Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Parliament Highlights - 13 Aug 2012


New steps to curb procurement lapses
Tharman announces moves as report by Auditor-General highlights slip-ups
By Robin Chan, The Straits Times, 14 Aug 2012

FOLLOWING recent corruption cases, the Government will tighten its rules for buying goods and services by extending the bidding period for smaller contracts from four to seven days, in a move to let more businesses compete for them.

It will also put in tighter checks on contracts with only one bid, to ensure it is not overcharged but gets a fair market price.

These measures were announced in Parliament by Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam yesterday, even as the Auditor-General released its annual report FY2011/12 that showed several significant procurement lapses by public-sector agencies.

These include overcharging and the waiver of competitive bids without valid reasons.

Losses from all the mistakes, including contract mismanagement and procurement, totalled at least $2 million, said the report.

One saw the Singapore Prison Service being overcharged $1 million for five projects, while another involved the Science Centre Board awarding 10 contracts to preferred contractors after putting aside the requirement for at least two bids.

The Auditor-General said 11 complaints were investigated last year, compared to 13 the year before. But more of last year's complaints led to findings of significant wrongdoing: eight versus two in the previous year.

The lapses led the Auditor-General to remind public servants they should not treat the role of the approving authority as perfunctory, and that procurement officers need to be "well imbued with the principles of fairness, transparency, competition and value for money".

Mr Tharman, who is also Finance Minister, referred to the report in his reply to MPs who had raised concerns about the procurement process.

He said most of the slip-ups were not the result of a lack of rules, but public officers failing to follow them.

With 80,000 procurements made each year, there will be some lapses, he said. For this reason, independent audits and taking robust enforcement action when there is wrongdoing are given great importance, he added. But overall, the procurement system has worked well, with sound rules the Government continues to review and improve, he said.

Still, the Finance Ministry has sent a strong message to all permanent secretaries and heads of government agencies emphasising that public officers are accountable for the use of public funds, he said.

Concerns about public sector procurement had re- emerged last month after a corruption probe into the purchase of Brompton bicycles by the National Parks Board. It came soon after several graft scandals, including two involving high-level officers.

But in introducing the changes, Mr Tharman stressed, the Government has to balance efficiency with deterrence. "Our aim is to preserve fair competition and to reduce the risk of wrongdoings, but not to pile on rules that will hinder the vast majority of legitimate procurements and reduce public sector efficiency," he said.

The extension of the bidding period from four to seven days is for contracts of between $3,000 and $70,000.

For larger contracts, the bidding period is at least 14 days but in practice, it is open for longer, said Mr Tharman.

Another rule change is when only one bid is received. The Finance Ministry will now require officers to give additional justifications to the approving authority in each agency, on why they think the bid is competitive or reflects market prices.

Meanwhile, the Government is reviewing the rules for contracts of a specific period. The Auditor-General's report had noted that some agencies were overcharged by vendors for work that was not priced upfront in these term contracts.

In his response to Pioneer MP Cedric Foo, Mr Tharman said the Government will look at creating a separate career track for government procurement officers to improve the purchasing process.




Large tenders must be approved by ministers
By Robin Chan, The Straits Times, 14 Aug 2012

BEFORE the Government calls for tenders of a project worth more than $80 million, a committee made up of three Cabinet Ministers will have to give its approval.

The projects will also be rigorously scrutinised by senior ministry officials, said Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam yesterday.

These officials are from the Ministry of Finance and the ministry asking for the project, he told Parliament, in an address explaining the Government's procurement process for projects of different values.

About half of the total value of government procurements go through this process each year, added Mr Tharman, who is also the Finance Minister.

For procurements worth more than $70,000, the award of the tender must be approved by a committee comprising at least three senior officers.

These tenders with more stringent processes account for about 96 per cent of the total value of procurements made each year.

Lower value procurements are made through a more decentralised process for greater efficiency and responsiveness, Mr Tharman said.

Still, it is governed by a clear set of rules, he added. "Singapore is not unique in this - decentralised procurement is practised in more advanced countries with efficient procurement systems, such as Australia and Britain."

But the Government does use centralised purchasing when it comes to common goods and services.

It has 50 bulk contracts totalling more than $4 billion in value, covering such items as office equipment and professional services which all government agencies can use.

Government agencies are also taking steps to centralise procurement and pool their expertise where there are advantages to do so, Mr Tharman said.

