Amounts Involved In Cases Of Misuse Of COVID-19 Government Grants and Payouts Currently Under Investigation
From time to time, we read in the papers of cases involving persons who have made fraudulent applications of COVID-19 grants which are meant to help Singaporeans and Singapore businesses cope with challenges posed by the pandemic. As may be recalled, these grants are mostly funded from our reserves. With a view to understand how pervasive the problem is, I sought from the Minister for Home Affairs an update on this situation. He highlighted that, to date, 42 persons have been arrested of which 8 have been convicted. He also highlighted that, based on police reports, the aggregate Government funds involved is $1.7 million but not all has been disbursed as some of these fraud cases were detected before disbursement.
Mr Murali Pillai asked the Minister for Home Affairs (a) to date, what is the aggregate subject matter value of cases that have been subject to or are currently under investigation, involving abuse, misuse or fraudulent application of all COVID-19 Government grants and payouts; (b) how much of these monies have been recovered from the perpetrators of these acts; and (c ) whether the Ministry will provide a dedicated whistleblower channel to uncover more of such cases and set up a separate agency to investigate these cases.
Mr K Shanmugam: From March 2020 to December 2021, the Police received 57 reports involving the abuse or fraudulent application of COVID-19 government grants and payouts. Of these, investigations into 17 have concluded. For the remaining cases, investigations are still ongoing, or are pending AGC’s advice or completion of court proceedings.
The reports received by the Police involved government funds amounting to approximately $1.7 million. Not all $1.7 million had been disbursed. The amount disbursed was lower as the agencies had managed to detect the fraud early. Of the 17 reports for which investigations have concluded, these involved government funds amounting to approximately $68,000. Of this, about $31,000 had been disbursed, and $7,000 had been recovered. We are unable to share how much had been disbursed for the remaining cases, as the investigations are still ongoing.
To date, 42 persons have been arrested for their alleged roles in COVID-19 grant fraud. Eight of them have been convicted of cheating or forgery offences.
The member asked if MHA would set up a separate agency to investigate these cases. This is not necessary. Within the Commercial Affairs Department (CAD), there is a team called the Public Institutional Fraud Division that investigates fraud in the public sector, including the abuse or fraudulent application of government grants such as the COVID-19 grants.
The member also asked whether MHA would provide a dedicated whistleblower channel to uncover more of such cases. This is not necessary, as there are already channels. Anyone with information regarding the abuse or fraudulent application of COVID-19 grants can submit information online via the Police’s I-Witness e-service or make a police report. The public is familiar with these existing channels for reporting crimes. In addition, some of the agencies administering grants have also established channels to obtain information from the public on abuse or malpractices.