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Social service officer charged for misappropriating S$343,480 funds

A social service officer, Chia Kwang Hwee, 33, was charged with 126 counts under the Penal Code, Computer Misuse and Cybersecurity Act and the Corruption, Drug Trafficking and other Serious Crimes (Confiscation of Benefts) Act on Wednesday (3 August).

Chia was a team leader and his job scope included assessing applications for financial assistance and putting them up to his supervisor for approval, approving assistance for cases handled by other officers in his team, and case-managing families with multiple needs.

The case came to light when the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) was alerted by a ComCare beneficiary that he had not received his financial assistance payment on 14 August 2014.

The Ministry immediately conducted an investigation which led them to the finding that an officer from the Geylang Serai office could have misappropriated funds.

The management of the Social Service Office (SSO) at Geylang Serai detected suspicious social assistance transactions where the GIRO payment of 26 clients were disbursed into two bank accounts, one of which was confirmed to be Chia's payroll account.

The Ministry filed a police report the next day and suspended Chia from his duties.

On 18 July 2014, Chis was arrested and the MSF interdicted him from duties the following day.

Chia was reported to have spent the money to buy luxurious items and to pay off his debt from licensed moneylenders. The MSF stated that the money should have gone to 42 needy families as financial assistance.

Between 2013 and 2014, according to the charge sheets, Chia was alleged of using the work laptop to access Social Assistance Network System accounts which belong to others to steal money of various sums totalling S$144,020.

He started in 2011, where he stole S$2,400 and the amount had accumulated to S$137,640 by 2013. The total cheques that he had encashed during this period of time is S$199,460.

Chia is reported to have spent thousands of dollars on buying luxurious items. He spent S$4,365 at Louis Vuitton at Marina Bay Sands on two occasions, S$1,930 at Mulberry, S$1,148.16 at Christian Dior, S$3,500 at Francis Cheong Boutique, S$1,100 at Luis Vuitton at ION Orchard, S$1,575 at Club 21 Men.

He also bought airline tickets and booked for a hotel stay and spent S$3,467.89 at Cathay Pasific Airways, S$2,480.10 at Thai Airways, S$1,418 at Silk Air, S$1992,50 at China Eastern Airline, and S$2,047.29 at W Hotels in Hong Kong. He even got a S$2,587.50 bill for a meal at Chao Gang Cun Fine Dining.

Tan Chuan-Jin, Social and Family Development Minister, said on his Facebook account that his priority is to provide the appropriate help in responsive manner to those who are in need. He said that the Ministry need to strengthened the controls at SSOs.

"Control measures can only go so far. Too many and it becomes onerous and less agile, too few and you run the risks of abuse. It is ultimately our values that must guide us in all our actions to serve Singapore and Singaporeans with integrity and compassion," he said.

"I am proud that many of our officers serve with passion and dedication. But the Ministry will not condone or tolerate any conduct that undermines the integrity of our social assistance system and interest of our beneficiaries," he added.

The Ministry soon contacted all affected families to ensure that the assistance they needed were not affected by the case and its internal auditor immediately conducted checks on all the SSOs' payment records and it has since confirmed that there are no other occurrences of a similar nature.

To avoid the similar case the Ministry had made some changes according to the Panel's recommendation. These changes include :

  • Strengthening the administration of access to our IT system;
  • Including additional checks to ensure payments to clients; and
  • Allocating cases such that no officer will be allowed to take charge of a particular client for more than two consecutive years.