He cited the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Singapore Sports Council which have each recently embarked on efforts to centralise procurements currently carried out by different departments within their respective agencies.

Smaller ministries and agencies are also sharing their procurement expertise and exploring pooling within clusters, Mr Tharman added.

But the Government has to strike a "judicious balance" between centralising and giving autonomy and flexibility.

"As the needs of public sector agencies have grown more complex and varied over time, it will be a bad idea to centralise all procurement.

"We must allow our agencies to retain sufficient flexibility and autonomy to perform their roles effectively, but ensure that regular audits are undertaken to preserve the integrity of the system," he said.

Mr Tharman also noted that in the past three years, procurements with only one bidder accounted for around 2 per cent of the total value of contracts given out each year. Most were for contracts worth below $70,000.

In the case of larger contracts, a number also received only one bid, despite an average tender opening period of 20 days, he said.

"There are practical reasons why we should not prevent contracts from being awarded in such cases. But we will tighten approval procedures and ensure quotations are kept open long enough to encourage potential suppliers to take part," he added.




No favouritism for Wu: Shanmugam
Law Minister cites six similar cases in which offenders were dealt fines
By Tessa Wong, The Straits Times, 14 Aug 2012

THERE was no favouritism towards plastic surgeon Woffles Wu when he received a fine recently, Law Minister K. Shanmugam said yesterday, citing six similar cases where fines were also given.

Dr Wu was fined $1,000 in June under the Road Traffic Act for getting an elderly employee to take the rap for two speeding offences in 2005 and 2006.

The case sparked questions on why the prosecution did not pursue stiffer charges, which the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) subsequently addressed.

Yesterday, Ms Sylvia Lim (Aljunied GRC) asked whether the AGC's explanation had addressed "public concerns about the equitability of the legal system".

The question sparked a tense exchange between the Workers' Party MP and the minister.

Mr Shanmugam began by citing the Road Traffic Act, which states that in a suspected traffic offence, the person in charge of the vehicle has to give any information to the police that could identify the driver at the time of the offence. It is an offence if that person wilfully gives false information during this process.

The minister distributed copies of a list of six cases between 2005 and 2006, where the drivers had wilfully given false information to the police on their offences.

These offences ranged from speeding and driving in a bus lane during prohibited hours, to driving without a licence and using a vehicle without insurance coverage. The offenders were fined between $1,500 and $4,000.

Mr Shanmugam then asked Ms Lim several times if she agreed that these punishments were in line with what Dr Wu received.

Ms Lim countered that she also knew of other cases where a jail sentence was imposed.

"My consultations with lawyers who are familiar with this area of practice, they tell me that Dr Wu got off lightly," she replied.

She also pointed to "aggravating factors" in Dr Wu's case.

These included: that it was his idea to abet his employee to provide the false information, that it happened multiple times, and that there was a motive to shield himself from getting demerit points.

Mr Shanmugam's reply: In all the six cases he cited, all were equally deliberate and had the same motive - to avoid being identified - and they also involved multiple offences. All the cases had more serious offences compared to Dr Wu's, such as driving without a licence.

He asked Ms Lim to cite a comparable case which resulted in imprisonment. When she referred to a Mr Tan Jack Saa, Mr Shanmugam argued it was not the same as a deliberate false appeal had been made. "It does not exactly square with the facts here," he said.

The Law Ministry later said this case had involved an appeal letter which not only contained lies about the defendant's involvement in the offence, but also "levelled injurious falsehoods against the police".

Ms Lim also asked how Dr Wu had abetted his employee in giving false information to the police. Mr Shanmugam said that for both speeding incidents, the Traffic Police had sent Dr Wu the usual notice of the offence, requiring him to furnish the particulars of the person driving at the time.

On both occasions, Dr Wu asked his employee Kuan Yit Wah to furnish his own particulars.

"The Traffic Police receive many such forms each day, and usually proceed on the basis of the declarations received," said Mr Shanmugam.

But later, the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau was told the Traffic Police had been given false information, and investigations found Mr Kuan had made false declarations at Dr Wu's request.

In reply to Ms Lim on whether there would be a written grounds of decision issued, Mr Shanmugam said this would be decided by the court.

Mr Eugene Tan, a Nominated MP, asked whether the police had directly obtained information from Dr Wu. Mr Shanmugam said the police did not interview Dr Wu in their initial investigations in 2005 and 2006, but this was "consistent with usual practice".

