Investors still looking at returns before considering risks: David Gerald, SIAS

Investors still looking at returns before considering risks: David Gerald, SIAS

David Gerald SIAS (4)
David Gerald, president and CEO of the Securities Investors Association (Singapore).

SINGAPORE: David Gerald is a former magistrate, coroner, deputy public prosecutor and State Counsel in the Singapore Legal Service. Today, he is best-known as a champion of retail investors’ rights in his capacity as founder, president and CEO of the Securities Investors Association (Singapore), or SIAS.

For Gerald, fighting for the rights of minority shareholders began in 1998, when Malaysia froze shares of more than 100 Malaysian-listed companies, affecting 170,000 minority shareholders. As a lawyer, David Gerald stepped up to represent small investors in Singapore to resolve the crisis – more commonly known now as the CLOB or Central Limit Order Book saga.

Gerald went On the Record with Bharati Jagdish about the CLOB saga, and what companies and investors in Singapore are still doing wrong. But first, how his childhood experiences helped him discover his activist streak.

David Gerald: I was born in Segamat in 1944 during the Japanese Occupation. Then I was taken to Sri Lanka when I was three years old because my mother had a very bad time during the war. She was not well and my father wanted my mother to take a rest with her parents in Sri Lanka. So with my four siblings, we set sail to Jaffna. The British were just leaving Sri Lanka then in 1947. It was very nice then - cricket, Christmas celebrations, choir singing, church activities. What was supposed to be a short visit turned out to be a 12-year stay.

Bharati: However, civil strife began in Sri Lanka in the late 50s. You witnessed some of this.

Gerald: Civil war actually started in 1958. The very first riot between the majority Sinhalese and the minority Tamils was in 1958. That was the first breakdown in the relationships. Frustrations were building among minorities. Quite a number left Sri Lanka. The ones that stayed behind were quite frustrated and they organised into the Tamil Tiger movement, which became one of the leading terrorist groups in the world. Fortunately, we left in January 1959 for Singapore because my father insisted. He was teaching in Malaysia. In 1959, he came to Singapore and he insisted that we join him in Singapore.

A POLITICALLY ACTIVE STUDENT

Bharati: I ask about this period in your life because I understand witnessing injustice as a young boy made you want to address injustice as an adult.

Gerald: I saw the underdog quite often being bullied and I would stand up whether in school or at home. Even the way maids are dealt with in my house or a neighbour’s house, I would feel very strongly for them. And on the street when I see fights, I would get my brothers and friends involved to side the underdogs. From the time we were small, we carried flags, went house to house with political parties, taking sides. We were primary school students, but activism was built in us, and I was part of that culture of protesting loudly and standing up for your rights. And there was encouragement.

Bharati: This was in Sri Lanka. The environment in Singapore, I’m sure, was quite different.

Gerald: Yes, when I arrived here, it was a different world altogether. School children were not involved in politics. When I was going to school, I talked about Mr Lee Kuan Yew because I heard him on the radio, I read about him in the newspapers and I talked about him, but nobody else was talking about him. No students. The adults were all engaged, but the children were not. I learnt how to be quiet and concentrate on sports.

Bharati: Some people might see that as a good thing. Others, as a bad thing. How do you see it?

Gerald: I think this has given difficulties in terms of recruiting politicians, career politicians – people who fight their cause, who actually champion their cause, actually take up the cudgels and do it for passion.

Bharati: To what extent do you think this can change in Singapore?

Gerald: I think Singapore has been changing. My wife has been a teacher. She tells me as of the last 10 years, she has seen marked improvement in students, challenging her in classroom, exchanging views on current events. And that's encouraged. Allow their voices to be heard. And let the children decide what they really want to say. So long as it's not rude and within decorum. That sense of challenging, that sense of wanting to say what you think is right, is very important for Singapore. With social media, that has to happen right? With more education and better literacy, and exposure to the world at large and how things are done elsewhere, people have to change.

David Gerald SIAS (3)
SIAS president and CEO David Gerald speaking at the Nanyang Technological University.

THE CLOB SAGA THAT CHANGED HIS LIFE

Bharati: What attracted you to the law?

Gerald: At the age of seven, I declared I wanted to be a lawyer. I had an uncle, a lawyer, who used to come to my house, wearing the British robes in Jaffna in the High Court. He used to come for lunch. By nature, I was a person who would challenge that which is wrong and fight for the underdog and I was fascinated by how one could do that in his profession. And I just stuck to it, and I never thought of doing anything else.

