21 August 2014
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Spike in overseas grads ‘the reason S’pore faces lawyer glut’

TODAY
21 Aug 2014
Teo Xuanwei

Shanmugam says it is his duty to flag outcome of oversupply; remarks not meant to dissuade people from entering profession

SINGAPORE — In the midst of confusion and alarm resulting from his warning that Singapore could face an oversupply of lawyers in the coming years, Foreign Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam has set the record straight on the cause of a possible glut: The spurt in the number of Singaporeans studying to be lawyers overseas.

And his comments made at the Criminal Justice Conference on Saturday — asking aspiring lawyers to temper their expectations in terms of pay and job opportunities — were not intended to put people off pursuing law.

Rather, it was his “duty” to flag the consequences of this trend, he said.

Mr Shanmugam’s remarks have caused some anxiety among law undergraduates and the legal fraternity, as well as triggered public discussion on the issue.

Some questioned how there could be an oversupply after the recent moves — including the setting up of a third law school in Singapore — to produce more lawyers amid a growing legal services sector.

Others wondered whether the glut stemmed from the inflow of foreign firms and lawyers after several cycles of liberalisation since 2008.

In an exclusive interview with TODAY, Mr Shanmugam said yesterday that while Singaporean graduates returning from overseas law schools could be the ones bearing the brunt of a possible job crunch at local firms, those from universities here may not escape unscathed. “For those intending to go overseas, what they will take from (my message) is ‘The numbers are huge ... and I need to understand that I may or may not get a training contract immediately’.”

He added: “For those studying law in Singapore ... the likelihood of getting a training contract (upon acceptance by a law firm) is very high here because law firms value (local law degrees) a lot. But because of the law of supply and demand — the starting salaries and increments and so on, used to be very good for lawyers — they need to understand that the market may change based on laws of economics.”

‘UNDERSTAND THE MARKET’

The third law school — to be set up at SIM University — will focus on family and criminal law. Mr Shanmugam said those citing the school as a reason for a possible glut are using a red herring, with the same going for those who felt it could be a result of opening the doors to foreign law firms and lawyers.

“It’s not as if the (number of lawyers) will go down if we don’t have a third law school. It is offering an additional option for those who are going to go overseas, and in a way that fulfils our needs.”

Mr Shanmugam also noted that the inflow of foreign practitioners does not add to the competition, since the vast majority of the 1,182 currently registered here are precluded from practising Singapore law. Hence, they do not compete for training contracts, which are offered only by local law firms.

Instead, the glut could happen because more and more Singaporeans are studying law overseas, he explained. Although the number of recognised overseas universities has remained at 35 since 2006, the total number of Singaporeans reading law in the United Kingdom has more than doubled to 1,142 between 2010 and last year, based on the Ministry of Law’s (MinLaw) estimates.

In addition, there were 386 Singaporeans pursuing a law degree in Australian universities last year. The UK and Australia are the main sources of returning law graduates.

Pointing to this trend — driven by the greater affordability of overseas studies — Mr Shanmugam noted that the Government has no control over what people choose to study.

“But I can then tell people, ‘Look, by all means study law. But be careful and understand the market, and if you intend to just study law and then come back and do something else, and you are not going to be too concerned if you don’t get a training contract, fine,” he said. “But don’t assume that everyone will get a training contract because there is a limit to what the market can absorb. I can’t control what you study, but I think I have a duty to tell you what the market is like.”

Going by Nominal Value Added, the legal services sector has grown from S$1.5 billion in 2009 to an estimated S$2.1 billion last year.

But Mr Shanmugam added: “So I’m looking at the future and I’m telling people our economy is growing at 4 per cent, 3 per cent, 2.5 per cent, so you cannot expect the legal market to grow at 10, 15 per cent per year, whereas the number of students is growing at those kinds of rates.”

STRONG DEMAND FOR LOCAL LAW GRADS

Statistics from MinLaw showed that from 2010 to last year, the number of candidates passing the Bar examinations has been increasing. While the proportion of overseas graduates who passed the exam has hovered around an average of 28 per cent from 2011 to last year, it is expected to rocket to 41 per cent this year.

TODAY understands that there has been feedback from some overseas graduates who found it difficult to land training contracts.

The number of training contracts offered by law firms each year is determined by market forces. Mr Shanmugam said that MinLaw is studying “how we can relax the requirements in a way that more people can get training contracts”.

According to universities here, prospects are healthy for local law graduates. In response to TODAY’s queries, National University of Singapore’s law dean Simon Chesterman said it continues to see strong demand for its law graduates. Employment rates for the past two years have remained above 98 per cent.

“We have nevertheless resisted any suggestion that we should increase our intake above the current target of about 250 — in part to avoid saturating the market, but also because we prefer quality over quantity,” added Professor Chesterman.

The Singapore Management University also said that the overall employment rate of its first two cohorts of law graduates was 99 and 100 per cent, respectively. Its law dean, Professor Yeo Tiong Min, added: “Given the anticipated market situation, the Minister’s message on having realistic expectations is a very timely one.”

The total number of law graduates produced annually by NUS and SMU has increased marginally between 2011 and last year, from 334 to 369. The third law school is expected to take in 50 to 75 students yearly.

Source: Contact Singapore and Singapore Institute of Legal Education.

Video Exclusive interview with law minister K. Shanmugam.

xuanwei@mediacorp.com.sg

Copyright 2014 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

Wife in break-up must honour mediation deal

Straits Times
14 Aug 2014
K.C. Vijayan

Appeals court overturns High Court ruling on division of assets

WHEN a couple splits up, husband and wife are the best people to decide who gets what, not a judge, says Singapore's apex court.

In a nod to using mediation to settle divorce cases, it has made it clear that agreements made during mediation cannot be thrown out without good reason.

Last month, the Court of Appeal overruled a wife's bid to set aside such an agreement, a decision in line with moves to do away with costly and lengthy court showdowns.

In this case, a couple in their late 60s decided to divorce after 35 years of marriage.

Following a day-long mediation session in 2011, senior lawyer Amolat Singh, who was the mediator, crafted the deal which the couple signed in front of their lawyers.

Wife Sita Kaur was to keep their $2.5 million apartment at City Towers in Bukit Timah and her jewellery, while husband Surindar Singh was to keep their unit in Pasir Panjang's Jalan Mat Jambol worth $3.5 million and other assets.

But Madam Kaur later changed her mind and took the case to the High Court last year, where the judge decided instead to evenly split the couple's assets worth $7.4 million.

Although the judge rejected Madam Kaur's claim that she was not bound by the mediation deal, he considered other factors in making his decision, including the long marriage and her significant contributions towards buying the properties.

But this judgment was overturned by the Court of Appeal. It ruled that the deal made during mediation should have been given "significant, if not conclusive" weight, saying it was arrived at "properly and fairly" with the benefit of legal advice.

Both parties were in a better position than the court to come up with a "just and equitable" negotiated settlement, which was preferable to a courtroom battle "which would resuscitate old complaints and acrimonious feelings", it said.

"The process also takes time and can be costly. Such solutions can be facilitated by mediation," wrote Justice Judith Prakash for the appeals court.

The case is understood to be the first where mediation has been backed by the highest court for enforcement, underscoring the value of the process in settling marital disputes, say lawyers.

The judgment comes in the wake of recent moves to reform the family justice system and reduce the need for court battles driven by emotional issues rather than legal ones.

Divorcing couples can currently settle matters such as the division of their matrimonial assets, maintenance payments and custody of their children through mediation, which is then translated into a court order on application. This could cut expenses by 75 to 90 per cent, compared with taking a divorce case to court.

Family lawyer Rajan Chettiar said based on his experience, about eight in 10 divorce cases are settled through mediation.

vijayan@sph.com.sg

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Haze law passed; fines may go up if necessary

Straits Times
06 Aug 2014
Grace Chua

Polluters can be fined up to $100,000 per day, capped at total of $2 million

A NEW law to punish polluters who cause the haze was passed by Parliament yesterday, with Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan promising to stiffen the penalties further if necessary.

Dr Balakrishnan gave the assurance after listening to MPs insisting that the fines were too low compared with the size of the errant companies' profits and the harm caused by the haze.

The fines are up to $100,000 a day, capped at a total of $2 million, for causing unhealthy haze, defined as a Pollutant Standards Index value of 101 or greater for 24 hours or more.

The culprits who often cause, contribute to and condone activities that raise the haze level are mainly large palm-oil companies based in Indonesia.

As a result, several MPs said the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act could be hard to implement as it would be difficult to nab firms based outside Singapore, without infringing on the sovereignty of another country.

Singapore is regularly plagued by haze, the result of deforestation by burning in Indonesia. The worst haze occurred last year when the three-hour PSI hit a record 401, in the "hazardous" range. This year, the dry season threatens to bring on the haze any time until next month.

All nine MPs who spoke on the Bill, including opposition Non- Constituency MPs, gave their support to Singapore's first legal move against polluters.

But most felt the penalties were not stiff enough.

Said Nominated MP Eugene Tan, a law don: "There must be sufficient deterrence in this Bill. How was $2 million arrived at when one considers the profits to be made and the market value of the oil-palm business?"

Replying, Dr Balakrishnan said: "This is a new legislation... We want to be very careful that we don't overreach or have unrealistic penalties. So we'll start now at this level."

The penalties had, in fact, been raised after public consultation over the draft law earlier this year. The cap on fines was initially set at $300,000.

Beyond fines, Dr Balakrishnan said the new law lets people or companies sue the haze culprits, with no limit set on the amount of damages they can ask for.

On enforcing the law, the minister said legal notice can be served on the companies' representatives when they are in Singapore. The National Environment Agency will work with the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority on it.

"Where necessary, the public prosecutor could apply for a court order to require the person to remain in Singapore to assist in investigations," he said.

He also urged consumer interest groups and non-governmental organisations to help the cause, by tracking agricultural supply chains and monitoring the fire situation on the ground.

One such group is the home- grown People's Movement to Stop Haze, a youth group founded by 29-year-old Tan Yi Han, who felt the new law is a good step. "It will put companies under the spotlight to encourage them to continue zero-burning practices."


MPs concerned over how to implement haze law

Nabbing culprits hard given complex land laws in Indonesia

WITH the threat of haze looming over Singapore until next month, MPs debating a new law yesterday to nab and punish the polluters were especially concerned with the practicality of implementing it.

Uppermost on their minds was the difficulty of pinpointing the culprits responsible for setting fires to clear agricultural land, amid Indonesia's complex, often overlapping land ownership and usage rights.

Dr Fatimah Lateef (Marine Parade GRC) asked how Singapore would obtain objective data on land ownership, as "the owners of the land may subcontract it out to others to manage and run".

The Transboundary Haze Pollution Act targets those responsible for causing or condoning such fires if burning results in unhealthy levels of haze, defined as a PSI level of 101 or more for at least a day.

Replying, Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan acknowledged that the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act, which Parliament passed yesterday, had several presumptions.

"We had to have presumptions on the validity of maps, we have to have presumptions on control, we have to have presumptions on indirect control... Because this depends on circumstantial evidence at best, we needed to get the balance right between presumptions and at the same time providing adequate defences and providing opportunities for the companies to rebut it," he said.

Circumstantial evidence that can be used includes satellite data and weather information about where winds are blowing from and how strong they are.

As well, databases of land concessions cobbled together by non-government groups like environmental research organisation World Resources Institute.

Non-Constituency MP Yee Jenn Jong wanted to know how the Government came up with the initial total fine of up to $300,000 for a polluter, an amount that was raised to $2 million after public consultation.

Dr Balakrishnan, however, did not address the question.

The law also lets companies and individuals sue and claim damages from the polluters.

But Nominated MPs Eugene Tan and Faizah Jamal, both trained in law, said an average person may find it too onerous to file a civil suit against the errant companies which have deep pockets.

They asked if there could be government support for class-action suits to allow groups to sue.

Dr Balakrishnan was non-committal, saying Singapore's court rules allow a form of group litigation called representative action, in which one person may represent all in a group.

MPs also made several suggestions, including offering incentives for companies to behave well, helping consumers choose sustainable palm oil and other products, using the fines collected to control fires, and expanding the scope of the new law to include haze from other sources such as oil rigs at sea or factories.

Dr Balakrishnan said the law was deliberately kept narrow as it already breaks new ground.

He also feels consumer groups, not the Government, should push companies to be more transparent about their supply chains. "Not everything is best done through legislation or through government action alone."

But going palm-oil-free is a wild goose chase, he added. "I asked my colleague in my ministry, please go to the supermarket and identify all the products with palm oil. He came back and said: 'I can't give you that list because more than half the products on the shelves have palm oil, including - you'd be surprised - Swiss chocolates of the highest quality."

As for the fines collected by government agencies, they all go into the Government's consolidated fund as a matter of public policy and are not earmarked for specific purposes.

Still, "if we need money to safeguard our population's interest, money to embark on cooperative action, money to work with civil society and other consumer groups in pursuit of these objectives, we will do so", said Dr Balakrishnan.

Mr Gan Thiam Poh (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC), however, feels "the greater long-term concern is not the haze but the large amount of carbon released into the earth's atmosphere".

He said: "The fires are the single largest contributor to Indonesia's greenhouse gas emissions."

When contacted, Dr Nigel Sizer of World Resources Institute said: "The law sends a very strong signal to companies that Singapore is going to do its best to hold them accountable."

The maximum $2 million fine is "not a significant deterrent" to large firms, he added. "The deterrent to them is damage to their reputation" if they are found guilty under the Act.

caiwj@sph.com.sg


Background Story

STRIKING THE RIGHT BALANCE

We had to have presumptions on the validity of maps, we have to have presumptions on control, we have to have presumptions on indirect control... Because this depends on circumstantial evidence at best, we needed to get the balance right between presumptions and at the same time providing adequate defences and providing opportunities for the companies to rebut it.

- Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan

caiwj@sph.com.sg

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Law firms cheer prospect of a bigger talent pool

Straits Times
21 Aug 2014
K.C. Vijayan

LAW firms here are cheering the prospect of more law graduates entering the market.

With a bigger talent pool, top firms here will get to pick and choose who they issue training contracts to, and eventually hire.

And the spillover will also benefit smaller firms, making it easier for them to attract law graduates, said WongPartnership joint managing partner Rachel Eng.

Her firm is one of Singapore's Big Four law firms, which include Drew & Napier, Rajah & Tann as well as Allen & Gledhill.

WongPartnership offers between 40 and 50 training contracts a year, and this will not change, Ms Eng said. "We do not see an impact for us, only a bigger pool to select from," she said, referring to Law Minister K. Shanmugam's speech at the Criminal Justice Conference organised by the Singapore Management University and National University of Singapore last week.

He pointed out that the number of lawyers is expected to grow by nearly a third in the next three years. But "the market is not going to grow by 30 per cent".

This means law students will face more competition among themselves and may have to broaden their options, said Ms Eng. "When there are more law students and they all need to train with firms, they will spread out and seek opportunities in the small firms as well. That is not necessarily a bad thing."

Providence Law Asia managing director Abraham Vergis, who runs a boutique law practice with six lawyers, agreed. He said "one happy consequence of this situation is that small and medium-sized law firms will have access to supply of young talent".

Smaller firms can also afford to offer lower starting salaries as they will not have to compete directly with bigger firms, who have to keep their wages high as they fight for the cream of the crop.

"What you will see is a widening range in starting salary between small firms on the one hand and large firms and foreign law firms on the other. Salaries will not fall across the board," said Mr Vergis. It is understood that starting salaries in big firms range between $5,800 and $7,000 while the "tolerance" for small firms is about $3,500 to $4,000.

Lawyer Mark Goh, who runs his own firm, said new entrants should lower expectations. "Twenty years ago, all I received from my pupil master was meal and transport allowance, but my goal was to qualify for practice and I saw this as an opportunity," he said.

The spike in lawyers could also mean more of them considering careers as in-house lawyers where a practising certificate is not required, said Singapore Corporate Counsel Association (SCCA) vice-president Neoh Sue Lynn.

"A larger talent pool means that there is now capacity for Singapore to fully develop into a hub for a full suite of legal services," added SCCA president Wong Taur-Jiun. "If we are really staring at a glut, then we should turn 'adversity' into opportunity."

vijayan@sph.com.sg

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WongPartnership expands alliances with Indonesia tie-up

Straits Times
14 Aug 2014
Grace Leong

LAW firm WongPartnership has forged another alliance ahead of an expected surge in advisory work once the Asean Economic Community comes into force at the end of next year.

Its link with Indonesia's Makes & Partners in Jakarta follows a tie-up last year with Malaysian law firm Foong & Partners and the opening of a Myanmar office in June.

The moves are part of WongPartnership's broader regional strategy in anticipation of further growth in cross-border trade once the economic community is established. They also signal growing demand for advisory services as investment interest in Indonesia grows, especially after Mr Joko Widodo's presidential poll win.

"For the last decade, we've been involved in deals where Indonesia has been an important component of cross-border transactions," Mr Ng Wai King, joint managing partner of WongPartnership LLP, told The Straits Times yesterday.

"Through the global financial crisis, Indonesia has been a beacon of stability due to its large domestic market and strong local economy. Investors have flocked to the country, and with the peaceful presidential election, we are seeing a resurgence of interest."

Mr Joko, who is widely known as Jokowi, is perceived to be more market-friendly and open to foreign investment than his presidential opponent - Prabowo Subianto.

His election victory has raised market optimism although investors are monitoring how successful he will be at pushing through reforms to accelerate infrastructure construction while phasing out fuel subsidies and balancing the interests of the people and business.

Mr Yozua Makes, the managing partner of Makes & Partners, said: "We hope that Mr Jokowi's track record of surmounting obstacles like political deadlocks and administrative logjams can be replicated across the country.

"He is known to be prag- matic, neutral and fair to all. This is how he has resolved land title issues, one of the biggest stumbling blocks to improving infrastructure" in Indonesia.

"Many investors are interested in Indonesia, and likewise, many Indonesian corporates are interested in expanding into the region, especially with the advent of the Asean Economic Community in 2015," he added.

The Indonesian firm specialises in mergers and acquisitions, capital markets, foreign investments, banking, restructuring and insolvency. It was the legal adviser in the initial public offering of First Reit, an Indonesian real estate investment trust now listed on the Singapore Exchange.

Prior to the alliance, WongPartnership has been working with Makes & Partners on transactions, including Aberdeen Asset Management Asia's proposed acquisition of a stake in PT NISP Asset Management.

gleong@sph.com.sg

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Jetstar crew lose Aussie wage case

Straits Times
06 Aug 2014
K.C. Vijayan

S'poreans hired on foreign contracts don't qualify for Australian pay rates: Judge

SINGAPOREAN cabin crew on Jetstar international flights operating within Australia are not entitled to the same wages as their better paid Australian counterparts.

In a test case, the Federal Court, sitting in Sydney, has ruled that the flight crew were working for foreign companies on contracts drawn up outside Australia.

That meant they did not qualify for Australian award wages, even though some international Jetstar flights included stops between two Australian cities.

The case was taken to court by Australia's Fair Work Ombudsman, on behalf of the crew members, arguing that the flights between cities Down Under were domestic Australian routes.

But Justice Robert Buchanan held last month that this could mean a "potentially bizarre result" in that the Australian wage scheme would apply "to the cabin crew of every overseas airline flying to and from Australia".

The ombudsman argued that the eight workers, including three Singaporeans, were underpaid compared with their Australian counterparts based on Australia's 2010 aircraft cabin crew award.

The staff who worked on Jetstar Airways flights were employed by Singapore-based Valuair and Bangkok-based Tour East.

These staff flew to and from Australia on Jetstar international services departing from various Australian cities including Sydney, Melbourne and Darwin. But the crew also at times work on flights between Australian cities which Jetstar described as international "tag" flights with international flight numbers. The flights in question were over a five-month period starting in February 2011.

It was argued that the "domestic flights" were subject to the wage award but the judge ruled that classifying the flights this way was "unsatisfactory, arbitrary and paid insufficient regard to operational realities".

He added that the internal flights within Australia were part of Jetstar's international network rather than its domestic network, and "were crewed by international flight and cabin crew rather than domestic flight or cabin crew".

Justice Buchanan said both Valuair and Tour East were foreign corporations and the employment contracts for the affected staff were made outside Australia, in Singapore and Thailand.

The cabin crew's stint commenced and finished outside Australia and the time spent on duty in Australia by the crew was only a "small proportion of overall working time" and "transient".

The judge added that the employment contracts and employment relationships were not made "in and of Australia" and it would be "incorrect" to apply the relevant Australian law to such overseas employment contracts.

The judge noted that many other provisions of the Fair Work Act would have applied if the case went in favour of the cabin crew, including annual leave and other provisions which would override the Singapore-based employment contracts.

This would be an "odd result" to a Singapore national and to the courts and regulatory authorities there if asked to deal with any disputes arising from the contracts.

vijayan@sph.com.sg

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Law schools here not planning to cut enrolment

Straits Times
21 Aug 2014
Amelia Teng

UniSIM law school still set to open despite expected glut of lawyers

DESPITE an expected glut of lawyers in the next few years, the two law schools here will not be cutting enrolment.

Plans to open a third law school at SIM University (UniSIM) will also not be affected, said the Law Ministry (MinLaw) yesterday.

Law Minister K. Shanmugam's recent warning that Singapore could have too many lawyers, and that there could be too few jobs for them in the next few years, has become a hot talking point among undergraduates at the National University of Singapore (NUS) and the Singapore Management University (SMU).

He said last Saturday that the number of lawyers with practising certificates here has leapt by nearly 25 per cent over four years, to more than 4,400 as of March last year. About 1,500 are expected to join them in the next three years, he added.

NUS law dean Simon Chesterman told The Straits Times: "The comments... have inspired a lot of discussion among current law students, some of whom are anxious about their job prospects."

Still, there are no plans to change the 240 to 250 places NUS offers annually, he said, suggesting that any cut will simply push students to study law abroad. "It's important that Singaporeans get the chance to be trained for the profession here," he added.

Students admit it has become tougher to get training contracts.

Every year, about 400 local law graduates, including 150 from SMU, apply for about 500 training contracts offered by law firms. The six-month contracts give would-be lawyers the real world training required of them before they are called to the Bar.

Final-year NUS law student Lam Zhen Yu, 24, said: "Most of our seniors received contracts by the end of the third year in school. Now, some year-four students haven't secured contracts yet." Many send resumes to as many as 20 firms or go for several internships to increase their chances of being selected, he added. Some also worry about the extra competition when the law school at UniSIM opens.

But MinLaw noted that NUS and SMU graduates have "done well" in getting training contracts. Between 2009 and last year, nearly 94 per cent secured them compared with 70 per cent for returning overseas graduates.

The key issue, it said, was a mismatch between supply and demand. While there are more than enough corporate lawyers, there is a shortage of those practising family and criminal law. UniSIM's law school, with its community law focus, will help bridge this gap, MinLaw said yesterday.

New law graduates The Straits Times spoke to said many chose to work in corporate and commercial law not just because of the higher pay, but because they were not ready to handle the "emotional demands" of community law.

"You need to have some form of calling to deal with work involving families, divorce and crime," said a 25-year-old who graduated from SMU's law school this year.

"And the unfortunate fact is that, sometimes, they can't afford to pay you."

ateng@sph.com.sg

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Xiaomi under probe over alleged privacy breach

Straits Times
14 Aug 2014
Irene Tham

Singapore watchdog investigating phone user's gripe over data disclosure

CHINA-BASED smartphone maker Xiaomi has slid into legal hot water in Singapore, amid growing regional concerns about its apparent lack of privacy protection.

A complaint has been filed by a phone user here, alleging that his personal data had been disclosed without consent.

He claimed he had received unsolicited calls from overseas after using his Xiaomi phone.

Singapore's privacy watchdog, the Personal Data Protection Commission, told The Straits Times it is investigating.

The charge followed an online report in Taiwan late last month that Xiaomi was silently collecting and storing user phone numbers and other device identifiers on the company's servers.

Finnish security specialist F-Secure confirmed the rumours after conducting its own independent test on a brand new RedMi 1S handset.

In a blog post last Thursday, F-Secure said it discovered that the telco name, phone identifier and phone number of the user were all sent to a server named api.account.xiaomi.com

The phone numbers of contacts added to the phone book and from SMS messages received were also sent to the server.

Such moves might run afoul of laws here, said lawyers.

"Even if the handset had come with terms of use - which allow for the collection of personal data by the handset manufacturer - users must still be allowed to withdraw their consent to the collection, use and disclosure of their personal data," said lawyer Gilbert Leong, a partner at Rodyk & Davidson.

Lawyer Rajesh Sreenivasan, a partner at Rajah & Tann, said some phone apps do collect personal data. "The difference is that users have the option to say 'yes' or 'no' to such collection."

In Singapore, the Personal Data Protection Act provides safeguards against the wrongful collection, use and disclosure of personal data for marketing.

It requires organisations to inform individuals of the purpose for collecting, using and disclosing personal data. They must also get a consumer's explicit consent before they can disclose personal information to a third party.

Xiaomi has been gaining popularity since it started selling phones here early this year.

According to estimates from market research firm IDC, Xiaomi phones accounted for 10 per cent to 20 per cent of all the smartphones shipped here in the second quarter of the year.

On a Google+ Web post on Sunday, Xiaomi vice-president of international operations Hugo Barra wrote a lengthy explanation. He acknowledged data was uploaded but "not kept for longer than necessary". It was needed for its cloud messaging service, which routes messages between two users over the Internet.

The firm also said it would no longer automatically activate phone users for cloud messaging.

A handset software update it rolled out on Sunday now makes cloud messaging an opt-in service - much like chat services WhatsApp and WeChat.

itham@sph.com.sg

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Attorney-General can now represent statutory boards

Straits Times
06 Aug 2014
Tham Yuen-C

THE Attorney-General will now be able to represent public agencies in judicial review and other court cases, after Parliament passed a Bill giving it the powers to act for statutory boards.

For a start, the Monetary Authority of Singapore and the Singapore Land Authority will be the only two statutory boards it can represent, but more will gradually be added to the list. Senior Minister of State for Law Indranee Rajah said yesterday this will "ensure that the conduct of litigation is aligned across the public sector, and promote the coherent and systematic development of public law principles".

Under the new Attorney-General (Additional Functions) Act, the AG can act for statutory boards when four requirements are met - the board must ask the AG to represent it, the minister overseeing the board has to agree, there must be no conflicting interests between the Government and the board in the legal matter, and the AG's involvement must not be contrary to the public interest.

Currently, the AG, as the Government's lawyer, may only provide views and comments to the parent ministries of statutory boards in cases that involve public law or interest. Statutory boards are considered separate legal entities from the Government.

On why only MAS and SLA are included for now, Ms Indranee said this was to give the Attorney-General's Chambers time to develop its protocols so it can meet the projected workload.

MAS was included first because the financial sector is an important part of Singapore's economy, she said during the debate on the Bill, and financial regulations were also becoming increasingly complex. And SLA cases involving state land could have important ramifications for Singapore, the Government and even individuals.

Ms Indranee added that the AG should be involved in cases of public importance. These include cases in which there could be novel legal issues with an impact on the whole public sector, she said.

"Such matters have the potential to affect Singapore as a whole, and could involve issues of public law and the public interest. As such, they require closer oversight," she said.

yuenc@sph.com.sg

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Lawyer struck off rolls for embezzling legal fees

Straits Times
21 Aug 2014
Selina Lum

Application made by Law Society after convictions on 6 counts of CBT

A LAWYER with a long history of bipolar disorder was yesterday struck off the rolls for embezzling legal fees from her firm, with the Court of Three Judges advising her to seek medical help for her mental condition.

Counsel for Ms Selena Chiong Chin May, 42, had urged the court only to suspend her, noting that her jail term for criminal breach of trust (CBT) was cut from nine months to two days on appeal due to her condition.

But the court, which has the power to censure, fine, suspend or disbar lawyers for professional misconduct, noted she was still convicted of a dishonest offence.

It was not the first time that Ms Chiong, who was called to the Bar in 1995 after graduating among the top 20 in her class at the National University of Singapore, had appeared before the court. In 2005, she was suspended from practice for a year for not keeping proper accounts and allowing her non-lawyer husband to be a co-signatory of her firm's bank accounts.

In 2013, she was suspended for six months for failing to handle diligently a divorce case she had been hired to do in 2009.

In the current case, the Law Society applied for Ms Chiong to be struck off following her convictions on six counts of CBT.

Ms Chiong was sentenced to nine months' jail by a district court in August last year for embezzling $12,900 from fees paid by clients to the firm for legal services in 2010.

The sentence was slashed to two days' jail and a $12,000 fine in March by the High Court, which said her condition, characterised by mood swings, could have affected her judgment.

Ms Chiong, who has changed firms at least 30 times in her 15-year career, told four clients at her last firm, CH Chan & Co, that they could pay her directly, although she was not allowed to accept legal fees.

She pocketed the money for her own use instead of depositing it in the clients' account of the firm as required by law.

Yesterday, her lawyer, Senior Counsel Tan Chee Meng, argued that a suspension would suffice, noting that the High Court had accepted that her medical condition had clouded her judgment.

But Ms Mimi Oh, acting for the Law Society, argued that Ms Chiong's misconduct was unbefitting of a lawyer and warranted her disbarment, as is typical for cases involving dishonesty.

Ms Chiong, who remarried this year and has three children from her first marriage, suffered depression after the birth of her first child in 1996.

She was made bankrupt in 2011 and is jobless.

selinal@sph.com.sg

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Tardy disclosures by Xpress Holdings

Business Times
14 Aug 2014
R. Sivanithy

IN a letter to BT published on July 25, corporate governance expert Mak Yuen Teen raised important questions about the disclosures by printing firm Xpress Holdings.

Xpress was queried by the Singapore Exchange (SGX) on July 1 after 184 million of its shares traded that day - a sharp spike from the daily average of 3.7 million the week before, or the 1.05 million done a day earlier.

After the company replied that it did not know of any reasons for the unusual volume and confirmed compliance with the Listing Manual, SGX correctly issued a TWC or "Trade With Caution" notice.

For those unfamiliar with the TWC, it is the latest tool in SGX's signalling-cum-warning toolkit, and is issued only after companies reply to an SGX query that there are no previously undisclosed announcements that if they were announced would account for the unusual activity.

Three days later on July 4, Xpress announced that executive chairman KK Fong's deemed interest had fallen from 2.04 per cent to 0.84 per cent via the sale of 29.3 million shares at 2.1 cents each on July 2.

For the next 11 trading days, the Xpress share price held steady at around 2-2.2 cents. After a trading halt on July 22, an announcement was made on July 23 that several creditors had started legal proceedings against the company and its subsidiary Xpress Print for payment of a total of $2.4 million that included a disputed $400,000 in rent, and that a bank (later identified as UOB) had filed a winding-up application for Xpress Print because of $1.2 million owing.

In the July 23 announcement, the company also proposed a placement of 480 million new shares at 2.1 cents each to raise about $9.5 million to repay its creditors and for working capital, and said it had appointed financial consultant Stone Forest Corporate Advisory to help deal with its creditors.

At this point, Mr Mak in his letter to BT asked SGX to revisit the original July 1 reply to ensure the rules had been complied with, presumably because the large sale by the executive chairman came just three weeks before the announcement of legal/winding up action.

Since then and in response to a further SGX query dated July 25, the company on July 28 provided more information, including the dates it received notice of the legal action: July 3 for the rental matter, and July 8 for the others.

