ANG MOH: SINGAPORE IS BAD PLACE TO DO BUSINESS!
I am a foreigner who used to call Singapore my second home.
It's been 3 years since I left Singapore for good and I just want to share a
few "memorable" moments I had while I was in Singapore. I have masked a few
names to not get myself into trouble, especially nowadays, people can just
sue you for "public shaming" them. I'd just like to share my stories and
these are a few stories that made me give up Singapore entirely, not because
Singapore is bad, Singapore has been good to me and I am truly grateful for
all of the opportunities that it provided me while I was there.
This is more like a rant + complaint and some of the things that I
encountered still remain a mystery to me till these days, but some of the
cases could be an example of a "loophole" and double-standard in the law, I
may be wrong but feel free to correct me.
So let me start with my first story briefly, I came to Singapore in 2007 and
like any other foreigners who were looking for a better opportunity in
Singapore, I looked for a job and landed in a small local company in Loyang
as a software developer. I was pretty lucky to secure a job within a
month-stay in Singapore. Not satisfied with the pay and the grueling working
hours that time (I occasionally had to work till 4AM without OT pay), I
eventually felt the urge to venture out on my own, few years after my
employment. I began a small business in 2012, equipped only with courage and
limited resources, I look around Singapore for a small office and eventually
found a nice 2-storey shop-house at Emerald Hill (I do not wish to
specifically name the house, but it is directly opposite Ice Cold Beer) – at
a very good deal!
At first sight, it was truly a dream-come-true office space, spacious enough
to call it a home office. I even managed to convince my parents to provide me
a start-up loan and used the loan to do a simple renovation and purchase
basic office items.
Few months after running my business at the said premises, I received a
letter from URA claiming that I had been operating my business illegally in
the premises, reason being that Emerald Hill residential area is not meant
for businesses, regardless how small the business is, regardless how discreet
it is. I was given merely a week to vacate the premises.
I was disappointed and devastated of course, no matter how hard I tried to
appeal to the URA and gave them reasonings. It was a big NO. I felt cheated
or "betrayed" with the double standard, here's the reasons why:
– Upon signing the contract with the landlord, the landlord convinced me
several times that the place was suitable for small businesses, as long as we
kept it discreet, no walk-in crowds and no visible signage at the door. He
even recommended me to put a bed in one of the rooms as if someone's staying
there so I could maintain the place as a home-office.
– The landlord also mentioned that he had rented the place to so many
companies in the past and how they rented for so long, due to the strategic
location and the good rental
– One look at the place during my initial visit, one could tell that the
entire shophouse was designed to accommodate businesses, there were
partitioned cubicles and a reception desk and even racks to showcase items, I
was not allowed to touch any of those because they were all made of solid
wood, so I just moved in with the condition and layout as it is. It gave me
the impression that it was a SHOP but it was in fact just a graphic design
– When I received the letter from URA, I contacted the landlord but was told
off instead, the landlord refused to talk to the URA, I had no choice but to
speak to the URA instead, I wrote in my appeal to no avail.
– The landlord even refused to return me the rent deposit, he said that it
was not his fault, he even mentioned that our neighbours might have
complained because we might be too noisy or creating disturbance in the
surroundings. FYI, I was running a small graphic design company with only 3
staffs, how could that create a major nuisance to the neighbors, when there
were literally 2 pubs with live bands right across the shophouse?
– We eventually packed up and left. I still occasionally dropped by the
shop-house to retrieve some of the mails and to my horror, weeks later,
another company just shifted in and even put up a small signage at the door.
– I wrote in to URA and explained everything and even provided them the new
company's website (they even put the address there) plus a phone number to
call in plus the new company's Facebook event page that invited their
clients to pop over for an Open House event.
– URA replied that they had investigated but could not find any new company
there and they would investigate further.
– A month later, I followed up and URA still came back to me with the same
– So we gave up totally! Another hard truth is, my direct neighbours (left
and right shophouses), they also ran small businesses, selling garment and
even a small tuition, but since I knew them personally, I did not report them
to URA and I did not even use them as an appeal to URA. But this certainly
– In case if you don't know, there is a famous Zen Tea House at one of the
Emerald Hill shophouses too and there is a famous photography studio at
Emerald Hill too. The fact that they did not get the letter from URA still
So I eventually found a new place after that episode, I kind of moved on but
I still could not shake off the fact that I was the only one received the
letter by URA.
Moving on ….