"Mr Kuan had signed the relevant forms identifying himself as the driver of the motorcar when the violations were committed. There was no reason for the Traffic Police to suspect that anything was amiss," he said.




Row does not define Asean, China ties
By Phua Mei Pin, The Straits Times, 14 Aug 2012

DISPUTES between China and some Asean member countries over territories in the South China Sea do not define relations between Asean and China, said Foreign Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam yesterday.

He also said it was in both their interests to strengthen cooperation, citing in particular the massive trade between them.

"The (territorial) claims are not the totality of Asean-China interactions, simply one part of many," he said.

China, for instance, is Asean's top trading partner, with total trade reaching US$230 billion (S$286 billion) in 2010. At the same time, Asean is China's third largest trading partner, he noted.

"It is clearly in Asean's and China's interests to maintain and strengthen cooperation for mutual benefit," he said in Parliament.


Mr Shanmugam had said then that it inflicted a "severe dent" on Asean's credibility. Asean countries with rival claims to territories in the South China Sea are the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei and Malaysia.

The Philippines and Vietnam had wanted the Phnom Penh communique to make reference to recent tussles with China in the resource-rich area.

But this was blocked by Asean chair Cambodia in a move widely thought to be made on behalf of China, which has been increasing its economic ties with Cambodia.

Yesterday, Mr Shanmugam said it was "simplistic to try and identify any one actor or cause for what happened in Phnom Penh".

A consensus could not be reached because of "the distance between positions taken by Asean members", he said.

While the lack of an accord in Phnom Penh was a setback, this would not divert Asean from its goal of achieving regional integration by 2015.

Subsequent efforts by Indonesia had repaired some of Asean's credibility, he said, referring to an Asean statement on Six-Point Principles on the South China Sea issued the week after Phnom Penh. But more remains to be done, he added.

Mr Shanmugam called on all parties to implement fully the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea. Asean and China should also start talks soon on a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea, he said.

Mr Shanmugam, in response to a query, said he did not think an open conflict was imminent.

Both sides recognise such a conflict would be against their interests. "All of us depend on a certain amount of peace and regional harmony to prevail," he said.




16 mosques audited for korban processes
By Tessa Wong, The Straits Times, 14 Aug 2012

A TOTAL of 16 mosques in Singapore have been audited for their korban processes to meet new rules on livestock exported from Australia that will kick in next month.

But there is a possibility that not all mosques will be able to perform the korban ritual during Hari Raya Haji in October this year, said Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim in Parliament yesterday.

If this happens, it will have an impact on the supply and prices of korban livestock as well as the number of participating mosques.

"The community must be ready for this probable outcome," he said, in response to a question by Dr Fatimah Lateef (Marine Parade GRC) on how the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) is adapting to the new rules, which were imposed by the Australian authorities in March.

Singapore imports all its sheep and goats sacrificed for the annual korban ritual from Australia.

Korban is the Muslim ritual of sacrificing livestock on Hari Raya Haji, to commemorate Prophet Ibrahim's obedience to God, seen in his willingness to sacrifice his son Ismail.

Under the new rules, each animal must have at least 0.6 sq m of space in its holding pen, and only trained, appointed personnel can carry out the slaughter, which has to be done in a swift manner.

All exporters of Australian livestock will have to meet these conditions - in line with the World Organisation for Animal Health's internationally accepted animal welfare standards - before they are granted an export permit.

Dr Yaacob said that Muis has worked with the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore to improve existing systems and processes for korban, including developing standard procedures, training of personnel involved in korban, and ensuring that all mosques offering korban have the necessary space and facilities.

He added that Singapore hopes that 35 mosques could be cleared in time for the ritual.

But this would depend on how the Australian authorities view the first 16 that have already been audited, he said.

The number of mosques that conduct the ritual has hovered around 45 in recent years.

Auditors are finalising the report on the 16 mosques for submission to the Australian authorities.

The Darul Aman mosque in Eunos is one of the 16 that have completed their audits.

Chairman Mohd Ali Suri said that it was better to have such rules.

Previously, when members of the public could participate in korban, the mosque would see more than 120 people doing the slaughtering. But with the new rules, only four trained staff would do the korban this year.

"This way, it's much cleaner and more regulated. We have more control over the process and it's neater," he said.




Strategic R&D investments sharpen S'pore's competitive edge
Channel NewsAsia, 13 Aug 2012

Research and development (R&D) efforts in Singapore have resulted in about 1,500 to 2000 patents being filed worldwide every year but Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said this is only one measure of innovation.

