Prime Minister’s Office Committee of Supply 2021 – Cuts by WP MPs and LO

Delivered in Parliament on 26 February 2021

Corruption in Singapore – Pritam Singh

Mr Chairman, 

A Straits Times article in December last year provided a snapshot into the state of corruption in Singapore today. One of its opening lines was and I quote, “many people are heedless of the corruption that exists in squeaky clean Singapore, but graft remains prevalent” unquote.

Over the last three to four years, a number of high-profile corruption revelations have come to light. In 2018, two Chinese nationals, both of whom were forklift drivers were charged for collecting multiple bribes of $1, in exchange for not delaying the loading and unloading of vehicles. Both drivers were fined and jailed between two to four months.

An equally significant case came to light this year when a brother and sister were handed jail terms close to the maximum 5-years for conspiring to secure tenders for two companies in China and receiving in excess of $2m dollars in bribes. The case was significant because a substantive part of the offence was committed outside Singapore. But because the Prevention of Corruption Act has extra-territorial effect, the message is a clear one – corruption committed by Singaporeans and Singapore corporate entities are not condoned anywhere in the world.

Yet, the remark of graft remaining prevalent in our paper of record no less, is a matter of concern. While the Government is busy determining how best to reset the economy and put Singapore ahead of the pack when the post-COVID 19 recovery begins, the core Singaporean value of a no-nonsense attitude towards corruption needs to be restated more forcefully. At stake is the reputation of the Singapore brand. In a world where competition is stiffening and strong sustained growth harder to come by for a mature economy like ours, the goodwill and confidence generated for high-quality investments by a strong emphasis against corruption through the Singapore brand cannot be understated. 

CPIB cannot afford for Singaporeans to be heedless of the corruption that exists in the country and should double-down on public education of its work. In Minister of Law’s Parliamentary speech last November, Minister spoke of a zeitgeist that is being felt worldwide – with many societies grappling with debates about inequality and the sense that the elites are bending the rules and systems to their own advantage and that structures are unfair.

Sir, to this end, it would be useful to recall some high profile cases that have been splashed across our newspapers in years passed involving people in high places – the Keppel Offshore and Marine scandal come to mind, as does the CAD raid on S-League clubs and the Football Association of Singapore which saw the arrest of a former MP allegedly involved in a half-a-million dollar donation to the Asian Football Federation.

I understand that investigations can take some time to complete, but in view of the profile of the latter two cases in particular which involved people of some status, there is a real public interest as to why these matters have not been closed.

In the public mind, an inordinate delay in investigations is commonly juxtaposed against the publication of names, images and details of individuals splashed prominently in our papers involving relatively petty amounts that constitute corruption such as the $1 bribe, and rightly so.

To address public talk of inequality or double standards, it would be important for the CPIB and the investigatory authorities to consider interim updates in view of the length of time that has elapsed since news of the investigations broke.

In the Keppel case, many remain perplexed why the authorities are taking so long to complete investigations especially in light of Keppel officials who have been anonymously fingered in publicly available US Department of Justice documents.

In Nov 2019, Keppel Offshore and Marine’s lawyer who admitted drafting contracts that were used to make bribe payments was sentenced to a year’s probation and fined USD75,000 in the US. Although a US citizen, the district judge allowed the lawyer in question to serve his probation in Singapore where he resides with his wife.

What is holding up the investigations into the Keppel matter because it does not seem fathomable that the company can admit to offences, but at the same time there is insufficient evidence to lay at the feet of senior Keppel officials thus far. Separately, when can the public anticipate a closure to the FAS matter? Finally, I call on the Government to to amend the Prevention of Corruption Act and raise the penalties against corruption.

Thank you.

SGX Sustainability reporting – Leon Perera

 Mr Chairman, the MAS-regulated Singapore stock exchange currently has a comply-and-explain policy on sustainability reporting for its listed companies, which was first announced in 2016. It presents a range of internationally accepted standards which companies are encouraged to choose and follow, but are not mandatory. 

