A social service officer, Chia Kwang Hwee, 33, was sentenced five years and four months jail for misusing S$343,480 funds from the Community Care Endowment Fund (ComCare) over three years, between Nov 2011 and Aug 2014 and was charged under the Penal Code, Computer Misuse and Cybersecurity Act and the Corruption, Drug Trafficking and other Serious Crimes (Confiscation of Benefits) Act.
Chia was charged with 126 counts and pleaded guilty to 19 charges, two each of criminal breach of trust as a public servant and transferring criminal proceeds and 15 of accessing a computer to commit criminal breach of trust.
The prosecution had asked for him to be jailed for six years.However, Chia’s lawyer asked for not more than 2 and a half years’ jail.
The sentence will be delivered by District Judge Lee Poh Choo on 22 Dec.
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 was 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 some money of various sums totalling S$144,020.
At the very start, Chia stole S$2,400 in 2011 and the amount had since 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 a responsive manner to those who are in need. He said that the Ministry need to strengthen 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.
MSF 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.