He said the best measure of success is when research outcomes are coupled with innovation to translate into solutions with economic and social impact.

Mr Teo said Singapore has benefited from strategic R&D investments in areas such as biomedical sciences, clean water, and interactive and digital media.

He added these have sharpened Singapore's competitive edge and generated new growth.

Mr Teo said: "Our biomedical sciences manufacturing output has more than tripled from S$6.3 billion in 2000 to S$23.3 billion in 2010 and created 14,000 jobs by the end of 2010.

"Investments in clean water technology have helped develop Singapore into a global hydro hub. The water sector's value-add expanded by S$590 million and 2,300 jobs were created over the period 2006 to 2010."

Mr Teo added R&D also supported a growing interactive and digital media sector where value-add expanded by 26 per cent from 2007 to 2010.

The government is investing S$16.1 billion over a five year period from 2011 to 2015 as part of the RIE 2015 plan to boost research, innovation and enterprise. This is a 20 per cent increase over the previous five years.




Community approach key to strengthen social cohesion, says Grace Fu
Channel NewsAsia, 13 Aug 2012

A community approach is needed to strengthen social cohesion and help new immigrants integrate with Singapore society.

Minister in the Prime Minister's Office, Grace Fu, said all members of society, including student leaders, employers and community leaders, must do their part.

Ms Fu told Parliament on Monday that the work of the National Integration Council is a long-term one.

It is therefore too early to conclude if government efforts to integrate new immigrants have been successful.

The council implements a three-step approach to integrating new immigrants.

The first focuses on functional integration. This helps immigrants understand social norms and the expectations of Singaporeans.

The second helps them establish social networks, whether at the community level or in schools.

And the third builds on mutual trust.

Ms Fu said: "It's a deeper level of understanding and emotional attachment to their new country and their new place of residence."

She said the community, including the People's Association and other organisations, can come in to help.

Ms Fu added: "For example, some Voluntary Welfare Organisations (VWOs) have come forward and also introduced programmes for new citizens to join them. And that's really a very effective way of building attachment for new citizens with the local community.

"It is not something the government could do single-handedly. We involve all stakeholders in this - employers, schools, VWOs, people sector - to help us in this process of establishing a stronger social bonding with the new immigrants."




Tougher penalties aim to stamp out sham marriages
Phoney couples, syndicate leaders and middlemen face 10 years' jail
By Royston Sim, The Straits Times, 14 Aug 2012

PHONEY brides or grooms who tie the knot in sham marriages designed to bypass immigration laws face up to 10 years behind bars under a tough new Bill passed yesterday.

The legislation also allows the courts to fine offenders as much as $10,000, in a move designed to stamp out the problem.

Syndicate leaders and middlemen who arrange the unions risk the same penalties under the revised Immigration Act.

These "marriages of convenience" often involve Singaporeans agreeing to wed foreigners simply to help them gain entry visas or permanent residency.

There have been an average of four or five cases annually over the past five years, Second Minister for Home Affairs S. Iswaran told Parliament yesterday.

But 12 have already been detected in the first six months of this year alone.

Mr Iswaran said it was a significant increase and "probably symptomatic of a larger trend".

He added that the new legislation was designed to send a strong message. "We want to take a tough stance against any intermediary who facilitates a marriage of convenience."

During the debate on the Bill, several MPs, including Ms Tin Pei Ling and Dr Fatimah Lateef (both from Marine Parade GRC), said it was important to make sure genuine marriages were not affected.

Mr Iswaran assured them that the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) will conduct thorough background checks before launching full-blown investigations. He added that it will take action only when there is enough evidence that a marriage is one of convenience.

The authority will also work with the Ministry of Manpower, the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports and the Registry of Marriages to investigate suspicious cases.

Before the new legislation was passed, taking part in a sham marriage was not a specific criminal offence. Those suspected of it could be charged only with providing false information to the authorities, which carried a jail term of up to a year, fine of up to $4,000, or both.

The Bill also introduced several other changes to the Immigration Act, which covers foreigners looking to visit Singapore or stay here permanently.

The ICA can now collect more detailed information on people before they arrive here, and operators of private checkpoints such as marinas will have to meet border security standards.

Another new clause makes it easier to revoke foreigners' permanent resident status if, for example, they break the law.

It is also now a specific offence to manufacture, traffic and possess tools for forging immigration documents.