Two questions spring to mind immediately. First, why were these dates and details of the lawsuits disclosed only after SGX asked for more information? Second, if the company knew of legal action on July 3 and July 8, why was the market told only on July 23? The July 3 summons should have been announced on July 4 since that was a Friday, while the market should have been notified of the July 8 notices on July 9 since that was a Wednesday.

In its July 28 announcement, Xpress offered an explanation for the delay: it said since receiving the two sets of summons, it had been "actively engaging" various parties, namely the creditors with whom it discussed ways to repay the money due, the financial consultant Stone Forest on restructuring proposals, and those associated with the placement.

It remains to be seen if SGX finds this explanation sufficient for the delay, especially since Xpress also said Stone Forest was appointed only on July 22 - the day of the trading halt and only one day before the market was told of the legal claims.

It also remains to be seen if the placement will proceed or whether the two subscribers from China will walk away from the deal because, after trading resumed on July 23, the share price has plunged 0.6 cent or 29 per cent to 1.5 cents now.

Would the subscribers still be prepared to pay 2.1 cents, especially since Mr Fong has further reduced his deemed interest from 0.84 per cent to 0.4 per cent by selling 10.7 million shares on July 25 at 1.7 cents each?

All told, it has to be said that the disclosures by Xpress over the past six weeks raise more questions than answers.

sivan@sph.com.sg

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Land acquisition: Owners to get better compensation

Straits Times
06 Aug 2014
Mok Fei Fei

No 'betterment levy', so owners will be compensated at full market value

A NEW law passed yesterday will give better compensation for owners who have part of their land acquired by the Government.

The Land Acquisition (Amendment) Bill has removed what is known as the "betterment levy", among other reforms.

The levy required that any increase in the value of the owner's remaining land be deducted from the compensation he is given for the acquired land.

It was imposed because the value of the land remaining in the owner's hands could increase due to the improvement works undertaken on the acquired land.

Senior Minister of State for Law Indranee Rajah told Parliament that removing the levy means owners will receive compensation equivalent to the full market value of the acquired land.

"The amendment continues in the spirit of the previous set of amendments to the Land Acquisition Act in 2007, which pegged compensation for acquired land to the market value which a bona fide purchaser would reasonably be willing to pay for the property," said Ms Indranee during the second reading of the Bill.

Non-Constituency MP Lina Chiam, the only MP to speak during the debate on the Bill, asked if removing the levy will hit government coffers.

"If we are to now increase the compensation for land owners, taking into consideration the benefits of the public developments, we will be losing taxpayers' money to enrich the land owners on an 'after the fact' basis," she said.

Ms Indranee reiterated that the ultimate aim is to ensure that land owners receive a fair market value for the part of their assets that is compulsorily acquired.

"With respect to the betterment levy, it is not the case that one is unjustly or unfairly enriching the owner," Ms Indranee added.

Other amendments of the Bill include improving the efficiency of the land acquisition process.

One change will enable the management corporation of a strata-titled development to act on behalf of individual unit owners in the acquisition of common property.

Another amendment has removed the need to paste physical notices for site possession.

SLP International research head Nicholas Mak thinks that while removing the betterment levy is good for land owners, it will not have much impact on the market.

"A lot of the part-lot acquisitions that took place in the past was because of MRT construction work or the building of expressways," he noted.

"But these days, much of such work appears to be winding down or the Government would use state land where possible instead."

Part-lot acquisitions of the kind cited by Mr Mak were employed to get land for the North-East Line MRT construction.

feimok@sph.com.sg


Background Story

KEEPING TO THE SAME SPIRIT

The amendment continues in the spirit of the previous set of amendments to the Land Acquisition Act in 2007, which pegged compensation for acquired land to the market value which a bona fide purchaser would reasonably be willing to pay for the property.

- Senior Minister of State for Law Indranee Rajah

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Xpress settles another case over alleged unpaid debt

Straits Times
21 Aug 2014
Grace Leong

PRINTING firm Xpress Holdings has settled the second of three lawsuits it has been contesting over $2.4 million in alleged unpaid debt.

Its chairman Fong Kah Kuen said on Tuesday it has settled a suit brought by Asean Finance Corp over a $734,287 claim. Asean Finance has agreed to discontinue its claim.

Last week, the firm reached a settlement with HSBC Institutional Trust Services (HSBCITS) to discontinue a winding-up application it filed last month against Xpress over $397,851 in alleged unpaid rental arrears.

Xpress told the Singapore Exchange last month that HSBCITS has "no standing to bring such an application", and has withdrawn injunction proceedings it had brought to fend off the winding-up application.

That leaves Xpress with one case to resolve, that with United Overseas Bank.

It said it is in "active negotiations" with UOB to settle the bank's claims against the company's subsidiary, Xpress Print, for $1.22 million in unpaid loans.

Mr Fong earlier said this followed the adjournment of the winding-up application by UOB, heard on Aug 1, for two months. Xpress said it was in discussions with the bank to restructure repayment terms.

"Going forward, the group will focus on providing a wider range of services for its clients and pursuing plans for business growth in Singapore and the region," Xpress said.

It has appointed Stone Forest Corporate Advisory as financial consultant to help broker a settlement with the creditors.

Shares of Xpress ended at 1.3 cents, down 7.1 per cent, or 0.1 cent yesterday, with 3.3 million shares changing hands.

gleong@sph.com.sg

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Help fund non-govt efforts to map haze

Straits Times
14 Aug 2014
Feng Zengkun

LAST week, Singapore passed a ground-breaking transboundary haze law designed to punish companies that cause fires overseas, leading to haze here.

The Bill received a unanimous vote from lawmakers. But they and other experts also expressed concern about the lack of information to identify errant companies, and noted the problems involved in enforcing penalties against companies with no presence or assets in Singapore.

While these difficulties are not insurmountable, they do underline the challenges ahead and the need for cooperation with regional non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to gather evidence on the ground.

Under the new law, Singapore can fine companies for fires on their land if the resultant haze affects Singapore. Haze in Singapore has been largely blamed on farmers in Indonesia - and some in Malaysia - using fires to clear land during the June-to-October dry season.

To identify errant firms, the authorities can overlay satellite images of fires and smoke over concession or licence maps showing which firms are in charge of land plots. They can also use weather information like wind direction and strength to gauge fires' starting points.

But foreign governments have been reluctant to share official concession maps.

Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan acknowledged the point last week, saying in Parliament: "Civil servants tend to be very protective of data, and they say, 'no, we cannot share official concession maps' or 'the maps are not ready'."

The law's provisions help Singapore to sidestep this issue by allowing prosecutors to rely on other, non-official maps deemed reliable by the Singapore authorities.

But such non-government maps are rare, and even those currently available are patchy.

Dr Balakrishnan has said, for instance, that there are maps put online by the non-government environmental group World Resources Institute (WRI).

The WRI's Global Forest Watch initiative gets most of its concession maps for Indonesia from the Indonesian Ministry of Forestry, which maintains these maps as a matter of public record. However, the maps are widely regarded as incomplete and out-of-date in many cases.

The WRI also sources maps from the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), a non-profit consortium of plantation firms, traders, retailers, green groups and others that promote palm oil supply from estates that do not harm wildlife or cut primary and high-conservation-value forests to expand.

After last year's record haze pollution in the region, when several palm oil firms were blamed for the fires, RSPO palm oil-growing members agreed to provide the RSPO with their concession maps by September this year.

But when asked, the RSPO said it did not have current data on the proportion of land its members hold, out of all of the palm oil plantations in Indonesia and Malaysia. It said only that RSPO-certified plantations of members made up 13 per cent and 20 per cent of the total planted area in Indonesia and Malaysia respectively, based on public, 2012 land use data.

The members also have non-RSPO certified plantations.

In any case, data on plantation land may be of limited use. During the blazes in Indonesia's Riau province in February and March, fires on the two largest burned areas were started outside concessions, or on land occupied by small-scale operators within the concessions. This was the assessment of the Centre for International Forestry Research.

Without comprehensive maps, Singapore will find it difficult to identify the firms in charge of land where fires occur.

And even if companies are prosecuted, it may be difficult to enforce penalties against those with no presence or assets in Singapore, said Singapore Management University's associate professor of law Eugene Tan.

Officers or partners of companies accused under the law will be served notice in person when they enter Singapore. They can also be ordered to stay on the island to assist in investigations. Failure to comply could lead to fines and even jail.

To give the law more bite, Singapore should help fund the efforts of NGOs to come up with accurate concession maps.

According to Dr Balakrishnan, "there's this element called ground-truthing. What you really need is someone with a camera phone on the ground to say that, 'This is the fire and this is occurring here and I saw this person'."

He added: "Information gathering is sometimes best done through a non-government channel, so you don't invoke issues of sovereignty and other political sensitivities, but at the same time sufficient transparency and information is put into the hands of consumers."

Legislation is no silver bullet, and a "full menu of options" is needed, he added.

If nothing else, the law can have a deterrent effect if the threat of penalties can lead to good behaviour. That's because suspected firms' officers face fines or jail sentences when they come to Singapore, if the firms do not help with investigations.

Firms might thus want to make public maps of the concessions they hold, to pre-empt suspicion. "Companies that refuse to volunteer their maps are likely to come under greater scrutiny from the public and NGOs," reckoned the Singapore Institute of International Affairs.

So far, fortunate weather has kept the haze away from Singapore during this dry season. But more than luck - and the new law - will be needed to keep the skies blue.

zengkun@sph.com.sg


Background Story

How the new law works against errant companies

SINGAPORE'S new transboundary haze law is meant to punish firms that cause fires overseas, leading to haze here.

Under the law, Singapore can fine companies for fires on their land if the resultant haze causes the Pollutant Standards Index here to rise to 101 or more for at least 24 hours. Air is unhealthy when the index crosses 100.

A company can be fined up to $100,000 for every day of such haze Singapore suffers as a result of its actions.

It can also be fined up to $50,000 for each day it did not comply if Singapore had served notice on it to carry out measures to prevent haze here. If convicted, the maximum combined penalty is $2 million.

Several presumptions in the law are designed to make prosecutors' work easier. Unless it is proven otherwise, if there is haze in Singapore and a land or forest fire in a foreign country at the same time, it is assumed that the fire caused the haze if weather data such as wind direction supports this.

Singapore can also rely on maps outside of official government sources to show a firm is responsible for a plot of land, unless the contrary is proven.

Firms can defend themselves by showing the haze in Singapore was caused solely by a grave natural disaster or act of war. They can also try to prove another person acted without their knowledge or consent, although this person cannot be their employee.

Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said the new law is not meant to replace enforcement that should be taken by other countries. "It is to complement their investigative and enforcement efforts."

FENG ZENGKUN

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Woman who made false police report wins appeal

TODAY
06 Aug 2014
Amanda Lee

Stepfather’s forgiveness should be a consideration, says judge

SINGAPORE — A woman who had been sentenced to 12 weeks’ jail for making a false police report against her stepfather had her sentence halved yesterday, after a successful appeal at the High Court.

While Appeal Judge Chao Hick Tin noted that lodging false police reports is a serious offence, he pointed out that the lower courts had not given sufficient consideration to the fact that Rajeshwary Batumalai’s stepfather had forgiven her.

Representing herself in court yesterday, Rajeshwary, 38, said she had lied to the police that her stepfather had stolen jewellery worth S$16,000 from her bedroom as she was angry with him for failing to repay a loan from her.

She bore a deep-seated anger towards him and had left home for 13 years due to purported ill treatment by her stepfather, she told the court. The false report on Oct 2, 2012, was also made while she was drunk, she said. Rajeshwary argued that she had tried to correct the matter by calling the police — before coming clean on Feb 26 last year — but her call had gone unanswered.

Prosecutors, however, noted that making false police reports means that innocent people end up being investigated. “In this case, the innocent victim had been investigated and arrested, which would have been very traumatic for him,” they added.

Agreeing with the prosecutors, the judge said it is in the public interest to punish such offenders appropriately, including jailing them. “(We cannot) allow the criminal justice system to be used like what you (have done), as a means to seek revenge against your stepfather,” said Justice Chao.

Referring to the letter of forgiveness her stepfather had penned after the episode, the judge added: “Your stepfather has forgiven you, but the law cannot forgive (you) for what you’ve done.” Nevertheless, he reduced her sentence to six weeks in prison.

leeguiping@mediacorp.com.sg

Copyright 2014 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

Prosecution: Kong Hee had the final say

Business Times
21 Aug 2014
Claire Huang

[SINGAPORE] City Harvest Church founder Kong Hee was the ultimate authority when it came to the financing of the Crossover Project through the various bond subscriptions made by the church from 2006 to 2008, alleged the prosecution, as it continued to grill the accused for a second day.

Prosecutor Christopher Ong charged that Kong, 49, had lied to authorities and in court, when the church leader was in reality the one who had the final say as to the church's initial bond subscription with Xtron Productions and another agreement with glassware manufacturer, Firna.

The bond suscriptions that the prosecution described as "sham", were meant to raise funds for the Crossover Project, which aimed to evangelise through singer Sun Ho's secular music.

Referring to co-accused John Lam's testimony, Mr Ong pointed out that Kong was singled out as the one who decided on how much and where the money was to come from when it came to the financing of the Crossover Project.

Kong replied that it was wrong to say his views superseded that of the Xtron directors.

"Your Honour, I think Mr Lam had too high an estimation of my authority and my ability to persuade the Xtron directors."

The court later heard from the prosecution that the statements taken by authorities of co-accused Serina Wee, Tan Ye Peng and Chew Eng Han, showed that Xtron directors were left out of decision-making processes.

Kong rejected this claim.

E-mail from accused Serina Wee to Kong dated August 2006 and May 2007 were raised in court and showed Wee giving updates on the cashflows of Xtron and the church.

This prompted Mr Ong to question the need for Wee to do so, when Kong was only in charge of budgeting for his wife, Ms Ho's album in the United States, for the US Crossover.

Kong explained that there was a need for him to know how much money Xtron would have so that he can proceed with negotiations with the Americans.

Throughout the trial, Kong stressed that the Xtron directors were the ones giving the ultimate approval for decisions prosposed by him or the team.

He has also maintained that he is not bond-savvy and that he left Chew and Tan to handle the technicalities of the bond transactions.

But the prosecution tried to prove otherwise, citing the content of an e-mail dated July 28, 2008, which detailed the flow of the church's building fund to buy Xtron and Firna bonds to finance the Crossover Project.

It also touched on the move by former Xtron director, Wahju Hanafi, to support the Crossover Project independently.

Kong and five deputies face allegations of misusing millions of church funds through sham bond investments, to boost the music career of Ms Ho. Four of the six also face charges of round-tripping the monies to cover up the misuse.

huangjy@sph.com.sg

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Tax changes will need to be a fine balancing act

Business Times
14 Aug 2014
Chung-Sim Siew Moon & Tan Ching Khee

Social spending requires more revenue without hurting Singapore's competitiveness

SINGAPORE'S population is greying. Could this be the catalyst for further tax tinkering?

It was reported in the press recently that the government is not ruling out fine-tuning Singapore's tax system over the next five years or tapping on the investment reserves to support increased spending on security and medical care for an ageing population.

In 2013, S$5.8 billion was forked out on healthcare. Healthcare spending could swell to S$12 billion by 2020. That would mean an increase of about 11 per cent per year over the next six years. Is this rise in spending manageable?

Revenue collection increased from S$29.1 billion in 2008 to S$41.4 billion in 2013, (see table) averaging an annual increase of 7 per cent over the six-year period. If this trend persists, there may be a shortfall in the coffers. Further, with a mid-term economic growth forecast of 3 per cent to 4 per cent, it would be even more challenging to boost tax revenue.

Singapore's corporate income tax rate stands at 17 per cent. Raising the corporate income tax rate would be detrimental to Singapore's competitiveness - it could lose its shine as a hub for multinational companies. Singapore's top personal income tax rate of 20 per cent has been maintained since the Year of Assessment (YA) 2007, despite calls to harmonise the three percentage point difference with the 17 per cent corporate tax rate.

The argument goes that high-income earners should shoulder a greater tax burden to fund social programmes such as healthcare spending, if the government wants to move towards a more progressive tax system. In 2012, individual taxpayers with a chargeable income of more than S$0.5 million earned around S$16 billion collectively. An increase of 1 per cent in the top personal income tax rate would add an estimated S$160 million in tax revenue. This makes up merely 0.4 per cent of the total tax revenue of S$41.4 billion collected in 2013. Clearly, the effectiveness of such an increase will need to be weighed against any negative impact in attracting high-income global talent.

Would an increase in the goods and services tax (GST) then be a better solution?

When the government increased the GST rate to 7 per cent in 2007, it also introduced a slew of measures such as the GST voucher to cushion the impact on lower-income families. After all, the GST is a broad-based, regressive tax system.

In 2011, the government had assured the public that the GST rate would not be increased for at least the next five years. Further, the government is committed to maintaining a fair and progressive tax system.

In 2013, the government collected S$9 billion in revenue from GST. A 1 per cent increase in the GST rate could increase tax revenue by about S$1.3 billion. On the surface, this may seem to be the most direct and effective way to increase tax revenue. In reality, a lot of groundwork needs to be done to implement any GST increase, especially in an environment where the income gap is an important consideration factor when shaping tax policy.

Still, having successfully charted a two-percentage point rise in the GST rate in 2007, the government can fall back on its experience to ensure a smooth rollout of any future GST increase, as well as address the concerns of lower-income families.

Beyond a hike in GST, can anything else be done?

Capital gains tax

Singapore does not have a capital gains tax regime. This has helped attract investors to set up investment holding companies and trusts to manage their regional or global investments.

Introducing a capital gains tax will affect not just corporate taxpayers but also individual taxpayers who realise a gain on the sale of their investments.

In 2012, the government introduced a new rule to give tax certainty to taxpayers - gains from the sale of ordinary shares would not be taxed if such shares have been held for more than two years and represent more than 20 per cent shareholding in the investee company. This rule is effective from June 2012 to May 2017. It is highly unlikely that the government will make a policy U-turn and introduce a capital gains tax in the next three years.

Donations

More than S$1 billion in donations is collected annually. Currently, every dollar of qualifying donation attracts 2.5 times worth of tax deduction. Based on the corporate tax rate of 17 per cent or the highest personal tax rate of 20 per cent, the potential tax revenue forgone from tax deductible donations could range from an estimated S$425 million to S$500 million.

Charity comes from the heart. If we assume that donors make donations on charitable grounds and not for the sole motivation of getting a tax deduction, then could removing the additional tax deduction for donations potentially further boost revenue collection or have an adverse effect on charitable giving?

A delicate balancing act

The government has made it clear that spending on social programmes has to increase, especially to provide for the low-income families and the needy. But this may not necessarily mean a renewed zeal in collecting taxes.

The "five-year no increase" promise will expire in two years. We may well see a GST rate hike in 2017 or after. However, simply increasing taxes to pay for social programmes will not be sufficient on its own, if this is to be done without hurting Singapore's competitiveness as a business and talent hub.

Indeed, tax policy is a fine balancing act between ensuring the generation of tax revenue to counter the costs of additional infrastructure; between tax incentive and tax base protection; and between spending today and squirreling away for a rainy day.

The writers are respectively partner and head of tax, and partner, tax services, at Ernst & Young Solutions LLP. The views expressed are their own

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Nearly S$5m of City Harvest Church funds used for Sun Ho’s album-related expenses

TODAY
06 Aug 2014
Kimberly Spykerman

Prosecution said City Harvest Church leaders attempted to cover up and pointed out there was no basis for the huge projected sales of Sun Ho’s US album

SINGAPORE — Church monies to the tune of S$4.79 million were used to meet expenses related to Sun Ho’s music albums, and this was something the church leaders had tried to hide, said the prosecution in the trial of City Harvest Church leaders today (Aug 5).

Ms Ho is the wife of City Harvest Church founder Kong Hee — one of six church leaders accused of using church money to buy sham bonds in order to fund her secular pop music career. One of the companies the church invested in was Xtron, Ms Ho’s artiste management firm.

The prosecution said the church leaders wanted to use the Xtron bond proceeds to cover up the fact that they had already used up the church’s advance rental monies to pay for Ms Ho’s album-related expenses. This was not in the bond subscription agreement.

An email showed the church’s former finance manager Ms Serina Wee suggesting that the cost of paying back the rental monies be hidden under a travelling and salary cost in the use of proceeds clause in the agreement.

The prosecution has charged that payments between the church and Xtron was essentially moving money from one pocket to another. Its case is that the bonds were merely a device to funnel money from the church’s building fund into Xtron to be used for the church’s Crossover Project. Fronted by Ms Ho, the project was the church’s way of evangelising through pop music.

 “The idea of using Xtron bonds was so it could be presented as an investment, and hide the fact that you were using building fund monies to fund Sun’s career,” said Lead Prosecutor Mavis Chionh, adding that there were telling signs that the bond investments were not genuine. For example, the church did not carry out due diligence on Xtron before subscribing to the bonds.

Money that went to Xtron was largely used to fund the church’s Crossover Project. In cross-examining former church board member Mr John Lam, the prosecution pointed out that there was no basis for Xtron’s huge projected sales of Ms Ho’s then-delayed US album.

Xtron had projected album sales of S$16 million in 2011, and S$23 million in 2012. Ms Chionh pointed out that given there was neither a distribution contract nor an album contract, the figures were either “false, or at very best, purely speculative”.

Mr Lam said it was his belief in Kong Hee’s ability to make the Crossover Project a success which led to him supporting the church’s investment into the Xtron bonds, despite knowing that Xtron was not a profitable company, and that Sun Ho’s music albums were losing money. This led the prosecutor to call his story an “incredible invention”.

Copyright 2014 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

Condo's beams 'part of common property'

Straits Times
20 Aug 2014
K.C. Vijayan

Owners not responsible for fixing beam defects: Court

A HIGH Court ruling has clarified that condo unit owners in Singapore are not responsible for repairing defects in structural beams above their properties.

Justice Tan Siong Thye criticised a condominium's management corporation (MC) of displaying a "nonchalant attitude" towards a couple by refusing to fix structural beams over their unit.

The management corporation of Highpoint in Mount Elizabeth took Madam Lee Siew Yuen and her husband Eng Chiet Shoong to the Strata Titles Board (STB) after the unit owners claimed they were not responsible for repairing cracks in the ceiling above their kitchen and bedroom toilet.

However, Justice Tan Siong Thye found in the couple's favour, after their lawyers argued that the beams are part of the common property.

The saga began in 2012 when their contractor discovered cracks in beams hidden in the false ceiling of the 41-year-old building, which could have been caused by water seepage.

The couple referred the problem to the MC, saying it should be responsible for repairing them.

The MC's lawyers - Josephine Choo and Emily Su from Wong Partnership - denied the beams were part of common property because they were located within the unit.

They added that the MC had discharged its duty to rectify the defects when it sent a circular to owners to check their ceilings for broken concrete and make good any defects.

Lee & Lee lawyers Toh Kok Seng and Yik Shu Ying countered for the couple that the affected beams fell within the meaning of common property under the Building Maintenance and Strata Management Act.

Justice Tan agreed and held that the MC was duty-bound to undertake the repairs on that ground.

He added that the unit did not include the beams when it was bought by the couple in 1993 as the beams served only to support the unit above it and were "shared by two units". Stressing that the occupants' safety is of "paramount importance", he found no evidence to suggest the couple had done anything to cause the defects.

Justice Tan noted that both parties agreed the case involved matters of public interest "as the outcome will have an impact on other units in the development and other condominiums in Singapore".

He also ticked off the MC for the manner of its appeal. "The (corporation) has criticised almost every aspect of the STB's deliberations, including its findings of fact," he said in the grounds, released last month. "It also alleged STB had misconducted the proceedings, regardless of whether or not it relates to a point of law. This is an abuse of the appeal process."

Chiding the management for taking "a nonchalant attitude towards such a serious matter", he added: " I would expect a responsible (MC) that is concerned for the lives and safety of its occupants at the development to urgently rectify the structural defects and then subsequently deal with the legal issues and ascertain who is to bear the cost of the repairs."

The High Court ordered the management to carry out the repairs promptly.

vijayan@sph.com.sg

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To view the judgment, click <here>.

Credit bureaus to be licensed: MAS

Business Times
13 Aug 2014
Jamie Lee

Proposal: consumers rejected for loans be given a free copy of their credit report

CONSUMERS who have had their loan applications rejected may soon be able to obtain their credit reports free of charge to check that the data there is accurate. They may also be assured that credit bureaus will be more vigilant over the use and security of their credit data.

These are among the key implications behind proposed regulations governing credit bureaus, announced yesterday by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS). These freshly proposed rules, to be implemented through a new Credit Bureau Act, are aimed at maintaining data confidentiality, security and integrity, the MAS said in a consultation paper.

It has proposed that the two credit bureaus in Singapore - Credit Bureau (Singapore) and DP Credit Bureau - be licensed, with each licence valid for five years.

To hold - and keep - those licences, the bureaus must tighten the management of their business and operational risks. This entails ensuring a comprehensive risk-management system and proper outsourcing arrangements, the MAS said. It added: "The licensing regime will enable MAS to improve the standards for fair credit reporting among licensed credit bureaus, and strengthen the protection of confidential credit data and consumers' rights in Singapore."

The MAS will hold the power to investigate and impose fines if the credit bureaus flout the rules.

The two bureaus will be given six months to meet the new requirements.

The MAS has also proposed that members of licensed credit bureaus, such as banks and finance firms, provide consumers with free copies of their credit report within a certain period of a credit application being approved or rejected. This is in line with international practices, it said.

Consumers who want to buy their credit reports dating back to a specific time frame would also be allowed to do so.

Lincoln Teo, the general manager of DP Credit Bureau, said that presently, consumers are unable to judge the integrity of their personal credit information because some financial institutions do not send their data to both credit bureaus. "DP Credit Bureau sincerely hopes that the licensing regime will bring about greater data parity, which will increase integrity and accuracy of the credit data. This will ensure robust credit assessments and a fair outcome for borrowers."

A spokesman from Credit Bureau Singapore said the bureau welcomed the proposed changes:

"The role of the credit bureau will become increasingly important now that new measures on unsecured credit have been introduced."

leejamie@sph.com.sg

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8 weeks' jail and fine for man in bribery case

Straits Times
06 Aug 2014
Elena Chong

A FORMER business director of the electronics arm of locally listed firm Singapore Technologies Engineering was sentenced to eight weeks' jail yesterday for corruptly receiving $57,387 from a Bangladeshi national.

American citizen Mark Edward Tjong, 48, a permanent resident here, was also ordered to pay a penalty of the same sum: $57,387.

Tjong had received the money through Ms Ho Su-Ling, 38 - his then girlfriend, now wife - from Mr Mujibur Rahman, as a reward for appointing the 65-year-old as an agent for ST Electronics (Info-Software Systems) (STE).

In 2006, when working for STE, Tjong's job scope included sourcing for tenders from South Asia for the company.

He was originally tried on two corruption charges. After an 11-day trial, he was convicted last month of the $57,387 charge but acquitted of a second similar charge involving $30,000.

Tjong is out on $80,000 bail, pending an appeal against the conviction and sentence. His passport has been impounded.

The court heard that in March 2006, an agency agreement between STE and Mr Mujibur, the boss of Kings Shipping and Trading, which was handling Bangladeshi government projects, was signed.

He then clinched a contract from his government for STE to supply and equip Bangladeshi police with walkie-talkies and a telecommunications network.

STE gave a cheque of $185,425 as agent fee to Mr Mujibur, who then opened a personal Citibank checking account in Singapore.

Ten days after Mr Mujibur returned to Dhaka, Tjong flew there on a business trip. Mr Mujibur met him at a hotel and handed over two blank Citibank cheques.

The amounts were later filled in by Tjong, who deposited the cheques into the bank account of Ms Ho. The funds were later withdrawn.

Seeking a two- to three-month jail term, Deputy Public Prosecutor Grace Lim said Tjong committed the offence with a high degree of culpability and premeditation.

Tjong, who was in an influential position, went through circuitous routes to get the bribe from Mr Mujibur, and had abused his position for his personal benefit.

"Tjong had the clear presence of mind to circumvent the law by conducting his corrupt activities outside Singapore as far as possible," she said.

Tjong's lawyers Shashi Nathan and Tania Chin argued that a fine would be adequate to punish Tjong as there was no harm caused, the amount was not significantly high, and this was a private commercial enterprise.

District Judge Liew Thiam Leng said the court could not ignore the fact that there was an agreement between Mr Mujibur and Tjong with regard to the sharing of profits.

He noted that to avoid detection, Tjong had deposited the cheque and withdrawn the money from Ms Ho's bank account, although Tjong had stated many times in court that there was nothing sinister in that.

The maximum penalty for corruption is a $100,000 fine and five years' jail.

elena@sph.com.sg

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Organisations should avoid over-collecting personal data: Forum

Straits Times
20 Aug 2014

UNDER the Personal Data Protection Act, organisations such as mall and building management can collect the personal data of their customers as long as they have a legitimate legal or business purpose to do so, and have obtained their consent for the stated purposes, unless an exception applies ("Why show IC to claim free parking?" by Mr Chew Kai Seng, Aug 6; and "Surrendering ICs at buildings: Set guidelines to protect data" by Mr Francis Cheng, Forum Online, Aug 7).

Organisations should consider the specific circumstances when assessing whether it is reasonable to collect personal data. For example, some organisations may require visitors to provide their NRIC numbers before they are given entry into buildings, for security purposes.

Generally, organisations should avoid over-collecting personal data, including NRIC numbers, for business purposes. The practice described by Mr Chew (recording of NRIC details for free parking redemption) may appear to be an instance of over-collection of data, and we have contacted Mr Chew to follow up with the shopping mall concerned.

Organisations should consider whether there are alternative ways to address their requirements. For instance, for the purpose of free parking redemption, a shopping mall may wish to consider if collecting a customer's name or vehicle licence plate number would suffice.

Organisations should also review regularly if the personal data they collected should continue to be retained.

The Personal Data Protection Commission will work closely with the security and retail associations in Singapore to bring about better understanding of the requirements under the Act within these business communities, and will develop further guidelines to help them comply with the law.

Should individuals have concerns regarding the collection of their personal data by organisations, they can contact the Commission at info@pdpc.gov.sg

Evelyn Goh (Ms)

Director, Communications, Planning & Policy

Personal Data Protection Commission

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Penalties under transboundary haze law too low

Business Times
13 Aug 2014
Ng Yew-Kwang

IT is reassuring to see the Singapore government doing something about the transboundary haze problem. However, the maximum penalties provided are way too low.

As reported, the fines are up to S$100,000 a day - capped at a total of S$2 million - for causing unhealthy haze, defined as a Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) value of 101 or greater for 24 hours or more. Some people may think that S$100,000 a day is a big penalty. However, since the haze affects everyone in Singapore, that sum is less than two cents a day per person. This is well below one per cent (likely also less than 0.1 per cent) of any reasonable estimate of the costs of haze at an unhealthy level.

There are good grounds for increasing the maximum fines by at least 10 times. Though the Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan has promised to stiffen the penalties further if necessary, it would be more effective to have higher figures right away to serve as a strong signal.

In addition, convicting the culprits responsible for transboundary haze is likely to be very difficult and costly. As the probabilities of conviction are low, the expected fines (fines multiplied by probabilities) are much lower than the maximum fines provided. This makes it much more important to provide for more adequate maximum fines.