I wanted to fight for the innocent. I enjoyed doing that.

Bharati: You said you felt you were doing that during the CLOB saga. You said CLOB changed your life. In what way did it change your life?

Gerald: I think my passion was working within the four walls of the courtroom, be it the defence council, as the prosecutor, or the judge. So, I always thought that that would be it until I retire or drop dead. But here came an issue that affected enormous numbers of Singaporeans. And they didn't have leadership. The Prime Minister of Malaysia said that he was not going to engage the Government of Singapore on this. And he was not going to have a dialogue with our political leaders.

He was going to have a dialogue with small investors. Moms and pops. And for nine months, there wasn't any hand going up to lead these people and fight for them. So I threw away my lawyer's robes and I said: “Look, I’ve got to provide leadership and I will fight for them.”

They were the underdogs. They were being bullied. It was outright bullying by politicians of a neighbouring country.

Bharati: You had made some investments too though. How much of your involvement was really self-serving?

Gerald: I had invested S$5,000. For the first time in my life. Just three months before that, I had met my friends for lunch. Over lunch, we three lawyers for fun, said that we had never invested in the stock market and we wondered if we could make money and so we decided to try. So each one put S$5,000 together and gave it to a remisier friend of mine. He decided to put it in Malaysian stocks instead of Singapore because that's speculative and it has got better returns.

Bharati: But also very high risks.

Gerald: Yes, and also very high risks. But as fate would have it, because he did that, I was thinking about this more seriously than the others, because once you are involved and you are affected, then you see so many, 172,000 people affected, you want to do something about it.

Bharati: What, for you, was the hardest part of handling CLOB?

Gerald: The anger and the frustration that the people faced in being denied their rights to their investments. They can't understand why the Government was not allowed to intervene. The Government was doing everything it could. Everything they could possibly do, they did, but the other side was not willing to cooperate. In fact an agreement was made between the two exchanges and that was put aside by Malaysia. So we had to form a civic group. This had to be taken over by citizens and championed. We managed to bring them to the table, decide on what we wanted and our terms succeeded.

David Gerald SIAS (1)
David Gerald began fighting for the rights of minority shareholders in 1998, during the Central Limit Order Book (CLOB) saga.

Bharati: You spoke about what was happening in several media interviews and raised awareness of the issue, so much so that large companies started to consider moving out of Malaysia. You also approached the authorities here and asked them to take the issue to the World Trade Organization. The Singapore authorities were considering doing so and I understand they talked about it in Parliament too. Soon after, Malaysian authorities started negotiating. What, ultimately, do you think led to this success?

Gerald: I think it was the first time a group of Singaporeans stood for what is right for Singapore. It was us coming together. It showed that together, we are very strong as a voice, be it a neighbouring government or anyone else, we would not allow them to take advantage of us and bully us.

Bharati: This was the reason you set up SIAS.

Gerald: While I was doing this, I realised that people invest without knowledge. They didn't have a clue about investing. Including myself. I invested S$5,000 without knowing anything about investing. I made a mistake too and I admit it and it was a terrible mistake, but it's a small mistake for me.

But S$5,000 for a taxi driver is a lot of money. For a retiree who puts all her husband's pension in, it’s a big thing. A retiree whose husband has died, who then puts money in Malaysian stocks, it is a terrific setback. They were very depressed. Why did they do it? Every time I asked them, why did you do it, the answer was often: “My remisier told me it's better.”

At that time they might have been right, but they didn't know about the company they invested in. They didn't know who was running it, what the business was, but heard that it was a good company and decided to put all their money in it. That made me think that Singapore needed investor education, from north to south, east to west, all over Singapore, we needed to take the mission. I said look, unless you are committed to this and start an organisation that would really bring experts to ordinary people, then they can learn how to invest.

We’ve covered about 190,000 people through our programmes and thousands of programmes since 1999. MoneySENSE came about in 2002 and together, we have been doing a lot.

HAS INVESTOR EDUCATION FAILED?

Bharati: We still hear about Singaporeans making risky investments, focusing on returns rather than considering the risks, reports of many falling for investment scams. Has education really worked?

Gerald: Well, you know, SIAS also stands for “Silly Investors Always Suffer”. So through investor education, we want to make it “Smart Investors Always Succeed”. You become smart through education and information. People who do not believe in education and information but make an investment are doing so on the basis of gambling, because investing without knowledge is gambling. The other ones who are always in the news, they fall for scams, they listen to the people in the coffee shop, or listen to some professionals who say: This is good and that is good, and they run after it because of greed. They want to make money quickly. They have the herd mentality. John made money so I must also make money, but John made money and John walked out with that money. Maybe John went in when it was low and he sold it high. You might go in when the stock is high. When the stock falls, you will lose the money. It may not happen the same way for you.

