June 26, 2017

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by Adrian Tan

A $100,000 fine and five years in jail.

That’s the maximum penalty five former ST Marine executives are looking at if they are found guilty.

In case you didn’t know, a couple of them are facing charges of falsifying entries for entertainment expenses to cover up for corrupt payments. At the same time, four other former executives were charged related to the granting of shop-repair contracts. The amount from (just) one of them amounted to $556,174.

I wonder what it’s like at the ST Marine offices here and elsewhere. How do the people there go about their work knowing that their former colleagues and managers might just be going to prison soon? I won’t be surprised if their office is as bustling as a graveyard, with morale at funereal level.

Are its sales people entertaining less to keep themselves off the radar even if they really need to do more wining-and-dining for business purposes? Even so, the claims process has probably been tightened up so much so that claim documents and receipts have to go through two X-ray machines – with photographic evidence attached.

By the way, ST Marine is a leading provider of turnkey shipbuilding services for both naval and commercial vessels. It is a subsidiary of ST Engineering, a listed company with a market capitalisation of about $10 billion.

After such publicity over the court case, what will its customers think? Would the credibility and integrity of middle ranked workers and lower come into question because their erstwhile bosses are now in court? If top management is getting away with hundreds of thousands, nobody would bat an eyelid if a few hundred dollars go missing.

Did I mention that ST Marine has six positions open now? These are in addition to the ones made vacant due to arrests. Would you want to join them now?

Companies with weaker financial strength might have had to file for bankruptcy as an exit strategy. Given that ST Marine raked in $280 million in revenue in just the first quarter of this year, I’m sure it has plenty of resources to correct things and put in place new procedures. Directors will dust off the dirt and carry on. But for the employees, it’s going to be a major road bump in their career journey – unless of course, they stayed on.

I know a guy who joined Citiraya after the scam that involved the diversion of rejected microprocessor chips sent to Citiraya to black markets in Hong Kong and Taiwan. He went in as a fixer to clean up the mess created by his predecessors. Even so, he had to take pains to explain his employment circumstances clearly and carefully to potential employers after that. Imagine how hard it would be if he were with Citiraya during the scam.

Scandals like these linger in memory. Citiraya is still mentioned on the landing page of the CPIB website, although the new recent cases might push it out of limelight.

Exactly what tipped off the CPIB to the ST Marine case is not clear. A whistle blower in the company? According to The Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE) 2014 report, tip-offs are reliably and, by far, the most common detection method and employees accounted for nearly half of all tips that led to the discovery of fraud.

But 45 per cent of the global respondents to EY’s 2014 global fraud survey do not have a whistleblowing hotline, according to a report in BT last week. Quite a few large Singapore companies, such as Singapore Press Holdings and Singapore Management University, have formal and structured whistle blowing policies in place. But if your company has one, will you use it? Too many scenarios will be playing out in the employee’s head. Should I be doing this? I might cause someone to lose his job. What about his family members? What if I’m wrong? Worse, what if my whistle blowing goes directly to the person I’m blowing the whistle on?

Eventually, the call button never gets pressed, the email never get sent and the status quo continues.

A paralegal in French drug maker Sanofi found out the cost of whistle-blowing last year. She was fired after protesting an alleged kickback scheme to increase US sales of its insulin medicines. Businesses don’t like whistle blowers, especially if their talk leads to hefty regulatory fines.

In Singapore, the only legal protection whistleblowers have is the Prevention of Corruption Act which guards the whistleblowers’ anonymity, although companies such as SPH have safeguards to prohibit discrimination, retaliation or harassment of any kind against a whistleblower who submits a complaint or report in good faith. But the level of protection is pretty minimal as the law still requires full disclosure of the informer should the court believe “that the informer willfully made in his complaint a material statement which he knew or believed to be false or did not believe to be true, or if in any other proceeding the court is of the opinion that justice cannot be fully done between the parties thereto without the discovery of the informer”. So if you blow the whistle on someone or your company, you’d better be 100 per cent sure of your facts.