Nine MPs rose to support the Bill or raise concerns about it.

Nominated MP Teo Siong Seng said the new rule requiring more detailed information on those coming to Singapore could place "excessive burdens" on ships that are obliged to rescue seafarers in distress, some of whom may not have proper documentation.

Mr Iswaran responded that the Government was sympathetic to those in genuine need and would not take action against ship owners who pick them up. But he said it was important to take a tough stance against criminal syndicates that fabricate distress to gain entry to Singapore.

Mr Hri Kumar Nair (Bishan- Toa Payoh GRC) raised concerns about the "good conduct" condition for permanent residents, saying it would be better if the authorities took greater care to scrutinise how permanent residency was granted in the first place.

"If it is given only in truly deserving cases, then it necessarily should be more difficult to take it away," he said.

Mr Iswaran said the provision "will be exercised judiciously".

He added: "There will be due process and safeguards to ensure that the immigration permits of permanent residents are not cancelled arbitrarily."


IMMIGRATION POLICIES MUST BE RESPONSIVE
'It is important that this House acknowledges the genuine concerns of Singaporeans over our immigration policies and strategies. Our immigration policies must be responsive to our social and economic circumstances and needs.' – Second Minister for Home Affairs S. Iswaran, during the debate over an immigration Bill that among other things, aims to crack down on marriages of convenience


FOREIGNERS, BUT NOT FOREIGN
'We do not consider people ‘foreign’ if we have a close connection with them. That is true for many of us... For these Singaporeans, it is important that the PRs remain in Singapore.' – MP Hri Kumar (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC), noting how some locals welcomed the presence of permanent residents – such as those who married foreign spouses




Six bills introduced in Parliament
Channel NewsAsia, 13 Aug 2012

Six government bills were introduced in Parliament on Monday.


In addition, the abolition bill for the Parliamentary Pensions Act was also introduced.

The proposed amendments to the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act aim to ensure compliance with the work pass framework.

It is raising penalties for errant employers who contravene the law.

The Manpower Ministry (MOM) is also introducing a new Administrative Financial Penalty regime to deter people from breaching regulations.

MOM also said the Central Provident Fund (CPF) Act will be amended to effect various CPF policy changes.

Among these, the Minimum Sum Topping-Up (MSTU) Scheme will be expanded to cover parents-in-law and grandparents-in-law (as announced in April 2012), with several top-up schemes merged to simplify the top-up process for members.

Amendments will also be made to refine the current CPF housing refund policy, as well as introduce a minimum age for members to make CPF nominations.

Various technical amendments will also be made in relation to the administration of other CPF matters.

There were also proposed amendments to the Goods & Services Tax (GST) Act.

If the amendment bill is passed, investment-grade gold and precious metals will be exempted from GST.

The proposed amendments will also extend the scope of GST zero-rating of prescribed financial services relating to goods situated outside Singapore.

With the proposed changes, the Comptroller and Minister will be empowered to set conditions when granting remission to prevent potential abuse.

The Ministry of National Development (MND) is amending the Building Control Act to extend minimum the Building & Construction Authority (BCA) Green Mark standards to existing buildings as and when they retrofit their cooling systems, to make Singapore one of the first few countries in the world to mandate such standards for existing buildings.

MND said since April 2008, BCA requires new buildings to meet a minimum environmental sustainability standard.

Besides meeting minimum standards, there will be a requirement for owners to conduct three-yearly audit on their building cooling systems to ensure that the buildings continue to operate at the optimum performance level.

To help owners pro-actively monitor and improve the energy efficiency of their buildings, BCA will also require utilities companies and building owners to submit energy consumption and energy-related building data.




Scrapping pensions of political office-holders
The Straits Times, 14 Aug 2012

TWO new Bills were introduced to pave the way for the scrapping of pensions for the President, political office-holders and MPs, in line with recommendations made by a committee set up to review political salaries last year.

Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean yesterday introduced the Bills to amend the Parliamentary Pensions Act and Civil List and Pension Act, which provide for the payment of pensions.

Under current law, political office-holders from parliamentary secretaries to the prime minister can receive pensions if they serve for at least eight years and are 50 or older when they step down. MPs elected before January 1995 have also been eligible for pensions.

Under the proposed changes, eligible MPs and political office-holders will no longer accrue pensions from May 21 last year, the day Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced the appointment of a committee to review political salaries.

