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Ms Isabella Loh remains silent over alleged conflict of interest

Refer to Ms Isabella Loh’s alleged conflict of interest at Singapore Environment Council (SEC) – Read here for background

In response to the allegation upon Ms Loh over her alleged conflict of interest in a research, local media outlets have scrambled to seek the response from the institutions involved in the research project.

In short to sum up what has been written in the previous post, Ms Isabella Loh is being alleged to have a conflict of interest by sitting on the committee of a research project as chairman where she gain financially and at the same time, influencing SEC, a charity organisation to be part of the research project in the name of the charity organisation’s Chairman.

Before we go into how amateurish, the mainstream media is in covering the story and how the responses do not answer the allegations. We will first show the response given by the various institutions to the media.

Response by Nanyang Technological University (NTU)

NTU said that its adjunct professor Isabella Loh declared “all possible conflicts of interests” to the university before her name was included in a proposal submitted to the National Research Foundation (NRF) for research funding.

NTU’s spokesman said, “NTU has submitted a bid for the open tender by Energy and Environment Research Directorate under NRF for a study on cold economy. Ms Loh, an adjunct professor at NTU, had declared all possible conflicts of interest to NTU before her name was included in the proposal,”

He added: “She is no longer an advisor to Dearman since June 2015 and is only a small shareholder of Dearman. The proposal is still under evaluation by the NRF.”

Response by Dearman Engine

A spokesman for Dearman said: “As it is publicly available information, we can confirm that Ms Loh has a small shareholding in Dearman – less than 0.5 per cent of the company. Ms Loh provided independent advisory services to Dearman for approximately six months, ending in June 2015. She currently holds no paid position with the company and is not an employee.”

Response by SEC

An SEC spokesman said that its Board has reviewed the allegations made against its chairman, and “found no conflict on interest”. She said: “SEC is not a party to the research proposal (A Feasibility Study of the Economic Viability and Environmental Benefits of Managed “Cold Economy” for Singapore) that has been submitted by NTU to the NRF.

“Ms Loh was invited by NTU to be a part of this research proposal because of her previous experience as an advisor to Dearman Engine Company. The research proposal is still under consideration by the NRF.”

Response by National Research Foundation (NRF)

NRF spokesman said, “In its proposed bid, Ms Loh, in her capacity as adjunct professor of NTU, was stated as one of the members of the NTU team. NTU also stated that it would sub-contract part of the study to Dearman, a UK-based company. We are currently in the process of evaluating the tender.”

Mainstream Media, Straits Times’s interpretation of the allegation.

“The university was responding to media queries following allegations that surfaced online this week claiming that Ms Loh did not reveal that she was an investor and advisor in Dearman, a global technology company cited in the proposal as being involved in the project.”

TOC’s response on the matter

First, mainstream media especially Straits Times is confused about the allegation. The allegation is not about Ms Loh hiding her status from NTU nor NRF but towards the board of SEC. Therefore, there was no need to seek the response from NTU, NRF or Dearman Engine. More importantly is to have Ms Loh answer the allegations herself along with the response from Commissioner of Charities.

Look at the organisation chart of the research project again.

In the chart, we can see that Ms Isabella Loh is the Chair of the research committee. Ms Loh is also the chairman of SEC, a charity organisation for the past eight years since 2008.

According to the whistleblower, Ms Loh used her position as Chairman of SEC to pressure SEC staff to participate in the research project and people are afraid to act or say anything about it.

SEC explained that it is not a party of the research project, but clearly the working committee structure on the proposal indicates that SEC is part of the project. SEC did not contest the authenticity of the document that was sent to media outlets.

Till today, Ms Loh has not addressed the claims against herself personally but instead had asked SEC to issue a statement on her behalf.

Questions that are also not answered about SEC

According to an insider, the constitution of SEC, does not allow any member of the board to benefit financially from the charity. And if you refer to the research project, the chairman is benefiting financially while also holding the position of SEC chairman.

Another question arising via this point, why is the constitution of a charity organisation that is exempted from tax not being put online for public scrutiny?

Furthermore, it is irrefutable that Isabella Loh’s husband, George Huang is the Chairman of the Advisory Committee for the same charity in which his wife is the Chairman.

There is also no maximum term that Ms Loh can take the position of chairman, means she could sit at the position as long as she wants.

Organisation chart of SEC
Organisation chart of SEC

Given that the board of SEC reports to the council, why is Leo Tan both a Member of the Council and also a Vice-Chairman? How are checks and balance put into balance?

What is the Commissioner of Charities position on these issues? TOC will be writing to the Commissioner to ask for more.