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Strengthening the SkillsFuture movement through expanded coverage of offences and enhanced enforcement powers

The SkillsFuture Singapore (SSG) Agency (Amendment) Bill and the Skills Development Levy (SDL) (Amendment) Bill were passed in Parliament today. The amendments to the Acts, which will commence later upon further announcement, include provisions to:

a. Expand the coverage of offences under the SSG Act
b. Enhance SSG’s enforcement powers; and
c. Streamline operational processes in the SSG Act and the SDL Act

With the expansion of and increased expenditure in the Continuing Education and Training (CET) sector, the risk of abuse has also risen correspondingly. At the same time, public confidence in the CET system needs to be preserved and enhanced, with upskilling and reskilling becoming increasingly critical for career resilience and employability. The amendments will strengthen SSG’s regulatory oversight, achieve greater deterrent effect against abuse, and provide SSG with the necessary investigative powers to take appropriate actions against errant parties.

In July 2022, SSG and the Ministry of Education (MOE) invited members of the public to provide feedback on the proposed amendments to the Acts. The feedback received was generally supportive of the proposed changes. A list of the key public feedback and SSG and MOE’s joint responses can be found at www.ssg.gov.sg/consult.

Key amendments to the SSG Act

(i) Expand coverage of offences under the SSG Act

The amendments will introduce new provisions within the SSG Act to deal specifically with the abuse of SSG funding and schemes, in addition to the existing offence on the provision of false or misleading information. The amended SSG Act sets out clearly the abusive funding arrangements that may arise so that SSG can take appropriate actions against errant parties. This is more effective and achieves greater deterrence, compared to how SSG has to rely on contractual levers and civil action to recover the wrongly obtained funds today.

Similarly, the amendments will give SSG new legislative levers to deal with false or misleading advertisements about a course or training provider, besides relying on contractual levers to take action against errant parties. Such misrepresentations could mislead the public into signing up for unsuitable courses, wasting their resources and effort. Left undeterred, they could undermine public confidence in the broader SkillsFuture movement, to the detriment of potential learners, and other training providers. The new offence provision on false or misleading advertisements allows SSG to take actions to deter such misrepresentations and direct remedial actions to correct or remove such false advertisements.

The changes arising from the amendments to expand coverage of offences and the activities regulated under the SSG Act are in Table 1 below.

Table 1: Amendments to expand coverage of offences under SSG Act

Offences

Before amendments to

the SSG Act

After amendments to

the SSG Act

*New*

Entering into or facilitation of abusive funding arrangement

 

SSG used contractual levers to take actions against errant parties, e.g. to terminate the training provider’s funding and status as an approved training provider.

 

For egregious cases of cheating, SSG relied on the Penal Code to prosecute errant parties.

SSG is able to investigate and take action against parties who enter into or facilitate abusive funding arrangements.

 

Parties convicted of an offence are liable for:

· Penalty equal to amount wrongly obtained; and

· Fine (≤ $10,000) and/or imprisonment (≤ 3 years).

 

The court may also order the repayment of the wrongly obtained funds to SSG.

*New*

False or misleading advertisements

 

SSG relied on contractual levers to take actions against the errant parties, e.g. to terminate the training provider’s funding and status as an approved training provider.

 

Parties convicted of issuing false/misleading advertisements will be liable for

· Fine (≤$5,000) and/or imprisonment (≤ 6 months).

 

In cases where SSG assesses that an offence has been committed, SSG can direct the errant party to remove or modify the advertisement, cease publication, or publish a corrective advertisement as specified by SSG.

 

Failure to comply with SSG’s direction is an offence. Parties convicted of the offence are liable for:

· Fine (≤ $10,000) and/or imprisonment (≤ 12 months).

· Further fine (≤ $1,000 per day) if offence continues after conviction.

 

*Enhanced*
False or misleading information, statement or document, etc.

 

· Fine (≤ $10,000) and/or imprisonment (≤ 12 months).

 

· Fine (≤ $10,000) and/or imprisonment (≤ 12 months).

 

The court may also order the repayment of the wrongly obtained funds to SSG.


(ii) Enhance SSG’s enforcement powers

The amendments also strengthen SSG’s powers to investigate the expanded set of offences. This enhances SSG’s ability to gather evidence for both new and existing offences. Table 2 illustrates the additions to SSG’s enforcement powers.

Table 2: Additions to SSG’s enforcement powers

SSG’s enforcement powers before amendments to the SSG Act

SSG’s enforcement powers after amendments to the SSG Act

To verify information collected or for grants, etc., persons authorised by SSG may:

i. Enter any premises

ii. Take photographs or videos, and make audio recordings or sketches at the premises

iii. Require any person to provide or grant access to the necessarydocuments

iv. Inspect and make copies of the documents

v. Take possession of thedocuments

vi. Require any person to complete and deliver any return within specified duration

 

To investigate offences, inspectors appointed by SSG may, in addition to the existing enforcement powers:

i. Require any personwhom the inspector reasonably believes to have committed the offence to provide evidence of the person’s identity

ii. Require the attendance of any person who, from any information given or otherwise obtained by the inspector, appears to be acquainted with the circumstances of the case

iii. Examine orally and record statement from any person reasonably believed to be acquainted with the facts or circumstances of the case or with such other matter as the inspector may specify

iv. Search for and seize any document from any premises

v. Seize the computer or equipment in which the document is stored, if the document cannot be extracted

 


(iii) Streamline operational processes in the SSG Act and the SDL Act

The amendments will consolidate all offence and investigative provisions for the use and/or abuse of monies obtained from the Skills Development Fund (SDF) that were previously set out in the SDL Act, under the SSG Act. This ensures a consistent application of SSG’s expanded regulatory powers across all sources of funding.

To avoid any potential confusion by employers when computing their SDL liabilities, the definition of “remuneration” in the SDL Act has also been aligned with the definition of “wages” in the Central Provident Fund (CPF) Act.

Communication to Training Providers

In addition to using the existing channels of communications such as electronic circulars, SSG will also organise dedicated sessions to communicate and clarify the Amendments with the Training Providers, so that they have a good understanding of what may constitute offences under the revised SSG Act.  

Towards a stronger SkillsFuture ecosystem

Taken together, the amendments to the SSG Act and the SDL Act will allow SSG to take appropriate actions against offenders and achieve greater deterrence against the abuse and misrepresentation of SSG funding and schemes. This can better ensure that the resources allocated to support the local workforce in their SkillsFuture and lifelong learning efforts are used for their intended purposes, and that individuals and employers can have greater confidence to participate in training actively. These moves will strengthen the SkillsFuture movement and support our effort to equip Singaporeans with skills to seize the opportunities ahead.