The provision for insufficient fines is probably partly affected by the tendency to focus on the more tangible costs only. The costs of masks, increased hospital visits and even reduced tourist revenues are more visible and more objectively measurable and hence attract more attention.

However, the most important costs of unhealthy haze are the negative effects on the health of people affected. Confining to Singapore, these include everyone living here and tourists, not to mention those potential visitors who decide on a "second best preferred" location.

Such negative health effects are very difficult to quantify. Though further studies by health specialists and economists would be useful to give better estimates, we may tentatively use an educated guestimate of the willingness to pay to avoid the haze to give some perspective.

The absolute amount of the willingness to pay varies greatly between people of different income and wealth levels and preferences. The willingness to pay as a percentage of income varies much less.

It is not incorrect to suggest that, on average, a person is likely to prefer to lose at least up to 5 per cent of his or her daily income than to sustain 24 hours of unhealthy haze. This would give a lower limit of more than S$25 million per day for Singapore as a whole. This is more than 250 times the maximum daily fine and probably more than 2,500 times the expected maximum fine, taking the probability of conviction as not higher than 10 per cent.

Given the conservative estimate (biased towards the low side), the real costs to expected fines ratio is likely to be in the order of 10,000 to one. This makes the expected fine faced by the culprit only 0.01 per cent of the damages imposed!

Should we nominate the penalty under the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act to the Guinness Book of Records for being the most lenient punishment in the world?

The writer is Winsemius Professor in Economics at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore

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New court to better resolve family conflicts

Straits Times
05 Aug 2014
Radha Basu

Judge-led approach aims to ease the pain and protect the vulnerable

A NEW court will be set up to deal with family disputes in less acrimonious ways under a law passed in Parliament yesterday. The aim is to ease the pain, better protect the vulnerable and cut costs and delays in cases of family conflict.

The Family Justice Courts will oversee divorce and other cases relating to painful and personal matters such as family violence, disputes over wills, adoption and guardianship, and custody and other family issues involving children.

The new system seeks to replace the old adversarial approach - dominated by duelling lawyers - with a judge-led one, where judges specialising in family matters will lead and control the pace and direction of cases.

Among measures being introduced: Parents who plan to divorce must attend a "pre-filing" consultation with state-appointed officials unless they are able to agree on all matters concerning the divorce. Newly appointed "court friends" will assist those not represented by lawyers. And the court will appoint a representative where necessary to protect the interests of the child in bitter divorce disputes.

The Family Justice Act also provides for a new Central Registry that receives, assigns and manages all cases for hearing. Urgent cases where a person's safety is at risk, for instance, will be fast-tracked. Complex cases requiring more rigorous and specialist attention will also be put on a separate track.

In any proceedings involving the welfare or custody of a child, the court may, where necessary, appoint a doctor, counsellor, social worker or mental health professional to examine and assess the child for the purpose of preparing expert evidence for use in court. Judges will also be empowered to order parties to undergo mediation or counselling.

Court processes are also being streamlined to reduce unnecessary legal costs and delays. Forms, for instance, are being simplified and affidavits must be filed according to standard templates.

Speaking in Parliament yesterday, Law Minister K. Shanmugam stressed that the changes are not aimed at making it easier for couples to divorce. "Families should be saved as far as possible, and disputes... brought before the court only as a last resort," he said. "But if the marriage has irretrievably broken down and the family ends up in the court system, the court process should not worsen the anguish of the family."

The 71-page law is based on comprehensive recommendations of a Committee for Family Justice comprising representatives from the Government, the courts, the social services and the legal fraternity. Chaired by Senior Minister of State for Law Indranee Rajah and then Judge of Appeal V.K. Rajah, the committee was set up last year in the wake of rising divorce rates. There were 7,525 divorce and annulment cases last year, up 4 per cent from the year before.

Cutting across party lines, all eight MPs who spoke during the two-hour debate yesterday broadly supported the Bill. Nominated Member of Parliament Eugene Tan lauded the Bill as one that championed a "major and much- needed revamp of our family justice system".

Workers' Party chairman Sylvia Lim (Aljunied GRC) supported indications that the process would be "less adversarial, enabling the judge to probe beyond the symptoms to the root cause of the problems". And Ms Jessica Tan (East Coast GRC), Ms Ellen Lee (Sembawang GRC) and Dr Lily Neo (Tanjong Pagar GRC) lauded the judge-led approach to protect the best interests of the child.

Mr Shanmugam said the law represents the Government's and the court's commitment to transform the system to help troubled families resolve disputes with as little emotional trauma as possible. "What we can do is help families resolve their issues, either by mending the relationship or, if that is not possible, by helping them move on with their lives."

Infographics reproduced with permission of Ministry of Law.

radhab@sph.com.sg

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Kong was indifferent to church's losses: Chew

Business Times
20 Aug 2014
Claire Huang

Quizzed on church monies, Kong denies Chew's points

[SINGAPORE] The former fund manager of City Harvest church yesterday charged that church founder Kong Hee was "not that concerned about the church suffering losses", contrary to what Kong had previously claimed.

This allegation surfaced as Chew Eng Han, one of the accused who is defending himself, wrapped up his questioning of his former spiritual mentor; Chew, who said he could offer evidence to support his charge, took a line of questioning to back up his point.

In this widely watched trial, Kong, Chew and four others are fighting allegations that they misused the church's building fund to support Kong's singer-wife Sun Ho's secular music career; four of the six are also accused of covering up the misuse through "sham bond investments" via round-tripping.

Yesterday, Chew drew the court's attention to Ms Ho's unreleased debut English album, which had cost the church millions to produce, and asked Kong why he had not acted to minimise the church's losses.

Kong had admitted being unsure who owned the copyright to the songs in Ms Ho's album.

Chew shot back: "I asked you, could you have liquidated the copyrights and used the money to pay back whomever had borrowed the bulk of the losses, and your reply was 'Well, if the Xtron directors tell me to do it, then I will do it'."

Chew further pointed out that Kong had refused to let Ms Ho return to the US in 2011 to promote the album.

Kong, responding, said he had been trying to balance between church duties and the legal proceedings: "We had a crisis. We needed the co-founder (Ms Ho) to be back to calm the people, and Your Honour, I think that just because I don't agree with Eng Han, it doesn't mean that I don't love the church."

Chew, keeping up his attack, said that Kong could have put his own money into the Crossover Project instead of buying properties for personal use; he added that Kong made no donations to the church.

The Crossover Project, Kong's vision, was launched to spread the gospel through his wife's music.

The court also heard that Kong had allowed the use of S$3 million in church funds to pay for the purchase of his preaching materials, such as books by him and his recorded sermons.

Kong denied this.

Chew also asked about the S$2.1 million which Kong allowed the church to send to City Harvest Kuala Lumpur, supposedly for a building project there.

Kong also denied this, and claimed later that the KL church had "independently funded" him a "love gift" of the same amount.

Chew also accused Kong of defrauding church members who had donated money to a multi-purpose account "by hiding the royalties, salaries and the bonuses" from the spreadsheet showed to them, so that these donors would be spurred to give more money.

The multi-purpose account was primarily set up to support Kong and Ms Ho, who were taken off the church's payroll in 2005. To this, Kong replied: "I kept the royalties and salaries confidential because that is the way we do it in City Harvest Church; when it comes to salaries and bonuses of any staff, we keep it confidential. I didn't defraud the givers."

Two other arguments were made by Chew - that Kong intended for Xtron to hold a church event yearly instead of every other year to milk more from the church, and that Kong had wanted to acquire a property for the church regardless of the cost.

Kong rejected these claims by Chew.

The trial continues today, with the prosecution questioning Kong.

huangjy@sph.com.sg

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Prosecution amends murder charge

Straits Times
13 Aug 2014
Elena Chong

Accused, who has been granted bail, now faces culpable homicide charge

A MURDER charge against a woman for causing the death of her 17-month-old son in the sea off East Coast Park has been amended to one of culpable homicide not amounting to murder.

Lim Ann Nee hugged friends and relatives who had turned up in court for her case yesterday after she was released on bail.

The 45-year-old, who is married to a Frenchman, has been in custody since November last year for the alleged murder of her son Emilien Lacroix. The toddler's body was found floating about 300m from Bedok Jetty while Lim was rescued by the Police Coast Guard in the waters off East Coast Park on Nov 25.

When Lim's case was mentioned yesterday, the prosecution tendered an amended charge. She was calm and composed when the charge was read to her.

Lim, whose case has been delisted from the High Court, is said to have caused the death of her son by carrying him into the sea off East Coast Park, and leaving him alone knowing that he was unable to swim.

The charge further states that the act was done when she knew that it was likely to cause death, but without any intention to cause death, or such bodily injury as was likely to cause death.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Eugene Lee asked for a pre-trial conference date.

Lim's husband, who is a Singapore permanent resident, stood bail for her at $30,000.

The bespectacled and long-haired woman was smiling when she met members of her family and close friends, numbering about 20. She was also seen crying.

She was initially remanded at Complex Medical Centre in Changi for psychiatric assessment which went on for more than a month. Psychiatrists found her not of sound mind at the time of the alleged offence. She is now fit to plead.

Lim's lawyer Anand Nalachandran told The Straits Times he was glad that the murder charge - which carries either death or life imprisonment upon conviction - has been amended, and that his client has been offered bail.

A pre-trial conference is scheduled for Sept 8.

The maximum penalty for culpable homicide is 10 years' jail, fine and caning. Men above 50 and women cannot be caned.

elena@sph.com.sg

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Cases to be heard in private to protect kids: Shanmugam

Straits Times
05 Aug 2014
Radha Basu

THERE is a difference between public interest and what the public is interested in, Law Minister K. Shanmugam said yesterday while explaining why cases heard by the new Family Justice Courts will largely remain private.

He was responding to Workers' Party chairman and Aljunied GRC MP Sylvia Lim's questions on why the proceedings of this court will be private by default.

The interests of the children must also be protected, the minister added.

Ms Lim contended that the clause stipulating "in-camera" or private hearings unless otherwise stated would be "a significant departure from the open justice concept applicable to the other courts, maintaining the courts as open and public and to which the public shall generally have access".

Having a closed court was also a change from the current situation pertaining to family cases, where many family-related proceedings are heard in open court, such as divorces, contested maintenance applications and protection orders, and contested inheritance cases.

Even in the current Juvenile Court that handles cases of youth in trouble, the Children and Young Persons Act permits the presence of bona fide representatives of news agencies, she pointed out.

While acknowledging the need for private hearings in some cases - such as those involving children - she wondered whether it was clear that the media should not report on family cases at all.

While sensational, intrusive stories were justifiably disliked, she argued that an accurate media report could increase public awareness of family law, rights and obligations. "It is in the public interest that the layman has some understanding of family law principles and how the Family Court works, since it is an area of law touching all our lives directly," she said.

The former law lecturer added that one of the hallmarks of an open justice system was that the general public was able to observe and scrutinise how the courts function. "There is a risk that the secrecy surrounding the Family Justice Courts may undermine public confidence in it."

The recommendation for private hearings was made by the Family Justice Committee, comprising expert representatives from the Government, law and social service fraternities.

Responding to her concerns, Mr Shanmugam, who has been a top legal eagle himself, said that after extensive consultations, the committee felt that the "full entrails of the family disputes should not be laid out in public to protect the children".

He added that judges were being given the discretion to order public hearings, or make public judgments when necessary.

"Precisely what details, what cases are published, whether it's published in the media, those are things that I would rather not do by diktat," he said. Judges were best placed to make those decisions. "And they must have the discretion to do what is right in the appropriate cases."

radhab@sph.com.sg

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Audit guidebook for listed firms gets update

Straits Times
20 Aug 2014
Yasmine Yahya

REGULATORS have issued an updated version of a guidebook that outlines best practices for audit committees of listed companies.

This is the second edition of the guidebook, which was first issued in October 2008 as a way to strengthen Singapore's corporate governance.

"Following the revision to the Code of Corporate Governance in May 2012 and numerous industry developments, it was timely to review the guidebook to ensure its continued relevance," said regulators from the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (Acra) and the Singapore Exchange (SGX).

These three agencies established the Audit Committee Guidance Committee in 2008 to develop practical guidance for listed companies that eventually formed the basis of the book.

A working group comprising industry practitioners and stakeholders was formed last year to review it.

Besides covering the relevant changes in the regulations and guidelines, the group also refreshed the case studies in the book and introduced guidelines on new areas of concern to audit committees that were not covered previously.

"As accountability and audit become an increasingly critical component to the good governance of a company, the second edition of the guidebook aims to help audit committee members better understand their roles and responsibilities," said Mr Danny Teoh, the chairman of the work group.

KPMG Singapore managing partner Tham Sai Choy said this was a timely move.

"Since the guide was launched in 2008, the global financial crisis has raised expectations of corporate governance standards around the world.

"It is important that Singapore is keeping up. This latest edition of the guidebook contains updated references to relevant legislation, listing rules and the corporate governance code," he said.

The guidebook can be downloaded from the MAS, Acra and SGX websites.

YASMINE YAHYA

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Kong Hee defends 'rigorous' oversight

Straits Times
13 Aug 2014
Feng Zengkun

He insists he did his best to ensure church funds would be returned

CITY Harvest Church founder Kong Hee insisted yesterday that he had done his best to make sure church funds borrowed to finance his wife Ho Yeow Sun's music career would be returned, and with interest.

This included replacing award-winning artist Wyclef Jean when he asked for too much money to guide the making of her debut American album.

Kong, along with five others, face various charges for their part in allegedly misusing about $50 million in church funds to boost Ms Ho's career, and then to cover up the deed.

City Harvest had indirectly financed Ms Ho's foray into the United States music scene by buying bonds issued by Xtron Productions, the company managing her career at the time.

The prosecution believes these and other bonds were shams to enable the misuse of church funds, and there was no "genuine consideration" among the defendants of whether the money could be returned.

When asked about this by his lawyer Edwin Tong, Kong said his "rigorous" oversight in the production of the album, part of a church-approved project to evangelise using Ms Ho's pop songs, was proof that that was not true.

"I did my level best to make sure that all of the money being put into the US album would come back," he told the court. "Why? Because the church had invested its building fund in Xtron and I wanted to be sure the church suffered no loss."

After an American pastor suggested to him that Ms Ho's music would appeal to Americans, Jean, a three-time Grammy award winner, was hired in 2006 to help her.

He suggested that Ms Ho scrap the songs that she had already recorded as they sounded "too white, Caucasian" for her, Kong said yesterday.

Instead, Jean suggested a fusion of Asian music and reggae. He had created a similar "Latino-reggae" sound for Colombian pop star Shakira, helping her break into the American market.

This led to Ms Ho's single, China Wine, which enjoyed some success on the dance charts. But the music video attracted criticism for being risque.

Kong revealed yesterday that Ms Ho was "uncomfortable" with the new direction as it did not match the image she wanted. Even though it worked for Shakira, he said, "we were concerned... because obviously, as Asians, we come from a more conservative background".

The partnership with Jean ended in 2008 over budget and profit-sharing disagreements, he said. The album, which was targeted for a June 2010 release date, never materialised. By then, investigations had begun into suspected financial irregularities at the church.

The Xtron bond money was eventually repaid and with interest, but the prosecution believes this was done through "round- tripping". This means several of the defendants allegedly misused church funds to make it seem that Xtron had paid back what it owed.

zengkun@sph.com.sg

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Transboundary haze: Onus on suspected culprits to prove innocence

Business Times
05 Aug 2014
Lee U-Wen

[SINGAPORE] Companies fingered for causing haze pollution in Singapore will have to prove their innocence or face severe penalties under a new law the government is trying to push through.

Speaking in Parliament yesterday, Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan admitted that it would be "challenging" to establish a clear nexus between the transboundary haze affecting Singapore and those responsible for it.

"Any such evidence would be circumstantial at best," he said as he spoke on the merits of the Transboundary Haze Pollution Bill.

A clause provides the legal presumptions to allow the establishment of a "casual link" with the help of technology such as satellite images and meteorological information at or near the time the haze occurred here.

The same clause also gives further presumptions for the Singapore government to identify the owner or occupier of the land through maps from recognised sources.

Dr Balakrishnan said: "All these presumptions are assumed to be true until the contrary is proved.

"The use of rebuttable presumptions has precedents in Singapore law, and their inclusion here paves the way for Singapore to use the new law effectively to deter and hold companies accountable."

Companies, be they local or foreign, could be taken to task for causing haze pollution in Singapore if the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) hits 101 or higher and lasts for at least 24 hours.

If guilty, they could be fined S$100,000 for each day the haze occurs here. The fine will be capped at S$2 million.

Failure to comply with the preventive measures would mean an extra S$50,000 fine per day.

Dr Balakrishnan said that his ministry had received strong support for a regime to impose a "substantial financial penalty" on errant entities, and that this would act as an "effective counter" against the strong economic motivations of companies.

He said that the Bill has been designed to catch those involved - directly or indirectly - in slash-and-burn activities overseas that result in transboundary haze pollution in Singapore.

In his speech, he made the point that some groups of people, especially those with health problems, and the operations of businesses in the tourism sector for example, can be severely hit during bouts of haze.

He noted that an economist had assessed that, had last year's haze crisis, which started in June, lasted until September, with pollution occasionally going into the unhealthy levels, up to US$1.2 billion in economic losses could have been run up.

The new laws will thus provide a legal resource to affected people in Singapore who have suffered from the haze to seek redress from the responsible party.

"The Singapore Government and this House want to send a strong signal that we will not tolerate the actions of errant companies that harm our environment and put at risk the health of our citizens," said Dr Balakrishnan.

"Given the very strong economic incentives today for companies to adopt, quite frankly, the cheapest methods of clearing land for plantations, we need to tilt the playing field in favour of businesses that do the right and responsible thing, and to deter those who do not."

He added that the Bill is not intended to replace the laws and enforcement actions of other countries, but to complement their efforts to hold companies to account.

The debate on the Bill was adjourned last night and will resume later today, after which the Bill is likely to be passed into law.

In a separate statement, the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources said yesterday that it has offered Indonesia extra help to battle the haze in the form of a helicopter equipped to fight fires.

This is on top of the haze-assistance package offered by the Republic in June, which includes an aircraft for cloud seeding and the sharing of high-resolution satellite images and hotspot coordinates.

leeuwen@sph.com.sg

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Singapore Law Watch
20 Aug 2014

Court orders PwC to hand over documents to liquidator

Straits Times
12 Aug 2014
K.C. Vijayan

AUDITING giant PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) has been ordered by the High Court to hand over documents sought by a liquidator probing the downfall of S-chip firm Celestial Nutrifoods.

PwC audited Celestial's financial statements from financial year 2004 until March 2010.

It had already supplied Mr Yit Chee Wah with three Lever Arch files containing details such as limited company and subsidiary level information, year-end balances and minutes of meetings.

However, Mr Yit took legal action to seek access to PwC's working papers and other primary records including bank statements, fixed asset registers and loan facility documents. PwC argued that the liquidator could not be "objective and neutral" in his work and that his real motive for access was to gather evidence and gain an "unfair advantage" in any claim that he might consider against PwC.

But in judgment grounds issued last week, the judge found PwC's approach "unduly defensive".

Justice Judith Prakash said: "At this stage of the proceedings, the assertion that the liquidator's true motive is to fault PwC's audit work and unfairly obtain advance evidence to substantiate a claim against PwC is completely baseless."

Celestial, an investment holding company registered in Bermuda, had several subsidiaries in China. It was listed on the Singapore Exchange in 2004 but wound up in 2011, following its failure to redeem some $235 million in bonds sought by investors.

After taking control, the liquidator found the group's operating activities and directors were in China and he was unable to obtain any meaningful help from them in relation to company affairs. He also found its main assets in China had been diverted to third parties in a series of "suspicious" transactions. This left investors holding shares "in a worthless company whose assets had been completely stripped away", noted Justice Prakash.

Drew & Napier lawyer Blossom Hing said the liquidator had identified seven "suspicious" deals in need of investigation. These included cash payments of 529 million yuan (S$108 million) made without written documentation in relation to the Soybean Hi-Tech Industrial Zone in Daqing, China.

Ms Hing added that PwC would have obtained documents and information relating to the group's trade dealings and properties which could help the liquidator. WongPartnership Senior Counsel Alvin Yeo countered that, among other things, a court order to hand over the materials sought would expose PwC to prosecution and civil liability in China.

There would be a breach of confidentiality to the Chinese subsidiaries which are now under new owners and PwC would be liable to compensate these units for losses incurred. But the judge was not convinced, pointing out that the liquidator - as administrator for the firm - was seeking historical records which the subsidiaries had previously agreed to provide and which the firm had access to.

vijayan@sph.com.sg

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To view the judgment, click <here>.

Haze Bill penalties not large enough, say MPs

Straits Times
05 Aug 2014
Grace Chua

PENALTIES in the proposed Transboundary Haze Pollution Bill may not be large enough to deter big firms, and should be made more severe for repeat offenders, said the first two MPs who debated the new Bill before Parliament was adjourned yesterday.

The Bill - an earlier version of which was up for public consultation earlier this year - was introduced in Parliament in July and holds entities liable for activities inside or outside Singapore that cause unhealthy haze here.

Its aim is to help combat the haze that blankets Singapore from time to time, especially during the dry season, due to illegal land clearing by burning in Indonesia.

Mr Christopher de Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) pointed out that the financial penalties, which are up to $100,000 a day and go up to a maximum of $2 million, may represent only a small sum to large agroforestry firms.

Ms Lee Bee Wah (Nee Soon GRC) said the fines should be doubled or even tripled.

"The fines in the Bill may not be sufficient deterrent against offenders who will weigh the cost of the fine if they are caught, against the profits they will gain."

Monitoring and locating hot spots takes up government resources, while haze also incurs economic and personal health losses here, she added.

In addition, the new law should contain a provision for whistleblowers, she said.

Mr de Souza said errant companies' use of illegal slash-and-burn land clearing methods should be exposed, and urged consumers to pressure them economically.

"Until and unless consumers are made aware that certain products they purchase are the product of these actions... companies will continue undeterred," he said.

At least seven more MPs are scheduled to debate the Bill, and it is expected to be passed today.

Separately, the Government said it had offered the Indonesian government the use of a helicopter with a specialised heli-bucket to help fight fires there.

This adds to its earlier offer in June, of satellite pictures, Singapore Civil Defence Force assistance, and other aircraft for cloud-seeding.

GRACE CHUA


Background Story

CONSUMERS HAVE A ROLE

Until and unless consumers are made aware that certain products they purchase are the product of these actions... companies will continue undeterred.

- Holland-Bukit Timah GRC MP Christopher de Souza

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

Staying nimble, closing loopholes

Straits Times
19 Aug 2014
Yasmine Yahya

MAS' move to regulate alternative investments is a welcome start, but it needs to respond more quickly to the evolving world of innovative financial products

WHEN the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) said last month it would start regulating two types of alternative investments, the move was praised by pundits and investors alike.

But in the same breath, some wondered why it had taken the regulator so long to embark on the initiative.

It has been years since thousands of Singaporeans lost money through these two categories of investments: collectively managed investment schemes and precious metal buyback schemes.

To those who have already been burnt, the current efforts of MAS are cold comfort. But for the sake of all other investors, these expanded regulatory powers are increasingly necessary.

Past experience has shown that no matter how many Singaporeans lose money through dubious deals, there are always more willing to bet their life savings on the next "sure thing".

It is also clear that the MAS will need to be more on the ball to keep up with the rapidly changing world of innovative investments, so it can ensure that consumers remain well-protected.

Closing the loopholes

THE new MAS rules will sew up some loopholes that have been exploited by investment brokers peddling everything from emus to gold.

One such loophole involves collectively managed investment schemes, including land banking. These will now be regulated like traditional collective investment schemes, such as hedge funds and mutual funds.

Traditional collective investment schemes involve investors pooling their funds to invest in an asset or a group of assets, while unregulated collectively managed investment schemes require each investor to buy his or her own direct stake in the asset, such as a small plot in a large tract of land.

These unregulated schemes will now be brought into the regulatory fold.

Among other things, operators of such schemes will have to invest in liquid assets - assets that can be easily bought and sold - if they want to attract money from retail investors.

This means operators of schemes peddling illiquid assets such as land banks or agricultural products would no longer be able to market their products to retail investors.

One worry is what will happen to investors who are already committed to such schemes. They might not be able to exit their investments easily, especially as the pool of potential investors will now shrink considerably.

But in the long term, more regulation is good as investors seem to be constantly taken in by such stratagems. Land banking scandals began surfacing here as early as 2009, yet this investment continued to grow in popularity.

In 2012, thousands of investors in Singapore were affected when land banking firm Profitable Plots' directors came under investigation for not delivering on promised payments.

Over the years, operators have become more canny. Now there are farming schemes, where investors pay to buy farm animals or birds such as emus and swiftlets. There are also agricultural schemes which allow investors to buy individual trees or other agri-products such as agarwood, timber or wine grapes.

The MAS' proposals would bring operators of these and similar schemes under the Securities and Futures Act, limiting their activities to institutional and savvier investors.

Curbing metal buybacks

ANOTHER loophole closed by the new MAS proposals involves metal buyback schemes.

These are essentially debt financing arrangements: Individual investors lend their money to these operators and accept gold as collateral. The investors thus take on a credit risk - the risk that the operator would not be able to pay up when the time comes.

While these are similar to other debt-financing arrangements using stocks or bonds as collateral, these schemes have escaped regulation because they use metals rather than capital market products.

Operators such as the now-defunct Genneva Gold sold investors gold at a discount to the market price with the promise to buy it back 30 or 90 days later.

The Gold Guarantee - now also bust - offered a scheme where investors bought gold at a premium and received monthly payouts, depending on the amount invested.

Under the new MAS proposals, metal buyback schemes will be regulated under the same rules as debt-financing arrangements involving stocks and bonds.

Again, it's about time.

More than 10,000 investors in Singapore lost their money in 2012 thanks to Genneva alone. As for The Gold Guarantee, company founder Lee Song Teck disappeared early last year after taking tens of thousands of dollars from investors.

Although the MAS plans to expand its oversight of buyback schemes only to those with precious metals for now, the move sends a strong signal that it will not always be so easy in future to exploit a loophole in the law.

Growing complexity

THESE signals, that the MAS will not turn a blind eye to investment scheme operators taking advantage of loopholes in the law, are crucial given that the MAS is likely to grapple with ever-more exotic investment products in time to come.

As memories of the 2008 financial crisis fade and interest rates remain low, more and more Singaporeans are looking beyond well-understood products such as stocks and unit trusts in search of higher investment returns.

In response, the MAS is looking into giving retail investors more options by making it easier for them to buy fixed income products directly.

But other institutions are responding to the demand for yield as well. Banks have started rolling out structured products onto the market again in recent months.

Lest anyone has forgotten, some structured products - such as Lehman minibonds and Morgan Stanley's Pinnacle Notes - went bust during the 2008 financial crisis, leaving thousands of Singaporean investors with losses.

Six years on, banks are reintroducing products such as structured deposits and structured notes, some advertising interest rate returns of over 10 per cent.

Financial advisers say they see many of their clients being tempted, especially those who were not burnt by such products before, or who are too young to remember the fallout from the crisis.

To be fair, the banks - some of whom had been accused of mis-selling structured products leading up to the crisis - say this time they are making sure to target only savvy investors when promoting these new products.

But unregulated players peddling their own exotic instruments to a market filled with investors hungry for returns might not have such compunction.

Even when the new rules are in place, it is likely that some investment scheme operators will be able to find a way around them. As it is, the MAS proposals already leave new loopholes open.

Take, for example, wine, jewellery or art investments. The MAS has said that since these are not capital market products, investment schemes involving them would still not come under the expanded regulations.

More unregulated schemes, using even more exotic underlying assets, are likely to pop up on the market soon.

One possibility is bitcoins. The MAS has said that it intends to regulate virtual currency intermediaries for money laundering and terrorist financing risks, but has repeatedly said it will not recognise virtual currencies as legal tender or as securities.

Singapore already has several bitcoin machines and exchanges. It is not too much of a stretch to imagine a day when bitcoin or some other virtual currency is used as an underlying asset for an investment scheme that would fall outside MAS regulations.

As Singaporeans become more affluent and seek better returns for their money, one hopes they will be more aware of the risks involved, especially with newer investments.

But the MAS should also be equally nimble, to keep up with an innovative and rapidly changing investment landscape.

yasminey@sph.com.sg

 

*****************Background Story *****************

 

As memories of the 2008 financial crisis fade and interest rates remain low, more and more Singaporeans are looking beyond well-understood products such as stocks and unit trusts in search of higher investment returns. In response, the MAS is looking into giving retail investors more options by making it easier for them to buy fixed income products directly.

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

Judge's referral to S'pore A-G a legal first here

Straits Times
12 Aug 2014
Grace Leong

HK move due to conflicting evidence, but AGC hasn't received anything yet

A HONG Kong judge's move pertaining to conflicting evidence given in cases in Hong Kong and Singapore appears to be a legal first.

The decision by Justice Kevin Zervos of Hong Kong's High Court to refer his findings on a possible offence committed in Singapore court proceedings to the Attorney-General is the first referral of its kind here, the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) told The Straits Times.

Justice Zervos found that former Ku De Ta chief executive Chris Au had given false evidence in Singapore about his interest in entities that owned the swish club at the Marina Bay Sands SkyPark.

Mr Au had told the Singapore High Court in a 2012 trial over the use of the Ku De Ta name that he had no stake in Retribution, a firm that held a large slice of the club. He had said his interest in the firm ended in "around January 2010". This contradicts his sworn affirmations in a case before Justice Zervos.

Mr Au and other investors are fighting over the $100 million in proceeds from the club's recent sale and how club profits were allocated. The dispute centres on their interests in a joint venture called Kudeta BVI, whose shares they held through Retribution.

Investors Komal Patel and Harry Apostolides claimed they, along with Mr Au, each held 24.17 per cent of Kudeta BVI. But Mr Au said he had 35.5 per cent and that there was a binding deal to buy out his stake for $33.7 million. It is his claimed interest in Kudeta BVI - and through it, in Retribution - that prompted Justice Zervos to state that Mr Au's testimony in Singapore was false and merited referral.

Allegations of false evidence were also made against Mr Au and Mr Apostolides in recent Singapore Court of Appeal proceedings, Justice Zervos noted.

An AGC spokesman said: "We are not aware of any previous instance in which a judge of a foreign court has referred a matter directly to AGC about a possible offence having been committed in court proceedings in Singapore.

"If one is received, the matter will be assessed by AGC to ascertain whether an offence under Singapore law might have been committed before police investigations are commenced."

Last week, Justice Zervos made a ruling directing the Hong Kong High Court's registrar to provide copies of his judgments, along with Mr Au's affirmations and other documents, to the AGC after finding that "in cases where it is alleged false evidence has been presented in relation to proceedings, public interest in upholding the integrity of the administration of justice requires referral to the relevant authorities".

To date, the AGC has not received any reference from Justice Zervos arising out of the matters noted by him in his judgment, the spokesman added.

gleong@sph.com.sg

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Related headlines

Judge refers findings to Singapore A-G, ST, 08 Aug

CHC trial: Church spent S$500,000 to buy Sun Ho’s unsold CDs

TODAY
05 Aug 2014

SINGAPORE — Ms Sun Ho was not the successful singer City Harvest Church had made her out to be. Evidence showed that the church had spent about half a million dollars buying her unsold CDs.

