Childcare director under probe still keen to expand chain

A childcare centre director, who allegedly made unauthorised withdrawals from the Child Development Accounts (CDA) of several children in her care, was still keen to expand her childcare chain while being investigated.

Madam Chan Chew Shia, who runs 11 Sweetlands Childcare centres with her husband Ho Boon Hong, bid for four sites in Housing Board void decks in a tender exercise which closed on Oct 8 last year.

But all their bids - and 15 by other operators - were found to have not met eligibility criteria for the "quality component", according to tender results released last month.

The quality component makes up half the "tender score" and includes criteria such as affordability, an operator's track record and the quality of the pre-school programmes. The rest of the tender score depends on the bid price.

The sites that were up for tender were in Pasir Ris Drive, Yuan Ching Road, Fernvale Street and Punggol Walk. The first two sites were awarded respectively to Ms Loy Wee Mee, who runs Pre-School By-The-Park, and Mr Wong Wei Li, who runs AceKidz. The last two were awarded to Greenland Childcare Centre.

When asked why she was interested to place bids despite being investigated, Madam Chan told The Straits Times: "It has always been part of Sweetlands' goal to expand."

Sweetlands Childcare was set up in 1987, and five of its 11 centres are in Woodlands.

The others are in Clementi, Farrer Road, Jurong (East and West), Punggol and Yishun.

Last July, after an audit by the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) raised questions about the withdrawals, the MSF served notice to Madam Chan and Mr Ho to tell them that their status as Approved Persons would be revoked.

The case was also referred to the Commercial Affairs Department.

The couple were given 28 days to explain why their status should not be revoked. They gave their reasons but, after assessing this, the MSF served notice to them on Oct 14 telling them that the status would be revoked on Oct 21.

This means that they are now not authorised to make any deductions from CDAs, but a new Approved Person has since been appointed so children enrolled at Sweetlands Childcare centres can still use their CDAs to pay childcare fees.

Meanwhile, police investigations are still ongoing. The couple could each be fined up to $20,000 if convicted of breaching the Child Development Co-Savings Regulations.

Responding to media queries, an MSF spokesman did not say why Madam Chan's bids were ineligible, but noted that the Approved Person status is not a factor in the tender evaluation process.

All Sweetlands centres are still operating as usual, and the MSF said last year that this is allowed as there are no issues with the safety or well-being of children enrolled at the centres.

This article was first published on Feb 10, 2016.
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