This has resulted in inconsistencies in reporting methods, quality in data disclosure, hence rendering the reports ineffective due to its lack of comparability to other listed companies. It could also lead to greenwashing. According to an NUS study in 2019 on sustainability reporting, there are clear differences in the sustainability reporting performance among different industries.

Perhaps we could move from comply-and-explain to a mandatory regime as some other major exchanges have done. Study is needed to determine the best frameworks to align with, such as GRI, TCFD, SASB and so on, and we could also add industry-specific frameworks such as RSPO.

But more broadly, can MAS share its plans to improve SGX’s sustainability reporting policy to ensure quality and comparability of sustainability reports, and provide support for SMEs to encourage sustainability reporting?

Scams involving bank customers – Sylvia Lim

It has been heart-wrenching for us in the House to see our residents being scammed of their hard-earned monies. Many are elderly and have little avenue to earn back money lost.  As Singapore moves towards widespread adoption of digital payments, the risks are heightened.  

As the monies scammed are usually transferred from bank accounts, what role should banks play in trying to minimise the risks for vulnerable customers? 

It does seem that different banks may have varying requirements when it comes to transactional security. Therefore, I welcome the recent consultation paper by MASon a proposed Notice on Identity Verification; this will mandate the types of information Financial Institutions must use to verify the identity of an individual for non-face-to-face contact.   

I wish to follow up on a suggestion made by the former MP for Hougang Mr Png Eng Huat during last year’s COS, on offering an option of a cooling-off period for interbank transfers.  Has MAS considered this, and could it be implemented? 

On vulnerable customers, there was a Business Times article last weekend by David Hardoon, a former special advisor to the MAS.  He noted that some financial institutions were using AI and psychometrics to help predict which customers might be most susceptible to scam attacks; this would assist in developing bespoke advisories and training programmes, to help inoculate such customers from falling prey to scams.  To what extent is the MAS working with banks on this?

Finally, I would like to make an observation regarding the freezing of scammed monies in bank accounts in Singapore. In response to my PQ in January 2021, the Minister for Home Affairs said that where the suspect was not arrested, a court order was needed to return the money to victims, which process might take at least a year.  As such a delay could cause serious hardship, could the agencies and banks work on a more expedited process?

Allow Option of PIN-Enabled Bank Cards for Elderly Users – Dennis Tan Lip Fong

Mr Chairperson, there has been a concerted effort to educate and encourage all seniors to go digital. While such projects like Senior Go Digital and Hawker Go Digital are highly commendable, there must be the awareness of the gap between the availability of technology and the people using it.

Contactless payments through credit and debit cards have recently become the norm in Singapore at retail merchants and even in buses and trains since 2019.

Until recently, NETS relies on a PIN for verification since its inception in 1985. Recently though, NETS have recently pushed out their new contactless card with similar operating principles for contactless cards as international scheme debit cards.

This has led to some worries among the elderly. While contactless payment has made payments easy, senior citizens are more vulnerable to scams. The spike in bank account, debit, and credit card scams in recent years have also made the elderly concerned over losing their hard-earned money in these scams.

One of my elderly residents was told by DBS that all new cards will be contactless, and they would not allow any card requiring PIN for all transactions. He contrasted DBS’ services with OCBC which he said provided a debit card which is digitally rendered non-operative by default unless so activated by the customer.

Mr Chairperson, I understand that Singapore uses a Chip and Signature system in verifying payments through debit and credit payments. Many European countries, on the other hand, have implemented a Chip and PIN authentication system. Such a system may be a good guard against attempts at fraudulent payment scams targeted at debit and credit cards. indeed we have seen an increase of such cases in the recent 1-2 years and many against our senior citizens.

I would like to urge MAS to explore having a Chip & PIN debit card, or a PIN-only NETS-enabled ATM bank card, only meant for domestic payments that are issued to senior citizens. Such cards can provide an added layer of defence to senior citizens against any fraud or scams