TL;DR – Let’s hope they don’t stop those schemes.
There are numerous schemes under the SkillsFuture umbrella. They are meant to help Singaporean workers upgrade themselves, so that they can stay relevant, remain employed, and earn higher incomes. However, some people decided to abuse those schemes.
Recently, five members of a criminal syndicate were charged with defrauding the government. They allegedly made close to S$40 million in fraudulent claims from SkillsFuture Singapore (SSG). They allegedly submitted forged documents to fraudulently obtain training subsidies from SSG. The claims were submitted as applications by companies for reimbursement for training of employees – a scheme that has been around since the 1970s.
It’s the biggest case of defrauding a government agency.
Government will get some of the money back
As expected, the government got criticised for the incident. How can government be so stupid? How can it lose so much money?!
As it turns out, SSG took immediate action when they discovered the scam. The police had frozen $10 million in bank accounts, and seized $6.7 million in cash and 11kg of gold in relation to the fraud case. In total, if the government seizes all of that, it means that the government would have managed to recover at least a total of about $17.3 million.
Sure. It means that the government would still have lost about $22.7 million. Sure. We can still say that the government should have been more careful in assessing the applications before disbursing the claims. But if the government is too stringent in assessing the applications, they run the risk of making it too difficult for companies to apply for those claims. Then companies can’t be bothered to send their employees for training. As a result, employees suffer.
As Singapore Human Resources Institute president Erman Tan pointed out:
“It takes effort to get people to build a lifelong learning culture. If you make the programme too cumbersome, it will discourage people from applying for training and development.”
Is that what we want? Definitely not. That’s why it would be terrible if the government end up being too demanding when assessing applications. At the same time, the government can’t just stand by and do nothing.
Government has taken action
First, it is stepping up its fraud analytics. Its fraud detection system now includes a “combination of pre-and post-disbursement data analytics to detect anomalies and abnormal claim patterns, as well as physical audits of training providers, employers and individuals”.
Huh? What does that even mean?
Ok. Let’s break it down into simple terms. The government now analyses data before and after disbursing the grants to find out whether there is anything odd with the claims.
In addition to looking at data, the government also actually goes and physically check training providers, employers and individuals to ensure that they are really using the disbursed funds for training. So a small company that doesn’t have a lot of staff suddenly claiming huge amounts for training over a short period of time would set alarm bells off.
The second thing that the government is doing is to punish those who defraud the government severely. That would make people who have any inclinations of defrauding the government think a twice.
Together with improved detection, that would hopefully prevent abuse of these schemes without making it too cumbersome for companies to apply for training grants and subsidies for their employees.
And the biggest beneficiary of that would be Singaporean workers.