In comparison, other countries such as the United Kingdom offer more protection for whistleblowers. An amendment in 2013 to the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill offers additional protection for whistle blowers not just from employers, but also bullying or harassment by co-workers.

Anyone would be hard pressed to find a local case study. That isn’t surprising. A positive outcome of whistleblowing is that problems are nipped in the bud. It doesn’t get into the media and things can be sorted out internally. Showcasing this to the world for educational purposes doesn’t make PR sense.

So what is a principled employee to do? Remember how you were taught as a child to bring up any suspected wrongdoings to your teachers? And how classmates would openly point to the person napping in class or who had beaten up someone? There’s less care about retribution and negative repercussions for doing the right things. The trouble comes when children grow up and become adults concerned about their own personal interests.

Acceptance of other people’s wrongdoings erodes your personal values. And when the time bomb finally explodes, like it did for ST Marine, no one who is faintly associated with them will be looked at in the same way again. Don’t let other people’s greed and power hunger derail your career journey. Because you may never be able to put it back on course.

 

Adrian is an author, speaker and recipient of 2013 HR Entrepreneur of the year. He helps companies acquire the skills necessary to recruit better talents and succeed at work. Follow him at http://adriantan.com.sg

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by Bertha Henson

That Eric Ding, the Singaporean businessman in the middle of the Lebanese linesmen bribed-with-sex case, was a soccer tipster with The New Paper from 2006 to last year, it has been reported.

This must be making TNP feel a mite uncomfortable.

Apparently Ding, who was known as the Lobang King, gave out tips on how he thought soccer matches would go. He was a free-lancer, not an employee, which he meant he was probably paid per piece of “advice’’. Now with the match-fixing charges over his head, and his supposed boast that “you could make more money in a year through match-fixing than as a referee for 10’’, a soccer bettor who has followed the TNP might be wondering if there was more to his “tips’’ than good guesswork or technical analysis.

Beyond whether a newspaper, tabloid notwithstanding, should be really giving out betting tips, is how much TNP knew of Ding’s background during all the time it had him on its panel. Doubtless, it would not be enriching alleged match-fixers if it had an inkling of what he might have been up to. In fact, it would more likely to blow the whistle on him and have a crackling good story!

So TNP terminated his contract last year – was this when it had wind of the Lebanese linesmen case which transpired last June? Or was this for another reason?

Ding hasn’t gone through the full works in the courts and TNP might well be constrained in giving out any information on the man that might prejudice his case. But it will be good to know how TNP came to have a supposed match-fixer on its panel, paying for him a job that he might well be paying others to make come true for him.

In fact, the cheek of the man!

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by Lim Weixiang

MOM officers climbing the stairs to the dormitory.
MOM officers climbing the stairs to the dormitory.
Workers in sarong after they had their work permits checked.
Workers in sarong after they had their work permits checked.
MOM officers checking the work permits of workers in the last dorm we hit.
MOM officers checking the work permits of workers in the last dorm we hit.
Worker watching TV in the 2nd dorm (approved).
Worker watching TV in the 2nd dorm (approved).
Workers looking out of a container housing (unapproved) while MOM officers interview their compatriots.
Workers looking out of a container housing (unapproved) while MOM officers interview their compatriots.
A worker being interviewed by MOM officer.
A worker being interviewed by MOM officer.
An MOM officer checking the work permits of workers in the first unapproved dorm.
An MOM officer checking the work permits of workers in the first unapproved dorm.

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Photo By Shawn Danker
Go to Changi Prison.

By Yen Feng

Lian Huizuan died because the “system” failed her.

She was a drug addict – but what killed her weren’t the drugs bought from dealers, but those dispensed by doctors. She was 27, and a mother of two.

According to ST, Lian died on March 2, 2011, due to a toxicity from drugs she was taking for depression, combined with a chronic hepatitis C infection. The former factory operator was an inmate at the Changi Women’s Prison when she was given the medication.

