A NEW mini industry has sprung up: A plethora of consultants offering to help businesses take advantage of official schemes aimed at lifting productivity.
But not all of them necessarily have the best of intentions.
On Wednesday, enterprise agency Spring Singapore warned of two websites which, it said, could mislead people into thinking they can apply for the Innovation & Capability Voucher (ICV) through those websites.
The scope of the ICV scheme - one of several aimed at lifting productivity - was expanded in this year's Budget to encourage more firms to take it up, although some have said this may raise the risk of the scheme being exploited.
Spring's corporate communications director Chin Sau Ho said the agency has encountered several such sites which attempted to associate themselves "in varying degrees" with Spring or its programmes. An exact number of such sites was not available. "We wrote to some of them to seek clarification and voice our concerns, and they have since removed the inappropriate portions," said Mr Chin in a statement. He added that Spring has been monitoring the situation carefully.
Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) The Straits Times spoke to appeared to have similar concerns. Food manufacturing company Hock Lian Huat managing director William Tan said his friends who owned SMEs had received spam mail from some operators. And he had seen a Facebook page purporting to be from an SME Centre - facilities islandwide supported by the Government to offer advice to SMEs.
"I've warned my friends... Such misleading tactics will adversely affect SMEs that really need help," he added.
An SME boss in the education industry, who wanted to be known only as Mr Lim, said: "Those who are less savvy among us, like the more senior SME owners in traditional businesses, can easily fall prey."
Spring has a list of pre-approved participating service providers for the ICV, although consultants not listed can still dispense advice on the scheme.
Mr Wee Chin Chuan, who is executive director at one such participating service provider, Oriel Management Consulting, said: "Such brokers are not well-equipped with government grant information and objectives. Many unknowingly misrepresent the information to SMEs. This creates confusion in the market."
Mr Gary Loh, director at business advisers PurpleClay Consulting, said the few "rotten apples" in the industry are likely newer players trying to earn a quick buck or undercut the competition.
He also said Spring should consider stricter assessment criteria for consultants based on their background and project records.
Some websites offer to help firms tap the Productivity and Innovation Credit (PIC) scheme, which is administered by the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (Iras). One site said it was a "government grants consultancy company in Singapore that... knows the ingredients for a successful PIC Grant application".
In a statement, Iras yesterday said it does not intervene as long as the "intent and parameters of the PIC scheme are represented accurately" on these websites.
"However, consultants and vendors that misrepresent the scheme... in an effort to sell their services or products may be liable for tax offences. For those who flout the tax law, we will not hesitate to prosecute them in court."
Association of Small and Medium Enterprises vice-president Irene Boey said she has heard complaints about similar websites, which give false "guarantees" on obtaining grants. "This malpractice... is a really serious concern. We advise SMEs to approach SME Centres, which can offer free advice to businesses on the schemes and grants available," she added.
Meanwhile, the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority in a statement yesterday said it is not related to "any party using the name 'Company Register'".
Some small-business owners said they have received letters from this entity requesting information about their companies.