Monday, 1 February 2016

Parliament debate on President's Address 2016: Day 5

Parliament backs President’s Address

Let's create value and share it: Heng Swee Keat
By Janice Heng, The Straits Times, 30 Jan 2016

For every Singaporean to realise his dreams, Singapore must continue to create value and share that value among its people, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat told Parliament yesterday.

The Republic can achieve this by being an innovation laboratory for the world, where good ideas can be turned into useful products and services, he added.

"If we can be a place to help solve a fraction of the world's challenges, we will create value - we will have our place in the world," he said, adding that the Committee on the Future Economy, which he chairs, will study this in detail.

His speech came at the tail end of the five-day debate on the President's Address, after 62 MPs, including Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, spoke.

They covered issues ranging from Singapore's safety and security to the economic renewal and how to build a more caring society. PM Lee had also spoken about proposed changes to Singapore's Non-Constituency MP and Elected President schemes.

Heng Swee Keat takes inspiration from Lee Kuan Yew's favourite word: "So?"
Posted by Channel NewsAsia Singapore on Friday, January 29, 2016

Yesterday, painting an image of Singapore as the world's sandbox, where ideas can be perfected, Mr Heng urged Singaporeans to ride the new wave of invention and economic disruption.

If Singapore is to thrive in the new global economy, it must stay open, innovative, adaptive to change, and remain useful to the world, he said.

To this end, he added, Singapore is well-placed to succeed, thanks to three conditions: it has no choice but to innovate, no lack of support to do so, and no limit to its imagination.

Since its founding, Singapore has faced challenges which spur innovation, from a lack of water to an ageing population, he said.

The country has also been investing in research and development and connecting with the world, making it well-placed to serve as a global hub for ideas.

Singapore's imagination is also limitless, he added. "We may not realise this, but we are a people with a habit of innovation, and a habit of applying innovation in every aspect of our life," said Mr Heng, citing policy innovations such as the Central Provident Fund scheme.

But creating value alone does not guarantee success, and innovation, prosperity, progress and growth "achieve their true value when they are shared".

"If we want to move forward together, we must share value, in a fair and inclusive way," he said. "A Singapore that is of value to the world must be of even deeper value and meaning to Singaporeans."

He added that being inclusive is not just about redistributing wealth, which can run out if it is not grown. Instead, it is important to foster conditions that will provide opportunities for current and future generations.

To this end, education will make sure that "every Singaporean, regardless of family background or starting point, is empowered to build a better life".

Healthcare and housing are also major avenues through which the Government shares value with citizens, he added. "Healthcare to keep us active and vigorous in our lifetime; and housing to build our life and family."

Mr Heng said the impulse to build an inclusive society goes beyond policies and is reflected in Singaporeans' everyday lives, like when people care for one another.

"There is a richness to our relationships, reflected in the way we lead our daily lives - as peers and equals, regardless of class, status, race, religion or age. The quality of these relationships cannot be measured by metrics like GDP (gross domestic product)."

As Singapore plots its path ahead, it should also be guided by two principles encapsulated in the answers to the questions "so what" and "what for", said Mr Heng.

When faced with changes and challenges, he told the almost-full House, always consider how it will impact Singaporeans, and how to help the country succeed.

He added that while methods by which Singapore must progress will change as circumstances change, the goal of progress will stay the same: "To build a Singapore where every Singaporean can reach our dreams."

Singaporeans 'must be engaged in shaping their future'
All have to be involved in navigating rapidly evolving work landscape and society: MPs
By Joyce Lim, The Straits Times, 30 Jan 2016

In the movie The Intern, actor Robert De Niro plays a 70-year-old retiree who decides to apply for a job as an intern in an online fashion company - a work environment very different from what he knew.

He wanted "the connections, the excitement", Ms Jessica Tan (East Coast GRC) told the House yesterday, citing the film to illustrate how the work landscape and society are changing rapidly.

She added that it was important for Singapore to provide fulfilling jobs for its people in a more uncertain future, because "to have meaningful work gives confidence to our people, to not only make a living but also to feel included and a sense of belonging and commitment".

Ms Tan was one of six MPs who spoke on the final day of debate on the President's Address. Over the past week, many MPs said all segments of society had to be engaged and feel involved in shaping their future, and yesterday, Ms Tan said this had to extend to the workforce.

"Many of today's top jobs didn't exist a few years ago, and how work is organised in the workplace is evolving. It's no longer a place for people to go to work, withmore people being able to work from anywhere," said Ms Tan.

"I am somewhat optimistic about the new opportunities that will be created as well as concerned about the impact and the disruption these changes will bring."

Figures from the Manpower Ministry show total employment growth slowed to a 12-year low last year, and workers have to be prepared to pick up new skills and prepare to take on jobs of the future.

But at the same time, companies should also tap the wealth of experience held by mature professionals, managers and executives.

