Ex-River Valley head gets 4 weeks' jail

Former River Valley High School principal Koh was charged with giving false information, after he allegedly lied to an Education Ministry official about his extramarital affair with a vendor, to whom he awarded millions of dollars in school contracts
Former River Valley High School principal Koh was charged with giving false information, after he allegedly lied to an Education Ministry official about his extramarital affair with a vendor, to whom he awarded millions of dollars in school contracts.He is out on bail, pending an appeal against his conviction. ST PHOTO: WONG KWAI CHOW

Judge rules that he failed to uphold duties as a senior public servant in a 'transparent manner'

Former River Valley High School (RVHS) principal Koh Yong Chiah, who lied about an extramarital affair with a vendor to whom he awarded millions of dollars in school contracts, was sentenced to four weeks' jail yesterday.

The 61-year-old father of two is out on $15,000 bail, pending his appeal against the sentence.

He admitted to giving false information to an officer from the Ministry of Education (MOE) on Nov 24, 2005, that he was not having an affair with the vendor, Ms Ivy Loke Wai Lin. He did this knowing that cluster superintendent Chia Ban Tin would report to the director-general of education that there was no misconduct on his part.

Koh was then principal of Jurong Junior College (JJC). He later became head of RVHS in 2009.

Koh and Ms Loke, now 55, met in 2000 while he was the principal of Chinese High School (CHS). Their first sexual encounter was during a CHS community service trip to Lijiang, China, in 2001. Both were married.

PRESERVING TRUST IN THE SYSTEM

Such an impression obviously brings into question the integrity of the procurement process and there is, therefore, a compelling public interest to protect the integrity of the procurement process to ensure that public confidence and, more importantly, trust in the system, is maintained at all times.

DISTRICT JUDGE HAMIDAH IBRAHIM

Between May and November 2005, in his capacity as the final approving authority for contracts at JJC, Koh awarded six contracts worth $162,491 to Ms Loke's firm, Education Architects 21 (EA 21).

He did not disclose the nature of his relationship with Ms Loke to the quotation approval panel.

Between 2005 and 2012, he approved $3.4 million worth of contracts to EA 21 and EI, another of Ms Loke's firms.

When he was queried by Ms Chia about the anonymous complaint of misconduct, Koh denied the affair. She then advised him not to get involved personally with Ms Loke.

The prosecution had sought a four- to six-week jail sentence, saying it was an egregious case involving a senior public officer being dishonest about the conduct of his official duties. Koh, they said, deliberately lied to Ms Chia on a matter that, without doubt, affected the integrity of the public procurement process.

"The accused, by deceiving his superiors, made it possible for him to continue approving the use of public funds with flagrant disregard to the subsisting conflict of interest,'' Deputy Public Prosecutor G. Kannan had said when the case was heard last month.

Yesterday, District Judge Hamidah Ibrahim agreed, noting that despite the official caution and a reminder from Ms Chia of the importance of maintaining the integrity of the procurement process, Koh continued to approve the contracts for Ms Loke's companies.

On the argument by the defence that Koh did not show favour to Ms Loke when he awarded the contracts and was thus not a corrupt civil servant, the judge said this was, at best, a neutral factor.

By awarding contracts to Ms Loke's companies, a public perception would have been created that she was being given special treatment because of her close and personal relationship with him.

It might also lead to the impression that there was not a level playing field in the awarding of contracts by the schools.

"Such an impression obviously brings into question the integrity of the procurement process and there is, therefore, a compelling public interest to protect the integrity of the process to ensure that public confidence and, more importantly, trust in the system, is maintained at all times,'' said the judge.

She said Koh, who lied twice, could not run away from the fact that as a senior public servant, he owed a duty to discharge his duties in a fair and transparent manner, especially when awarding contracts to external parties.

"I agree with the prosecution that all public servants must be deterred from giving false information to cover their misdeeds.

"A custodial sentence is clearly warranted, justified and will be imposed. A fine, regardless of the amount, would be a mere slap on the wrist, with negligible deterrent value,'' she said.

Koh, represented by Mr Lawrence Ang and Mr Eric Tin, could have been jailed for up to six months and/or fined up to $1,000. He is currently suspended from duties.

The MOE said that it expects educators to conduct themselves in a manner which upholds the honour and integrity of the teaching profession and the trust placed in them.

For serious cases, they may be dismissed from the service, it added.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 22, 2016, with the headline 'Ex-River Valley head gets 4 weeks' jail'. Print Edition | Subscribe