HDB officer fined $2k for breaching Official Secrets Act by giving confidential info to ST journalist

Maria Almenoar
The Straits Times
Wednesday, Dec 20, 2017

Civil servant Ng Han Yuan was fined $2,000 on Wednesday (Dec 20) for breaching the Official Secrets Act by giving confidential information to a Straits Times journalist.

Ng, 25, a Housing Board officer who works as an estate manager in the resale operations section, gave information to journalist Janice Tai Jia Ling between May 31 and July 16 this year (2017), the court heard.

Ng had conveyed to Ms Tai information about a HDB project titled Streamlining of Resale Transactions. The project revolved around a new HDB portal which was being worked on and had not been made public at the time of the offence.

Those convicted of an offence under the OSA can be jailed for up to two years and fined up to $2,000. Ng had been suspended by HDB pending the outcome of the case.

Ng, who wore a jacket, white shirt and black pants, was seen huddled in prayer with several people outside the court before the hearing. About 11 people were there with him, including his parents and church members.

Court documents showed that Ng and Ms Tai, 29, met through a dating app called Coffee Meets Bagel in March this year and subsequently communicated over mobile app Whatsapp.

They met as friends every fortnight or so and Ng was aware that Ms Tai was a journalist and wrote articles for The Straits Times.

On May 31, Ng and Ms Tai went out for drinks to celebrate Ng's birthday. Over the course of the conversation, Ng told her about his work, in particular, aspects of the Streamlining of Resale Transactions project.

Among other things, he told her that there would be a reduction of resale transaction time from 16 weeks to eight weeks and a reduction in the frequency of face-to-face appointments, from two to one.

He also shared that there would be changes to the valuation process, an online portal for services such as the checking of grants, loans and eligibility, and the possibility of a flat listing service on that portal.

Ng also spoke about how there was the possibility of a flat listing service on the online portal, a certificate of eligibility of resale flats, and key timelines for the roll-out of phases of the project.

"These were all material aspects of the project which were confidential information," the court heard.

"Janice asked the accused whether she could run a story about the project. However, (Ng) told her that the information was confidential and that she should not publish any article about the project."

Six weeks later, on July 16, Ms Tai messaged Ng on Whatsapp to ask more about the project. She asked if the online directory was for resale flats only, to which Ng replied that while the project was for resale flats only, the new portal would also cater to new and rental flats.

"(Ng) further revealed that as part of the project, HDB would be creating a new resale portal which would streamline the resale transaction process by integrating all the eligibility checks on a single platform."

The next day (July 17), HDB was notified by the Singapore Institute of Surveyors & Valuers that it had received an e-mail from Ms Tai asking for comments on the project. The e-mail from Ms Tai "posed very specific questions" about the project.

The following day (July 18) HDB received a similar e-mail from Ms Tai containing "specific information about the project which was not yet in the public domain".

As the two e-mails contained confidential information which had not been made public, HDB suspected that there had been an information leak.

On July 27, HDB's Group Director of the Estate Administration & Property Group Tan Chew Ling made a police report about a leak of confidential information.

Read the rest of the story on The Straits Times.

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