Letters to the Editor
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Seminar on Professional Conduct and Indemnity
Being censured, suspended or struck off the
professional roll appears to be the final common pathway for errant professionals, be they
lawyers, accountants, architects, surveyors and valuers, engineers or doctors.
Participants at the seminar on "Professional Conduct and Indemnity" held on
Saturday afternoon, 30 January 1999, learned about the disciplinary process and practices
of various professional groups in Singapore. The seminar was jointly organised by the
Institute of Certified Public Accountants of Singapore (ICPAS), the Law Society of
Singapore, the Singapore Institute of Architects (SIA), the Singapore Institute of
Surveyors and Valuers (SISV), Singapore Medical Association (SMA) and the Institution of
Engineers, Singapore (IES).
Held in a tranquil location at Bukit Tinggi, the IES building provided the venue for an ongoing series of seminars initiated by the Inter-Professional Presidents Group (IPPG). Here, prominent speakers from six professions gave an insight on how each profession self-regulated, and explained the disciplinary process, the process for recourse and punishment handed out.
ICPAS was represented by Mr Roland Ma and Mr Jen Shek Voon. There are 12,000 accountants in ICPAS, and complaints against them are directed to the ICPAS council. Anonymous complaints are not entertained. For complaints by members against members, a $1,000 deposit with a statutory declaration is mandatory. Complaints by the public against ICPAS members, which do not require any deposits, go through a sieving mechanism involving an ethics committee before the disciplinary committee takes action. (Complaints made by the public against accountants who are not ICPAS members are not handled.) Various examples of complaints against accountants from both members of the association as well as the public were given. Accountants are regulated in Singapore under the Accountants Act.
SIA was represented by Mr Edward Wong. The architect profession in Singapore is regulated by the Architects Act through the Board of Architects (BOA). The Singapore Institute of Architects (SIA) is a professional body with a current membership of about 750. Membership is voluntary.
Complaints are received and dealt with by both BOA as well as SIA. SIA has its own disciplinary committee. However, in serious situations, it refers cases to the BOA which has powers to order censure, cancellation of registration, suspension for a period or, in cases of severe gravity, impose a penalty not exceeding $10,000 on a registered architect or corporation.
Dr Amy Khor represented SISV. Land surveyors, quantity surveyors and valuers are represented by SISV, formed in 1982 when the Singapore Institute of Surveyors and Singapore Institute of Valuers merged. Members of SISV are governed by the Institutes Code of Conduct and Ethics as set out in its bye-laws. As at the end of 1998, there are 1,188 members in SISV.
The speaker from IES was Er Ong See Ho, who is also Registrar of PE Board. About 3,400 professional engineers in Singapore are registered with the Professional Engineers Board under the Professional Engineers Act. Members of the PE Board are appointed by the Minister for National Development and comprise a President, 3 members nominated by IES, 1 member nominated by the Board of Architects and 5 others to be determined by the Minister. All disciplinary inquiries begin with a written charge and are heard by the Board. Grounds for action include fraud, dishonesty or moral turpitude, illicit commission, improper conduct, contravention of code of conduct and ethics or being found unable to carry out duties of a professional engineer effectively. Appeals to the High Court can be made against the disciplinary actions decided by the Board.
Lawyers are the most complained against when compared to other professions, as revealed by the Speaker representing the Law Society (membership about 3,300), Mr Palakrishnan. There are about 15 - 20 complaints per month. Since 1991, lawyers in Singapore have to purchase a compulsory professional indemnity insurance scheme; coverage has increased from $500,000 at inception of the scheme to $1 million. Annual premiums are around $1,800 - $2,400. All advocates and solicitors making an application for a practising certificate are required to take out and maintain such insurance with the Societys insurers.
Dr Wong Chiang Yin represented the Singapore Medical Association (SMA) and spoke on the differences between the roles of SMA, the professional organisation with voluntary membership and the Singapore Medical Council (SMC), the statutory body. About two-thirds of the 5,000 doctors in Singapore are dues-paying members of the SMA.
He also spoke on the various types of professional insurance for doctors, highlighting the claims-made basis as contrasted to the incident-occurrence basis. Though the vast majority of doctors are still indemnified under organisations such as the Medical Defence Union and the Medical Protection Society and more recently an insurance type scheme is being introduced in Singapore.
Leaders of the various professional organisations attending the seminar certainly benefited from the exchange of information on the ethical and disciplinary processes governing the professions in Singapore and also from the personal contacts and friendship made in this joint seminar.
DR REXON NGIM
Member, Ethical Issues and Policy Review Committee