Bharati: But my point is, if you had been doing your job well in terms of educating investors, wouldn’t we see fewer such cases? How effective really have your efforts been?

Gerald: Well, we can't reach everybody. We don't have the budget to do that, but people do know now where to go to when they have a problem. But we tell them: You can’t only come to us when you have a problem. Why don't you come to us before you invest, so you will not face this problem? Why don't you be educated, come in and discuss and find out? What is happening in most cases is that they look at the returns first before they look at the risks.

INVESTORS UNWILLING TO PAY MEMBERSHIP FEES

Bharati: What’s preventing you from doing better outreach?

Gerald: Money, basically. When we have the money we would do much more. My wish is that we would have the necessary funds. We raise funds; not from investors. They don't want to pay membership fees. So, all these years, we have had to rely solely on corporates who would educate their shareholders through us and pay a certain sum of money for us to take care of shareholders. And we do events like Corporate Governance Week, Investments Week and some other mega events to raise some funds.

Bharati: You said investors don’t want to pay membership fees. What is your membership fee?

Gerald: It’s a dollar a month, which is S$12 a year. It's really nothing. S$1 a month. But people still, when they come to us with problems, and we tell them, can you join SIAS to give us the status as your representative and also to help keep the organisation going – they will walk away most of the time. They somehow feel that this is a problem that SIAS should champion.

Bharati: You are a non-profit after all, so yes, you can’t blame people for thinking that way.

Gerald: Some of them do ask us, what's your funding model? We tell them and then they ask, why can't there be a grant or funding?

Bharati: From the Government?

Gerald: They feel that the money should come from the Government.

Bharati: Do you feel the same way?

Gerald: I have always been saying that. There should be either an endowment fund or yearly fund by the community for investor education, and for promoting corporate governance and resolving issues.

Bharati: But there’s MoneySENSE.

Gerald: But SIAS also resolves issues. We do investor and shareholder education, and community education is our secondary duty. We can do more for the community if there is a government grant or funding from the Financial Sector Development Fund under the Monetary Authority of Singapore Act. That’s what I meant, when I said if we have more funds we can do more.


Bharati: You recently received charity status. Now that you’re a charity, why can’t you get funding?

Gerald: One must remember, our beneficiaries are not the poor and the needy but investors with money to invest unlike other charities which depend on donations largely from the public to help the poor and the needy. We are in the financial sector and not in social services. We do not qualify as our main objective is to protect investors’ rights. We are unique when compared to other charities like churches, the Society for the Disabled or Cancer Society. We are only given charity status because we provide free education to the community, funded by donations and sponsorship from corporations, financial institutions, MoneySENSE and ABS. And this is a secondary activity.

Bharati: You implied earlier that investors’ willingness to pay a membership fee is important for your other activities. One could say that they’ve invested thousands of dollars, why should membership fees of a dollar a month be such a big deal for them. But others might say that when I come to you as an investor who has made a mistake, I come to you poor because I’ve clearly lost a lot, if not all of my money. How can you expect me to pay membership fee? Why can't you just fight for my rights as a non-profit without asking me for money, even though it’s a nominal fee? They might think of it as a matter of principle.

Gerald: Well, that's how some think, but SIAS has to run, has to have staff, has to have experts to advise. We need lawyers, we need accountants on some problems the investors are involved in.

ARE NON-PROFIT STAFF SALARIES EXCESSIVE?

Bharati: Is it too much to expect them to work pro bono to help investors who have been burnt?

Gerald: Some do. We have pro bono legal advice, but when it comes to legal cases, or when it comes to putting up opinions they need time. They can do certain work pro bono, but certain work needs to be paid. Who pays SIAS staff? It's not easy to get staff.

Bharati: Which brings me to my next point - the salaries of staff of non-profits such as yourself. Your salary clearly contributes to costs. I know you have various committees and the Remuneration Committee decides your salary, but what is your salary?

Gerald: Yes, the Remuneration Committee (RC) evaluates senior management salaries and recommends to the Management Committee (MC) without the involvement or knowledge of the senior management staff. 

The MC on the recommendation of the RC decided on the current remuneration of my salary (President/CEO) at S$18,000 per month in 2014, before SIAS became a charity. There has been no revision since then. The CEO’s salary package includes all expenses incurred in carrying out his official work using his own car, like ERP, parking charges, petrol, hire purchase fees and maintenance of the vehicle.

