Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Parliament Highlights - 29 Feb 2016

Khaw fleshes out plan for new 30-station MRT line
50km Cross Island Line, with nearly 15 interchanges, will see 600,000 daily trips
By Adrian Lim, The Straits Times, 1 Mar 2016

The 50km Cross Island Line (CRL) will be an important part of Singapore's rail network, Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan said.

Nearly half of its 30 stations from east to west will be interchanges to other MRT lines, offering commuters many travel options, he added.

Mr Khaw told Parliament yesterday that the line will serve residential areas such as Loyang, Pasir Ris, Hougang, Ang Mo Kio, Sin Ming, Bukit Timah, Clementi and West Coast, and commuters will make at least 600,000 trips on it daily.

But as to whether the underground CRL will be built through the Central Catchment Nature Reserve (CCNR) or route around it - an issue of contention - Mr Khaw said more environmental and engineering studies, along with public consultations, must be done.

These may take over two more years, before a decision on the alignment can be made, Mr Khaw said, in reply to questions from Mr Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC) about the CRL.

An Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report to study the effects of site investigation works, released last month, itself took two years to complete.

Mr Khaw said the CRL, which is expected to be ready by 2030, will "significantly enhance" the MRT network's resilience, and its capacity and usage will far exceed that of the existing North-East Line.

He also said the longer 9km skirt around the CCNR will incur an extra travel time of six minutes, compared with the more direct 4km route running underneath the reserve.

"An extra 1 minute is a lot of time, let alone 6 minutes": Khaw Boon Wan says having a section of the Cross Island Line skirt the Central Catchment Nature Reserve could add 6 minutes' to commuters' travelling time.
Posted by Channel NewsAsia Singapore on Monday, February 29, 2016

Alluding to high public expectations of the MRT, Mr Khaw quipped that in a minute's delay, a commuter could post 100 times on Twitter to "flame" the Land Transport Authority and the rail operator.

This extra six minutes could not just be "brushed aside", he said.

Mr Ng said the skirt-around alignment would serve more commuters, but Mr Khaw replied that residents in the area are already served by the Circle Line and the future Thomson-East Coast Line.

CROSS ISLAND LINE: The skirting alignment option will cost about S$2 billion more to build. Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan says more investigations need to be carried out and urges the public to "keep an open mind".
Posted by Channel NewsAsia Singapore on Sunday, February 28, 2016

Mr Khaw also said a skirt-around alignment would need longer tunnels and ventilation facilities on the surface. This option would cost $2 billion more and could result in land acquisitions.

But for the direct alignment option, 2km will be deep below the CCNR at about 40m - or 12 storeys - below ground level, and there will be no structures built at the surface level, Mr Khaw said.

Mr Ng also asked for the total cost of the CRL project, and which houses and buildings will be acquired.

Mr Khaw replied that it was still too early to know these details, and a second phase of EIA, to look into the impact of construction and running of trains underneath the nature reserve, will be done.

He urged Singaporeans not to take a biased approach to the issue, noting that some comments on the first EIA have been "very toxic".

"Keep an open mind, go with the facts. Keep an open mind and look for the evidence," he said.

Tests with 'low impact' at nature reserve
By Audrey Tan, The Straits Times, 1 Mar 2016

The impact of tests needed to see how a train tunnel can be built under Singapore's largest nature reserve will be reduced to a level that is "as low as reasonably practicable", Senior Minister of State for National Development Desmond Lee told Parliament yesterday.

This will be done through adopting mitigating measures to reduce damage and disturbance, he said.

An environmental impact assessment had determined that site investigation works for the Cross Island Line will have a "moderate" overall impact on the Central Catchment Nature Reserve. Non-Constituency MP Leon Perera had asked how the consultants arrived at the conclusion.

Mr Lee said consultancy Environmental Resources Management had considered the sensitivity of the nature reserve and magnitude of the impact the work will have.

Referring to a table he distributed to MPs, he told the House that the reserve comprising primary rainforests with ecologically sensitive habitats is considered highly sensitive.

But the magnitude of impact of the investigation works will be "small", he said, as the Government will put in place mitigating measures.

Soil works are slated to start later this year to investigate the area's geological properties. Phase one of the environmental impact assessment had focused on the potential impact of this. Phase two will study the impact arising from the construction and operation of the MRT line that will link Changi to Jurong by 2030.

