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September 25, 2017

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Number of new bankruptcy cases hits a four-year high in Singapore

SINGAPORE--The number of people made bankrupt last year rose by 14 percent to reach 1,992 — the highest percentage since 2009.

The Insolvency and Public Trustee's Office (IPTO) under the Ministry of Law gave general reasons for the rise: overspending, business failure and unemployment.

Certainly, the overall jobless rate has risen — from 1.8 percent at the end of 2012 to 2.2 percent in June of last year, according to the Ministry of Manpower.

The business environment also got tougher last year.

For instance, high vehicle costs, on the back of sky-high Certificate of Entitlement prices, have hit small- and medium-sized businesses hard, while strident curbs on car loans have sent sales plunging by up to half, noted the Singapore Vehicle Traders Association. Membership of the association has also shrunk, from 410 to around 390, since the curbs kicked in, indicating that some traders have folded.

People here are also borrowing more, according to the Credit Bureau Singapore.

The amount of bad debt owed by individuals hit SG$425.92 million (US$338 million) last year — 26 percent higher than in 2009.

This is even though the number of defaulters fell, from 28,266 to 24,698, over the same period.

The effects of gambling also cannot be ruled out, said financial expert Leong Sze Hian. The two integrated resorts, Resorts World Sentosa and Marina Bay Sands, opened in 2010.

He said that when he was invited to Tokyo in 2010 to speak on casinos, he did some research and found that bankruptcy cases crept up "in every country after a casino has opened."

Observers are mixed, however, over whether the Debt Repayment Scheme, started in 2009 to help people avoid bankruptcy, has reduced or added to bankruptcy cases.

The program applies to those who are employed and owe not more than SG$100,000 (US$79,396). They must pay off their debt in installments within five years.

Leong, who counsels bankrupts, says people unable to keep up with their debt installment plan payments under the scheme may now be emerging as bankruptcy statistics.

But lawyer Vijai Parwani, who serves bankruptcy notices on behalf of motor firms and credit companies, said new bankruptcy cases would have been significantly higher if not for the scheme.

Last year, 1,968 people were put on the scheme — 15 percent more than in 2012.

Parwani added that with new guidelines on borrowings introduced last year, new bankruptcy cases should dip soon.

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