About 0.5 per cent of all successful Self-Employed Person Income Relief (SIRS) recipients are linked to erroneous declarations, said Manpower Minister Josephine Teo in Parliament on Tuesday (Jan. 5).
This amounts to about 1,000 recipients.
According to Teo, those with erroneous declarations have been approached to return their SIRS payouts, and some have already done so.
Financial declarations were taken in good faith
According to Teo, eligibility for SIRS was assessed based on the applicants' declarations of their employment income and number of properties owned, in order to provide timely assistance to self-employed individuals.
Those whose declarations met the eligibility criteria received payouts.
According to Teo, during the early months of the Covid-19 outbreak in Singapore, the government was processing and dispersing a large number of grant and support schemes to households and businesses.
"Each of these had very tight timelines to follow. And so, as a result, in order meet the timelines, there were many occasions where we decided that we should just take the individual's declarations in good faith and process the payments," said Teo.
After the SIRS payouts were audited by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), it was found that about 0.5 per cent of all successful SIRS recipients were the result of erroneous declarations.
Teo said that the audit of applications is still ongoing, and MOM will continue to reach out to those who have made erroneous declarations, in order to return their SIRS payouts.
Following the MOM audit, the SIRS payouts will also be audited by an external auditor appointed by NTUC.
Most SIRS applicants had valid reasons to apply
In a follow-up question, MP for Sengkang GRC Jamus Lim asked the Manpower Minister why such "false positive" cases exist, given that the criteria for SIRS was "so stringent".
He brought up the number of rejected SIRS applications among his residents, and asked Teo whether these "false positive" cases were a result of false reporting on the part of residents, or because the residents were misled by the criteria necessary for their applications.
In response, Teo said that most successful SIRS applicants had valid reasons to apply, and have met the eligibility criteria.
However, a very small number of applicants may have been mistaken in their own understanding of their circumstances, and received the payout despite not being eligible, according to Teo.
"It is sometimes possible that the person did not quite know what he was earning, and he made a declaration based on a mistaken understanding, so we will reach out to them and try and sort these things out," said Teo.
According to Teo, there is also a group of SIRS recipients who were included automatically, based on past data which showed their eligibility.
These individuals were given the payout, without having to submit further information.
Pritam Singh said some cases were "well outside the qualifying criteria"
Leader of the Opposition Pritam Singh also weighed in on the subject, and asked Teo how many cases linked to erroneous declarations were "well outside the qualifying criteria", and were subject to a clawback as a result.
Pritam was specifically referring to cases where MOM decides that a certain SIRS application "should not have been approved" in the first place, and asks the individual to return the payout after audits are done.
He brought up an example of an individual who approached him during a Meet-the-People Session (MPS), and declared openly that he earned S$10,000 a month.
The individual had certain circumstances, said Pritam, but he reported it accordingly, and was given the SIRS payout.
His payout has since been clawed back.
In response, Teo said that she did not personally come across such a case, although she believes that "there may have been a few".
Top image via Gov.sg/YouTube.