Among all the valuable contributions and services of the President/CEO working full time for the organisation, the RC and MC had taken due cognisance that the President/CEO is not covered by any medical or hospitalisation insurance nor will he receive any contractual gratuity upon his retirement. He is solely responsible for raising the funds necessary to run the programmes and the logistics. The affordability has also been a major consideration. 

Bharati: But your salary surpasses that of the average Singapore by a lot. Considering this has been an issue for many Singaporeans especially since the NKF saga, the quantum might cause some concern even though you’re transparent about it. Have you considered that if your salaries weren't this high, you'd be able to do much more even with less membership fees and funding?

Gerald: I raise sufficient funds annually to meet the expenses of the association – logistics and salaries. It is the need to raise more funds to use the media widely to reach out to more people that prompted me to say that our main concern is funds. The current funds raised are sufficient to organise numerous activities for our members annually. When comparing salaries, one looks at industry benchmark and not at all and sundry. The management committee does set KPIs for the CEO and on the basis of performance, his salary is fixed. Based on the average salary of the CEO across all industries regardless of size, it is S$256,000 per year (S$21,300 per month) for a CEO with 10 to 20 years’ experience. SIAS does not raise funds from the public at all, but from corporations and financial institutions only. We are dealing with investors and not involved with social services as a whole. SIAS is fully transparent and one should look at our annual reports on our website. The members of SIAS are advised at AGMs and are at liberty to question the committee. The members have accepted the committee’s decisions on salaries and programmes.

Bharati: But S$18,000 a month for the head of a non-profit could seem excessive to people considering also that you say funding for some of your activities to increase outreach is an issue.

Gerald: The chairman of the Remuneration Committee says that they are in a position to justify the salary of the CEO. I worked for free for a year as there was no funds to pay a CEO and then when I started to raise funds to set up the office, staff and other logistics, the committee appointed me as CEO at S$9,000 per month as it wanted someone with passion to build SIAS up. With no support from the Government or investors, I started to engage corporations, financial institutions to sponsor our investor education and corporate governance programmes. It was an uphill task. I persevered.

Investor rights and education was extended to those who needed it without charge. Later, after a few years we were able to involve MoneySENSE and ABS to help fund our community education programmes. After seven years, the committee on its own, looking at the funds and the totality of funds I was raising alone, the number of programmes I was organising and the branding SIAS was achieving as a result of my initiatives, revised my salary, also on the basis of affordability and sufficiency of funding for programmes set by it.

The other factors considered, I am raising funds for the association in the amount of about S$2.3 million a year, have forgone my opportunity to earn many times more in the private sector, have sacrificed much to bring SIAS to where it is. Take away the disbursements I am incurring, we are really looking at few thousand dollars less. All expenses and disbursements are audited internally and externally and reported to the regulators.

David Gerald SIAS

RESOLVING ISSUES IN THE BOARDROOM RATHER THAN THE COURTROOM

Bharati: You’ve said in previous media interviews that SIAS is unique in that you resolve issues in the boardroom and not in the courtroom. You also wouldn’t hesitate to take legal action if you deem it necessary, but because you leave legal action as a last resort, won’t companies feel that they have some latitude to take advantage of investors?

Gerald: We will take legal action when all communication breaks down and there is no sign of the company wanting to speak with us or wanting a sincere desire to settle the issue, then we would have no choice. But to ask the shareholders to come up with a fund, each one paying S$500 or S$300, each one a certain sum, and then aggregate that, and appoint the lawyer to take up the cause, it can all be too much.

In my experience in the last 18 years, because we don't talk law and we don't talk about lawyers being involved, companies are willing to sit with me over a cup of tea or over lunch and resolve the issues quite amicably.

Bharati: If there were the threat of legal action, won’t it be more likely that they wouldn't make those mistakes in the first place?

Gerald: Well they always have rich investors, whether they are rich investors or institutional investors, they are always investing in these companies and they have lawyers. I don't think they want to deliberately make mistakes. It’s just that certain decisions, investment decisions go wrong, and investors get frustrated.

