under the one-country, two-systems formula which makes it a part of China.

In Singapore, too, the Terrex episode shone light on a few home traits. Not only did the Government show its preference for the civility of quiet diplomacy and adherence to established legal principles, but Singaporeans also helped the authorities to respond to this unprecedented issue rationally by not forcing their hand politically. Except for perpetually impressionable and excitable segments of the social media, Singaporeans generally expected their Government to deal with the issue in a way that would bring about practical and sound results. They also expect the right lessons to be learnt to avoid a repeat of the unfortunate episode. Getting into a wrangling match with others would not be productive. It is far better to take the long view, focusing on strengthening ties and resolving issues amicably, as two longstanding friends, always remembering past collaborations as well as future prospects .

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

Top lawyer Hri Kumar named Deputy Attorney-General

TODAY
17 Feb 2017
Kelly Ng

SINGAPORE — Mr Hri Kumar Nair, a director at Big Four law firm Drew & Napier, and former Member of Parliament (MP) has been appointed Deputy Attorney-General (A-G), marking the first time an ex-lawmaker will take on the State’s prosecutorial function.

From March 1, Mr Nair will replace Mr Tan Siong Thye, who will become a High Court judge, announced the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) on Thursday (Feb 16). Two other appointments to the judiciary were also announced — Justice Steven Chong to the appellate court and Judicial Commissioner Kannan Ramesh to the Supreme Court Bench.

Appointed Senior Counsel in 2008, Mr Nair, 50, has more than 25 years of experience as a lawyer, acting in a wide range of litigation and arbitration matters. He became MP for Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC in 2006. He served two terms before quitting politics just before the 2015 General Election, saying his wife’s diagnosis of lymphoma in 2012 made him relook his priorities. His three-year appointment comes just three months after the PMO announced a new A-G and a second Deputy A-G.

Mr Lucien Wong, 63, who was chairman and senior partner of Allen & Gledhill, took over from Mr V K Rajah on Jan 14 for a three-year term. Concurrently, Mr Lionel Yee, who was Solicitor-General, was appointed Deputy A-G, alongside Mr Tan.

Mr Wong said the A-G’s Chambers (AGC) will be “significantly strengthened” as Mr Nair brings along legal experience across multiple legal disciplines and is recognised as one of Singapore’s top lawyers.

Law Society president Gregory Vijayendran called him “incisive” and “fair-minded”, while in an internal email to Drew & Napier employees, the firm’s CEO Davinder Singh praised Mr Nair’s “rare intellect” and consummate advocacy”.

He added: “I have no doubt that this is just the beginning. Yet higher office will beckon. And rightly so.”

Mr Nair could not be reached for comment.

On his appointment, lawyers and legal academics said concerns of partisanship are legitimate, but not significant. Mr Nair would have to refrain from dealing directly with any matter on which he had taken a position earlier, whether as an MP or a lawyer, said Assistant Professor Jack Lee from Singapore Management University.

“It’s probably not very different from someone being appointed a judge after having served in the AGC ... They would avoid hearing any cases that originate from the time when he or she was with the AGC,” he said.

Agreeing, criminal lawyer Sunil Sudheesan, who is also president of the Association of Criminal Lawyers of Singapore, said: “I do not see any significant concern there, as he would recuse himself from the decision-making process on issues he was previously involved in.”

Among the issues Mr Nair spoke strongly about during his tenure as an MP was abolishing the Primary School Leaving Examination. In 2015, he also crossed swords with the Workers’ Party MPs on the accounting lapses by the then-Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council.

Stressed that the AGC makes decisions on “legal grounds”, SMU law professor Eugene Tan said: “It would not be to its benefit for a decision to be driven by political considerations rather than the law and legal considerations. The courts would have none of that.”

With the new judicial appointments, the Supreme Court will have a total of 18 Judges (including five Judges of Appeal and the Chief Justice), eight Judicial Commissioners, five Senior Judges and 12 International Judges.

Assoc Prof Tan lauded the move to expand and diversify the highest court of the land.

“We now have a very diverse Court of Appeal, with judges experienced in issues of criminal, civil, and public law. This is in line with the range of issues the apex court deals with and Singapore’s aspiration to become a regional legal hub,” he said.

Copyright 2017 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

IHC, ousted CEO in tangle over documents

Business Times
09 Feb 2017
Judith Tan & Jacquelyn Cheok

They have separately filed police reports against each other following a heated EGM

[Singapore] BOTH Catalist-listed healthcare group International Healthway Corporation (IHC) and ousted company director Angeleca Lim Beng Choo have filed separate police reports against each other, following a heated extraordinary general meeting (EGM) on Jan 23.

Ms Lim made her report at the Hougang Neighbourhood Police Centre on Jan 27, five days after the heated boardroom battle that removed four sitting directors, replacing them with the three existing ones.

She had alleged that she was harassed and wrongfully detained by four men - namely shareholder Eric Low, director Jackson Tay, general manager Foo Yong How and an unidentified man - when she was leaving her office building on Jan 23 itself.

The board of IHC also filed a formal police report against Ms Lim, whom they alleged to have left the office premises with her computer and some documents.

In the latest filing with the Singapore Exchange (SGX) on Wednesday, IHC said that Data Management Corporation (DMC) had discovered 4.5 gigabytes of emails had been deleted from Ms Lim's company email account.

DMC believed that the incident took place between 10.30pm on Jan 23 - the day of the EGM - and 10.30am the next day.

Ms Lim was removed as a director of the company during the EGM and she was notified of her suspension from her executive functions in relation to the company.

DMC was appointed by IHC last month to protect, secure and preserve the records and financial information.

Shareholders of IHC voted to have the entire board removed at the two-hour long heated EGM.

The meeting was requisitioned by Oxley Holdings' Eric Low See Ching and his sister Audrey in a notice on Oct 28 last year.

Mr Low held about 118.1 million shares in IHC as at Oct 28, while his sister controlled a stake about half that size, at around 67.2 million shares.

The shareholders had all four board directors - chairman Gerald Lim Thien Su, Ms Lim, Alviedo Rodolfo Jr san Miguel (also known as "Jojo") and Leonard Chia - removed on Jan 23.

They also appointed three new ones that the requisitioners nominated: Roger Tan Chade Phang, Eric Sho Kian Hin and Jackson Tay Eng Kiat.

Although Oxley's Mr Low and Ching Chiat Kwong will not sit on the board, that still presumably leaves them with some influence over its direction.

A day after the EGM, an SGX filing issued by IHC said a police report had been filed against Ms Lim, who was allegedly seen leaving the office premises with her computer and some documents.

But in a second filing to SGX on Jan27, IHC clarified that it had only told the police that Ms Lim left the office premises and the new board had asked for police assistance.

It said that a formal police report will be made "in due course".

Speaking exclusively to The Business Times at her lawyer's office on Tuesday, Ms Lim refuted the allegations that she had taken documents out of the office premises.

She also clarified that the laptop she left with was her personal one.

Ms Lim said when she left the EGM, she knew she was no longer on the board but "was not formally notified" that she had been relieved from her executive duties in the company.

"I was at all material times until Jan 24 the CEO (chief executive officer) and executive director of IHC. ... I only received an email notification from Mr Foo of my suspension (as CEO) at 7.52am on Jan 24," Ms Lim said.

Ms Lim said she continued "as per normal" and was leaving for home that evening of the EGM when she was stopped at the lobby of Thye Hong Centre at Leng Kee Road.

Mr Low allegedly shouted at her and, in her words, "harassed me by forcefully and unlawfully detaining me and physically obstructing my passage to my car".

He was also said to have demanded to look at her belongings and, without consent, went through her things.

"In the past, I have always brought work home so it was no surprise I had some documents with me. Since the impression was that I had been stripped of my executive powers, I returned to my office and deposited the documents there, accompanied by police officers, who arrived later," Ms Lim said.

She said she learnt from various news sources that the new directors had lodged a police report stating she had left the company's premises with her laptop and some documents.

"I would like to clarify that I eventually left with only my personal laptop and not a single piece of the company's documents. This is after verification by the police officers called in at the scene," she said.

When asked if she will be taking action against the current board, she said: "I just wanted to clarify my position."

And when asked why she only reported to the police five days after the fact, Ms Lim said she had taken ill the next two days and was bedridden.

"It was only on Jan 26 that I was able to think logically and put down my thoughts on paper," she added.

On the announcement that IHC had formally made a police report, Ms Lim's lawyer said: "The announcements were made mala fides (maliciously false), calculated solely to damage Angeleca's character and reputation by giving the impression that she had conducted herself improperly as CEO of the company."

"The company's emails are stored in the company's server and will remain intact for as long as company does not delete them," he added.

IHC was the most active stock on Singapore Exchange on Wednesday, surging by nearly 42 per cent or 2.8 Singapore cents to close trading at S$0.095. More than 401 million shares changed hands.

The medical services company had announced that it entered into a non-binding term sheet with lenders Oxley Holdings, Mr Ching and Mr Low - pursuant to which the lenders propose to grant to IHC convertible loans at an interest rate of 6 per cent per annum. Under the term sheet, Oxley proposed to make available to IHC a loan facility of up to S$50 million.

Mr Ching and Mr Low, who are directors and controlling shareholders of Oxley, proposed to offer IHC a loan facility of up to S$5 million.

The loans are subject to shareholders' approval at an an extraordinary general meeting to be convened.

In the filing on Wednesday, IHC added that it has received various claims and demands by lenders and claimants such as BNP Paribas Malaysia Berhad, P & O Capital Sdn Bhd and Public Bank Berhad.

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

ADV: Career opportunities at NUS Faculty of Law

Singapore Law Watch
02 Feb 2017
National University of Singapore

SGX launches consultation on dual-class shares

Business Times
17 Feb 2017
Kenneth Lim

[Singapore] THE Singapore Exchange (SGX) could propose changes to the listing rules as early as the third quarter of this year if it perceives market "consensus" on the introduction of dual-class shares (DCS), the market regulator said on Thursday.

But early responses to a public consultation launched on Thursday suggest much work ahead in building any kind of broad agreement about whether and how to allow DCS structures on the stock exchange.

Citing the need to improve market vibrancy through regulatory innovation, albeit in a responsible manner, the exchange has incorporated all the recommendations that the independent Listings Advisory Committee (LAC) submitted last year.

Two of the proposals are novel in the sense that they are not currently mandated by any other stock exchange.

In line with the LAC's recommendation, SGX is considering a "compelling reason" hurdle for DCS applicants, which no other exchange uses. What constitutes "compelling", however, has not been defined - by design.

"There is no exhaustive list of reasons which are considered as compelling," SGX said, adding that the assessment should be done holistically.

SGX is also seeking feedback on whether to mandate "sunset clauses", which would limit how long DCS structures can last without reapproval from shareholders. These provisions could automatically occur, or be put to a vote after a specified number of years. No other exchange with dual-class shares currently mandates sunset clauses, although some companies voluntarily use them.

Other proposals in the consultation include additional listing criteria, such as a minimum market capitalisation of S$500 million; DCS structures are envisioned to be limited to new Mainboard listings.

To prevent entrenchment, the proposals also suggest, among other measures, limiting the voting differential between classes to 10 times at most, and restricting the issuance of superior-class shares after listing to rights issues.

Addressing expropriation risks, SGX is considering mandatory compliance with the Code of Corporate Governance for DCS companies in board composition and independence matters, and requiring coat-tail provisions that ensure equal treatment for all shareholders in takeovers.

The consultation closes on April 17. If SGX decides to accept DCS listings, it will undertake a further round of public consultation focused on specific changes to the listing rules. That consultation, if it happens, is unlikely to take place before the third quarter of the year, SGX chief regulatory officer Tan Boon Gin said.

He said that, taken together, the safeguards seek to limit the benefits of superior-class shares to become one of control and less one of market profits.

SGX is looking to offer public checks and balances where private options are lacking, he said.

"For Singapore, to be able to strike the right equilibrium that I'm talking about, we need to have stronger public checks and balances, hence the safeguards that we're proposing in this consultation," Mr Tan said.

Rachel Eng, deputy chairwoman of WongPartnership, said it makes sense for SGX to set up a DCS framework to compete with other exchanges for tech and biomedical companies, but success will hinge on the greater capital markets ecosystem's ability to support and promote those sectors.

She added: "Some thought should be given to the legal protection of minority rights. Besides the listing manual, careful consideration will need to be given to whether the relevant laws need to be enhanced."

Corporate lawyer Robson Lee of Gibson Dunn felt that the "compelling reason" test was too ambiguous, and the uncertainty would turn away potential listing applicants.

DCS structures should also be restricted to tech companies, he argued, noting that tightly-owned companies could have been owned by families since time immemorial.

"But if we want DCS, it must be because we're preparing ourselves for the future economy, not to perpetuate ownership by controlling shareholders," he said.

Associate Professor Mak Yuen Teen from the National University of Singapore, a prominent opponent of DCS in Singapore, questioned whether it was possible to protect investors and still have an attractive framework for issuers.

A S$500 million minimum market cap, for example, would eliminate many of the startups that Singapore seems to be targeting.

"At S$500 million, you're not talking about startups anymore," he said. "You're talking about pretty established players, and if they're really big, they might well just go to Nasdaq."

Prof Mak added that the SGX proposals are also unable to address some of the macro-level hurdles to effective safeguards.

For example, the Singapore government should consider imposing a fiduciary duty on controlling shareholders, and creating a capital-markets dispute resolution centre to make up for the difficulty of bringing class actions in Singapore.

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

ADV: SAL - Assistant Director, Chief Executive's Office

Singapore Law Watch
09 Feb 2017
Singapore Academy of Law

Uncle ordered to pay damages in mega trust suit

Straits Times
01 Feb 2017
K.C. Vijayan

It's one of the largest such cases here, involving assets of US$600m-US$800m

The High Court last week released judgment grounds that gave an insight into one of Australia's wealthiest families, the De La Sala family, which has a company registered in Singapore.

The case is notable for being one of the largest trust cases heard here, involving shares and assets worth between US$600 million (S$851 million) and US$800 million. At the heart of it are suits involving Mr Ernest Perez De La Sala, 83, a businessman and investor.

In his 351-page judgment grounds, Justice Quentin Loh said the De La Salas were fortunate Mr Ernest was there to take over the family business when his father died in 1967.

But after a rift in 2011, he removed companies' funds, claiming they belonged to him. It sparked a four-year legal battle involving suits and countersuits, pitting uncle against nephew and niece.

The family's wealth was initially amassed by patriarch Robert Perez De La Sala, who started the business in Hong Kong in 1939. He died when he was 59, leaving behind his wife Camila and their four currently surviving children.

His second son Ernest succeeded him and managed the business.

Madam Camila and her four children had shares inthe patriarch's then main company, Northern Enterprises Limited.

The family later consolidated their wealth in six companies, one of which was registered in Singapore.

The companies were run by Mr Ernest's nephew Edward, his niece Christin and her husband James Copinger-Symes, and himself. They were listed as directors.

After Mr Ernest removed the funds in 2011, the companies, represented by Senior Counsel Thio Shen Yi, sued him in the High Court in 2012 to recover the funds.

Mr Ernest, defended by Senior Counsel Harpreet Singh, countersued his nephew and niece as well as her husband.

He accused them of breaching their fiduciary duties in suing him, as they had prevented him from dealing with his money.

He said it was his money because he had bought out the shares and interests owned by other family members, including his siblings.

He said he set up the companies - in which his nephew, his niece and her husband were directors - and other corporate structures as "pockets" to hold his assets.

Justice Loh rejected his claims based on the evidence and dismissed Mr Ernest's counterclaim against the three directors, who were defended by Senior Counsel Cavinder Bull.

The judge said Mr Ernest holds part of those assets on trust for the other family members.

Mr Ernest was ordered to pay damages, to be assessed later, for fraudulent misrepresentation.

The judge also ordered Mr Ernest to provide an account of how he dealt with the money and how much belongs to his brother Bobby, 81, less any funds that had been paid out earlier.

His brother also holds a one-third share of whatever sum their late mother would have received as part of her share in the family assets. Mr Ernest had to account for that too.

His other two siblings - Isabel, 73, and Tony, 85 - had no interest as they had sold their shares earlier to Mr Ernest, noted the judge.

Justice Loh, in observing Mr Ernest's witness testify, also advised against witness coaching, making clear the credibility of the witness would suffer as a result.

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

Compania De Navegacion Palomar, S.A. and others v Ernest Ferdinand Perez De La Sala and another matter [2017] SGHC 14

Dual-class shares: issue now is striking the right balance

Business Times
17 Feb 2017
R. Sivanithy

THE Singapore Exchange (SGX) is now seeking public feedback on two fronts - first, whether it should amend its listing manual to allow for dual-class shares (DCS) which is an arrangement that gives certain privileged shareholders, usually founders, disproportionately more voting rights relative to their shareholdings and second, what safeguards are required if this class of shares is deemed appropriate for the local market.

To allow DCS here has been the subject of heated debate over the past year because corporate governance advocates have quite rightly pointed out that it amounts to tampering with the traditional "one man, one vote" system that has served markets well for decades.

In an ideal world then, one where shareholder protection counts above all else, the doors of the local market should not be opened to DCS firms. And promising startups would still list here. But the realities of today's business world are far from ideal.

Although governance concerns are valid - more on this later - at this stage of the game when high technology is widely accepted as the way forward for the local economy, when high-tech companies increasingly favour DCS and when there have been clear overtures by the authorities over the past year that Singapore should allow such structures, the question of whether to allow or not is really academic.

The debate, therefore, should no longer be whether to permit DCS or not, but how to achieve a workable compromise, to properly balance the commercial benefits with the equally important need to protect ordinary, non-privileged shareholders.

Stated differently, if industries are being disrupted by technology and if DCS is the preferred arrangement of tomorrow's disruptive winners, then SGX has little choice - it cannot afford to sit still and do nothing to attract these companies if it is to remain relevant and competitive.

Yes, there are governance worries because minority shareholders who very likely provide a sizeable capital could well be disadvantaged or have their rights trampled on by the controlling shareholders and yes, these worries must be adequately addressed. The debate should therefore now centre on what safeguards, if any, are needed and whether whatever is ultimately decided would be sufficient to manage the governance risks.

For example, a welcome and novel proposal in SGX's Consultation Paper is the "sunset clause" whereby multiple-vote shares are converted to one-vote shares after a certain prescribed period.

The thinking behind this is that DCS is widely seen as being suitable for young, promising high-tech startups but should not be permitted for mature or existing companies. What is an acceptable period before the sun sets on a DCS structure should be debated - ten years might be appropriate as five could be too short.

Another area where striking a balance is needed is the proposal on whether to set a minimum market capitalisation of S$500 million, or even whether DCS companies should be confined to the mainboard, given that Catalist is the traditional avenue for high-growth companies to list. Some might argue that there should be no size limit since demanding large size may not be appropriate for startups while others would counter that larger size might help ensure some quality and, by extension, shareholder protection.

As for an argument made previously that if SGX opens the DCS door, others in the region will quickly follow - Hong Kong, for example, has said recently that it wants to revisit the subject after one failed attempt in 2014 - the answer has to be that the exchange cannot operate based on what others may or may not do.

Inevitability of DCS

If regional peers decide to go the DCS route to mimic SGX then good luck to them - the exchange would then have to compete on other grounds, perhaps on the basis of a more efficient microstructure, stronger regulatory framework, or access to a more conducive startup ecosystem and better developed derivatives business.

