SINGAPORE - The Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) takes a 'very serious' view of any misuse of funds in Child Development Accounts (CDA), Ms Low Yen Ling said on Monday in Parliament.
The Parliamentary Secretary for MSF was referring to the case in July against the couple behind Sweetlands, a chain of 11 childcare centres, who were found to have made unauthorised withdrawals from the CDAs of children at their centre.
"We also will not hesitate to take disciplinary actions or enforce penalties where needed to safeguard the interests of the parents and children," said Ms Low, who was responding to a question from Nee Soon GRC MP. Ms Lee Bee Wah.
The MSF, she added, will continue to carry out and improve the various levels of checks and controls, as well as remind approved institutions to comply strictly with the terms and conditions and statutory requirements.
Ms Lee had asked, among other things, how the MSF intends to tighten control over the use of funds from CDAs, and to explain its audit regime of CDA accounts.
A recent MSF audit discovered that the couple, Madam Chan Chew Shia and Mr Ho Boon Hong, had allegedly made wrongful claims for childcare subsidies.
To protect the interests of parents, the MSF is revoking their rights to carrying out CDA deductions at their centres, said Ms Low.
The MSF has also referred the matter to the Commercial Affairs Department (CAD) for investigation, as well as closely monitor other claims for CDA deductions and child care subsidies made by Sweetlands, she added.
However, Sweetlands centres can continue to operate despite the ongoing probe, said Ms Low. This is because there are no issues regarding the safety or well-being of the children at the 11 centres.
She said MSF has notified the parents whose children are in a Sweetlands childcare centres of these developments, and advised them to check and ensure that their CDA deductions are valid. Those who have not kept their statements can request for these from their CDA banks.
Ms Low also outlined four broad levels of checks and controls in the use of CDA funds in Parliament.
First, parents must sign an authorisation form to allow approved institutions such as childcare centres and kindergartens to make deductions from their child's CDA; Second, these institutions are responsible for ensuring that proper procedures are followed before deductions are made. This includes obtaining parents' authorisation and keeping proper records.
Third, banks with CDAs must provide parents with monthly statements with details of deductions from their child's CDAs, and finally, the ministry regularly conducts checks on approved CDA institutions to ensure that the procedures are followed and deductions are in order.