The profitability of her artiste management company Xtron was also called into question as the trial involving the church’s leader Kong Hee and his five deputies resumed yesterday.

The six church leaders are accused of misusing more than S$50 million of church funds to buy sham bonds to bankroll Ms Ho’s music career.

Although she had been touted as a big commercial success, lead prosecutor Mavis Chionh said the financial statements told a different story.

In 2004, City Harvest Church spent about half a million dollars buying at least 32,000 of her unsold Mandarin CDs to give to ministries and churches overseas.

These details surfaced as the prosecution sought to highlight inconsistencies in the evidence given by former church board member John Lam.

Lam had cited Ms Ho’s success as a reason for the church’s investment in bonds issued by Xtron. He pointed out that the junk bonds were not necessarily bad ones and added that he had believed Ms Ho’s album sales in the United States would be good enough to cover the obligations of the bond.

However, the prosecution said that as former director of Xtron, Lam would have known it was not a profitable company. For example, its only asset was a laptop and all its other assets were loaned from the church. It did not even have the budget to pay a S$46,000 freight services bill.

The prosecution also pointed out that Xtron was not the independent entity it had been made out to be. For one, Lam and fellow accused Chew Eng Han had agreed to stamps being made of their signatures to be used on Xtron’s invoices.

Ms Chionh said the two were “happy to rubber stamp decisions”, knowing that they were made by Kong and the church and were happy to go along with those decisions.

The court also heard that the bulk of Xtron’s funding came from the church’s members. For example, Indonesian businessman Wahju Hanafi’s donations to the church’s building fund were refunded to him and channelled to Xtron. The building fund pledges and tithes of some other members, including Lam’s, were also diverted to Xtron.

The trial continues.

Copyright 2014 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

Son must return portion of shares

Straits Times
19 Aug 2014
Selina Lum

Father will hold two-thirds as trustee for other children: Appeals Court

A 46-YEAR-OLD man who had won a High Court fight with his father in February for shares worth $1.8 million will now have to return two-thirds of them, after the Court of Appeal overturned the earlier judgment.

The shares were put in the name of Mr Andrew Tan but the appeals court yesterday found that his father, Mr Robert Tan, had always intended to give the assets to his three children equally, including the former.

The court - Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, Judge of Appeal Chao Hick Tin and Justice Quentin Loh - ordered the younger Mr Tan to transfer two-thirds of the shares to the older Mr Tan, who will hold the assets as trustee for his other two children.

Mr Andrew Tan will keep his one-third stake.

The spat has its roots in events going back 30 years.

Mr Robert Tan is one of nine children of the late Madam Yeo Siew Guat, who owned 950 shares in a family-owned company named Tai Sing Realty.

In 1981, Madam Yeo sold her shares to investment company Hock Ann Holdings.

In 1983, each of her nine children were issued shares in Hock Ann. However, in the case of Mr Robert Tan, he wanted to have his stake placed in the name of Andrew, then a 16-year-old student in England.

After Madam Yeo died in September 2009 at age 92, the siblings agreed to liquidate the trust and share the money in nine portions.

However, the youngest of the nine, Ms Joscelyn Tan, who is the trustee of the block of shares, could not distribute Mr Robert Tan's portion.

Ms Tan considered Mr Andrew Tan to be the legal owner, but Mr Robert Tan told her his portion should be given to him and not his son.

When father and son failed to settle the dispute, Ms Tan took the matter to court in 2012.

In February, the High Court ruled in favour of Mr Andrew Tan, holding that Mr Robert Tan had given his stake to his son as a gift. The older Tan, represented by Mr S. Magintharan and Mr James Liew, appealed.

Yesterday, the appeals court found that the evidence, including the testimony of one of the nine siblings, showed Mr Robert Tan had consistently indicated that he wanted his three children to benefit equally from the assets.

selinal@sph.com.sg

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I always sought professional advice, says CHC founder Kong

Business Times
12 Aug 2014
Claire Huang

[SINGAPORE] The founder of City Harvest Church, Kong Hee, took to the stand yesterday in his own defence, saying that he trusted and always sought professional advice from the church's former lawyer and auditor before making any decisions.

Kong, along with five deputies, are facing allegations that they misused millions of the church's building fund monies to boost the music career of singer Sun Ho.

Ms Ho, who was not present in court as she has been listed as a defence witness, is Kong's wife.

Some of the accused are also alleged to have channelled the church's monies through alleged "sham bond investments" in two companies - Xtron Productions and Firna - via round-tripping.

Taking the stand for the first time, Kong recounted his relationship with the church's then auditor, Foong Daw Ching, of accounting firm Baker Tilly TFW.

Mr Foong was engaged to look through the church's books from as far back as 1993 and became not only Kong's mentor but also "confidant in financial matters".

In 1999, Kong said Mr Foong was engaged to manage his personal income tax.

Having heard how other charities like the National Kidney Foundation and Ren Ci Hospital had brushes with the law, Kong said he became "edgy" and always sought Mr Foong's advice to "maintain financial integrity" that could withstand the "strongest scrutiny" from any watchdog.

In these instances, Kong said Mr Foong would assure that he was "on top of things".

"Brother Foong would have said to me on many occasions words like, 'Kong, don't worry, everything is in good hands. I work well with your team. You just focus on your mission, focus on your health, focus on your ministry and your family. You know, if there's any problem, I would tell you, I would contact you.' So that was the assurance he has given me throughout the years, not once but on many occasions," said Kong.

Describing Mr Foong as "the man in charge" of the church's financials, Kong said the church would seek the auditor's advice on small matters like a S$5 donation to tax exemption issues and matters like using the church's building funds for rental payments.

"Unless he (Mr Foong) okays it, I would be very hesitant to proceed," said Kong.

The church founder, who turns 50 this year, also testified that the church had retained Senior Counsel Jimmy Yim of Drew & Napier for several years, in a bid to strengthen the organisation's corporate governance as it grew from a small setting to one of Singapore's mega-churches.

The checking of scripts for the church's annual general meetings was one of the things on which Kong would seek Mr Yim's and Mr Foong's advice.

When asked by his lawyer Edwin Tong whether the special audit of the church's books was communicated to the executive members, Kong said he persuaded Mr Foong to record a video declaring that no church fund was used to promote Ms Ho's career.

The special audit was commissioned in 2003, after a then-church member, Roland Poon, alleged that the church forced its members to purchase Ms Ho's music albums and that the management had used the building fund to promote her albums, among other things.

During the hearing, Kong also testified that he entrusted his deputies with the church's affairs as it grew in size, as he was overseas most of the time.

The court also heard how the church's Crossover Project, aimed at evangelising non-church goers through secular music, was successful and supported by members.

Mr Tong had said in his opening address that the crux of the prosecution's case was that the building fund monies could not be used for the Crossover Project, but he pointed out that it was a "legitimate, proper and widely supported church purpose".

Mr Tong argued that there was "no wrongful gain" in the case, "no financial loss caused to the church", and that the Xtron and Firna bonds were redeemed with interest.

Earlier in the day, prosecutor Christopher Ong raised concerns of a possible satellite litigation that might "unduly delay or disrupt the progress of the trial".

This came after the church's current lawyer, Desmond Ong, sent a warning letter, citing possibility of injunction, to one of the accused, Chew Eng Han, who was the church's investment manager.

In the letter, Mr Desmond Ong had asserted that Chew is in possession of documents over which his clients claim legal privilege. Previously, Chew said he wanted to use those documents in his cross-examination of Kong.

While the nature of the documents was not specified, the court has ordered Mr Desmond Ong to make his submissions on this in open court.

The trial continues.

huangjy@sph.com.sg

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MHA proposes tighter laws on mobile phone use while driving

TODAY
05 Aug 2014
Tan Shi Wei

SINGAPORE — The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) wants to widen the dragnet on the worsening problem of motorists using their mobile phones while behind the wheel.

In proposed changes to the Road Traffic Act tabled yesterday, motorists who hold and operate any function of mobile communication devices, including tablet computers, will be committing an offence. This means checking of e-mails or flicking through one’s Facebook account will be disallowed, if the legislative changes are passed.

Existing laws only prohibit motorists from holding their mobile phones and communicating with another person, such as sending text messages or taking a phone call, while they are driving.

The proposed amendments, however, do not extend to the use of mobile communication devices that are mounted on a holder. In response to queries, an MHA spokesperson said: “Under the proposed amendments, the offence would apply if the person is holding a mobile communication device, which would include mobile telephones and tablet devices, in at least one hand and operates any function of the device while driving.”

Traffic Police figures showed that the number of summonses issued to motorists using their mobile phones while driving has increased over the years, from 2,817 in 2011 to 2,938 in 2012 and 3,572 last year.

In the first six months of this year, 1,761 summonses were issued, slightly higher than the 1,700 issued in the same period last year.

Other changes proposed in the Bill include making motorists more responsible road users. For instance, drivers who knock into parked vehicles or structures will be expected to provide their particulars to the owners even if no one had witnessed the accident. The vehicle owner who fails to provide the Traffic Police with the particulars of the driver who committed certain traffic offences will also be presumed to be responsible.

Alongside these enhancements to enforcement powers, the Traffic Police is also asking to be allowed to direct poor drivers to go for a new safe driving course — a move that will be especially significant for new drivers.

Motorists who have accumulated half or more of their maximum allowable demerit points will be eligible for the corrective training course, should they choose to sign up for it. Those who pass will have three demerit points removed from their records.

This means that rookie drivers on probation who incur six or more demerit points in their first year of driving — the maximum they can incur is 12 points — will receive a lifeline if they pass the course.

Another proposed amendment involves requiring work pass holders who need to drive as part of their job to obtain a local driving licence within six months from the date their work passes were issued.

These are part of efforts to ensure both local and foreign motorists are familiar with Singapore’s traffic rules and conditions, and are sufficiently competent to drive on our roads, said the MHA.

tanshiwei@mediacorp.com.sg

Copyright 2014 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

Appeal notice filed against rioter's sentence

Straits Times
19 Aug 2014
Hoe Pei Shan

THE Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) has filed the first notice of appeal against the sentence of one of the 15 men convicted so far for their roles in last December's Little India riot.

An AGC spokesman told The Straits Times the appeal notice was filed yesterday against the 25-month jail sentence of Indian national Samiyappan Sellathurai, who was convicted last week of rioting. Samiyappan, 42, admitted to removing a concrete slab from akerb with the help of others he had egged on, then smashing it, and hurling the pieces of concrete at police cars, emergency vehicles and public servants.

He later picked up a metal rack and rammed it repeatedly against a side wall of the Little India MRT station with three others, in apparent efforts to bring the wall down.

Assistant Public Prosecutor Dillon Kok had urged the court to mete out a jail term of 24 to 30 months and three strokes of the cane for his "brazen display of lawlessness" and role as an "instigator". But Senior District Judge Ong Hian Sun sentenced him to 25 months in prison, without commenting on the lack of caning in his decision.

Defence counsel Rajan Supramaniam said then that the sentence was fair, and caning would have been "unduly harsh".

Both sides had up to two weeks after sentencing to make appeals, and the prosecution in this case chose to take up this option - the first time the AGC is fighting the sentencing in relation to the 15 riot convictions thus far. With the notice of appeal filed, Judge Ong would be informed and his grounds of decision with respect to the case would be sent to the AGC, which must then decide if it would proceed with the appeal.

A total of 25 men, all Indian nationals, were charged with rioting in Little India. Six have been convicted of rioting, with the toughest sentence being 33 months' jail and three strokes of the cane.

hpeishan@sph.com.sg

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Accreditation scheme for renovation contractors

Business Times
12 Aug 2014
Nisha Ramchandani

SINGAPORE's consumer watchdog Case and the Singapore Renovation Contractors and Material Suppliers Association (RCMA) have joined hands to come up with an accreditation scheme for renovation contractors.

When homeowners engage contractors accredited by CaseTrust-RCMA - CaseTrust is Case's accreditation arm - they enjoy the protection of a performance insurance bond, Case and RCMA said in a statement yesterday.

"The bond will act as a buffer for non-performance of contractors and provide greater peace of mind to consumers who are renovating their homes."

The contract between contractor and homeowner will list the policies on fees and refunds. And if disputes arise, a system of redress with a dispute-resolution mechanism will kick in for the business and the consumer.

Accredited contractors will have sales employees who can provide quick and accurate information on the renovation. Accredited contractors have to open up their worksites to assessment by the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) of Singapore, which will use the workmanship benchmarks drawn up under its Construction Quality Assessment System (Conquas).

The number of complaints against contractors has been rising in recent years, from 1,488 in 2011 to 1,779 last year; already, in the first seven months of this year, 813 complaints have been lodged.

Most have to do with unsatisfactory service and failure to honour the contractual agreement.

RCMA is planning to establish a one-stop renovation city hub to gather accredited firms under one roof, thus making it easier for customers to find information, for example, on the best renovation loans.

The joint Case and RCMA statement said: "We hope the joint accreditation scheme will help strengthen and uplift industry standards, and promote fairer business practices in the renovation industry."

nishar@sph.com.sg

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Wide variations in laws result in murky system that can leave babies and mums vulnerable

Straits Times
05 Aug 2014
Jonathan Pearlman

THE laws on surrogacy vary markedly between different countries - and even within individual countries - in a murky system that can leave children and mothers vulnerable, particularly those in poorer countries.

Some nations, such as Germany, Spain and France, ban surrogacy altogether.

China also bans the practice but reportedly has a flourishing black market, with about 10,000 babies born a year.

Canada (aside from Quebec), Britain and Australia allow it but only if the birth mother carries the child for altruistic reasons and does not receive any payment beyond medical costs.

But places such as India, Russia, Ukraine and some parts of the United States allow commercial surrogacy, where the mother is paid.

There are also countries such as Thailand, where there has long been lax regulation and oversight. Thailand has no laws expressively allowing or forbidding the practice.

However, there are proposals to ban commercial surrogacy, and limit such arrangements to heterosexual couples.

Advertisement of surrogacy may also be made illegal, and surrogacy may be undertaken only by parents who had had at least one child, according to a report last week by Thai broadcaster PBS.

The availability of paid surrogacy in some countries but not in others has led to the growth of international surrogacy and a "reproductive tourism industry".

The industry has proven controversial, particularly due to the legal differences from country to country. There have been cases where surrogate parents have paid for a child but refused to take it. There have also been cases where the surrogate mother's country and the biological parents' country take a different position on the nationality of the child.

Some countries have moved to ban their citizens from using surrogate mothers abroad. Others allow it, but impose few or no rules on the parents.

In Australia, states such as New South Wales forbid people to go abroad and pay a surrogate. Anyone who does so faces two years in jail.

But in other states such as Victoria, commercial surrogacy abroad is permitted, though there are no rules or enforceable guidelines.

JONATHAN PEARLMAN

Additional reporting by Tan Hui Yee in Bangkok

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

Foreign worker loses appeal against life sentence for murder

TODAY
19 Aug 2014
Amanda Lee

Sentence was the “minimum” punishment for his charge

SINGAPORE — A Bangladeshi construction worker, who was convicted of murder, had escaped the hangman’s noose — but he still wanted to appeal against the sentence, which will see him being locked away behind bars for life.

In making his appeal yesterday, Kamrul Hasan Abdul Quddus, 40, who was unrepresented, told the Court of Three Judges — Singapore’s final appeal court — that his family misses him.

However, the court, led by Judge of Appeal Andrew Phang, dismissed Kamrul’s appeal, saying that his sentence could not be reduced as it was the “minimum” punishment for his charge.

Kamrul was convicted in 2010 of murdering his 25-year-old Indonesian girlfriend, Yulia Afriyanti, who worked here as a maid.

Yulia’s naked body was found in December 2007 in a cardboard box in a unit of the Viz@Holland  condominium, which was then under construction.

Last year, Kamrul was sentenced to life imprisonment and also ordered to receive 10 strokes of the cane.

Kamrul is the fourth convicted murderer to be given a life sentence, instead of the death penalty.

This follows changes to the law, which took effect last year, giving judges the discretion to impose either the death penalty or a life sentence for certain categories of murder.

leeguiping@mediacorp.com.sg

Copyright 2014 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

Region to gain if haze law has effect

Straits Times
12 Aug 2014

THE use of state legislation to deal with a multi-faceted, transnational scourge is often limited in application. This could be why the framers of Singapore's enabling law to act against perpetrators of haze pollution were careful not to raise expectations. Passage of the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act by Parliament last week may have cumulative bite if more countries in the path of the pollutants adopted Singapore's approach, to complement the Asean-wide anti-haze agreement and tackle the problem as a regional effort. But national economic interest is a barrier as Indonesia and Malaysia - besides Singapore, to a smaller extent - are home to conglomerates with plantation interests in South- east Asia, mainly in oil palm cultivation.

Asean foreign ministers who met in Myanmar at the weekend urged Indonesia, the only holdout, to ratify the Asean pact which after a decade has scarcely lived up to its name. With President-elect Joko Widodo's administration soon to take charge in Jakarta, diplomatic efforts need to be stepped up to achieve compliance by the primary source country of the seasonal pollution. Only then could exchange of technical data like beneficial plantation ownership, forestry maps and satellite imagery of hot spots be used for purposes of containment and also prosecution.

Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan disclosed to Parliament that Indonesian environmental officials had been invited to give their comment on the Singapore draft law. The goodwill and mutual concern evinced will smoothen collaboration on a matter which has direct impact on the state of public health and the economy of both countries. Indonesians have choked as badly on the haze as have Singaporeans, but the island state's smallness makes it a major social, economic and environmental concern.

Although the legal move is by necessity circumscribed as pursuing cases in a foreign jurisdiction is not the intention given the current scope, the effect is not to be underestimated, either. The Act empowers prosecutors to question representatives of suspected offending companies who happen to visit Singapore, even if these firms have no registered office or assets here. They may be charged if pollution attributed to their company's activity exceeded 100 on the Pollutant Standards Index for a full day or more. Companies and individuals acting in concert may also sue for damages. Offenders might think twice if lawsuits eventuate.

It remains to be seen if legal sanctions can exert a brake on recalcitrant polluters. But the true worth comes from the message put out to governments about Singapore's serious intent to help bring a persistent problem under control.

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Ku De Ta's ex-CEO gave false evidence in S'pore: HK judge

Straits Times
04 Aug 2014
Grace Leong

A HONG KONG judge, in a ruling on a fight over proceeds of the recently sold Ku De Ta, has found that the swish club's former chief executive Chris Au had given false evidence in the Singapore High Court.

These revelations emerged in a ruling on an escalating dispute between Mr Au and other investors over the distribution of some $100 million in proceeds and how club profits were allocated.

The dispute centres on an entity called Retribution, which holds shares in the joint venture Kudeta BVI, which owned the club at the Marina Bay Sands SkyPark.

L Capital, an investment arm of LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton, acquired a 51 per cent stake in Kudeta BVI for $100 million in January.

Mr Au and shareholders are fighting over their interests in Kudeta BVI, which they hold through Retribution.

Shareholders Komal Patel, also known as Karl Patel, and Harry Apostolides claim they each hold 24.17 per cent of Kudeta BVI. They also claim that Mr Au owns the same amount.

But Mr Au says he held 35.5 per cent of Kudeta BVI and that there is a binding agreement to buy out his interest for $33.7 million using funds from L Capital's acquisition.

However, in a 2012 trial in Singapore over the use of the Ku De Ta name, Mr Au testified that he "doesn't have any interest in Retribution" and that it ended "around January 2010".

Justice Kevin Zervos of the Court of First Instance of Hong Kong's High Court in a ruling last month said: "Au has claimed to be a qualified lawyer and yet in proceedings before the Singapore High Court in August 2012, he gave evidence on oath that was false by claiming he had no interest in Retribution and the Kudeta business.

"As far as I am concerned, it is a very serious matter (that) he gave false evidence to a court and on the very issue that is the subject of these proceedings in Hong Kong."

Mr Au declined comment when asked why he told the Singapore High Court that he had no interest in Retribution.

Judge Zervos said in the 56-page judgment that he was "minded to refer the papers to the Attorney General of Singapore" and has ordered Mr Au to make written submissions.

Meanwhile, the judge has denied the shareholders' application for judgment in their favour without a trial, finding that the defendants have established there are triable issues.

Judge Zervos, who warned that the row could affect Ku De Ta's business, has issued orders to protect the proceeds from being dissipated and to preserve contractual arrangements with L Capital pending the trial's outcome.

Apart from the row over proceeds, the shareholders claim Mr Au also diverted club funds to his other businesses and withheld at least $8.21 million in dividends, court papers say.

They won an order on Jan 29 to freeze up to $16 million of assets held by Mr Au and Retribution - an amount they claim represents the unpaid dividends and their entitlements in the proceeds.

But Mr Au has accused the shareholders and investor Yew Kuan Cheong and his corporate vehicle, Essence Investments, of trying to claim an interest in Retribution without having paid for it and of using legal proceedings to cheat him of the $33.7 million.

Judge Zervos discharged the Jan 29 order after finding that there was "misrepresentation of the amount of unpaid dividends being claimed" and that Mr Au's interest was not brought to the court's attention at the time.

But he regranted the injunction under amended terms, after finding that the shareholders have a "good arguable case on the misappropriation and misapplication of funds of Kudeta BVI".

Mr Au told The Straits Times that the allegations of misappropriation were "false", adding: "I am looking forward to a full trial in Hong Kong."

gleong@sph.com.sg

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Eratat unit forged 577m yuan bank statement: CBRC

Business Times
19 Aug 2014
Cai Haoxiang & Jamie Lee

Unit's representatives might have posed as staff of Agricultural Bank of China

THE trail of missing cash at mainboard-listed China fashion company Eratat Lifestyle has led to more concrete evidence of fraud.

The Fujian office of China's bank regulator China Banking Regulatory Commission (CBRC) has found that an Agricultural Bank of China (ABC) bank document purportedly showing a cash balance of 577 million yuan (S$117 million) in an Eratat subsidiary bank account was forged by the subsidiary.

Even more egregiously, representatives of the subsidiary might have impersonated as ABC bank staff to reassure visiting independent auditors and company directors that everything was okay.

They apparently used the bank's Jinjiang Chendai Branch premises earlier this year, verifying the forged bank statement as true. They even informed the visitors that the Eratat subsidiary concerned was a good customer and did not have any loans with the bank.

Eratat's interim judicial manager Hamish Alexander Christie of restructuring specialist Borrelli Walsh disclosed the CBRC findings in an announcement on the Singapore Exchange yesterday. He is seeking legal advice and "preparing further enquiries of the CBRC and/or application for a review of this opinion of CBRC in Fujian by the state CBRC".

The news is likely to hit retail investors, who own about three quarters of the company. Eratat had a market valuation of almost S$50 million before trading was suspended in January.

A subsidiary of well-known Hong Kong finance company Sun Hung Kai and Co has also lent 134 million yuan to Eratat last June in a bond issue.

It was the failure of Eratat to make a coupon payment of 4.2 million yuan last December that triggered this chain of events.

Eratat former CEO Lin Jiancheng had assured directors and the bondholder that the payment was coming and that Eratat had cash balances of 640 million yuan as at Jan 24. But he was unable to satisfactorily explain why the payment could not be made, audit committee chairman Lim Yeow Hua said in end-January.

As a result, the audit committee called for a trading halt in Eratat shares on Jan 27 and suspended the CEO from his duties.

Auditors and directors then made an impromptu visit to ABC's branch in Jinjiang Chendai where they supposedly met ABC staff. They were subsequently stymied in their attempt to clarify inconsistencies on the purported Eratat subsidiary bank statement.

Eratat then approached ABC Bank's Beijing headquarters, which informed them that the Eratat subsidiary, HMW, only had a balance of 73,321.63 yuan (S$15,000) at end-2013.

ABC Beijing added that HMW also had bank borrowings of 34 million yuan as well as trade bills of 30 million yuan at end-2013.

In a May 30 announcement, Eratat said it lodged reports with CBRC and Singapore's Commercial Affairs Division. It was unable to raise funds to pay for a special audit. Interim CEO Ho Ker Chern, who was chief financial officer since 2007, also quit. The bondholder applied successfully to Singapore's High Court to appoint the interim judicial manager to manage Eratat's affairs to see if a better solution rather than a winding-up can be found.

For now, investors are left wondering how the investment community had got the company so wrong.

Eratat listed as a sports footwear company in 2008, reporting growing revenues and profits. But Eratat executive director Ye Sanzhi sold off his entire 6.77 per cent stake for S$4.44 million last August.

Last November, Eratat was awarded runner-up in the "Most Transparent Company Award 2013, Mainboard Small Caps Category", by the Securities Investors Association of Singapore. The same month, with the company trading at about nine cents a share, Voyage Research had an "increase exposure" call on the company with a target price of 28 cents a share.

Eratat shares last changed hands in January at 10 cents.

haoxiang@sph.com.sg

leejamie@sph.com.sg

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Make rules on refinancing mortgages more flexible: Mailbag

Business Times
12 Aug 2014

WHILE one can agree with Minister for National Development Khaw Boon Wan that it is too early to relax Singapore's property cooling measures ("Premature to lift property cooling measures, says Khaw Boon Wan", BT, Aug 5), some fine-tuning to the implementation of the Total Debt Service Ratio (TDSR) would make sense.

Prior to the introduction of the TDSR, housing-loan borrowers could readily refinance their mortgages at more favourable terms at the end of lock-in periods when interest rates would normally increase.

Likewise, borrowers used to be able to readily switch to fixed-rate housing loans. Given historically record low interest rates, borrowers should indeed be encouraged to fix their interest rates for longer periods as rates are expected to rise .

Following the introduction of the TDSR, at least two local banks have taken the position that any refinancing or conversion to fixed-rate loans constitutes a new application and is, therefore, subject to TDSR rules.

Thus, an existing borrower who does not meet TDSR criteria would not be considered for refinancing or conversion of floating to fixed-rate loans. This is even if the amount of loan and monthly instalments remain unchanged.

Whether this is an intended or unintended outcome of the TDSR, I would suggest that the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) clarify and allow existing borrowers who are not within the TDSR to refinance their housing loans or switch to fixed-rate loans. However any refinancing would be subject to no increase of the principal loan amount, no increase of loan tenor and no reduction in monthly instalments.

Such a change will allow borrowers to take advantage of lower interest rates offered in promotional packages and also pay down their loans faster. As for the switch to fixed-rate loans, the same requirements would apply except that there would be no reduction in monthly principal repayments. This means the monthly instalments may go up as fixed rate loans usually carry a higher interest rate in the short run. But that is a choice for the borrower.

The banks may earn less in some refinancings but that would be more than compensated by a lower risk loan portfolio as borrowers pay down their loans faster (in the case of refinancing) or protect themselves against higher future interest rates (in the case of a switch to fixed-rate loans). Such a change can contribute to a reduction of systemic risks. It would lead to a happy outcome for everybody.

Ho Swee Huat

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

AGC studying ways to speed up cases involving abused foreign workers

Straits Times
03 Aug 2014
Radha Basu

The Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) is looking at ways to speed up court cases involving abused foreign workers, including maids, as some wait several months or even years before their complaints are dealt with in court.

It is also exploring how to help more foreign maids get compensation for the losses they incur after they stop work because of abuse.

Chief Prosecutor Tai Wei Shyong told The Sunday Times that Attorney-General V.K. Rajah has formed an internal working group to focus on improving court processes involving abused foreign workers.

It will work closely with enforcement agencies and others involved, such as embassies and hospitals, to secure medical reports and witness statements more quickly. Where appropriate, it will try to persuade the courts to fix early hearing dates.

"Expediting these processes would be particularly relevant to foreign workers who are unable to secure alternative employment while awaiting the outcome of the criminal justice process," said Mr Tai.

He was responding to questions from The Sunday Times about maids who report abuse, then end up waiting for the cases to be investigated and dealt with. They stay in shelters while waiting, but some give up, drop their complaints and go home.

Mr Tai said the time needed for each complaint to be concluded varies, depending on the complexity of the case and factors such as the availability of witnesses and the need for medical reports and other evidence.

If a person is charged with a criminal offence, the trial process takes time too, and the accused person must be allowed to consider his position and prepare to defend himself if he denies doing wrong.

It also takes time to obtain and share relevant documents, and to get the cooperation of willing witnesses. Defence lawyers often make representations and when these are not acceded to, finding convenient trial dates for everyone involved can prove problematic sometimes.

"That said, the AGC accepts that like other processes, these can be further improved," said Mr Tai, adding that the new working group will look into these issues with a view to dealing with all cases expeditiously so justice can be served.

"If there are specific cases where there has been a delay in bringing the matter to court, the victim or any other person affected should bring this to the attention of the relevant authorities," he said.

On compensation for abused maids whose tormentors are convicted, Mr Tai explained that the compensation regime under the criminal justice process is usually used only when a victim claims out-of-pocket expenses which the accused person does not dispute were caused by his offence, and the accused person does not dispute the amount.

But Mr Tai said the AGC is studying how to expand the use of compensation orders, to help more maids obtain compensation for losses resulting from a criminal offence committed against them.


 

Maids claiming abuse face long wait for justice

Maids who complain of physical or sexual abuse face months - sometimes years - of uncertainty waiting in shelters as the police investigate cases and, where possible, take the accused to court. Often, they are in no shape to continue working as maids. With no income and with restrictions on their freedom, most just want to go home or be allowed greater flexibility to work as they pursue their casesFilipino maid Analyn Rinonos, 30, spent two years, three months and two days in a Singapore shelter before she finally returned home to her two young children in March.

That was how long she waited while her complaint of being abused by her employer was investigated and taken through the legal system.

In the end, her employer pleaded guilty and was jailed for a year.

Ms Rinonos received justice, but little else. "I came to Singapore with a dream, but it quickly turned into a nightmare," she told The Sunday Times.

There are maids who are beaten, denied food, locked up and deprived of sleep. Many of their tormentors - their employers - eventually go to jail.

But those who complain of physical or sexual abuse face months, sometimes years, of uncertainty waiting in shelters as the police investigate cases and, where possible, take the accused to court.

There are no official figures on the number of complaints, how many reach the courts or how long each case takes to be resolved.

But figures collated by migrant help group Home and the Indonesian and Philippine embassies, all of which run shelters for maids in distress, show that at least one report of physical or sexual abuse is lodged with the police every other day.

The Sunday Times found nearly a dozen cases of women who returned home a year to 18 months after making a report.

One waited four years.

Once a maid makes a police report, she needs the approval of the authorities to leave Singapore.

She is allowed to find a new job, but only as a maid. Many do not want to work as maids again, given what they say they have suffered.

Some cannot work because their employers do not cancel their work permits out of spite. Others need psychiatric help and are in no shape to work.

With no income and with restrictions on their freedom, most just want to go home or be allowed greater flexibility to work as they pursue their cases. There is no guarantee of compensation even if their employers are eventually convicted and fined or jailed.

Ms Rinonos' employer, for example, was jailed for a year for crimes inflicted on her and another Indonesian maid.

Ms Rinonos sought compensation but she was turned down.

Spokesmen for the Indonesian and Philippine embassies and Home told The Sunday Times that the authorities could look at ways to speed up investigations and consider mandating compensation for victims whose abusers are convicted.

Third Secretary and Vice-Consul Oliver C. Delfin from the Philippine Embassy said what would help is a timeline in police investigations, as the women do not have a support system here aside from their embassies.