We got an outsourced project from one of the biggest local agencies in
Singapore, we were tasked to produce invitation cards for their client – One
of the biggest luxury watches boutique in Singapore. We were approached last
minute by the agency for some reasons they did not use their regular printer
to produce the cards, so technically speaking we were given less than 2 weeks
to produce the invitation cards. I took the project out of good faith,
because I was referred to the agency by a mutual vendor.
First impression was bad, I had to deal with a project manager from hell, she
kept scolding us during the meeting and no-show during important meetings and
then there was a quiet and clumsy in-house graphic designer, who made
mistakes in her artwork that we had to correct for her. To cut things short,
it was an unpleasant experience even before the production began, knowing
that I took the project willingly out of good faith, I tried to keep my head
cool, We were given a deadline to deliver the cards on the 19th of Oct 2012
to their client's office at Ngee Ann Tower.
During the production, we kept receiving constant messages from the project
manager, she kept rushing us so we had no choice but to give in to her
demanding request, expectedly the cards were delivered with flaws and we even
admitted the mistakes by reprinting the entire batch for them at our own
expenses. Eventually we delivered the cards to their client on the given date
19th of Oct 2012 (still within the timeline).
The project manager could not make it prior to the delivery, so she asked her
colleague to go through all of the cards to ensure no more mistakes and
flaws, the staff went through everything and approved the delivery, so we
delivered the cards to their client, we mentioned to their client's person in
charge that the cards were quite dusty so they needed a little bit of
brushing, but we were more than happy to assist. The friendly staff at the
watch boutique's office turned down our offer politely, because she said she
had adequate manpower to do that simple task and so we left.
A month later, we followed up the agency for payment. to my surprise, we got
another scolding from the project manager, she claimed that their client was
not happy, because they could not sell enough tables due to late delivery.
The project manager even threatened to sue us for their client's loss. A
separate follow up email was sent to the accountant of the agency company,
but we received a different feedback, she claimed that our cards were flawed
so their client had to reprint.
Then we wrote in to ask for explanations, but we were ignored instead, the
company has been avoiding our calls and emails altogether, the total invoice
for the job was about $5000. It may not be a huge sum, but it does mean a lot
to me. Ironically the owner of the agency is a lawyer too, he knows too well
that $5000 is considered a small claim and I would be just wasting my breath
and time to pursue the $5000 via court and lawyers.
I still continously pursue the matter even after 4 years until today, but the
company keeps avoiding my calls and gave us ridiculous excuses, they could
not even answer our simple questions, I have attached the questions in the
A brief consultation with Small Tribunal Court, we were told that even after
going through court hearing, we were not guaranteed a payment. I personally
find that the Small Claim law does not protect the victim enough of the loss,
I understand that if the individual or company is proven financially
inadequate to pay the victim, then we will not get the payment, but we are
now dealing with one of the biggest agencies in Singapore, and I believe
$5000 is not a huge sum compared to the fee they are paid by big brands, they
recently just did an event for BMW and Louis Vuitton ….
– If the cards were flawed, how could that get pass the quality control check
done by the Agency themselves, knowing how meticulous and detail-oriented
– Why would they approve the cards for delivery if the cards were flawed?
– The accountant first claimed that their client had to reprint the cards
because our cards were flawed, but when we asked the agency to return all of
the cards, she immediately said that the cards had all been sent out? BIG
QUESTION MARKS !!!!
– The agency claimed that their client could not sell enough tables for the
event, so their client cut down their service fee to the agency, as a result
my company would not get paid. How many tables were considered enough tables
sold? There were so many factors that could contribute to the sales loss,
such as: tables too expensive, their guests had other agendas going on, the
timing was not right, mismanagement by the agency, and etc … how could that
loss be attributed to my invitation cards? they were all sent out to the
guests and the buying decision was entirely up to the recipient ….
– There's nothing the Small Claim Tribunal Court can do except to get us
attend the hearing and it's up to the agency if they are willing to pay or
not, I am just a small fry to them, unless the agency gets some sort of heavy
penalty, which sadly, as far as i'm concerned does not exist.
– If readers can assist me in finding the boss of the agency, that'd be
grateful, I still havent given up contacting the company, but it is just
frustrating to get played out everytime we call or email.
– What can Singapore Law do to protect small companies or even individuals
who get owed by big companies? my $5000 is a lot to me, some people may even
get owed $1000 and that's considered big to me too.
– If readers know of a way to retrieve the outstanding payment, feel free to
So moral of the stories and my rant is, I think there was so much more the
law can do to protect the original victims.
But I may be wrong about the law as I have limited understanding about the
Singaporean law especially about the small claims.
Hope readers can learn something out of it, no crime does not mean no crime