Mr Lee said the site investigation works will involve drilling boreholes about 10cm wide to extract soil samples, and geophysical surveys. Surveyors will go off-trail into the forest to collect data using hand-held equipment. Though it is less intrusive than the drilling, said Mr Lee, there are still concerns that surveyors may trample on plants.

He said stringent mitigating measures have been developed in consultation with nature groups and the National Parks Board. Among them:

• Geophysical surveys will be limited to a 100m-wide corridor and not be conducted in streams, swamps and dense vegetation

• NParks officers will be deployed to supervise surveyors

• 16 boreholes will be drilled instead of an earlier estimated 72

• Drilling will be confined to existing trails

• Drilling machines to be modified to reduce the noise level and prevent spillage of slurry and fuel

• Works will be done in the day to not disturb nocturnal animals

Studies on the total impact of the project may take more than two years to complete, and a decision on the route will only be made after.

Mr Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC), who also raised questions on the issue, said he was glad options are being kept open. Nature groups have raised concerns that an MRT line running under the reserve would cause environmental harm.

Parliament passes changes to Women's Charter

Steps to protect children caught in bitter break-ups
Compulsory programme for couples planning to split if they can't agree on parenting issues
By Priscilla Goy, The Straits Times, 1 Mar 2016

Singapore will put in place new measures to protect the children of couples who want a divorce, in yet another move to ease the pain of a bitter break-up.

Parliament has passed a law making it compulsory for couples to attend a parenting programme when they cannot agree on matters such as co-parenting plans. They will be required to do so if they have a child younger than 21, and it must be done before they file for divorce.

The new requirement is one of several changes made yesterday to the Women's Charter, which governs non-Muslim marriage and divorce matters.

Other changes include allowing men who are incapacitated by illness or disability to apply for maintenance payments from their former wives; nullifying sham marriages; and stronger law enforcement against people running websites that offer or open the door to prostitution.

During the debate, MPs such as Mr Alex Yam (Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC) welcomed the changes.

"Divorce is a battle of attrition... Children are the losers as they bear the brunt of the collateral damage in the ensuing fight between the father and mother," he said.

The Women's Charter was last amended in 2011 when parents with children were required to attend mediation and counselling after filing for divorce.

This helped some couples agree on matters concerning their children in less acrimonious ways, said Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin yesterday when he presented the proposed changes for debate.

"But going for mandatory mediation and counselling on children's issues after first battling it out in court to settle the divorce is not ideal. Many divorcing parties have become hardened in position or too caught up with their emotions."

It is better for parents to consider their children's well-being before the divorce process formally starts, he said.

Before attending the parenting programme, couples must do an online self-reflective segment that informs them about the impact of divorce on children.

If they still want to go ahead but cannot agree on divorce matters, they must attend the parenting programme, a two-hour session with a counsellor. It will cover issues such as housing and school arrangements and positive co-parenting after divorce. The Social and Family Development Ministry will fund it.

The programme will start in the last quarter of this year. Initially, it will be for parents with at least one child younger than 14. It will later be extended to those with a child under 21.

In the debate, some of the 10 MPs who spoke expressed concern that the programme will delay the divorce process, making it more agonising for couples.

Mr Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC) suggested it be waived for victims of family violence. Mr Tan said that in exceptional cases, the court can allow divorce proceedings to continue if the parents have not undergone the programme.

Dr Lily Neo (Jalan Besar GRC) urged the Government to identify at-risk couples and require them to go for counselling courses after their first year of marriage, and then after the second and fifth years. "I'm suggesting not just giving pre-marriage courses but three further subsequent marriage courses... This will strengthen marriages more before they deteriorate."

Yesterday, I spoke in Parliament on the key changes that we have made to the Women’s Charter.. Families and their needs...
Posted by Tan Chuan-Jin on Tuesday, March 1, 2016

MPs debate maintenance payouts for men
By Charissa Yong, The Straits Times, 1 Mar 2016

Wives may contribute more to the family's coffers these days but, on the whole, they are still more vulnerable than men after a divorce.

For this reason, the Women's Charter will be changed to let only one group of men apply for maintenance from their former wives: those who cannot support themselves, whether owing to illness or severe disability.

Previously, only women could apply for alimony from their former spouses; men could not.