Their families are also anxious for them to return home.

While some women persevere and wait for the cases against their employers to be resolved, many others give up, said Home executive director Jolovan Wham. Women with pending cases stay at his shelter for 15 to 18 months.

He said up to four out of five withdraw their complaints and go home. Others leave when their claims cannot be substantiated - sometimes even after they pass lie detector tests conducted by the police - and their employers cannot be charged in court.

One such case involved a 36-year-old Indonesian who alleged in March last year that her employer and his family members punched her in the stomach, put a hot spoon on her eyes, beat her with a hanger and jabbed her with needles.

She gave up and went home in February. The police issued a written warning to the employer, but there was apparently not enough evidence to pursue the case.

Two other women told The Sunday Times they went home after being told their claims could not be substantiated.

One claimed her employer had threatened her with her policeman husband's gun and hit her with tongs and a plastic bottle used to water plants.

She left Singapore in June - 10 months after lodging her complaint. Her employer was given a warning letter.

Home has also seen an increase in the number of women from

Myanmar, Bangladesh and Cambodia seeking help. Indonesians and Filipinas are generally more aware of their rights and have social and embassy support networks, unlike women from some of the newer source countries for maids.

Bangladeshi maids, for instance, are relatively new in Singapore. Most do not speak English and have no idea whom to turn to for help.

Madam M. Aklima, 33, a Bangladeshi mother of two, came to work in Singapore in January, hoping to save for an eye operation for her three-year-old daughter back home.

She claimed her female employer called her lazy and would slap and abuse her every time she did not "clean the flat well".

In one incident, she said, her employer tore her blouse, then called the police to say the maid had gone mad and torn her own clothes.

Initial investigations could not substantiate her charges. Unable to afford being jobless for months on end, she returned home late last month.

Lawyer June Lim from Fortis Law, who has helped maids in abuse cases, said the criminal justice system has "little or no sensitivity" for such cases.

She said she appreciates that once charged in court, the accused person has the right to find a lawyer, make representations, raise the necessary defences or get psychiatric reports prepared.

"But I think the police investigations can and should be speeded up. The authorities should also establish protocols to keep the victim's lawyers and the shelter personnel informed of the status of the case, as it is the uncertainty that is unsettling for the FDW (foreign domestic worker)," she said.

Lawyers such as Mr Quek Mong Hua from Lee & Lee, who have represented employers in maid abuse cases, say every accused is entitled to the due process of law.

Cases may drag on because of three main reasons, Mr Quek said. In some cases, the accused protests his innocence and wants the "fairness of due process".

In others, the accused may admit to the act but has a defence, like a claim to mental illness, that needs to be proved. Then there are those who simply do not admit they are guilty and the prosecution must prove the charge.

The hardest predicament lies with the majority of cases which are minor but still have to be put through the due process.

"As a defence counsel, I would like to suggest that there should perhaps be more room for composition of offences, especially when it is in the interests of the victim, not just the accused," said Mr Quek.

Composition or compounding of an offence - sometimes allowed for minor crimes - does not amount to a conviction but enables the victim to settle with the accused in return for remuneration or an apology.

Mr Wham and some lawyers would like compensation to be made compulsory when the employer is convicted.

Mr Wham also suggested that the women be allowed to get jobs other than as maids, such as kitchen helpers. Funding for counselling and psychiatric care for those who need it would also help.

Although some of the women who allege abuse are witnesses of the state, the Government does not pay for their upkeep while they wait. That too, he hopes, will change. He said his shelter spends $400 per month on each woman.

These suggestions, if taken up, could ease the burden on distressed maids while deterring would-be abusers.

Meanwhile, those who have returned home are learning to rebuild their lives. In a recent Facebook post, Ms Rinonos wrote: "If they disrespect you, (you must) still respect them. Do not allow the actions of others to decrease your good manners, because you represent yourself, not others."

She may never forget, but she is clearly trying to forgive - and move on.


Background Story

AGC: BETTER IF MAIDS STAY TILL CASES END

Maids involved in abuse cases have alleged that they cannot leave Singapore while investigations are on, but the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) told The Sunday Times that a victim of crime cannot be forced to remain here against his or her will.

However, the victim plays a critical role in the prosecution against the perpetrator, and it is generally better if she can remain in Singapore until the case is concluded, said Chief Prosecutor Tai Wei Shyong.

"If a victim decides to return to her country of origin, the deputy public prosecutor in charge of her case will seek her cooperation to return to Singapore to testify," he said. "The case will not be able to proceed without her evidence."

POLICE: WHY SOME CASES TAKE SO LONG

Asked why investigations of maid abuse sometimes take more than a year to be completed, a police spokesman told The Sunday Times that the role of the police is to uncover the facts without prejudicing the rights of any party involved.

The length of the investigation depends on the facts, circumstances and complexity of each case.

"Police investigations are founded on the principles of interview, intelligence and forensics, and we certainly do not rely on any one aspect to the exclusion of other evidence," the spokesman said. "Each case is assessed based on its facts and circumstances and, in consultation with the public prosecutor, a decision will be made on the action, if any, to be taken on the case."


4 YEARS

• Lilis Sriyatun, 29: The Indonesian maid was abused with a bamboo pole and hot spoon and poked with a sewing needle after being forced to strip in 2009. Her female employer was sentenced to 16 months' jail in December 2012. She appealed. In June last year, the employer was diagnosed with psychiatric disorders and her medical records were admitted as evidence in January this year. In April, the sentence was reduced to a $15,000 fine. Ms Sriyatun went home in November last year - more than four years after lodging her police report.

2 YEARS, 8 MONTHS

• Juwarti, 25: The Indonesian accused her employer of punching and kicking her body and private parts repeatedly in December 2010. Her employer, a 32-year-old mother of two, also pushed Ms Juwarti's head against a door frame. She was sentenced to 21 months' jail last August.

2 YEARS, 4 MONTHS

• Nuryanti, 29: The Indonesian claimed she was so badly abused by her employer that it left her suffering from psychological problems. She was slapped, had her hair pulled and her head hit against a wall, was attacked with a metal bar and hit with a wooden back scratcher with such force that it broke. She ran away and her employer made a police report on Dec 3, 2011. Two years and four months later, on April 24 this year, the woman sales associate was jailed for seven weeks.

2 YEARS, 3 MONTHS

• Analyn Rinonos, 30: The Filipino mother of two was hit with a cane and a plastic tub, and splashed with cooking oil. She also had a plastic chair thrown at her, had her hair cut forcibly and her shorts and panties pulled down by her employer's daughter, a 32-year-old single mother of three. The former property agent pleaded guilty and was jailed for a year in April for torturing Ms Rinonos and another maid.

1 YEAR, 9 MONTHS ... and counting

• Moe Moe Than, 26: Her employers, an IT manager and a sales manager, face 42 charges of abusing and mistreating Ms Than, a Myanmar national, and Indonesian maid Fitriyah, who filed a police report in November 2012. The employers are accused of forcing Ms Than to remove her blouse while doing her chores and restricting her use of the toilet. The woman employer allegedly used a funnel to force sugar down Ms Than's mouth and made her swallow her vomit. Some of the alleged abuse of the Indonesian helper dates back to February 2011. The case is before the courts.

radhab@sph.com.sg

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Kong lied to his followers, says Chew

Business Times
19 Aug 2014
Claire Huang

Kong denies knowing about alleged bid to muddy the trail of royalties to him

[SINGAPORE] The former investment manager of City Harvest Church charged yesterday that not only had church founder Kong Hee engineered the round-tripping of royalties gifted to him by staunch supporters, he had lied to his followers time and again.

Chew Eng Han, who is defending himself against 10 allegations of criminal breach of trust and falsifying accounts, yesterday questioned Kong on his claim that there was a $500,000 deficit in a multi-purpose bank account primarily set up by Xtron Production donors to support Kong and his singer-wife Sun Ho after they were taken off the church's payroll in late 2005.

The account was also for the purposes of financing the Crossover Project, aimed at evangelising through Ms Ho's secular music.

Pointing to court documents, Chew noted that there was a refund of $222,000 in royalties from Kong to church-linked firm, Attributes Private Limited (APL), for missionary materials sold from 2006 to 2008.

In an email to APL director Choong Kar Weng, accused Serina Wee explained that although Kong had legitimate reasons for receiving royalties from APL for the sale of the items, Kong had felt "it would look bad" if this disclosure came to light.

So Wee said another way would be arranged for to compensate Kong.

Chew argued that APL put $222,000 back into the church's accounts, with which the church bought Firna bonds. Bond proceeds of the same amount then went towards paying Kong back.

The founder, on the stand for the sixth day yesterday, denied having knowledge of this direct transfer of bond proceeds to him.

The court was also told that another portion of royalties was refunded to Kong from City Harvest Kuala Lumpur, which Kong described as blessings "out of their own free will".

Kong, Chew and four deputies are battling accusations of misusing church funds to boost Ms Ho's singing career. Four of six allegedly did so through "sham bond investments" in Xtron and Firna by round-tripping.

Chew had previously been singled out as the one who structured the bonds, but yesterday, he declared that he had "created a proper set of bonds, legally documented as well as can ever be", to which Kong agreed.

Chew asked Kong: "What matters in deciding whether the bond is a sham has to do with the intention of the user of the bond proceeds, do you agree?"

Kong agreed to this, but said that the intention, in this instance, was that of the directors of Xtron and Firna.

During the hearing, Chew also tried to show his state of mind that led him to believe the Crossover Project would succeed.

He alleged that Kong created a perception that Ms Ho was a huge success, when in reality, both she and Kong knew this was "not real", and that she did not succeed on merit, but only through the support of the church.

Chew pointed out, for example, that the church had spent some $21,000 on iTunes cards so as to buy Ms Ho's single, "Fancy Free".

Kong dismissed the argument, by saying that this practice was the norm and a common marketing strategy.

The trial continues.

huangjy@sph.com.sg

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The importance of writing wills and estate planning

Business Times
11 Aug 2014
Chua Zong You

Estate planning is crucial in financial planning to make sure assets are passed on efficiently and fairly

AN elderly magnate passes and his children mourn together, displaying great solidarity. Fast forward a few months and these adult children make the headlines again - this time though, the siblings readily tell the court and the media about the character flaws that persist in one another, and why they deserve the lion's share of their father's inheritance.

All manner of dirty linen is aired, solidarity is abandoned and great legal costs are incurred. In the wake of all this, a shambled legacy is the outcome.

While the above scenario appears to be lifted directly off a daytime soap serial, the same scene is often played out in real life - and not just among the families of tycoons and magnates but also among ordinary people.

This means that each and every man and woman should take responsibility for the division of their estates so that unpleasant situations such as the abov eare avoided.

Which brings us to the topic of estate planning and the drawing up of a will.

Estate planning is the process where the assets of a person are acquired, preserved, managed and distributed efficiently and effectively, and if possible, as in the case of a will, in accordance with the deceased's wishes when he or she was alive.

The objectives of estate planning are multi-fold but it is essentially to ensure that the maximum value of the deceased's assets and wealth is distributed to his dependents according to his wishes.

This means there should as little of the estate leaked away in taxes and administrative charges as possible.

Writing a will

Increasingly, estate planning has also become a means for maintaining harmony in one's family after one's death, preventing disputes and misuse of funds.

Contrary to popular belief, writing wills need not apply to only the ailing and aged. Interestingly, many adults under the age of 30 have also written wills.

The number has increased over the years due to the fact that the majority of people in their prime carry out dynamic lifestyles that are deemed perilous, such as travelling to destinations where terrorism is a threat.

Moreover, the number of these individuals acquiring affluence through investments is growing and these people quite naturally want their loved ones to be given their assets when they pass away.

Apart from this select group of wealthy young adventure-seekers, several other groups should also consider taking estate planning seriously.

These groups include, but are not limited to:

1) Small business owners: Such entrepreneurs desire a continuity of their business interests, usually among younger family members.

They might also want to ensure their interests can be sold for a good price upon retirement or death.

2) Parents of minor children: This group requires the provision of personal and financial care for their children in the event that both parents pass away before their children grow up.

3) Owners of estates that may incur hefty taxes: Prudent estate planning will ensure sufficient estate liquidity to pay taxes without having to sell estate assets.

4) Owners of property in multiple jurisdictions: These owners require the avoidance of ancillary probate so as to prevent estate shrinkage due to increasing administrative costs.

This refers to an additional probate process, meant to distribute an estate according to a will, in a place beyond one's home country.

5) Estate owners who require specificity in the distribution of their assets: Here there is a need to avoid the inflexible scheme of intestate distribution that is imposed by a state when property is not disposed of by will or will substitute.

In Singapore, intestacy laws decide how a deceased's estate is distributed to survivors in the absence of a will.

For example, if the deceased leaves a spouse, no children and no parents, the spouse will get the whole of the estate. If the deceased leaves behind a spouse and children, the spouse will get half.

Strategies in estate planning

There are several strategies involved in estate planning.

First, the minimisation of estate duty is what one should work towards. This might require the setting up of a trust, or making potentially tax-exempt gifts to a spouse.

This is applicable in countries that impose estate duties like the UK. Singapore scrapped estate duty in 2008.

Another strategy for effective estate planning is to appoint a reliable executor who is also financially adroit and competent.This is especially crucial as he will be in charge of administering and giving out the deceased's assets after death.

Next comes the reduction of administration costs and inconvenience.

The deceased's assets can again be maximised through the reduction of the cost of administering the estate plan. This in turn it will guarantee that the beneficiaries will acquire the benefits of the deceased's labour throughout his lifetime.

It is imperative to write a will as part of your estate plans since it will shorten court procedures and ultimately reduce administrative and legal costs.

Lastly, in the event where the care of minors is necessary, it is critical to authorise dependable individuals as guardians as they will be the ones who will utilise and invest assets for the welfare of those minors.

Given the many benefits of estate planning while still possessing the clarity of thought, it may be interesting to examine why there remains much apprehension about this practice.

Estate planning, due to its indirect association with death, results in negative views. Thus only those who contemplate the possibility of their imminent passing tend to actually carry out estate planning.

To many, death is taboo so it is better for them to leave the topic out of their thoughts.

Some also believe that they have ample time to carry out estate planning when they are older. Few anticipate premature death.

With an increasingly hectic lifestyle in Singapore, the idea of estate planning is often relegated to the back of an individual's mind while more emphasis is placed on priorities such as spending time with our loved ones.

Some say that their lack of assets means it is not necessary to do estate planning. This is wrong because estate planning helps one have a sense of personal net worth and socioeconomic standing.

To most individuals, the figures reflected in their bank account or stocks, bonds and even unit trusts are reflections of their wealth.

But this ignores CPF balance, insurance policies and one's home, which are also part of one's wealth and can add up to a substantial sum for beneficiaries.

Finally, there are individuals who do not plan their finances. To them, planning in itself is inconvenient and tedious.

But remember that money is a cause of a lot of vexation and endless arguments among families. Hopefully, after reading this article, you will do yourself and your loved ones a favour: If you do not have a will, make one now.

The writer is a second-year student at Singapore Management University (SMU) Lee Kong Chian School of Business and one of the student trainers in the Citi-SMU Financial Literacy Programme for Young Adults.

Jointly launched by Citi Singapore and SMU in April 2012, the programme is Singapore's first structured financial literacy programme for young adults. It aims to equip young adults aged 17 to 30 with essential personal finance knowledge and skills to give them a firm foundation in managing their money and a financial head start early in their working lives.


Singapore's intestacy rules

IN the absence of a valid will, Singapore's Intestate Succession Act determines how a deceased person's estate will be distributed to successors. This applies to Central Provident Fund (CPF) monies as well, unless you make a separate nomination.

We reproduce the rules below, together with a translation into plain English. Disclaimer: Translations are not exact and this is not legal advice.

These rules also do not apply to Muslims, whose estates are governed by Muslim law and the Syariah Court.

One key point to note is that your spouse and children take precedence over your parents, under intestacy law. Your children and spouse will split your assets with nothing left for dependent parents, if you do not make a will stating an alternative distribution.

Rule 1

If an intestate dies leaving a surviving spouse, no issue and no parent, the spouse shall be entitled to the whole of the estate.

Translation: If you leave behind a spouse and no parents or children, your spouse gets everything.

Rule 2

If an intestate dies leaving a surviving spouse and issue, the spouse shall be entitled to one-half of the estate.

Translation: If your spouse and children survive, your spouse gets half of your assets. See next rule on children.

Rule 3

Subject to the rights of the surviving spouse, if any, the estate (both as to the undistributed portion and the reversionary interest) of an intestate who leaves issue shall be distributed by equal portions per stirpes to and amongst the children of the person dying intestate and such persons as legally represent those children, in case any of those children be then dead.

Proviso No. (1) - The persons who legally represent the children of an intestate are their descendants and not their next-of-kin.

Proviso No. (2) - Descendants of the intestate to the remotest degree stand in the place of their parent or other ancestor, and take according to their stocks the share which he or she would have taken.

Translation: Your children will get the other half, split equally among them. If a child is dead, his or her children (your grandchildren) can claim their parent's share.

Rule 4

If an intestate dies leaving a surviving spouse and no issue but a parent or parents, the spouse shall be entitled to one-half of the estate and the parent or parents to the other half of the estate.

Translation: If you leave behind your spouse, no children, and parents, your spouse gets half and your parents get the other half.

Rule 5

If there are no descendants, the parent or parents of the intestate shall take the estate, in equal portions if there be 2 parents, subject to the rights of the surviving spouse (if any) as provided in rule 4. Translation: If you have no children and no spouse, your parents get your assets split equally among them.

Rule 6

If there are no surviving spouse, descendants or parents, the brothers and sisters and children of deceased brothers or sisters of the intestate shall share the estate in equal portions between the brothers and sisters and the children of any deceased brother or sister shall take according to their stocks the share which the deceased brother or sister would have taken.

Translation: If you have no spouse, children or parents left, your brothers and sisters get their respective portions, split equally.

If there is a deceased brother or sister with children, their children will get the share the deceased would have got.

Rule 7

If there are no surviving spouse, descendants, parents, brothers and sisters or children of such brothers and sisters but grandparents of the intestate, the grandparents shall take the whole of the estate in equal portions.

Translation: If you have no spouse, children, parents, brothers or sisters or their children left, but your grandparents are still around, they will split your assets equally.

Rule 8

If there are no surviving spouse, descendants, parents, brothers and sisters or their children or grandparents but uncles and aunts of the intestate, the uncles and aunts shall take the whole of the estate in equal portions. Translation: If you have no spouse, children, parents, brothers and sisters and their children, or grandparents left, but you have uncles and aunts, they will get your assets in equal portions.

Rule 9

In default of distribution under rules 1 to 8, the Government shall be entitled to the whole of the estate.

Translation: If you have nobody left to distribute your money to according to the previous rules, the Government takes everything.

Special provision: If any person so dying intestate leaves surviving him more than one wife, such wives shall share among them equally the share that the wife of the intestate would have been entitled to, had the intestate left only one wife surviving him.

Translation: If you leave more than one wife behind, your wives split your money.

Another rule

Where a distributive share of the property of a person dying intestate is claimed by a child or any descendant of a child of that person, no money or other property which the intestate may during his life have given, paid or settled to or for the advancement of the child by whom or by whose descendant the claim is made shall be taken into account in estimating such distributive share.

Translation: The expensive overseas education you gave your child, that $200,000 cash gift, or whatever you did to support him or her, will not be counted when calculating his or her fair share.

Cai Haoxiang

haoxiang@sph.com.sg

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Simplifying legal terms could raise quality of debate

Straits Times
03 Aug 2014
Charissa Yong

As a layman when it comes to law, I welcome the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) move to simplify the language and presentation of 6,000 of Singapore's statutes.

It seeks to make it easier for laymen to understand the laws, and thereby improve access to justice.

The tweaks were based on a survey of 1,058 laymen and law practitioners. I was not one of them, but would gladly throw in my lot with the majority who preferred to replace the word "notwithstanding" with "however" or "despite".

First, this simplifying of language is a good move in itself. Better English is a noble aim everywhere, but it is even more important in law where the clarity of language is key.

Some phrases currently in laws are plainly archaic.

But second, and possibly even more importantly, this is a good move because more people who do not practise law are reading laws.

The AGC said that the Singapore Statutes website was accessed about three million times last year, thrice as much as the year before.

In the past year, nearly 1.4 million unique visitors went to the site, about 40 per cent for the first time.

This spike in public interest in legal discourse can be seen in the context of several high-profile court cases. Recent cases include alleged hacker James Raj Arokiasamy asking the courts to declare that his not being allowed to see his lawyer after his arrest was unconstitutional.

Last year, the Supreme Court also ruled on whether the Prime Minister had unfettered discretion to call an election to fill a vacant Parliament seat, following a case brought by a Hougang resident after her MP resigned.

It is the right move to whet citizens' appetite for information, and their willingness to examine primary sources of information themselves instead of relying solely on what others tell them.

One vital part of democracy, after all, is an informed citizenry made up of members who understand their rights and responsibilities, and who can be informed participants in debates on issues of national importance.

But making laws easier to access is only half the battle won. It's what people do with this access that counts.

Just because people will have an easier time reading laws does not mean they will interpret them correctly.

This is why there will always be room for law experts, especially public intellectuals, to offer credible explanations of how the law is applied.

Earlier this year, at a discussion organised by human rights group Maruah on a public order law proposed in the wake of the Little India riot, adjunct law professor Kevin Tan - a constitutional law expert - insightfully critiqued the proposed Bill.

He said that the Bill would not contravene citizens' constitutional right to movement or assembly, which there had been some confusion about, as it was explicitly about keeping public order.

Instead, his critique hinged on the discretion the Bill gave law enforcement officers. While not unfettered, it could be hard in practice to disprove that officers had not acted on a "reasonable suspicion", argued Prof Tan.

More of such input from experts will be needed as laymen read up more on laws.

Final judgment on the effect of simplifying the laws should be reserved for now.

There are other considerations to keep in mind, such as taking care that the substance of laws is not actually changed without oversight.

But the move has potential to raise the quality of public debate in Singapore, and for that it should be applauded.

charyong@sph.com.sg

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ADV: Kaplan - Interested in the law industry?

Singapore Law Watch
16 Aug 2014

Case issues alert over car rental firm's 'phantom' bookings

Straits Times
11 Aug 2014
Christopher Tan

THE Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) has flagged a car rental company for a spate of conspicuously similar complaints.

Case said it received six complaints against Ace Drive, a rental company located in Ubi Avenue 3, in the first seven months of this year, and five of them had to do with customers who made payments which the company later said it did not receive.

Case executive director Seah Seng Choon said a staff member from the company would claim that she had paid the rental on behalf of the customer so as to secure a car which another party was interested in. She would then ask the customer to pay the amount into her bank account.

Later, Ace would inform the customer that no rental booking had been made, and that the staff concerned had left the country.

"It's an alarming situation," Mr Seah said.

Case said it tried to negotiate for a refund for one customer, but the company denied liability.

Other consumers sought redress at the Small Claims Tribunals, but Ace's management refused to budge.

When contacted by The Straits Times, Ace Drive director Tan Boon Yeong claimed "we didn't know until customers came to us to collect their cars".

He said: "The consumer has a fair share of responsibility here. They made payment to this person's private bank account, outside our premises. What can we do?"

But Mr Chan Hwang, one of the affected customers, said: "We received the tax invoice (for our payment) in their shop and in the presence of the sales manager and other colleagues."

The 35-year-old acoustic engineer booked a Porsche Boxster in March for his wedding in November. He paid $1,146 to an Ace employee named Audrey Teo, who is now uncontactable.

He has made a police report, and has sought legal advice.

"It has dragged on for so long, I've almost given up," he said.

Responding to a spate of complaints on wedding portal singaporebrides.com, Ace Drive claimed that it, too, was "a victim".

Despite that, it was offering affected customers a 50 per cent discount on their next rental "out of our goodwill".

However, Mr Seah of Case said Ace Drive cannot absolve itself of responsibility so easily.

"Even if the consumer paid directly to the ex-employee's account outside shop premises, the company is still liable as the employee was part of the company at that point of time," he said. "The consumers only agreed to rent the car because they believed that the salesperson was an actual employee of the company. The company should not be saying that they are not liable."

Police said they have classified the case as "criminal breach of trust as a servant", and investigations are ongoing.

christan@sph.com.sg

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Law dean on his move to Hong Kong

Straits Times
03 Aug 2014
Li Xueying

Hong Kong - In the photograph accompanying his message as Law Dean on the Hong Kong University (HKU) website, Professor Michael Hor looks a veritable Hong Konger with his stylish rimmed glasses, bright blue shirt and deep-red bow tie.

In person, the 53-year-old remains as "Singaporean" as ever in a safari-style short- sleeved shirt and matching khaki pants.

It has been a month since he took up his new post here. How has he been settling in?

"Oh, quite well," he says cheerily. "The faculty is supportive. The job is quite different from what I was doing in Singapore, where I was just a rank-and-file academic."

Not quite. The Ipoh-born Singapore permanent resident served in Singapore's legal service in the 1980s before spending 25 years at the National University of Singapore (NUS). There, besides focusing on criminal law, he was also known for his outspokenness on controversial topics, from the need to reform the Penal Code to criminal detention without trial.

In 2009, he was one of two candidates shortlisted to succeed then law dean Tan Cheng Han. The top job eventually went to Australian Simon Chesterman in 2011.

So when Prof Hor's appointment to HKU was announced last year, it naturally invited questions. After all, HKU's law faculty is top in Asia, two spots ahead of NUS' in the QS World University Rankings. Why was Prof Hor deemed not good enough for Singapore?

His answer is a diplomatic "I don't know".

But he notes there is "certainly a perception that after a certain level, only people with the right kind of politics will make it".

Such a perception, whether right or wrong, is widespread and needs to be corrected, he says.

On the flip side, Prof Hor himself faces some scepticism from the wider Hong Kong society. Some wonder if the academic from politically more conservative Singapore will speak out for the cause of constitutional reform as his predecessor Johannes Chan did.

The city is undergoing its biggest political turmoil since 1997 and is deeply split on the issue. One of Prof Hor's colleagues, Associate Professor Benny Tai, is spearheading a controversial civil disobedience campaign to lobby

for "genuine" democracy.

Prof Hor is clear that he will not be as much of an activist as Prof Chan but does not rule out the possibility that he may take part in the movement if it does materialise. History, he muses, has vindicated the breach of law in "exceptional circumstances" such as in apartheid South Africa and colonial India.

"So the question now is whether the circumstances in Hong Kong justify such actions. Some people think so... and I can see where they are coming from," he says.

Prof Hor's vision for HKU's law faculty includes deepening relations with China's law schools while also establishing ties with those in countries such as India and Indonesia.

Noting that "NUS will never be as strong in North-east Asia, and the same for HKU in South-east Asia", he says the rivals should look at collaborating instead.

On whether he has discussed such plans with his former colleagues, he says with a laugh: "No, but it'd be easy. I know them so well!"

Li Xueying

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S'pore facing a glut of lawyers

Straits Times
17 Aug 2014
Feng Zengkun

Shanmugam urges law students to temper expectations or pursue other career choices

Over just four years up to March last year, the number of practising lawyers here leapt by nearly 25 per cent to more than 4,400.

Another 1,500 are expected to join them in the next three years. And there has been a sharp rise in those heading overseas to study law. In Britain alone, the number of Singapore law students more than doubled from 510 to 1,142 between 2010 and last year.

Law Minister K. Shanmugam dished out these numbers yesterday as he warned that Singapore could soon have more lawyers than jobs for them all.

He urged law students to temper career and salary expectations, and maybe even consider other jobs.

Speaking at the Criminal Justice Conference organised by the Singapore Management University (SMU) and National University of Singapore, which both have law schools, he said the number of lawyers is expected to grow by nearly a third in the next three years.

But "the market is not going to grow by 30 per cent", he said, pointing out that this year, nearly 650 graduates will compete for about 490 practice training contracts at law firms, to get the training they need before being admitted to the Singapore Bar.

"About 150 students will have difficulty getting a training contract, let alone employment after that," said Mr Shanmugam, who is a senior counsel himself. "The study of law provides an excellent training of the mind, so I don't want to be seen as discouraging people... but you have to have a realistic understanding of the market, the economy, the total structure."

While Singapore is trying to "grow the legal market" through initiatives such as the Singapore International Commercial Court to handle dispute resolution, students could go into fields like banking, business, public service and even politics with their law degrees, he suggested.

Rules governing training contracts could be changed to make it easier for more students to get them, "but there is a limit to how much the Government can intervene in the market", he said.

He added that those who do get jobs should be realistic about their salaries: "You see headlines that top lawyers make 'x' million dollars, but there is a huge difference between what the top two or three lawyers make, and what everyone else makes."

Lawyers and academics whom The Sunday Times spoke to admitted that future lawyers should be prepared to face a lot of competition from their peers in the marketplace.

SMU law lecturer Eugene Tan said "the days of law firms chasing law graduates are now over".

"Grades are helpful but students should also hone skills like writing and crafting legal arguments and research to improve their chances of being hired," he added.

Veteran lawyer Chia Boon Teck said law graduates could consider joining multinational companies with large legal departments. "If you want to join a law firm, study very very hard and aim to be among the top few graduates. Also, make as many friends who are lawyers as possible," he advised.

Ms Lynn Kan, who is starting her second year at SMU's post-graduate law programme, said some of her classmates are already considering taking on more internships to improve their prospects. The 27-year-old said: "I've got my training contract already but I was really lucky."

zengkun@sph.com.sg

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Friends, watch what you say in Secret

Straits Times
11 Aug 2014
Lee Jian Xuan

A NEW mobile phone application that allows users to anonymously confess secrets is gaining popularity here, but users have just as quickly discovered an ugly side to it - cyber bullying.

Some have found themselves at the receiving end of disparaging posts on the Secret app, such as a victim, who wanted to be known only as Bryan. He found that someone had posted his picture, along with comments labelling him as "fat, ugly, and trying too hard to be popular".

"It's hard for me to find out who, but there are a lot of superficial attacks on the app. Some are sexual too. It can get very nasty," said the 21-year-old student, whose friends have also been attacked. "I just try to lay low and let it blow over."

Because of the way Secrets is designed, it can be used for cyber bullying without much repercussion, legal experts warned.

Introduced here last month, the app has already garnered much attention. It topped the social networking app chart in Singapore's iTunes store upon release, and was ranked No. 8 on the Google Play store last Monday, according to app-ranking website App Annie.

Users can link their phone or Facebook contacts to the app, which then populates a feed of "secrets" that they can contribute to. They can upload pictures, or "like" and comment on the confessions of friends, as well as the friends of their friends.

While some confessions are harmless and humorous observations on daily life, other users have seized on the anonymity afforded by the app to make callous remarks about others.

Law professor and chairman of the Media Literacy Council Tan Cheng Han said that the recently passed Protection from Harassment Act applies, but users must prove that the perpetrator "had an intention to harass".

"Much will depend on the facts, including whether the person commented on is part of the 'circle', or can reasonably be expected to be told about what goes on within the circle," said Mr Tan, referring to how the app allows users to view confessions from friends of friends.

Civil remedies, criminal sanctions and self-help options are available for victims, such as applications for protection orders.

While defamation laws apply, it would be hard to track down the individual, as Secret includes extra security measures to ensure users' anonymity, said lawyer Lionel Tan from Rajah & Tann.

