Ministry acts against childcare chain's owners

Couple behind Sweetlands allegedly made suspicious withdrawals from kids' accounts

The couple who run 11 Sweetlands Childcare centres have had their Approved Person status revoked for allegedly making unauthorised withdrawals from the Child Development Accounts (CDA) of several children in their care.

Madam Chan Chew Shia and her husband, Mr Ho Boon Hong, were served notice by the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) on Wednesday, informing them that the status will be revoked from Oct 21.

It means that children enrolled in Sweetlands centres will not be able to use their CDAs from that date until a new approved person is appointed.

An MSF audit raised suspicions about the withdrawals and, in July, the couple were given a total of 28 days to explain why their status should not be revoked.

Madam Chan, in response to queries from The Straits Times, said: "My conscience is very clear, and I know what I'm doing."

She added that she had no intention of selling the 11 centres, saying they are "doing perfectly well".

The ministry, in a statement, said it suspects that the pair breached the Child Development Co-Savings Regulations.

The Straits Times understands that parents enrolling children in childcare centres only need to make a one-off authorisation for centres to directly deduct funds from the CDA as required.

Parents are encouraged to check their monthly CDA statements.

All Sweetlands childcare centres will continue to operate as usual.

The ministry said there are no issues with the safety or well-being of children enrolled at the centres.

Early Childhood and Development Agency officers will conduct regular visits to the centres to make sure quality and care standards are maintained, MSF added.

MSF has appointed a temporary approved person from next Wednesday to facilitate CDA withdrawals for children already enrolled.

It has also referred the matter to the Singapore Police Force's Commercial Affairs Department.

The couple could each face a fine of up to $20,000 if convicted of breaching the Child Development Co-savings Regulations.

Senior accountant Purdey Yap, 38, whose son goes to the Sweetlands branch at Block 896B, Woodlands Drive 50, said that she is not worried as she pays his fees in cash.

"I trust the teachers, and I think that's the most important thing," she said.

"I'm not concerned about issues at the management level. So far, my son has enjoyed going to school every day."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 16, 2015, with the headline 'Ministry acts against childcare chain's owners'. Subscribe