Explaining the reasoning for the change, which Parliament approved yesterday, Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin said: "While we may review it in future, the proposal to extend maintenance only to incapacitated men is a calibrated measure.

"It strikes a balance at this stage of our societal development," he said at the end of a nearly three-hour debate on amendments to the Women's Charter.

The change was prompted by an increase in dual-income families in which both the husband and wife work, and by a small but rising number of wives being the main breadwinners, said Mr Tan.

The 10 MPs who spoke agreed it was fair that incapacitated men be allowed to apply for maintenance, but differed on whether more men should be eligible.

Some argued that alimony should be based on need, not gender. But others noted that women, as a group, tended to be more financially vulnerable.

Non-Constituency MP Daniel Goh, who was sworn in yesterday, said courts should be allowed to decide maintenance based on both parties' contributions to the household and their potential earning power.

Similarly, Ms Lee Bee Wah (Nee Soon GRC), Mr Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC) and Mr Seah Kian Peng (Marine Parade GRC) said men who quit their jobs to become house-husbands should be eligible for maintenance.

Mr Seah asked the Government to recognise the contributions of stay-at-home men and said that while the group was small, their cause was no less just.

Mr Tan did not say how many incapacitated former husbands would benefit from the change.

Four MPs said that while women have progressed since the Women's Charter was enacted in 1961, there are areas where women, on the whole, lag behind men.

Said Ms Rahayu Mahzam (Jurong GRC), a family lawyer: "While the ministry takes steps to keep pace with societal changes, there is a need to recognise that the majority of women still lag behind their male counterparts, especially financially."

Ms Jessica Tan (East Coast GRC) noted that caregiving responsibilities fell mainly on women, and many put their jobs on hold to raise children.

It made them more financially vulnerable after a divorce, as they might find it harder to find a job after leaving the workforce.

Ms Tin Pei Ling (MacPherson) asked if maintenance payouts would be an extra burden on divorced women already struggling to support their families.

Responding to such concerns, Mr Tan said there are strict criteria for an incapacitated husband to meet before he can apply for maintenance from his wife.

The courts will consider all the circumstances, including the income and earning capacity of the wife, financial needs of both parties, and needs of their children.

Ms Sun Xueling (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC) and Ms Lee also called for stricter measures against deadbeat dads. They related how some women have to go to court every few months to get their former husbands to pay up.

Mr Tan said his ministry will introduce a pool of officers as part of its tougher stance against men who can afford to pay but refuse to. These officers will help the court assess if someone truly will not or cannot pay the maintenance.

Firm action will be taken if he is incorrigible, said Mr Tan.

He added: "We intend to stop such irresponsible behaviour."

Zika: MOH to issue advice on treating pregnant women
By Tan Weizhen, The Straits Times, 1 Mar 2016

The Ministry of Health (MOH) has set up a clinical advisory group to look into the management of pregnant women who might have the Zika virus, and will come up with guidelines for doctors treating such women.

Speaking in Parliament yesterday, Senior Minister of State for Health Amy Khor said: "The clinical advisory group has just met and is still discussing their recommendations on the clinical management of pregnant women with confirmed or suspected Zika virus infection.

"MOH will issue guidelines and recommendations to doctors based on the recommendations of the advisory group."

Surveillance for microcephaly and Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS) has also been stepped up, to pick up any unusual trends, she said. There is a suspected link between pregnant women infected with Zika, and microcephaly in newborns, a rare condition that causes abnormally small heads and can lead to developmental problems.

The Ministry of Health will be expanding #Zika virus testing capabilities to more public hospital laboratories, says Amy Khor.
Posted by Channel NewsAsia Singapore on Sunday, February 28, 2016

The Zika virus has been spreading across the Americas and is linked to underdeveloped brains in babies. Like dengue, the Zika virus is carried by the Aedes mosquito.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) has stepped up the testing of blood samples of patients with fever, rash or suspected dengue, for the Zika virus, said Dr Khor.

She was responding to questions from Dr Lily Neo (Jalan Besar GRC) and Ms Joan Pereira (Tanjong Pagar GRC) on steps to detect or prevent the Zika virus in Singapore.

MOH is also looking at working with the relevant institutions on potential areas for collaboration and research, such as Zika virus diagnostics, transmission, and its association with microcephaly and GBS, Dr Khor said. And if a case is detected in Singapore, NEA and other agencies under the Inter-Agency Dengue Task Force will intensify search and destroy efforts to contain the Aedes mosquito population at the implicated sites.