"It is possible... to compel app creators to remove the defamatory message... But if they are based overseas, it may be difficult to enforce," he added.

jianxuan@sph.com.sg

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Singapore Mediation Centre revamps for a better focus

Business Times
02 Aug 2014
Claire Huang Jingyi

Specialist mediators available to settle disputes in fields like banking, shipping, construction

THE Singapore Mediation Centre (SMC) yesterday unveiled a slew of enhancements, key among which was one to give companies easier access to specialist mediators.

Businesses embroiled in disputes can now seek subject matter experts from SMC in 10 fields who can help them settle disputes in sectors ranging from banking and shipping to construction and energy.

Of the 143 mediators in its stable, 60 have been groomed to be specialists.

The number of commercial mediation cases has doubled in the last four years; last year, SMC handled 214 cases.

The changes took effect yesterday following a two-year revamp of SMC's core.

Speaking at the launch of the new logo of the centre, SMC chairwoman Justice Belinda Ang said that outside of the court referral process, the centre will focus on four segments - healthcare, insurance, construction and infrastructure, and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) - in order to "increase the number, quality and diversity of commercial mediations".

SMC now provides a pilot healthcare mediation scheme which offers its services at subsidised rates to settle disputes between patients and healthcare institutes.

Forty-two SMC mediators have been appointed by the Ministry of Health Holdings to handle disputes in this area.

Justice Ang added that SMC will also settle disputes arising from the Personal Data Protection Act.

In its push for mediation to be a core practice, the centre had revamped its panels by early last year.

Principal mediators were given the choice between charging hourly rates and following SMC's prescribed fee scale. Of the 143 mediators, 98 chose to remain on the centre's fee scale; the revamped fees kicked in last November.

To make mediation a more viable profession, the fees of principal mediators have been raised by about 50 per cent from the minimum daily fee of S$3,000.

Another change is that associate mediators will now be able to handle cases involving quantums of up to S$250,000, up from only S$30,000 before.

SMC executive director Loong Seng Onn said this is part of a "long-term vision", as there is now not enough work in mediation for mediators to work full-time.

He said many people are still unaware of the availability of mediation as a way of ironing out disputes, and expressed the hope that mediation will become entrenched and turn into a career path for some with the introduction of these measures.

SMC and the State Courts have started a pilot training programme to sharpen mediators' skills and to equip them to handle Magistrate's complaint cases.

A pilot programme with the Syariah Court of Singapore for Malay-speaking mediators will begin in October, focusing on divorces.

The centre's revamp is in line with the government's plans, announced last December, to develop Singapore's mediation infrastructure.

Two new bodies will be set up. One is the Singapore International Mediation Centre, a mediation hub; and the other is the Singapore International Mediation Institute, which will accredit mediators.

huangjy@sph.com.sg

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Divorces drag on as spouses slug it out

Straits Times
17 Aug 2014
Radha Basu

Lawyers welcome new judge-led process in court that aims to resolve conflicts in less adversarial way

A housewife wants a divorce but her husband pleads for a reconciliation. She agrees on condition that his parents, who live with them, move out. She claims that her in-laws are a constant source of friction.

The husband disagrees. And he lists his own set of demands: He will not pay a cent towards her upkeep, she must forsake all claims to the matrimonial flat they own jointly and she must start paying for half of the children's and household expenses, though she does not work.

She is also not to ask about his whereabouts if he returns late, and she cannot see her own family.

The judge granted the woman a divorce on the grounds of his unreasonable behaviour.

"Ironically, his demands exhibited his unreasonable behaviour to the court very well," said the woman's lawyer, Ms Ellen Lee.

Ridiculous demands by warring spouses can mire divorce proceedings in angst and anger and cause some cases to drag on for years, say lawyers, who welcome the new judge-led process of handling divorce cases.

The Family Justice Act, passed by Parliament this month, aims to help resolve family conflicts in a less adversarial manner, with judges focusing on relevant issues concerning the children, maintenance and division of assets.

Ms Lee, a family lawyer for 33 years and a Member of Parliament, said the new Act could help lower the chances of divorce being a "grievance-led process in court".

"Sometimes, it is difficult for lawyers to tell clients to cut to the chase as they feel they are denied justice," she said.

"They are far more likely to take the same advice from a judge, especially a judge who has the skills and training to show support and sympathy."

Family lawyer Anuradha Sharma has been involved in several cases where parties insist on making public irrelevant or sometimes deeply embarrassing details in court documents.

In one case, an aggrieved wife listed details of the sexual demands she said her husband made.

Ms Sharma, who represented the husband, said: "My client was mortified at the thought of 30 or more pages of intimate details being made public, especially since he had already agreed to the divorce."

Eventually, the woman took the judge's advice and agreed to not contest the divorce. "But by then, a lot of time and money had already been spent," said Ms Sharma.

In another case, a wife filed for divorce three years after her husband left her and went to live with his parents. Under Singapore laws, a couple can divorce if they have been separated for three years and both parties agree to end the marriage.

Although the man agreed to a divorce, the wife insisted on producing lengthy affidavits in court - complete with photographs from Facebook - to show that he had an affair during their separation.

"All she wanted was to make him admit to the affair in court, although according to him, it occurred well after their separation," said Ms Sharma. Once more, the case dragged on for a year.

"The new judge-led approach will hopefully cut this unnecessary acrimony in court," said the lawyer.

Among the trickiest and most time-consuming parts of any divorce hearing is the discussion over what is known in legal parlance as "ancillary matters" - which determine costs, custody, division of assets and maintenance issues.

Lawyers say some couples present documents that run into thousands of pages just to vent their pain, even though at this stage the court is no longer looking for the cause of the divorce.

Lawyer Yap Teong Liang, who has been handling divorce cases for 22 years, said: "Even at this stage, we have parties dredging up issues to highlight the terrible things they say their spouse did to them."

Others make difficult demands that test both memory and patience. Mr Yap and lawyer Amolat Singh have had clients whose wives asked for 60 or more documents - such as bank statements and credit card reports - to be produced that date back four years.

Mr Singh once represented a man whose wife filed 12 affidavits - running into 700 pages. The man immediately asked Mr Singh to do the same because he wished to respond to every allegation.

"Some of it was entirely irrelevant," said Mr Singh. "The wife, for instance, wanted the court to know that their adult son had been devastated when the father did not turn up for a parent-teacher meeting when he was in primary school."

The new Act will introduce a template for affidavits used in divorce cases, to zero in on relevant information only.

Mr Singh said: "We're hoping the affidavit templates will put parties in a straitjacket and weed out what is irrelevant."

Women are not the only ones capable of unreasonable behaviour in divorce cases. Lawyer Aye Cheng Shone recalled a case of a woman who was making provisions to buy over one of her estranged husband's flats. He did not live in the flat, but refused to allow her and their child to live in it while the sale process was being finalised. "The flat was vacant - he would allow friends to stay in it - but not his own child," said Ms Shone.

Mr Koh Tien Hua had a case in which the husband sought a reconciliation, but insisted that he should be allowed to continue seeing his mistress.

And Ms Gloria James has seen clients who have cleaned out joint accounts prior to a divorce, locked the spouse and children out of the house and tried to deny the estranged spouse access to the children. Some of the most bitter fights are over the children.

For many who have been bruised by divorce, the bitterness can take years to dissipate.

A 41-year-old mother of three told The Sunday Times she still finds it hard to forgive her ex-husband whose delaying tactics cost her a job.

She said he kept calling her for multiple mediation sessions. "At each session, he would just ask for more visitation rights, but the irony was that he was not seeing the children at all," she said.

A housewife during her marriage, she had started working but had to keep taking time off for court hearings.

"In the end, my boss just said I should concentrate on completing my divorce," she said. "And I lost that job at a time when I needed it most."

radhab@sph.com.sg

 

 

*****************Background Story *****************

 

Open to judge's advice

"Sometimes, it is difficult for lawyers to tell clients to cut to the chase as they feel they are denied justice. They are far more likely to take the same advice from a judge, especially a judge who has the skills and training to show support and sympathy."

- MS ELLEN LEE, a family lawyer for 33 years and a Member of Parliament


Irrelevant details

"Some of it was entirely irrelevant. The wife, for instance, wanted the court to know that their adult son had been devastated when the father did not turn up for a parent-teacher meeting when he was in primary school."

- MR AMOLAT SINGH, a lawyer who represented a man whose wife filed 12 affidavits - running into 700 pages. The man asked Mr Singh to do the same.

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Saving marriages, shielding children

Straits Times
10 Aug 2014
K.C. Vijayan

New Family Justice Act aims to focus on child's welfare, resolve disputes peacefully

The new Family Justice Act which cleared Parliament last week brings a raft of moves to save marriages, if possible, and ease the pain, acrimony and cost a divorce entails.

But underpinning the landmark Act, which kicks in in the later part of the year, is a focus on shielding those who are often the most vulnerable - the children.

Said National University of Singapore law don Debbie Ong: "What comes up very clearly in the new family justice system is the renewed focus on the child's welfare.

"Often, parents in divorce proceedings find it difficult to fully appreciate the needs of the child. This includes the child's need to continue to have both parents in his life.

"We see so many custody contests where one parent tries to exclude the other in parenting the children."

Since 2011, when the Child Focused Resolution Centre was set up, it has been compulsory for divorcing parents to not litigate but mediate first. But that applied only to families with children aged below eight under the amended Women's Charter.

This was extended to children below 14 last year.

Later this year, this is expected to include children below 21 - a recognition that even young people can be affected when their parents split.

"An 18-year-old can be a junior college or polytechnic student, or in the army or whatever - but we should not assume he is fine," said family lawyer and mediator Helen Chia.

Lawyers believe some 80 per cent of divorce cases involve families with children.

They also point to the good success rates at the resolution centre which is run by the State Courts. By including more families, the hope is that more divorces will end amicably. At the centre, about eight out of every 10 cases involving child care and access issues are settled, according to lawyer Amolat Singh.

"Counsellors are there to help both parties come up unharmed by the marital breakdown. The children's interests highlight the necessity to defuse the emotional animosities inherent in such disputes," he said.

Out of the 580 cases concluded at the centre last year, 82 per cent that underwent the mandatory programme reached agreement on parenting issues, said a State Courts spokesman.

The matters agreed on included custody, care, control and parental access to the children.

A settlement at the mediation stage also eliminates any drawn-out and costly court tussle. This could reduce expenses by as much as 75 to 90 per cent compared with taking a divorce case to court.

It also helps that more people are beginning to be aware of the value of mediation, and are more willing to reach a compromise, said Ms Chia.

"Previously people were more conservative about sharing their emotions and feelings. Today we are more aware that mediation allows parties to talk about their failures without fear of being judged, and that trained professionals such as the counsellors and mediators can help them come to a solution without making it ugly."

As Law Minister K. Shanmugam said in Parliament last Monday: "Disputes should be brought before the court only as the last resort."

If mediation fails, the matter will go before the new Family Justice Courts, which seek to replace a system dominated by duelling lawyers with one driven by a judge who will control the pace and direction of the cases.

New court processes will centralise the administration of cases, providing for fast-track hearings where appropriate.

The court may ask for a doctor, counsellor, social worker or mental health professional to assess any child involved. It can also appoint a lawyer to be the child's "voice" and ascertain what is in his best interests in cases where the parents are unable to agree on issues concerning custody, for instance.

But the most significant aspect of the new system, say family lawyers, is the role judges will play.

Instead of lawyers setting the tone and arguing for their client's interests, it is the judge who will drive the entire process. The same judge will handle all aspects of the case from start to end.

The State Courts spokesman said this approach will help parties focus on the key issues and speed up the discovery process and how fast the case is resolved.

"For example, instead of parties taking up lengthy and laborious applications for production of documents, the judge can, at a pre-trial conference, direct what documents are relevant and have to be produced at the hearing," she said.

"This new scheme is not intended to and will not diminish the role of parents vis-a-vis the decision-making process. It provides the court with more perspectives on which to arrive at a fair and equitable outcome in the overall best interests of the child," she added.

Said Harry Elias Partnership family lawyer Koh Tien Hua: "Everybody is trying to make the divorce less acrimonious, especially in the interests of the child."

There were 7,525 divorce and annulment cases last year, up 4 per cent from the year before.

Mr Shanmugam told Parliament that the Act represents the Government's and the court's commitment to transform the family justice system to help troubled families resolve their disputes with as little emotional trauma and scarring as possible.

"What we can do is help families resolve their issues, either by mending the relationship or, if that is not possible, by helping them move on with their lives."

vijayan@sph.com.sg


Background Story

Considering the needs of the child

"What comes up very clearly in the new family justice system is the renewed focus on the child's welfare... Often, parents in divorce proceedings find it difficult to fully appreciate the needs of the child. This includes the child's need to continue to have both parents in his life... We see so many custody contests where one parent tries to exclude the other in parenting the children."

National University of Singapore law don DEBBIE ONG

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Regulators take aim at contra trading, errant listed firms

Business Times
02 Aug 2014
Jamie Lee

To boost retail participation, board lot size to be cut to 100 shares by next year

[Singapore] BY early next year, companies that commit a series of related breaches in listing rules can be fined up to S$1 million, as part of a slew of rules linked to market discipline that were nailed into place yesterday by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) and the Singapore Exchange (SGX).

Even as the regulators took aim at contra and speculative trading with new regulations due within the next two years, they will also improve retail investors' access to securities, with the board lot size being reduced to 100 shares from 1,000 shares by the start of next year.

This follows a consultation paper in February that proposed these regulatory tweaks, and that came in the wake of the penny-stock collapse last year.

The regulators decided to impose a minimum trading price of 20 Singapore cents for only mainboard listings, after earlier suggesting a threshold range of 10-20 Singapore cents.

This is in line with regulations in the US markets, where a minimum bid price of US$1 is required, and is targeted at losses from speculative trading.

A small decline in the share price of a penny stock in absolute terms translates to a high percentage of loss that is usually borne by retail investors, as they punt on such counters.

More than 200 listed companies have shares that trade under 20 Singapore cents; they will have about 18 months from now to meet this new criterion - mainly through a share consolidation - before they are put on a watch-list.

Market watchers do not expect this to prompt a wave of delistings, with one noting that delistings are usually a result of shaky business fundamentals.

Also, there would be muted impact on market turnover from imposing a minimum trading price, an analysis by BT in February showed.

By the middle of 2016, contra trades will need to be backed by collateral that represents 5 per cent of the trades' daily open-position on a net basis.

This leveraged trade is available only in Singapore and Malaysia, and allows traders to buy and sell shares within the settlement period - set to be shortened to two days from three by SGX at a later time - without cash upfront.

The trader either gets paid for the profit he made off the trade, or pays the brokerage for the loss he made.

In their written responses to industry feedback, the regulators noted concerns on both ends of the spectrum: some worried that tweaks to contra trading would hurt trading liquidity; others said that a 5 per cent minimum would mitigate little credit risk. This has weighed heavily on remisiers - if customers default on their losses, brokerages call on remisiers' posted collateral to recover losses.

MAS and SGX stuck to their guns, but noted that traders can use shares they own as collateral, and that these securities can be more easily monitored once SGX completes an ongoing systems upgrade. Brokerages can also collect a greater sum of collateral from contra traders, if they wish, the regulators added.

They clarified that when there is a shortfall in collateral, the onus is on brokerages to decide if they can force-sell their clients' existing securities. In the meantime, the client cannot buy more shares through contra trading.

Singapore will also establish disciplinary, advisory and appeals committees for listings here by early next year.

The new disciplinary committee - which effectively will be made up of members of the existing SGX disciplinary committee - will be empowered to impose fines of up to S$250,000 on listed companies for each breach of the listing rules, and restrict activities such as fund-raising. The fine is capped at S$1 million for any series of linked breaches that can include the failure to announce material information.

The move is meant to address concerns over SGX's dual role as a stock market operator, and a regulator. For example, the advisory committee will look at issues such as unusual features or structures of proposed listings. It will comprise members in the investment banking, accounting and legal professionals, among others, though no names have been put up yet.

The regulators will also implement aggregated short-position reporting, which will be released weekly. This will be in place by the middle of 2016.

leejamie@sph.com.sg

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New family law aims to reduce angst: Indranee

Straits Times
17 Aug 2014
Radha Basu

Judges dealing with warring spouses will soon be able to help them focus on the key issues with less acrimony, anger and angst.

In cases where children are involved and a couple cannot resolve differences, they will have to go for counselling even before filing the writ for divorce.

Senior Minister of State for Law Indranee Rajah highlighted these two key initiatives under the new Family Justice Act when she spoke to The Sunday Times last week. The Act, which comes into force later this year, seeks to transform the way family conflicts are dealt with in court.

A lawyer herself, Ms Indranee co-chaired a committee of experts that put forward some recommendations which form the backbone of the Act. These include taking a judge-led approach in family cases rather than one dominated by duelling lawyers.

"The essential philosophy behind our recommendations is to save the marriage where possible, and where it is not possible and it goes to court, then you make the court process as less traumatic as possible," she said.

"An objective party must help spouses understand what are the real and underlying issues."

These objective parties will be counsellors who assist couples during the mandatory pre-divorce consultation sessions and, where cases do end up in court, the judge in the newly set-up specialist Family Justice Court.

It is necessary to have a specialist court that deals with family matters simply because you cannot approach a family case the way you would a normal commercial or criminal case, said Ms Indranee.

"Family cases are quite different in the sense that you are dealing with hurt, with anger, sometimes with pent-up frustration and a sense of loss and helplessness when the world around you breaks down. People will make decisions based on emotions."

This is why judges trained in the techniques of counselling and mediation would help parties focus on the issues at hand.

When she was in practice, she would see well-to-do couples fighting over $50. "It's not the quantity of the money, but the principle or the sense that if I give in to this, somehow I am losing and I don't want to lose," she said.

"The big tool this new Act has is the judge-led process to cut through all of this. That's why we really need a much more interventionist court."

Ms Indranee emphasised that the new law is not here to make divorce easier.

"You don't have to go through long legal documentation, but the general rule is that you must be married for three years before you can get a divorce, unless there are exceptional circumstances," she said. "That hasn't changed."

Radha Basu

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Match-fixer's second bid for bail denied

Straits Times
09 Aug 2014
Selina Lum

Judge of Appeal says special reason needed to permit bail for convicted people

CONVICTED match-fixer Eric Ding Si Yang will continue to serve his prison sentence for corruption until his appeal is heard, after the courts denied him bail a second time yesterday.

Rejecting Ding's bid to stay his three-year jail term, Judge of Appeal Chao Hick Tin said that once a person is convicted, bail is permitted only where there are special reasons.

However, to ensure that "unnecessary prejudice" is not caused to the 32-year-old businessman, he ordered that the hearing of Ding's appeal be scheduled as soon as possible.

Justice Chao said he was confident that the appeal hearing could take place in the next two months.

Ding was sentenced to three years' jail on July 24 for providing three Lebanese football officials with prostitutes as bribes for fixing future matches.

He applied for bail until his appeal is heard but was refused by the district court and began serving his prison term immediately.

District Judge Toh Yung Cheong had considered Ding a flight risk and concluded that he would tarnish Singapore's reputation if he ran off.

Ding then filed a motion in the High Court, which was heard on Tuesday, making a second attempt to stay his sentence and be released on bail, pending appeal.

His lawyer Hamidul Haq argued that Ding has no intention of fleeing, noting that he has complied with bail conditions and had shown up for all court hearings since he was charged last year.

However, Deputy Public Prosecutor Tan Ken Hwee cited precedent cases to argue that bail pending appeal cannot be granted "by default" unless there are special reasons.

Yesterday, Justice Chao agreed and upheld the district court's decision to deny bail.

Even though Ding had scheduled a knee operation on Wednesday, Justice Chao said there were no new circumstances that warranted a review of the district court's decision.

"I do not wish to imply any improper motive on the applicant's part in scheduling the operation at this time. But I must observe that this medical condition was diagnosed some 23 months ago," he said.

Justice Chao added that he has been assured by the DPP that the prison will be able to attend to Ding's condition.

selinal@sph.com.sg

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Obstetrician offered tampered records

Straits Times
02 Aug 2014
Selina Lum

AN OBSTETRICIAN and gynaecologist facing disciplinary action for starting a Caesarean section on a patient without making sure the anaesthesia had taken effect offered tampered records as evidence in his defence.

The move has backfired, with the Court of Three Judges finding that the "want of probity" on the part of Dr Lee Kim Kwong was an aggravating factor in determining the punishment for his professional misconduct.

In written grounds explaining its decision in May to suspend Dr Lee from practice for five months, the court said it was "perturbed" by how he had tried to mislead the Singapore Medical Council disciplinary committee.

Dr Lee had asked the operating theatre manager of Mount Alvernia Hospital to write the words "patient is in supine position after epidural anaesthesia at 0800 hrs" on a copy of the nursing record.

He then offered the modified record as "evidence" to support his version of events - that the epidural had been given at 8am.

Another aggravating factor was that the court found Dr Lee's haste in carrying out the procedure, even though it was not an emergency situation, to be "unacceptable". It said sentencing precedents suggested a starting point of three months' suspension but the appropriate period for the doctor was five months.

Dr Lee was found guilty of professional misconduct last year by the disciplinary committee, which handed down a nine-month suspension and a $10,000 fine.

On his appeal, the court upheld his conviction but cut the suspension, saying nine months was manifestly excessive.

Dr Lee, who practised at Lee Women's Clinic & Surgery, was scheduled to perform the Caesarean section at Mount Alvernia Hospital at 8am on Aug 17, 2010.

After the patient was wheeled into the operating theatre, the anaesthetist, Dr Lim Eng Siong, administered the epidural - which takes at least 15 minutes to take effect. At about 8.20am, when Dr Lee made a cut on the patient's abdomen, she screamed.

Dr Lim gave the patient a mixture of oxygen and nitrous oxide for about a minute to sedate her.

The operation ended at 8.45am and the patient delivered a baby girl.

Dr Lee insisted that the epidural was given at 8am and would have taken effect by the time he made the cut. But Dr Lim said that it was given at 8.10am.

However, the contested time was of "secondary importance", said the court. Whatever the time, Dr Lee was guilty of misconduct as long as he made an incision without first testing if the epidural had taken effect.

selinal@sph.com.sg

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Property scam costs law firm $105,200

Straits Times
16 Aug 2014
K.C. Vijayan

Bogus agent tricks it into thinking 'she' is owner of Bishan bungalow

A SINGLE phone call ended up costing a law firm $105,200 after its conveyancing secretary told an interested buyer the sale of a $3.8 million house was legitimate.

But the property agent conducting the sale was a fraudster and the bungalow in Bishan was not on the market.

Based on the call to law firm Vision Law, prospective buyers Chu Said Thong, an oil trader, and his wife handed over $105,200 to the "agent" to confirm their interest. The cheat absconded with the money and the couple, represented by lawyer Adrian Tan, sued the firm, which was defended by Senior Counsel N. Streenivasan.

On Thursday, Justice Vinodh Coomaraswamy ordered Vision Law to reimburse the cash as the firm had vouched, through its secretary Susan Chua, that it was acting for the owner of the property when that was not the case.

Mr Victor Tan, the "audacious identity thief" as described by the High Court, had written a note on a fake option and faxed it to the firm's conveyancing secretary.

In the note, he pretended to be Madam Lum Whye Hee, 89, the true owner of the unit in Jalan Berjaya. He instructed the law firm to act for "her" in the sale of the 5,600 sq ft property.

In September 2010, Mr Tan also advertised in the press that the house was for sale. Mr Chu and his wife, who had responded to the ad, went to look at the bungalow but did not go in because they intended to tear it down.

Mr Chu then called Ms Chua, who confirmed the law firm was acting for Madam Lum. Ms Chua had done a title search, which showed the name on the fake option matched that of the owner registered with the Singapore Land Authority.

It has since emerged that Mr Tan has cheated two other potential buyers using the same property as bait and is now on the run.

A police report was lodged.

The judge, however, dismissed the couple's further claims for fraudulent or negligent misrepresentation. Said Justice Vinodh: "The root cause of the (couple's) loss is Victor."

vijayan@sph.com.sg

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To view the judgment, click <here>.

Purchase of CDs 'doesn't mean they weren't doing well'

Straits Times
09 Aug 2014
FENG ZENGKUN

CITY Harvest Church may have spent about half a million dollars buying at least 32,000 copies of Ms Ho Yeow Sun's unsold CDs, but this did not necessarily mean they were not successful.

"The success of the CDs actually should be based on how well they're selling," said former church board member John Lam Leng Hung yesterday.

He gave the example that if a company had 120,000 CDs, sold 100,000 and had 20,000 left, "that doesn't mean it's not doing well. On the contrary, the sales can still be doing very, very well".

Lam and five others, including Ms Ho's husband and City Harvest founder Kong Hee, are on trial for allegedly misusing some $50 million of church funds.

The prosecution believes the money was illegally used to boost Ms Ho's pop music career and to cover this up.

The defence has consistently said her music was part of a church-approved Crossover Project to evangelise.

Earlier this week, Lam had cited Ms Ho's success as a reason the church had invested in bonds issued by her artist management company, Xtron Productions.

But the prosecution - who believes the bonds were shams made to enable the misuse of church funds - had pointed to the church's purchase of her unsold CDs.

Yesterday, Lam stuck to his guns, saying that he believed Ms Ho was successful because Kong had said in a 2002 church meeting that her album had sold 150,000 copies.

Lam added that the church had purchased the CDs to give them to visiting ministries and overseas churches, "so that other people will be aware of the success of (Ms Ho's) albums".

"In that way, they will understand that the Crossover Project is actually doing very well and successful," he said.

He also repeated that the church board had been aware of and supported the Crossover Project since 2002, and had furthermore agreed with the need to be discreet. "I think the board was aware that for Sun's music career to be successful, she must be recognised as a real success, meaning it is a success that has to happen without... direct support from the church," he said.

The prosecution had charged that he knew the church's Building Fund could not be used to fund the Crossover Project directly, hence its use "had to be disguised as a legitimate investment", said Chief Prosecutor Mavis Chionh.

Lam disagreed with this, saying that the investment was genuine because the project was expected to be profitable.

zengkun@sph.com.sg

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Judicial Commisioner George Wei's appointment extended

Straits Times
02 Aug 2014
Selina Lum

JUDICIAL Commissioner George Wei Sze Shun's appointment has been extended by a year by President Tony Tan Keng Yam yesterday.

Mr Wei, 59, was appointed as a judicial commissioner of the Supreme Court on Aug 1 last year and is known as an expert in intellectual property law in Singapore.

He was previously Professor of Law at the Singapore Management University. He obtained his law diploma from the School of Oriental & African Studies, University of London, and later his masters from the University College London.

He has authored five books on copyright and intellectual property rights, and is married with a son.

Among the cases he has ruled, he held in April that the "lemon law" protects a buyer even if he has waived or opted out of a warranty offered by a seller.

In the first reported case of its kind here, he ordered a car dealer to pay for a battery that failed two months after a customer bought a vehicle, even though the buyer had opted out of a warranty in order to get a discount.

With his appointment, the Supreme Court will have a total of 14 judges, including the Chief Justice and four judicial commissioners.

SELINA LUM

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Law firm, property agent and seller all in the wrong

Straits Times
16 Aug 2014
K.C. Vijayan

Buyer misled into overpaying for shophouse

A BUSINESSMAN paid $900,000 for a shophouse, believing it had 62 years left on its lease. He later found out there were only 17 years remaining.

Mr Su Ah Tee, 67, will now be paid the difference by the seller, the property agent and the law firm that acted for Mr Su, after successfully suing them in the High Court.

The court found that the market value of the Kallang Bahru shophouse would have been $591,564 when Mr Su bought it in 2011, and three parties must share the price difference of $308,436 to be paid to him, plus around $9,000 in stamp duty.

Mr Su bought the shophouse from Mr William Cheng, an HDB coffee shop owner, in March 2011 after he was told by property agent Ng Sing that there were 62 years left on the lease and the property, with two tenants, was earning rental income of $3,800 a month. He bought the unit in the names of his wife Lye Yin and son Su Hong Quan, and completed the deal in June 2011.

The following month, he received an e-mail from law firm Allister Lim and Thrumurgan (ALT) informing him that the unit had a residual leasehold of only 17 years. Around the same time, he also found out that the two tenants were in fact sub-tenants, which meant he could not collect rent directly from them.

This sparked the professional negligence suit that he filed against ALT, which had been acting for him. The law firm pinned the blame on Mr Cheng and Mr Ng for misleading Mr Su and his family.

After a trial over several days last year, Justice Belinda Ang released a 108-page reserved judgmentthis week, which apportioned 50 per cent of the blame to the seller, 45 per cent to ALT, and 5 per cent to the property agent.

Justice Ang found that Mr Cheng had misled Mr Ng about the property's tenure.

"It was clear that the three misrepresentations had been made by Cheng with the intention for Su to act upon them, and Su had in fact relied on the misrepresentations," said Justice Ang.

She rejected Mr Cheng's argument that the conditions of the contract excluded liability for the misrepresentation. As a matter of public policy, a person cannot rely on a contract to exclude liability, said the judge.

ALT's professional duty also came under scrutiny. Its lawyer, Mr Allister Lim, argued among other things that the tenure was a commercial matter and it was not necessary for him, as a conveyancing lawyer, to explain to Mr Su "essentially matters of a commercial or economic nature".

The judge disagreed that the lease particulars were a commercial matter and fell beyond the lawyer's duty. She made it clear that tenure particulars are an "integral part of the property and go beyond a commercial decision to purchase the property".

In apportioning the damages, Justice Ang found the law firm had failed to inform Mr Su about the the remaining tenure, and explain the tenancy agreements and legal implications.

The judge further found that Mr Ng was negligent in not independently verifying the tenure of the property provided by Mr Cheng when he could have done so.

Justice Ang added: "Regrettably, through an unfortunate coincidence of events and sheer bad luck, the real position of the property's leasehold tenure was not appreciated before completion of the conveyancing transaction."

vijayan@sph.com.sg

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To view the judgment, click <here>.

Judge refers findings to Singapore A-G

Straits Times
08 Aug 2014
Grace Leong

Move prompted by conflicting evidence from club's ex-CEO in HK and S'pore

A HONG Kong judge who ruled that former Ku De Ta chief executive Chris Au gave false evidence in a Singapore court has referred his findings to the Attorney-General here.

Mr Au had told the High Court here in a 2012 trial over the use of the Ku De Ta name that he had no stake in Retribution, a firm that held a large slice of the club at the Marina Bay Sands Skypark. He had said his interest in the firm ended "around January 2010".

This contradicts his sworn affirmations in a case before Justice Kevin Zervos in Hong Kong's High Court.

Mr Au and other investors are fighting over the $100 million in proceeds from the club's recent sale and how club profits were allocated. The dispute centres on their interests in a joint venture called Kudeta BVI, whose shares they held through Retribution.

Investors Komal Patel and Harry Apostolides claimed they, along with Mr Au, each held 24.17 per cent of Kudeta BVI. But Mr Au said he had 35.5 per cent and that there was a binding deal to buy out his stake for $33.7 million.

It is his claimed interest in Kudeta BVI - and through it, in Retribution - that prompted Justice Zervos to state that Mr Au's testimony in Singapore was false and merited referral.

"There is an obligation on courts of different jurisdictions to cooperate with each other to ensure that the judicial processes are not defeated and to promote the universality of the rule of law," he said on Tuesday.

