SINGAPORE: The Government is looking at "a couple of cases" of fraudulent COVID-19 Temporary Relief Fund (TRF) claims, and action will be taken against those who cheated the system, said Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam.
"I've told the police: Investigate, and if this is cheating, it carries a heavy jail sentence. I think we have to send that message," Mr Shanmugam said in an interview with the media on Monday (Apr 13).
Announced as part of last month's Resilience Budget, the fund provides immediate financial assistance to those in need.
The scheme provides immediate one-off cash assistance of S$500 for lower- to middle-income Singaporeans and permanent residents who have lost their jobs or faced an income loss of at least 30 per cent due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and require urgent help with basic living expenses.
READ: COVID-19: Financial assistance schemes to help lower- to middle-income Singaporeans affected by outbreak
Mr Shanmugam said that it is premature to give an update on the exact number of cases under investigation, but they are a small minority.
Still, "we are going after a small number who are taking advantage because if we don't, that will encourage others to try," he said.
On Sunday, the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) and the police said they were looking into a case of a 41-year-old Singaporean man who had claimed that he was able to obtain the aid without any documents, and that the system was "so simple to cheat”.
The authorities said they were also aware of social media advertisements "purportedly selling forged payslips for the purpose of making fraudulent TRF claims".
“MSF and the police treat such cases seriously and will not hesitate to take action against anyone who abuses and/or facilitates the abuse of the TRF," said MSF and the police in a press release.
Abuse of the TRF could constitute a cheating offence and will be immediately referred to the police for investigation, said the two bodies.
Anyone convicted of cheating could be jailed for up to 10 years and fined.
Mr Shanmugam said there will be a "fair bit of checking" on the back-end to verify applications but gave the assurance this will not affect the application and disbursement process.
The financial assistance scheme was intended to be "quick, fast, effective (and) very much on the spot" to help those who had honestly needed the help, he said.
After Social and Family Development Minister Desmond Lee wrote about the issue on Facebook last Tuesday, some claimants have returned the money to the Government, saying that they do not need the money.
Mr Shanmugam said it is unlikely that action will be taken against them even if they had committed an offence.