MOH is also expanding the capability to test the Zika virus to more public hospital laboratories.

These updates come a day after the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources (MEWR) said any homes found to breed mosquitoes will be fined $200, whether they are inside or outside of dengue clusters. Only homes within dengue clusters are now fined. Meanwhile, MEWR will continue fogging to eliminate a large mosquito population.

Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources Amy Khor told Parliament: "Fogging is carried out in a selective and targeted manner to avoid the build-up of resistance in the mosquito population."

NEA also regularly monitors the resistance of mosquitoes against insecticides to ensure that they remain effective, he said.

The minister was replying to Mr Yee Chia Hsing (Chua Chu Kang GRC), who asked whether mosquitoes may build up their resistance to the same type of chemical being used consistently. Mr Lim Biow Chuan (Mountbatten) also asked if national water agency PUB will expedite repairs of damaged drains to reduce mosquito breeding places.

Mr Masagos said the PUB regularly maintains drains.

"Drains that show minor damage will be repaired promptly. Such repair works will be prioritised based on the drain conditions," he said, adding that drains damaged beyond repair will be upgraded as soon as possible.

National Day Parade 2016 expected to cost S$39.4m: Ng Eng Hen
What is the breakdown of costs for staging this year's National Day Parade at the Singapore Sports Hub's National Stadium? Dr Ng Eng Hen explains in Parliament:
Posted by Channel NewsAsia Singapore on Sunday, February 28, 2016

NDP 2016 at Sports Hub to cost $39.4m
Rent of National Stadium pushes up cost of staging event
By Jermyn Chow, Defence Correspondent, The Straits Times, 1 Mar 2016

The staging of this year's National Day Parade (NDP) at the new National Stadium is expected to cost $39.4 million, about double what it cost at the Marina Bay floating platform.

The reason for the steep rise is the rent of the dome-shaped venue at the Sports Hub.

It will make up 15 per cent of the budget, more than three times the cost of using the floating platform or the Padang.

Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen, in disclosing the figures in Parliament yesterday, said the higher cost of the venue is "similar to other national events held at private venues".

Half of the budget will be spent on the show segment, a proportion similar to those at the two previous venues, he said in replying to Ms Sylvia Lim (Aljunied GRC) and Mr Vikram Nair (Sembawang GRC).

NDP organisers were locked in protracted talks with the Sports Hub before reaching an agreement on the rent last December and for 45 days of use of the place for free.

But technicians and performers from previous parades said that was not enough to prepare for the event.

The Straits Times understands that the Sports Hub wanted $26 million for another 35 days for rehearsals. The figure has been lowered to $10 million, sources said.

The new venue puts this year's NDP among the costliest Aug 9 shows in a decade, second only to last year's Golden Jubilee NDP, which cost $40.5 million.

Previous NDPs at the floating platform cost between $15.7 million and $17.9 million.

The 2010 edition at the Padang cost $20.6 million.

<<Updates on NDP 2016>> After a 10-year gap, NDP 2016 will be back in the new National Stadium. NDP 2016 will...
Posted by Ng Eng Hen on Sunday, February 28, 2016

But the 55,000-seat stadium will let about 275,000 Singaporeans watch the show, said Dr Ng. Apart from the parade on National Day itself, there will be two preview shows for people to watch and two National Education rehearsal shows for primary school pupils .

In all, the number of spectators will be more than twice that of previous years.

There will be two, not one, preview shows this year because the organisers have "upgraded" one of the three National Education shows, Dr Ng said in a Facebook post later in the day.

Tickets for the preview shows will be allocated by ballot.

He also said the new venue will let organisers stage a "different type of show", using the bigger confined space and central pitch as a large stage.

It "calls for a different format" as well, he added as he announced that several crowd favourites will not be part of this year's show.

The Red Lions will not be free-falling and parachuting into the stadium for safety reasons.

Also absent will be the aerial displays and the mobile column of a convoy of military vehicles.

Mr Zaqy Mohamad (Chua Chu Kang GRC) asked if organisers could hold more rehearsals at other sites to save costs.

Dr Ng said he would leave the decision to organisers but noted that "to put up a good show, they have to put people together to test it".

