SSO officer charged for misappropriating funds meant for financial assistance

 Police have charged a Social Service Office (SSO) officer for misappropriating funds meant to help ComCare beneficiaries.
Police have charged a Social Service Office (SSO) officer for misappropriating funds meant to help ComCare beneficiaries.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Police have charged a Social Service Office (SSO) officer for misappropriating funds meant to help ComCare beneficiaries.

In a press release on Wednesday (Aug 3), the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) said Chia Kwang Hwee, 33, faces charges under the Penal Code, the Computer Misuse and Cybersecurity Act and the Corruption, Drug Trafficking and Other Serious Crimes (Confiscation of Benefits) Act.

According to MSF, it was alerted by a beneficiary on Aug 14, 2014, that he had not received his financial assistance payments.

The ministry subsequently uncovered information that indicated Chia, who worked at the SSO at Geylang Serai, could have misappropriated the funds.

As a team leader, Chia's 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 SSO's management detected suspicious social assistance transactions involving Chia, where the Giro payments for 26 clients were disbursed into two bank accounts. It was later found that a total of 42 clients had been affected. 

A police report against Chia for alleged fraud was filed by MSF the next day, and Chia was arrested on Aug 18.

He was suspended from his duties on Aug 19, with MSF contacting all affected clients to ensure that the assistance they required had been met.

The ministry's internal auditor also conducted checks on all the SSO's payment records to confirm that there were no other similar occurrences.

Following the incident, MSF appointed an Independent Review Panel consisting of senior officials from other government agencies on Sept 15, 2014, to look into circumstances surrounding Chia's alleged misappropriation.

After reviewing several areas in which the SSO at Geylang Serai and MSF operated in, the panel then submitted its recommendations, which the MSF implemented.

These 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.

The network of 24 social service offices (SSOs) was rolled out from July 2013 and completed in December 2015. These offices administer the national ComCare financial aid scheme.

Previously,the five Community Development Councils (CDC) administered ComCare. Along with family service centres, the SSOs put help within 2km of where 95 per cent of needy residents live or work.

Commenting on the case in a Facebook post on Wednesday morning, Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin said that while the ministry's priority was to ensure Singaporeans and families in need continue to receive the appropriate help, it also needed to ensure accountability.

"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 wrote.

"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."