The scrapping of pensions, and substantial salary cuts, were among the committee's recommendations.

These were debated in Parliament and accepted by the Government in January.

Though the Civil List and Pension Act allows Parliament to set a pension for the president, this has never been exercised and no president has ever received a pension. The changes will remove this provision altogether.




Kindergarten framework to be refreshed
Channel NewsAsia, 14 Aug 2012

The Ministry of Education (MOE) is refreshing the Kindergarten Curriculum Framework and will take into account recent child development research findings, Education Minister Heng Swee Keat said yesterday.

The refreshed framework, which guides teaching and learning in pre-schools, will articulate the core competencies a child should possess, such as in Language and Literacy and Numeracy, at the end of pre-school education, he said in a written parliamentary reply to MPs. It will be disseminated to all pre-schools and made available to the public by the end of the year.

Addressing MP (Chua Chu Kang GRC) Low Yen Ling's question on whether the MOE would address the risks of over-teaching in kindergartens, Mr Heng noted that "parents are naturally concerned about their child's readiness for primary school".

"However, developmental and education experts warn against 'overteaching' pre-school children and the potential detrimental impact on the child," said Mr Heng, adding that such an approach should be "discouraged".

On Ms Low's question on whether the MOE would review it being the lead ministry for preschool education, Mr Heng said the MOE and the Ministry of Community Developmement, Youth and Sports, which oversees childcare services, would study "how best the Government can oversee and support the sector".

MPs Ang Hin Kee and Laurence Lien asked if the MOE would respond to the two Lien Foundation studies on pre-school education here. The foundation had earlier released a study showing Singapore's pre-school education ranked in the bottom half internationally. "More can be done, including in the other areas of improvement highlighted by the studies commissioned by the Lien Foundation," said Mr Heng.

Describing the studies as "timely", he said they would add to the feedback the Government is gathering as it studies further measures needed to raise the quality of pre-school education.

Mr Heng also said the Pre-school Qualification Accreditation Committee (PQAC) is reviewing accreditation standards for courses by private agencies and polytechnics for pre-school teachers to "keep pace with recent developments". The revised standards will be implemented next year.




Average of 100 pregnancy & maternity-related complaints received each year
by Imelda Saad Aziz, Channel NewsAsia, 13 Aug 2012

The Manpower Ministry received an average of 100 pregnancy and maternity-related cases each year, since the Marriage and Parenthood package was enhanced in 2008.

Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin revealed the figure in a written reply to Parliament.

He said most cases involved disputes over the dismissal of a pregnant employee, and others relate to the denial of maternity leave entitlements.

Of the cases lodged though, about one in four were withdrawn by the employees after merits of the case were assessed.

Mr Tan said cases where the woman employee is denied her statutory maternity leave benefits are referred to the Labour Court for adjudication. These form less than seven per cent of the total number of pregnancy and maternity-related cases referred to the MOM. In the past four and a half years, 17 employers have been taken to task for this.

Most cases though, said Mr Tan, are not clear cut cases, and this is where the MOM steps in to help with mediation.

Some 90 per cent of such cases were resolved through mediation.

Where mediation fails, Mr Tan said the employee has the option to appeal to the Manpower Minister to ask for reinstatement.

On average, he said there are about three such cases each year.




More people under Public Assistance, ComCare schemes
Channel NewsAsia, 13 Aug 2012

There are more people on Public Assistance (PA) and more beneficiaries under the ComCare Assistance schemes, compared to a year ago.

A total of 3,033 households are on PA scheme as at end-July, an increase from 2,992 households a year ago. 

Acting Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports Chan Chun Sing gave this figure in a written answer to a question from MP of Jurong GRC Ang Wei Neng.

Mr Chan said from April to July, more than 100 new households were approved for long-term assistance under PA.

From April to July, over 3,000 households qualified for short- and medium-term assistance. About 1,900 applications for childcare, kindergarten and student care subsidies were approved.

As at July 31, 9,911 households are on short- and medium-term assistance, compared to 5,471 households a year ago.

A total of 18,997 beneficiaries are receiving childcare, kindergarten and student care subsidies, compared to 18,039 beneficiaries a year ago.

The MCYS had revised the PA criteria in April to allow more needy elderly to be assisted under the scheme, while the household income gap for short- and medium-term ComCare assistance was raised.

A per capita income criterion was also introduced to provide more help to larger families and those requiring child care, kindergarten and student care subsidies.