We can only take legal action when there is deliberate interference with one's investments and they do something illegal. When businesses break down because of global reasons or reasons beyond the control of the company, one does not talk about legal action. In Singapore I would say, the majority of the corporate leaders are men of integrity. That is my judgment from dealing with them regularly. They obey the law, they follow the corporate governance practices and best practices, recommendations, and we don't have problems with most of them. But as you know, with S-chips and some of the smaller companies, penny stocks, we would have problems. Most of them, we have resolved but some of them we can't. When criminal offences are committed, breaches of the law are very clear. Then the enforcement has to set in. SIAS hands it over to them or informs them or we leave it to them.

FINANCIAL LITERACY IN S’PORE IS STILL BEHIND OTHER DEVELOPED NATIONS

Bharati: How would you compare financial literacy among Singaporeans with financial literacy in other developed countries?

Gerald: We are still behind compared with the US and Australia, but we have come some distance. In the past, we had no investor education. We’ve only had it for the last 17 or 18 years. But today, many more are accessing the Internet for information; so if you go to AGMs now, you would find quite a number of younger people, standing up and taking the boards to task, which is a good sign. Very good sign. We have been teaching people how to interpret annual reports and we have been posting questions on annual reports, helping them to understand how to raise questions, not only on business performance, but on governance and on strategies.

Bharati: Why are we still behind some other countries like the US and Australia then?

Gerald: They have had a good start, early start. And they have been used to it because their investments are largely held by pensions, pension funds and institutional funds so they have had a good start.

Bharati: I hear from some people that they feel the Government should regulate, or the Government or an organisation like SIAS should step in and save them should something go wrong with their investments. To what extent do you think that mentality has also contributed to people being less discerning on their own?

Gerald: Yes, there has been for a long time, an expectation on the part of the citizen that the Government will take care of everything and the Government will regulate. When capital markets are deregulated and the stock exchange is no more regulated like before, people are on their own. They can't rely on regulations too much. They have to rely on themselves, their own informed decision.

Some can’t understand, so they keep running to SGX or SIAS, asking for protection, asking for help, asking us to recover the money they have lost. As we move further into the future, it's going to be entirely your own decision. You can't run to the police or SIAS and SGX and say, help me.

If there is a clear breach of regulations, listing rules and laws, they will take action. They will not sit quiet. But where it's your investment decision that’s gone wrong, they can't help you because businesses sometimes do fail, and global factors do change very, very fast. You never know.

Tomorrow, Trump may say something and it would affect investments. Or if there is an election in America or Europe, it has a bearing on our markets. Depending on global factors, one has to therefore be enlightened, needs to be educated, and needs to know how to position oneself before parting with the money.

Just stop and think, is this what I want to do, is this for me? Do I have to part with my precious hard-earned money for this? Can't I listen to someone cleverer than me to tell me whether I am right or wrong?

Quite a number of times, they say this stock has been listed therefore it's a good stock, which is not the case. The company has complied with the minimum requirements over the listing rules and they have been allowed to list, but as an investor, you still need to study the company's business, viability and the risks, and then decide. So it all takes time. People say, why should I spend so much time going through the books and the information? They get very tired. Very sad. That mentality still exists among a number of Singaporeans.

Bharati: So if you are not willing to do your work on your own …

Gerald: You are likely to face the risks.

David Gerald SIAS (2)
"Investing without knowledge is gambling": David Gerald, president and CEO of SIAS.

Bharati: What are the biggest challenges in investor education today?

Gerald: I think it's the desire to earn a lot of money because houses are very expensive in Singapore. Cars are very expensive in Singapore. The young people want these things, right? So they are looking for avenues to make quick money, big money. My fear is that if they try to make quick money, gambling their hard-earned money, listening to people, scammers, people who direct them the wrong way, they are going to lose money, so we have to impress upon the young minds that they need investor education before they invest. And that has to be a very big national push. To inculcate the habit takes a long time.

The success rate of investor education is how many people are falling victim. During the last 17 years, I’ve seen the numbers falling. People are beginning to listen and are coming for investor education, the investor education numbers are quite big. About 700 to 800 people in one sitting. I am hopeful that the younger population of Singaporeans is more keen to learn, more keen to make an informed decision. This is my view at the moment. I am encouraged by that.

DEALING WITH COMMUNICATION AND DIRECTOR TRAINING

Bharati: What do you consider to be the most pressing issues in the area of investor rights and in investor knowledge at this point?

Gerald: The ability to communicate and allow communication. Two-way communication between the company and the shareholder, and be sincere in wanting to engage shareholders in the mid and small caps, is largely the problem.

Bharati: What have you observed?

Gerald: We’ve received feedback that the chairmen of boards are not very happy with shareholders standing up to ask too many questions, questions that are lengthy, or questions that may be a little bit deeper than they expected, so they tend to shut them up, and stop the question by interfering.