A final word on the inevitability of DCS here. The ball started rolling a year ago when the Companies Act was amended to allow for multiple-vote shares. Then came SGX's Listings Advisory Committee's recommendation later in 2016 to allow for such structures and then last week, the Committee for the Future Economy said DCS should be explored here since it is increasingly being used by high-tech companies and startups.

SGX itself said when it announced the LAC's grounds of decision that it "is of the view that a listing framework for DCS structures may help to attract high-quality companies which may not otherwise consider Singapore as a listing venue".

These developments, whilst causing consternation within the ranks of pro-governance parties, have clearly pointed to the inevitability of DCS in the local market. Going forward then, the main consideration now has to be not whether DCS has a place here but instead how to arrive at a suitable regulatory balance that would attract promising companies which would complement Singapore's future economy whilst simultaneously addressing the associated governance concerns.

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

Raising bar for town councils

Straits Times
09 Feb 2017
Danson Cheong

After a review that began four years ago, the Government looks set to get greater power and control over town councils.

Three days ago, Senior Minister of State for National Development Desmond Lee introduced a Bill in Parliament that will require them to adhere to higher standards of transparency and governance.

If passed, the Town Councils (Amendment) Bill will strengthen the Government's hand to act and bring to heel those that flout the rules.

It will also require town councils to be more transparent and accountable to their residents.

They will have to submit audited financial reports within six months of the end of the financial year and keep a registry of disclosures on conflicts of interest involving staff, among other things. Those that fail to comply will be fined up to $5,000.

Also, a code of governance that sets out the standards town councils need to adhere to will be drafted later this year.

Currently, the ministry has no power to compel town councils to give information on their finances, and there are no penalties for refusing to do so. But under the amendments, the ministry can appoint inspectors to investigate town councils that flout the rules, and issue an order to specify remedial action, among other things. And if key decision makers are found liable, they, too, can face fines, jail, or both.

Some may view the changes as taking unfair aim at the Workers' Party-run Aljunied-Hougang Town Council, which had a long row with the authorities over lapses in its financial accounts.

But the new rules will also affect the other 15 town councils run by the People's Action Party.

As town councils manage large sums of public money, including millions of dollars in annual government grants, the proposed changes will help residents hold to account their MPs and those the MPs appoint to run the town councils. This will drive home to MPs one of the main aims for setting up town councils in 1989 - and that is to make them more responsible and accountable to residents.

The outcome can only benefit residents.

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

Time to relook practice of quarterly reporting

Straits Times
01 Feb 2017
Lee Su Shyan

A tweak could reduce costs, promote long-term thinking for firms, amid beefed-up supervisory, disclosure regime

Finance personnel and accountants have never been able to enjoy the Chinese New Year celebrations to the full, what with having to keep one eye on the quarterly reports that need to be filed within 60 days of the Dec 31 year-end, which makes for a hectic time over the festive period which tends to fall in January or February.

And even as they busy themselves with finalising the past year's numbers, they will also have to gear up to report on the new year's first-quarter results.

The United Kingdom has done away with the requirement for quarterly reporting, spurring discussion over whether Singapore should go down the same path. It had done so in 2014 to ease the reporting burden on companies, ahead of the European Transparency Directive, which said that by November 2015, companies listed in the UK no longer needed to produce quarterly reports.

UK's asset management industry body The Investment Association late last year called on firms to cease quarterly reporting and "refocus reporting on a broader range of strategic issues". As of October last year, 30 FTSE 100 companies and 139 FTSE 250 companies had stopped publishing quarterly reports.

Quarterly reporting, however, still has its supporters. It imposes more discipline on companies. As a company embarks on an initial public offering (IPO), the discipline of regular reporting will boost the confidence of investors that the company's systems and processes are in place.

Quarterly reporting came into effect in Singapore in 2003 as part of a greater push for transparency and corporate governance among companies. Adopting best practices would boost Singapore's standing as an international business and financial centre, it was argued then.

When the then Council on Corporate Disclosure and Governance mooted the recommendations, it referred to the need for more timely reporting, given the "rapidly evolving economy and increasingly volatile markets". It also cited "smaller and younger companies, with an uncertain record, that carry the greater risk and, therefore, have an obligation for more frequent reporting".

These advantages are still relevant but quarterly reporting's detractors are just as vocal. They criticise it for encouraging a short-term mentality among senior management, where beneficial long-term decisions may not be taken as there may be a short-term impact on the quarterly earnings.

CONSULTATION PAPER TO BE LAUNCHED THIS YEAR

While there has been talk of a review of quarterly reporting, the latest inkling that this was on the Singapore Exchange's (SGX) to-do list for this year came from the speech given by its chief regulatory officer Tan Boon Gin at last month's Acra-SGX-SID audit committee seminar.

He said: "We see an opportunity presented by the increased transparency of financial statements, the more individual and targeted engagement with companies, the broadened definition of materiality, and the more robust enforcement of disclosure breaches by both the regulators and the market - in other words, an increase in all three disciplines - we see an opportunity to recalibrate our continuous disclosure regime."

Acra (Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority) has also recently announced that companieshave to restate, re-audit and refile financial statements if they commit severe reporting breaches.

What this suggests is that a beefed-up supervisory regime is in place to mitigate any potential negative impact if the quarterly reporting regime were to be tweaked.

Yesterday, Mr Tan told The Straits Times: "We have seen improvements on the disclosure front. The recent amendment to the Securities and Futures Act establishes a wider test for materiality and sets a higher standard for disclosures. SGX has been more aggressive in terms of querying companies on disclosures and taking enforcement actions against companies that fall short. We have also been engaging with individual companies on ways to improve the disclosure of information key to investors since our review of their Code of Corporate Governance disclosures."

He added that "against the backdrop of improvements on the disclosure front, we hope to launch a consultation paper around the middle of the year".

TOUGH TIMES FOR THE ECONOMY

A sluggish economy - albeit with some bright spots - does complicate the discussion. Take the issue of costs for example. Quarterly reporting is often associated with added costs, even though, strictly speaking, quarterly accounts, except for the final quarter's accounts are not required to be audited.

However, head of audit at KPMG Singapore Roger Tay said: "The preparation of quarterly financial information for reporting does entail significant efforts and rigour, involving not just the finance department, but also that of senior management, the audit committee and the board of directors to review and approve the financial information before they are released. Certain larger listed companies also engage their auditors to review the quarterly financial information."

Hence, any easing of the requirements should have some cost savings.

With the economy growing slowly, changes that save companies money, without higher risk to the investor, are something that a responsive regulator such as the SGX would be open to.

If a company is going through bad times, the argument could be made that it is better for the company to focus on restructuring the business and removing the pressure of trying to ensure each quarter outpaces the previous one.

Instead of management having to focus on churning the results out and meeting analysts and investors, senior management's time could be better devoted to finding new markets, innovating and turning the business around.

After all, if a company is seeing growth of close to zero, there is little value-added from quarterly reports that show little change.

In any case, under the continuous disclosure regime, a company which has information that will affect the prospects of the company would have to update the market on a timely basis.

For short-term traders, they may trade on a daily basis and would hardly be waiting for even the quarterly results.

Naturally, the converse argument can be made. When business gets tough, the question will be whether quarterly reporting is even more crucial to investors to get updates rather than leaving investors none the wiser. However, the SGX Listing Rules say that sudden changes in financial or operating conditions must be flagged as soon as they arise.

KEEP IT, GET RID OF IT, TWEAK IT?

People who believe in the benefits of quarterly reporting may be loath to give it up totally. Those who see the downside of quarterly reporting may also realise that doing away with it entirely can create its own share of problems. So perhaps, the question is not if the quarterly regime will disappear but how it will be tweaked.

Senior partner at law firm Lee & Lee, Mr Adrian Chan, puts forward two areas for improvements for quarterly reports.

Currently, all companies with a market capitalisation of $75 million and above as at Dec 31 have to report quarterly.

Mr Chan's beef with the current rules is that even if the market capitalisation should fall subsequently below $75 million, the listed company still has to stick with it.

He suggests using similar criteria to that of the Singapore Corporate Awards, which sets the bar for small caps as those below $300 million in market cap. Using $300 million would still see some 230 companies, or 30 per cent of listed firms, still subject to mandatory quarterly reporting.

Mr Chan also says that the criteria of using the market capitalisation on a single day - Dec 31 - to determine the requirement for quarterly reporting is somewhat arbitrary. "A much more reliable determinant would be one based on a longer period of time, such as a weighted average share price over a continuous period of, say, 120 market days." This would be more representative of a listed company's true size and reflective of the resources it can muster.

Others feel that there should be a more rigorous debate on the benefits of the quarterly reporting.

KPMG's Mr Tay said that "the debate should focus on the quality of reporting as opposed to the frequency of reporting as investors need reliable information to base their decisions".

To some, Singapore's standing within the finance capitals of the world is the strongest it has ever been. This is the time when it can well afford to relook the quarterly reporting regime.

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

Civil penalties of S$100,000 each for two over SFA breaches

Business Times
17 Feb 2017
Vivien Shiao

[Singapore] THE Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) announced on Thursday that the state courts had ordered civil penalties of S$100,000 each against two individuals - John Chionh Teow Hie and Kiew Yoon Seng - for false and unauthorised trading in contravention of the Securities & Futures Act (SFA).

Between June 2008 and November 2009, Mr Chionh and Mr Kiew engaged in false trading in the shares of Keda Communications, a company delisted from the Singapore Exchange's Catalist board in 2010.

The two crossed 52 trades with each other using trading accounts held with Phillip Securities Pte Ltd (PSPL).

Cross trades are trades whereby two persons pre-arrange to trade with each other as counterparties and there is a change in the beneficial ownership of the traded securities.

This led to false or misleading appearances with respect to the price and market for Keda shares.

In addition, Mr Chiohn also conducted six wash trades - trades that do not involve a change in the beneficial ownership - through two of his trading accounts (one with PSPL, and the other with Lim & Tan Securities), which essentially meant that he was trading with himself. The 58 cross trades and wash trades collectively accounted for 34 per cent of the total traded volume of Keda shares between June 2008 and November 2009. Many of these actions artificially raised the price of Keda shares, with increases ranging from 11 to 146 per cent from the previous traded price.

Mr Kiew also carried out cross trades with Mr Chionh through a trading account belonging to Lee Hon Sun that was held with PSPL. Neither Mr Kiew nor Mr Lee informed or sought authorisation on this.

According to MAS, both had intentionally deceived PSPL of the true beneficial owner of the account so that Mr Kiew could enjoy a lower rate of brokerage fee which he would not have otherwise been entitled to. As a result, their conduct contravened the Securities and Futures Act.

In a separate out-of-court settlement in January 2013, Mr Lee paid MAS a civil penalty of S$50,000.

Lee Boon Ngiap, assistant managing director (capital markets), MAS, said: "The price of securities was manipulated in this case by way of coordinated cross trading between two individuals, and by one of the individual's wash trades. The civil penalty actions against these individuals reflect MAS' firm resolve to stamp out such misconduct from our markets."

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

IE S'pore Board Act amended to reflect shift in agency's role

Straits Times
08 Feb 2017
Yasmine Yahya

The International Enterprise (IE) Singapore Board Act has been amended to reflect changes in IE Singapore's role in overseeing commodity trading.

Dr Koh Poh Koon, Minister of State for Trade and Industry, told Parliament yesterday that the changes mean that IE Singapore's regulatory function will be now limited to spot commodity trading and the rubber trade industry.

Regulatory oversight of commodity futures contracts, which previously came under IE Singapore, was transferred to the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) in 2008.

The Securities and Futures (Amendment) Bill 2016 that was passed last month involved similar changes. It will see IE Singapore transfer the regulation of over-the-counter commodity derivative contracts to the MAS, which will bring about more effective regulatory oversight under a single agency.

Second, the International Enterprise Singapore Board Act has been amended to clarify that IE Singapore can collect, compile and analyse information relating to the commodity trade and industry.

"This gives IE Singapore, the lead agency responsible for the promotion and development of the commodity trading industry, continued access to company and market data for policy-formulation purposes," Dr Koh said.

The Act has also been updated to set out the circumstances under which IE Singapore may disclose confidential information related to the commodity trading industry to another public agency.

This includes disclosure of such information for formulating or reviewing policy relating to trade.

There will also be an administrative amendment to update the purposes for which the Singapore Rubber Fund (SRF) may be used. This will be done to take into account the revised functions of IE Singapore.

The fund is to be used to facilitate the promotion of the rubber trading industry.

Mr Louis Ng, MP for Nee Soon GRC, pointed out that the use of the SRF in the amended International Enterprise Singapore Board Act is not exclusive to the rubber trading industry.

Dr Koh replied: "This is indeed the case, to allow for some flexibility in the use of the SRF.

"While the fund has been and will continue to be used to facilitate the promotion and development of the rubber trading industry, it can be tapped upon to promote or develop the broader commodity trading industry, with the view that the benefits also accrue to the rubber trading industry."

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

Time to step up efforts to ensure security of personal information

Straits Times
01 Feb 2017
Irene Tham

Despite fines, warnings and publicity, there are still weak links in places where personal data of clients is stored

It's amazing how so many organisations take data security for granted.

Over the past 2½ years, Singapore's privacy watchdog has hauled up 26 organisations - including well-known brand names - and three individuals over data-privacy complaints from consumers.

The most common complaint concerns the leakage of personal data such as mobile number, name and residential address online or to third parties.

And as investigations by the Personal Data Protection Commission have shown, some organisations did not protect such sensitive data with a password while others did not rectify security flaws on their websites or in their computer systems.

To be specific, 20 of these organisations were found guilty of this, and all of them were not even aware they had the shortcomings. Some received warnings for their negligence, while most of them received fines ranging from $1,000 to $50,000.

The highest fine of $50,000 was slapped on karaoke chain K Box for a data breach involving the details of 317,000 customers in September 2014.

The most recent fines were issued last week to real-estate firm PropNex Realty and JP Pepperdine Group, which operates Jack's Place and Eatzi Gourmet restaurants. They each had to pay a $10,000 fine for lax security.

At this rate, hackers need not train on their keyboards or spend a fortune in the underground black market for malware to infect systems to steal data. There would be enough data-security slackers for hackers to have a field day and wreak some serious damage.

To be sure, the number of privacy-related complaints from consumers eased from about nine a day in 2015 to around eight a day last year, based on the latest figures from the commission.

It is hard to establish a trend based on two years' worth of data, and it remains to be seen if the decline in complaints will continue.

But what is certain is that cyber criminals are not letting up, compelling the Singapore Government to respond radically.

By May this year, Web access will be removed from the work computers of 100,000 public servants, except teachers who are on a separate network.

Surfing can be done only on dedicated Internet workstations or on one's personal smartphone or tablet. The idea is to create an "air gap" to prevent classified information from leaking on the Internet, and malware from infiltrating government internal networks.

It's time that everyone along the chain heeds the call to step up patrols. The weakest link can take down the entire chain.

At the very least, password-protect all sensitive information, or promptly remove vulnerable Web pages that open doors to internal systems.

Hopefully, the fines imposed and recent publicity will act as a wake-up call for others.

Under the Personal Data Protection Act, implemented fully since July 2014, organisations could be fined up to $1 million for failing to secure consumers' personal data in their care, among other requirements.

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

Bankrupts here discharged at record rate in 2016

Straits Times
17 Feb 2017
K.C. Vijayan & Seow Bei Yi

More bankrupts were discharged last year than at any time in a single year as the Insolvency Office upped its efforts to help deserving cases. This happened before a new framework kicked in last August which, among other things, raised the minimum debt that needs to be owed before a person may be made bankrupt, from $10,000 to $15,000.

Last year, some 4,359 individuals were released from their debts, up from 3,499 in 2015.

Responding to queries from The Straits Times, the Law Ministry (MinLaw) said the record number was the result of the Insolvency Office increasing its efforts to discharge deserving cases from bankruptcy before the implementation of the Differentiated Discharge Framework.

Besides the new minimum debt level, the framework creates a more rehabilitative regime and sets out fixed exit points for bankrupts to be discharged. If prescribed conditions are satisfied, first-time bankrupts can generally be discharged between five and seven years.

"These clear timeframes will give bankrupts an incentive to adhere to their payment plan, their conditions of bankruptcy, and seek gainful employment as a means of achieving their discharge," said the Insolvency Office website.

Repeat bankrupts will generally be eligible for discharge within seven to nine years. For applications made from Aug 1 last year, bankrupts are discharged either by the High Court, which has to be satisfied by the grounds presented during the hearing, or by the Official Assignee (OA). The OA has to certify that the bankrupt has met the relevant term in bankruptcy and paid the total contributions in full, among other things.

Around 1,800 people fall into bankruptcy a year, said MinLaw.

"The OA will manage the cases to ensure a certain level of parity in the treatment of existing and new bankrupts, while balancing the interests of the creditors and the bankrupts. Cases most likely to get discharged would be those where the bankrupts have been cooperative and where all administrative matters have been concluded," it added.

The main reasons for bankruptcies include overspending, business failure and unemployment, said MinLaw.

In addition to moves by the OA to rehabilitate bankrupts, the Community Justice Centre (CJC) set up a satellite office - launched last month - at the Supreme Court.

Volunteer lawyers are available there on Thursdays for a start, as many bankruptcy cases are heard on that day, said CJC executive director Leonard Lee. The move comes as more people are seeking legal advice from the CJC - an independent charity - on bankruptcy issues.

There were 2,704 bankruptcy applications made by individuals last year, up from 2,587 in 2014, according to MinLaw statistics.

CJC saw 61 such cases in the second half of last year at the State Courts, under its on-site legal advice scheme. This is an increase from the 49 cases it saw from January to June that year.

 

In one instance, a man's company was sued by his creditor after his employee leased a car in his firm's name for $61,000, said Mr Lee. The employee, who was also his friend, signed the agreement without the company's official stamp while the owner was away for more than two months. The employee then went missing.

In visiting the CJC, the business owner sought advice on whether his bank loans would be affected by the bankruptcy claim and his next course of legal action. A lawyer advised him accordingly.

Lawyer Rajan Chettiar, who has been volunteering with the CJC at least once a month for three years, said the new centre is helpful as individuals filing for bankruptcy likely cannot afford a lawyer.

He said demand for such legal advice may continue to increase.

"Times are bad, and many people cannot pay off their debts," he added. "Filing for bankruptcy can be one of the better ways out so they don't have to deal with creditors, but the challenge is the consequences. In a month, we receive at least five new callers at our law firm enquiring about bankruptcy and this has been consistent in recent years."


4,359

Number of individuals who were released from their debts last year.

3,499

Number of such individuals in 2015.

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

New rules for autonomous vehicles

Straits Times
08 Feb 2017
Danson Cheong

Autonomous vehicle technology might be at a nascent stage of development, but it is evolving quickly and rules need to be highly adaptable to regulate its use.

This is why the Government is amending the Road Traffic Act to better regulate trials of autonomous vehicles (AVs) here, Second Minister for Transport Ng Chee Meng said in Parliament yesterday as he set out the changes to the law.

First, the law now recognises that a motor vehicle need not be one with a human driver.

Second, technology developers will have to adhere to a suite of rules when they trial such vehicles on the roads. These include time and space limits on trials, standards for the design of AVs, and requirements for developers to share data with the Land Transport Authority (LTA).

The rules can also exempt AVs and their operators from existing legislation, which mandates that a human driver must be responsible for safe use of motor vehicles on the road. But operators would have to ensure that there is liability insurance, or place a security deposit with the LTA during the trials.

These amendments were passed into law yesterday after a two-hour debate, which saw 11 MPs speak or raise questions about the Bill.