"When you bring that diversity of talent together, both young (and) old, you will see the impact that that will bring," she added.

Parliamentary Secretary for Culture, Community and Youth Baey Yam Keng also shared examples to show how residents value being engaged and consulted on policies and other issues. Mr Baey (Tampines GRC), who has been holding monthly "KopiTalks" in a foodcourt as well as online chats on his Facebook page over the past five years, said these informal sessions have given him a better grasp of issues that concern residents and the public.

But it was also heartening to note that Singaporeans are not just giving feedback or complaining. More are offering to get involved, he said, citing the example of volunteers helping to distribute bread to residents of rental flats in Tampines North. They are now thinking of giving free tuition to children in need.

"NEW NORMAL": In #Parliament, MP Zaqy Mohamad asks that the Government establish a taskforce to recalibrate existing policies to accommodate the new developments or requirements of the different faiths.
Posted by Channel NewsAsia Singapore on Friday, January 29, 2016

Mr Zaqy Mohamad (Chua Chu Kang GRC) spoke on the need to strengthen trust among people of various faiths at a time when many are becoming more religious.

He suggested a government body take the lead to hold more inter- faith dialogues and that a task force of members from various groups be formed to study and suggest ways to strengthen harmony.

"Religion and faith cannot be ignored in our policies to maintain religious harmony," he said.

"To preserve our secular nature of politics, we also need to be vigilant that we do not go down the line of other countries by having religious-based politics," he added.

Speech of the day

'Tradition of mentorship must continue'
The Straits Times, 30 Jan 2016

In his speech to round up the debate on the President's Address, Mr Christopher de Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) yesterday summed up the key points of 62 MPs who spoke over the past five days.

Mr de Souza, who was 30 when he was first elected in 2006, also spoke of a culture of mentoring, and hoped it would continue.

Here is an edited extract: The Prime Minister outlined how the Government will be making the necessary refinements to the current system to make our political system more robust and responsive to the changing political landscape. And to many of these proposals, I am in agreement.

But one caveat I would like to make is that any change needs to be closely accompanied by a deliberate retention of the existing culture of mentorship and the passing down of experiences. That should not change. Let me share why this is important.

Starting in politics at a young age, I had to learn humbly and fast. And more than anything, it taught me the importance and value of mentorship.

While we tweak and refine the system, let us not throw out the continuity of mentorship, especially in the ecosystem of politics. The value of mentorship from more experienced ministers, MPs, senior leaders; the imparting of values; and the training of reflex actions to make important decisions in crisis situations must never be sidelined. This is especially important for a young nation storing up its own precedents of experiences to learn from and to rely on in future.

I hope there will continue to be a long path for senior leaders to impart lessons on how to tackle difficult situations and, most importantly, values, even after they leave day-to-day leadership roles.

ESM Goh Chok Tong led Singapore as our prime minister, and still continues to serve his constituency and our nation as an MP with loyalty. To have him still imparting lessons is a treasure.

Mr Lim Swee Say and Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, my seniors in Holland-Bukit Timah GRC, impressed the importance of constituency work, being resolutely focused on residents and ensuring changes are made in Parliament if one believes hard enough in the causes one holds.

Mentorship is very important. Without it, we just drift out at sea.

Former president S R Nathan continued to mentor well into his 80s, and still does. I remember accompanying Mr Nathan on a state visit to Istanbul. It was quite a long flight, so SQ dimmed the cabin lights after the meal was cleared.

During the flight, I remember going through in my mind the briefs Ministry of Foreign Affairs had issued us on Singapore's purpose and objectives for the trip. And then, all of a sudden, I found Mr Nathan sitting on my seat's armrest. He had walked over from his seat.

I stood up immediately, anticipating he would ask me questions on the briefs. He did not. Instead he spoke with me about Singapore: Never let our guard down, stay driven, stay focused. He then talked with sincerity and insight about the Singaporean Eurasian community and asked after it.

He was mentoring, there at 33,000ft when the rest of the cabin was asleep. It left a deep impression on me. And that he was our president makes all races, majority and minority, very proud.

The value of mentorship. The ensuring that values continue. These can be passed down only by human beings - not an SOP, not an instruction manual. Mr S. Dhanabalan, himself an exceptional person, talked of the value of being mentored by Mr Lee Kuan Yew in his eulogy at MM's state funeral.

How much richer we are as a nation that we have men, with deep reservoirs of personal experience, who are able to impart life lessons in leadership long after they step down from day-to-day leadership positions. This must continue.

I was in the region on travel recently. A trusted friend many years my senior said Singapore had got it right - former leaders help, they don't ambush.

In 2012, when MM was accepting fewer public engagements, I wrote him a note expressing thanks for his mentorship. He wrote back within a day, saying: "I am glad you found our conversations over the years of value. When meeting people, you need EQ. You need IQ, because the margin of error for Singapore is very small."

