Archive | June, 2012

When The Children Do Not Pay Up

30 Jun

SINGAPORE: After telling a nursing home staff he was moving to Johor and would be uncontactable thereafter, the man left his father at the home in north-eastern Singapore. Three months on, six months’ worth of bills are left unpaid.

Despite a relatively healthy economy and the rising demand for beds, some nursing homes have seen their levels of bad debt creep up with more families defaulting on payment of their elderly relatives’ fees.

Of eight operators contacted by TODAY, three said they had seen bad debt cases rise in the past year – one by over 50 per cent.

A fourth has observed bad debt cases rising from about 3 per cent five years ago to about 15 per cent now. The remaining three operators have no bad debt cases, or have experienced no change in numbers.

The issue of nursing homes dealing with errant relatives came under the spotlight last week when it was reported that 85-year-old Singaporean Lee Sai Cheng had been left in a Malaysian nursing home by her son, who owed RM6,000 (S$2,400) in arrears.

Mdm Lee’s fees were paid for by a Singaporean Good Samaritan called Mr Ang, who sent a friend to the home last week and handed the cash to Comfort Ville Home, its owner Goh Liang Hui told this newspaper yesterday over the phone.

She was moved back to Singapore on Wednesday, escorted by her daughter and two grandchildren, as well as officials from Singapore’s Foreign Affairs and Community Development, Youth and Sports ministries, he said.

Nursing homes here say the loss of employment, feuding or dysfunctional families and – for families of newly-admitted patients – the struggle with a fresh financial burden are common reasons for payment defaults.

As the population ages, some families may also “underestimate the length of stay” at the homes, said Mr Dennis Tan, Chief Executive Officer of 350-bed Ling Kwang Home for Senior Citizens. “They may have checked their parents in while they were still working and face difficulty paying the bill after they retire.”

The voluntary welfare organisation (VWO)-run Ling Kwang Home has seen its bad debt cases – which it defines as fees unpaid for more than six months – more than double from 2010 to last year, with the dollar amount increasing by 90 per cent.

Bad debt cases have risen by “10 to 20 per cent” for Ju Eng Home for Senior Citizens, said its volunteer chairman Lawrence Ang.

The 334-bed home had about S$50,000 of accumulated bad debts last year and Mr Ang said it relies on Government subsidies and donations in cash and in-kind from religious groups, schools and corporations to make up for the loss. “The main reason is because the home targets the very poor,” he said.

Nine in 10 patients at VWO homes are referred by the Agency for Integrated Care and the bulk of them receive Government subsidies ranging from 10 to 75 per cent. The vast majority of residents in private homes are unsubsidised.

It is not uncommon for tempers to flare or relatives to avoid calls and ignore email when contacted for payment, said the nursing homes. The task is even tougher when claiming fees from some relatives whose elderly have died, said Ms Irene Ong, Managing Director of Serene and Irene nursing homes.

The most drastic action Ms Ong has had to take was to refuse re-admission to a resident – whose family had not paid for 10 months – after his hospital stay.

Then, there are cases of abandonment. The Sunlove and Surya homes, which cater to the intellectually infirm, had 12 cases last year, up from 10 in 2010.

The homes usually lodge police reports for abandoned residents in order to secure Public Assistance to help pay for their fees, said Chairman Wee Lin. Of the 515 residents in both homes, 170 are on Public Assistance.

Even for those not abandoned, visits from family can be rare. The homes encourage families to take their relatives home during Chinese New Year and this year, one in four did so. But some families ended up checking their relatives into a commercial home or a hotel, said Mr Wee.

Ju Eng Home’s Mr Ang said it encountered a case three months ago of a family leaving their elderly female relative at the lobby of the home. The home could not take in the old lady as it did not have her medical report so they called the police, he said.

None of the homes interviewed said they have leveraged on the Maintenance of Parents Act since it was strengthened last March.

According to a spokesperson from the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports, none of the three applications made by nursing homes to the tribunal between 2009 to last year were made after the Act was amended.

Among other things, the Act now allows the Commissioner and the Tribunal for the Maintenance of Parents the power to track down the addresses and incomes of errant children.

The homes – often already resource-strapped – cited the paperwork hassle, the unwillingness of most elderly to take action against their offspring and the uncertainty of whether fees could be successfully recouped as reasons.