The safety of road users was a top concern, with Nominated MP Thomas Chua, Non-Constituency MP Dennis Tan and Mr Sitoh Yih Pin (Potong Pasir) citing an accident last October involving a lorry and a self-driving vehicle from start-up nuTonomy as an example of what could go wrong.

Mr Melvin Yong (Tanjong Pagar GRC) asked whether guidelines would be developed to provide clarity on how road users should react in the event of an accident with an AV.

"Who would be liable should an AV hit a pedestrian or another vehicle? Would the person or persons in the AV at the time of the accident be liable? What happens if there is no one in the AV when the accident occurs?" said Mr Yong.

Mr Ng noted that AV technology is still not mature, and accidents are "not to be unexpected" during trials. But the LTA has a framework in place to minimise the possibility of accidents. This includes requiring AVs to pass a safety assessment before they can be tested on the roads, he said. "AV developers must have robust accident mitigation plans for the trials, including having a safety driver who is trained to shift swiftly to take control of the vehicle whenever necessary," he added.

The rules governing AV trials will be in force for five years. Thereafter, the Transport Ministry could consider extending them or enacting more permanent laws.

Mr Ng said it would take about 10 to 15 years before AV technology could be deployed widely. "As this is emerging technology, the provisions will provide the flexibility needed to assess the appropriate regulatory response more quickly."

Danson Cheong

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

Amos Yee's asylum bid: US court hearing on March 7

Straits Times
01 Feb 2017
Nirmal Ghosh

An Immigration Court judge in Illinois has accepted Singaporean teenage blogger Amos Yee's application for political asylum in the US, setting a date for a full hearing on March 7.

In a 10-minute hearing on Monday, his lawyer, Ms Sandra Grossman, appeared in person before the judge while Amos appeared via video from the jail where he has been in detention since arriving in the US on Dec 16.

"We stressed that he is persecuted in Singapore because of his critical political views, and that he has been subjected to an illegitimate process in Singapore," Ms Grossman told The Straits Times by phone.

Amos, 18, has served two jail terms in Singapore for wounding religious feelings. He will remain in detention until the hearing, unless the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) grants him parole.

However, if he is released, his hearing date would be pushed back and it may take years for him to complete the asylum process, Ms Grossman said. "He wants to be released as soon as possible, we have already made the request to ICE and we will be renewing that request."

If the hearing is on March 7, it would be over several hours and involve depositions from witnesses, she said - and the case could be decided on the basis of that hearing.

President Donald Trump's recent executive orders would likely not affect the case, except perhaps indirectly, as the Trump administration has ordered increased detention for asylum seekers that would require diversion of resources, Ms Grossman said.

Amos arrived in Chicago on a tourist visa with a round-trip ticket from Singapore.

According to an online account by US-based Singaporean activist Melissa Chen, a Customs and Border Protection officer flagged him for secondary inspection, where "they seized his electronic devices and found text messages between Amos and me, where we had been making arrangements for his bid for political asylum in the US".

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

Faster, cheaper access to Singapore market soon for VC funds

Business Times
16 Feb 2017
Jamie Lee

Industry players applaud new MAS initiatives to expand VC pool and boost startup ecosystem

[Singapore] VENTURE Capital (VC) funds looking to set up shop here can soon get approval in a matter of weeks and without capital requirements, as the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) proposed on Wednesday to relax some rules for VC managers.

The changes come as Singapore's drive to attract and build startups and growth companies from Asia kicks into high gear, with hopes for a more diverse pool of VC funds to support young companies that can be developed into the next unicorns.

MAS said it would offer a simplified authorisation process and regulatory framework for managers of VC funds, as soon as by July this year.

Approval for funds now takes about two-and-a-half months in general, said an MAS spokeswoman.

MAS said VC managers operate differently from other forms of fund management. In general, VC funds invest only in unlisted business ventures operating for no more than five years; do not accept new subscription after the close of a fund, with redemption only available at the end of the fund life; and are offered only to sophisticated investors.

"The proposed simplified regulatory regime for VC managers recognises the lower risks they pose, given their business model and sophisticated investor base," said Lee Boon Ngiap, assistant managing director, capital markets, at MAS.

"It will allow new VC managers a faster time-to-market and reduce their ongoing compliance burden. We hope this will attract more VC managers and spur them to play a greater role in supporting entrepreneurship and innovation."

Having more VCs could mean a more nurturing environment for local start-ups here, with some rumbling fears that the young guns are exiting too quickly instead of being groomed to be the next unicorn, or a start-up worth at least US$1 billion.

This also comes as Singapore's neighbours have been promoting the VC industry in their domestic markets, said Jeffrey Chi, chairman of Singapore Venture Capital and Private Equity Association. About 70 per cent of funds held by Singapore-based asset managers as at 2015 are invested into Asia-Pacific, with a large chunk of that going into Asean.

"Singapore needs something like this to stay relevant and competitive," he told The Business Times.

Indeed, MAS said there is room to further expand the size and scope of VC funding available for start-ups.

There are now about 30 registered VCs in Singapore. The fund size is generally about US$1 billion, though there are several other VC funds that are managed by larger corporations, or may not be registered as they are effectively one-man VCs who invest in fledgling firms. Corporate VC funds can now switch over to this regime.

Under the proposed new regulations, fresh and existing VC managers will not have to hold the typical base capital of S$250,000.

MAS will not require VC funds to make independent valuations, create internal audits, and submit audited financial statements to it. It will instead focus on a "fitness and propriety assessment" of the VC managers. This is expected to include checks for poor regulatory records both in Singapore and abroad, of the managers.

The regulator said the new regime accounts for the "contractual safeguards" already found in typical fund management contracts, as savvy VC investors are expected to negotiate terms to keep their monies secure.

By comparison, other fund managers must be run by directors with at least five years of relevant experience in fund management.

But VC managers will still have to obey anti-money laundering rules, and submit annual regulatory updates to the MAS. The regulator will also retain powers to inspect and probe VC managers, as well as issue prohibition orders against CEO and directors of VC managers.

Co-founder of local mobile security start-up V-Key Benjamin Mah said the changes will broaden the ecosystem and encourage a larger number of players. "Actual deal flow is the best indicator of the health of innovation and investment," he said.

VC managers applauded the move, with Sameer Narula, managing partner of ACP, saying that the lower costs will allow smaller fund managers to compete in the market.

Lim Kuo-Yi, partner at Monk's Hill Ventures, said in time, there has to be more access to other forms of financing to raise funds. "The widening of the funding ecosystem, such as growth capital beyond Series A or B, will further cement Singapore's position as the centre for startup and innovation activities," he said.

Likewise, Amit Anand, co-founder of Jungle Ventures, said more can be done to create partnerships with investors, citing work by the National Research Foundation of Singapore as an example.

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

Stiff penalties for private-hire car operators that flout rules

Straits Times
08 Feb 2017
Danson Cheong

Companies have to make sure their drivers have licences and insurance, or risk suspension

Private-hire operators such as Uber and Grab will have to ensure their drivers have proper licences and insurance, as well as display a prominent decal identifying the car they drive as a private-hire vehicle, under a law passed in Parliament yesterday.

They can be suspended for up to a month should their drivers be found to have flouted the rules three or more times in a year. They can also be fined up to $10,000 if they do not take steps to ensure their drivers are properly licensed.

But the stiff penalties are a "last resort", said Second Minister for Transport Ng Chee Meng, adding that the Registrar of Vehicles will not take such a step lightly as "a general suspension order has serious implications" not just for the operator, but also its drivers.

In short, it means the operator will not be able to serve commuters for up to a month as its drivers will be barred from driving for it.

Mr Ng stressed that the intent is to apply it in instances where the "operator repeatedly makes no attempt to ensure that its affiliated drivers adhere to our laws".

This major move is among several measures introduced in the Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill, which gives the Land Transport Authority (LTA) powers to regulate and take private-hire operators to task, among other things.

The rules were welcomed by MPs, who said these would help level the playing field between private-hire companies and taxi operators. In presenting the Bill for debate, Mr Ng said the measures "are necessary for the interests of commuters".

The penalties dovetail with new regulations that will be imposed on the private-hire car industry by the first half of this year. Under these regulations, private-hire drivers will be required to undergo a vocational licensing course plus background screening and a medical check.

Cars being used for services such as those provided by Uber and Grab must also be registered with the LTA, and display decals identifying them as private-hire vehicles.

Mr Ang Hin Kee (Ang Mo Kio GRC), who is an adviser to the National Taxi Association, suggested that the Government go further and collect licensing fees from private-hire operators, just like it does with taxi operators.

Cab companies pay a licensing fee of 0.2 per cent of the gross revenue collected.

Mr Ang added that the fees collected from the private-hire operators would allow the LTA to recover the costs incurred from monitoring these new players.

But, Mr Ng said, the Government is not planning to license private- hire services for now.

"This light-touch approach allows the industry, which is still evolving, to continue to innovate and benefit commuters," he added.

Mr Melvin Yong (Tanjong Pagar GRC) asked if the Government plans to expand the new rules to regulate car-pooling services such as GrabHitch.

"A similar vocational licence for ride-share drivers, with mandatory background checks, would serve to enhance the safety of our commuters," he said.

Mr Ng said that the Government does not intend to do so, as these services differ from private-hire car services in that they are not for profit.

Drivers who carpool can collect only a small fee to help them recover their costs, he added.

The new law includes rules that will govern autonomous vehicles such as driverless cars, and allow the Government to prohibit foreign-registered vehicles from entering and leaving Singapore if they have unpaid fines and taxes.

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

Eagerness to adopt dual-class shares is worrying

Business Times
30 Jan 2017
R. Sivanithy

IT IS troubling to find that some companies here have either applied to amend their constitutions to allow them to switch to a dual-class share (DCS) structure, or have already done so, subject to whether the Singapore Exchange (SGX) eventually amends its Listing Rules to permit such structures ("Eight other companies found to have tweaked their charters to allow dual-class shares" BT, Jan 27).

Several questions spring immediately to mind. First, why the urgency to move when SGX has not even issued a consultation paper on the subject?

When approached, some firms replied that they were simply aligning their Articles of Association with the Companies Act since the latter was amended last year to make way for DCS. Fair enough. Yet the spirit of DCS as articulated by SGX's Listings Advisory Committee (LAC) is that such arrangements should be reserved only for companies that can show compelling reasons for wishing to adopt a structure that gives more voting power to a proportionately smaller number of presumably controlling owner-shareholders. What made the recent applicants think they qualify?

Next and more troubling: Does the fact that at least nine companies have seen fit to try and change their articles before SGX has given the green light suggest that corporate Singapore thinks amending the Listing Rules is only a formality?

If yes, then this casts doubt on the integrity of the consultation process. A paper is supposed to be circulated in the near future on the topic, feedback sought from the public and then, only after careful evaluation of all points of view, is a decision expected.

Yet many in the market have privately said that allowing DCS here is a "done deal", that the exchange will have no choice but to relax its listing rules to allow "new economy" companies born of an age of "technological disruption" to list here so as to gain a competitive edge over its regional peers.

If so, then the consultation process is reduced to an exercise in going through the motions because the outcome has already been predetermined. Can this really be the case?

The issue of whether DCS has a place in the local market has stirred tremendous controversy ever since the LAC recommended its adoption last year.

Most readers would be familiar with the issues involved and what is at stake - governance experts warn against tampering with the "one man, one vote" system that has served markets adequately for decades, whilst the pro-DCS camp maintains that there is a place for it provided sufficient safeguards are installed.

For every argument for or against DCS, a reasonable counter can be found. The experience of Hong Kong provides some guide: In 2014 the exchange proposed introducing DCS, but the move was shot down by the market's overall regulator, the Securities and Futures Commission, because of governance concerns.

Despite this setback, the Hong Kong exchange this month said it is now thinking of forming a third board where DCS companies can list, a move possibly prompted by developments here.

What might happen in Hong Kong will only be known in the months ahead. For now, SGX must surely be concerned that companies have jumped the DCS gun for the reasons outlined earlier.

There is a final consideration that perhaps is the most worrying of all: If the eagerness to change constitutions means companies are happy to adopt DCS, what does that say about overall corporate governance in the local market and the way minority rights are viewed?

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

Using intellectual property to drive innovation

Business Times
16 Feb 2017
Vivien Shiao

Industry players say plan to build capabilities to commercialise IP is a move in the right direction

TO further drive innovation and technology adoption in enterprises, one of the key recommendations by the Committee on the Future Economy (CFE) is to strengthen Singapore's intellectual property (IP) ecosystem.

This has been welcomed by IP lawyers, startups and other industry players as a move in the right direction.

The CFE report has several suggestions on how this could be done; these include building up Singapore's national capabilities to commercialise IP; growing the community of IP experts; developing standardised IP protocol to be adopted by all public agencies and publicly-funded research entities; updating the IP Hub Master Plan; and reviewing Singapore's copyright regime.

Lau Kok Keng, head of intellectual property, sports and gaming at Rajah & Tann Singapore, notes that in the past, the government's focus was more upstream - growing Singapore's ability to generate IP through innovation, research and development.

"Now that we have achieved relative success and stability in that area, commercialisation of IP created through innovation and R&D (research and development) is the next logical area to grow."

According to the CFE report, one way is to bring in market-oriented entities that are focused on commercialising IP produced by Singapore's institutes of higher learning (IHL) and other research performers.

But there are challenges in commercialising IP.

Steven Fang, CEO of CapBridge, a fintech platform for institutional fundraising, pointed out that the process is a complex one. "Besides more awareness raising and target education, both the private and public sectors can look towards providing more subsidies and incentives to encourage more individuals to join the IP commercialisation community." These include lawyers, patent attorneys, valuers, managers and strategists who bring their relevant skills to the table. But most critically, the drive calls for the "full scope of investors and market makers within this space", adds Dr Fang.

The report also proposes that a standardised IP protocol be adopted by all public agencies and publicly-funded research entities.

Mr Lau explains that today, different agencies adopt different IP policies and protocols. "Having a standardised set of protocols would help to clarify and familiarise processes among all agencies and promote certainty and ease of compliance with the protocols."

At the same time, he warns that there must be flexibility to cater to situations which call for departures from the standard protocols, especially if the industry is a fluid and ever-changing one like the ICT industry.

Matthew Peloso, CEO of solar energy startup Sun Electric, says having standard protocols could encourage more players to file patents and copyrights for their inventions. "There needs to be support for entrepreneurs and businesses to compete and create more excitement and competition in the landscape, and standardised IP can set the stage."

From the perspective of investors, Dr Fang points out that standardisation will enable companies to attract quality international partnerships for innovation, by helping them to raise funds from an international pool of investors and conduct due diligence.

Another recommendation in the CFE report is to review Singapore's copyright regime to support the growth of creative industries.

Mr Lau notes that copyright laws around the world can seldom cater to the rapid advancements in technology and the digital and social media, and often fail to provide enough protection to copyright owners.

When copyright owners feel that the laws do not protect their rights adequately, they could be deterred from innovation and IP creation.

"Updating our copyright laws periodically will help to keep up with changes in technology and the industry, but interpreting these laws will remain a challenge."

Mr Lau says that copyright laws focused on spurring innovation are likely to contain features which serve to enhance the rights of the copyright owner, such as a longer period of IP protection, clearly defined and enforceable rights, and an effective enforcement system against infringers.

Finally, the CFE report also recommends an update of the IP Hub Master Plan to support innovation and entrepreneurship, released in 2013, to focus on assisting innovators and enterprises to extract value from their IP. The Intellectual Property Office of Singapore intends to announce its updated version in April.

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

Strata title rules can be improved even more: Forum

Straits Times
08 Feb 2017

The proposed changes to the Building Maintenance and Strata Management Act, aimed at curbing so-called "proxy wars", are welcome ("Plan to limit proxies one can hold at condo meetings"; Feb 2).

However, even with the amendments currently under consideration, there are more issues to be addressed.

One such issue is the use of lots to count votes.

Broadly speaking, the size of a unit, and hence the number of lots, does not always correlate with the number of residents living within, given the tremendous number of variables in housing arrangements.

Decisions made at annual general meetings do not impact the units or lots per se, but rather, the residents themselves.

It would be wiser to adhere to a principle of "one unit one vote", based strictly on the number of subsidiary proprietors.

I would further recommend the introduction of term limits for managing council members, so as to ensure that condominium affairs cannot be dominated by any individual or group for an inordinate period.

After all, leadership renewal is an established precept of good governance.

Fresh appointees can also assess objectively the decisions made by their predecessors, which further strengthens checks and balances.

As we work to improve the Act, let us bear in mind the ultimate objective of balancing interests so as to improve condominium living for all parties.

Paul Chan Poh Hoi

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

ADV: Career opportunities at NUS Faculty of Law

Singapore Law Watch
30 Jan 2017
National University of Singapore

Man guilty of sexually abusing daughter

Straits Times
16 Feb 2017
Selina Lum

One evening in April 2014, a 13-year-old girl sent a long Whats App message to her mother, with a sickening revelation - she had been sexually abused by her father.

"I love Dad... but I hate Dad when he does that to me. I am confused. I do not know how to handle this anymore. Most of the time when Dad did those things I want (sic) to tell you but I am scared," she wrote.

Yesterday, the girl sat with her mother and other relatives as the court found her father, 42, guilty of 10 charges of sexual offences, including four counts of sexual assault by penetration.

The offences were committed in the family flat from the end of 2011 to April 2014, when she was aged between 11 and 13.

"I feel a little sense of relief but I'm still waiting for March 20," the girl, now 16, told The Straits Times. That is when her father is expected to be sentenced.

The teen, who was in her school uniform, had attended every day of her father's six-day trial with her mother, who has since divorced him. The girl said she was "speechless" at parts of his testimony but believed that "truth will prevail".

Among other things, he suggested she could have made up the allegations to get back at him for disciplining her. He had also claimed it was not possible for him to have done some of the sexual acts, given the size and condition of his genitals, which are deformed from an enlargement procedure.

In convicting the man, Judicial Commissioner Aedit Abdullah said there was no evidence the allegations were trumped up. He said the accused's claim about his genitals did not create reasonable doubt, noting that he did not mention this during police investigations.

He also found the teen's testimony to be "unusually convincing".

She had testified that most of the abuse took place in the master bedroom as she would use the computer in that room for school projects.

Her father would ensure the door was closed and locked before carrying out the sex acts.

Her mother had testified that a few times, she found the door locked but assumed her daughter did not want to be disturbed while doing her schoolwork.

The girl said she kept quiet as she was afraid the family would break up. But after yet another assault - on April 15, 2014 - she decided she had had enough. She texted her mother while she was at school and was prepared to stay at her aunt's place if her mother doubted her.

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, then a food stall assistant, out of the flat. Three weeks later, she made a police report and filed for divorce.


IN DESPAIR

Dad always say he loves me... but Dad does things that are not right to me. I love Dad... but I hate Dad when he does that to me. I am confused. I do not know how to handle this anymore. Most of the time when Dad did those things I want to tell you but I am scared. I am very scared that you will quarrel with Dad... I SMS because I cannot face you if I tell you this thing... I do not want to see you cry because it will make me feel guilty throughout my life...I am afraid to go home... I am very afraid. I am also afraid you will not believe me... Why would I text you about this thing if it is not true? I do not want to go home... I feel afraid... I feel that I am dirty. Very very dirty.

THE VICTIM, in a text message to her mum.

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

Shuttered gallery leaves artists hanging

Straits Times
08 Feb 2017
NABILAH SAID

Up to 39 artists claim works stuck in storage after gallery owner skips town with bills unpaid

Singapore art gallery Mandala Fine Art has ceased operations, but up to 39 artists have not been able to reclaim their artworks, estimated to be worth more than $1 million.