The matter is now being looked into by a Committee of Inquiry convened specially for it. The upshot is that hopefully, this will lead to “improvements to systems and processes”, the Singapore Prison Service said in a statement yesterday.

A spokesman was quoted in ST: “Prisons views the matter seriously. We will study the findings of the coroner and consider all recommendations made.”

What happened to Lian should shock the conscience of the public.

Consider what the State Coroner said earlier this week about the case: That the prison’s doctor and psychiatrist at the time (both from Raffles Medical Group), “should have been mindful of the victim’s pre-existing medical conditions and the effects of the medicines prescribed”, reported ST.

The nurses there had also failed to “record all dispensation of medication” into the jail’s prescription chart, and that no review was done of Lian’s health after she was hospitalised for a week in 2010.

The coroner also noted that the inmates were overseen by “a markedly small” number of medical staff over “markedly short periods of time”.

Apparently, inmates were visited by a psychiatrist only once a week, and for about four minutes on average each time.

Seriously?

TNP’s report on the same case earlier on Tuesday had more to say on Lian’s family – her father, a cabby, had told her to speak to the doctors about her medication after noticing her “slurred speech”. But apparently, she had replied saying there was no point because the doctors wouldn’t have believed her.

That Lian was a young mother hooked on drugs probably did not win her much sympathy in prison – perhaps not even from the public, or from the rest of her family members when she was alive.

But she was ill, physically and emotionally, and the people most able to help her – the “system” designed to protect even those cast out by society – failed her disgracefully.

A formal inquiry into her death is a start to make amends. What changes the Prison Service will implement to safeguard the lives of future inmates should be necessary and urgent – though, it will probably make little difference to Lian’s children and surviving family.

They deserve more – a sincere, heartfelt apology at least, and some financial help maybe. Not some pithy statement from the authorities about how the “system” can be improved.

Photo By Shawn Danker
Singapore State Courts building.

by Yen Feng

Going by what the prosecution’s third witness had to say in the City Harvest trial yesterday, there seemed to be little doubt “the church” had significant control over Xtron Productions – the company that managed Sun Ho’s music career and one of several firms currently implicated in the multi-million graft case.

In fact it appeared Mr Koh Siow Ngea had very limited knowledge of what was going on at all in the company – though he has been its director since 2008.

For example, it was “the church” that decided Xtron would invest and issue bonds – not him, he told the court yesterday, according to media reports.

Mr Koh also said it was “the church” that appointed Xtron directors (including him), and that it was also “the church” that decided Xtron would buy a property meant to be rented back to the church for ministry work.

Put simply, the prosecution is trying to show that Mr Koh as director of Xtron was more or less a figurehead in this whole affair – that the company had little meaningful fiduciary duty except to further the interests of the church, as directed by the church leaders. It should be noted that Mr Koh was formerly a board member of the church and is also the brother-in-law of one of the accused, Mr Chew Eng Han (also a former board member and one of Kong’s most trusted aides).

Xtron was set up in 2003 – the same year the church was very publicly accused by a member of using church funds to finance Sun Ho’s career. Before Mr Koh became its director in 2008, past directors include Mr Chew, Mr John Lam (another former church board member), and Mr Wahju Hanafi. Two of Mr Hanafi’s companies are also implicated in the case.

Mr Koh is the prosecution’s third witness, after Ms Angie Koh and Ms Lai Baoting, who both used to handle church accounts, including those relating to Xtron.

What will showing all these connections prove? And will it be enough for the prosecution to make its case?

There’s one more day before the first leg of the trial is expected to end tomorrow. Stay tuned.

by Daniel Yap

As news reports pour in about the launch of the Personal Data Protection Commission (PDPC), the shadow of change looms over how this major shift in data and privacy legislation will impact businesses and individuals (BT, Small firms brace for Call Me Never on Jan 2, May 16).

The obvious benefits to consumers is plain – no more calls, SMSes, messages or faxes if you register your number on the list. Those who have been bothered by unsolicited marketing (“Good-morning-sir, I’m-calling-from-ABC-Company-and-I-would-like-to-tell-you-more-about-our-credit-card…”) for years now will be able to rid themselves of such nuisances, or at least have the law on their side when reporting abuse, in the form of a fine for unsolicited calls to registered Do-Not-Call (DNC) numbers.

The Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA) also comes into full force come July 2 next year, with up to a $1 million fine for those who fail to collect, store and use data according to data protection laws passed at the start of this year.

ST reported (Unsolicited Calls? Opt out via registry, May 16) that the PDPA also applies to overseas companies, but did not say how breaches by foreign entities would be dealt with. Many Singaporeans already receive unsolicited calls from foreign numbers peddling local products and services.

But the real big question is how this will affect marketing in Singapore. BT’s report shed light on the impact of a DNC registry in the United States, where some 70-80 per cent of households have indicated that they do not wish to be called. Businesses in the US have come to terms with the new equilibrium, with some even finding that cold calls become more effective in a post-DNC market.

Marketers may be forced to rely on less-regulated channels such as email or flyers, or come up with creative solutions to more effectively get the attention of consumers.

The biggest worry for companies is cost, and the fact that smaller telemarketing companies may have their business models severely affected. Currently, exact costs of compliance will be hard to estimate, but a company with a database of 5,000 numbers will have to check it monthly over the course of a year, an undertaking that could cost some $1,200 or more. Staff would also have to spend more time cleaning up and administering their contact lists.

The setup fee to use the DNC registry is $30, and the first 350 numbers checked each year are free. Checks in excess of 350 numbers a year will cost from 1 to 3 cents per number, with higher volumes at cheaper rates.

Smaller telemarketing firms currently using lists of dubious origin may be hit by the higher costs of obtaining data from legitimate sources and running that data through the DNC registry. Costs may be passed on to clients and then on again to consumers.

Whatever the final results, places like the US, Australia and the European Union have made the switch to a DNC and personal data protection laws with few bumps, and it bodes well for most consumers and businesses that treat their databases with respect. It is to be expected that some moaning and groaning will be heard from various corners, especially from businesses, but the experience of other nations bodes well for an eventual “new normal”.

by Bertha Henson

Court cases are so interesting. You can ask any question you want, including hypothetical ones. So many things in the realm of possibilities but what’s the probability? Like the Shane Todd case. There was no “forced entry’’ into the apartment in which he had hanged himself. But someone could have a key no? There was no upturned furniture et cetera to indicate a struggle. But someone could have set it right later no? And he could have been killed elsewhere and made to look like he committed suicide no?

Sheesh. Clearly, conspiracy theories don’t just exist online. Anyway, the Shane Todd case is reading like a mystery novel with no mystery as one by one witnesses come forward to talk about that disc (apparently a powerpoint presentation that sort of deleted itself as a matter of course) and whether he could really have killed himself without help. Was that black strap strong enough, how did he push himself off the chair and why his feet were on the ground – the strap stretched) All interesting questions, although pretty hard for the family to have to sit through.

The case still has some more days to go, so it’s best not to pre-judge matters. But, really, if hypothetical questions are all that the family has to make a case of murder, regardless of suicide notes, suicide sites he trawled etc, then imagine what sort of time it would take for the State to establish that any death is a suicide, especially given that there’s a suicide a day in Singapore. This is not to make light of any family’s grief, especially the Todds’. A coroners’ case gives a family “closure’’ since they can ask questions that have been nagging them.

The most useful thing, however, to emerge from the case so far are the police protocols that govern such investigations – the steps that are taken when they come across unnatural deaths. Like whether a hanging body should be taken down and whether the scene should be kept pristine for forensic scientists to comb through. Doubtless, CSI types will argue on the merits or demerits of some procedures and whether some things should be modified.

Transparency is always good.

by Bertha Henson

When a kindergarten puts up a notice telling parents about an unsuccessful “child-grabbing’’ incident, you can bet you are starting a mild panic. And so it was when a Hougang PCF kindergarten posted a notice outside its premises warning parents about a man described as, get this, “normal looking’’ but with a terribly abnormal “white plastic object tied around his neck’’.