* Selected MCYS Questions/Written answers:




Air bags are not mandatory for now
Taxi companies will nevertheless be encouraged to consider optional safety features in new cabs: Minister
by Sumita Sreedharan, Channel NewsAsia, 15 Aug 2012

Taxi companies will be encouraged to consider vehicle models with optional safety features such as air bags when they register new taxis.

Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew said this in a written reply on Monday to a question by Ang Mo Kio GRC Member of Parliament Ang Hin Kee.

For the time being, however, air bags will not be a mandatory safety feature for new taxis, as Mr Lui noted the "significant technical and cost hurdles" in retrofitting taxis with air bags.

Mr Ang had tabled a parliamentary question on whether the Land Transport Authority (LTA) would consider making it mandatory for all taxi operators to equip their new taxis with air bags.

Mr Ang also asked if the authority is "assessing whether similar additions can be made for existing fleets".

In his response, Mr Lui reiterated that, while seat belts are mandatory for all motor vehicles - including taxis - that are registered for use here, air bags are not, because they "serve only to supplement seat belts in enhancing the safety of vehicle occupants in the event of a collision".

He added: "If seat belts are used properly, the injury risks would have already been greatly reduced. There are also significant technical and cost hurdles in retrofitting existing vehicles, including taxis, with air bags."

The issue of airbags in taxis surfaced in May after a high-profile accident on Rochor Road involving a Ferrari and a taxi.

Following a report by TODAY about how many taxis here are not equipped with air bags - despite the fact that taxi drivers spend most part of a day in their vehicles - several parties, including the Automobile Association of Singapore, called for the authorities to do more by possibly mandating seat belts and air bags as standard requirements in all vehicles.

When contacted, Mr Ang, who is also an adviser for the National Taxi Association (NTA), said that the LTA has given him the reassurance that "seat belts are more critical".

The authority also told him that studies have shown that seat belts are an adequate safety measure.

"The NTA feels that, since we have been given this reassurance, we will not be pursuing the matter further," said Mr Ang.

Expressing his personal view, Public Transport Council Chairman Gerard Ee told TODAY: "They have a point that seat belts are adequate protection but I would like to see air bags for the drivers ... as they spend so much time in their vehicles", while "passengers are there only for short distances and seat belts should be adequate".





Govt will continue to keep close watch on inflation: DPM Tharman
By Kristie Neo, Channel NewsAsia, 14 Aug 2012

Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister, Tharman Shanmugaratnam, said the government will continue to keep a close watch on inflation, and is prepared to introduce additional measures if necessary.

In a written reply to the Parliament, Mr Tharman outlined government measures to contain rising costs and help lower-income consumers.

On a year-on-year basis, Singapore's CPI-All Items inflation rose to 5.3 per cent in June 2012 from 5.0 per cent the previous month.

Excluding imputed rentals on owner-occupied homes, which has no cash impact on households, inflation was 4.4 per cent in June 2012.

Mr Tharman said he expects this to moderate towards the end of the year.

He added that food inflation has eased from 3.0 per cent in the first quarter to 2.4 per cent in the second quarter due to moderated cost increases for both prepared and non-prepared food.

To keep the costs of prepared food affordable, the National Environment Agency (NEA) intends to adopt management models to keep costs low. For instance, NTUC FoodFare, a social cooperative, was appointed to run the new Bukit Panjang Hawker Centre on a not-for-profit basis. NEA also plans to add 10 more hawker centres to provide affordable options to more Singaporeans.

The Retail Price Watch Group (RPWG) also keeps a close watch on any excessive price increases of food and other daily necessities. Mr Tharman also cited the GST Voucher Scheme, which will benefit lower-income households. For instance, a typical retiree household staying in a HDB three-room flat receives an average of S$960 a year as a result of the scheme.

While house prices are not part of CPI inflation, the government has taken steps to boost the supply of Build-to-Order (BTO) flats and to increase the supply for private residential property through the Government Land Sales Programme. The government has also implemented four rounds of property market cooling measures and will continuing to monitor the situation.

With regards to transport costs, Mr Tharman said the cost increases have been driven largely by COE prices. The government has recently refined the vehicle quota system and will continue to invest heavily in improving public transport.

Meanwhile, the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) has continued to implement a calibrated tightening of monetary policy through the appreciation of the Singapore dollar to curb imported and demand-led inflation. MAS will be reviewing its monetary policy stance in October.


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