Following last year's spectacular Golden Jubilee NDP and celebrations to mark Singapore's 50th year of independence, Dr Ng said, this year's organisers are aware that expectations are high for this year's show and comparisons will be "inevitable".

"However, I believe that ultimately, the NDP is a show with Singaporeans, for Singaporeans, and by Singaporeans. The committee will do their best to live up to these expectations," said Dr Ng.

Totting up the dollars and sense of government spending
By Lydia Lim, Associate Opinion Editor, The Straits Times, 1 Mar 2016

Money matters dominated yesterday's 90-minute Question Time in Parliament. The sitting opened with MPs pushing for more measures to rein in petrol pump prices, an item that motorists are passionate about since it hits them where it hurts - their pockets.

Next up, questions over the alignment of the MRT Cross Island Line (CRL), which pits its impact on the Government's - and ultimately taxpayers' - pocket against that on the Central Catchment Nature Reserve, this city state's last remaining primary forest area.

Then, Workers' Party chairman Sylvia Lim (Aljunied GRC) asked Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen about the higher cost of the venue for this year's National Day Parade, to be held at the National Stadium.

Obviously, the price tags involved varied greatly, from the hundreds of dollars that motorists believe they are out of pocket due to alleged profiteering by oil companies; to the $2 billion more that the Transport Ministry says it will cost for a longer rail alignment that skirts around the nature reserve.

Two key issues arose from the exchanges between the front and back benches: how to measure value in government spending, and how transparent ministries should be about the sums involved and the corresponding outcomes.

This year's National Day Parade, for example, is estimated to cost $39.4 million. That is significantly more than recent parades held at the Marina Bay floating platform and the Padang, which cost between $15.7 million and $20.6 million. The exception was last year's SG50 parade at the Padang, which cost $40.5 million.

Dr Ng acknowledged the venue costs for the National Stadium - now run as a public-private partnership by the Sports Hub - is higher than for public venues such as the Padang and Marina Bay floating platform. However, the stadium's larger capacity means twice as many people - about 275,000 - can catch the parade, previews and rehearsals this year.

Ms Lim in turn sought greater transparency. She asked for the cost of the parade to be included in the Budget and for an itemised breakdown of costs. Underlying her request, there seems to be a concern that parade costs will balloon in the years ahead, unless organisers are made to account for their spending.

By contrast, the concern when it comes to the CRL seems to be that the Government will be unduly tight-fisted, and sacrifice a nature area that some consider priceless, for the sake of a $2 billion saving in construction costs.

In asking for the total cost of the 50km rail line that will span the island from east to west, Mr Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC) was reflecting a point of view that has gained some traction: that $2 billion may not be a significant sum relative to the project's total cost. Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan said he did not yet have a figure for the CRL's total cost as the line is a massive project that will first require four to five years of study.

"For the next leg of the studies," he told the House, "if we are allowed to proceed with the site investigations, we will be doing much more public consultations and that will allow the Land Transport Authority to firm up on many of the answers to many of the questions that have yet to be answered, such as who are affected, how much it will cost, etc."

He emphasised the planned rail line's benefits. Nearly half of its 30 stations will be interchanges that allow commuters to switch to other MRT lines. It will serve areas such as Pasir Ris, Hougang, Ang Mo Kio, Bukit Timah, Clementi and West Coast, whose residents are set to make at least 600,000 trips daily after the CRL is completed in 2030.

The Government is considering two alignments: a shorter route that will run directly under the nature reserve, and a longer route that runs around it. Besides costing an estimated $2 billion more, the longer route will add six minutes to travel time, a fact that cannot be "brushed aside", Mr Khaw said.

He also made the point that in choosing between the two alignments, the Government will have to take into account not just the environmental impact, but also the total impact, including that on taxpayers and commuters.

As yesterday's exchanges showed, spending decisions - whether by individuals or governments - are more often than not matters of judgment that reflect differing values and priorities. It is certainly the prerogative of MPs to scrutinise government spending. That is after all a key role of Parliament.

But in doing so, MPs have a duty to both reflect, and lead, public opinion.

Mr Khaw offered some sound advice. He urged Singaporeans to "keep an open mind, go with the facts... look for evidence".

Yet the public will be better placed to take his advice if they feel assured that the Government will be open and upfront with them, and provide them with the facts and information they need to make sound, unbiased decisions.