With several nursing home operators expanding across the Causeway, how much of a tangle could they find themselves in, should bad debt or abandonment cases arise?

ECON Healthcare Group, which operates eight homes here and will open a medicare centre in Taman Perling later this year, said it currently conducts financial counselling prior to admission, applies for Government subsidies for patients where possible and works out “achievable payment arrangements with relatives if their financial situation deteriorates”.

“For more complicated and extreme cases, we will work with the relevant government agencies or social work groups to assist the patient and his family,” said a spokesperson.

For LC Nursing Home owner Tony Chia, his new Johor branch – where rates are up to 60 per cent lower – is an option for clients in Singapore who run into arrears. He takes bad debt cases in his stride, adopting a social enterprise model.

For cases of deliberate cheating, where the relative has no Singapore address or phone number and writes a bad cheque, making a police report is an option, said Dr Chia.

“I can sue but I don’t like to do it. I’d rather suffer a loss and help those who are genuine.”

Malaysian operator Comfort Ville’s Mr Goh said after what happened with Mdm Lee, he now requires a two-month deposit, as well as the addresses and contact numbers of children from his Singaporean residents.

For all the bad hats that nursing home operators have encountered, however, all agreed that they are by far the minority.

“By and large, Singaporeans are responsible,” said Dr Chia. –

Channel News Asia

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PM Lee Sends His Condolences To Yong Nyuk Lin’s Family

30 Jun

SINGAPORE: Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has sent his condolences to the family of the late Yong Nyuk Lin.

Mr Lee recounted Mr Yong’s contributions as Minister for Education, Health and Communications before he stepped down in 1976.

Mr Yong served as Education Minister in the first Cabinet after Singapore attained self-government in 1959.

He embarked on a major programme to expand capacity in schools, build new schools and train more teachers.

He introduced upper secondary classes in Chinese schools, which is equivalent to pre-university classes in English schools, and provided free tuition for Singaporean Malays.

Bursaries and scholarships were introduced to encourage students to study Mathematics and Science, and master skills that were needed by the young country.

Mr Lee said the enormous expansion of education opportunities then laid the foundation for Singapore’s subsequent success.

When Mr Yong took over as Health Minister in 1963, he restructured the public healthcare system and expanded healthcare services by building more hospitals and outpatient facilities.

He improved children’s health through an effective immunisation campaign, and also introduced school dental clinics and regular medical checkups.

Mr Lee said Mr Yong was one of the Singapore ministers who signed the Separation Agreement in 1965, when Singapore separated from Malaysia.

As the first Communications Minister in 1968, Mr Yong consolidated the bus industry for greater efficiency, and created the Singapore Bus Service in 1973.

To reduce traffic congestion, he took the first steps to control the car population, implementing the Area Licensing Scheme, the precursor to today’s Electronic Road Pricing system.

Mr Lee said although the scheme was controversial at that time, it was effective in controlling traffic congestion and remains a successful case study for other cities today.

Mr Yong relinquished his Communications portfolio in 1975 and remained a minister without portfolio while serving as High Commissioner to Britain until 1976, when he stepped down from the Cabinet.

Mr Yong was later appointed as a member of the Presidential Council for Minority Rights, where he helped to foster closer inter-ethnic ties and racial harmony.

Mr Lee said Mr Yong’s many contributions will long be remembered.

He had answered the nation’s call at a critical time, and helped to lay the foundations for Singapore’s success.

Mr Lee said his passing is a deep loss to all.

-CNA/ac

Channel News Asia

More Checks And Balances Not The Solution: Fraud Expert

30 Jun

SINGAPORE: Despite the latest high profile case involving the alleged misuse of S$24 million by senior members of City Harvest Church, more checks and balances are not the solution, says a fraud expert. Instead, the public needs to be more vigilant and report wrongdoings.

The City Harvest case is the biggest financial scandal involving a registered charity in Singapore to date.

S$24 million from the church’s building fund was allegedly invested in two companies.

The prosecutors said that these investments were “sham transactions”, and the money was instead used to fund Sun Ho’s music career – an unauthorised use of the fund.

The prosecution said the group misappropriated another S$26.6 million of the church’s funds to cover their tracks.

The term “round-tripping” introduced in court papers, also referred to as “lapping”, can be used for fraud, said fraud expert Peter Coleman, who is the head of forensic services at Deloitte (Singapore & Southeast Asia).

