NParks Buys Expensive Brompton Bikes, Thanks To Sole Tender
While Singapore generally enjoys a low crime rate, we do have our share of white-collar crime cases. And from time to time, cases arise whose verdicts leave us confused and wondering what reasoning was involved behind them, as the culprits seem to have gotten away lightly.
In a 3-part series, MustShareNews will look at Singapore’s most notorious scandals and their sentences that have left us confused, and tapped into the experience of a legal expert — Mr Yeo Sam Jay, Academic in Law & Linguistics in Kaplan Singapore — to explain to us the reasons behind them.
In the first part, we examine a case where over $50,000 of taxpayers’ money was blown on premium British bicycles.
It started off as an initiative with good intentions.
The National Parks Board (NParks) wanted to purchase bicycles for their patrol officers.
But they didn’t want bikes that can be spotted at your neighbourhood bicycle shop — they wanted the premium, foldable M6L models from UK bike company Brompton.
The price tag for one bike? $2,200.
NParks bought 26 of them.
Following a report by Lianhe Zaobao, furious netizens voiced their concerns, questioning the necessity of such costly bikes and asking to see the bidding process.
More drama ensued when Diginexx, the sole authorised distributor for Brompton bikes in Singapore, claimed on Facebook that only one company placed a bid for the tender.
“No local bike companies” were aware of the NParks’ invitation to quote on GeBiz as government agencies are not expected to purchase “high-end bicycles for group use”, it added.
It didn’t help that the tender only lasted for 3 working days.
Sharp-eyed netizens also noted the over-detailed specifications required of the foldable bicycles — one clause demanded the wheels of the bicycles be exactly 16 inches, coincidentally the size of those on the Brompton bikes NParks eventually purchased.
Bikehop, the company responsible for the only bid, unsurprisingly received the contract.
Source: Google Maps
So, why did NParks decide to work with a non-authorised reseller with no proper office, rather than with an established company they had previous dealings with — Diginexx hosted a Brompton bike workshop with NParks back in 2011?
Investigations by netizens soon provided the answer.
An unknown entity in this saga so far, Mr Bernard Lim, then assistant director of NParks’ Park Connector Network division, was suddenly thrusted into the spotlight after a HardwareZone forum user discovered of his friendship — on Facebook, at least — with 2 of Bikehop’s owners, Mr Lawrence Lim Chun How and Mr Willie Ong.
Their friendship was forged before the tender.
Lim was in charge of the procurement of the Brompton bicycles.
Subsequent investigations also revealed that Bernard and Lawrence had met in September or October 2011 at a night cycling event, and the former tipped the latter off about the Brompton tender a few weeks prior to its commencement.
The Ministry of National Development (MND) had earlier conducted its own internal audit and confirmed the suspected ties.
11 days after the explosive report, Bernard Lim was reported to the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) and suspended from duty.
No Evidence Of Corruption?
Despite the clear conflict of interest — judge Marvin Bay described the duo’s friendship as “highly supportive and nurturing” — the CPIB failed to find any evidence of corruption.
Instead, Bernard Lim was charged with lying to MND’s auditors about his relationship with Lawrence Lim — the former claimed they had only first met 2 months after the tender ended to discuss fulfilment delay — and fined the maximum of $5,000.
He was also accused of knowingly abetting by instigation, instructing Lim to corroborate their lies when questioned by the authorities and to “unfriend” each other on Facebook.
The charge was later dropped.
The prosecution had originally asked for a sentence “longer than those handed out in previous cases that also involved lying to public servants”, but Judge Bay noted that Bernard Lim did not benefit financially from the deal.
Both parties appealed the court’s verdict but were summarily dismissed by the High Court.
Why No Jail Time?
While this extraordinary saga leads one to wonder how Bernard Lim’s superiors and the entire NParks organisation missed the questionable tender, perhaps the most confusing aspect lies in Bernard Lim’s eventual punishment.
With many Singaporeans convinced it was a case of corruption and circumstances pointing to an undoubtable conflict of interest, why wasn’t Bernard Lim given a custodial sentence?
It’s problematic if rich and elite people are perceived to have escaped with a light sentence for their crimes — people may start losing faith in our justice system and it doesn’t bode well for the nation.
Q: When it comes to dealing with tenders, are companies legally obliged to obtain at least 3 quotations before making a decision?
A: Yes, if the budget exceeds a certain amount e.g. $2,000/= or as stipulated by the company’s constitution.
Q: If conflict of interest is established, is a mere fine enough to deter others from offending, or would a jail term be warranted?
A: Sentencing is at the discretion of the judge and if the breach is considered minor e.g. first offence, this could mitigate the gravity of the sentence.
Q: If a jail term is warranted, why wasn’t Lim jailed despite the prosecution’s requests?
A: The judge balances the arguments of the prosecution and the defence; taking into account breaches pursuant to the Companies Act, the Trustees Act and the criminal penal code respectively and decides on a jail term or a fine or both.
A course on Company Law (BSL305) as part of the Bachelor of Business in Business Law (Single Major) offered by Murdoch University will help understand the Comapanies Act and the types of account breaches and their prescribed punishments.
Q: Are there similar cases where suspects were jailed for lying to public servants?
A: There was a former school principal who falsely represented his relationship with a school vendor and derived unjust benefits from it. He appealed against his 4-week jail sentence but the appellate court upheld it; clarifying that such conduct was a clear conflict of interest. Again, the gravity of the sentence is pegged to the intensity of the culpability.
While the sentence afforded to Bernard Lim might seem lenient, the courts were merely following the relevant laws. If change were to happen, perhaps Parliament would be a better avenue to petition for it.
In the next instalments of this series, we’ll be looking at the man who single-handedly bankrupted the world’s second-oldest bank, and the infamous Slim 10 scandal that resulted in numerous health complications among its users.
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