Ultimately, in a parliamentary democracy like Singapore's, the Cabinet decides on what to spend and how much. But public consultation and transparency in the Government's dealings with concerned stakeholders build trust for the long term.

Changes to CPF allow for greater flexibility
New rules include easier money transfers to spouse's account
By Joanna Seow, The Straits Times, 1 Mar 2016

Central Provident Fund (CPF) members aged 55 and older will be allowed to transfer money from their accounts to that of their spouse, as long as they meet the Basic Retirement Sum.

The sum is $80,500 for those who turn 55 this year, and it will be adjusted periodically.

The change is among several amendments approved by Parliament yesterday to increase the flexibility of the retirement savings scheme, as well as to let more people make claims under two CPF insurance schemes.

Previously, people could transfer CPF savings to spouses only when they had met the Full Retirement Sum, which is twice the Basic Sum.

With the change, both spouses can have their own CPF Life plans and more secure retirement income for life, Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say said yesterday.

Also, members now need to choose their CPF Life plan only when they are eligible to start receiving payouts, instead of at age 55, which could be about 10 years earlier.

The amendments to the CPF Act also allow CPF members with terminal illnesses or total permanent disabilities - but who can still work in a diminished capacity - to make claims under the Home Protection Scheme (HPS) and Dependants' Protection Scheme (DPS).

Previously, claims could be made only when a member died or could not work again.

HPS reduces the outstanding mortgage on a Housing Board flat if these conditions are met.

To reduce the number of people who lose their HPS coverage because they and their spouse run out of savings in their CPF Ordinary Accounts to pay the premiums, other co-owners of flats, including children, parents or siblings, will be allowed to contribute to the premiums from their Ordinary Accounts.

Every year, about 4,000 to 5,000 people drop out of HPS on average, said Mr Lim.

Another change lets the CPF Board impose administrative penalties if medical institutions and approved insurers - who help to facilitate Medisave withdrawals - make wrong or unauthorised claims on CPF members' Medisave savings, or do not comply with the Board's administrative requirements.

In addition, employers can use projected wages for the current year to estimate additional wages that attract CPF contributions.

This move is to improve efficiency as employers are less likely to over-pay CPF contributions, and need to then apply for refunds.

CPF members will also be able to apply to withdraw cash payouts from various government schemes like GST vouchers, in the event the money went into their accounts because they failed to cash their cheques on time.

The existing CPF withdrawal rules do not allow this but, as Mr Lim said: "These payouts are meant to support members' daily needs.''

Ms Jessica Tan (East Coast GRC), one of the three MPs who spoke on the Bill, said there should be effective communication with members to help them better understand CPF schemes. They should also be given financial counselling.

"The irony of offering more choice in the usage of members' CPF monies is that it adds to the complexity of the scheme," she said.

Mr Pritam Singh (Aljunied GRC) and Non-Constituency MP Dennis Tan also supported the changes.

Mr Singh suggested that the CPF Board look into expanding the HPS to cover Singaporeans with pre-existing illnesses, as was done with Medishield Life.

The Workers' Party's Low Thia Khiang asks Minister of State for Trade and Industry Koh Poh Koon: Are petrol companies profiteering at the expense of consumers? Dr Koh's response:
Posted by Channel NewsAsia Singapore on Sunday, February 28, 2016

'No evidence of cartel' among petrol companies
By Adrian Lim, The Straits Times, 1 Mar 2016

Singapore's anti-competition watchdog has found no evidence to suggest that petrol companies are colluding to set pump prices, Minister of State for Trade and Industry Koh Poh Koon said in Parliament yesterday.

Also, petrol companies use prices of refined wholesale petrol, known as Mean of Platts Singapore (MOPS) prices, when making pricing decisions, not the prices of crude oil which has yet to be processed, he said.

Dr Koh noted that a study released by the Competition Commission of Singapore (CCS) last week showed that prices for the popular octane-95 grade of petrol have moved in tandem with wholesale prices of refined oil in the past six years.

There was also "no significant variation" between the time taken to raise - or lower - listed prices at the pump, in response to changes in wholesale prices.

But he assured the House that CCS would continue to monitor the developments.