Sri Lankan gallery owner Vitharana Mudiyanselage Hemasiri Vitharana left Singapore last year, leaving the works in storage facilities, which will not release them as they are owed rent.

When The Straits Times visited the gallery's premises in Kallang Avenue last Friday, the unit was vacant and its glass doors were chained.

Mr Vitharana also owes artists and former employees thousands in salaries and transport costs, according to former staff and 15 artists who spoke to The Straits Times.

Among these artists is Ukrainian painter Alexander Belozor, 54, who has appealed to the Embassy of Ukraine in Singapore for help.

Last week, a friend of the artist, named Zoe, posted an entry on his blog claiming that 14 of his paintings are still in Singapore and were not returned after being shown at last April's Asia Dive Expo.

Mandala Fine Art also owes Mr Belozor about US$2,000 (S$2,800) in transport costs, said Zoe, who spoke to The Straits Times on the artist's behalf.

While the embassy was able to get in touch with Mr Vitharana, Mr Belozor said that months of communication have led to naught.

"We decided to make the information public, to warn everyone and to try to find the artworks, which is the main goal for us now," said Zoe in an e-mail.

When contacted by The Straits Times, Mr Vitharana said in an e-mail that Mr Belozor's works are "safe and secure in a private place in Singapore".

But he said that he had lost $500,000 since setting up the company in 2014 and still owed money to the storage facilities. "To clear Alexander's work from there, we do need to do some payments. This is why his work is stuck," he said.

Others, too, are waiting. Last September, a police report was made on behalf of 38 artists from countries such as South Africa, Britain and Thailand.

They sent their works to Singapore in 2015 for a show mounted by the gallery, and were "stonewalled" by Mr Vitharana when they asked for them to be returned, according to the police report.

Police confirmed that a report was made and "the complainant was advised on his legal recourse".

British artist Jeremy Paul said that three of his paintings, valued at about $10,000, have not been returned. He added that the gallery also owes him £500 (S$880) for framing and delivery.

Mr Paul said in an e-mail that Mr Vitharana "broke the terms of my contract with Mandala in that the transport fees were not paid and no art has been returned". He added that the artworks were supposed to have been returned after the exhibition closed in December 2015.

As of yesterday, 14 of the 38 artists who lodged the police report have confirmed that their works have still not been returned.

Mr Vitharana told The Straits Times that these paintings are stuck in a storage facility owned by Ocean Logistics, in Jalan Pemimpin. He claimed to have paid 40 to 50 per cent of the fees owed.

An owner of Ocean Logistics, Mr Gary Yeo, told The Straits Times that he took the matter to the Small Claims Tribunal last April.

As a result, Mr Vitharana paid half of the bill - $5,000 - last May and promised to settle the rest by the end of the month. The outstanding amount has snowballed to $18,776 and Mr Yeo said he will be discussing his next steps with his lawyer.

He believes that up to 100 artworks are in storage. "If there's no payment, nothing can be taken out from the store," he said. "Someone has to foot the bill."


Employees' salaries not paid

Meanwhile, former employee Vincent Ong said he is owed about $11,000. Two others, who declined to be named, claimed to be owed $3,000 each. Mr Ong said: "He paid me for only two months and the next two months or so, he didn't pay. And he never pays on time."

The gallery is no stranger to controversy. Last June, it was accused of reproducing photographer Vin PSK's work without permission and trying to sell the copy for $6,000.

Ms Aniela Rahardja, secretary of the Art Galleries Association (Singapore), said: "Unfortunately, if galleries are not responsive or communicative, there's not much that an artist can do, except perhaps report to police or sue the gallery.

"But a lawsuit is expensive and most artists cannot afford it."

The association's 29 members have to sign a professional practices and ethics code. Mandala Fine Art was not part of the association.

Mr Vitharana's present whereabouts are unknown. He said he plans to return but "there is no source of income" for him here.

"We accept our mistakes and we would like to apologise officially to all the parties who had to undergo difficulties because of us and the situation," he added. But apologies mean nothing to some artists.

"This is such a draining situation, and this is so unjust," said Zoe. "We don't even care about that money any more, even though Alexander has bad financial problems. We only hope to get the artworks back."

• Additional reporting by Cara Wong

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

Court dismisses appeal of fugitive who fled to US

Straits Times
28 Jan 2017
Selina Lum

Facing jail time for forgery, he fled Singapore in 2003 using a passport bearing another man's name.

For the next 12 years, Ng Chong Lin settled in the United States, where he practised immigration law under a bogus identity, before he was caught and deported.

Charged with offences relating to his departure, Ng, now 45, insisted he had applied for a passport using his own identity card but did not realise that he was issued one that bore his photograph alongside the particulars of one Wee Pui Kui.

He claimed he did not spot the error throughout the stages of his departure - when he collected his passport, when he booked his air ticket, and when he checked in and cleared immigration at Changi Airport. He said he noticed the error only after arriving in New York, but it did not occur to him to seek help from the Singapore Embassy there.

His story failed to convince the High Court yesterday, which dismissed Ng's appeal against his conviction for cheating by personation and producing a misleading document to an immigration officer.

The saga began in 2003, when Ng was sentenced to three years and three months' jail for forgery and other charges related to a company in which he was a director. He filed an appeal, was granted bail and handed his passport to the police.

Ng then applied for a new passport and was issued one that bore his photograph but the particulars of Wee Pui Kui. Two days before his appeal was to be heard, he used this passport to leave for New York.

He lived there for 12 years, using at least seven aliases, one of them "Daveng Wee". The name appeared to be an amalgamation of Dave Ng, a name he was known by.

From 2006 to 2009, he used the name and registration number of a real attorney to file documents to the federal authorities for individuals in various immigration matters.

Besides posing as a lawyer, he claimed to have attended schools in New York when he applied for temporary residence in the US in May 2007. In 2010, "Daveng Wee" was caught by the US authorities and jailed for four years for aggravated identity theft in impersonating an attorney, among other things. His real identity was revealed after his fingerprints were sent to Singapore.

In June last year, a district judge called Ng an "inveterate liar" and sentenced him to 40 months' jail for the offences relating to his departure.

Ng's appeal against this decision, as well as the shelved appeal from 2003, was heard - and dismissed - by the High Court yesterday.

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

ADV: Enter the STEP Private Client Awards 2017/18

Singapore Law Watch
16 Feb 2017
Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners

Parks and trees law sees animated discussion over wildlife

Straits Times
08 Feb 2017
Zakir Hussain

Green causes have gained prominence here over the past two decades, and yesterday's debate on the Parks and Trees (Amendment) Bill showed just how passionate some MPs can be about nature and wildlife issues.

The Bill, noted longtime wildlife activist Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC), was a "milestone in our efforts to protect Singapore's biodiversity".

He recalled that Acres, the animal charity he started, rescued more than 3,000 wild animals last year alone. Yet the most common response he gets when he tells Singaporeans about this is: "Singapore got wild animals meh?"

Other MPs - nine spoke on the Bill - cited examples aplenty.

Mr Darryl David (Ang Mo Kio GRC) said that in spite of its busy maritime traffic, the Singapore Strait's diverse marine life includes the hawksbill turtle, Indo-Pacific humpbacked dolphin, and blacktip reef shark.

Mr Henry Kwek (Nee Soon GRC) noted how, on a recent visit to Thomson Nature Park, he came across the greater slow loris, banded leaf monkey, and the sunda pangolin. His group also chanced on a baby big-eye green whip snake. He hopes more young people can be enticed to visit parks and enjoy the experience.

Their encounters and exchanges in the House are a reminder that a fine balance has to be struck between protecting parks, nature reserves and their flora and fauna as urban development encroaches on their fringes.

Several MPs felt the changes - to protect the first marine park at Sisters' Islands, and to make it an offence to release or abandon an animal into a body of water that leads to a nature reserve - could go further.

Mr Ng wanted the law to prohibit the release of exotic species anywhere - on land and in water. Animals, after all, have the freedom to move to nature reserves.

Non-Constituency MP Leon Perera said the changes did not address the issue of invasive species entering the reserves by chance - such as non-indigenous decorative plants favoured by condominium developers reproducing in the reserves, or exotic pets escaping accidentally.

NCMP Daniel Goh spoke at length about how he was disappointed with the scope and scale of the changes.

He saw the need to designate Sisters' Islands Marine Park as a nature reserve. That would afford it greater protection. He wanted a buffer zone to protect the area in the event of incidents like an oil spill.

And he wondered whether the marine park might, one day, become an eco-tourism theme park - and sought assurances that there were no plans for such a development.

Responding to the MPs, Senior Minister of State for National Development Desmond Lee said Dr Goh's "harbinger of the turning of the marine park into Disneyland... is certainly not at all in the plans".

His ministry, Mr Lee said, would also find ways to keep the younger generation engaged and excited about parks, citing undergraduate Sean Yap who started a Facebook album - Real Life Pokemon of Singapore - to show the similarities between Pokemon characters and native plants and animals here.

Mr Lee also said invasive species are a perennial concern. This is why buffers have been established around nature reserves to protect them "from the dessicating effect of buildings and concrete and traffic". Such buffers also give NParks the opportunity to remove alien species "that have been deliberately or accidentally released from these developments into the nature reserves".

Singapore's approach to nature, while pragmatic and driven by development needs, has sought to integrate development with nature.

As Mr Lee noted, Singapore is a biophilic city. The term describes how humans are hard-wired to need connections with nature and other forms of life.

In some other countries, the approach is to "prohibit a whole series of activities and try to tell people 'Please don't go there, minimise contact, keep a distance, let nature thrive'.

"In Singapore, it's the converse. We're a city in a garden - the city envelops our nature reserves, our nature parks, envelops our biodiversity," Mr Lee said.

"We have to be biophilic ... We have to be good custodians and stewards of our biodiversity - not just keeping it away at arm's length through legislation and prohibition, but to educate, to excite, to enthuse people to care about the plant and animal species that make us a very special place."

Parliament sittings see a stream of students and others in the public gallery, and hopefully those watching yesterday's debate will be spurred to find out more about what and where Singapore's wild animals and plants are.

The protection now afforded to Singapore's first marine park, and more developments to safeguard the natural environment, should give Singaporeans a chance to discover how important it is that nature should retain a central place in a continually developing city.

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

Number of mediation cases filed hits record high

Straits Times
28 Jan 2017
K.C. Vijayan

More people are turning to mediation to settle spats, with Singapore's pioneering mediation centre reporting its highest number of cases filed in its 20-year history.

The Singapore Mediation Centre (SMC) handled 499 cases here involving a record $775 million last year. The number of cases was a 72 per cent jump from 2015.

The majority of the disputes were commercial in nature, with about a quarter involving construction, company and shareholder disputes, the SMC said yesterday.

The spike comes as mediation is given a boost through new judicial initiatives and a new legislative framework. Since last October, for instance, straightforward divorces and contested estate cases involving at least $3 million in assets may be ordered for mediation at the SMC, instead of being heard at the Family Justice Courts.

A change to the Supreme Court practice directions last year also requires lawyers to advise clients that mediation is a viable option.

At a Beijing conference of the Asian Mediation Association last October, Judge of Appeal Andrew Phang underscored the significant role the Singapore judiciary played in cementing mediation as one of the prime ways to settle disputes.

He pointed out how mediation is made an attractive option through judicial policies and practices, and how it is also cheaper than a court trial, for instance.

He highlighted that more than 90 per cent of the cases settled were done within 24 hours at the SMC.

Judge of Appeal Phang cited the SMC's track record in handling large sums in dispute, having mediated more than $3.5 billion worth of disputes in total, including a $209 million claim - the highest so far.

Rajah & Tann partner Jonathan Yuen, who has been a certified mediator for more than a decade, attributes the increase in mediation to greater awareness of its benefits.

"There is also a mindset change, unlike before, when agreeing to mediation was seen by a lot of people as a sign of weakness," he added.

Drew & Napier Senior Counsel Hri Kumar Nair believes that cost plays a key part, with litigants having to consider the time, manpower and opportunity costs of a court trial, in addition to the legal fees, "not to mention the stress and the uncertainty of the result".

"Another reason is the experience and competence of the mediators we have now," he added.

Clients, Mr Nair said, are more agreeable to mediation as they cannot be forced to accept a deal they are not satisfied with. Anything they say during the process is also confidential and cannot be used against them subsequently.

"This 'openness' (being able to talk freely behind closed doors) helps parties articulate their real grievances and concerns, and may allow them to reach a solution which the law may not be able to provide," he added.

"I have been involved in a number of mediations, including one where the agreement was finally signed at 3am. There was one particular case where the different parties were all victims of a fraudster, and the legal issue was who should bear the responsibility for the loss, which ran into the millions.

"Ultimately, the parties agreed to share the loss... This was not a solution which the law provides."

SMC executive director Loong Seng Onn said the centre has, over the years, worked closely with businesses and professional bodies to promote mediation, and has also trained numerous lawyers and others in mediation skills.

"As mediation gains traction, the next phase of our work is to make mediation a viable full-time career. We are working to create specialist panels to meet the needs of users."

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

Flood 'losses': Rifle group seeks $450k

Straits Times
15 Feb 2017
Selina Lum

Lawsuit over two incidents which allegedly made 185,000 ammo rounds unsafe for use

The Singapore Rifle Association (SRA) is seeking more than $450,000 from its parent body, the Singapore Shooting Association (SSA), for alleged losses arising from two flooding incidents that it blames on the SSA.

The case, which opened in the High Court yesterday, is the first of four court feuds between the SRA and the SSA, as well as the latter's president.

The SSA, the national authority for shooting in Singapore, was the lessee and occupier of the National Shooting Centre in Old Choa Chu Kang Road.

The SRA, which operated an armoury in the centre's basement, alleges that 185,000 rounds of ammunition that were stored there were submerged underwater for more than 24 hours due to the two floods.

The affected rounds are unsafe for use, and will have to be disposed of at significant cost, said SRA's lawyer Wendell Wong. He added that the backflow of water from a "poorly designed" unlined drain on the premises caused the armoury to be flooded on Dec 24, 2014 and on May 3, 2015.

Mr Wong argued that the SSA breached the duty of care it owed to the SRA to properly maintain the drain and supervise works carried out at the centre.

In the first incident, the armoury was flooded to a depth of more than 1m. Mr Wong said expert witnesses will testify that the main reason for the flood was a collapsed slope at the bank of the drain; earth fill material blocked the drainage channel, causing a backflow of water into the armoury.

Meanwhile, the second flood was due to blockage of the pipe connecting the two sections of the drain, which was choked by debris, he said.

But the SSA, represented by lawyer Anthony Lee, says it does not owe the SRA a duty of care. Mr Lee argued that it was Sport Singapore, lessor of the premises, which brought earth fill material onto the site for refurbishment works in preparation for the 2015 South-east Asian Games.

Mr Lee said the SSA had no control over the works carried out on the premises, which were handed over to the statutory board between October 2013 and December 2014.

However, Mr Wong said Sport Singapore has clarified that it neither ordered trucks to dump debris at the centre, nor asked the SSA to surrender the premises completely.

The suit was initially brought by the SSA in 2015 to compel the SRA to hand over the armoury, so that it could carry out upgrading works to meet security requirements. The SRA then counter-sued the SSA.

In February last year, the centre was closed by Sport Singapore, after police found serious licensing irregularities. The SSA withdrew its claim.

The SRA has also filed two suits against SSA president Michael Vaz.

The SRA also filed one suit against the SSA, over a proposed resolution circulated to council members.

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

Bill sets out stricter procedure for patents filed here from 2020

Straits Times
07 Feb 2017
Lin Yangchen

From Jan 1, 2020, people wishing to file patents in Singapore will have their applications put through a more stringent examination procedure, if an amended Bill is passed by Parliament.

The amendment would cover inventions that have been assessed by patent offices overseas prior to the application here.

The Patents (Amendment) Bill tabled in Parliament yesterday also proposes to allow inventors to disclose their inventions publicly within a grace period of 12 months prior to their patent applications.

This would allow inventors to attract investors or publish scientific papers without having to wait for a patent.

A patent typically takes two to three years to be granted.

The updated Bill reflects the maturation of Singapore's patent system, since major foreign patent offices do not grant patents without full examination, said the Ministry of Law.

Existing patents continue to be valid in Singapore unless they are successfully challenged and revoked, added the ministry.

Singapore, which passed its Patents Act in 1994, was ranked fourth in the world and top in Asia for intellectual property protection in the World Economic Forum's Global Competitiveness Report 2016-2017.

The key process of patent application is the so-called search and examination process. The search is conducted to obtain information relevant to the invention, while examination ensures that the inventor's idea is new, involves an inventive step and has industrial applicability.

There are presently three routes to getting an application in Singapore searched and examined.

One is to have both stages done in Singapore. Another involves having the search stage done by a patent office overseas.

The other option is the so-called foreign route, where both search and examination are done overseas and reviewed by Singapore in a "supplementary examination".

The foreign route, which has been taken up by about 60 per cent of the roughly 10,000 patent applications in Singapore every year, will be discontinued from Jan 1, 2020, as proposed in the Bill.

Until it is discontinued, applicants using the foreign route have to pay the $160 patent application fee and $200 grant certification fee, to be granted a patent.

They do not have to pay the search and examination fee of $2,600, and the supplementary examination is free.

With the amendment, applicants will be limited to the other two options. Applicants will have to pay the search and examination fee, which will be reduced to a maximum of $1,950 starting in April this year, or $1,350 in examination fees if the search stage is done overseas.

To support the increasing independence of the Singapore patent system, the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore has been building up its pool of registered patent agents in the last few years. There are now 124 of them.

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

IHC suspends trading; to file police report 'in due course'

Business Times
28 Jan 2017
Judith Tan

Company clarifies earlier statement that it had already made a police report

[Singapore] INTERNATIONAL Healthway Corporation (IHC) has converted its recent trading halt to a voluntary suspension yesterday.

Issuing a statement before the market opened on the eve of Chinese New Year, the company's director Jackson Tay said further to the company's announcement on Tuesday, the Interim Transition Committee and the new board of directors need "more time to determine the current state of affairs of IHC and its subsidiaries".

This was in the aftermath of a heated extraordinary general meeting (EGM), which lasted over two hours at the Catalist-listed healthcare group on Monday. Shareholders voted to remove the entire board.

The meeting, held at Maxwell Chambers in Thye Hong Centre, Leng Kee Road, was requisitioned by Oxley Holdings' Eric Low and his sister Audrey in a notice on Oct 28 last yearwith two main resolutions: to remove four then-directors - chairman Gerald Lim Thien Su, Lim Beng Choo, Alviedo Rodolfo Jr San Miguel and Leonard Chia - who made up the entire board, and appoint three new directors - Roger Tan Chade Phang, Eric Sho Kian Hin and Mr Tay.

Mr Low held about 118.1 million shares in IHC as at Oct 28, which worked out to a 7.12 per cent stake as at Monday, while Ms Low controlled a stake about half that size, at around 67.2 million shares.

The EGM was postponed to Monday after concluding that its previous announcement for the meeting had not given shareholders sufficient notice and after several "very heated arguments" at the meeting, the whole board was removed.

On Tuesday, a day after the EGM, an SGX filing issued by IHC said a police report was filed against ousted executive director Lim Beng Choo, who was allegedly seen leaving the office premises with her computer and some documents

Her executive functions and powers have been suspended and she was directed to render assistance to the board of directors, the Interim Transition Committee or their appointed representatives.

