Social service officer faces 126 charges

He is accused of keeping $343k meant for the needy, MSF puts in place tighter controls

A 33-year-old Social Service Office (SSO) team leader entrusted with money to help ComCare beneficiaries allegedly filched more than $340,000 for himself.

Chia Kwang Hwee was yesterday charged with 126 offences, involving a total of $343,480 that had been set aside for 42 needy Singaporeans. He faces three counts of criminal breach of trust, 65 of using a computer to misappropriate money, 30 of transferring stolen cash, and 28 of using stolen money.

Chia was granted bail of $100,000. His next court mention is on Sept 7.

ComCare is an endowment fund for needy Singaporeans administered by 24 SSOs islandwide.

Chia's job included assessing applications for financial assistance, putting these up to his supervisor for approval, approving assistance for cases handled by other officers in his team, and managing cases on families with different needs.

 

In a press release sent out immediately after he was charged, the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) said it was contacted by a beneficiary on Aug 14, 2014, who said that he had not been getting his payouts.

The ministry carried out an investigation, which pointed to an SSO team leader from its Geylang Serai office who was believed to have been pilfering funds. Money that was supposed to be transferred into the bank accounts of 26 ComCare beneficiaries was found to have gone into two bank accounts, one of which was Chia's payroll account.

MSF filed a police report the next day and suspended Chia. He was arrested three days later.

It added yesterday that it had contacted all 42 affected beneficiaries immediately after the incident to ensure they got the help they needed.

In a Facebook post put up shortly after Chia was charged, Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin said the matter had been probed by the police with the full cooperation of his ministry.

"MSF's priority is to ensure that Singaporeans and families in need continue to receive appropriate help in a responsive manner. However, we also need to ensure accountability and have thus thoroughly reviewed and strengthened our controls at the SSOs."

The ministry's internal auditor checked all the offices' payment records to confirm that there were no other similar cases. An independent review panel, consisting of senior officials from other government agencies, also probed the circumstances surrounding Chia's alleged misappropriation.

The MSF said it has implemented the panel's recommendations, which include strengthening access to IT systems and having more checks to ensure that payouts have been made.

Mr Tan added in his Facebook post: "Control measures can only go so far. It is ultimately our values that must guide us in all our actions to serve Singapore and Singaporeans with integrity and compassion.

"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."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 04, 2016, with the headline 'Social service officer faces 126 charges'. Print Edition | Subscribe