It's not easy for most people to understand petrol pricing. Crude oil is unrefined. MOPS price is the price of refined...
Posted by Koh Poh Koon - 许宝琨 on Monday, February 29, 2016

Crude oil price had dropped by an average of 59 cents per litre between June 2014 and this January. During the same period, the listed price of octane-95 petrol fell by 35 cents per litre while wholesale petrol prices fell by 52 cents per litre.

This represents a 15 per cent drop in octane-95 petrol prices, and a 53 per cent drop in wholesale petrol prices.

But Dr Koh said the smaller percentage drop in pump prices largely reflects the fact that wholesale petrol prices accounted for less than one-third of the listed pump prices. Operating costs, taxes and duties, land costs, discounts and rebates also affect pump prices.

He added that after taking into consideration discounts, rebates and the increase in petrol duty imposed in February last year, the effective drop in pump prices for consumers was 45 cents per litre.

However, MP Ang Wei Neng (Jurong GRC), citing his own calculations, said petrol companies were charging consumers at least "25 per cent more".

Dr Koh noted that the operating income of petrol companies has generally risen in the past few years. But "an increase in profits in itself is not a contravention of the Competition Act unless the increase is due to market players engaging in anti-competitive behaviour", he said.

Ms Lee suggested removing the "three-quarter tank rule" - which mandates that Singaporeans driving to Malaysia have at least three quarters of their tanks full - to introduce more competition into the market. Dr Koh replied that it would need more study.

More scope to share crime-fighting data
By Walter Sim, The Straits Times, 1 Mar 2016

Law enforcement agencies here can share information such as photographs, fingerprints and criminal records with their foreign counterparts, under changes to the law approved yesterday.

Countries need to work closely to combat the rising scourge of transnational organised crime and terrorism, Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs Desmond Lee told the House during the debate on changes to the Registration of Criminals Act.

Three MPs - Ms Sylvia Lim (Aljunied GRC), Mr Christopher de Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC), and Mr Ang Wei Neng (Jurong GRC) - spoke in support of the changes, though there were concerns over the potential misuse of shared information.

Mr Lee assured the House that there are stringent safeguards so as to "strike a balance between cooperation and confidentiality".

"The exchange of information is essential to our international cooperation, crime control and border security efforts," he said. And Singapore, as a global hub, is a "potential target for organised crime and terrorist groups and a possible conduit for their activities".

With the changes in the law, fingerprints lifted at a crime scene in Singapore can be compared with records elsewhere to identify foreign suspects.

Information on the criminal background of an individual will also help in the identification of recalcitrant offenders and the detection of suspicious persons at border checkpoints, Mr Lee said.

The latest amendments, he added, complement a series of longstanding "formal and informal cooperation channels" under which information has been exchanged with foreign counterparts, and will allow Singapore to "act more quickly and effectively".

One key safeguard is that information will be shared only for the specific purpose of criminal investigations, and on the condition that the foreign counterpart takes steps to protect confidentiality.

This law applies to data in the criminal register, which contains records of convicts and ex-convicts. It excludes those who are acquitted, or whose convictions have been spent.

Data will also not be shared if it is deemed to be against public interest, if it could prejudice ongoing proceedings here, or if it might affect the safety of people in Singapore.

The law was also changed to allow agencies to take particulars, such as fingerprints and body samples, from a suspect who has been released on bail. Previously, these particulars could be obtained only within 48 hours of arrest.

MAS' oversight powers get a boost under new Bill
It has more say in how foreign banks here are run, protecting S'pore depositors' interests
By Yasmine Yahya, Assistant Business Editor, The Straits Times, 1 Mar 2016

Regulators can now require a foreign bank branch to locally incorporate all or part of its banking business if it is deemed to be systemically important.

In retail banking, in particular, a bank with significant retail presence will be required to subsidiarise its retail operations.

A significant retail presence is defined as having more than 3 per cent of deposits held by Singapore residents, and more than 150,000 deposit accounts with balances below $250,000.

The new rule is set out in a Banking (Amendment) Bill that was passed in Parliament yesterday.

The Bill will also empower the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to impose prudential requirements that cap banks' debt levels and ensure that they maintain sufficient liquidity.

In order to strengthen corporate governance of banks here, the MAS will now have the power to direct a bank to remove key appointment holders, including its chief executive officer and deputy chief executive officer, if they are found to be not fit and proper. "The grounds of removal will be aligned with the criteria for approving their appointments," said National Development Minister Lawrence Wong.