He said: “Fraud always involves money. So the money has to be moved from point A to point B. It has to be transferred from one bank account to another bank account, one journal to another journal. It takes an overt act of a human being to do that. If the funds are being used other than for the direct benefit of the organisation itself, if the funds are being used for the benefit of the management committee on a personal level, that’s never going to be okay.”

Many fraud cases can go on for years without detection. Mr Coleman said non-profit organisations go through less vigorous auditing processes.

He said: “We don’t want to think of them as not being honest, so therefore we give them a fair amount of leeway. And it would be a difficult job and it would be costly to require not-for-profit organisations to go through the same rigorous and onerous audit procedure that a public company has to go through. Because then you’re taking the funds that have been raised to benefit the members or the beneficiaries of the fund, to pay for auditors.

“And then it becomes more difficult, because it gets into this cycle that, I’m paying a lot for the administration of this organisation. If only 60 per cent of my dollar is going to serve the people or beneficiaries of this fund, I’ll give my money to a different organisation.”

Still, Mr Coleman does not believe more regulation is needed, and said the high profile nature of the recent cases has resulted in more scrutiny and publicity on the governance of charities. The numbers of such cases though, are small.

“There are hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of not-for-profits in Singapore who never cause any problems at all. They are run by decent, honest, hardworking people who have their heart in the right place.

“And the difficulty is, it’s like using a sledgehammer to crack a cashew nut. If you are going to apply the standards that these high profile cases would have required to keep them under control, to every not-for-profit, then you will lose 80 per cent of them,” said Mr Coleman.

He added that the public needs to be more vigilant, and be more comfortable with whistle-blowing – something he said, is increasingly prevalent in Singapore.

-CNA/ac

Channel News Asia

Lawyer Charged With Paying Underage Girl For Sex

30 Jun

SINGAPORE: A former deputy public prosecutor, who has gone into private practice, was charged on Friday with paying an underage girl for sex.

59-year-old Spencer Gwee Hak Theng was charged with one count of paying the 16-year-old girl for her sexual services.

Gwee, who runs Spencer Gwee & Co at Beach Road, allegedly paid the girl S$300 for sex at Four Chain View Hotel at Geylang on July 19 last year.

The prosecution called for Gwee’s passport to be surrendered.

But Gwee objected, saying he needed to travel to Hong Kong and Malaysia for business.

Gwee’s lawyer, Mr Lawrence Ang Boon Kong, told the court that Gwee was not a “flight risk” as he has assets in Singapore.

Gwee is out on a S$10,000 bail. He will be back in court on July 27.

If convicted, he could be jailed up to seven years and fined.

– CNA/ck

Channel News Asia

Yong Nyuk Lin, Member Of Singapore’s First Cabinet, Dies

30 Jun

SINGAPORE: Mr Yong Nyuk Lin, a member of Singapore’s first Cabinet, has died. He was 94.

The late Mr Yong was the brother-in-law of former Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew’s late wife, Madam Kwa Geok Choo.

Born in Negeri Sembilan, Malaysia, Mr Yong stood for elections in 1959 and became a Member of Parliament in Geylang West.

He served as a minister from 1959 to 1976. His portfolios included Education, Health and Communications.

He helped to shape modern Singapore by carrying out measures to increase access to education, establish sustainable population growth, improve public transport and reduce traffic congestion.

The late Mr Yong was the general manager of Overseas Assurance Company when he resigned to stand for elections in 1959.

He became a Member of Parliament in Geylang West.

That year as Education Minister, Mr Yong launched a Chinese literacy drive, using Mandarin as a common language of all Chinese dialect group.

He also started adult education classes to teach Malay.

In addition, Mr Yong doubled the intake of students in schools, converting each school into two by providing morning and afternoon sessions.

He ran a crash programme to train the teachers needed and promoted many of the senior teachers to principals, headmasters and headmistresses.

In 1963, he moved to the Health Ministry.

His ministry improved public cleanliness by implementing a hawkers’ code to raise hygiene standards, banning cattle from built-up areas and reorganising refuse collection.

In 1966, the Population and Family Planning Board was formed to slash Singapore’s unsustainably high rate of 29 births per thousand.

It offered advice and subsidised contraceptives to all eligible married women.