But in the SGX filing yesterday, Mr Tay clarified that IHC had only told the police Ms Lim left the office premises and the new board had asked for police assistance.

He said that a formal police report will be made "in due course".

He added that the new leadership will continue to keep shareholders updated on any subsequent material developments and anyone who is in doubt as to the action he or she should take should consult his or her legal, financial, tax or other professional advisers.

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

Court orders laser clinic chain's founder to release bank records

Straits Times
15 Feb 2017
K.C. Vijayan

A foreign-based company which paid $14.4 million for shares in a Singapore aesthetics clinic chain, then cancelled the sale, won a court decision to monitor the money it had already paid and is now trying to have returned.

Seychelles-based Liberty Sky Investments (LSI) wants to establish if the monies remained in the OCBC Bank account of PPP Laser Clinic founder Goh Seng Heng or have been shifted to third parties.

LSI is doing this while separately fighting a civil case claiming it had been misrepresented into buying 32,049 shares in Aesthetic Medical Partners (AMP) in a sale agreement with Dr Goh in 2014.

AMP provides aesthetic facial treatments and procedures, and, among other things, operates a chain of clinics named "PPP Laser Clinic" and sells skincare products at the "PPP shop".

Dr Goh was the group executive chairman of AMP from January 2012 to June 2014 and shareholder at the material time.

He had objected to releasing his bank records to disclose the payment received in the sale but the High Court recently overruled him.

In judgment grounds issued last week, Judicial Commissioner Debbie Ong ruled "it is necessary, just and convenient to order disclosure of these documents from the banks in order for LSI to trace and follow the sale price monies".

OCBC said it would abide by what the court orders.

However, the court allowed the access order to be stayed, pending the outcome of an appeal by Dr Goh.

The original sale soured when LSI claimed, through Senior Counsel Harpreet Singh Nehal, that it was induced by misrepresentations made by Dr Goh and others to enter into the sale agreement.

LSI - controlled by Shanghai- based Madam Gong Ruilin, who is married to Mr Lin Lijun - rescinded the deal and is now seeking a return of the monies paid.

Dr Goh, defended by lawyer Adrian Tan, denies the claims of misrepresentations, saying they are the subject of serious dispute to be settled in the main case and there is no prima facie case of fraud.

Having assessed the evidence, Judicial Commissioner Ong found there was a reasonable prima facie case that Dr Goh did make the representations in question to LSI through Madam Gong and Mr Lin.

The judge made clear LSI would have to provide proof of its case at the main trial in order to succeed.

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

Liberty Sky Investments Ltd v Oversea-Chinese Banking Corp Ltd and another [2017] SGHC 20

CCS approves Nissan's purchase of 34% stake in Mitsubishi

Straits Times
07 Feb 2017
Jacqueline Woo

Watchdog finds that the deal will not substantially reduce competition in the Singapore market

The Competition Commission of Singapore (CCS) has given the nod to Nissan Motor's recent acquisition of a 34 per cent stake in Mitsubishi Motors.

The CCS found that the deal will not substantially reduce competition in the market here. It advised the two firms of the decision on Jan 23.

Nissan - an affiliate of French car firm Renault and Japan's second-largest carmaker by sales - bought the controlling stake in Mitsubishi for 237 billion yen (S$3.2 billion) in October last year.

The move is to help the smaller Mitsubishi turn its business around from a fuel-economy scandal, after it admitted last April that it had been cheating on fuel tests for years.

The CCS said in a statement yesterday that it had sought feedback from customers, distributors and other vehicle manufacturers, who had not raised competition concerns on the wholesale supply of cars and pickup trucks here.

After reviewing the feedback, the CCS concluded that the transaction would not result in a substantial lessening of competition in the relevant markets- those for mini cars, small cars, medium-sized cars, sports utility vehicles and pickup trucks.

The CCS said that as a result, the deal has not infringed Section 54 of the Competition Act, which prohibits mergers resulting in a substantial lessening of competition.

This is for mergers where the merged entity will have a market share of 40 per cent or more, or a market share of 20 per cent to 40 per cent when the post-merger combined market share of the three largest firms is 70 per cent or more.

The combined market shares of Nissan, Renault and Mitsubishi for passenger vehicles did not exceed the commission's indicative thresholds for competition concerns, said the CCS, adding that the firms are not "close competitors" in the market.

For pickup trucks, the merger would result in a 60 per cent to 70 per cent combined market share of the three firms, and a 90 per cent to 100 per cent share for the three largest players.

But the CCS also said market share figures may not be a reliable indicator of competition, noting that there is a "considerable degree of volatility" in the market shares of the three companies and their competitors, as well as "sufficient competition" from other major suppliers of pickup trucks.

It added that barriers to expansion and entry are not "overly high" for the supply of passenger and light commercial vehicles.

"New brands of passenger vehicles have entered Singapore in recent years, and there would be little cost for an existing manufacturer that already supplies passenger vehicles in Singapore to supply light commercial vehicles as the manufacturer can tap its existing passenger vehicle distribution network."

Separately, the CCS is seeking public feedback on a proposed joint venture between Nippon Yusen Kabushiki Kaisha, Mitsui O.S.K. Lines and Kawasaki Kisen Kaisha.

The three Japanese shipping lines said last October that they plan to merge their container shipping businesses. The only overlapping service of the firms in the proposed joint venture which would affect Singapore is container liner shipping services.

More information on the public consultation can be accessed from the CCS website. The closing date for submissions is Feb 20.

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

Tougher to claim against private-hire cars: Lawyers

Straits Times
28 Jan 2017
Christopher Tan

Parties involved in accidents with private-hire cars operated by companies such as Uber and Grab tend to have a harder time settling their claims, according to lawyers who act for insurers.

These vehicles are involved in accidents more frequently than other passenger cars, added insurers.

Major insurers that cover these fleets told The Straits Times that private-hire cars, which have more than tripled in number to 51,000 in the last three years, are 30 per cent to 50 per cent more likely to meet with an accident.

Typically, the number of accidents reported represents 10 per cent to 15 per cent of the passenger car population. But for private-hire cars, that figure is 20 per cent to 25 per cent.

General Insurance Association president A.K. Cher said: "These cars are on the road longer than the normal passenger car.

"Many of them are also driven by very young and inexperienced drivers.

"And they also rely heavily on their mobile devices for navigation, so (the drivers) can be distracted."

The concern is underscored by data on Uber-owned Lion City Rentals, which is looking for a new insurer.

Its fleet grew from 1,412 last February to 8,676 in November. In that period, its cars were involved in more than 2,100 accidents, incurring close to $10 million in claims.

The figures come from an insurer vying for Lion City's business.

"It is hard to gauge its accident rate because the fleet has grown so fast," said an underwriter in that firm. "But assuming an average of 5,000 (cars in the fleet), it would translate to a ratio of 40 per cent."

This is similar to the accident rate for taxis and commercial vehicles.

Insurers did not want to be named as they were bidding for Lion City's contract. A current insurer, Ergo, did not wish to comment either.

Uber declined to comment when approached.

Meanwhile, lawyers acting for insurers said they are seeing more cases involving private-hire cars, and these tend to be harder to settle.

All private-hire cars must be insured, but their premiums are higher, reflecting their risk exposure.

Mr Patrick Yeo, a partner at Withers KhattarWong, said his firm had handled an injury claims case in which the private-hire driver was underage and therefore uninsured.

"In a case of an uninsured private-hire car driver, the damage to the cars involved is also (deemed) uninsured," Mr Yeo said.

"The owner of the car damaged by the private-hire car will have no recourse against the insurers of the private-hire car. They would have to sue the driver or owner of the private-hire car directly."

He cited another case where a Grab driver was not covered by the insurance policy because he had less than two years' driving experience - the minimum declared in the policy.

Mr Anthony Chey, a partner at RHTLaw Taylor Wessing, said he had represented a pedestrian who was knocked down by an Uber car at a pedestrian crossing in 2015.

"The case appeared simple enough as liability was clearly against the vehicle driver," Mr Chey said. But it dragged on for nearly a year because the insurer did not respond, despite reminders.

"Along the way, I learnt that... the case was delayed because of some policy issues regarding the insurance coverage," he said.

"The claim, which should have been settled within three months, ended up taking 11 months."

Insurers and lawyers advise motorists involved in a road accident to request the other driver's identity card details, in case the person is a private-hire driver.

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

MAS eases rules on finance companies, opens pipeline of funds to SMEs

Business Times
15 Feb 2017
Siow Li Sen

SMEs can access unsecured loans of up to S$550 million; MAS open to allowing foreign takeovers of Singapore finance companies.

[Singapore] THE Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) said on Tuesday that it will relax its rules binding finance companies and make it easier for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to get unsecured loans through them.

With this liberalisation, Singapore's three finance companies will be able to extend collateral-free loans of up to S$550 million to small businesses.

The regulator said it will also relax its policy of barring foreign takeovers of finance companies.

It said: "This will accord finance companies greater flexibility to explore strategic partnerships and innovative business models that can strengthen their SME financing business."

MAS said it was prepared to consider an application for a merger or acquisition if the prospective merger partner or acquirer commits to maintaining SME financing as a core business of the finance company.

Another condition is that the newcomer must have expertise in SME financing and present proposals to enhance the finance company's SME lending activities with new technologies, methodologies or business models.

There are three licensed finance companies in Singapore - Hong Leong Finance, Sing Investments & Finance and Singapura Finance. In Q2 2016, they accounted for just under S$7 billion or 8.5 per cent of the total outstanding SME loans of S$82.6 billion.

The estimated 188,000 SMEs in Singapore are a backbone of the economy, providing two-thirds of jobs here.

Lee Sze Leong, chief executive of Sing Investments & Finance, said: "For the three of us, the business model is so old, so archaic, from our grandfathers' time, (and it has been) because of the restrictive nature of the rules."

He said he welcomed the relaxation of the rules to allow third-party partners because this will open the way for finance companies to tap the latest available business models instead of trying to go it alone.

For example, some online-lending platforms lean on technology for auto-assessment tools that are able to extract information about SMEs' finances.

Sing Investments & Finance has S$1.6 billion in outstanding SME loans, all of which are collateralised. Mr Lee said the finance company has not provided unsecured loans, given that it has made little sense to the customer under the existing restrictions.

"I just tell my customers it's not worth their doing the documentation for S$5,000," he said.

MAS will also raise the limit on a finance company's aggregate uncollateralised business loans to 25 per cent of its capital funds, from 10 per cent currently.

This higher limit means the three finance companies will be able to extend unsecured loans of up to S$550 million, using their current S$2.2 billion in aggregate shareholders' equity as a proxy for capital funds.

The limit on uncollateralised business loans to a single borrower will be raised to up to 0.5 per cent of capital funds, from the current S$5,000.

MAS said: "These changes will better enable finance companies to serve their SME customers, many of whom require unsecured credit for working capital needs."

Jamie Teo, chief executive of Singapura Finance, said that with the changes, finance companies will soon be able to provide unsecured loans like bridging or project loans to SMEs.

A Hong Leong Finance spokeswoman noted that local SMEs generally have few assets to pledge as collateral for loans, a current requirement; the change will thus offer them more financing options, she said.

Finance companies will be allowed to offer current account and chequing services to their business customers as well, said MAS. They will also be able to join electronic-payment networks such as Inter-bank GIRO, Fast and Secure Transfers (Fast) and Electronic Funds Transfer at Point of Sale, commonly known as Nets. These changes will enable finance companies to provide comprehensive credit and deposit services to SMEs.

However, MAS said it would retain other regulatory restrictions on finance companies, such as restrictions on foreign-currency exposure and derivatives trading. These restrictions will serve to limit finance companies' business risks and encourage them to remain focused on serving the domestic SME market.

To safeguard prudential standards as finance companies grow, MAS will set higher corporate-governance and risk-management standards.

The regulator said: "This will include stricter rules on related-party transactions and limits on exposure to the property sector."

The stricter rules on property-sector exposure to prevent concentration risk could affect loans to property developers, construction companies and investment properties.

Liberalising rules on finance companies is in line with the recommendations by the Committee on the Future Economy (CFE) to help traditional providers morph into innovative firms.

In the US and UK, SME banks and online-lending platforms funded by various sources including equity crowdfunding have been extending loans to SMEs, using intelligent systems to perform credit assessments.

A big player is China's Ant Financial, controlled by Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba. Ant Financial, which provides small loans to enterprises and individuals, was valued at about US$60 billion after a US$4.5 billion funding round last April, Reuters reported.

Separately, homegrown Funding Societies said it is launching FS Bolt, a mobile application to provide working capital loans to local SMEs. FS Bolt, which uses intelligent systems to include non-traditional datasets in its credit-assessment processes, offers loans of up to S$20,000.

The application process takes two minutes to complete and with automated credit assessment in two hours, disbursement happens within 24 hours - making FS Bolt the quickest source of working capital loans in Singapore, it said.

Launched in 2015, Funding Societies has raised S$40 million - comprising S$10 million from a venture capitalist to start the business and S$30 million via crowdfunding to disburse as SME loans, said co-founder Kelvin Teo. He said he is working with DBS Bank to refer requests for bigger loans to it; in turn, DBS refers requests for small loans to Funding Societies. "I'm open to working with finance companies," said Mr Teo.

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

Proposed changes to Planning Act to give URA more teeth

Business Times
07 Feb 2017
Lynette Khoo

[Singapore] THE proposed amendments to the Planning Act are aimed at granting regulators more levers over developers in their development plans, and ensuring that planning controls and regulatory standards are followed, said Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong.

Stricter penalties for unauthorised development or works are also spelt out in the Bill, which was read in Parliament on Monday.

The draft law adds conditions that the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) can impose on developers seeking planning permission, including for the provision of public spaces, covered linkways and linkages between buildings, and even night lighting of building facades.

The Bill also clarifies the role of qualified persons (QPs) such as architects, engineers and surveyors.

Owners or developers will be required to appoint a QP to prepare the plans for submission to URA. (Currently, developers applying for planning or conservation permission are not mandated to do this, though most of them already do.)

The developer will also have to appoint a QP to supervise the development or works. This QP will have to notify URA if the works deviate from the approved plans or planning conditions, and take reasonable steps to prevent deviations; he has to also submit reports or declarations as required by URA.

Mr Wong, who is also Second Minister for Finance, said the Bill will grant URA more powers to charge QPs in court if they provide false declarations.

"With QPs engaged throughout the key stages of the development process and held accountable for the discharge of their professional work, the new provisions in the Act will ensure that planning controls and regulatory standards are observed in the course of development.

"This serves to safeguard the quality of the environment and, at the same time, maintains good practices and overall standards in the industry."

URA will also be empowered to require the developer to submit as-built plans prepared by a land surveyor, so that URA can cross-check against plans that were initially approved.

The Bill also allows URA to give preliminary advice to developers and property owners or their QPs on their proposals prior to submission of their development applications.

The Bill makes it clear that permitting unauthorised development or works is an offence. Owners thus have to exercise due diligence over their tenants and contractors so unauthorised works are not carried out.

Other amendments tabled on Monday enhance URA's powers to investigate suspected planning infringements. This include having the power to question persons who may have knowledge of a violation, and requiring information or documents to be produced; where necessary, officers will exercise their authority to forcibly enter a site for investigation. This set of provisions aligns URA's enforcement powers with those of other agencies.

Referring to the stricter penalties, Mr Wong said the current level of fines is too low to serve as a deterrent against unlawful activity or conduct.

The maximum penalty for unauthorised development, works or subdivision for repeat offenders or for an offence involving the unauthorised use of property for dormitories will be enhanced to include jail time; the maximum penalty for the partial or full demolition of a conserved building, for example, is a fine of S$500,000 or jail or both.

Some Members of Parliament, voiced concern that improving connectivity and building standards as part of the planning conditions might entail an added cost burden for developers.

Mr Wong clarified that where it is meaningful to provide for such connectivity and improvement works, URA will require developers to do so.

"These requirements will only be applied to strategically located sites in key areas," he said.

"These public spaces may be excluded from the overall floor area, so there would be no impact on the development potential of the sites, he added."

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

Most bosses obey Labour Court orders, says group

Straits Times
28 Jan 2017
Toh Yong Chuan

Migrant Workers' Centre calls for action against 'very small group' of errant employers

The large majority of employers obey Labour Court orders to pay their workers, an advocacy group for foreign workers said yesterday.

Those who do not comply with these orders - mostly related to salaries owed or injury compensation - often do not have the money to do so "due to forces beyond their control", Migrant Workers' Centre (MWC) chairman Yeo Guat Kwang told The Straits Times.

"These employers harbour little or no wilful intention to short- change or exploit their workers," he said in a statement. The "very small group of employers" with the means to pay workers, but who are "wilfully non-compliant", is of greatest concern to the MWC. "We call on the authorities to take stern action against them," he added.

Mr Yeo said the MWC works closely with the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) to see how current systems can be improved to better protect migrant workers.

He said the MWC has asked the authorities to widely publicise successful prosecutions of errant employers, "so that a strong example is made of offenders and a firm message of non-tolerance of such behaviour is sent to all employers".

It also suggested that MOM improve the monitoring and enforcement of work injury compensation insurance so that injured workers get paid.

The "very small group of employers" with the means to pay workers, but who are "wilfully non-compliant", is of greatest concern to the MWC. "We call on the authorities to take stern action against them," Mr Yeo added.

Mr Yeo, a National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) assistant director-general, was responding to Straits Times reports this month on the plight of Bangladeshi construction workers Islam Rafiqul and Sujan Ahmed, whose employers did not pay them salary or compensation despite being ordered by the Labour Court to do so.

A commentary on Thursday also called for the Labour Court to be given more powers so that the workers do not have to enforce the payment orders themselves.

Mr Yeo said the MWC has helped migrant workers enforce such orders in the last two years. Workers getlodging and $1,000 to $3,000 in goodwill payments while waiting for complaints to be processed.

The MWC was set up by the NTUC and the Singapore National Employers Federation in 2009.

Earlier this month, Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say told Parliament in a written reply that the Labour Court heard 6,000 complaints of salary disputes a year in the past two years.

In about 1,400 cases each year, the Labour Court ordered employers to pay workers. But in about 350 cases, the employers defaulted on the Labour Court's orders.

Mr Yeo said of the current system: "It is important to note that while our system addresses the needs of most workers, there... remain cases such as that of worker Sujan Ahmed that fall through the cracks."

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

Plastic surgeon fined $13,000 for computer misuse

Straits Times
15 Feb 2017
Elena Chong

Suspecting wife had affair, he intercepted her data, accessed SGH system unlawfully

A plastic surgeon was fined a total of $13,000 on Monday for installing a spyware program on his laptop to intercept data belonging to his then wife, and unlawfully accessing data in the Singapore General Hospital's (SGH) computer system.

Leo Kah Woon, 42, was with SGH when he committed three offences, including accessing the hospital's computer system to search for information on his wife's alleged lover, Mr Ang Choo Pin, 38, in 2012.

Leo and Ms Nellie Tan Li Khoon, 39, who have two children, have since divorced. Ms Tan was recently fined $3,500 for abetting a private investigator to unlawfully access Leo's Asus laptop on Dec 18, 2012. The court heard that Leo evicted his wife from their matrimonial home in September 2012 after he suspected her of having an affair.

Leo had installed a keylogging software in his MacBook Pro computer shared with his wife to capture the keystrokes and take periodic screenshots when she used the computer, and sent the information to his e-mail account.

