Assoc Prof Daniel Goh Pei Siong asked the Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills) (a) how many training organisations have been investigated and prosecuted for SkillsFuture scams which have exchanged credits for cash or vouchers; (b) how much credits have been lost through such scams; and (c) whether the credits have been recovered from the organisations and returned to Singaporeans who have been cheated.
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministers for Education (Ms Low Yen Ling) (for the Minister for Education (Higher Education)): Mdm Speaker, SkillsFuture Singapore (SSG in short), regularly audits training organisations that receive SSG funding, including those offering courses supported by the SkillsFuture Credit. During its audit, SSG scrutinises all applications and claim submissions.
Since the launch of the SkillsFuture Credit in January 2016, there have been reports on the misuse of this credit by some training organisations. There are nine suspected cases under investigations. These organisations have been suspended, and all their claims are being withheld. Due to ongoing investigations, I am unable to disclose more details about these cases and the amount of SkillsFuture Credit claims affected. Nonetheless, I assure Members that SSG will spare no efforts in recovering the disbursed monies and will reinstate the credit if misuse is established and if Singaporeans have been cheated of their SkillsFuture Credit.
I also want to assure all hon Members that SSG will remain vigilant to deter and prevent any fraudulent or opportunistic behaviour. SSG will also continue to conduct audits on training organisations, through a risk-based approach. Members of the public who come across or even suspect such fraudulent activity or behaviour should alert SSG immediately, and we would take swift actions accordingly.
Assoc Prof Daniel Goh Pei Siong (Non-Constituency Member): I want to thank the Parliamentary Secretary. I understand that there is an approval process for the courses and also an approval process for the matching of the SkillsFuture users and the courses. During these approval processes, are there audit checks on whether there are scams and whether these processes could be improved, especially for senior citizens who are applying for some of these online courses?
Ms Low Yen Ling: I thank the Member for his questions. I want to assure the Member that as far as the criteria for training organisations who want to provide courses supported by SkillsFuture Credit, we have a very rigorous process to implement such a monitoring system. As we look at these nine cases, as I mentioned earlier, due to ongoing investigations, we are really not at liberty to go into the details of these nine cases. But suffice to say, as I have mentioned earlier, that the nine training organisations have been suspended with immediate effect once we know that there is a possible misuse of SkillsFuture Credit. At the same time, their claim submissions have been withheld. So, we will let the investigation process proceed and, other than that, we are also looking at how such learnings from these cases would help us to strengthen our enforcement measures and also strengthen our criteria as far as SkillsFuture Credit is concerned.
Allow me to, again, just to reassure all Members that SSG maintains a very hard stance against any individual or any organisation who is attempting to defraud the Government of the Government's funding. We would not hesitate to take tough actions against such individuals or organisations, especially if they are also trying to defraud elderly citizens who may not really understand the criteria and the use of the credit. In fact, misusing the SkillsFuture Credit may result in criminal penalties. For instance, under section 58 of the SkillsFuture Singapore Act, any person who provides false or misleading information to SSG when claiming the SkillsFuture Credit is liable to a fine of up to S$10,000 or imprisonment of up to 12 months or both.
Besides just the criminal penalties, the Member asked about whether they can be listed on the SkillsFuture Credit directory, and so on. SSG, if they establish that, indeed, there is misuse, we will recover the disbursed monies from the training organisation that has abused the SkillsFuture Credit and we will also withdraw SSG funding support, as well as delisting them from the SkillsFuture Credit directory. Any Singaporean, if it is established that because of the misuse of the SkillsFuture Credit they are cheated of the credit, we will look at reinstating their SkillsFuture Credit. So, in addition to all these rigorous processes, to check and deter against any fraud, we will also alert and educate the general public to be wary of such activities. In the last few months, we have put out a few advisories to advise members of the public what to look out for, and we encourage members of the public if they suspect any fraudulent behaviour or activity, please alert SSG and we will certainly take actions accordingly.