NTU don 'declared all conflicts of interest'

Uni responds after online claims of adjunct prof's links to firm involved in research funding bid

The Nanyang Technological University (NTU) yesterday said one of its adjunct professors had declared "all possible conflicts of interest" before she was included in a proposal submitted to the National Research Foundation (NRF) for research funding.

The university was responding to media queries regarding online reports alleging that Ms Isabella Loh did not reveal she was an investor and adviser in Dearman, a global technology company involved in NTU's proposal.

Ms Loh is an adjunct professor at NTU's School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering.

NTU put in a bid during an open tender for an energy study by the NRF's Energy and Environment Research Directorate.

An NRF spokesman told The Straits Times: "In the proposed tender, Ms Isabella Loh, in her capacity as adjunct professor at NTU, was stated as one of the members of the NTU team."

NTU also said that it would sub-contract part of the study to Dearman, a company based in Britain, the spokesman added.

In response to queries from The Straits Times, an NTU spokesman said: "Ms Loh, an adjunct professor at NTU, had declared all possible conflicts of interest to NTU before her name was included in the proposal.

"She is no longer an adviser to Dearman, since June 2015, and is only a small shareholder of Dearman. The proposal is still under evaluation by the NRF."

A check on government tender website GeBiz showed that NTU was the sole bidder for the tender, and had priced its proposal at $426,500.

According to initial bid documents, the $426,500 sum "will be mainly used to compensate for manpower as well as consultancy fees required by the data analysts and consultant who will be carrying out the data collection".

The documents also said Dearman will be "providing pro bono work for the project, which is envisaged to be needed".

A Dearman spokesman, speaking to The Straits Times, said: "As it is publicly available information, we can confirm that Ms Loh has a small shareholding in Dearman - less than 0.5 per cent of the company.

"Ms Loh provided independent advisory services to Dearman for approximately six months, ending in June 2015. She currently holds no paid position with the company, and is not an employee."

Ms Loh is also chairman of the Singapore Environment Council (SEC), a non-governmental organisation that was listed in the initial bid documents as one of several partners that NTU believes could be consulted on the project.

An SEC spokesman said its board has reviewed the allegations made against its chairman, and it "found no conflict of interest".

She added that the council "is not a party" to the research proposal submitted by NTU to the NRF. "Ms Isabella Loh was invited by NTU to be a part of this research proposal because of her previous experience as an adviser to Dearman Engine Company," she said.

The NRF spokesman said that the foundation is currently in the process of evaluating the tender.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 24, 2016, with the headline 'NTU don 'declared all conflicts of interest''. Print Edition | Subscribe