Do referral fee payments fall under corruption?

I find it extremely reassuring that the authorities take a serious view on maintaining Singapore's anti-corruption culture such that bribery does not become the norm for people here (A cup of kopi with the CPIB, June 6).

The article succinctly spelt out that corruption essentially entails giving bribes to advance business interests. It is a criminal offence to do so regardless of whether it is carried out by players in the public or private sectors.

As such, it is alarming to know that there are a fair number of housing agents and housing loan brokers who are willing to refer conveyancing work to law firms only if there is payment of referral fees.

The payment of referral fees is without the knowledge of the estate agent's client - who could be the buyer or seller of a property, or a borrower looking to refinance his housing loan.

Does this type of referral fee payment or arrangement fall within the scope of giving bribes to advance the business interests of the paying law firms?

Having spoken to a few in the trade, it seems that the referral fee culture is not an uncommon business modus operandi for a number of conveyancing lawyers.

As Mr Chin Wee Liam, senior deputy director of the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau's investigations operations, rightly pointed out, "giving kopi money" ought not to be our culture and "we cannot let our guard down".

I hope that our legal profession does not become tainted with the "kopi money culture".

Chia Choo Tuan

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 11, 2019, with the headline 'Do referral fee payments fall under corruption?'. Print Edition | Subscribe