Allegations of false evidence were also made against Mr Au and Mr Apostolides in the Singapore Court of Appeal proceedings on May 26, Justice Zervos noted.

In that case, the partners of a Ku De Ta outlet in Bali were appealing a ruling that they do not have the right to block the registration of the Ku De Ta trademarks in Singapore or the use of the name at the Singapore club.

The Attorney-General's Chambers in Singapore has not received any correspondence on the Hong Kong case, a spokesman said.

Justice Zervos said: "The Court of Appeal of Singapore may not be aware of matters that have come before this court and, accordingly, I do not see that this prevents me from making a referral to the Attorney-General of Singapore."

Mr Au argued against the referral, saying the court has not heard oral evidence or given a final judgment on the Hong Kong case.

He also said there is no finding that he committed an offence in Hong Kong and that "the alleged offences in one jurisdiction are not the primary concern of courts of another jurisdiction".

But Justice Zervos disagreed: "There does not have to be a finding of criminal wrongdoing to make a referral for 'an arguable case of serious misconduct'... Litigants should (know) that there are consequences when they say one thing before the courts in one jurisdiction and say something entirely different before the courts of another jurisdiction."

Meanwhile, Mr Au has failed in a bid to get damages for a Marina Bay Sands cafe that had failed, and the aborted purchases of luxury cars that were among assets frozen in the Hong Kong case.

The judge said there was "a lack of credible information" that Mr Au suffered any loss as a result of an injunction that was ordered on Jan 29 to freeze the assets.

Mr Au said deposits for a Ferrari, a Porsche and another car had been forfeited and potential resale profit lost. The cafe was repossessed on July 9 over rent arrears.

But Justice Zervos said the failure of the car purchases and the cafe "had (their) genesis well before the injunction was granted".

gleong@sph.com.sg


Background Story

SHARING INFORMATION

There is an obligation on courts of different jurisdictions to cooperate with each other to ensure that the judicial processes are not defeated and to promote the universality of the rule of law.

- Justice Kevin Zervos

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Family justice must put welfare and fairness first: Forum

Straits Times
02 Aug 2014

WE SUPPORT the recommendation by the Committee for Family Justice for specialist agencies to be set up to offer information, advice, counselling and support to those undergoing divorce ("Less painful divorces under new system"; July 5).

Our experience assisting women indicates that the legal processes are often stressful and confusing to the layperson.

These agencies must be sensitive to marital abuse and intimidation, including physical, psychological, social and financial abuse.

In such cases, we disagree with the committee that couples should undergo pre-filing consultation or mediation. Requiring joint attendance jeopardises the victims' well-being.

The committee's desire to "focus the parties on the children's interest" can be fulfilled without forcing victims to enter unsafe spaces - for instance, through separate consultation sessions.

Overall, agencies should take a secular approach, committed first and foremost to the welfare of clients. Victims of domestic violence are often reluctant to leave an abusive relationship because of the widespread judgment that divorce is a personal failure or a moral ill. The agencies should support clients in prioritising their safety and avoid adding to societal pressures.

We also agree that litigants in the Syariah Court should have access to services provided under the State Court system, such as child welfare services and support for those facing violence. It is important to ensure that resources are available to the Syariah Court to prevent a two-tier system.

Lastly, it is unfair to limit maintenance claims by men to situations of incapacity. Existing criteria - including income, earning capacity, contributions to the household and financial need - can apply equally to claims by men. However, in practice, awards to women should be more common as a larger proportion of women (43 per cent) than men (1.8 per cent) who are economically inactive are in this position due to domestic responsibilities.

Moreover, judges must be alert to the potential effect of societal attitudes on their assessments. There is a danger that women's domestic labour is given less credit because it is seen as "natural", while similar efforts by men are unfairly perceived as a more significant sacrifice.

Maintenance assessments should also consider that women are more likely to be pressured by spouses and families to leave the formal workforce. However, these are not reasons to deny relief to men in deserving cases.

Jolene Tan (Ms)

Programmes and Communications Senior Manager

Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware)

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Aussie court dismisses Blumont lawsuit

Straits Times
16 Aug 2014
Grace Leong

Mining group does not need to honour deal to buy stake in minerals firm

AN AUSTRALIAN court has dismissed a lawsuit brought by Australia-listed minerals explorer Prospect Resources to get Blumont Group to honour a subscription agreement.

The Supreme Court in the state of New South Wales also awarded legal costs to the mainboard-listed mining group, its chairman-designate Alexander Molyneux and financial firm Pacific Advisers.

Blumont announced the outcome of the case in a statement to the Singapore Exchange yesterday.

Blumont, Mr Molyneux and Pacific are members of a consortium that declared their intention in July last year to buy 325 million new shares in Prospect at 1.2 Australian cents a share.

That worked out to A$3.9 million (S$4.5 million) and would have represented a 43.47 per cent stake in the enlarged share capital of the Australian firm.

Blumont had said then that it was leading the consortium, taking a 60 per cent stake in the deal, which is equivalent to buying 195 million new shares.

But it added that the deal was subject to Prospect successfully getting the paperwork done in its acquisition of two gold projects in the African nation of Zimbabwe.

Blumont then announced on Oct 31, last year, that it was terminating the agreement to subscribe for the new shares.

It said it did so as it believed that the Australian firm had not fulfilled the condition of getting paperwork done for the acquisition of the gold projects.

Prospect then sued the consortium, seeking a court order to require it to abide by the terms of the subscription agreement.

But Blumont maintained that the termination notice was valid and had said it would vigorously defend its position in the proceedings.

gleong@sph.com.sg

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E-mail flagged concern about defence: City Harvest trial

Straits Times
08 Aug 2014
Feng Zengkun

FIVE of the six defendants in the City Harvest Church trial met in February last year, after which some of them were concerned that they were not on the same page about their defence.

This came to light in court yesterday after one of them, former church investment manager Chew Eng Han, submitted as evidence a series of e-mail messages in which they had discussed the meeting.

Questioned about the e-mail, former board member John Lam Leng Hung said the five at the meeting were himself, Chew, deputy senior pastor Tan Ye Peng, finance manager Sharon Tan and former finance manager Serina Wee.

The only defendant not at the meeting was church founder Kong Hee. The six of them face various charges for their part in allegedly misusing some $50 million in church funds to boost Kong's wife Ho Yeow Sun's pop music career, and to cover this up.

Chew had written in the e-mail: "After tonight's discussion, I'm convinced we are substantially not on the same page in terms of the substance of our defence, and I'm very disturbed."

He added: "From the way the conversation went, I'm quite convinced that some are half-convinced that there has indeed been unauthorised usage of the (church's building fund). If we don't have 100 per cent conviction, we will falter in court and the defence will look weak and doubtful."

When questioning Lam yesterday, Chief Prosecutor Mavis Chionh put it to him that if he was an honest person who intended to tell the truth in court, he would not be trying to meet the others or worrying that their views on the charges were different. Lam disagreed.

Mr N. Sreenivasan, lawyer for Tan Ye Peng, also objected, pointing out that "even an honest person in a joint trial will be concerned about all the evidence, including the evidence of the co-accused".

"The suggestion that consulting your co-accused is dishonest will mean that even I cannot sit down and talk about this case," he added.

The revelation of the meeting capped a day in which Ms Chionh charged that Lam was using his fellow defendant Chew as a "scapegoat".

One instance was a "secret letter" that Lam had signed on behalf of the church board, even though the board was not told of the letter and had not given him the authority to sign it.

The letter was between City Harvest and Indonesian glassware firm Firna, which is owned by long-time church member Wahju Hanafi.

The church had invested in bonds issued by Firna. The prosecution believes these were sham bonds made to enable the misuse of church funds, as Mr Hanafi had owned another firm that managed Ms Ho's music career.

The investment had a clause that allowed the church to convert the bonds into shares in Firna if bond monies were not repaid. But the letter stated that the church would sell the shares back to Mr Hanafi and his father-in-law at a nominal value of US$1 if the bonds were converted into shares, effectively nullifying the church's protection.

Lam had said his understanding was that the letter was necessary to convince Mr Hanafi's father-in-law, who held 20 per cent of the firm at the time, to agree to the bonds. Lam said he had signed the letter because Chew had assured him Mr Hanafi had no intention of enforcing the secret letter's terms.

Asked why he had signed the letter without telling the church board, Lam said he had left it to Chew to get the board's approval.

To this, Ms Chionh said: "Well, that's very convenient because Mr Chew Eng Han seems to pop up very frequently in your explanations for why you did or didn't do certain things."

zengkun@sph.com.sg

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Making legal tidal waves: A-G V.K. Rajah SC

Straits Times
01 Aug 2014
Michael Hor & Jaryl Lim

From heading a law office, to being on the Bench and then assuming office as Attorney-General of Singapore on June 25, Mr V.K. Rajah is expected to alter the legal landscape

THERE can be no doubt that Singapore's legal world is in for an exciting ride with the accession of Mr Vijaya Kumar Rajah SC (universally abbreviated to V.K. Rajah) to the crucially important position of Attorney-General.

Like retired chief justice Chan Sek Keong and current Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, Mr Rajah completes the grand slam, from a managing partner and senior counsel in a mega-firm, to the heights of judicial office as a Judge of Appeal, and now the Attorney-General of Singapore.

Wherever Mr Rajah has trodden, he has made tidal waves in the legal landscape.

Under the leadership of Mr Rajah and his successors, Rajah and Tan (founded by his redoubtable father T.T. Rajah which started out with only six lawyers) has flourished and is now one of the largest firms in the country with over 300 lawyers under its wing. In his judicial capacity, he co-chaired the Committee for Family Justice and the Singapore International Commercial Court Committee with Senior Minister of State for Law Indranee Rajah, making key recommendations to benefit the family justice system and the legal services sector respectively.

His tour of duty was also marked by a series of judgments - aptly described by the Minister for Law as "ground-breaking" - which have collectively changed the tone of criminal justice in Singapore.

While the Attorney-General is not a judge, Mr Rajah's legacy of inspiring judgments reveals the kind of fundamental criminal justice values he holds and is likely to continue to hold as the Attorney-General. An entire volume can be written about this, but two examples will suffice to give a flavour of the person.

The presumption of innocence

THE idea that everyone is presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law is seldom thought to require further explanation, yet its implications in some contexts are not so straightforward. For instance, if an accused is acquitted on the grounds that there was insufficient evidence to secure a conviction, is he to be presumed innocent? Or can he still be considered, in some sense, factually guilty (but not legally guilty) of the crime?

In 2008, these questions were raised in response to the Attorney-General's Chambers' (AGC) comments on a then ongoing appeal against the acquittal of a school teacher charged with outrage of modesty. At that time, an AGC spokesperson wrote in The Straits Times Forum page that an acquittal determined only legal guilt, and so an accused could well have been factually, or actually, guilty - only that there was insufficient evidence to secure a conviction.

That unfortunately gave the impression to some people that the AGC, and therefore the Government, might treat an acquitted person to be as good as guilty for purposes other than obtaining a conviction in court.

This, Justice Rajah could not leave unclarified. In a rare but timely judicial entry into a public debate, he drafted a paragraph to his judgment in the case concerned to put to rest any such misapprehension:

"It is not helpful, therefore, for suggestions to be subsequently raised about the accused's "factual guilt" once he has been acquitted. To do so would be to undermine the court's finding of not guilty and would also stand the presumption of innocence on its head, replacing it with an insidious and open-ended suspicion of guilt that an accused person would be hard-pressed to ever shed...

"The decision of guilt or innocence is constitutionally for the court and the court alone to make... There is no room for second guessing or nice distinctions; there is only one meaning (to an acquittal) and that is that it has not been established in the eyes of the law that the accused has committed the offence with which he has been charged."

In his characteristically eloquent style, Justice Rajah put the judicial foot down. As far as the Government and officialdom is concerned, an acquitted person is always, for all purposes, to be treated as innocent of the crime charged. It is reassuring that the Attorney-General is one with such a clear and principled stand.

The prosecution's duty and obligations

A COMMITMENT to the presumption of innocence is, on a broader canvas, a commitment to the fairness of criminal proceedings. Given the inequality of resources between a government-sponsored prosecution and a privately funded defence, it is trite that the prosecution usually bears a heavier obligation than a defence counsel, such as having to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt.

In 2011, another sensational case - that of the Kadar brothers - came before then Judge of Appeal V.K. Rajah (as he had since become), and he took the opportunity to clarify some of the obligations that the prosecution owes to the court.

First, Justice Rajah emphasised that the overarching duty of the prosecution is to assist the court to determine the truth, such that only the guilty are convicted.

In his judgment, he emphasised that the prosecution must always discharge its duties conscientiously and ethically in the administration of justice. It is not, as often believed to be, to zealously secure a conviction at all costs.

In line with this quest to determine the truth, Justice Rajah and the Court of Appeal further declared that it was time to recognise a duty on the part of the prosecution to disclose relevant material, even that which it did not intend to use at trial, to the accused.

Prior to this appeal, the lack of a comprehensive obligation on the part of the prosecution to disclose, before the trial, material relevant to guilt or innocence had been a bugbear of the criminal bar for a long time. Although there were local judicial precedents which seemed to support the position that no such duty existed, Judge of Appeal Rajah and his brethren surveyed the position of several respected jurisdictions around the world, only to discover that they had all recognised a similar duty on the part of the prosecution, even if the material disclosed is unhelpful or even detrimental to the prosecution's case.

The Court of Appeal, in a judgment delivered by Judge of Appeal Rajah, cast aside past practice in favour of the "elementary right of every defendant to a fair trial and the "rules of natural justice" which demanded that the prosecution must have a duty to disclose anything which may be of use to the accused.

It is again heartening to note that the Attorney-General always puts the dictates of justice and fairness above the inclinations of bureaucracy and precedent.

Public confidence

IN A separate judgment, then Justice Rajah once said:

"Public confidence in the principled administration of justice must inevitably be the paramount consideration."

This judicial pronouncement nicely sums up the criminal justice philosophy of the Attorney-General. There are two essential elements in it which must be carefully nurtured.

The first is public confidence. A criminal justice system which does not command the confidence and respect of the public is one that has failed in its principal mission - the preservation of the safety and security of everyone within the jurisdiction.

But, there is another fundamental element: the administration of justice must also be principled. The criminal justice system must not only be effective and efficient; it must also be fair and seen to be so. Most of the time there is no conflict between these elements, but occasionally (though rarely, we hope), the two may seem to clash.

When such a scenario arises, Mr Rajah (then Justice Rajah) once aptly noted: "The ends cannot be inevitably and invariably held to justify the means. To do so can only result in indelible scars to the administration and perception of justice."

We have every confidence that he will be well placed to make the difficult calls.

We await with heightened anticipation to see what Mr Rajah will do as the Attorney-General. His moral fibre, coupled with his strong desire for fairness and justice, indeed augurs well for the efficacy and credibility of Singapore's criminal justice system.

Professor Michael Hor formerly taught at the National University of Singapore's Faculty of Law. He was recently appointed the Dean of the Faculty of Law at The University of Hong Kong.

Jaryl Lim is a Year 2 law student at the National University of Singapore.

stopinion@sph.com.sg

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Getting deadbeat dads to pay up

Straits Times
16 Aug 2014
Hoe Pei Shan

Simpler, faster alimony process in the works, says Shanmugam

A FASTER, simple and more effective system to help former spouses get the maintenance owed to them is being planned, revealed Law Minister K. Shanmugam.

He did not provide details and said it "could take a year" before any changes are seen, as this is a complex issue. But he admitted that the current process for getting alimony defaulters to pay up is "not so easy".

"You need to take out a summons, you need to bring it to court, you got to say he didn't pay," Mr Shanmugam told Chinese daily Lianhe Zaobao in an interview published yesterday.

"I'm trying to see whether it can be made even simpler... We are studying how we can make it more effective, faster and, at the end, we got to get the money for the person who's got the maintenance order."

Reviewing how maintenance orders are enforced is part of the "follow-through process" after the new Family Justice Act was passed early this month, said Mr Shanmugam. The landmark Act hopes to make divorce proceedings more streamlined and less expensive while putting the interests of children first.

Family lawyers who spoke to The Straits Times welcomed the news, saying a review of the alimony process is much needed because getting errant former husbands to pay up can be a long-drawn process, which sometimes ends with claimants empty-handed.

Currently, women have to go to court to enforce the maintenance order each time there is a default. This can take a toll, especially on those holding jobs, said family lawyer Rajan Chettiar. In some cases, the wife may even end up losing her job, he added.

Since 2009, the courts have received about 3,000 enforcement applications annually.

From 2008 to 2011, about half of those granted enforcement orders had to apply for at least another one within two years.

These multiple court visits could be done away with if there was an online filing system, said lawyer Malathi Das, who is also president of the Singapore Council of Women's Organisations.

Another answer could be to set up a central administrative body for collection of maintenance payments, suggested Ms Jolene Tan, senior manager of programmes and communications at gender equality advocacy group Aware.

Locating defaulters who have moved abroad is another problem that needs tackling, added experts. Several also suggested introducing penalties for those who repeatedly pay late or default.

These could include restricting access to essential services, such as telephone or Internet services, and having to pay interest on maintenance arrears.

hpeishan@sph.com.sg


Streamlined divorce procedure

LAW Minister K. Shanmugam, in an interview with Chinese daily Lianhe Zaobao, explains how the new Family Justice Act, which streamlines the divorce process, came about:

"In a divorce, there are only two issues. How to split the assets and decide on the monthly maintenance, that's one... The second issue is who gets custody and the type of access to the children. That's it. But in the proceedings, the husband will claim that his wife poured pepper on him 10 years ago, and the wife would say he was watching pornography seven years ago. All this is irrelevant.

"But in the proceedings, they continue with all the arguments that they had in the marriage. The parties suffer because they can't move on, and the children suffer. And it's also very expensive. I said (to my ministry), let's decide what is it that we want. We want a process which is simple, and not so costly. No. 2, we want a process that protects the children. No. 3, we want something that gets to the issues quickly and deals with it effectively.

"This is a very different system - the judge takes the lead, and tells both lawyers and parties what are the issues he or she wants to cover. I'm hoping the proceedings get shortened, simplified, they become less costly and they are focused on the real issues only, and children get protected. It's actually revolutionary."

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Plugging into the world economy: FTAs

Business Times
08 Aug 2014
Lee U-wen

With FTAs, Singapore-based exporters can enjoy benefits ranging from tariff concessions to intellectual property protection

SINCE the signing of the first free trade agreement (FTA) under the Asean Free Trade Area back in 1993, Singapore's network of FTAs has expanded to cover 21 regional and bilateral FTAs and Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) with 32 different trading partners.

FTAs are superhighways that connect Singapore to major economies and new markets. With FTAs, Singapore-based exporters and investors stand to enjoy a myriad of benefits like tariff concessions, preferential access to certain sectors, faster entry into markets and intellectual property protection.

Singapore's FTAs have been instrumental in helping Singapore-based businesses strengthen cross-border trade by eliminating or reducing import tariff rates, providing preferential access to services sectors, easing investment rules, improving intellectual property regulations, and opening government procurement opportunities.

As an integral part of Singapore's trade architecture, the network of 21 FTAs/EPAs is designed to position Singapore as an integrated manufacturing centre in this region, promote research and development in the knowledge-based economy and drive the services hub.

Gina Lim, trade services and policy group director at International Enterprise (IE) Singapore, gives the lowdown on Singapore's FTAs and what they have brought to the country over the years.

How have Singapore's FTAs/EPAs helped in boosting our international links and reputation with the rest of the world?

Singapore's extensive network of FTAs/EPAs reaffirms our position as a country that is well-connected and plugged into the global economy. The FTAs/EPAs help companies boost their export competitiveness through the reduction or elimination of import duties. They also serve as a tool for companies to gain access into overseas markets when they internationalise and expand overseas.

In what ways have our local companies benefited from these FTAs and EPAs?

In this age of global consumerism, consumers are more wary of pricing differentials and alternative sources when making their purchases. It is thus vital that Singapore's exports remain competitive and affordable for consumers.

By tapping on FTAs/EPAs, Singapore products become more cost-competitive relative to other imported products, helping them retain their attractiveness among overseas consumers. Extending benefits beyond just exports, FTAs/EPAs have also opened up market access opportunities for our local companies in large economies.

Racer Technology, a small and medium-sized enterprise that manufactures medical devices and has S$50 million in annual turnover in Singapore alone, has benefited from access to foreign markets such as the United States. After the US-Singapore free trade pact came into effect in 2004, revenue from this 20-year-old company's revenue in the US grew from S$2.5 million to S$12.5 million annually. It has also set up a sales and design office in the market.

FTAs/EPAs also enable smoother customs facilitation and clearance of goods into the market. This is especially vital for exports of food items and other perishable goods. Singapore food manufacturers such as Tee Yih Jia have derived benefits from FTAs/EPAs, enabling them to obtain faster import clearance and pay no import duties for their spring roll pastries and other products to export destinations.

How can we get even more companies to tap on the opportunities open to them?

Awareness of FTAs/EPAs is key in getting more companies to become beneficiaries.

IE Singapore is the agency that promotes international trade and overseas growth of Singapore companies. We are continuously reaching out to Singapore companies to raise awareness of FTAs/EPAs.

The outreach activities include broad-based seminars within IE Singapore as well as collaborations with trade associations and chambers (TACs) to explain how the FTAs/EPAs work, and address the needs of companies from different sectors. We also hold one-on-one company consultations for companies with specific queries or concerns.

Moving on from the traditional outreach route, we are looking at capability building and knowledge retention within TACs and companies. For example, we have included an element of FTAs/EPAs into the curriculum of Logistics Academies such as Singapore Logistics Association, so prospective graduates from logistics-related courses will be armed with FTA/EPA knowledge when they enter the workforce.

Besides targeting the logistics sector IE Singapore engages other trade associations and chambers, such as the Singapore Chemical Industry Council, to train their members on the practical aspects of FTAs/EPAs.


Everything you need to know about FTAs

What is a Free Trade Agreement (FTA)?

An FTA is a legally binding agreement between two or more countries to reduce or eliminate barriers to trade, and facilitate the cross-border movement of goods and services between the territories of the parties.

This may include:

a) lower or no tariffs when importing goods;

b) relaxed or removal of import quotas;

c) mutual recognition of standards and qualifications to reduce duplicative product testing;

d) improved market access for various commercial and professional services;

e) easier entry and/or extended stay for business travellers; and protection of investments in FTA partner countries from government expropriation.

What are the basic components of an FTA?

There are three basic components in Singapore's FTAs, which are the trade in goods, trade in services, and investment chapters. There may be additional chapters covering intellectual property protection, government procurement and other cooperation measures.

There are two or more FTAs which my importing country is a party with. How do I know which FTA to use?

First, find out the savings each FTA is able to provide, and then find out if your product is able to meet the Rules of Origin. Select the FTA which your product is able to meet the Rules of Origin and provides you with the most savings.

What is a Rule of Origin?

Rules of Origin are a set of criteria to determine a product's originating status in an FTA. It is put in place to ensure that only goods originating from the FTA partner countries involved in the FTA will benefit from tariff concessions.

Are import tariffs the only duties charged by the Customs Department?

No, in most countries, there are additional domestic taxes, such as sales tax, value-added taxes or luxury taxes. These are domestic taxes which are not discriminatory in nature and are not covered in Singapore's FTAs.

Why am I told that concluded or signed FTAs cannot be used?

Concluded FTAs mean that the negotiations are completed but the agreement has yet to be signed. Signed FTAs only signify that parties to the FTA are agreeable to the terms and conditions.

FTAs are only in force and can only be used upon ratification. This process involves the formal approval from the FTA partner country's cabinet or similar authority.

Are there opportunities for the commitments in our FTAs to be improved in the future?

Yes. Singapore's FTAs contain provisions for reviews to be conducted at least every two or three years.

The full list of Singapore's FTAs and their respective legal texts can be found at www.fta.gov.sg/sg_fta.asp

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Medical Council reforms a healthy move

Straits Times
01 Aug 2014

ONE of the ways in which the Singapore Medical Council (SMC) acts as a watchdog of the public interest is through its disciplinary hearings process. This process gives edge to its regulatory function of ensuring that doctors in Singapore live up to the high professional and ethical standards of their calling. The SMC's stringent powers are necessary to prevent doctors from becoming a closed group of professionals who can hold the public to ransom, particularly the individual patient who does not possess the specialised skills to understand, let alone challenge, medical decisions. The council's powers seek to protect the legitimate interests of doctors as well.

However, any system can be improved and a resolve to bring about useful change was clearly evident in the recommendations made by a committee set up to review the handling of disciplinary hearings by the council.

The committee's final report, which comes nearly two years after the High Court criticised the SMC over how it had handled a disciplinary hearing, focuses on several key areas. Speeding up inquiries would help lift some of the mental pressure on doctors facing hearings, while improving legal processes obviously would enhance the value of the disciplinary hearings. Increasing transparency, particularly in the appeals process, would deepen the credibility and acceptability of the disciplinary scheme to doctors. The SMC has said that it is in broad agreement with the recommendations of the committee.

Even as doctors stand to benefit from the SMC improving its processes, one issue important to the public is the charging of medical fees. Guidelines would help patients take informed decisions on seeing specialists in particular. What price premium would be appropriate for expertise and experience? And how would one determine who is top in a field? A system that provides hard data with which to make comparisons would inspire greater public confidence in the financial aspects of the medical system.

It is important, too, for the public to know the ethical limits for fees. An article published in The Singapore Law Review last year drew attention to these issues. It cited a number of doctors calling for the Academy of Medicine, the Singapore Medical Association and the Ministry of Health to come together to "provide answers to the perplexing question of what the ethical limit is". A start has been made by the ministry, which publishes percentiles of bill sizes for each procedure for public and private hospitals. However, as the journal noted, many doctors in private and specialist clinics still face the problem of knowing the ethical limit. Transparency in pricing would help the public to form a judgment about when medical fees can be deemed fair and reasonable.

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Kong knows more than he's letting on: Chew

Business Times
16 Aug 2014
Claire Huang

THE former investment manager of City Harvest Church has charged that the founder of the church Kong Hee knew more about financing the church's project in evangelising through his singer-wife Sun Ho's music than he has let on.

Chew Eng Han, who is defending himself, pointed out while cross-examining Kong yesterday that Kong was the one negotiating the budget for Ms Ho's music album in the US, so he would have known the amount and the timing of the drawdown of the Xtron Productions bonds to which the church had subscribed.

The church had invested in Xtron, the firm that was handling the evangelisation drive, called the Crossover Project.

Kong agreed that he had approved the idea of using bonds to finance the project, but he said the church's management board was the ultimate decision-maker.

He later added that while he negotiated the budget for Ms Ho's album in the US, it was the Xtron directors who approved it.

Not letting up on his line of questioning, Chew said: "As the senior pastor of City Harvest Church, as a man of God, wouldn't it have been responsible and right for you to take responsibility as the key decision-maker for the financing of the Crossover Project?"

Kong then rebutted that finance was not his forte: "That is why I left it to financial experts and lawyers and auditors, as well as the management board, because in it, there are also people who are more well-versed than I am to make the decision."

Chew pointed out that the church founder did "understand how to draw down money and to apply it to the Crossover Project".

Kong later admitted that budgeting went hand in hand with financing.

Referring to an e-mail in May 2006, Chew charged that the idea of tapping into the church's fund to finance the Crossover Project had come from Kong and two other accused, Tan Ye Peng and Serina Wee.

Kong disagreed.

Chew then added that Tan was the one who mooted using the church's building fund for the project. Kong replied that he did not want to speculate as he was not a recipient of the e-mail.

During the hearing, the court was told that Kong did not want the Crossover Project to be openly and directly funded by the church, as he did not want his wife's success in music to be dismissed as one based purely on the support of the church. Chew told the court he deferred to Kong on this and kept it discreet.

Kong and his five deputies are fighting allegations that they misused the church's building fund to boost Ms Ho's music career. Four of the six are also accused of using "sham bond investments" and round-tripping the money to cover up the misuse.

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AmFraser's suit against ex-client to go to trial

Straits Times
07 Aug 2014
Grace Leong

Case raises 'serious questions' about securities trading

A LEGAL battle between local brokerage AmFraser Securities and former client Goh Cheng Yu over trading losses racked up in last October's penny stock crash is heading to trial.

The High Court last week dismissed AmFraser's application for judgment in its favour without a trial, finding that there are "serious questions that need to be tried and addressed in order for the dispute to be disposed of properly".

Assistant Registrar Colin Seow said the case related to the "integrity of the securities trading system", raising questions over whether certain clauses known as "conclusive evidence clauses" can be used to exclude liability for fraudulent acts by an employee against an innocent customer.

AmFraser, which reportedly faced potential losses of up to RM120 million (S$47 million) after the crash, is seeking $1.89 million in trading debts from Mr Goh. He is assistant project manager of Wee Hur Development, a wholly owned unit of construction group Wee Hur Holdings, in which his family is prominent.

The shares of Asiasons Capital, LionGold Corp and Blumont Group rocketed to record levels last October before going into a tailspin, losing more than 90 per cent of their value in a matter of days.

The crash wiped out about $8 billion in stock market value. Mr Goh said that he was not liable for the losses because the shares in Blumont, Asiasons and the International Healthway Corp - a firm not involved in the meltdown - were bought under his AmFraser trading account on Oct 2 last year without his "instruction, authorisation or knowledge".

He said the investments in question were made by Mr Heng Gim Teoh, an AmFraser trading representative.

Mr Seow, in the decision released last week, noted: "The integrity of the securities trading system, like the banking system, is inextricably dependent on public confidence and trust in the system. As such, the integrity of the securities trading system can, in theory, be seriously undermined if the law were to be such that the public is unable to find any security in the knowledge that financial services providers can be prevented from employing conclusive evidence clauses to shift the risk of unauthorised transactions made by a fraudulent employee to an innocent customer".

In declining to award summary judgment in AmFraser's favour, Mr Seow said: "Factual questions as to whether (Mr Goh) was at all material times an innocent customer and whether (Mr Heng) had acted fraudulently (regardless of whether he was at the material time a direct employee of AmFraser) are vigorously contested by both parties in the present case. These are clearly issues of fact which ought to be tried before a judge." Mr Seow also noted that AmFraser has not provided any evidence that the investments were made by Mr Heng on Mr Goh's instructions, or with Mr Goh's consent.

Mr Goh claims Mr Heng admitted that he had increased Mr Goh's trading account limit without his authorisation, and that he had booked the investments on behalf of a Mr Lim Lin Ken without Mr Goh's knowledge.

But AmFraser, in its court filings, said Mr Heng is not an employee and was paid based on transactions conducted on behalf of his clients.

Mr Heng has since tendered a declaration to the court denying that he had admitted to carrying out the investments without Mr Goh's authorisation.

gleong@sph.com.sg

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To view the judgment, click <here>.

Values-based governance as part of our corporate DNA

Business Times
01 Aug 2014
Stefanie Yuen Thio

Should directors look beyond the interests of shareholders, employees and creditors?

WE live in a complicated world, one where we are increasingly dependent on the corporate titans who produce the goods and services we need.

Take the Internet. When technology giants such as eBay and Yahoo announce that their servers have been hacked, we don't know if it's Cybergeddon or if the hype just means more business for the anti-virus software companies.

Or Big Pharma. The scandal surrounding drug industry sponsored junkets for doctors, aimed at encouraging them to prescribe the drug companies' products, has placed a big question mark over medical prescriptions. So big is this crisis of confidence that AstraZeneca decided to scrap payments for doctors to attend medical conferences.