Using the software, he intercepted without authority the functions of the laptop relating to his wife's communications. She became upset when he alluded to private information from her e-mails and chats on several occasions. He had used the information for their divorce proceedings in the Family Court.

Ms Tan's suspicions about the interception were confirmed when she sent the laptop to be checked.

Relating the facts of the unauthorised access to the SGH system, Deputy Public Prosecutor April Phang said sometime in September 2012, Leo suspected Mr Ang was having an affair with his wife.

Leo found out more about Mr Ang's wife, identifying her as Ms Xu. He got her contact details from the SGH system, and passed her mobile number to his sister. He told his sister to call Ms Xu and claim they had photographic evidence from a private eye and SMS evidence that Mr Ang had an affair.

Ms Xu came to know about her husband's infidelity from that call.

Mr Ang subsequently lodged complaints with the Singapore Medical Council (SMC) and the police that Leo had abused the SGH system to obtain personal information, and made baseless allegations of adultery against him in an effort to destroy his marriage. The SMC complaints committee concluded that no formal inquiry was necessary and issued a letter of advice to Leo.

Leo, represented by Mr Wendell Wong, could have been fined up to $10,000 and/or jailed for up to three years for intercepting communications from Ms Tan's laptop by using the keylogger software.

The maximum penalty for unlawful access to data in the computer system is a $5,000 fine and two years' jail.


Leo had installed a keylogging software in his MacBook Pro computer shared with his wife to capture the keystrokes and take periodic screenshots when she used the computer, and sent the information to his e-mail account. Using the software, he intercepted without authority the functions of the laptop relating to his wife's communications.

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

Private home rentals: Govt looking at shortening minimum stay

Business Times
07 Feb 2017
Lynette Khoo

[Singapore] AMENDMENTS to the Planning Act will make two practices illegal - that of using private residential properties for rentals of under six months, and housing more than six tenants in each unit.

However, the government is looking into shortening the minimum six-month requirement for private housing rentals, and creating a new class of use for private homes so that they can be rented out short-term.

The amendment Bill, read the second time in Parliament on Monday, inserts a new Schedule into the Planning Act that lists "short-term accommodation" and "dormitory accommodation" without permission as illegal.

"Dormitory accommodation", which requires planning permission, is defined as accommodation for seven or more persons. The cap, which previously limited tenants to eight in each unit, does not apply to families.

Lawrence Wong, Minister for National Development and Second Minister for Finance, said the amendment on short-term accommodation does not amount to a change in policy, because an existing guideline under the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) already bars short-term stays of under six months in private homes.

By setting out this minimum requirement in the Schedule of the Act, the government can adjust this parameter by gazette down the road.

"Indeed, in its earlier consultation, URA had received feedback from a number of respondents that there was scope to reduce the minimum period," Mr Wong said.

"But whatever adjustments we may make to this minimum period, it is clear that residential homes should not be converted to daily rental of rooms or apartments without appropriate controls.

"Such premises which are rented out daily ought to be regulated more like hotels rather than residential homes, and be subject to relevant licences and conditions to ensure proper standards. In fact, several cities are regulating short-term home-sharing platforms in a similar way to hotels."

Several Members of Parliament supported the amendments, but hadreservations over the approach of URA, which is perceived to act only when a complaint is received; the MPs also wanted to know whether the URA has enough manpower and resources to follow up on complaints.

Member of Parliament Lee Bee Wah suggested that instead of adopting a "one-eye-open and one-eye-closed policy", the government can consider alternatives, such as allowing some units to offer short-term leasing with the consent of other residents.

Mr Wong noted that the number of complaints by homeowners over breaches of the rule, triggering public-nuisance or safety concerns, has gone up 60 per cent in the past year.

"We have to enforce the current rules and make sure the issue does not worsen, and the Act will allow us to do so," he said.

The reading of the amendment Bill followed a public consultation on short-term rentals in 2015. Mr Wong noted that there was strong endorsement of the need to preserve the privacy and sanctity valued by the vast majority of homeowners.

However, the government does see room for home-sharing platforms to continue operating in Singapore, so long as they are properly regulated and there is a level playing field between them, hotels and serviced apartments, Mr Wong said.

Advertising on home-sharing or rental websites in itself is not regulated under the Planning Act.

Commenting on the amendment Bill, a spokesman from prominent online listings platform Airbnb said the draft law "lacks the vital details that are so important to the thousands of everyday Singaporeans who take pride in sharing their extra space".

"Nor is it compatible with Singapore's vision to stay ahead in an age of disruption and innovation," he said. "We support a common-sense approach to regulation that helps these hosts share their extra space."

To that end, the URA is studying the option of creating a new "use class" for private residences, the owners of which want to rent them out short-term. The URA is thus looking into approving these properties for that specific purpose, just as serviced apartments or hotels are.

New residential sites can also be sold with such an approved use, to open the way for flexibility for short-term rentals.

Existing residential buildings, however, will need planning permission for change of use, and would be subject to a set of guidelines that URA is looking into, Mr Wong said.

These proposed measures are all separate from the amendments tabled on Monday. URA is studying them, before providing more details.

Frasers Hospitality chief executive Choe Peng Sum agreed that there should be some leeway for residents to rent out units for short periods in entire residential blocks that are kept for rental. But the government should also review the seven-day minimum stay requirement for serviced apartments, he added.

Member of Parliament Joan Pereira suggested that management corporations - commonly known as MCSTs (Management Corporation Strata Title) - be given more power and resources to help in the enforcement on short-term accommodation.

Concurring, Mr Wong said MCSTs can do their part. Under the Building Maintenance & Strata Management Act, MCSTs can pass their own by-laws to manage the use of common property through screening and record-keeping, and register the details of visitors. The URA will also work with the MCST of developments with units listed online so that residents are aware of the rules on short-term accommodation.

Some Members of Parliament also suggested that the occupancy cap for each residential unit be calibrated according to the size of the unit, or the same cap be similarly imposed on HDB flats. (Four-room HDB flats and bigger flats can house up to nine tenants under existing HDB rules.)

"HDB controls are separate, but we are happy to review the caps on a separate basis," Mr Wong said.

He said the occupancy cap is based on the size of a typical Singaporean multi-generational family. And while HDB flats have predictable designs and layout, private housing comes in wide-ranging configurations, making it hard to formulate a rule that will capture all variations from shoebox units to bungalows.

"A complicated tiered cap would be confusing for the public, and result in uncertainty for those who want to rent or sublet legitimately," Mr Wong said.

For units currently housing seven or eight persons, URA will allow the tenancy agreements to run their natural course and will not clamp down on them before they expire.

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

Lawyer jailed over physically abusing ex-girlfriend

Straits Times
27 Jan 2017
Elena Chong

A woman physically abused a 19-year-old former girlfriend, forcing her to strip and threatening her to either live in her apartment or leave in a "body bag''.

Lydiawaty Abdul Rahman also cut the victim's forearm with a knife in her third-floor apartment in Jalan Novena Barat on Feb 10, 2014.

On Jan 6 this year, after a 12-day trial, the 32-year-old corporate lawyer, who has a master's degree in constitutional law and human rights and is an entrepreneur as well, was found guilty of five charges.

She was sentenced yesterday to six months and three weeks in jail and fined $1,000, but is out on bail pending her appeal.

Lydiawaty and her victim became acquainted through Craigslist some time in May 2012 and started a relationship which the teenager eventually wanted to end, citing Lydiawaty's abusiveness.

The victim testified that she had gone to Lydiawaty's apartment that night as the older woman had claimed to be in distress.

But Lydiawaty locked the gate after she arrived. A heated argument followed, during which she was punched, forcibly dragged into the bedroom and made to remove her clothes, which Lydiawaty then cut up with a pair of scissors. She also threatened the victim with an ornamental knife.

The victim made her way to the gap between the bed and the window and eventually forced Lydiawaty out of the room by pushing her out with the mattress. It was as she was trying to close the door that she was cut on the arm.

Naked, she climbed out of the window and managed to jump down to the second floor to seek refuge at a neighbour's home.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Sruthi Boppana had sought at least eight months' jail to be imposed to reflect Lydiawaty's criminality and the extent of harm and distress the victim experienced from her actions.

Lydiawaty's lawyer, Mr Shashi Nathan, had urged for a sentence of less than one month for causing hurt by knife and fines for the other charges.

Elena Chong

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

Ipos committed to helping enterprises turn ideas into assets: Forum

Straits Times
15 Feb 2017

The Committee on the Future Economy (CFE) has highlighted the need for our enterprises to innovate and scale up as a key strategic focus to generate jobs and build Singapore's economy ("Small enterprises should seek ways to protect intellectual property" by Mr Joachim Sim; Feb 6, and "Boost IP regime, start-up ecosystem and fund-raising options"; Feb 10).

Following the CFE report, the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (Ipos) will be updating our IP Hub Master Plan to strengthen Singapore's intellectual property (IP) ecosystem in helping our innovators and enterprises to extract value from their IP.

The updates, to be announced in April, are aimed at adding to the existing array of IP resources, services and programmes designed to support innovation and entrepreneurship in Singapore.

Applicants who are filing their IP can use Ipos' e-service portal, IP2SG, which has been made simpler, faster and more cost-effective.

Beyond filing, innovators and enterprises can make use of IP 101, a one-stop centre that offers customised services on creation, protection and monetisation of their innovations.

One such service is our complimentary IP Business and Legal Clinics that link IP owners and businesses with expertise on franchising and licensing, managing intangible assets, IP financing and valuation, and IP dispute resolution.

Ipos is also building our teams of IP management consultants to help budding entrepreneurs at business incubators such as SGInnovate and Bash (Build Amazing Startups Here).

Through these teams, we offer consultations to start-ups on competitor analysis, risk management and monetisation of intangible assets.

Entrepreneurs and enterprises that are venturing beyond Singapore can also tap Ipos' extensive international networks.

Michelle Tan (Ms)

Director

IP ValueLab


FORUM NOTE: IP ValueLab is a subsidiary of Ipos that helps innovative businesses compete globally through solutions in innovation and IP management.

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

Improvement to procedures, conditions to void election among changes made to Act

TODAY
07 Feb 2017
Siau Ming En

SINGAPORE — A Presidential Election can be declared void if the elected candidate made a materially false or misleading statement of fact, or failed to state a material fact to the Presidential Elections Committee.

Prospective candidates contesting in the election will also have to declare that they understand the role of the President as set out in the Constitution — which includes a President’s constitutional powers and limits — and they should not be making statements or promises which exceed the constitutionally prescribed role, Mr Chan Chun Sing said in Parliament yesterday during a second reading of the Presidential Elections (Amendment) Bill.

If a candidate makes false statements, the Presidential Elections Committee can apply to void an election. “This is because the false statement, or the omission of the material fact, is made to the Presidential Elections Committee, and so it would be the appropriate party to apply to the Election Judge to void an election,” said Mr Chan, who is Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office.

Other amendments that were passed in Parliament yesterday included those to improve election procedures.

For instance, an individual must make a mark in a spot outlined on the ballot papers to indicate his or her vote. The Returning Officer will consider only the marks made within the spot and disregard any marks made outside it.

This will provide more clarity in situations that arose in previous elections, when there were disputes over whether a mark on a candidate’s photo or name should count towards a vote for that individual, Mr Chan said.

In another change, a recount of the votes will automatically be carried out if the winning margin is 2 per cent or less — previously, a recount is carried out if a candidate or his counting agent applies for one given that winning margin.

Apart from these, overseas voters will have two more calendar days after the writ is issued to register as an overseas elector or apply to change the allotted overseas polling station.

Singapore Management University law lecturer Eugene Tan noted that a potential difficulty that may arise from the amendment that allows the Presidential Elections Committee to void an election would be that some people might think that the courts are a more neutral party to make this decision.

Some might also question if there is an avenue to appeal against such decisions, he said.

On the point of ensuring that candidates do not make statements that exceed the prescribed role of the President, National University of Singapore political scientist Bilveer Singh said that in some ways, this cannot always be enforced because people are going to say things that may not always be accepted in a competition. Adding that most will know what the role of an Elected President is, he said that “anyone campaigning for something beyond (that) will merely be shooting himself or herself in his or her own foot”.

Copyright 2017 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

PropNex fined $10,000 for data breach

Straits Times
27 Jan 2017
Irene Tham

Property agency inadvertently caused details of 1,765 people to be leaked online

Singapore's privacy watchdog has fined PropNex Realty $10,000 after it inadvertently caused the personal data of 1,765 people to be leaked online. It is the second time the real estate industry has been in the news in the last three years over data privacy issues.

The Personal Data Protection Commission had fined an agent from Huttons Asia $27,000 in 2014 for sending text messages to numbers listed on the Do Not Call registry, which is covered under the Personal Data Protection Act.

The commission started probing PropNex in December 2015 following a complaint from an unnamed woman that her name and mobile number were in an unsecured PDF document freely available online.

She alleged that she and her sisters - whose numbers were also in the PDF file containing a list of do-not-call numbers - had been receiving unsolicited marketing calls and messages from telemarketers, including moneylenders.

In a decision paper issued earlier this week, the commission said PropNex had removed the PDF file in January last year, as told.

But by then, the file listing one item or all of the information - name, mobile number, residential address and e-mail address - of 1,765 individuals had been on the Internet for several months.

The PDF file was first uploaded in July 2015 on a computer system meant only for internal sharing by PropNex agents and staff. But the system had a huge security flaw: Although a password was required to access webpages hosted by the system, no password was needed to access documents such as PDF files.

A simple Google search would reveal the details in the PDF file.

PropNex did not detect the flaw for five months despite having periodic testing of its systems.

It was found guilty of failing to take reasonable security measures to protect the personal data in its possession or under its control. Organisations flouting the Act, in force since July 2014, can be fined up to $1 million.

The commission also directed PropNex to scan the system for more vulnerabilities, and banned the sharing of sensitive files on the system among its agents until the security flaw is fixed.

PropNex's holding company, P&N Holdings, said the leak was unintentional. PropNex spokesman, Ms Carolyn Goh, told The Straits Times: "Immediately after notification, systems and procedures were enhanced... All such information is now protected with a password."

Earlier this week, the commission fined JP Pepperdine Group, which operates Jack's Place and Eatzi Gourmet restaurants, $10,000 for failing to secure a webpage where its 30,000 members' personal data was hosted.


PASSWORD PROTECTION

Immediately after notification, systems and procedures were enhanced... All such information is now protected with a password.

PROPNEX SPOKESMAN CAROLYN GOH, noting that the leak was unintentional.

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

Propnex Realty Pte Ltd [2017] SGPDPC 01

First lawyer in Singapore to be made Queen's Counsel in UK

Straits Times
14 Feb 2017
K.C. Vijayan

A Bruneian lawyer who practises in Singapore created legal history yesterday by becoming the first national from Asean to be appointed a Queen's Counsel.

Dr Colin Ong, 49, has been recognised as "an undisputed superstar" in the market and he is reputed to be exceptionally fast in absorbing points and extremely patient, according to leading legal directories.

He has worked as counsel in major cases in Brunei, the United Kingdom and Singapore, as well as an arbitrator across major cities in Asia, Europe and the Middle East.

Dr Ong has also been a visiting professor of law for over 20 years at several universities in Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia.

He was awarded the coveted appointment letter from Queen Elizabeth II through the Lord Chancellor of England and Wales at a grand ceremony held at the House of Lords in London yesterday.

Dr Ong told The Straits Times yesterday: "I could not have done this without the opportunities provided by many. I am indebted for the strong support from St Philips Stone Chambers (where he works as a barrister) and am equally grateful to my colleagues and friends from Singapore who have carried me along the journey.

"My family has been my continuing source of strength."

The QC title is bestowed upon the most capable of English lawyers with proven mastery in law and great ability in courtcraft.

In complex business and commercial disputes, Dr Ong has led teams that have included senior counsel in Hong Kong and Singapore, and other QCs. In Singapore, he practises out of Eldan Law LLP.

Law Society president Gregory Vijayendran lauded his historic feat, and said: "Dr Colin Ong is the first Singapore lawyer to be appointed a Queen's Counsel in the United Kingdom. The Singapore Bar is proud of his unique achievement."

He noted Dr Ong was one of the pioneer thought leaders on Asean cross-border legal convergence in the late 1990s .

Senior Counsel Michael Hwang said: "Although Colin is not a Singapore home-grown talent, he is well known in Singaporean as well as Asean legal circles, and has been involved in many arbitration cases in this region and Asia."

Dean of UniSIM's law school, Professor Leslie Chew, said Dr Ong showed leading Singapore lawyers are considered on a par with the best of the English Bar.

Senior Counsel Chelva R. Rajah recalled that when he began practice 45 years ago, it was the QCs from England who came out to the East to appear in courts here.

"Now we see a movement the other way," he said. "A lawyer practising in our part of the world becoming a QC to be retained to appear in the English courts. It is indeed a brave new world!"

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

US scam suspect claimed to be close to prominent S'poreans

Straits Times
07 Feb 2017
Tan Tam Mei

S'porean wanted in $70m scam told victims he knew Tommy Koh, and had worked at Shell

An 80-year-old Singaporean wanted for his alleged role in a multimillion-dollar scam in the United States had name-dropped prominent Singaporeans such as Ambassador-at-large Tommy Koh to lend credibility to the scheme.

He also claimed to have been an employee and scholarship recipient of Shell Singapore.

The Straits Times obtained a personal profile document believed to have been used by Ho Fook Kee while he allegedly acted as a broker for the US$50 million (S$70 million) scam. The US scam, which ST first reported on last month, involved Ho and five alleged accomplices who are believed to have impersonated US government officials to lure at least 12 victims to invest in a fraudulent scheme known as the "Cities Upliftment Programme".

The seven-page personal profile came from a Singaporean investment consultant who had expressed interest in investing with Ho and received the document from the latter through an American business partner. Attached was a photocopy of what is believed to be Ho's passport.

The document, which stated Ho's name as Ho Foo Kee instead of Ho Fook Kee as sources confirmed or F.K. Ho as written in his passport, listed what appeared to be his illustrious career in local and international oil, gas and engineering industries.

It claimed Ho worked at Shell Singapore, including as a petroleum chemist and a consultant. But a Shell Singapore spokesman said there were no records of Ho working in the roles described or as a scholarship holder.

The document also listed notable lawyers and public servants as character references, though those contacted by ST said they had not been contacted by any of the victims.

Professor Koh, 79, who was listed as a "former classmate and personal friend" , told ST that Ho's name did ring a "distant bell".

When shown a picture of the alleged scammer, Prof Koh said he remembered him as a secondary school mate but has had no contact with him since leaving school in 1957. "I think it is not ethical for him to use my name in his CV (but) I don't plan to take any action against him," he said.

Former Law Society president T.P.B. Menon and Lieutenant-General (Retired) Ng Jui Ping were also mentioned as Ho's "friends", but their names were misspelt. When contacted, both had no recollection of anyone fitting Ho's description.

Lawyer Teo Eng Leong, who was also listed as a personal reference, said he did not know Ho well and met him only a few times when the latter visited his office for notary public services. "I don't know him personally but he came to my office three to four years ago and I haven't seen him since," said Mr Teo.

He added that he remembered him because Ho's passport did not state his full name: "When he showed me his passport, it was just his initials (stated there)".

A Singapore mobile phone number belonging to Ho was also listed in the profile, but calls to the number went unanswered.

Ho is being investigated by the Commercial Affairs Department here and is on bail for a case unrelated to the US scam, sources told ST. Details of the case in Singapore are not known.