Mr Yong was transferred to the new Ministry of Communications in 1968.

Among the projects the department handled during his tenure were the creation of Singapore Airlines and the Singapore Telecommunications Authority, the expansion of civil aviation and Singapore’s container port facilities, and early studies of the feasibility of the MRT.

But much of his energies were devoted to traffic and public transport.

In order to reduce traffic and congestion, he raised the cost of car registration by 25 per cent, encouraged car-pooling, acted to suppress the pirate taxi trade, and introduced school buses and bus lanes.

The biggest anti-congestion measure he implemented, which drew international attention on its launch in mid-1975, was the Area Licensing Scheme (ALS) – the forerunner of the Electronic Road Pricing system (ERP).

Mr Yong received the Order of Nila Utama on National Day in 1990 for his contributions prior to Singapore’s merger with and then separation from Malaysia.

– CNA/cc/al

Channel News Asia

More Discounts For Off-Peak Travel On SMRT

30 Jun

SINGAPORE – More discounts and incentives have been offered to entice train commuters to switch to off-peak travel while easing congestion on the rail network.

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) will also roll out a three-month trial to encourage commuters to travel at less busy periods using train loading information. Meanwhile, the authorities will also look at enhancing the accessibility of train stations built in the ’80s, especially those that are more heavily utilised.

The initiatives were announced yesterday by Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew during a visit to Clementi MRT Station and Bus Interchange.

From August 6, commuters will get 50 cents off their fares under SMRT’s Early Travel Discount Scheme – up from the current 30 cents – if they end their journey before 7.45am on weekdays at stations in the city area.

The discount was increased from 10 cents to 30 cents in October last year, which resulted in “about 3 to 4 per cent” of commuters shifting their travel time out of the peak hour.

The scheme is currently applicable at nine stations including Outram, Tanjong Pagar and City Hall. The changes in August will see five new stations on the Circle Line – such as Esplanade, Marina Bay and Bras Basah – included in the discount scheme.

Mr Lui hopes this would encourage “another 3 to 4 per cent” of commuters to move their journeys out of the morning peak.

When asked if North East Line operator SBS Transit would introduce similar incentives, its spokesperson said passenger capacity “is still within manageable limits”. She added: “We will, however, continue to monitor travel demand and if there is a need, we will consider introducing incentives to alter travel patterns.”

From July 19, the LTA will also conduct three-month train loading trials at Boon Keng, Bukit Batok, Clementi, Eunos, Toa Payoh, Bishan and Serangoon stations. Posters displaying different gradient colours to represent the levels of train loading at every 15-minute interval on weekday mornings will be put up at these stations.

Meanwhile, the Incentives for Singapore’s Commuters study, launched earlier this year, will get a longer run and the maximum cash prize doubled to S$200. The study, which has attracted close to 17,000 participants, has been able to shift 10 per cent of participants’ weekday morning peak period trips to off-peak period travel.

The LTA hopes the study, which concludes at the end of next year, can eventually include 60,000 commuters.

Mr Lui said the programme has “some promise” and feels “it is worthwhile to study the behaviour of commuters on a larger scale to see whether the results we have obtained bear out over a larger group of commuters”. Sumita Sreedharan

Today Online

Lawyer Charged With Paying Underaged Girl For Sex

30 Jun

SINGAPORE – A lawyer, who owns a law firm, was charged today with paying an underage Vietnamese girl S$300 for sex.

59-year-old Spencer Gwee Hak Theng was charged with one count of paying the 17-year-old girl for her sexual services.

Gwee, who runs Spencer Gwee & Co at Beach Road, allegedly paid her for sex at Four Chain View Hotel at 757 Geylang Road Lorong 39 on 19 July last year.

The prosecution called for Gwee’s passport to be surrendered.

But Gwee took issue with this, and said that he needed to travel to Hong Kong and Malaysia for business.

Gwee’s lawyer, Mr Lawrence Ang Boon Kong, also said that his client was “a Singapore citizen running his own established law firm and had assets in Singapore”.

Mr Ang added that Gwee was not a “flight risk” and was not attempting to escape prosecution.

Gwee is out on a S$10,000 bail.

He will be back in court on 27 July.

If convicted, he can be jailed up to seven years and fined. CHANNEL NEWSASIA

Today Online