Mr Wong, who also sits on the MAS board, tabled the Bill for a second reading in Parliament yesterday. The Bill, however, will repeal a provision that made bank directors liable for any bank losses arising from credit facilities or exposures to the directors and their related parties.

This provision discouraged candidates from taking up bank directorships and was not an effective oversight tool, Mr Wong said.

To reinforce banks' risk management controls, the Bill formalises MAS' expectation that banks establish risk management systems and controls that are commensurate with their business profiles and operations. That is, MAS will now be able to impose penalties on banks that fail to do so.

The Bill will also require banks to seek MAS' approval to establish new places of businesses where certain non-banking activities, such as money-changing and remittance business, are conducted.

"This will allow MAS to exercise better oversight of banks' activities at such locations ," Mr Wong said. "For example, MAS will be able to require a bank to institute adequate safeguards against money laundering and terrorism financing before it can commence money-changing and remittance businesses at new locations," he added.

The Bill also introduces a requirement for banks to immediately inform MAS of adverse developments that may materially affect them, so that MAS can take supervisory action in a timely manner.

MAS will also have the power to inspect the local and overseas subsidiaries of a bank incorporated in Singapore.

And the Bill will allow the parent supervisory authority of a foreign bank or merchant bank to inspect all financial activities of the bank or merchant bank in Singapore, upon MAS' approval.

Non- Constituency MP Leon Perera urged the regulator to ensure that it maintained a balance between placing sufficient safeguards to protect the financial system and maintaining the competitiveness of Singapore's finance sector. Increased regulatory requirements meant higher compliance costs for banks, he said.

Mr Wong said the addition of 3,600 new jobs in the finance sector in the first nine months of last year showed that the industry remained competitive.

Even while global banks are making significant cost and job cuts, the impact in Singapore has been contained, he added.

Ways to help PMEs in finance sector
By Janice Heng, The Straits Times, 1 Mar 2016

Amid uncertainty and retrenchments in the financial sector, professionals, managers and executives (PMEs) in the industry must adapt, be resilient in the face of setbacks and stay relevant by picking up new skills, labour MP Patrick Tay (West Coast GRC) said yesterday.

Unions, employers, Government, regulators and key stakeholders must partner workers in this journey, he said in an adjournment motion at the end of a seven-hour Parliament sitting.

Workers must stay pro-active and positive in picking up skills. And unions can keep workers updated, he said.

"Many in this sector are not aware of the latest and upcoming changes to labour legislation, and that PMEs, too, can be union members."

Employers must pay attention to training workers, provide clear progression paths - and think twice before laying off experienced local staff, he said.

Mr Tay said that from anecdotal information, many of those laid off in the banking sector were older PMEs aged above 40, and were local workers in foreign banks.

If such experienced staff are first in line to be retrenched, this will not help Singapore develop a core of local talent, he said.

He suggested how the Government can help to avoid a jobs or skills mismatch in the industry.

Pre-employment training courses should be linked with continuing education and training programmes, so that potential employees can be prepared for jobs before they enter the industry, he said.

"So if finance majors intend to build a career in banking, their internships should be coupled with certification programmes whilst (they are) attached with banks and learn as they earn."

Financial institutions are also adopting new technologies and demand is growing for those with skills in areas such as data analytics.

"These are areas which Singaporeans can excel in and secure potentially good jobs in the financial sector," said Mr Wong.

Nevertheless, unions, employers and the Government will work together to support financial sector PMEs, he said, citing a previously-announced Financial Industry Career Advisory Centre, which will begin operations next month.

NSmen 'do better' with new IPPT test
The Straits Times, 1 Mar 2016

Operationally ready national servicemen (NSmen) have been performing better in the Individual Physical Proficiency Test (IPPT) since the change in assessment format last April.

NSmen did an average of five more sit-ups and ran 16 seconds faster in the 2.4km run, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said, in a written reply to a parliamentary question.

Sit-ups and the 2.4km run were retained from the old test.

About three out of 10 NSmen now score the Gold and Silver awards, a 4 per cent improvement. Another 30 per cent are able to achieve a Pass with Incentive, 9 per cent more than before.

Dr Ng said the results are encouraging and show that the new IPPT format has motivated NSmen to train harder and perform better.

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