The need to ensure continuity of mentorship - PM has regular lunches with two or three MPs at a time. Sometimes, we have no idea what we will be quizzed about.

The content invariably revolves around four areas - how we can better the lives of Singaporeans; how we should never be afraid of breaking out of outdated mindsets; how we each play a part in advancing Singapore; and very importantly, how are our constituents, are they well, are their children advancing, are they happy, do they have opportunities.

A 360-degree conversation about Singapore and Singaporeans - living, thinking Singapore.

Better sharing of info to fight crime
By Ng Huiwen, The Straits Times, 30 Jan 2016

In a bid to tackle transnational organised crime and terrorism, Singapore's law enforcement agencies will work more closely with their international counterparts.

This includes a move to share information to tackle crime.

It was one of two key proposed amendments to the Registration of Criminals Act introduced in Parliament yesterday by Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs Desmond Lee.

The changes will make the exchange of information with foreign agencies more timely and effective, said the Home Affairs Ministry in a statement yesterday. They will also strengthen operational procedures for the registration of criminals, it added.

The Registration of Criminals Act, which was last amended in 2005, enables police to register the particulars of convicted individuals, including criminal records, fingerprints and photographs, in the Register of Criminals. It also provides for the collection of DNA information to help identify suspects and aid in criminal investigations.

When sentencing a repeat offender, the court also considers relevant information in the register.

With the changes, local law enforcement agencies can share some information from the register while seeking information from the foreign agencies to go after criminals in Singapore.

Safeguards will be put in place to ensure that the information and sharing process are not abused.

In the other proposed amendment, law enforcement agencies here will be allowed to take particulars, such as fingerprints and body samples, from a suspect released on bail and under investigation.

Currently, these particulars can be obtained from a suspect only within 48 hours while he is under arrest.

7,900 second-timer households paid resale levy over past 6 years: MND
In the same period, HDB had received about 3,500 requests to waive the entire resale levy, while about 4,100 requests were for the partial waiving, says Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong.
Channel NewsAsia, 29 Jan 2016

From 2010 to 2015, about 7,900 second-timer households had paid the required resale levy amount when buying another subsidised flat from the Housing and Development Board (HDB), said Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong on Friday (Jan 29).

Flat owners who have sold their first flat, bought with a CPF housing grant, have to pay a resale levy when they buy another flat - a policy that aims to ensure "a fair distribution of subsidies between first- and second-timers", said Mr Wong in response to Non-constituency Member of Parliament Leon Perera.

The resale levy policy also helps prioritise the allocation of subsidies "to groups that need them most", such as first-timer citizen families seeking to buy a subsidised new flat, said Mr Wong.

He added that in the same period, HDB had received about 3,500 requests to waive the entire resale levy, while about 4,100 requests were for the partial waiver.

According to the National Development Minister, HDB assesses the appeals based on the merits of each case and advises the buyers accordingly, taking into account their family situations and circumstances.

“HDB does not allow for full waiver of the levy,” said Mr Wong.

In some cases where buyers lack the cash to pay the resale levy, Mr Wong said HDB would help by incorporating the resale levy into the purchase price of the second subsidised flat the appellant is buying, so that the appellant can subsequently pay the levy by instalments.

HDB committed to seeing defects in BTO flats fixed
Minister says 95% of problems reported are resolved within standard 14-day period
By Janice Heng, The Straits Times, 30 Jan 2016

Senior Minister of State for National Development Desmond Lee has urged residents to inform the Housing Board if contractors are "dragging their feet" over fixing defects.

But 95 per cent of defects reported are fixed within the standard 14-day period, he said in Parliament yesterday.

Mr Lee was replying to Mr Liang Eng Hwa (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC), who had asked what new home owners could do if contractors or the Building Service Centre (BSC) "are reluctant or dragging their feet" in responding to complaints about defects in new Build-To-Order (BTO) flats.

The BSC is open at each completed project during the one-year defects liability period.

Mr Liang also said there seemed to be too few HDB officers to handle the volume of complaints.

But staffing at BSCs has been increased, Mr Lee said, adding: "Let us know which areas are of concern. We will look into enhancing (support for) them."

Defects in new flats were a concern for two other MPs.

Mr Lee told Ms Joan Pereira (Tanjong Pagar GRC) that the Construction Quality Assessment System score for each project, which is on HDB's website, reflects the quality standard.

Ms Pereira had asked that information on complaints and the progress of rectification be made public on the HDB's website.

As for whether the defects liability period could be extended should owners be unsatisfied, Mr Lee told Ms Sun Xueling (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC) that each case would have to be assessed individually. "For specific cases... HDB will do what is appropriate and right in the circumstances," he added.