So the governance code does have a provision and recommendation that says that shareholders must be encouraged to participate. But many of them don't encourage. They’d rather not, or they have an AGM very far away from town, very difficult for shareholders to attend, or they have it at an awkward time when people are working.

I don't see why companies can't have AGMs on Saturdays, or evenings, they can easily have that after work, if they are genuinely interested in engaging.

So we’re working towards getting them to change by talking to them. But we’re also educating investors on how to read annual reports and ask key questions.

Bharati: If a company doesn’t engage investors well, then maybe investors shouldn't invest in them anymore.

Gerald: Yeah, this is what we tell investors. These companies are not good in governance and we rate them, we publish and went to put them in various blogs. There are many companies that are willing to engage, and are enlightened enough to know that if they don't then they would lose investments, then SIAS would be at their heels. One-third of the listed companies in my view, need to improve communication and this year we are going to give an Excellence in Communication Award. We are going to rate companies in their communication.

Bharati: You spoke earlier to me off-air about one other area you are concerned about and that is director training.

Gerald: Yes, one of the areas I am anxious to see is a director training programme. I think that should be made compulsory for all new directors. I am surprised it has not happened yet. If you want to be a director, you need to know how to govern a company, you need to know your duties and liabilities. You need to know the Corporate Governance Code, therefore you need to have best practices in the forefront of your mind. And you will not then have difficulties facing shareholders. You would not have difficulties that you have not done this and done that and commit breaches of the law.

Bharati: Why isn't director training just standard operating procedure?

Gerald: I don’t know. I am surprised. It should have been standard. In many, many jurisdictions, training is there, but somehow it's left to individuals and companies to do that. It should be the law in the Companies Act. It is not at this moment. I would like to see that happen one day. If you want to buy a car, you need COE. You want to get married you need a certificate, if you want to be a director and handle someone else's money, in charge of governing someone else's capital, you better be trained, you better know what you can do and cannot do.

Bharati: But also, with a lot of these regulations, even when it comes to, for example, financial planners explaining investments to their clients, they merely tick the boxes on the checklists. They don’t really explain things well or manage their responsibilities well. So what’s really the point?

Gerald: Yes, you are right. Many companies do that, just tick the boxes. They are not very sincere about the spirit of the law, rather the letter of the law. I think that's where MAS and SGX are also working very hard together with an association like ours.

Together, we want to send this message. And together, they should work together, the boards, the shareholders must work to ensure that the governance of the company is at its best. If you want to attract global capital across the board, then you have to adhere to standards.

“NO AMOUNT OF REGULATION CAN ENSURE A TROUBLE-FREE STATE”

Bharati: Of course, corporate governance does not only extend to companies, to profit-making companies, but it extends to charities and religious organisations. We discussed how you manage your own governance and there’s more information on your website, but we have seen quite a number of cases in the past few years that have grabbed the headlines in this arena. How concerned are you about what’s happening here?

Gerald: Well, we are not so bad. But there have been some bad cases that have gone to court. You have City Harvest and before that you had others. I think there will always been failures. Everyone must not expect that we are perfect. The world is not perfect, people are not perfect right, but when it comes to handling money, there is always a problem.

Sometimes people do make mistakes, or they become greedy, they handle the situation wrongly, so the laws are there in place to take action.

The enforcement is what is important. Do we have a good enforcement policy in Singapore? We do.

We have a very high reputation for enforcing the law.

We have also had a reputation for a long time that when you make mistakes you must pay for it. That has been a deterrent. But some slip through the net and we bring them to court. That’s why donors and investors need to be educated too.

But no amount of laws and regulations would ensure that it's a trouble-free state or society.

I personally think, from cradle to grave, if you want to ensure good behaviour and good norms, It has to start from home, with a child being told what is right and wrong. It's got to be in-built in the character of the person. It's got to be in-built in school curriculum. When I was a young boy in school, we had religious studies, we had civics classes, ethics classes right up to O-Levels.

Bharati: Now we have Character and Citizenship Education.

Gerald: But very often, I am told that parents come to school and say teachers have to take responsibility. This is what teachers tell me. But parents have to take responsibility. You have to teach the child from the cradle right up to the time the child leaves your home. They must know what is right and wrong and will not do it because it's morally wrong more than legally wrong. If the child has a seed in him or her, it's very unlikely that they would breach the law. But some will. Very, very few will. Our society would be better regulated. We need to have that at home and in school. 

Source: CNA/cy

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