SINGAPORE (Nov 26): For decades, Singapore has thrived on the idea that it is, in a word, exceptional. “We are a small country in this part of the world and to survive, you have to be exceptional,” Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said at a May Day Rally in 2015. The city state does not have the natural resources that its neighbours are endowed with. But, through hard work and perseverance, it has transformed itself into the successful trade and financial services centre it is today. Its strong rule of law and regulatory environment, stable government and free capital markets have attracted MNCs, financial institutions and the world’s wealthy to its shores.
Yet, several cases of corporate malfeasance and other questionable behaviour among publicly-listed companies here have tested local investors’ trust in the system. In 2013, the penny stock crash, a result of alleged stock manipulation by John Soh Chee Wen and his associates, wiped out some $8 billion in shareholder value. Then there were allegations of fraud at Midas Holdings and Trek 2000. The former was a supplier to the China rail industry and the latter a home-grown tech company that invented the ubiquitous ThumbDrive; both were once investors’ darlings.
Even before all this happened, investors were burnt by several China-based companies that were encouraged to list on the Singapre Exchange. Many of the companies collapsed under the weight of poor management and wrongdoing, and shareholders lost their money. Questions have been raised about how such actions escaped detection by investors, independent directors on their boards, auditors and regulators.