Recently, experts have warned that antimicrobial resistance - brought about because of widespread prescription of antibiotics - has become a severe (even "apocalyptic") health risk. We are highly reliant on medical professionals but if we cannot trust their advice, because their income is tied to the medical treatment they prescribe, the system corrodes.

Still on the drug industry: One of the key criticisms of the (failed) Pfizer bid for AstraZeneca was the likelihood that Pfizer, who had already shut down the research and development facilities of previous acquisition targets, would similarly axe AstraZeneca's R&D operations and focus on existing profit-making medicines, rather than on discovering new life-saving drugs. Where would the world be if big pharmaceutical companies started abandoning R&D efforts?

Consumers today are thus very much at the mercy of corporates. But are companies obliged to look out for the public interest?

Capitalism being the applied wisdom of most global economies, the profit motive is the main driver of business decisions. Under Singapore company law, the responsibility of the board of directors is to act in the best interests of the company.

This means that the board must have regard to the interests of shareholders, employees and, in certain distressed situations, its creditors. There is no obligation to take into account wider considerations, such as the impact of the company's actions on the environment or in the community, unless they also affect the interests of these stakeholders.

Where does that leave good corporate citizenship?

Let's say a company wants to site a factory in an area riddled with high unemployment. The board may be prevented from doing so if outsourcing that to India or some other low-cost country would mean more money in the shareholders' pockets.

Or what if a company has to choose between two technologies - one that is more expensive but would create a smaller carbon footprint and another that is cheaper but would be more damaging to the environment? Acting in the best interests of the company would require the board to select the second option, unless it can bring some other considerations to bear - such as the reputational upside to the company for adopting the green friendly option.

Without the excuse of it being good for the branding of the firm, companies could also have difficulties making charitable contributions which do not come with tax exemptions.

Of course, if it was a government requirement to have minimum headcount in the high unemployment area, or to minimise the carbon footprint, the board would have no choice but to adopt the more socially responsible course of action. But that requires concerted government action and given the porousness of today's business borders, which allows companies to site their operations in tax and business-friendly jurisdictions, it has become increasingly difficult for centralised supervision to dictate how companies do things.

Short-term financial considerations vs long-term goals

Another development that has had the unintended consequence of making things worse is the change in corporate governance and transparency. Moves such as quarterly reporting of results, and calls for board compensation to be linked to returns on shares, have placed pressure on management to deliver quicker financial results. Shareholder value is being more narrowly defined to refer only to short-term shareholder returns.

When rogue bank traders made riskier and riskier bets, with their supervisors turning a blind eye, was that driven by the need to deliver increasingly sterling financial results? And was it short-term reporting requirements that encouraged companies to come up with creative accounting treatments such as off-balance sheet structures (think Enron scandal) and innovative structured financial products (such as the CDOs that led to the collapse of Lehman Brothers)?

Doing the right thing

In recent times, much has been made of corporate social responsibility. Companies, aiming to be exemplary corporate citizens, support Earth Hour, help rehabilitate

people released from prison and undertake charitable projects. In my view, that is a good thing.

Former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, speaking at the Oslo Center for Peace and Human Rights in 2009, called for a return to a value-based system of governance to guide the international community. Highlighting the importance of the common values of fairness, equality, justice, liberty and solidarity, Mr Annan warned that "without actions based on these values, the risk is that we will be driven further apart, with increasing disparities in wealth and power both between societies and within them, fuelling anger, despair and intolerance". He said that the challenges we face require a new style of leadership - one that looks beyond narrow national or sectional interests and that has basic values at its heart.

This is no less true of companies than it is of governments. Is it time for a fresh look at the legal regime governing corporate governance and redefine it to allow directors to take into account broader interests?

A modest proposal: Make a simple amendment to the Companies Act to allow directors to take into account the interests of the wider public. There would be no proactive obligation because this would put onerous pressure on a board, but change the Act to allow directors to consider factors beyond the interests of shareholders, employees and creditors.

This is more than a legislative change. It signals that Singapore is a values-based place to do business. If we are serious about corporate social responsibility and sustainability, let us change the law to encourage and make room for this, as a first step towards entrenching values-based governance in our corporate modus operandi.

The writer is joint managing director of TSMP Law Corporation in Singapore

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No right to claim extra if 'forced' to resign: Court

Straits Times
15 Aug 2014
K.C. Vijayan

Judges reject appeal, say worker entitled only to what is in contract

WORKERS who say they are forced to quit after their employer makes life unbearable should not expect to get any extra compensation other than that guaranteed in their contracts.

This is the norm in typical cases of "constructive dismissal". And workers will have to show proof of actual loss stemming from the dismissal, such as mental or emotional duress, if they hope to get extra damages.

The top court in Singapore made this clear in dismissing former Robinsons employee Lawrence Wee's appeal against the High Court, which had rejected his claim for damages after he argued that he had been pushed out by his employer.

The 40-year-old had worked as assistant general manager of corporate sales and cards at retailer Robinson & Co (Singapore) for about six years.

Although he resigned in August 2012, he claimed it was a case of "constructive dismissal".

This is when an employer, instead of just sacking someone, makes working conditions difficult in order to force the worker to resign. Mr Wee alleged the company persecuted him because of his homosexuality.

He was paid four months' salary in lieu of notice plus cash for unconsumed leave. This was more than the two months' salary he was entitled to if he had been sacked under his contract.

But he sued, arguing that had he not been forced to resign, he could have continued to work there. He wanted compensation for his loss of future earnings, among other things.

Robinson successfully applied last year to strike out his claim before an assistant registrar, and then again in the High Court, which pointed out the flaw in Mr Wee's argument.

The court said his claim was "doomed to fail". Even if he had been "constructively dismissed", he would have been entitled to only two months of salary, based on his contract, and he had already received more. His allegation that he was treated poorly because he was gay was irrelevant.

Mr Wee, represented by lawyers Paul Tan and Choo Zheng Xi, appealed against the ruling.

This was dismissed in May, and the Appeals Court, comprising Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon and appeals judges Chao Hick Tin and Andrew Phang, released the grounds for its decision last week.

The court said Mr Wee did not show he had suffered any "continuing financial losses" such as finding it tougher to get a job because of the dismissal or "distinct injuries" arising from illness or mental or emotional distress.

"In truth, (Wee)'s claim was simply one for 'constructive dismissal' for which compensation for the loss suffered would, in this case, be confined to two months' salary in lieu of notice as stipulated in (his) employment contract," said CJ Menon.

He had "no legally sustainable basis to claim anything more than what he had already received", said the court.

Mr Wee was ordered to pay $20,000 in legal costs to Robinson.

Responding to The Straits Times, the company denied Mr Wee's allegations, and said it is against any form of discrimination.

"We are committed to the creation of an equal opportunity workplace and have, in 2009, signed the Employers' Pledge of Fair Employment Practices with tripartite partners, the Singapore Business Federation/Singapore National Employers Federation, the National Trades Union Congress and the Ministry of Manpower."

The company's lawyer, Mr Eusuff Ali, said the court's decision affirmed the current law governing the contractual obligations between an employer and an employee.

Lawyers said the judgment is significant for the court's ruling on the consequences of "constructive dismissal" - a concept that is new and developing here and abroad.

This case is understood to be the first Appeals Court decision on the measure of damages that could be claimed for "constructive dismissal".

Mr Choo, who represented Mr Wee, pointed out that the ruling did leave open the possibility of damages being claimed if "constructive dismissal" results in the person's future employment prospects being impaired.

vijayan@sph.com.sg

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To view the judgment, click <here>.

Haze pollution law is a positive first step

Business Times
07 Aug 2014

THE Transboundary Haze Pollution Act passed in Parliament on Tuesday will help Singapore fight the annual haze arising out of primitive deforestation methods in Indonesia, but it cannot be the whole answer.

Through the legislation, errant companies can be fined up to S$100,000 a day, capped at a total of S$2 million, if they are responsible for slash-and-burn land clearing. While some observers state that this is not a large enough penalty, given the profits these companies stand to earn, it is nonetheless a deterrent.

Moreover, as Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan explained in Parliament, these penalties can be increased over time, if they are found to be insufficient. The affected businesses will also be mindful of the damage to their reputation if they are prosecuted under the Act, which could translate into serious financial losses down the road. To that extent, the legislation can be said to serve its purpose .

The Act must also be commended for its wide reach, literally. One of the concerns, as the bill was introduced, was that it may be difficult to bring offenders to book, since the offence would be committed in a foreign jurisdiction. However, as Dr Balakrishnan pointed out, a legal notice can be served on the companies' representatives once they are in Singapore, with the cooperation of the immigration authorities.

This will be useful, particularly if the person being summoned is a top executive or management personnel of the errant company. However, there may be little point in serving any such notice on lower-level staff. But these are enforcement matters, and it is clear the Act has thought them through.

But a deeper problem lies in detection. To even bring a company or its executives under the Act, there needs to be enough evidence collected in the first place. This requires Singapore to have eyes and ears on the ground to determine which companies may be responsible for an offence. At present, it seems the Act will rely on circumstantial evidence at best, aided by satellite maps and information relating to wind direction.

The task of detection, even circumstantially, may be further clouded by hazy land ownership norms and insufficient access to land records (if they exist) - all of which would make it difficult to pinpoint the party or parties responsible for a plot of land on fire. Thus, while the new law will go some way to dealing with the haze issue, its effectiveness will be limited without the cooperation of regional governments, particularly Indonesia.

The 10 member states concluded the Asean Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution in 2002 but Indonesia is the only country yet to ratify the pact. There is hope that this may now change as the country's new president-elect, Joko "Jokowi" Widodo, is reportedly sensitive to Singapore's concerns about the haze and, indeed, the negative impact of this menace on Indonesia's own environment. But whether his government is able to cooperate to enforce the Act - which also depends crucially on local authorities - remains to be seen.

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

Rules on data retention: Commission replies: Forum

Straits Times
01 Aug 2014

UNDER the Personal Data Protection Act, organisations must cease to retain documents containing personal data if they no longer serve the purpose for which the data was collected or remain necessary for any legal or business purposes - for example, the continued retention of financial records for tax purposes ("Any rules on data retention?" by Ms Lee Meow Hua; July 16).

The Act does not specify a fixed duration of time for which organisations can retain personal data, as it is not feasible to apply a single timeframe across varied sectors.

Organisations should, however, review on a regular basis if the personal data they have is still needed.

The Personal Data Protection Commission understands that Standard Chartered Bank has since explained to Ms Lee its retention policy for customers and former customers, and confirmed it is not retaining her personal data beyond what is necessary for business or legal purposes ("Data retention: Bank replies"; July 24).

As the Act serves as a baseline data protection law that complements sector-specific laws and regulations, organisations will also have to comply with other laws and regulations in relation to the handling of personal data that are applied to the specific industry.

Evelyn Goh (Ms)

Director, Communications, Planning & Policy

Personal Data Protection Commission

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Lawyers told us we were negligent: Kong Hee

Business Times
15 Aug 2014
Claire Huang

[SINGAPORE] "Shaken to the core" was how the founder of the City Harvest Church felt when he was told by lawyers in early June 2010 that he and his five deputies had been negligent and "had done wrong" in managing the church's finances.

Recounting yesterday that he had met up with the other accused and two lawyers a day after he recorded his first statement to the Commercial Affairs Department (CAD), Kong Hee, 49, said he had always consulted the lawyers and auditors on the church's plans, be it bond investments or the financing of his singer-wife Sun Ho's debut English album in the United States.

Taking the stand for the fourth day, he said: "I was shocked because I thought that all this while, we had relied on professionals to advise us; now one of the key professionals was saying we had done wrong."

The court also heard that the money spent on Ms Ho's US album went "down the drain" when she had to return to Singapore to assist with investigations into the alleged financial irregularities within the church.

In March 2009, she had to undergo operations for abdominal adhesions. This had already delayed the launch of her US album to Aug 17, 2010.

Kong said the US production team had big plans for her, scheduling her for a promotional tour in New York on June 15 and arranging for her to appear on TV series such as CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and Gossip Girls; they had also tried to line up interviews for her with CNN and Vogue magazine to raise her profile. Kong said these plans were ruined after CAD summoned the singer back here to assist in the investigations.

Former Xtron Productions director Wahju Hanafi eventually had to "make good on the losses", said the pastor.

After Kong's counsel Edwin Tong wrapped up his questioning his client, Kong faced other lawyers.

Kenneth Tan, who represents accused John Lam, tried to make the point that it was Kong's vision to venture into the US music market to evangelise the church's message through Ms Ho's secular pop music (an effort called the Crossover Project), and that this was the reason behind his client's whole-hearted support of the singer's career.

Questioned by lawyer Paul Seah, counsel for accused Sharon Tan, Kong acknowleged that from the first bond subscription agreement made between the church and Xtron in 2007 until August 2008, Tan was uninvolved in the financing of the Crossover Project. Kong added that she was also not involved in the budgeting for the US album, nor did she come up with projections of how Xtron could fund it; she also had no part in the planning for the financing.

The church's former investment manager, Chew Eng Han tried to show the court that the amount of faith he had in the Crossover Project was dependent on what Kong shared about the spiritual aspect of it.

Chew, representing himself, will continue his questioning today.

The six church leaders face allegations that they misused the church's building fund to boost Ms Ho's music career and that they tried to hide the misuse via "sham bond investments" and by round-tripping the monies.

huangjy@sph.com.sg

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Green groups hope haze law will check rogue firms

Straits Times
07 Aug 2014
Mok Fei Fei & Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja

In S'pore, palm oil companies say they back tougher measures

ENVIRONMENTAL groups and observers in Indonesia and Malaysia say Singapore's passage of a law to punish those responsible for transboundary haze pollution will put pressure on rogue firms to prevent open burning.

They say it will be difficult to enforce, but hope it will pressure the Indonesian authorities to also act tougher on those responsible.

Meanwhile, Singapore-listed palm oil companies and local stakeholders say they back the tough new measures.

The law passed on Tuesday penalises firms with fines of up to $100,000 a day, capped at a total of $2 million, for causing unhealthy haze, that is, a Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) value of 101 or greater for 24 hours or more.

It also grants individuals or organisations the option to sue and claim damages from polluters, with no limit set on the amount of damages they can ask for.

"It will give pressure to Indonesia. If one particular company were declared guilty of illegal burning in Singapore, but not guilty in Indonesia, it would make Indonesia look bad," said Mr Zulfahmi of Greenpeace.

Indonesian state prosecutors have lost most legal suits against errant firms because the indictments were weak or the court rulings were flawed, say observers.

Dr Helena Varkkey of Universiti Malaya said the new law may be a more effective way to address haze issues as it will bypass government channels trying to resolve the issue via diplomacy.

"Since the proposed law allows individual lawsuits against companies, it will be able to bypass any 'friction' that might occur between governments," she said.

Mr Sonny Keraf, a former environment minister who is advising President-elect Joko Widodo, said there must be some protocols agreed upon by Indonesia and Singapore that detail how the law can be enforced without infringing on Indonesia's sovereignty.

Mr Khairul Anwar, the mayor of Dumai city in Riau province that was worst affected by last year's haze, supports the law. "Our police here can help find out who burnt the land," he said.

In Singapore, Wilmar International and Golden Agri-Resources, which own huge swathes of plantation land in Indonesia, say they do not fear the new law.

These major industry players told The Straits Times yesterday that they back efforts to prevent or mitigate the haze.

They said they adopt a strict no-burn policy. This refers to owners who burn off forest to free up land for palm oil plantations, a practice that generates smoke haze across the region.

"Our 'No deforestation, no peat and no exploitation' policy further reinforces our commitment to sustainable palm oil," a Wilmar spokesman said. "We will continue to engage and provide assistance to stakeholders such as suppliers and smallholders in preventing fires because we believe that a collective effort will benefit the entire industry."

Golden Agri-Resources said a multi-stakeholder collaborative approach is the best way to find solutions for the haze issue.

"Sustainable practices have been embedded in our day-to-day operations for years," it noted, claiming to be the first palm oil producer to establish a zero burning policy in 1997.

Neither firm commented on how much it could cost to comply with the new law. Costs could rise and add to the complexity of the landscape in which the firms operate, especially as they work in different nations with varying degrees of strictness on haze.

Environmental groups in Singapore have also welcomed the new law, though some questioned how effective it can be.

The Nature Society Singapore said the law is a step in the right direction to get to the main culprits, but added: "(We) will not have the financial resources to take up a civil lawsuit to go up against the polluter."

Farmer Ivy Singh-Lim, whose business was affected when the PSI hit a record 401 last year, asked if the law has bite overseas. "Can they summon the fellow when they don't even have an extradition treaty?"

feimok@sph.com.sg

wahyudis@sph.com.sg

Additional reporting by Yong Yen Nie in Kuala Lumpur

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Shift from women-centric marriage law to fairer system: Voices

TODAY
01 Aug 2014

I refer to the report “Maintenance could be given based on need, not gender” (July 24), and the letter “Spouse who earns more should pay alimony” (July 26).

Many men get married without knowing the odds stacked against them under the Women’s Charter if the marriage fails, and there is no reason for men to be discriminated against on the sole basis of gender.

We must overhaul marriage legislation such that it is fairer and more family-centric, rather than women-centric. The matter must be taken seriously; extrapolating from current statistics, about one in four marriages will end in a divorce.

If the Charter remains one that penalises only men, even when they are not at fault for the breakdown of a marriage, men may choose not to get married and be bound by a contract that is prejudicial to them.

Does the Ministry of Social and Family Development think it is fair for a long-term unemployed or retired man to provide his ex-wife with monthly financial support, especially if she has monthly income from work?

If a woman has chosen to walk out of a marriage through no fault of her husband, would it be fair for him to continue to support her financially for life, when she has, in fact, deserted him?

Justice Choo Han Teck said in a recent judgement that maintenance was not an unalloyed right of women. So, what is the ministry’s stand on women claiming maintenance, token or otherwise, in cases where they earned more than their ex-husband did?

I cannot fathom what is holding Singapore back from adopting a fairer needs-based spousal support system.

Gary Oo Choon Peng

Copyright 2014 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

Act cannot regulate social agenda of social enterprises: Forum

Straits Times
15 Aug 2014

IN HIS letter ("Amend Companies Act to regulate social enterprises"; Aug 7), Mr Loh Wai Poon cited an earlier letter ("Require social enterprises to be governed by law" by Reverse Co-operative chairman John Tan Yew How; Aug 1) calling for social enterprises to be governed by the Co-operative Societies Act, which he felt was not conducive for social enterprises to grow capital for business expansion and sustainability.

He suggested instead that social enterprises be legislated under the Companies Act.

The Companies Act provides the regulatory framework for setting up and operating a business using a company structure.

It is key to upholding Singapore's pro-business reputation and preserving our trusted, investor-friendly environment. It seeks to maintain a fair balance between the needs of business and those of shareholders, while seeking to offer sufficient flexibility for companies to thrive and compete.

A social enterprise has dual social and business goals.

It is worth noting that since 2004, the Companies Act no longer requires companies to state their objects or purpose. The Act thus does not restrict or specifically govern companies in terms of ensuring that their business activities stay within their stated purpose or object.

The Companies Act may therefore not be the most appropriate framework to ensure that social enterprises are held accountable and deliver on their social missions.

Ang Siok Hui (Ms)

Head, Corporate Communications Department

Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority

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Church leaders 'falsified minutes': City Harvest trial

Straits Times
07 Aug 2014
Feng Zengkun

THEY lied to the auditors, the authorities and even their own fellow church members.

That was the picture the prosecution sought to paint yesterday of City Harvest Church founder Kong Hee and five of his deputies, who are accused of misusing church funds.

They allegedly misused $50 million to boost the pop music career of Kong's wife Ho Yeow Sun and to cover this up.

The defence says her music was part of a church-approved Crossover Project to evangelise.

Yesterday, Chief Prosecutor Mavis Chionh pointed to a raft of e-mails and documents to assert that the defendants conspired to falsify the minutes of board meetings to throw auditors off the scent.

For example, the minutes of a meeting said the church's investment committee had reviewed and approved City Harvest's investment into bonds issued by music production firm Xtron Productions, which managed Ms Ho's career at one time. The prosecution believes these bonds were sham investments made to enable the misuse of church funds.

Although the minutes of the board meeting were dated Aug 3, 2008, the investment committee meeting only took place two days later on Aug 5. The minutes of that meeting were backdated to July 29.

Ms Chionh put it to church board member John Lam Leng Hung, one of the defendants, that the dates had been changed after auditors raised questions about the bonds on Aug 1.

"You and your co-accused were planning to falsify paper work to show the auditors that the church had assessed (the bonds) to be a good investment... that was why the investment committee meeting minutes are dated before the auditors' query. You were fully aware of all this falsification and deception," she said.

Lam said the wrong dates were simply mistakes.

Ms Chionh also charged that Kong had misled the church's executive members about the purpose of a set of bond investments worth $18.2 million.

While Kong had given members the impression that the money would be used to buy a property, $13 million had already been spent on the Crossover Project, she said.

"That the $18.2 million was all fresh bonds and all of it would be used to purchase the Riverwalk, this was a misleading impression (Kong) was giving to the executive members, right?" Ms Chionh asked Lam, who said yes.

Earlier, the prosecution sought to sink his claim that he believed Ms Ho's career was successful. He cited this as a reason why the church should invest in Xtron bonds. But in fact, the church spent about half a million dollars to buy her unsold CDs.

zengkun@sph.com.sg

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Require social enterprises to be governed by law: Forum

Straits Times
01 Aug 2014

MR LIM Wei Kwang ("Treat social enterprises as normal companies"; Monday) stated that "it is an anomaly for businesses to call themselves 'social enterprises' ".

The report ("Call for more regulation of social enterprises"; July 22) defined social enterprises as "a cross between charities and businesses, although they do not formally qualify as charities as they seek to make profits".

Co-operatives are regulated for precisely this reason. The laws governing co-operatives ensure they are commissioned to do social good, yet need to stay sustainable by deriving profits from their line of business.

The rules for co-operatives spell out restrictions - for example, limited profit withdrawal by members and the creation of reserves for "common good" funds.

Co-operatives are also not to be owned by or benefit only small groups of major shareholders or sole owners or partners.

A co-operative is meant to benefit evenly all members who, regardless of their shareholdings, each have one vote at general meetings.

Also, the law dictates that all co-operatives' accounts be audited by an external auditor.

It is unfortunate that there is little understanding of the role of co-operatives in social initiatives. Even in government circles, there is little awareness.

One good way to address Mr Lim's concern is to require all aspiring do-good social enterprises to be governed by the Co-operative Societies Act. This will weed out business start-ups disguised as do-good enterprises.

John Tan Yew How

Chairman

Reverse Co-operative

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Man gets 6 years' jail for CBT of $4m

Straits Times
15 Aug 2014
Elena Chong

A FORMER money changer convicted of two charges of misappropriating about $4 million entrusted by two customers was sentenced to six years' jail yesterday.

Fazal Mohamed N.M.A.R Mohamed Ebrahim, 52, was also fined $10,000 for carrying on a moneychanging business from March 2011 without a valid licence.

But he is appealing against the conviction and sentence. Fazal was convicted last Thursday of dishonestly misappropriating $3.7 million given by sales director Ng Hwee Boon, 50, and $269,483 by Ms Ng's friend, Ms Angeline Ong Hsiao Wei, 41, an account manager, in 2011.

Despite losing his money-changing business after the death of his father, a partner in Bismi Cosmetics Centre, Fazal, who was a partner, continued with the trade at The Arcade in Collyer Quay.

Ms Ng, who made a total of 21 investments, had testified she went to Fazal's shop in July 2010 to inquire about the pound which she was keen to invest in. But she agreed to buy euros instead after she was promised a return of 2.8 per cent on the investment sum, payable at the end of two weeks. Two weeks later, she collected her initial invested sum in Singapore dollars as well as the promised 2.8 per cent of the invested amount.

Over time, she invested more and more money with Fazal, who issued her an invoice for each investment. Upon maturity, Ms Ng would either withdraw a part of the returns and re-invest the rest of the money or re-invest the entire sum. Ms Ng introduced Fazal to Ms Ong who invested $100,000 in September 2010 and injected another $353,000 the following month.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Jasmin Kaur said the nett losses suffered by Ms Ng and Ms Ong were $2.5 million and $123,000 respectively. Urging the court to pass consecutive sentences on the criminal breach of trust charges, she said Fazal intentionally deceived the victims, and the offences involved a high degree of pre-meditation and planning.

elena@sph.com.sg

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Amend Companies Act to regulate social enterprises: Forum

Straits Times
07 Aug 2014

REVERSE Co-operative chairman John Tan Yew How's call for social enterprises to be governed by law is valid ("Require social enterprises to be governed by law"; last Friday).

However, his recommendation that social enterprises be governed by the Co-operative Societies Act is not the solution.

I was a founding member of a co-operative two years ago, and understand why many social enterprises are registered as companies and not co-operatives.

The advantages of co-operatives are also key weaknesses that wipe out many start-ups.

The fact that each member has only one vote no matter how much he puts in leads to chaos in decision-making. Each member would support his own pet project, so no decisions could be made to take the business forward.

Another flaw is that no member, other than a society or trade union, can hold more than 20 per cent of the share capital.

Thus, there is no incentive for individual members to subscribe to more than the mandatory minimum share. This makes it very difficult to grow capital for business expansion and sustainability.

To allay concerns that entrepreneurs may label their companies as social enterprises, I suggest that the Companies Act be amended to include social enterprises as a business group.

Legislating them under the Companies Act will give them legitimacy and give businesses with social objectives a chance to prosper.

Loh Wai Poon

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12 years' jail for revenge killing

Straits Times
01 Aug 2014
Selina Lum

Judge says unarmed victim was 'viciously and mercilessly' stabbed

WALKING past a Geylang coffee shop, a former inmate saw someone he recognised - an ex-prisoner he had a grudge against for squealing on him while they were in jail.

Jamsari Yusof, 51, confronted the alleged snitch, 43-year-old Gunasekaran Rengasamy, accusing him of being a "hantu" - prison parlance for an informer.

Things got ugly when the three men who had been drinking with Mr Gunasekaran decided to turn against him. In the ensuing fight, Jamsari fatally stabbed Mr Gunasekaran with a knife handed to him by one of the drinking buddies.

Yesterday, Jamsari found himself back in jail for 12 years, after he pleaded guilty in the High Court to culpable homicide, for kicking, punching and stabbing Mr Gunasekaran in the early hours of Feb 13, 2012. Jamsari escaped caning because of his age.

Justice Chan Seng Onn said surveillance camera footage of the fight showed that he was "clearly the principal aggressor" in what appeared to be an act of revenge. The judge noted that he "viciously and mercilessly" stabbed the unarmed victim, who never retaliated.

Although defence counsel Mohamed Muzammil Mohamed said his client was drunk, the judge said that the attack was deliberate and that Jamsari's kicks did not miss their mark.

Jamsari, who had been in and out of jail mostly for drug offences, was last released in 2011.

When he saw Mr Gunasekaran at the coffee shop some months later, he became enraged because he suspected that the victim had complained to prison officers about him.

Despite Mr Gunasekaran's denials, Jamsari started assaulting him. Two of the victim's drinking buddies, Terrence Goh and Redzuan Pupon, joined in.

A third, Kung Kwai Cheong, took a knife from his bag and passed it to Jamsari, who stabbed Mr Gunasekaran's face, neck and chest with it.

Jamsari was acquainted with the trio - Goh through prison and the other two from coffee shops in Geylang. The victim was found at 2.20am by police officers on patrol. He died in hospital hours later.

Last year, Goh and Redzuan were each jailed 15 months for causing hurt, while Kung was jailed four years for abetting in causing hurt with a dangerous weapon.

selinal@sph.com.sg

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Greater clarity needed on legality of surrogacy in S’pore: Lawyers

TODAY
14 Aug 2014
Laura Elizabeth Philomin

With the subject giving rise to many issues, Govt is going slow on deciding whether to legalise

SINGAPORE — The recent surrogacy controversy in Thailand involving an Australian couple and their Down syndrome son has thrown the spotlight on international commercial surrogacy and its myriad legal, ethical and social issues, such as the enforceability of surrogacy contracts and parental responsibility for the child.

As in several other countries, the legality of surrogacy remains a grey area in Singapore. One agency here is known to provide surrogacy services — matching Singapore parents to overseas surrogate mothers — even though the Ministry of Health prohibits licensed healthcare institutions from providing assisted reproduction services to carry out surrogacy.

Yesterday, Thailand’s military government gave preliminary approval for a draft law to make commercial surrogacy a criminal offence, following a spate of dramatic surrogacy scandals in the past two weeks.

Family law practitioners whom TODAY spoke to felt there was a need for greater clarity, though they were divided over whether commercial surrogacy should be regulated, with some arguing that such a move would allow issues related to the matter to be handled openly.

Ms Ellen Lee, Member of Parliament (MP) for Sembawang GRC, said the Government is right to go slow on the subject, as it comes with a host of issues, such as the exploitation of surrogate mothers who come from poor backgrounds, the idea of “buying a child”, surrogacy for gay couples, to the potential backlash from various religious and social groups.

“The Government wants to tread very carefully and achieve a balance — in the sense that while we will not spearhead anything without knowing what the norms and trends will be ... we will also not actively legalise or outlaw it,” said Ms Lee, who is also a family law consultant at Ramdas & Wong.

Loopholes in the law make it unclear whether it is legal for Singaporean couples to conceive a child through surrogacy performed overseas and whether it is legal to run surrogacy agencies here, family lawyers said.

Amid the grey areas in the legal framework here, Mr Michael Ng has run his agency, Asian Surrogates, in Singapore since 2006 to serve not only domestic clients, but also those from around the region.

Family lawyer Rajan Chettiar said while Singapore might not be ready to promote surrogacy locally, the Government should look into laws that will safeguard and protect couples who are seeking surrogacy services overseas.

“We should have laws in place to protect not only the parents or couple, but also the child’s interest,” he said.

Mr Chettiar added that tackling the controversial issues surrounding surrogacy will require the cooperation of other countries to draft international agreements that can ensure the protection of surrogate mothers and the couples involved in the process, to prevent a repeat of the surrogacy scandal in Thailand, where a young surrogate mother had given birth to an Australian couple’s twins — a boy and a girl — in December. She said the couple took only the girl and left the boy with her after discovering that he had Down syndrome. The couple have since claimed that the Thai woman had demanded to keep the boy.

Dr Chia Shi-Lu, chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee (Health), agreed that it might be worth considering some form of legislation on surrogacy.

 “The problem is that even if you don’t do it here, Singaporeans or people living in Singapore could do it overseas. The world is very small. So, are we doing right by forcing people to do this overseas when it might be better controlled if you allow it in your own country?” said Dr Chia, who is also an MP for Tanjong Pagar GRC.

However, family lawyer Koh Tien Hua from Harry Elias Partnership questioned whether introducing regulations here will help, since the surrogacy process and surrogate mothers, who are the potential victims, are outside Singapore’s jurisdiction.

For Ms Devi Haridas of Sim Law Practice, surrogacy is a very personal and moral issue, and she is of the view that it should not be regulated. “My worry is, if it’s legalised, those who can give birth will take the shortcut and say, ‘Let someone else give birth for me’,” the lawyer said.

lauraphilomin@mediacorp.com.sg

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