According to indictment papers for the US scam, Ho and five others had allegedly told victims the scheme was backed by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

They promised investors "exponential" returns, where a US$1 million investment could yield US$150 million in less than four months, and allegedly swindled victims from the US and all over the world. Among those cheated was an unnamed victim in Singapore who was allegedly approached by Ho in 2015 and parked US$1 million in the scheme.

Two months ago, Ho was charged with five counts relating to committing wire fraud and impersonating a US officer, among others.

His alleged accomplices included four Americans - Michael Jacobs, 64; Ruby Handler-Jacobs, 64; Lawrence Lester, 71; Rachel Gendreau, 46 - and Sri Lankan and alleged mastermind Rienzi Edwards, 55.

All six were charged in US courts in December but Ho and Edwards were on the run at the time.


DON'T KNOW HIM'

I don't know him personally but he came to my office three to four years ago and I haven't seen him since.

MR TEO ENG LEONG, a lawyer listed as Ho Fook Kee's personal reference. The lawyer remembered Ho as Ho's passport did not state his full name, but just his initials.

'UNETHICAL'

I think it is not ethical for him to use my name in his CV (but) I don't plan to take any action against him.

PROF TOMMY KOH, who was listed as a "personal friend" but has had no contact with the man he remembered as a secondary school mate since leaving school in 1957.

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

Eight other companies found to have tweaked their charters to allow dual-class shares

Business Times
27 Jan 2017
Michelle Quah

After SGX raised the issue with Chew's Group, it has sent reminder to companies that DCS provisions are premature

[Singapore] IT would seem that Chew's Group was just following the example of other Singapore listed companies when it attempted to amend its constitution this month to permit itself to issue dual-class shares (DCS).

The Business Times has learned that a sizeable number of other listed companies have successfully amended their constitutions, empowering themselves with the ability to issue shares with varied voting rights - despite the fact that such share structures have not yet been given the go-ahead by the Singapore Exchange (SGX).

Chew Yi Hong, a Chew's Group shareholder (who is unrelated to the company), learnt at the company's extraordinary general meeting on Wednesday that Chew's Group was not the first to propose such an amendment. Mr Chew, an active investor who has worked on several corporate-governance research projects, then decided to research this claim and found out that eight other listed companies have done the same thing.

Fraser & Neave (F&N), Frasers Centrepoint, AsiaMedic, Libra Group, EMS Energy, International Press Softcom and Imperium Crown all amended their constitutions last year to give themselves the "power to issue different classes of shares, including shares which confer special, limited or conditional voting rights, or which do not confer voting rights", subject to "approval by shareholders by special resolution".

An eighth company, Sunright, had a similar provision, worded differently: Its provision "empower(s) the company to convert one class of shares into another class of shares by special resolution".

In their amendments, the companies explained that the changes were made to reflect the recent changes to the Companies Act; they added that DCS structures and the issue of non-voting shares or shares with multiple votes by listed companies were currently not permitted under the SGX's listing rules.

The Companies Act was recently amended to allow public companies to issue DCS, and the SGX's Listings Advisory Committee (LAC) also recommended that SGX's Listing Rules follow suit, with certain "safeguards".

But the SGX has not yet adopted the practice, and listed companies are currently barred from issuing more than one class of shares. Their shares have to be of the one-share-one-vote variety.

It would seem, however, that Chew's Group got the impression that it could poach the idea from the other listed companies that have successfully adopted it, since their amendments had raised no objection from SGX.

When the SGX stepped in to remind the company that this was not allowed, the fresh-egg supplier complied by removing all mention of DCS in its proposed amendments this month.

SGX's head of Listing Compliance June Sim told The Business Times this week: "SGX has not yet proposed making the DCS structure available; a public consultation on the matter is only expected later in the quarter. We have thus informed the sponsors of Chew's Group of our stance and the company has removed mention of DCS in its constitution."

BT then asked SGX on Thursday whether it was aware that other companies had amended their constitution in this fashion, whether they were allowed to do so, and if the SGX would ask them to amend their constitution again.

Ms Sim replied: "SGX has reminded sponsors and other market professionals that it would be premature for issuers to change their constitutions or articles of association to accommodate a dual-class shares structure at this juncture.

"The matter of dual-class shares is a complex one, and SGX must conduct a public consultation and obtain regulatory approval before it can effect any change in its Listings Rules to allow a dual-class shares structure.

"As for companies which have gone ahead to enable a dual-class shares structure, their constitutions or articles of association do note that the amendments are only valid if the Listing Rules allow for them," she added.

In an e-mail sent out on Thursday by the SGX to sponsors and market professionals, a copy of which BT saw, the regulator also reminded companies that "the matter of a multiple-vote share structure is also a complex one and mention of such a structure in companies' constitution or articles may confuse shareholders".

"Premature amendments to a listed company's constitutions or articles will risk misalignment between companies' constitutions or articles and the Listing Rules," it added.

Associate Professor Mak Yuen Teen, a corporate-governance advocate who works closely with Mr Chew and who alerted BT to this issue, said he is surprised and concerned that more than a handful of companies have included DCS provisions in their constitution.

"Even though these companies qualify the amendments by saying that they are subject to DCS being allowed by SGX, it is difficult to understand why they saw fit to make such 'conditional' amendments now, when we are still some way from a decision on DCS."

Prof Mak added that such amendments to a company's constitution should not be bundled together with other changes to the constitution, "essentially snuck in with a whole raft of other amendments like a Trojan Horse".

"It is so fundamental that it should stand alone, together with any safeguards."

He also expressed concern that, if this issue had not been noticed and flagged, other listed companies may also decide to amend their constitutions to give themselves the power to issue multiple classes of shares.

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

Cancer doctor appeals against misconduct conviction

Straits Times
14 Feb 2017
Selina Lum

When a 55-year-old woman with lung cancer saw him in April 2010, prominent oncologist Ang Peng Tiam told her there was a "70 per cent chance" of the disease responding to treatment and achieving control with chemotherapy and targeted therapy.

Dr Ang, who is the medical director of Parkway Cancer Centre, did not offer her the option of surgery, which he felt was not viable in this case due to, among other things, the location of the fist-sized tumour.

The patient died six months later, after the cancer spread to other parts of her body, including her brain, liver and pancreas.

Her family complained about Dr Ang to the profession's watchdog - the Singapore Medical Council (SMC) - which brought four charges against him for professional misconduct.

Last year, Dr Ang was fined $25,000 after a disciplinary tribunal found him guilty of two charges - for falsely representing to the patient her chances of a favourable response to his prescribed therapy and for failing to offer her the option of surgery. He was cleared of the other two charges.

Yesterday, Dr Ang, who is also chief executive of medical oncology firm TalkMed, appealed against his conviction before a Court of Three Judges.

The SMC cross-appealed, arguing that he should be suspended for at least six months per charge.

Dr Ang, represented by Senior Counsel Edwin Tong, argued that it was reasonable for him to cite a 70 per cent disease-control rate just based on chemotherapy alone.

He cited medical literature to support his assertion that the patient's chances would be optimised by combining chemotherapy with anti-cancer drugs called tyrosine kinase inhibitors. This was because the patient had four characteristics - including having never smoked - and such patients have been shown to be highly responsive to the therapy, he argued.

As for surgery, Dr Ang argued that he had made a judgment call that it was not a viable treatment option. Surgery cannot guarantee the complete removal of the tumour, given its size and location, he said.

But the SMC's lawyer Melanie Ho charged that Dr Ang's statement on the 70 per cent chance was false as it is achievable only for patients who test positive for epidermal growth factor receptor mutation.

As he did not carry out the test, Dr Ang had no basis to promise a 70 per cent chance of shrinkage and control of the tumour, she said.

She noted that Dr Ang had not produced literature to support his contention of a 70 per cent chance based on chemotherapy alone.

Ms Ho argued that it was not for Dr Ang to decide on the treatment but to offer options. "It is the patient's right to choose," she said.

After nearly five hours of arguments, the court reserved judgment. A decision will be given at a later date.

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

A chance to reinforce rule of law in Singapore: Forum

Straits Times
07 Feb 2017

The Court of Appeal's rejection of the Singapore Government's appeal to use the Protection from Harassment Act ("Is Govt a person? Court rules on anti-harassment law provision"; Jan 17), while difficult for the Government, as it was at the losing end, presents a valuable opportunity to reinforce the perception of Singapore as a country governed by the rule of law.

While the Government is responsible for writing the laws, these laws will remain mere words on paper if no one respects them.

Respect for the law will arise only if people see that the law is applied in a just and equitable manner, such that no one is above the law - not even those who made the laws.

The judiciary has been assigned the challenging task of interpreting and applying the laws of Singapore to the countless cases that pass through the courts.

In order for the judges to exercise their duties effectively, their decisions have to be respected, especially when they come from the Court of Appeal, which is the highest court of Singapore.

Our strong, independent judiciary has played a major role in keeping our corruption rate low, by not shying away from passing fair judgment on people of power and privilege.

In other countries, the judiciary has helped defend the rights of the people from oppressive government policies.

By publicly accepting the Court of Appeal's ruling, the Government is sending a strong message that the rule of law is very much alive in Singapore.

The Government has always worked hard for the long-term prosperity of Singapore, so now is the chance to reinforce that by turning the court-case loss into a big win for the country.

Tan Yi Han

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

Apex court holds off verdict for Kallang duo

Straits Times
26 Jan 2017
Selina Lum

Lawyers seek to interview final suspect in 2010 slashings who was caught this month

The Court of Appeal has agreed to hold off its judgment in the case of two Sarawakians convicted of murder in the 2010 Kallang slashings.

This came in the light of the recent arrest of the final suspect,Donny Meluda, who had been on the run for six years.

The court, comprising Judges of Appeal Chao Hick Tin, Andrew Phang and Judith Prakash, was ready to deliver its verdict yesterday on the fate of Micheal Garing, 28, and Tony Imba, 38.

However, the court agreed to adjourn delivery of the judgment till Feb 27 after defence lawyers asked for a deferment, so that they could interview the alleged accomplice in prison.

Micheal and Tony were part of a gang that went on a late-night robbery spree in the Kallang area in May 2010, severely injuring three victims and killing a fourth.

In 2014, the pair were convicted by the High Court of murdering 41-year-old construction worker Shanmuganathan Dillidurai.

The following year, Micheal was sentenced to death, while Tony was sentenced to life imprisonment and 24 strokes of the cane.

Multiple appeals were filed and heard in September last year. The prosecution appealed against Tony’s sentence, Micheal appealed against his conviction and sentence, and Tony appealed against his conviction.

A third gang member, Hairee Landak, 23, was sentenced in 2013 to 33 years’ jail and 24 strokes of the cane for armed robbery with grievous hurt.

Donny, the fourth suspect, went on the run but was arrested earlier this month in Malaysia and handed to Singapore police last Wednesday.

Now going by the name of Abdul Rahman Abdullah, he was charged with murder last Friday and has been remanded in custody for further investigations.

Yesterday, at a hearing for the court to give its decision on Micheal and Tony, their lawyers, Mr Ramesh Tiwary and Mr Amarick Gill, cited Donny’s arrest in asking the court to defer delivery of its judgment. Mr Tiwary said he wanted to apply to be allowed to interview Donny after the police have completed their investigations.

“His testimony would be relevant... Whatever he says may undermine the prosecution’s case or assist the defence,” he said.

The prosecution did not object.


RELEVANT TESTIMONY

His testimony would be relevant... What ever he says may undermine the prosecution’s case or assist the defence.

MR RAMESH TIWARY, one of the lawyers for Micheal and Tony, on the testimony of fourth suspect Donny.

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

ADV: SAL - Senior Legal Editor - Legal Publishing & Knowledge Cluster

Singapore Law Watch
14 Feb 2017
Singapore Academy of Law

95% of salary-related claims resolved last year

TODAY
07 Feb 2017
Kenneth Cheng

SINGAPORE — More than nine in 10 salary claims that the Manpower Ministry (MOM) received were resolved last year, while nearly all workers with work-injury compensation claims received compensation, Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say said in Parliament yesterday.

Of last year’s 9,000-odd salary-related claims, which involved about 4,500 employers, more than 95 per cent were resolved through the ministry’s mediation and adjudication by the Labour Court.

The remainder were unresolved because a “vast majority” of the employers with unresolved claims — 199 out of 208 — had either stopped operations or faced an impending shutdown of their business owing to financial troubles.

One firm’s case is with the High Court after it appealed against a Labour Court order. The remaining eight companies, which are still in business, have not complied with the court’s orders yet and are being investigated, since failing to pay wages is an offence under the Employment Act.

These companies have been prohibited from hiring foreign workers until they comply with the orders, with the debarment also applying to “culpable directors” even if they were to start new firms, said Mr Lim.

Mr Lim was responding to questions by Jalan Besar GRC Member of Parliament Denise Phua and Nominated MP Kuik Shiao-Yin, who had asked how the MOM can better protect workers against errant employers who owe salaries or fail to compensate or insure them for injuries, and the number of employers prosecuted in the Labour Court for failing to compensate injured workers over the years, among other things.

Mr Lim revealed that in the last three years, 158 employers have been prosecuted and convicted for salary-related offences, which carry a fine of between S$3,000 and S$15,000 per charge or jail of up to six months, or both.

Meanwhile, more than 99.9 per cent of the 16,000-odd injured workers had their cases resolved, said Mr Lim.

Only five workers did not because their employers failed to buy work-injury compensation (WIC) insurance and could not pay up because of financial difficulties.

Mr Lim said the ministry prosecutes such errant employers under the Work Injury Compensation Act, and debars firms and directors from hiring foreign workers until injured workers are compensated.

These offences carry a S$10,000 maximum penalty or jail of up to a year, or both. Fourteen employers have been prosecuted over the past five years for failing to insure or compensate workers for work injuries.

Asked by Ms Phua if the MOM could do more to ensure local and foreign workers receive WIC insurance coverage, Mr Lim said that the ministry could not ensure 100-per-cent coverage since companies buy group insurance, which is renewed every year.

As workers leave and others join during the year, the onus was on employers to ensure each worker was covered and it was “not possible” for the MOM to comb through every WIC insurance policy and “cross-check (that) with the movement of staff”.

Copyright 2017 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

EU-S'pore FTA faces potential legal hurdle that may shape Brexit deal

Business Times
26 Jan 2017
Soon Weilun

Court ruling on how many layers of ratification needed would impact EU's future FTA with UK and others

[Singapore] A POSSIBLE legal hurdle has surfaced in Singapore's proposed free-trade agreement (FTA) with the European Union. Observers say this will likely result in the pact - now in its eighth year of formulation - getting stuck in limbo in the near-term.

And with the United Kingdom saying that it will negotiate an FTA for its exit from the EU, or "Brexit", observers told The Business Times that the possible obstacle in the EU-Singapore FTA may shape future trade relations between the UK and EU.

Noting the current political climate against globalisation, Deborah Elms, executive director of the Singapore-based Asian Trade Centre said: "It's kind of a rough time for the EU-Singapore FTA, really.

"Should the EU push to ratify it as soon as possible, or should it let it stay frozen for a while to let this wave of anti-globalisation ride through?"

At the heart of the issue is a top EU Court of Justice official's opinion on how many layers of approval must the EU-Singapore FTA get before coming into force.

EU Advocate General Eleanor Sharpston said in late December that the FTA "can only be concluded by the EU and the member states acting jointly", instead of the EU ratifying the deal on its own. The latter option essentially fast-tracks the ratification process.

The joint-approval method is because she views the FTA as a "mixed agreement". This means that some matters covered by this FTA are in areas where the EU is not able to act on behalf of its 28 member states.

Some of the matters include, for example: investments other than foreign direct investments; non-commercial aspects of intellectual property rights; labour and environmental standards that fall within the scope of social or environmental policy.

The Advocate General noted that difficulties may arise from a ratification process involving all member states alongside the EU, but that "cannot affect the question who has competence to conclude it."

The Court's final ruling will only be out later this year.

Negotiations for the FTA started in 2009. Its ratification is expected to boost trade and investment flows between the two partners even further.

The EU is Singapore's third-largest trading partner at 10 per cent of total trade. It is also Singapore's largest investor, accounting for almost a quarter of the stock of foreign direct investment, said Singapore's Minister for Industry S Iswaran last year.

In return, Singapore is the EU's largest Asean trading partner, accounting for a third of its trade with Asean.

There have been instances where the EU sought approval of the close to 40 national and sub-national legislatures of its member states for FTAs.

Most recently, the European Commission in Brussels, which is the EU's executive arm, decided that the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) signed with Canada is a mixed agreement, and needs member states' approval.

These increased layers of approvals come at a time when FTAs "are much more complex, they go beyond trade in goods and services," said ANZ economist Ng Weiwen.

But Brussels decided to take a route different from what it had for the Canadian pact; it needed legal clarity for the EU-Singapore deal.

"It has become increasingly important that the precise scope of the EU's exclusive competence is clarified," said public international law expert Jessica Gladstone, who is a partner at law firm Clifford Chance.

Observers pointed out that in most cases, the judges follow the advocate general's opinion.

And when that happens, anti-globalisation sentiment in Europe is expected to prolong the FTA's ratification process, said observers.

Added to the mix is that some member states are expected to hold elections or referenda soon.

This presents Brussels with a dilemma on whether it should prod member states to ratify the FTA as soon as possible, or put it on the backburner.

"If you push ahead, with all the elections that are ongoing, the FTA might just open up a Pandora's box of anti-globalisation sentiment," said Dr Elms. "My guess is that they will just try to bury it for a while longer."

"There's nothing much Singapore can do" if that's the case, said Song Seng Wun, CIMB economist.

Already, observers can see the potential impact the Court's opinion on the EU-Singapore FTA can have on European politics.

On Jan 17, British Prime Minister Theresa May said that the UK will negotiate an FTA with the EU for Brexit.

Scott Wightman, the British High Commissioner to Singapore had also said that the UK is determined to push ahead with the FTA before the country leaves the EU.

When asked if the UK would seek to insert a clause in the EU-Singapore FTA to let it remain a beneficiary even after Brexit, Mr Wightman said this is a "technical detail" that has to be framed within the context of the Brexit negotiations.

The Court's opinion can thus reinforce "the expectation that any UK-EU trade deal is likely to be a mixed agreement," said Ms Gladstone.

Given the uncertainties surrounding the EU-Singapore FTA's future, observers still remain optimistic about EU-Singapore trade ties.

"If it falls through, it will just erase the upwards potential for EU-Singapore trade ties. Businesses still have to move on and continue to trade," said Ho Meng Kit, chief executive officer of Singapore Business Federation.

However, its passage may improve EU's trade relations with the rest of Asean, and vice versa.

Singapore's Ministry of Trade and Industry states on its website that the FTA is a "pathfinder for the EU's FTAs with other Asean member states." The EU is currently negotiating FTAs with Vietnam and Indonesia.

"If the EU-Singapore deal gets a setback, Vietnamese and Indonesian officials may be less enthusiastic about pushing ahead for similar deals with the EU," said Dr Elms.

READ MORE: Walls may come up, but keep building doors and bridges

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

Time to make changes to the Nine-Year Rule?

Business Times
13 Feb 2017
Willie Cheng

ONE of the most challenged rules in the 2012 Code of Corporate Governance is Guideline 2.4 on director independence.

Commonly known as the Nine-Year Rule, it states that "the independence of any director who has served on the board beyond nine years from the date of his first appointment should be subject to particularly rigorous review".

Determining independence

The common objection to the Nine-Year Rule is: "So, how did I suddenly lose my independence after nine years?"