Another issue is the Enhancement for Active Seniors scheme, which subsidises elder-friendly fittings in flats.

Mr Patrick Tay (West Coast GRC) asked if it could include the construction of ramps at flat entrances with more than a single step. The scheme provides ramps for single-step entrances.

National Development Minister Lawrence Wong, explaining why it could not, said such ramps required customised solutions. "This is why our approach is to let flat owners identify and choose their preferred solutions from among the wide range of commercially available solutions in the market."

Let engineers address rail reliability: Khaw Boon Wan
By Christopher Tan, The Straits Times, 30 Jan 2016

The reliability of MRT trains is an engineering problem, so let the engineer solve it in "the engineer's way", Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan said in Parliament yesterday.

Commuters, commentators and armchair critics should just stick to tracking outcomes, such as "when I need a a train, is it there?", he added.

"We know that yes, we are not quite where we want it to be": Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan, giving an update in Parliament on what's being done to improve rail reliability.
Posted by Channel NewsAsia Singapore on Friday, January 29, 2016

The minister was responding to Non-Constituency MP Dennis Tan's detailed questions on whether there are parts in the MRT system that are operating beyond their expiry dates.

Mr Tan also asked if the Government would publish key performance indices (KPI) to "measure parts replacement and maintenance works".

Mr Khaw said the "manufacturers' recommendation is just a reference, a guide".

He added: "We are now going into a situation where many of the parts... are being replaced not because they are going to reach (their expiry dates) or about to expire but because of obsolescence."

As for KPIs for track maintenance, he said this was possible, but impractical.

The reason: The parts in one train depot run into "five digits", and there are "tens of thousands of components".

"So if you publish for each item when you are going to replace this, etc, I think it will be such a mass of data that I don't think it conveys any information."

It was best to let engineers do what they need to do to make the system reliable again, he added.

"We are not quite where we want it to be but we are making improvement", he said.

"This is a top priority for myself, for my ministry."

2-hour free parking may be extended to more parks
By Christopher Tan, Senior Transport Correspondent, The Straits Times, 30 Jan 2016

The National Parks Board (NParks) will look into extending a new two-hour free parking policy to carparks at various parks.

Senior Minister of State for National Development Desmond Lee, in announcing the move in Parliament, said: "This is to benefit early- morning park users, many of whom are seniors."

NParks manages 71 carparks in or near parks across Singapore. Of these, 26 charge parking fees to regulate their use and to ensure availability of carpark spaces for park users.

Three are undergoing redevelopment while 42 are free.

Last September, it revised operating hours for carparks at seven parks from 24 hours to 22 hours, freeing up a slot between 6.30am and 8.30am when motorists are not charged.

The seven are Admiralty, Bedok Reservoir, Changi Beach, Choa Chu Kang, Pasir Ris, Springleaf and Dairy Farm Nature Park.

Mr Lee noted that users who park their vehicles in carparks near parks included off-peak car owners, used-car dealers, goods-vehicle owners and residents in the vicinity.

Often, they park overnight, thus depriving early-morning park visitors of parking spaces.

The charging mechanism is used by NParks to dissuade these users from parking near parks.

He said most parks are "within 400m or a 10-minute walk from residential areas".

Also, they are "well linked by the extensive park connector network and served by public transport".

Dr Tan Wu Meng (Jurong GRC) had asked if the free parking or concessionary rates could be extended to residents who hold a season HDB parking label "within a reasonable vicinity".

No, replied Mr Lee, as people who use the parks come from across the island.

"Hence it would be difficult to justify why those living within the vicinity of a park should be given preferential treatment."

NParks issued 1,178 parking summonses last year, compared with 1,815 in 2014 and 1,124 in 2013.

Govt looking into speed limits for cyclists on park connectors
By Chong Zi Liang, The Straits Times, 29 Jan 2016

The authorities are looking into whether to impose speed limits for cyclists on park connectors, Senior Minister of State for Transport Josephine Teo said on Friday (Jan 29).

A committee headed by Associate Professor Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim, Parliamentary Secretary for Education and Social and Family Development, will look into the issue.

Mrs Teo revealed this in a reply to Jurong GRC MP Tan Wu Meng's question in Parliament on measures to protect vulnerable people on footpaths such as children and the elderly.

The question was prompted by a recent incident of a cyclist crashing into a three-year-old boy at the Sungei Serangoon Park Connector.

The child lost a tooth, and suffered from a torn lip, a cut on his chin and abrasions on his head and knee. His parents shared the incident online and it went viral.

A police report was lodged.

Opening of the Thirteenth Parliament Address by President Tony Tan Keng Yam
Addenda to President's Address 2016
Parliament debate on President's Address 2016: Day 1, 2, 3, 4
Changes to political system to prepare Singapore for long term: PM Lee Hsien Loong
Workers’ Party duckweed Daniel Goh is now a NCMP

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