Educate SMEs on PIC scheme to prevent fraud

I had mixed feelings on reading the report on Productivity and Innovation Credit (PIC) fraud ("Consultants or con men? Iras on alert"; Feb 21).

On the one hand, it is only right to clamp down on schemes designed to abuse government programmes and misappropriate public funds.

On the other hand, the preponderance of PIC fraud suggests that smaller local businesses are experiencing some degree of difficulty boosting productivity, to the extent that they accept the offers of consultants, even if they sound "too good to be true".

For much of Singapore's "history, state campaigns intended to help local industries computerise, upgrade and innovate have predominantly targeted larger firms and multinational corporations.

While the PIC scheme was designed with good intentions - that is, to help small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) achieve productivity gains and implement innovative ideas - I am surprised that it was not made more accessible to its intended beneficiaries.

Nor was it designed with more checks and safeguards, as compared to older assistance schemes.

PIC fraud is contingent on the targets having a poor understanding of the scheme's terms and conditions.

Therefore, part of the solution lies in educating small business owners on the ins and outs of the PIC.

The Government can do more to communicate key information on the scheme through public media channels, just as it has successfully done for other complex policies, such as MediShield Life and the Pioneer Generation Package.

The Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (Iras) could consider tapping the vast resources and expertise of the Workforce Development Authority to devise a training framework across diverse industries.

This would undermine the appeal of pseudo-consultants.

Another area of improvement to consider would be a more active role in the implementation process.

For example, Iras could provide experienced officers or in-house consultants to advise and guide small business owners.

Paul Chan Poh Hoi

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 29, 2016, with the headline 'Educate SMEs on PIC scheme to prevent fraud'. Print Edition | Subscribe