The answer, of course, is that a director does not lose his (or her) independence at the nine-year mark. Rather, the purpose of the guideline, according to the Corporate Governance Council which drafted it, is to deal with the "risk that the relationship built up with management over the years of service could compromise (a long-serving director's) independence". Nine years, the council felt, was a "sufficiently long reference period for the board to reconsider a director's independence".

That said, the Nine-Year Rule is not a hard line drawn in the sand. It only requires the board to reconsider the independence of the director after a "particularly rigorous review". The Code does not describe what a "particularly rigorous review" involves although the recent Nominating Committee Guide, produced by the SID with the support of the regulators, provides some guidance.

Ensuring renewal

A closer examination of Guideline 2.4 suggests that its concern extends beyond the issue of independence to embrace the broader issue of renewal. Indeed, it goes so far as to state that the board should "also take into account the need for progressive refreshing of the board".

If, in the end, a long-serving director is declared non-independent, he can continue to serve on the board as a non-independent non-executive director (NI-NED). This flexibility addresses the concern that boards may wish to retain certain long-serving directors who are still able to add significant value and provide some level of continuity and stability.

However, there is also a requirement for a minimum proportion of independent directors on a listed company's board (either one- third, or half if the board chairman is non-independent). This minimum requirement prevents a company from having too many long-serving NI-NEDs, and hopefully results in boards with a greater diversity of tenures.

Not effective

Unfortunately, by conflating the need for director independence and renewal, the Nine-Year Rule can sometimes end up achieving neither.

The available data shows that conformance with the Nine-Year Rule by companies is poor. The SID-ISCA Singapore Directorship Report 2016 found that 64 per cent of companies (which have been listed for over nine years) have at least one director who is still declared as independent despite being over the limit. Two years earlier, the figure was 58 per cent.

This high number of long-serving independent directors is similar for companies of different market capitalisations. However, the proportion is much higher in mainboard companies (69 per cent) when compared to Catalist companies (42 per cent).

Under the Code's current "comply or explain" approach, companies should adequately explain how and why they consider a long-serving director independent. However, many boards simply and baldly declare that they have conducted rigorous reviews (without detailing the review process undertaken) and conclude that they have found the director in question to be independent.

Achieving renewal

If renewal is to be achieved, the rules or their implementation must change. One approach could be a stricter enforcement of the "comply or explain" approach to prod companies to be more rigorous in their reviews, and be less cavalier in their declarations of the independence of long-serving directors.

An easier approach would be to hard code the term of an independent director, so that any director is automatically deemed to be non-independent after the nine-year mark. This has the advantage of removing the ambiguity and loophole for boards and their nominating committees, while encouraging them to focus on succession and renewal.

In fact, our local banks under the aegis of the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) have taken this very approach. Since December 2010, directors of local banks who serve for over nine years are not allowed to be considered independent. They can, however, remain as NI-NEDs, provided composition requirements are met.

Indeed, the Corporate Governance Council initially recommended adopting the same MAS rule in the 2012 Code for all listed companies. However, after industry consultation and feedback, it modified its recommendation to the current position.

Other jurisdictions

The approach of other jurisdictions is instructive. Some countries are beginning to hard code a term limit for director independence. The European Commission recommends a 12-year limit for its member countries, which France has adopted. The Philippines is adopting a nine-year limit from this year.

Others such as the UK and Australia have "comply or explain" guidelines that are similar to Singapore's. However, a few, such as Malaysia and Hong Kong, go a step further to require shareholder approval for long-serving directors.

Meanwhile, major countries such as the US, Canada and Japan provide no guidance on the tenures of independent directors.

Which leads us to the conclusion that, as in Singapore, the issue of a fixed tenure for director independence around the world is still very much a work in progress.

The writer is chairman of the Singapore Institute of Directors.

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

Small enterprises should seek ways to protect intellectual property

Straits Times
06 Feb 2017

With the calls for more innovation, higher productivity and international market development among Singapore enterprises, more importance and urgency should be given to protecting companies' intellectual property (IP).

IP protection involves measures to prevent (patent and/or trademark application), detect (investigation of possible infringement) and correct (legal action). Taking legal actions against patent infringement is costly, disruptive and time-consuming for a company.

Many technology enterprises start small and depend on their innovative products or unique creations to survive, prosper and expand.

Those targeting the world market face various challenges.

It may be difficult to enforce patents overseas, as copyright laws may be interpreted differently in countries that do not use English as a legal language. IP rights are also territorial and legal cases are often argued on different grounds.

Lawyers and judges may not have deep knowledge of how the technologies work. The IP laws may also be limited, and it may be difficult to put up a sufficiently substantive case against copyright infringement.

Small enterprises with limited resources may not be able to fend off legal challenges to their IP rights by large multinational corporations in many countries at the same time.

Hence, enterprises should seek to protect their IP in a number of ways.

A pre-emptive step is to partner large companies in key markets or to engage an international legal firm with an arsenal of IP firepower.

At the industry level, the enterprise could join a business association which has schemes in place for protecting its members' IP worldwide.

At the national level, the Government could provide legal aid through its agencies.

It is important to recognise IP protection as a real and present problem, and endeavour to find a solution to benefit Singapore enterprises.

Joachim Sim

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

Give Labour Court more power to protect workers

Straits Times
26 Jan 2017
Toh Yong Chuan

With the Labour Court expanding to become the Employment Claims Tribunals covering more workers, it's time to equip it with more power to enforce its own orders

Two separate labour cases against employers. Both involving Bangladeshi construction workers.

Both workers won, yet they cannot get the payment orders enforced.

In the first Catch-22, Mr Islam Rafiqul was owed $7,363 in unpaid salary and the Labour Court last month ordered his employer, Geosray Engineering and Services, to pay up. The employer ignored the order.

The Ministry of Manpower (MOM), which runs the Labour Court, told Mr Islam to go to the State Courts to take action to seize the employer's assets to get the money back. This would involve him having to pay, out of his own pocket, legal fees as well as those for a bailiff and auctioneer, which he cannot afford.

In the other case, the Labour Court last September ordered local company Ridgeway Marine and Construction to compensate Mr Sujan Ahmed $11,625.

The company, which did not cover the worker with compulsory workplace insurance, made a small partial payment and stopped. To get the remainder, he has to take the employer to the State Courts.

These two cases highlight a gap in the law meant to protect foreign workers. And while these cases involve foreign low-wage construction workers, the limitations of the system affect all workers, since the Labour Court covers local ones as well.

The cases raise the question: Why can't the Labour Court enforce its own orders?

LABOUR COURT'S ROLE AND GOOD INTENTIONS

The Labour Court, despite its name, functions less like a court of law and more like an administrative tribunal.

Its "courthouse" is within MOM's premises and its powers are mostly drawn from the Employment Act, Singapore's main labour law that sets out the basic terms and conditions for workers. It hears employment-related complaints on issues such as disputes over salary, dismissal and leave.

The hearings are held behind closed doors and lawyers are not allowed to represent workers or employers. By cutting down on the legal paperwork and not involving lawyers, the fees for taking complaints to the Labour Court are very low: Employers pay $20 and workers pay $3. This makes the system accessible to all.

The mediation process also makes the dispute less combative, which is in line with the longstanding desire by the Government, unions and employers to keep industrial relations harmonious.

Other countries use a tribunal system to resolve labour disputes too. Hong Kong has its Labour Tribunal, offering "a quick, informal and inexpensive way of settling monetary disputes between employees and employers", says its website.

Here, Labour Court sessions are run by the Commissioner for Labour and his deputies, who are senior officials in MOM. Its primary goal is to settle disputes through mediation, not make rulings and enforce the decisions.

Mr Martin Gabriel, founder of human resources consultancy firm HRMatters21, says: "Employers see those chairing Labour Court sessions more as referees settling disputes rather than judges presiding over cases."

Mr Gabriel, a former MOM officer, has advised about 10 employers and represented five in Labour Court sessions over the past 15 years.

The court does not publish its decisions or an annual report, so little is known about the types of cases it handles.

Still, the MOM received about 6,000 complaints of salary disputes each year in 2015 and 2016. Half were resolved without the cases going to the Labour Court.

And of the 3,000 cases that went before the latter, 1,000 were resolved through mediation.

Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say said in a written reply to Parliament this month that in about 1,400 cases each year, the Labour Court had ordered employers to pay their workers.

However, the employers in about 350 cases ignored the Labour Court's orders. Workers in such situations have one recourse, laid out in 2013 by then Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin in a reply to a parliamentary question: "(They) may enforce the orders by way of writ of seizure and sale through the Subordinate Courts."

This applies to payment orders across the different courts. Indeed, besides the Labour Court, the Small Claims Tribunals - which handle commercial and civil disputes of up to $10,000, or up to $20,000 if the parties consent to the higher limit - also follow the same process.

The limitations of the Labour Court in enforcing its orders has not escaped labour lawyers.

Having workers take their disputes to the Labour Court instead of civil courts only solves "half the problem", says Mr Vernon Voon, employment and labour relations partner at law firm RHTLaw Taylor Wessing. This is because the worker still has to go to the civil courts to enforce the order if the employer does not pay up.

"This requires time and financial cost, which an employee who is deprived of his salary can ill afford," says Mr Voon.

BEEFING UP THE LABOUR COURT

The Labour Court needs to do more to protect foreign low-wage workers as they are the most vulnerable to exploitation, says Mr Alex Au, an advocate for foreign workers' rights at Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2).

Indeed, the Government already recognises that some workers need more protection than others.

For example, the Employment Act covers all workers earning $2,500 and below a month, and manual workers on $4,500 and below.

And when the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act was amended in 2012, it gave more powers to the MOM to protect foreign workers. For example, the MOM can appoint Commissioners for Foreign Manpower who can impose fines on companies that breach rules in hiring foreign workers.

Boosting the powers of the Labour Court is a logical next step in protecting these vulnerable low-wage workers.

The Labour Court is due to be expanded in April when it becomes the Employment Claims Tribunals (ECT). The ECT will cover workers at all salary levels.

It will benefit professionals, managers and executives earning over $4,500 a month in particular, as they would otherwise have to file claims with the civil courts. The current Labour Court does not cover them. But one can imagine their disappointment if they were to obtain a court order and, in the event the employers refuse to pay, they are told they have to enforce the orders themselves.

Given the expansion of the Labour Court in April, it is timely to review whether it can give workers more help.

THREE WAYS TO GIVE IT TEETH

First, make it easier for the worker to seek legal recourse against employers which do not pay. They should not have to take the step of seizing the employers' assets, with all the jumping through legal hoops that it involves.

In Britain, a worker awarded payment by its Employment Tribunal can get help with enforcement. He can ask the court to force the respondent to pay by filling in a "penalty enforcement form". Respondents will be fined if they do not pay up within 28 days.

There is no need for the British worker to seize the employer's assets and sell them.

Second, punish employers which ignore the Labour Court orders.

Mr Voon notes: "Failure to pay compensation awarded by the Labour Court under the Work Injury Compensation Act is a criminal offence, and there is no strong policy reason why non-compliance with an order of the Labour Court issued under the Employment Act shouldn't be on the same footing."

The MOM already has the powers to charge employers in court for not paying salaries or injury compensation. The next logical step is to also punish the employers which ignore the court payment orders. This will reduce the non-compliance rate.

Third, for workers whose employers cannot pay up, the Labour Court can direct the workers to get financial aid.

In Hong Kong, there is a government-run Protection of Wages on Insolvency Fund that can pay workers if employers are bankrupt. Mr Au suggests another variation: a backstop fund which pays out the Labour Court orders first and claims from the employers later.

For foreign workers, there is already a little-known relief fund here. The Migrant Workers' Centre - which is backed by MOM, the National Trades Union Congress and the Singapore National Employers Federation - runs the Migrant Workers' Assistance Fund that has $457,706 as at March last year. It gave out $64,782 in assistance to workers in 2015.

Whatever the source and mandate of the relief funds, the idea is that it need not be solely a government effort. Non-governmental organisations can chip in too. In the longer run, the scope and powers of the Labour Court, and the ECT from April, cannot remain static.

Any move to review how the Labour Court can be enhanced to protect workers from the apparent injustice of not receiving their ordered payment or compensation cannot come too soon.

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

Govt to seek views on home rentals for short term

Straits Times
13 Feb 2017
Rachel Au-Yong

Maximum duration of rental in a year, safety and privacy of other residents among possible issues

The guidelines around a new category of private homes for short-term rentals will become clearer in the coming months, with the Government set to engage both industry stakeholders and the public in the second quarter of this year.

Among the issues that could surface are the maximum duration that homes can be rented out for in a year, whether the new category would apply to residences in a specific area, and how best to ensure the safety and privacy of other residents in the area.

The consultation comes amid some criticism of the measures that National Development Minister Lawrence Wong floated in Parliament last Monday.

Parliament passed laws that make Airbnb-style rentals illegal, in line with Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) guidelines in place since 2009. But Mr Wong also said his ministry was considering two proposals: a new category of homes for short-term rentals; and lowering the minimum rental period of residences from the current six months.

On short-term rentals, which cater mainly to tourists, the authorities are seeking feedback to come up with "safeguards against negative externalities", the Ministry of National Development (MND) said in response to queries. It noted that residents have raised concerns about safety and privacy arising from the comings and goings of transient visitors.

The URA received 608 complaints last year, 61 per cent more than the 377 in 2015. There were 375 complaints in 2014.

The MND also sought to distinguish between the kind of guests both proposals would attract. Referring to the lowering of the minimum rental period, it said: "This review concerns conventional residential tenancies rather than short-term subletting, which is typically conducted on a daily or weekly basis."

It added: "The move is meant to allow homes to be rented to those who are in Singapore for extended periods but cannot commit to a lease period of at least six months."

The MND did not give details, but industry watchers said this group could comprise medical tourists, or those working on events and projects that require them to be temporarily based in Singapore.

Still, some industry watchers are sceptical about the suggestions.

Despite URA officers getting new enforcement powers to investigate breaches after amendments to the Planning Act were passed last week, International Property Advisor chief executive Ku Swee Yong predicts difficulty wielding them with regard to shortened leases. "If you reduce the lease to three months, people will complain that it's not short enough. But if it's something like one month, it'll be taxing for officers to make sure it's adhered to," he said.

He also panned the proposed new category, saying it would further complicate regulations for a market saturated with hotels, hostels and serviced apartments.

But Suntec Real Estate Consultants director of research and consultancy Colin Tan suggests that the new category could include owners of shoebox apartments or city-centre homes, where families are less likely to reside.

"The new category, depending on its form, would balance safety and space constraints... with being forward-thinking about the sharing economy," he said.


What next for short-term home rentals?

New Bill makes clear penalties, new option for home-sharing under consideration

There is the stick - it is illegal to rent out private homes on a short-term basis, Parliament heard on Monday.

And then there is the carrot - the authorities are also considering a new class of private homes that allows short-term rentals and is looking into shortening the minimum rental period from six months. No specifics were mentioned.

In an interview with The Sunday Times, Airbnb's Asia-Pacific director of public policy, Mr Mike Orgill, said clarity is needed with the amendment to the Planning Act that passed last week.

"While the Government has come up with a new Bill that codifies existing guidelines, they also say that there may be some way or form for hosts to engage in home- sharing. But it lacks essential details and it is this lack of clarity that needs addressing. While the penalties have been made clear, a way forward for our host community has not," said Mr Orgill.

There are around 8,000 Singapore listings on Airbnb, the poster child of the sharing economy and one of 2016's biggest disruptors. Airbnb itself is not opposed to regulation, said Mr Orgill, and has come up with tools to assist policymakers in crafting laws regarding home-sharing.

When The Sunday Times asked if the growth of the sharing economy may be dented now that the law has been clearly spelt out, experts were split in their answers.

Singapore University of Technology and Design's (SUTD) Professor Costas Courcoubetis, said the move could have a chilling effect on the sharing economy here.

"The Government should avoid over-regulating as it continues to encourage innovation in the sharing economy," added Prof Courcoubetis, who leads SUTD's Initiative for Sharing Economy Research. He called for a self-regulated system with both the Government and businesses in the sharing economy making available data about public complaints, for instance.

The home-sharing model has faced challenges in cities such as New York, London and Paris, with strict regulations and heavy enforcement against short-term rentals.

New York, for instance, has been tangling with Airbnb over its business model, and imposed steep fines on anyone who lists their property on its website.

President of the Sharing Economy Association Singapore, Mr Jim Tan, said the sharing economy is important as enabling apps can provide smart ways to match demand with supply in cities where resources are limited.

Nanyang Business School's Associate Professor Boh Wai Fong said the law is inevitable, given the Government's previous stand that short-term leasing under six months would contravene the Urban Redevelopment Authority's guidelines.

Clear regulation also kicked in last week in the case of transport apps like Uber and Grab - private car-hire drivers now need to be licensed.

Prof Boh said while the transport economy is also regulated, car-sharing is generally in line with the Government's objective for a car-lite Singapore.

But not so with home-sharing apps.

"It is just that housing and property is a highly regulated and sensitive sector for Singapore and for the policymakers. Hence, the recent policy relating to leasing to tourists does not, in my view, reflect the official government stance towards innovation in the sharing economy," she added.

Entrepreneurs should seek to anticipate the likely responses of the stakeholders, said National University of Singapore Business School's Associate Professor Sarah Cheah.

"While most governments support innovation and entrepreneurship with the view to promote job creation and economic development, they still have to maintain social order and stability as a society undergoes transitions with technological disruptions and socio-cultural change," said Prof Cheah.

In response to The Sunday Times' queries, a Ministry of National Development spokesman said: "There is certainly a place for short-term rental platforms in Singapore. What we intend to do is carefully review and consider new policies to better respond to them.

"Such an approach best ensures that any problems caused by such 'disruptors' are effectively addressed, even as we attain the social and economic benefits from fostering innovation in the sharing economy."


Relief for some building managers

A new law passed last week, which clarifies that short-term home rentals are illegal, has brought relief to some building managers who have been finding their own ways to combat the problem.

At The Sail in Marina Boulevard, it took drastic measures from the building's management corporation strata title (MCST) to tackle the issue.

Given its downtown location, the 1,111-unit private condo had been plagued by "professional operators" running a hotel-like business for the past four years.

In August last year, council members voted to pass a by-law to clamp down on short-term home rentals, amid growing concern among residents over the security and reputation of the condominium.

The condominium's response involved bouncers who operated around the clock in two shifts.

MCST chairman Augustine Cheah said: "They could demand to see the tenancy agreement of anyone they suspected to be involved in short-term leasing.

"If they could not prove they were legal residents, they would be given the boot. Most of the time, they are renting from the original owner, who does not know about the subletting.

"At its peak, I would say that 10 per cent of units in The Sail were involved in short-term letting."

While harsh, the measure worked, as the MCST no longer receives reports about strangers entering the premises, he said.

But in some estates, consensus on short-term leasing is not as clear-cut. At the condominiums and landed homes of the Chestnut and Cashew estates in Bukit Panjang, there are residents on both sides of the fence.

The chairman of the Chestnut neighbourhood committee, who declined to be named, said: "Those with extra space in their homes would like the ability to lease out and share their homes with vacationers, as they benefit from these economic activities.

"But there are those who expect their homes to be liveable and do not accept short-term renting.

"This is especially true in the denser condominiums, where there are more chances of friction."

Ng Jun Sen


BALANCING ACT

While most governments support innovation and entrepreneurship with the view to promote job creation and economic development, they still have to maintain social order and stability as a society undergoes transitions with technological disruptions and socio-cultural change.

ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR SARAH CHEAH, from the National University of Singapore Business School.

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