The PCF announcement made the rounds on social media with parents warning each other about such a lurking predator. That it came from an established institution rather than one of those anonymous pranksters or well-meaning but uninformed do-gooders lent credibility.

What happened then? The police came out to say in the middle of yesterday that the message should not be circulated as it can generate unnecessary public alarm, causing fear and panic in the community. Transmitting false messages is an offence under the Telecommunications Act. If this is done with intent to cause fear and alarm, or to incite offences against a group, it would also be an offence under the Penal Code. Offenders may be punished with a jail term for up to three years, fined or both.

Phew! That’s heavy…

Thing is, was this a false alarm or a prank or was there truly such an incident?

The PCF notice was quite specific about what happened including the time and place of incident which was reported by the parent who claimed to have held on to the child as the supposed “grab’’ was made.

Were the police called? Because the police statement said they were informed about three hours after the incident was supposed to have taken place – about a 50-something said to be interacting with children in a neighbouring block. And they are looking to pick up the “suspect’’. Is the result of the “panic’’ or the original incident?

Well they did pick up someone. A 43 year old who was apparently merely trying to hold the child’s hand and seemed to have been misconstrued by the suspicious mother. You know the sort, the neighbourhood eccentric. Seems CCTV footage showed it all.

More important is whether the public should be warned if a (real) predator lurks in the neighbourhood. Most times, it is only when a case comes up in court that people realise that there had been, say, a serial molestor in the neighbourhood. What if a member of the public decided to make a “police report’’ public in the interest of warning others? The police would probably say that such a matter was best left in their hands, including whether the neighbourhood should be notified. Plus, jumping the gun might well hinder investigations and alert the predator.

Well, you can’t blame parents for getting worked up. And the Hougang kindergarten operator probably thought it was doing the right thing. Let’s hope that operator doesn’t get the book thrown at them.

by Bertha Henson

If anyone should be hit with a contempt of court charge, it would be the parents of the late Shane Todd, the American engineer found hanged in his home here last June.

ST did the responsible thing by reporting only that the parents wanted a US congressional hearing because they feared that US security could have been “compromised’’. But the Todds went much, much further in interviews with foreign media.

Mrs Mary Todd told Reuters: “We believe China and Singapore are illegally transferring technology, our technology, from the United States. We believe it’s so high up that if our son was murdered, the implications for Singapore and China are so extreme that they will go to any lengths to make it look like suicide.”

Sigh. Perhaps it is the American way of exercising freedom of speech but this is rather pre-judging the case before the coroner’s inquiry that will start next week. Twelve days have been set aside – an extremely long time. And 63 witnesses lined up although not all will be called to testify. That’s also when the Todds and their lawyers can raise questions to their hearts content. The thing is, they have already decided what the verdict should be with Mrs Todd saying: “If they come out with a verdict of suicide, that’s too bad for Singapore. This is not going to go away. Our government, our FBI, has the proof. We have it.”

Well, well, good on you and your FBI! But can you wait for the Singapore court to sit?

By Yen Feng

Next week, some light may finally be shed on the mysterious death of American Shane Todd, who was found dead in his flat last year.

The coroner’s inquiry is expected to start next week, from May 13 to 28, with more than 50 witnesses – though, not all may provide testimony in court.

According to the family’s lawyer, Mr Todd’s parents arrived in Singapore yesterday, reported ZB. The rest of the family, including Mr Todd’s three brothers, is expected to land sometime this week.

Police believed that the engineer, who was 32 years old, had hung himself but this theory has come under scrutiny after various media reports cast doubt on the circumstances leading to his death. In particular, his work with the Institute of Micro Electronics (IME) – part of the A*STAR – involving a device for the Chinese telecom giant Huawei is thought to be related to the case.

Mr Todd’s death has made waves not just locally but especially in the United States. Politicians on both sides have vowed to find the truth. Pieces of the puzzle filled in by the coroner’s report next week, hopefully, will give us all a clearer picture of what really happened.